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The Government-Industry Conspiracy that Promotes Crap Food in School

Industry and government work together to promote everything from fast-food pizza to sugary milk in schools.

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Ironically, these funds are directly used to promote junk foods, which contribute to the diseases the federal government is allegedly trying to prevent. As Kiera Butler of Mother Jones points out in her recent  coverage of my report, the USDA’s dairy checkoff program is in direct conflict with several federal nutritional tenets. For example, while the USDA says to “avoid oversized portions,” its checkoff program supports Taco Bell’s Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla, which has 750 calories and 29 grams of fat. The USDA also wisely recommends drinking beverages “without added sugars.” But its dairy checkoff program helped McDonald’s develop its McCafé Frappé Mocha, with 450 calories and an incredible 57 grams of sugar accounting for about half those calories. (The American Heart Association  recommends (PDF) no more than 100 calories from added sugars per day for women and 150 for men.)

As a time when the nation is suffering from an epidemic of chronic disease due to poor diet, does it make sense for the federal government to tell Americans to avoid foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat while engaging in the promotion of those foods? The federal government should stop mandating industry fees that undermine public health and end the dairy checkoff program.

Parke Wilde, a professor and food economist at Tufts University  puts it this way: “The meat and dairy industries can do what they like with their own money. The public power of taxation should be used for the public good.” He also calls on the government to stop undermining public health, writing that checkoff messaging “should serve our stated public-health goals at a time when health care costs are threatening to bankrupt the government.”

A USDA representative  told Mother Jones that “any changes in USDA’s authority over these programs would have to come from Congress.” Great idea. Maybe our representatives can get to work on that, right after they finish their ice cream.

This article originally appeared in Al Jazeera America on July 2, 2014.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of "Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back," and research and policy director at Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group. She is grateful to live in Oakland, Calif., within walking distance of a farmers market. You can follow her on Twitter.

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