President, Strategic Communications, LLC

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hunger, Racism and Republicans

There ought to be a law against it but there is not. In the richest country in the world, one out of five children, 15 million kids, is hungry each day. According to No Kid Hungry ( 48.8 million Americans—including 16.2 million children— live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. These children live in large urban centers and in rural areas.

It is a national crime and the Republican policy makers in the House of Representatives are guilty of enslaving another generation to poverty and applying the lash of hunger. The GOP’s latest budget slashes $4.6 trillion in cuts largely in funding for SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), aid to the poor, Medicare and Medicaid.

You need not look beyond the red states of the old confederacy to see this modern day version of Jim-Crow - no more poll taxes, just state ID cards and no food, virulent racist tools to deny equal rights and basic human dignity to nearly 50 million fellow citizens.

Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, among households with children headed by single parents (35.1% of female-headed households with children are food-insecure) and among Black and Hispanic households. Today food insecurity in GOP red states is astounding:

In Alabama – 26.7%
In Arkansas – 27.8%
In Florida – 28.4%
In Georgia – 28.3%
In Kentucky – 22.7
In Mississippi – 28.3%
In Louisiana – 23.1%
In North Carolina – 27.6%
In South Carolina – 27.1%
In Tennessee – 25.1%
In Texas – 27.1%
In Virginia – 16.4%

The cuts demanded by the GOP are nothing but, call it what it is - racist. They are designed to widen the disparities between the “haves” and the have-nots.” They are designed to enslave another generation in poverty. They are designed to deny the American dream to people who disagree with the GOP on just about everything.

During the last 30 years a bargain was struck by Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) and the late US Senate George McGovern (D-SD). They came from farm country. They knew the power of food. They knew there was no justifiable reason for a child to be left behind and go hungry in this nation of vast abundance. So, when the Farm Bill roiled around every five years Dole got his farm subsidies for the rich growers and McGovern got nutrition aid for the poor. It worked until the GOP decided it was too expensive to feed children, even one hot meal a day.

The Obama Administration has been fighting for social justice, with little to show for its efforts when 60 votes is needed to pass anything in the Senate and the House cannot agree on where the sun rises. We have an intolerable situation. In the words etched into the memory of every political science student, especially those from Wisconsin, I say, “Mr. Ryan, have you no decency, sir?”

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Science, Integrity and George Bernard Shaw

Are the far left food critics – you know, the eat only locally grown, certified organic crowd – right in stating with certainty, that the nation’s top nutrition communicators, the FDA, state governments and anybody else they disagree with have been bought by “Big Food” and should be ignored? George Bernard Shaw summed up the potential conflict of interest this way. The story goes that once at a party, he asked a very beautiful and rather obnoxious woman to go to bed with him for £1000. She ummed and ahhed but finally agreed. He then asked would she go to bed with him for £10. She exclaimed, "Do you take me for a whore?" He replied "Madam, we've already established what you are. All we're doing now is arguing about the price."

Conspiracy theories that would not make a B-movie (it's Oscar night) and a lack of transparency from all sides is now part of every scientific issue. A good case study is the safety and labeling of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs). The conventional, evidence-based science, concludes these products are “safe” as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined them. In addition, FDA has declared, after extensive public comment rule-making, that these products are “identical” to their non-GMO cousins and do not require any additional labeling because they are safe. In 1992 FDA reasoned that a “GMO-free” label would be “false and misleading” a violation of federal law, since it would imply the GMO free product is better than the identical conventional product. Just recently, several well-known food and drug lawyers have opined that a “GMO-free” label may violate the First Amendment, on the same grounds, a “GMO free” label implies a false claim on a critically important issue, the safety of the national food supply. Interestingly, contrary to Chez Pannisse dogma, there is no "right to know" established in US food law. None. Nada. Zip. Zero. Get it?

No set of facts can change the conspiracy nuts’ minds but it would be helpful if the critics knew the law before blathering away incessantly.  In a perfect world we would rely on the “experts” to help guide us on the what is safe question. However, what happens if a vocal, noisy minority does not believe the experts?
The food industry is doing nothing to help itself. Last week public relations giant Porter-Novelli (PN) held its annual Food 3000 session, this year in Vancouver. It brings top nutritionists together with PN’s clients and other corporate sponsors for “educational discussions.” Facebook and Twitter overflow with reports on the meeting. However, with one exception, Dave Grotto, one of the nation’s most respected nutritionists, no one'sTweets or Facebook postings disclose that it was a sponsored event.
Without this disclosure, are we left with Shaw’s conclusion, that we have established the type of people who attended the meeting are and all we are left is to haggle about their price. At a time when integrity in the scientific decision-making process is under violent attack, I think the folks who attended the PN winter getaway, should have done better. If the leaders do not disclose, who will?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New FDA Data: Activists Are Out of Touch with Consumers

It is a new year but let's not be fooled - The more things change, the more they will remain the same in regard to food and nutrition policies.

Activists have a heavy agenda, including but not limited to, restricting so-called junk food or non-nutritious food advertising to children, defining "natural," front panel display of certain nutritional ingredients, the display of caffeine content on energy drinks, the safety of acrylamides in food, implementation of the Food safety Modernization Act, final regulatory approval of GM foods, specifically the Atlantic Salmon and reform of the farm bill.

And yet, according to a year end report from the Food and Drug Administration, last year 7.3 million visitors clicked on Consumer Updates at The top 10 most popular topics in 2012 did not contain a single issue mentioned above.

Consumers wanted to know about:

1. Disposing of unused medicines.
2. Mercury in skin products sold illegally in U.S.
3. HCG diet products—a dangerous fad.
4. Dietary supplement Hydroxycut—can be hazardous to health.
5. Examining arsenic in rice
6. Tattoo inks linked to serious infection.
7. Is the common additive triclosan safe?
8. Thickening agent may be deadly for infants.
9. Expanded advice: Take statins with care.
10. Symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs, and how to treat it.

Congress is dysfunctional. Everything from gun laws to mental health to the basic infrastructure of the country seems broken.

The nutrition activists have there own priorities, fed by the need to show their members the need to raise money for Washington representation. The food industry does the same thing with just about every aisle of the supermarket with a lobby designed to block activist demands and advance a sympathetic regulatory environment. 

It is s tempest in a teapot, far removed from the day to day concerns of hardworking consumers.