by Marion Nestle

Search results: food policy action

Nov 16 2017

Food Policy Action’s 2017 Scorecard on Congressional Votes

Food Policy Action has released its annual scorecard, evaluating how our federal legislators vote on food issues.  In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t voting on much these days so there wasn’t much to score.

In the Senate, there was only one vote (on the nomination of Scott Pruitt as USDA Secretary), although ten bills were introduced.

In the House, there were five votes and 11 bills.

Overall scores averaged 49%—dismal.

The site has a handy interactive map; click on it to see how your legislators are voting.

In case you want to see just how badly Congress is doing, I’ve been posting these scorecards since they started:

One thought: maybe it’s just as well.

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Nov 3 2016

Food Policy Action’s 2016 Congressional Scorecard

This year, only three Senators—Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Richard Durbin—got top scores from Food Policy Action for their votes on food and farm issues.  This is down from the 29 who earned perfect scores in 2015.

In the House, 79 representatives got perfect scores as opposed to 87 in 2015.

The annual Scorecard ranks lawmakers on whether they support legislation on issues such as GMO labeling, hunger, fisheries management, food waste, pesticides, the EPA’s waters of the U.S. rule, among others.

Image result for food policy scorecard map

It’s disappointing that fewer legislators are getting top scores, since one of the purposes of this activity is to hold them accountable and encourage more liberal voting on food and farm issues.

 

 

Nov 18 2015

Food Policy Action releases 2015 Congressional scorecard

I went yesterday to the press conference for the release of the Food Policy Action 2015 Scorecard.

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This was outdoors at Campos Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village, attended by classes of schoolkids.  The speakers:

Food Policy Action aims to improve national discussions of food policy issues by informing the public about how elected officials vote on these issues.  Hence: the Scorecard.

As I discussed last year, points are awarded for votes on bills introduced or co-sponsored that deal with:

  • Domestic and international hunger
  • Food safety
  • Food access
  • Farm subsidies
  • Animal welfare
  • Food and farm labor
  • Nutrition
  • Food additives
  • Food transparency
  • Local and regional food production
  • The environmental effects of food production

In the Senate, for example, there were just 5 bills to be voted on an 10 that were co-sponsored (but not voted on).  In the House, there were votes on 10 bills and 12 that were co-sponsored (no vote).  This leaves lots of room for improvement, even among the best.

The speakers explained to the kids that the Scorecard gave grades to members of Congress, just like they get, and took them through a discussion of thumbs up and thumbs down appraisals of legislators’ votes on key food issues.  Congress is doing a little better this year than last, they said, but still has a long way to go.

Those of us in New York are lucky.  Both of our Senators, Kirsten Gillbrand and Charles Schumer scored 100.

Here are my reports on the Scorecards from 2013 and 2014.  The Scorecard is a great first step in holding legislators accountable.

Oct 22 2014

Food Policy Action rates Congress on food issues

Food Policy Action announced the release of its second annual National Food Policy Scorecard last week, ranking members of the House and Senate on their votes on key food-related issues.

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Food Policy Action is unique among food advocacy organizations in its explicit use of the political process.  Its goal is to

promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, protect and maintain sustainable fisheries, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.

How?  By holding legislators accountable for their foods on food and farming issues.  Hence: The Food Policy Scorecard.

I discussed the previous scorecard in December 2013.

On this round, Food Policy Action awarded scores of 100 to 71 members of Congress – 54 in the House of Representatives, 17 in the Senate.

It awarded scores of zero to 35 members.

The scores are given for votes on bills related to key food issues:

  • Hunger
  • Food aid
  • Food labeling
  • Farm subsidies
  • Sustainable farming

The website makes it easy to track your legislators’s votes.

I looked at Senators from New York.

  • Kirsten Gillbrand scores 85 (she lost points by voting against reducing federal insurance subsidies for rich farmers and against protecting states’ rights to require GMO labels)
  • Charles Schumer scores 100

This is a valuable tool for anyone who cares how politics works in America.  Let’s hope it encourages citizens to hold their representatives accountable and legislators to think twice before voting against consumer-friendly food and farming bills.

 

Dec 11 2013

Food Policy Action releases handy Congress “scorecard” on food issues

Washington is such a mess that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and this one is really useful.

Food Policy Action to the rescue.

Food Policy Action is a project of the Environmental Working Group.  Ken Cook of EWG is its chair.  Tom Colicchio is listed as the first board member.

The 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard ranks each member of the Senate and House on their votes on food issues.

The interactive map lets you click on a state and see how our congressional representatives are voting.  According to the scorecard, 87 members are Good Food Champions.  We need more!

I looked up New York.  Senator Charles Schumer gets a perfect 100%.  Yes!

