FD Buyer: Food – The New Tobacco?

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Dec 09, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Frozen & Dairy Buyer magazine.

"We’ve done this before, with tobacco," wrote Mark Bittman, The New York Times food columnist, in a late-September opinion piece. Mr. Bittman made clear that health activists will use a heavy dose of scare tactics and equate eating with smoking cigarettes to further their cause. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. For some time now, activists have signaled their intent to equate food with tobacco.

Just last month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest dismissed food industry complaints over "voluntary" federal restrictions on marketing food to youth, saying the restrictions are no more mandatory than guidelines prohibiting smoking scenes in G-rated movies.

Writing for The Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson recently noted that health care costs average 42 percent higher for obese people than for those of normal weight. Just as smoking-related illnesses cost federal and state health insurance programs and private insurers billions of dollars each year, the argument goes, so too is the simple act of eating proving to be a massive financial drain on taxpayers and ratepayers. Hence, activists justify calling on the government to regulate all aspects of eating and food marketing, just like smoking and tobacco.

Of course, it’s not that simple. People have to eat for nourishment. They don’t have to smoke. Obesity is fueled by many factors, including insufficient physical activity, genetics and limited access to foods that comprise a balanced diet.

So, what can the food industry expect? In 1998, tobacco manufacturers settled with 46 attorneys general after agreeing to pay more than $200 billion over a 25-year period.

How long before financially strapped states unleash their attorneys general on the food industry? How much ground are food manufacturers and retailers willing to cede to our critics before recognizing that the more they get, the more they want?

America has an obesity epidemic with significant human and financial costs. There is no denying that. However, we must reject attempts to place all the blame on our doorstep. The food industry must refute efforts to link eating with smoking. Yes, it’s an absurd argument, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already begun to resonate with the public and policymakers.

Efforts to brand food products with grotesque graphic health warnings, subject certain foods to punitive taxes and forbid manufacturers and retailers from communicating with consumers are already underway. If some or all of these initiatives come to pass, at least we won’t be lonely. We can always strike up a conversation with some tobacco executives. They may be the only ones who’ll talk to us.

Discussion Questions: What’s the likelihood that health advocates will equate the dangers in eating some foods to that of cigarettes? How should the food industry respond?

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10 Comments on "FD Buyer: Food – The New Tobacco?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

It sounds like they are already doing it and the food industry should respond with all guns a-blazing. Nobody makes you buy food that is less healthy — you choose to do it. It’s your choice and the activists have no right to limit my choices. Of course, I also believe they have no responsibility to foot my medical bills either.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 4 months ago
The fact of the matter is there is a huge obesity epidemic in this country, and fighting over who is to blame is not going to help. It’s certainly not the government or the media’s fault that we have state obesity rates that look like this… Just watch the interactive chart take you through the last 25 years and you’ll see there is a huge problem, pun semi-intended. Meanwhile, I recently discovered that my favorite sandwich at Panera Bread (the Sierra Turkey) has 920 calories, including 440 from fat, and 49 grams of fat. That doesn’t include the chips that come with it, or a drink. Just add chips and we’re up around 1100 calories. It’s just not responsible to market this as a healthy lunch. And many of my favorite frozen foods have way too many calories and salt as well. I think food manufacturers and restaurants would be a lot better off taking a proactive stance and working harder to improve the healthfulness of their products, and retool their packaging and advertising to… Read more »
Bernd Biehl
Guest
Bernd Biehl
9 years 4 months ago

First an answer to Al. There is no problem eating a sandwich with chips containing 1100 calories. If you need 2200 calories a day, stop at that point. That’s the problem, not the individual menu.

I guess the question of people’s own responsibility for their health will remain after all legislative restrictions. You can’t control all the risk in life. You can’t control the masses. There will always be a lot of individuals smoking, drinking, eating fat, eating animals/meat and confectionery, hearing music loud and…and…and…Because ist makes fun.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 4 months ago

The politically correct, progressive, liberal, Democrat left would have us all living off tofu and coconut water. Frankly I am sick of being told what to eat and what to do. I have no problem with anyone providing information if they do it in a manner that does not seek to put anyone down. Each individual’s personal choices should be personal and not a matter of public judgement.

