Sunday, April 14, 2013

Powerful new exposè: food giants plot to addict us

The US govt and dairy industry worked together to force more unhealthy milk fat into our diets

Sad and dangerous fact: the first and maybe only priority of any giant corporation is profits. Check out the documentary "The Corporation" to understand the frightening fall-out of that reality. I learned from that film why public health and environmental health always seem secondary, if they're considered at all. They ARE secondary when powerful corporations are in control, as they increasingly are.

The new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us drives that message home. Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss lays out an appalling picture of profit-scheming in the food industry, with devastating consequences. Just as tobacco companies marketed to youth, suppressed cancer links, and intentionally made tobacco products addictive, the giant food corporations have purposely hooked us on sugar, salt and fat in order to maximize their sales and profits.

Regulatory boards in cahoots

I've seen first-hand through my activist work on coal and climate change that corporations are often regulated by government staffers who are actually industry insiders. These insiders often "regulate" to assist corporate financial goals, apparently indifferent to public welfare. After a stint on the regulatory board, they're often hired back into the corporations they once regulated, at generous salaries. That's one way corporations, including food corporations, get away with their expansion plans.

Food corporations enhance the "feel good" sensations of food

In his new book, Michael Moss describes research laboratories where food scientists work to maximize the pleasant “mouthfeel” of fat by altering its chemical structure, or figure out the“bliss point” of sugary drinks. He reveals corporate campaigns designed to market sugary foods to young children, perhaps programming them biologically to crave sugar for the rest of their lives. Moss exposes strategies used to distract consumers by promoting sugary foods as “low sodium,” or fatty foods as “low sugar.” Food executives confessed to Moss that the processed-food industry would cease to exist without salt, sugar and fat. Companies Moss mentions include General Mills, Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé.

Why do we eat so much cheese?

I heard a radio interview of Moss on my local NPR station (WFAE's "Charlotte Talks") on Friday March 8 2013. The thing that struck me most about the interview was the government collusion in this assault upon American health. It struck me because that very thing frustrates me so much, as a climate activist working to stop electric utilities from polluting. Our state government sets policies that favor corporate profit, not public welfare. (Yes, North Carolina's primary electric utility is a for-profit corporation.)

But back to my topic here: food corporations. Our increased consumption of fat-laden cheese is a prime example of how our government takes cares of industries often at the expense of public health. The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year (up from 10-11 pounds per person in 1970). According to Moss, the explosion of cheese into the American diet began as a result of skim milk. Moss explains the government’s hand in this. "Starting in the '60s, people began drinking less whole milk as a way of reducing calories and intake of saturated fat. That left the dairy industry with a glut of whole milk and the milk fat they were extracting from the whole milk to make skim milk. They went to the government and asked for help. And they started making more cheese with that milk. The government, since it subsidizes the dairy industry, came up with a marketing scheme that allowed the dairy industry to collect tens of millions of dollars every year, for advertising and marketing to encourage consumers to eat more cheese, not just as an hors d'oeuvre, but as an ingredient in processed food. And so, suddenly, cheese began showing up as slices on sandwiches, as ingredients in packaged foods in the store. And our consumption of saturated fat, while we thought we were taking it out of our diets, snuck back in, because cheese is largely invisible as a fat in that form."

Largely because of high-fat diets, 36% of adults and 20% of children in the U.S. are now clinically obese, resulting in sharp increases in the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and many other serious ailments.

What can you do?

Read packaging labels for salt, sugar and fat content. Educate yourself by reading these recommendations from the CDC for daily salt intake. For sugar, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 tsp of sugar for women and 9 tsp for men per day.(The average American consumes more than 20 tsp of sugar per day.) The American Heart Association also offers guidelines on daily fat intake. For children, ask your pediatrician, since it depends on the child's age.

To avoid excessive salt, sugar, and fat in your diet, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed foods. In general, minimize your family's intake of fast food and processed foods. When you do buy processed foods, read those ingredients.