But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand only gets 67%.

How come?  Click on her name and the site lists her votes on key legislation.  Oops.  She voted against GMO labeling and against a key farm bill amendment on crop insurance.  If you click on the button, you get to learn more about this vote and the legislation.

This kind of information is hard to come by.  Food Policy Action’s scorecard is easy to use and performs a terrific public service.

Thanks to everyone responsible for it.

Jun 11 2019

My latest publication: food and nutrition policy primer

How the US food system affects public health is a matter of intense current interest. “Food system” means the totality of processes through which food is produced, transported, sold, prepared, consumed, and wasted.4 Policies governing these processes emerged piecemeal over the past century in response to specific problems as they arose, with regulatory authority assigned to whatever agency seemed most appropriate at the time.5 Today, multiple federal agencies oversee food policies. For some policy areas, oversight is split among several agencies—the antithesis of a systems approach.

US food policies deal with eight distinct purposes, all of them directly relevant to public health:

  • Agricultural support: Overseen by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), agricultural support polices are governed by farm bills passed every five years or so. These bills determine what crops are raised and grown, how sustainably, and the extent to which production methods contribute to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Food assistance: The USDA also administers food assistance for low-income Americans through programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Women, Infants, and Children program, and school meals.
  • Nutrition education: This policy is set forth in dietary guidelines revised every five years since 1980 (overseen jointly by the USDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services) and in the MyPlate food guide (USDA).
  • Food and nutrition research: The National Institutes of Health and the USDA fund studies of diet and disease risk.
  • Nutrition monitoring: The USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are responsible for keeping track of the quantity and quality of the foods we eat and how diet affects our health.
  • Food product regulation: Rules about food labels, health claims, and product contents are overseen by three agencies: the USDA for meat and poultry; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for other foods, beverages, and dietary supplements; and the Federal Trade Commission for advertising.
  • Food safety: Regulation of food safety is split between the USDA for meat and poultry and the FDA for other foods.
  • Food trade: More than 20 federal agencies are involved in regulating the export and import of food commodities and products, among them are the FDA, the USDA, and the Department of Homeland Security.

This list alone explains why advocates call for a coordinated national food policy.6

The food policy primers in this issue of AJPH address the critical links between agricultural policies and health (Miller et al., p. 986) and key components of food assistance policies: direct food aid to the poor (Brownell et al., p. 988) and nutrition standards for school food (Schwartz et al., p. 989). Their authors are well-established policy experts whose thoughtful comments on the political opposition these programs face make it clear why food system approaches to addressing hunger, obesity, and climate change are essential.

Politics stands in the way of rational policy development, as the editorial by Franckle et al. (p. 992) suggests. Although its authors found substantial bipartisan support for introducing incentives to improve the nutritional quality of foods purchased by SNAP participants, congressional interest in this program remains focused almost entirely on reducing enrollments and costs. Please note that for a special issue of AJPH next year, I am guest editing a series of articles on SNAP that will provide deeper analyses of that program’s history, achievements, needs for improvement, and politics. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, how can US public health advocates achieve a systems approach to oversight of the eight food and nutrition policy areas? A recent report in the Lancet suggests a roadmap for action. It urges adoption of “triple-duty” policies that address hunger, obesity, and the effects of agricultural production on climate change simultaneously.7 For example, a largely—but not necessarily exclusively—plant-based diet serves all three purposes, and all federal food policies and programs, including SNAP, should support it. The primers and editorial should get us thinking about how to advocate a range of food system policies that do a better job of promoting public health. Read on.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: The author’s work is supported by New York University retirement funds, book royalties, and honoraria for lectures about matters relevant to this comment.

1. IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the WorldRome, ItalyFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations2018Google Scholar
2. GBD 2015 Obesity Collaborators; Afshin A, Forouzanfar MH, Reitsma MBet al. Health effects of overweight and obesity in 195 countries over 25 yearsN Engl J Med2017;377:1327CrossrefMedlineGoogle Scholar
3. Vermeulen SJ, Campbell BM, Ingram JSIClimate change and food systemsAnnu Rev Environ Resour2012;37:195222CrossrefGoogle Scholar
4. Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT, eds. A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. Washington, DCNational Academies Press2015Google Scholar
5. Nestle M, Lee PR, Baron RBNutrition policy update. In: Weininger J, Briggs GM, eds. Nutrition Update. Vol 1. New York, NYWiley1983:285313Google Scholar
6. Bittman M, Pollan M, Salvador R, De Schutter OA national food policy for the 21st century2015. Available at: https://medium.com/food-is-the-new-internet/a-national-food-policy-for-the-21st-century-7d323ee7c65f. Accessed March 17, 2019. Google Scholar
7. Swinburn BA, Kraak VI, Allender Set al. The global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change: the Lancet Commission reportLancet2019;393(10173):791846CrossrefMedlineGoogle Scholar
Jan 28 2019

New Lancet report: The Global Syndemic: Uniting Actions to Address Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change

The Lancet has been busy.  Last week, it published a blockbuster report on the need for worldwide dietary changes to improve human health and that of the environment.  I posted about this EAT-Forum report on Friday.

