When Corporate Muscles Flex, Part 1

Hefty people on barrels

In the interest of fairness, since Childhood Obesity News has mentioned Coca-Cola on numerous occasions, today it is PepsiCo’s turn. Apparently, the soft drink and junk food giant engages in a whole lot of pro-childhood obesity lobbying activities. In the lobbying field, activities mainly consist of giving advice and disbursing payments. In the case of PepsiCo, $3 million worth of payments each year, for the privilege of buying influence with senators and Congress members.

Oops, we did talk about Pepsi recently — in the context of Forbes writer Paul Tassi’s condemnation of a promotional campaign that stepped, in his opinion, “over the line.” It had to do with a video game where kids are bribed to eat a lot of junk food and drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages. Why? To get game points. Yes, PepsiCo arranged it so that a video game can be high-scored not just with skill and good reflexes, but by buying their pseudo-food. Tassi said:

Product placement or cross promotion is nothing new in the industry, but this new collaboration between Pepsi and Activision is nothing short of unholy.

But let’s get back to what the lobbyists are up to. Labeling has been a big topic of interest, we learn from Diets In Review, which delicately calls the corporation’s position a “bipolar relationship to consumer health.” PepsiCo and its brothers are all worried about what they have to tell us on the packages and what they can get away with not telling us. To disguise ingredients, one popular dodge is to use an umbrella term such as “natural flavoring” which can mean just about anything. Cyanide is, after all, a natural flavoring.

(On the subject of corporate behemoths, at Frugal Dad there is an informative infographic packed with scary information about the companies that control the food.)

Another subject on which lobbyists succeed in influencing the minds of legislators is public assistance, specifically what we call the food stamp program. Many citizens and even some politicians believe that soda pop should not be included in the allowable purchases made by people whose nutritional needs are served by government programs. Guess which side of the question PepsiCo comes down on?

The writer says:

Although PepsiCo has made a number of changes to improve the public conception of how healthy their products are, the money invested in this kind of lobbying betrays these efforts as little more than token concessions to Americans’ increased interest in healthy eating… Lobbying against efforts to prevent childhood obesity belies the company’s efforts to cultivate a healthier public image.

Marion Nestle points out that the ears of our elected representatives in the House and Senate are not the only ones that can be bought. The voices of the food industry’s lobbyists are heard in the halls of the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and Department of Agriculture, as well as the office of the President.

Nestle would like to see more rules, enforceable ones, about marketing junk food for kids. She also warns that food corporations must submit to some authority and cut their losses within the United States; it will merely add to America’s history of exporting misery through corporate greed. She says:

If they don’t sell products to kids in the U.S., they will intensify efforts to sell products to kids in developing countries, thereby outsourcing childhood obesity.

That is no win-win scenario; it merely retains the same old winner, the food industry, and supplies a different set of losers — the entire rest of the world. Nestle also reminds us how desperately the industry needs to sell junk food to kids because the rule that corporations run by is that every fiscal quarter of the year must bring increased profits.

Environmentalist Edward Abbey put it this way:

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Cancer has no purpose but growth; but it does have another result — the death of the host.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “PepsiCo Invests in Pro-Childhood Obesity Lobbying,” Diets In Review, 12/30/11
Source: “Lobbying in action: PepsiCo vs. kids’ marketing guidelines,” Food Politics, 12/26/11
Image by Jason Anfinsen, used under its Creative Commons license.

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