Food Policy

February's Furious Foray Against Food Freedom

February 2014 may go down as the worst month for food freedom since the height of the New Deal era.

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I'll begin here: February 2014 may go down as the worst month for food freedom since the New Deal era.

The lowlights began with President Obama signing a new trillion-dollar Farm Bill into law. The bill had stalled for two years while lawmakers wrangled over possible cuts. And while this Farm Bill eliminates the pointless direct subsidies paid to farmers, the new law is rife with crop insurance subsidies that will cost taxpayers untold billions.

Soon after, word came that tort lawyers were busy pitching attorneys general in sixteen states on the idea of a broad lawsuit to "make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs."

If this sounds familiar, it should. These lawyers are doing nothing more than taking a page out of their own Big Tobacco playbook. What's more, they tried this same approach against the food industry in the early 2000s. It rightly failed.

The same week that news broke of lawyers itching to cash in on the food industry, California legislators proposed adding a warning label to all sweetened drinks like soda sold in the state. The absurd requirement—in the state that practically invented them—would mean these beverages "would be required to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."

In case you're begging for it all to end, this month of hell gets worse. The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the mounting concern among farmers across the country—concerns I've raised many times, including here—that the FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act final rules will put many small, organic farmers out of business.

"Over the summer, the owner of the last working farm in Akron, Ohio, which had been supplying produce to locals for 117 years, said he was throwing in the towel and blamed the FDA's new rules," reports the paper. "Don Bessemer told the Akron Beacon Journal that he was up for fighting pests and even drought, but not bureaucrats. Thirty workers lost jobs."

I've spoken with other small farmers who are getting out of the business. And this is before the final rules have even been written.

As this last week of February began, there was still more bad news.

First Lady Michelle Obama announced changes in school food that are timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of her Let's Move program.

The provision grabbing most headlines around school food this week was the First Lady's proposed elimination of some food marketing from schools. While I think that mandate is well outside power of the federal government, I have little or no problem with the policy itself.

What I oppose strongly, though, is a nefarious but underreported parallel proposal to expand the federal school lunch pogrom.

Problems with the USDA's revised school lunch program are as widely known as they are widespread. I've written about them here, for example. And a new GAO report found that last year's disastrous rollout of the updated National School Lunch Program (which Mrs. Obama also championed) helped drive 1.6 million paying students from the lunch rolls.

Rather than moving to scrap the program for all but the neediest (or, better, encouraging parents to reclaim control of their kids' lunches), the administration is doubling down on a new plan that would result in a dramatic expansion of the number of students who are eligible for free lunches and breakfast—even though they are perfectly able to pay for their meals.

The change "will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students in schools where at least 40 percent of the children are low-income," notes the Washington Post in the last sentence of an 850-word report on the school food announcements this week. "The move is designed to increase participation in the free meals program and to relieve the paperwork burden on schools and is expected to affect 22,000 schools nationwide."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was quick to hail the plan, noting those tens of thousands of schools "will soon be able to provide healthier, free meals to all of their students."

Healthier? Healthier than what, exactly?

I'm not a nutritionist. But here are some of the school lunch offerings in my rather-well-off community of Montgomery County, Maryland for the month of February: whole grain chicken patty sandwich with tater tots, whole grain cheese or pepperoni pizza, hot dog with tater tots, french toast sticks with sausage, mac 'n cheese with whole grain chicken bites, whole grain chicken nuggets with blueberry bread.

So where do Americans—we who eat too many calories—get our calories? As I noted here two years ago here, the USDA's own list of the "Top 25 sources of calories among Americans ages 2 years and older" finds that the top three sources of calories in our diets are grain-based desserts, bread, and chicken. In other words, precisely the foods found on those "healthier," reformulated USDA school lunch menus.

The final assault on food freedom this month came on Thursday, when Mrs. Obama announced the FDA would update its Nutrition Facts panels for the first time in 20 years.

The transformation is largely cosmetic. Many serving sizes would change, reports the New York Times. Some words would move around, while others would be abbreviated. "Percent daily values would shift to the left," reports the Times, and the words "Daily Value" would be replaced with "DV". And "added sugars" would have to appear underneath total sugars (although they are exactly the same substance). And while the FDA looks set to ban most trans fats altogether, the words curiously still appear on the newly proposed Nutrition Facts panel.