Now, The Lancet releases yet another report, this one taking a unified approach to dealing with the three most important nutrition issues facing the world: Malnutrition (undernutrition), obesity, and the effects of our food production and consumption system on the environment and climate change—for which this report coins a new term: The Global Syndemic.

This report breaks new ground in identifying the food industry as one of three main barriers to ending this “Syndemic.”  I’ve added the numbers for emphasis.

  • Powerful opposition by [1] commercial vested interests, [2] lack of political leadership, and [3] insufficient societal demand for change are preventing action on The Global Syndemic, with rising rates of obesity and greenhouse gas emissions, and stagnating rates of undernutrition.
  • New social movement for change and radical rethink of the relationship between policymakers, business, governance and civil society is urgently needed.
  • The Commission calls for a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food (a proposed Framework Convention on Food Systems – modelled on global conventions on tobacco and climate change); redirection of US$5 trillion in government subsidies away from harmful products and towards sustainable alternatives; and advocacy from civil society to break decades of policy inertia.

Wow.  This is telling it like it is—at long last.  From the press release:

  • A key recommendation from the Commission is the call to establish a new global treaty on food systems to limit the political influence of Big Food.
  • The food industry’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimise industry participation in public policy development, and the power that big corporations have to punish or reward governments by relocating investment and jobs.
  • Regulatory approaches to product reformulation (eg. salt and sugar reduction), labelling and marketing to children are needed because industry-led, voluntary approaches have not been effective.

Yes!

The documents

The press

▪ The Guardian
The Times (London)
Irish Farmers Journal

Additional press, posted January 30

Newswires (syndicated in international outlets):

UK:

US:

Rest of world:

Jan 2 2019

US votes no on action on global nutrition

I was fascinated to see this FoodNavigator account of the recent United Nations’ call for action on nutrition.

The lengthy new UN resolution on “a healthier world through better nutrition” begins with pages of preliminary comments before getting to bland admonitions that member states should improve nutrition, health conditions, and living standards; address hunger and malnutrition; and promote food security, food safety, and sustainable, resilient, and diverse food systems.

The resolution encourages member states to strengthen nutrition policies that promote breastfeeding and control the marketing of breast-milk substitutes.

It also promotes physical activity. It

Calls upon Member States to develop actions to promote physical activity in the entire population and for all ages, through the provision of safe public environments and recreational spaces, the promotion of sports, physical education programmes in schools and urban planning which encourages active transport.

What got FoodNavigator’s—and my—attention, however, was its encouragement of member nations to:

develop health- and nutrition-promoting environments, including through nutrition education in schools and other education institutions, as appropriate.

Nutrition education?  That’s it on improving the nutrition environment?

Nothing about curbs on food industry marketing practices, front-of-package food labels, soda or sugar taxes, or other policies established to be effective in improving nutritional health (see, for example, the policies listed on the World Health Organization’s database, or the NOURISHING database of The World Cancer Research Fund).

The UN’s own Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report on the value of education in improving the food environment.  Its author, Corinna Hawkes, makes it clear that education is useful, but is far more effective when it thoroughly involves policies to change the food environment.

nutrition education actions are more likely to yield positive results…when actions are implemented as part of large, multi-component interventions, rather than information provision or direct education alone. It is notable that governments have been taking an increasing number of actions involving multiple components, such as combining policies on nutrition labels with education campaigns, public awareness campaigns with food product reformulation, and school food standards with educational initiatives in schools.

The resolution says none of this.  Even so, it did not pass unanimously.  The vote:

  • Yes:       157 countries
  • No:           2 (Libya and the United States)
  • Abstain:    1 (Hungary)

And why did the United States vote no?  The US mission to the UN explains its position on the grounds—and I am not making this up—that the resolution:

  • Favors abortion:  “We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”
  • Promotes free trade in medicines: “This could lead to misinterpretation of international trade obligations in a manner which may negatively affect countries’ abilities to incentivise new drug development and expand access to medicines.”
  • Promotes migration: “we believe [the resolution represents]…an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign rights of States to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws and interests.”

To be clear: UN resolutions are non-binding.  The UN cannot tell member countries what to do.  All it can do is exert leadership and moral force.

When it comes to the food environment these days, we need all the moral force we can get.  We didn’t get it here.