OUCH!: Congressional Candyland

You've heard of sweet-talking politicians. How about sweet-taking pols? That's the only name to give to the thirty Senators who earlier this year signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman protesting a proposed change in the federal government's dietary guidelines concerning how much sugar people should eat.

On one side were a group of the country's top nutritionists, who studied the issue for three years. Concerned that sugar has no dietary value other than adding calories and alarmed at rising obesity rates in the population, the nutrition experts suggested changing the federal guideline on sugar, which used to state "Choose a diet moderate in sugar," to read: "Choose beverages and foods that limit your intake of sugars."

That's when the sugar lobby swung into action. Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Kent Conrad (D-NE), the #1 and #4 recipients of sugar-daddy campaign contributions from 1995-2000 (with $71,602 and $44,726, respectively), circulated a letter to Secretary Glickman calling on him to essentially overrule the nutritionists' recommendation, citing rules that require any such change to be backed by "sound science" -- a classic industry strategem for blocking or delaying regulatory actions. According to a report in Legal Times, the initial draft of the letter was written by sugar industry lobbyists.

Ultimately, thirty Senators -- 22 Republicans and 8 Democrats, including several on the committee that oversees the Department of Agriculture's budget -- signed the letter. This group received 40 percent more in contributions from the sugar industry than the average Senator. Overall, sugar growers have given more than $4.4 million to federal candidates and party committees since 1997, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (Fifty-two percent of the goodies have gone to Democrats; 48 percent to Republicans.)

The result? When the USDA announced its revision of the federal food guidelines on May 27th, the nutritionists' language had been quietly dropped. Now they tell Americans to "choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugar." And the meaning of this change isn't as fluffy as cotton candy. Among other things, the dietary guidelines regulate what the federal government, the nation's largest food buyer, can purchase for the more than 50 million people it feeds daily in the army, prisons and schools.

This isn't the first time that a well-heeled food lobby has managed to tilt the federal food guidelines toward its product, by the way. When the Agriculture Department initially emphasized fresh foods in a draft of its "food guide pyramid" for young children, the National Food Processors Association pounced. Their lobbyists convinced the USDA to include their products in the final pyramid. Look closely and you'll spot canned tuna in the "meat group," canned peas in the "vegetable group," and canned peaches in the "fruit group." Yum.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close