These changes will add billions in new packaging and labeling costs for food and beverage manufacturers, many who have already updated their own packages to—among other things—slap the number of calories their foods contain right on the front of the package.

Big changes?

FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg touted the new labels as "an amazing transformation," reports the Times. Food regulation advocate Prof. Marion Nestle labeled herself "kind of stunned actually."

Others, like me, were less than impressed.

"This is a false victory," Prof. Barry Popkin told the Times. "It will affect just a small segment of consumers who carefully study nutrition fact panels."

As the year began, I predicted in a Fox News column that supporters of food freedom would face considerable hurdles in 2014. But even I couldn't have imagined that the year would bring so many challenges. And so fast. With more than 300 days left in the year—and crackdowns on caffeine, salt, trans fats, and other foods and food ingredients looming—I'm ready for this year of false victories to be over.

NEXT: Want to Scare the Bejesus Out of Your Kid With a Fake Call From the Cops? There's an App for That.

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  1. If this sounds familiar, it should. These lawyers are doing nothing more than taking a page out of their own Big Tobacco playbook.

    It’s Big Government versus Small Tobacco. Which one is the bigger entity?

    1. Warning: interfering with my rights will most definitely be harmful to your health.

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  2. Daisy Duke turns 60.

    Sorry to make you feel old. If you want to feel younger, here’s younger Daisy Duke.

    1. Jessica Simpson will always be the REAL Daisy Duke.

          1. I didn’t see anything wrong with her aaaa…
            acting.

    2. I’ve been madly in lust with that woman since I was a wee tyke.

  3. People laughed at me when I moved to Idaho and built my 7500 sq. ft. food bunker. Who’s laughing now, warning-label slaves?

    1. Quick question. How many potatoes do you eat that require 7500 square feet of storage space?

  4. The change “will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students [and] is designed to … relieve the paperwork burden on schools”

    This is obviously a pilot program leading to abolishing the income tax.

    1. one thing about free lunch that speaks to a broader truth — has anyone in this community ever known or known of a child who came off of the program?

      Think – in this kid’s 12 year (or longer) public school journey, his/her parent(s) never got to the point where the family could buy lunch. That, in a nutshell, tells you everything that is wrong with these feel-good gimme programs that are no more than incentives for lifelong sorriness.

      1. IIRC, once on the free lunch program, there is no need to prove each year that a family qualifies. So you think that people will suddenly have pride and give up their free stuff, even if they are now making a good income?

        And I’m certain the school districts would not discourage this. It’s much better for them to get their guaranteed meal funding for the free lunch kids than to have to try and entice the other families to have to pay them for what they cook up. No doubt they’d be much happier if everyone was on the free lunches.

        Which makes me wonder, though — how many kids on the free lunch menu actually eat the free meals? My son is in sixth grade and often skips meals (we had to buy him a pre-paid “card” that pays for food a la carte at school, so at least we don’t pay for when he doesn’t eat). It would make for an interesting study, one which I’m sure would be immediately dismissed by the Left.

  5. I’d like to see a deeper analysis of the farm bill. Are ALL direct subsidies eliminated? Are we still paying people NOT to grow crops?
    What about the peanut program? What about other commodity-specific price support programs? What about dairy? What about production quotas?

    US Agriculture policy has been so convoluted for so many years that when you say that direct subsidies have been eliminated, I can’t tell if you are talking about all farm products or just about corn and wheat.

    1. Some Q&As; that may help.

      (Warning: from HuffPo)

      1. That doesn’t answer any of my questions.

          1. Too many words?

            Yes, judging by the size of the PDF.

            1. Stop your whining. I made it all the way through Moby Dick, “The Farm Bill of Literature.”

              1. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

    2. Don’t forget soy bean.

  6. tort lawyers were busy pitching … the idea of a broad lawsuit to “make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.”

    Seems superfluous. Isn’t Democratcare already making industry in general pay for soaring health care costs?

    1. It is just an indirect way to say “please make it easier for us to earn 33-50% contingency fees on our racketeering lawsuits.”

  7. “Whats more they tried this same approach against the food industury in the early 2000’s. It rightly failed”

    As I sat here eating some doughnuts reading this article I thought to myself
    “Give it time, the victimization of America is slowly underway.” Eventually everyone will want their just desserts.”

