April 2011

The food industry needs to go to Confession

by Pitt Griffin on April 29, 2011 · 0 comments

in Economics

The Federal Trade Commission is pushing for new regulation on food advertising to children. No doubt there will be ‘push-back’ from Libertarian groups (or industry lobbies posing as grass-roots Libertarian groups) protesting against the ‘excessive-regulation’, ‘job-killing’, ‘tax-raising, ‘nanny-statism’ of the ‘Socialist’ administration.

Protests will take one of two forms. First, that the industry can regulate itself, because it is not in the industry’s best interest to poison its customers. Second, it is not the role of Government to get between parents and their children. Parents can teach their children to make good choices.

But, as always, these reasonable sounding claims are without substance.

‘Industrial Food’ has tried before to show that it can self-regulate’ with a ‘self-congratulatory’ policy called – ‘Smart Choices’. Using a green check mark on the front of food packages, it indicated to the consumer the products the industry considered to be ‘healthy’.

But after emblazoning foods such as Froot Loops and mayonnaise as ‘healthy’, the industry took a well deserved beating from critics for their chutzpah. The program suffered defections from food manufacturers, not from shame and embarrassment, but because they realized that looking like cheats wasn’t good for business.

(If you wonder – quite reasonably – why they just don’t make better food, it is because it doesn’t fit their business plan).

The claim that the Government shouldn’t get between parents and their children does have merit. Or it would have if it was consistently made, not only made when business stands to lose. Consider the decades old battle over sex and violence on TV.

There is an outcry that children are so desensitized that levels of promiscuity and violence will escalate. Cries are made that the Government should ‘do something about it’. But how does this square with keeping Government out of family life?

When McDonalds was sued by two obese teenagers for making them fat –the reaction was disbelief. How could they not know that McDonalds’ food was without nutritional merit and would make you fat? Did they real think that McDonalds was anything other than a highly processed, heavily flavored, ‘sort of food’ that should be eaten only occasionally?

In other words when children are pushed into a swamp of sex and violence, the Government should throw out a life line. But when children are thrown into a swamp of nutritional misdirection they should know how to swim.

The food industry is based on misrepresentation. In New York there was a proposal to tax sugary drinks. The reaction was lead by a group called ‘New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes’. I think we can all agree that we are against unfair taxes, but what of the claim on their website:

“New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes is a coalition of concerned New Yorkers – hard working individuals, struggling families, and already burdened small businesses – that oppose any new taxes on juice drinks and soda.”

It would seem that it is a case of Government vs. the ‘Little Guy’. But look at their own list of coalition members. It includes Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, National Association of Chain Restaurants (fast food), National Restaurant Association, National Supermarket Association, National Theater Owners Association.”

It is quite obvious that this group is an industry lobby – not even New York based – hiding behind the rhetoric of “hard- working, struggling, burdened”.

To paraphrase the old adage – ‘There are lies, damned lies and food labels”.

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