In This Issue

Editor's Note


Good Riddance
to Veneman
and Thompson


CDC Scrambles to Correct Obesity Statistics


Industry Group Faces IRS Scrutiny


Guest Article by Marion Nestle


Informed Reading


Informed Cooking


Seeking Local Stories

Quote, Unquote

"For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do."


– U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson sharing his worst fears while announcing his resignation.










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December 2004

Editor’s Note: In this special year-end issue, we highlight U.S. government flubs and flaws, bidding a fond farewell to two cabinet members. And thanks to Marion Nestle for allowing us to reprint her eloquent analysis, forever reminding us that creating a viable strategy for change requires understanding how we got here in the first place.

We also want to take this opportunity to ask our cherished readers, that in this season of giving, you kindly consider making a donation to Informed Eating by visiting us online ( In return, we pledge more of the same no-holds-barred reporting and analysis of nutrition policy you’ve come to expect. Many thanks for your ongoing support and happy holidays!

Finally, a correction: Last month, we erroneously reported that the passage of Proposition 64 in California meant that only the state attorney general could bring a lawsuit under the unfair business practices statute. In fact, private attorneys can still sue, but now must do so on behalf of an individual showing actual harm. We apologize for any confusion.


Good Riddance to Veneman and Thompson

By now you’ve heard the news that Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson will both resign. Public health advocates certainly won’t shed any tears over the loss of these two corporate apologists. Veneman’s legacy includes how, upon the discovery of the first U.S. cow infected with mad cow disease, she cheerfully encouraged Americans to go back to eating their hamburgers, while nearly a year later, testing remains woefully inadequate thanks to cattle industry pressure.

But Thompson wins the prize for most quotable quotes in favor of food industry interests. Who can forget how, at a 2002 meeting of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (a powerful trade association), he told members to “go on the offensive” against critics blaming the food industry for obesity. Then there was his cheerleading at a McDonald’s press conference earlier this year to help launch their “Balanced Lifestyle Platform.” Most chilling of all was his plea to hundreds of attendees at the TIME/ABC News Obesity Summit to “continue to work hard to spread the gospel of personal responsibility”— classic food industry rhetoric. At least Thompson was always honest about where he stood, even it wasn’t with the public he was supposed to be serving.

Don’t be surprised if Veneman and Thompson wind up on industry’s payroll somehow. That’s what keeps the revolving door in Washington DC well-oiled. And who can we expect as potential replacements? Won’t much matter; as long as they are on the Bush Team, just expect business as usual.

CDC Scrambles to Correct Obesity Statistics

How often have you heard the ominous prediction that obesity will soon overtake tobacco as the number one cause of preventable death in the United States? Now the federal government is re-thinking that projection. After months of debate within scientific circles over the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) oft-cited figure of 400,000 obesity-related annual deaths, the public health agency is now down-grading its estimates by as many as 80,000. Critics say the real figures are even lower. Behind the scientific debate lies the more ominous controversy sparked largely by tobacco researcher Dr. Stanton Glantz pitting obesity against tobacco in a world of limited resources. Glantz is concerned that the original data has already significantly impacted public policy, and is resulting in more private funding being allocated for obesity, at the expense of tobacco control. “Having the CDC put out numbers that are widely viewed as unreliable does not help deal with either obesity or tobacco control,” he said.

For its part, the CDC is attempting serious damage control. In an email sent to nutrition advocates and scientists around the country, the agency pledged that its revised figures would be published soon (in JAMA, where the original data first appeared back in March) and has directed the venerable Institutes of Medicine (IOM) to take up the matter in December. That message concludes: “The errors in the study’s calculations do not diminish the threat that obesity poses to public health. CDC still considers obesity a leading cause of preventable deaths and a major public health issue.” Glantz dismisses the idea that the IOM meeting will settle anything, calling it, “more politics.”

Sources: Wall Street Journal, 11/23/04
San Francisco Chronicle, 11/29/04
Email from CDC Chief of Science, 11/24/04

Industry Front Group Faces IRS Scrutiny

Last month, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service alleging that the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has violated its nonprofit, tax exempt status. Despite its populist-sounding name, CCF is a food and restaurant industry front group best known for its hyperbolic rhetoric and assault tactics, such as calling nutrition advocate Kelly Brownell a “food Nazi” for merely proposing the idea of a snack tax. According to the IRS, participation by a nonprofit organization in a political campaign for or against any specific candidate is strictly prohibited. Yet CCF openly opposed the presidential candidacy of Dennis Kucinich, making such statements as "perhaps the Ohioans [sic] from his district should show some 'starlit magic' by sending this wacko looking for a new job next November."

