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Tough Times for the Food Police


I love the city of Chicago. Not only because I spent a good deal of my youth there but because it is the birthplace of some of the most wonderful food on earth.  The deep dish pizza and the Italian beef sandwich call the windy city home. From the Mexican women who sell homemade tamales on the street corners to the 5 star restaurants on the Gold Coast, you can always find good food in Chicago. And, thanks to a bit of common sense by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, you can enjoy a soft drink with that great Chicago food.  The Mayor has decided not to follow New York and ban consumption of soft drinks.


Last week the Mayor stood with executives from three giant soda makers to announce that the city will compete against San Antonio for a $5 million national beverage lobbying group grant that will reward city workers for being healthy, rather than making it tougher or more expensive for them to guzzle soda pop.  This stands in sharp contrast to NYC which barred convenience stores and restaurants from selling outsize sodas, and to Boston’s mayor who halted pop sales and soft-drink advertising in city buildings to fight obesity and rising health care costs.  According to the Center for Consumer Freedom, “The evidence that soda taxes will effectively reduce obesity doesn’t exist — three studies predicted daily calorie reductions of less than one percent of daily intake.”  This was just one of several setbacks for those nutrition nannies who want to control our food choices.


Stanford University published a new study on organic foods — reporting that its physicians and nutritionists found no evidence that organic foods are more nutritious.  Many of those who advocate organic food products look down their noses at food produced with modern farming methods and sneer, “It is not as good for you as organic.”  While the Stanford study is a victory for truth in food information, it is not likely to stop folks from buying organic. Many shoppers who pay the higher price for organic products do so in the mistaken belief these products are raised by small family farmers just down the road. In reality, the organic food industry is a $25 billion industry, and many of the products sold as organic are produced by corporations just as big and sophisticated as ConAgra or Monsanto.


A few weeks ago, the results of a French research study swept across the internet with the help of a well-orchestrated PR effort by anti-biotech activists. Since then the criticism has been rolling in. According to Nature, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has joined the European Food Safety Authority in panning the study which claimed that biotech corn was linked to cancer in rats as scientifically inadequate. Additionally, the ethics committee of the French National Center for Scientific Research criticized the public relations effort activists launched.  Of course, this kind of things never gets the coverage as the sensationalistic study.


And that is my point. We hear about the victories of the food police and about the food scares over-sensationalized by the media. We too often do not hear the other side or the rest of the story. As J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, points out, “Food snobs who make a living complaining about modern food processing are thrilled by the speed at which the attack on beef trimmings has gone viral on the Internet. Unfortunately, propaganda that passes for information moves so fast today that experts are handicapped getting the truth out.” This is certainly true in the realm of social media, where facts are seldom checked and anyone can be an expert.   What is worse is when people or politicians start making personal or policy decisions based on what they read on facebook or twitter.  “It’s often said that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on. The distance traveled by bad information goes much farther and faster today,” said Wilson.


But, take heart, the activists don’t win every time and not all of the twaddle on the internet is believed.  These victories should give us hope to keep on fighting to present the truth about American agriculture and to preserve our right to choose what we want to eat.


By Gary Truitt