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Food Police Find it Hard to Adjust to the New Reality

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“Gall” is sometimes defined as the young man who killed his parents asking the judge for mercy because he is an orphan.  The latest example of gall is the CEO of a snack food maker donating millions of dollars to fight the influence of the food industry on public policy. Daniel Lubetzky says he’s pledging $25 million his own money to create a group called “Feed the Truth” dedicated to revealing corporate influence in the nutrition field, with activities like education campaigns and investigative journalism. Lubetzky heads Kind, a company known for its fruit and nut bars, touts its use of “real” ingredients, and has proven deft at mixing marketing with nutrition. In other words, another Chipotle and Panera, with just a different wrapper.

For the past 8 years, the food police has had a strong ally in the White House in Michelle Obama and a sympathetic ear at USDA in the form of Tom Vilsack. But things have changed in Washington, and those who like to tell us what we should and should not eat find themselves on the outside. This means it is going to be harder for them to regulate school lunch programs, food service menus, and fast food advertising. So they are going to have to revert to trying to influence public and political opinion, the very thing Lubetzky decries.

These dietary do-gooders like to market their products as simple and non-corporate, while, in reality, they are just as much corporate food giants as those at whom they like to throw stones. Since Kind was launched in 2004, the company’s annual revenue has grown to $673.4 million.  Lubetzky says he is willing to fund investigative journalism about big food influence, but it would not take too much investigation to find that his company was recently in the spotlight when the Food and Drug Administration warned that it was inappropriately using the term “healthy” on packaging.

There is no doubt that the food industry has an influence on public health and nutrition policy, but don’t get fooled into thinking that influence is one-sided.  Those who claim they are healthiest, safest, and most nutritious may, in reality, be no better than those they claim to be better than.

  By Gary Truitt