Tax exempt organizations must also have a charitable purpose. But CREW says the Center for Consumer Freedom just lobbies on behalf of food producers, the restaurant industry, and the tobacco industry. Indeed, Philip Morris was one of the largest initial contributors to CCF, and the group is headed by notorious tobacco lobbyist Rick Berman. CREW's Executive Director Melanie Sloan said that such violations are more than “significant enough for the IRS to revoke an organization's tax exempt status. Given all of the violations CCF has committed, a full and fair investigation should result in the organization losing its exemption.” Informed Eating will be sure to follow this story, as its editor is one of CCF’s numerous targets.

Source: CREW press release, 11/16/04
To view the complaint, visit


School Food, Public Policy, and Strategies for Change
By Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH

School food is a “hot button” issue, and it well deserves to be. It lies right at the heart of issues related to equality in our society. Americans live in a pluralistic society. For democracy to work, the interests of constituencies must be appropriately balanced. School food is about the balance between corporate interests and those of advocates for children’s health. The nutritional health of American children has changed during this century, improving dramatically in some ways, but not in others. In the early 1900s, the principal health problems among children were infectious diseases made worse by diets limited in calories and nutrients. As the economy improved, and as more was learned about nutritional needs, manufacturers fortified foods with key nutrients, the government started school feeding programs, and the results were a decline in nutrient deficiency conditions. That severe under-nutrition has now virtually disappeared among American children can be counted as one of the great public health achievements of the twentieth century. For the great majority of American children, the problem of not having enough food has been solved. Whether children are eating the right food, is another matter.

Read full article here:

Informed Reading

In Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry is Killing Us, author Christopher Cook picks up where Eric Schlosser left off in Fast Food Nation. Venturing beyond just fast food, or GMOs, or obesity, Cook takes us for an uncompromising tour of virtually every aspect of our very unhealthy and unsustainable food system. Cook’s investigative journalism skills are especially evident in his chilling chapter on the working conditions within animal slaughterhouses. “They told us to use the bathroom before work, because they would not give us permission to go during work,” explained one Mexican worker. Cook describes how corporate control of farms and supermarkets, the drive to increase agribusiness profits, outmoded export subsidies, and politics as usual have all combined to create a staggering array of social and environmental epidemics. Sadly, just as Schlosser did in Fast Food Nation, Cook glaringly omits a chapter on the horrific conditions that billions of animals suffer under every year, despite covering the labor, environmental, and public health impacts of factory farming. Why is only human misery relevant? Other than that, I highly recommend Diet for Dead Planet–just don’t eat it over lunch.

For more information, visit:

Informed Cooking

If you need some cheering up after reading Diet for a Dead Planet and are looking for a way that you can help make a difference, then pick up a brand new DVD called Vegetarian Cooking with Compassionate Cooks. Hosts Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Alka Chandna—two of the most experienced, engaging, and knowledgeable vegetarian cooking instructors I know—demonstrate six tantalizing, yet easy-to-make dishes, all the while explaining important nutrition information, shopping tips, and de-bunking common myths of vegetarian eating. If you’ve always thought that giving up meat means living a life devoid of pleasure and taste, this DVD will convince you otherwise. While you may not have much say about who is appointed as the next agriculture secretary, at least you can learn to cook delicious meals, using healthy, humane, and sustainable foods.

For more information, visit:

Seeking Local Stories of Battling Big Food

CIFC is currently gathering stories at the state and local levels where the food industry is attempting to block nutrition advocacy efforts. Many states, cities, and counties around the country are trying to pass nutrition-related legislation (e.g., limiting junk food in schools or imposing soda taxes), but the food industry is lobbying hard to either stop or curtail these efforts. If you know about any specific fights, we want to hear about them. We are especially interested in stories related to soda contracts in schools. Please contact Michele Simon at: or (510) 465-0322. Thank you!

The Center for Informed Food Choices in a nonprofit organization that advocates for a whole foods, plant-based diet and educates about the politics of food.

CIFC is proud to make Informed Eating available as a free public service. Unlike industry publications, it is not underwritten by corporate sponsors. We would greatly appreciate your support for this newsletter and our other important policy work. For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit or call (510) 465-0322.

Informed Eating is written and edited by Michele Simon. You may contact her at Michele Simon is available for lectures and workshops in your community and can speak on a variety of food policy topics. For more information, visit:


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