Does Big Food Need To Be Regulated?

Kelly Brownell, director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has picked a fight with America’s food industry.

In an article commissioned for the PLoS Medicine series on Big Food, Brownell said that working collaboratively with the food industry to improve America’s health is a mistake and a trap. Like other industries, Big Food has an obligation to it’s shareholders to sell more products and make more money irrespective of the impact upon consumers.

“Government, foundations, and other powerful institutions should be working for regulation, not collaboration”.

Brownell believes that:

  • Big Food is attempting to improve their image by making small contributions to public health (donations, public-private partnerships, “healthy eating” campaigns, etc) while “it fights viciously against meaningful change (such as limits on marketing, taxes on products such as sugared beverages, and regulation of nutritional labeling)”.
  • For example, the soft drink industry gave the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia a US$10 million gift at the same time that the city of Philadelphia was considering a soda tax. “Such public-sector interaction with industry could be predicted to undermine public health goals and protect industry interests”.
  • He also cites the organized defense against soda taxes, the lobbying of congress to avoid restriction of junk food advertising to children under the age of 12, and the unbelievably huge amount of money being spent on marketing to pre-teens while simultaneously claiming to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.

Brownell argues that while America’s food industry has introduced healthier food options, they have not promised to sell less junk food.

“Quite the contrary; they now offer ever larger burgers and portions, introduce ever more categories of sugared beverages (sports drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin waters), find ever more creative ways of marketing foods to vulnerable populations (e.g., children), and increasingly engage in promotion of unhealthy foods in developing countries.”

Brownell’s Solution?

Brownell argues that:

  1. Big Food can’t be trusted with our health, and
  2. When industry can’t be trusted to do the “right thing” the American government has a responsibility to step in and regulate change

He cites 3 historical examples.

  1. Tobacco industry regulation
  2. The elimination of financial regulation that led to the sub-prime meltdown and resultant global recession.
  3. Automotive industry regulation – seat belts, airbags, etc

Brownell believes that without government intervention/regulation, the food industry’s drive for increasing profits will lead to a continuing increasing of American obesity and a continuing degradation of American health.

So….what sayest thou?

  • Does Big Food need to be regulated?
  • If so, how?
  • If not, why?
  • And if you say that government regulation/oversight is a form of socialism, you will also need to explain to me why we have public military, fire departments & police departments.


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