The Two Faces of the Food Industry

By Jacobson, Michael F. | Nutrition Action Healthletter, October 2006 | Go to article overview

The Two Faces of the Food Industry


Jacobson, Michael F., Nutrition Action Healthletter


Stung by accusations that it is causing the obesity epidemic, the food industry is fighting back.

Whatever the reason--genuine corporate responsibility, fear of lawsuits, or gaining favorable publicity--some prominent companies are improving their products or policies. But, in other ways, the industry is undercutting the public's health.

Among the positive steps:

* After a California attorney charged that Kraft, the biggest American food manufacturer, had not disclosed the artery-clogging trans fat in Oreo cookies, the company removed almost all of the trans fat from its foods. Then it promised to stop advertising to children under 6 and to advertise only healthier foods to kids aged 6 to 11.

* McDonald's has introduced several healthier salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, and fruit dishes. The chain is putting nutrition information on its wrappers and says (actually, it has been saying for the past four years!) that it is working to get rid of the trans fat from its fried foods, even though McDonald's restaurants in some countries already fry in trans-free or low-trans oils.

* To help rebut charges that they're just making kids fat, some companies--including Coca-Cola and Pepsi--and the sugar industry are spending a few million dollars a year on physical-activity programs. McDonald's has even retooled Ronald McDonald as an exercise guru.

* Some chains are using their purchasing muscle to force changes up the food chain. McDonald's has insisted that livestock producers improve the living--and dying--conditions of chickens and cattle. Whole Foods and WalMart are creating huge markets for organically grown foods.

At the same time, the food industry is quietly, but aggressively, lobbying Congress for two laws that might as well be called "Food Industry Protection Acts. …

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