    1. “Need to sharpen my blade! Make it shiny, pointy, and oh so…deadly! Ha ha ha!” -Cicero

      but yea seriously, I’m drinking some sweet tea here myself and thinking the exact, same thing.

      You wouldn’t happen to be female, would you? Because if you are, I…i think I just found my soul mate. Oh, senpai…

      1. Oh, wait… “Mr.”. Gahhh! /forever alone. ;_;

        mornings -_-

        I agree with your point sir, well said. [straightens moustache and then gives you a firm handshake, turns, and walks away from this very awkward moment].

      2. Nope. But I understand where youre coming from.

      3. I thought “Mrs. AturdayNightSpecial” would be a chick, too.

        1. See, I knew better. That barrel so blue and cold was an easy tipoff.

  8. whole grain chicken patty sandwich with tater tots, whole grain cheese or pepperoni pizza, hot dog with tater tots, french toast sticks with sausage, mac ‘n cheese with whole grain chicken bites, whole grain chicken nuggets with blueberry bread.

    the top three sources of calories in our diets are grain-based desserts, bread, and chicken.

    This. So much.
    There are way too many people out there who think that “eating healthy” means switching to whole grain pasta kale chips.

    It’s a lot like the “food desert” people, who think that unless you can find vegetables fresh, then they aren’t healthy.

    Just eat vegetables, frozen is totally ok.

    1. I subscribe to the notion that one should eat what they like, and eat it in moderation. Whatever your tastes they’ll be considered healthy by the “experts” soon enough. Remember when eggs and butter were the worst goddamn poison you could subject yourself to? Nowadays who would advocate eating margarine over butter. Stick with butter. Butter’s better.

      Also, if you don’t wanna get fat, then move around a bit. A bunch of “healthy” calories partaken whilst on your ass will go straight to your ass.

      1. I wish I’d kept a list of all the things that were bad for me that turn out to be complete bullshit. I question everything now. Eggs, butter, coffee, wine… Waiting to hear about the health benefits of smoking.

        Not just food either. All those things your mom told you that you accepted as fact, like sitting too close to the TV will hurt your eyes, she apparently pulled directly out of her asshole.

        Call bullshit! Demand proof! Trust no one!

        1. She may have pulled that out of her culo. But it’s actually true. Sitting too close to a TV will in the long run have negative effects on your eyes. It can increase myopia (near sightedness). It decreases blinking by 30% and drying out the eyes. Computer, smart phones, tablets give off UV, which can contribute to anterior ocular issues later on. Not to mention watching too much TV will make you dump. Now that I pulled outa my ass. I work in optometry for a living, but not for much longer.

    2. Ya they should be serving more vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned) and non processed meats.

      “Whole grain pasta kale chips”

      Just no.

      1. Kale chips are actually pretty good, thanks for reminding me…. I should harvest the last of my kale before the weather warms up.

        Then, some salt, a spritz of olive oil, and into the oven. mmmmmm!

        Somehow I doubt that they’d be any good if I were purchasing them, or worse, having them put on my plate as part of a “healthy” lunch.

    3. Just eat vegetables, frozen is totally ok.

      Pretty much the only way I’m eating them, slathered in cheese. Ho ho ho.

      1. my wife considers cheese to be its own food group. And sometimes, she sees butter the same way.

        Curiously, watch a high-end chef making something. There is no shortage of all the things that inspire pearl clutching.

        1. Reminds me of the comment about the four basic foodgroups in traditional Maine cooking, sugar, salt, lard and starch.

          Damn, I ate good up there!

    4. Just eat vegetables, frozen is totally ok.

      I find them a bit too crunchy that way. 😉

      Of course calories are no more the source of obesity than they are the source of adolescence.

  9. “make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.”

    Is it too much to ask that fat fucks themselves pay for the health costs of indulging in fat fuckery?

    1. Hey, now, I’m one of those fat fucks you’re talking about!

      And yes, it is too much to ask. Why can’t everyone everywhere just carry my fat ass around in a sedan chair, like sultans of old?

      I’m going to lobby the fedgov for that.

      I’ll call it the Russian Prime Minister Fat Fuck Bill for Fat Fuckery.

      1. You have a preexisting glandular problem I am sure.

        Don’t worry, we will pay for everything.

