Friday, September 27, 2013

The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?

The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?

Yale University; University of Michigan (2009)

Context:In 1954 the tobacco industry paid to publish the “Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers” in hundreds of U.S. newspapers. It stated that the public’s health was the industry’s concern above all others and promised a variety of good-faith changes. What followed were decades of deceit and actions that cost
millions of lives. In the hope that the food history will be written differently, this article both highlights important lessons that can be learned from the tobacco experience and recommends actions for the food industry.

Methods:A review and analysis of empirical and historical evidence pertaining to tobacco and food industry practices, messages, and strategies to influence public opinion, legislation and regulation, litigation, and the conduct of science.

Findings: The tobacco industry had a playbook, a script, that emphasized personal responsibility, paying scientists who delivered research that instilled doubt, criticizing the “junk” science that found harms associated with smoking, making self-regulatory pledges, lobbying with massive resources to stifle government action, introducing “safer” products, and simultaneously manipulating and denying both the addictive nature of their products and their marketing to children. The script of the food industry is both similar to and different from
the tobacco industry script.

Conclusions: Food is obviously different from tobacco, and the food industry differs from tobacco companies in important ways, but there also are significant similarities in the actions that these industries have taken in response to concern that their products cause harm. Because obesity is now a major global problem, the world cannot afford a repeat of the tobacco history, in which industry talks about the moral high ground but does not occupy it.

...the industry is organized and politically powerful. It
consists of massive agribusiness companies like Cargill, Archer Daniels
Midland, Bunge, and Monsanto; food sellers as large as Kraft (so big
as to own Nabisco) and Pepsi-Co (owner of Frito Lay); and restaurant
companies as large as McDonald’s and Yum! Brands (owner of Pizza
Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, and more). These are represented by lobbyists,
lawyers, and trade organizations that in turn represent a type of food (e.g.,
Snack Food Association, American Beverage Association), a segment of
the industry (e.g., National Restaurant Association), a constituent of
food (e.g., Sugar Association, Corn Refiners Association), or the entire
industry (e.g., Grocery Manufacturers of America).
Common to all these players is an arresting logic: to successfully
address the obesity epidemic, the nation must consume fewer calories,
which means eating less food...A shrinking market for all those
calories would mean less money—a lot less.

Address correspondence to: Kelly D. Brownell, Rudd Center for Food Policy and
Obesity, Yale University, 309 Edwards St., Box 208369, New Haven, CT
06520-8369 (email:
The Milbank Quarterly, Vol. 87, No. 1, 2009 (pp. 259–294)
c 2009 Milbank Memorial Fund. Published by Wiley Periodicals Inc.

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