Big food and ‘added value’ crap

Adding manufacturing steps and adding additives – ‘added value’  – is a way of trying to add to sales and profits. This is one of the reasons why we get so much crap in food, and why so much natural food is transformed into unnatural states. Apart from adding to big business profits this also helps add a lot to the weight of people, and poorer people seem to be the biggest victims.

Fast food franchise are amongst the biggest culprits, but retail food also contributes a lot.

The socio economic group most affected looks apparent if you see the physiques and shopping trolley contents prevalent in supermarkets in lower income areas (a non-scientific personal observation).

If you wanted to be really cynical and conspiratorial you could suggest that big pharma was also involved, because the ‘obesity epidemic’ is good for the health care business.

Now the food industry has established their profitable product lines they are under increasing attack, mostly from health academics who want to restrict or tax things like sugar.

Noted: How the food industry adopted the tactics of Big Tobacco

The food industry is adopting Big Tobacco’s tactics by interfering in the nutrition science field, a new book by Marion Nestle reveals.

The author’s name is a bit ironic perhaps.

It’s getting harder to inflict poor health on the population with tobacco, so food is now taking over as the big evil, but unlike tobacco, it’s a bit difficult banning drink and food from bars, restaurants and cafes.

What have Russian hackers and the 2016 US presidential election got to do with nutrition research? The collateral damage of that infamous hacking scandal was a most fortuitous (and super-sized) revelation of how food companies actively interfere in the nutrition science field, says Marion Nestle in her new book Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Along with the electronic messages from Democratic Party officials that were posted on the WikiLeaks website, the hackers (linked to the Russian Government) also stole emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign team and posted them on a new website, DC Leaks. In the process, they uncovered a trail of emails between Michael Goltzman, a vice-president of the Coca-Cola Company, and Capricia Marshall, an adviser on Clinton’s campaign who was also doing consulting work for Coca-Cola.

The emails revealed the tactics they used to ensure the company’s business interests were protected from public-health efforts. These included keeping tabs on certain academic researchers, Nestle among them – perhaps not surprisingly, given Nestle, professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, previously wrote a book, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).

But more surprising were the details of Coca-Cola recruiting dieticians to promote soft drinks on social media and their attempts to pressure and influence reporters and editors of major media outlets such as the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal to prevent publication of any negative stories about their beverages.

The company was also funding university scientists to produce scientific studies that suggested, among other things, that simply walking 7116 steps a day was enough to keep adults in energy balance.

While this study may appear to be basic research on exercise physiology, “it implies that physical activity – and not all that much – is all you need to control your weight, regardless of how much Coca-Cola you drink,” Nestle writes in Unsavory Truth.

Exercise is certainly an important part of staying healthy and not getting too fat, but the type and quality of food is more critical.

“Overall, the hacked emails offer a rare glimpse into how this beverage company, simply in the normal course of doing business, attempted to influence nutritionists, nutrition research, journalists covering this research, and dietary advice to the public.”

Nestle’s book is about more than Coca-Cola, though. The company’s hacked emails are just one public example of how various food, beverage and supplement companies fund nutrition researchers and practitioners, along with their professional associations, with the ultimate goal of boosting sales of their products.

Big business funding research favourable to their business is not new. And it is difficult to control.

For anyone old enough to remember when smoking was allowed in restaurants, pubs and aeroplanes (but only if you were seated in a smoking row on the plane), the similarities between the tobacco industry’s battle and the modern food industry are uncanny.

That’s because industries producing products of questionable health benefit all use a well-worn playbook, Nestle says, that requires “repeated and relentless use” of these strategies:

  • Cast doubt on the science
  • Fund research to produce desired results
  • Offer gifts and consulting arrangements
  • Use front groups
  • Promote self-regulation
  • Promote personal responsibility as the fundamental issue
  • Use the courts to challenge critics and unfavourable regulations.

The tobacco industry’s use of the playbook included the endless repetition of statements, such as, “cigarette smoking is a matter of personal responsibility”, and “government attempts to regulate tobacco are manifestations of a nanny state”, among other things.

Both of which bear an uncanny resemblance to the current line coming from Coca-Cola New Zealand about personal responsibility on a page entitled: Do soft drinks cause obesity? “Like all food and beverages, soft drinks with sugar can be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced lifestyle as long as people don’t consume them to excess.”

It’s easy to say that people should take responsibility for their own health, they should exercise sensibly, and they should be sensible about what type and quantity of food they eat. But it’s not that simple. Marketers, especially food marketers, have become expert at duping gullible people, encouraging them to buy things that are bad for them.

At least people get some exercise still wheeling shopping trolleys laden with sugar drinks and convenience food around the supermarket

Treadmills at the checkout haven’t caught on, but the marketing treadmill is helping ruin many people’s health.

Nestle believes that controlling the inappropriate practices of food companies is the role of government and quotes ethicist Jonathan Marks, “Governments, not corporations, are the guardians of public health … It is time for public health agencies and regulators to ‘struggle’ a little more with corporations, creating structural incentives for healthier and more responsible industry practices, and calling companies to account when they fail to comply.”

Government interference in marketing and in food choices is very contentious – and is unlikely to be particularly effective.

Perhaps we are just witnessing evolution at work, where over-population of a species inevitably leads to self destruction.