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Politics 101.

Did you ever wonder why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) isn't doing everything it can to prevent mad cow disease? Or why it refuses to encourage farmers to find ways to produce meat and dairy products with less Memo from MFJ saturated fat? Or why leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services say they're worried about obesity, but haven't adopted effective strategies to help Americans shed excess pounds or keep from getting fat? Or why Congress rarely passes laws to help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases?

Do you think the answer is:

(a) The USDA is largely run by people with former industry ties?

(b) Health and Human Services is part of an administration that receives huge campaign contributions from the food and other industries?

(c) Members of Congress--from both political parties--are awash in food-industry campaign contributions?

(d) All of the above?

If you said anything but (d), take two PAC contributions and call me in the morning.

This column is too small to lay out all the facts about industry's influence on public policies (this entire publication would be too small). But we can get a glimpse by looking at where some of the USDA's top officials came from:

* Ann Veneman, Secretary: law and lobbying firms that specialized in food, agriculture, and other issues, including work for Dole Foods and other companies.

* James R. Moseley, Deputy Secretary: hog and feed-grain farm (owner).

* Floyd D. Gaibler, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services: International Dairy Foods Association and National Cheese Institute/American Butter Institute.

* Mark E Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment: American Forest and Paper Association.

* Joseph J. Jen, Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics: Campbell Soup's Institute of Research and Technology.

* Bill T. Hawks, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs: pesticide aerial application service (owner).

* Charles Lambert, Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing, and Regulatory Programs: National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

* Eric Hentges, Director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: National Pork Board and National Livestock and Meat Board.

* Michael Torrey, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations: Ice Cream, Milk and Cheese Political Action Committee.

Get the idea? It's hardly an exaggeration to say that the USDA essentially has become a branch of agribusiness.

Now let's look at a few of the food industry's financial "investments" in politicians running for Congress or national offices. According to the Center for Responsive Politics or Common Cause:

* Coca-Cola and PepsiCo: $2.5 million and $2 million between 1995 and 2002.

* Food processing and sales companies: $71 million since 1990.

* The sugar and corn-sweetener industries: $25.5 million from 1997 to 2003.

* Restaurants and bars: $46 million since 1990.

* Beer, liquor, and wine producers: $65 million since 1990.

* Agribusiness: $329 million since 1990.

* Cattle and livestock interests: $22 million since 1990.

It's tough to fight for a safer and more-nutritious food supply, honest food advertising, and better foods in schools when the whole system is rigged for industry and against consumers.

But a good swim upstream is invigorating. And you end up stronger for it.


In an effort that started with an April 2001 article in Nutrition Action Health-letter, CSPI helped persuade Congress to pass the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act in July. Among other things, the law will require food labels to disclose when natural flavorings and colorings contain the most common allergens. It also mandates that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitor food-allergy deaths. Thanks to all the Nutrition Action subscribers who wrote letters and e-mails to legislators and government officials.
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Title Annotation:On The Web:; U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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