The problem with activist groups is that they tend to be horribly judgmental and seem to go out of their way to make people conform with their point of view. I do think these forces will continue to become more influential.

The only defense I see for this intrusion into our lives and personal freedom is to vote against any politician who supports these groups. We must preserve our rights as individuals to be fools. Actually, no one can really prevent this from happening, but we must be vigilant to keep tofu away from our refrigerators.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 4 months ago

Activists, health or otherwise, live to attract attention, typically by replacing individual responsibility with victimization by a sinister, venal industry. The food industry should be prepared for this. The good news is that the industry has done much to inform the consumer as to exactly what is in the product they are purchasing. Will this be enough to stop the screeching? Probably not.

One alternative for the food industry is to publish the various studies that show the direct link between the growth in government subsidies to the agriculture industry and the growth of obesity in America. These subsidies have resulted in artificially low retail prices in carbs and fructose. Lower prices increase consumption. Since the “activists” don’t care about root causes (doesn’t fit into the preferred narrative), this defense will have to be presented by the food industry. The data is there.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Full disclosure — my entire working life has been devoted to encouraging people to COOK; to shop and eat and feed their families well. To a limited extent I suppose I’ve succeeded but it saddens me more than I can say to admit just how limited that extent is.

I suppose many of you could (and I know who you are) call me a food activist and, heaven help me, a liberal. This, too, saddens me. But I remain convinced that there is a way to improve the way we eat and live, preferably without name calling and badgering and legislating. I just wish that more people agreed with me and played an active role in making it happen rather than just looking for more ways to make more money.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
The health advocates are right and we all know it. Just look around. Or an even more effective detector is watching a movie from the ’80s and noticing how completely skinny even the extras are. And the whole notion of ‘I have to eat but I don’t have to smoke’ is nonsense in that the point is, you don’t have to eat THAT stuff and you don’t have to eat so much of it. Also, the food service industry gets the health angle and is rolling with it already, creating healthy private label goods (e.g., O Organics), adding healthy choices to menus and creating better labeling awareness. The real ‘get’ here is on the demand side. People are eating crap and demanding more of it. The food service industry is only responding to the demand side. As a correlation, tobacco sales didn’t really slow until the public was hit with warnings on the boxes, no smoking rules and high prices. In other words, awareness was created. So, with that in mind — and knowing full… Read more »
Ed Dunn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Some of the arguments above bode well for populations who have a supermarkets nearby, but there are huge pockets in America known as “food deserts” that do not have access to fresh food and choice.

In addition, the food that is marketed in “food desert” communities is just as bad as tobacco and alcohol where the key recipe is concentrated corn starch that is leading to a large outbreak of diabetes at an alarming rate among youth and young adults.

This is indeed a valid issue but the solution requires more community education than government regulation. This is not a new issue as the FDA was originally created to address this issue.

With that said, I believe there is tremendous opportunity for social entrepreneurial action rather than social activist antagonism that can address this issue.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

What’s worse than confusion is confusion doubled: linking sensible regulations — nutrition labeling, etc. — with the endless hysteria of the CSPI et al, and lumping together all food sellers/producers into some imaginary monolith called “the food industry” benefits no one…except, perhaps, the purveyors of ****, whose products likely SHOULD be analogized to cigs (and who hope obfuscation can make the whole issue go away). Sensible sellers will (try to) do what was never really possible in the tobacco industry: separate the “good guys from the bad guys.”(And of course the latter will fight and obscure their efforts.)

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

You wonder why we have all these mandates for labeling on meat and produce, and every other thing, which drives the cost of everything up. No common sense left in this country, and people who get fatter do it at their own peril. Personal responsibility is not politically correct, so grab the cheesecake and have some fun.

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