        1. You have a preexisting glandular problem I am sure.

          Hormones run the body, dude. I’m a former (extremely) “fat fuck” myself. Got that way eating fewer calories than our skinny sales ladies, and working hard physically 5 or 6 days a week. Eating according to thermodynamics turned me into Jabba’s ugly brother. Eating according to endocrinology let me buy polos and chinos in Kohl’s again.

          Now I’m proud to be merely very overweight. I’m literally half the man I used to be. Low carb, high fat!

      2. “Why can’t everyone everywhere just carry my fat ass around in a sedan chair, like sultans of old?”

        and what if everyone else is fat? Is it sedans all the way down?

        1. I think that would give new meaning to the term “food pyramid”

  10. I’m not a nutritionist. But here are some of the school lunch offerings in my rather-well-off community of Montgomery County, Maryland for the month of February

    I followed the link and I only see 1% or fat-free milk. Does that mean whole and 2% are not offered?

    1. Of course! Haven’t you heard that it’s fat and salt in our diet that causes all obesity? The President’s wife says so, and she’s very smart. That means 1% and skim milk only.

      If everyone just switches to low-fat, low-salt, high-carb meals, soon we’ll all be as svelte as Mrs. Obama. We’re teaching the kids this now.

      If you ate nothing but beer (zero grams fat!) and fat-free potato chips you’d never have to exercise.

      1. I confirmed this with a google search. I completed missed its ban two years ago.

        Unfucking believable.

      2. Except studies show that fat and salt aren’t bad for you. Is there anything the government doesn’t suck at?

      3. That will make it easy for me… if it’s not whole milk, it’s not milk, and I won’t touch it!

        4% minimum or nothing!

        1. My endocrinologist fixed a lot of my health problems by telling me to eat three tablespoons of butter every morning.
          It worked.

  11. “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” “No, my dear, the *dress* doesn’t make you look fat.”

    rimshotillbehereallnight.com

  12. Kinda takes “let them eat cake” to a whole, new level…. o_o

  13. “Soon after, word came that tort lawyers were busy pitching attorneys general in sixteen states on the idea of a broad lawsuit to “make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.”

    In a better world, those tort lawyers would fear for their lives.

  14. Beverages “would be required to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

    At some point, the law of declining returns must kick in on labeling.

    If everything has a warning label on it, then people are going to stop thinking of things with warning labels as dangerous.

    Also, it really does expose the progressive mindset. The progressives really do think we’re woefully ignorant and we’ll do whatever we’re told.

    How are average people going to react to progressives as they come to realize that their progressive overlords think they’re dumber than rednecks?

    1. Like I say, anyone who thinks rednecks are dumb should call a hipster when their car breaks down.

      1. I appreciate that.

        What I’m trying to say is that all those inner city people who applaud the progressives for denouncing rednecks as ignorant and pathetic may start to notice that the progressives’s opinion of city dwellers may be even lower than it is of rednecks.

        How stupid do progressives think voters are–that they need a warning label on a can of Coke? You think we didn’t know this was bad for us–REALLY?!

        1. Im surprised they’re not invoking the common sense rule theyre so fond of using with guns. “Didnt you know a can of coke is just as dangerous as a assault weapon, and we need to label and regulate those. I mean its just common sense.”

  15. Interesting how first they demean & ban smoking with its appetite suppressing nicotine. Next they fight hard to ban eCigs with it’s safer delivery of appetite suppressing nicotine. Then they fight hard to legalize weed with its munchies making phenomenon. Then they regulate healthy food out of business, force gmo down everyone’s throats, … all hailed by RWJf aka big Pharma with its miracle diet pills, Alzheimer’s Meds, cholesterol pills that lower your immune system, and so on.
    What in the world are governments both local and national doing in our private lives to begin with??? Wake up!

  16. Is it me or does it seem like the powers to be are turning schools no longer into centers of education but full on training centers. I read recently how there is a proposal to make schools one stop shopping where kids will get all their developmental needs. Medical Care education the bulk of their food. Lets cut out the middle men lets just build barracks and make it official. At age three you turn your children into the state till age 18. Sorry for going on a black helicopter rant but it just seems that way.

  17. “What I oppose strongly, though, is a nefarious but underreported parallel proposal to expand the federal school lunch pogrom.”

    Well, now you’re just scaring me unnecessarily.

  18. I can’t tell if you are talking about all farm products or just about corn and wheat.

  19. Huh. Can’t believe this. This is crazy. pest control la vegas

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