May 23, 2014

CLF Week in Links: School Lunch, Sugar, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Making cane syrup, 1981 / State Archives of Florida

Making cane syrup, 1981 / State Archives of Florida

Is junk food the new tobacco? And is sugar the new crack cocaine? The World Health Assembly convenes in Geneva this week and next, and two organizations, Consumers International and the World Obesity Foundation, are calling on the international community to tackle diet-related diseases using the same strategies that have been used to target tobacco. They’ve issued a 19-page report with recommendations such as improving nutrition labeling and imposing stricter regulations on food marketing. This is from the report’s introduction: “Ten years after the launch of the WHO Global Strategy on Diet Physical Activity and Health, no country has succeeded in significantly reversing the rising tide of obesity or diabetes. Cardiovascular diseases are rapidly increasing in many lower middle-income countries. Change is urgently needed.” The document is modeled on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. If you look closely at the labels on your processed foods, you will note that sugar is the only ingredient with a blank space in the column about RDA (recommended daily allowance). This space is blank for two reasons: first, intense lobbying by the sugar industry has cowed the USDA into leaving this blank; and second, there is no recommended daily allowance! We don’t need sugar in any amount. Complex carbohydrates provide sufficient calories for energy, and sugar contains no essential nutrients, hence the term “empty calories,” which even the sugar industry, and its main users such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Yum Brands, etc., can’t keep out of the vocabulary of informed citizens.

The GOP goes after school lunch. In 2012 new healthy school lunch standards went into effect. The new standards require schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve more nutritious meals by limiting calories and fat, adding vegetables and fruit, and requiring whole-grain products. But some participating schools say they’re having a hard time fulfilling the new rules, and that some of the new rules, such as requiring students to take a fresh vegetable or fruit on their tray, contribute to waste. According to this NPR story, some Republican policymakers want to let some schools have a waiver on new rules, or delay enforcement. Seeing this as an industry effort, many in the White House, including the First Lady, have vowed to fight the rollback of school lunch standards. Not all Republicans are for the waiver. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), an author of the school lunch standards, rejected the proposal for waivers or other delays; in fact, the healthy school lunch program was proposed during the presidency of George W. Bush. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the waiver proposal would be a “major step backwards for the health of American children.” Mark Bittman addresses the issue in the first part of this post.

Job impact in California. A new study by UC Davis researchers forecasts severe economic impacts ahead in an area where many of the nation’s fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown. According to this Los Angeles Times story, the study suggests that “the drought could cost the region’s farm industry $1.7 billion in 2014 and cause more than 14,500 workers to lose their jobs.”

Colony collapse disorder solved? In this Mother Jones story, Tom Philpott explains a new study that could point to the smoking gun in colony collapse disorder. Not surprisingly, the culprit seems to be, according to this study, a group of pesticides known as neonicitinoids.

Eat like you give a damn. Our friend Fedele Bauccio, the CEO and cofounder of Bon Appétit Management Company, recently gave a commencement speech at Albion College in which he advised students to “eat like you give a damn.” The speech is worth reading in its entirety. If you’re pressed for time, however, here is an excerpt: “This world needs you. Take the responsibility and the leadership to restore the beauty of this earth, with justice, hope, and love. We need your talents, your commitment, and your passion to make a difference in helping to nourish future generations toward a more sustainable future. Step into the future with confidence and skill, and a vision to change what is into what can be.” Fedele has been a good friend of the CLF since his days of service on the Pew Commission on Industrial Food Animal Production, and we have gained much from his wise counsel. I hope the Albion students were paying attention.

The CIA and vaccination ruses. This has nothing to do with food systems, but much to do with public health and human rights, so I’m including it in this post. Friday, May 16, was a happy day for many of us in public health because Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser, finally responded to a joint letter that was mailed in January 2013. The letter, which Les Roberts and I drafted, was signed by 12 deans of schools of public health, including Mike Klag of the Bloomberg School. In it, the deans express anger that the United States had used immunization programs as a front for espionage. As written in this New York Times story, “The educators were protesting the C.I.A.’s employment of a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to set up a hepatitis B vaccination program in Abbottabad to gain access to a compound where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding.” Because of the sham vaccination program, which was discovered and made public, dozens of public health workers in Pakistan have been killed by groups who suspect them of being spies. In her letter, Ms. Monaco said that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs for spying.

Condolences. We send our condolences to Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY); her husband Robert Slaughter, age 82, passed away on Tuesday. Rep. Slaughter is a true champion of public health, especially in regard to her fight to preserve antibiotics, and we wish her the best.

Photo: Sugarcane juice pouring out of mill into barrel for syrup – Jasper, Florida, 1981. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. John Marshall.

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