Walmart recently announced a new labeling program that would help consumers identify healthy choices. The items must meet standards informed by dietary guidelines in line with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). That’s sure to please any self-appointed food cop right? Wrong. Despite the program’s best efforts, it seems the usual food cop posse of Kelly Brownell, Marion Nestle, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) isn’t satisfied.
CSPI put out a press release condemning the inclusion of eggs, which CSPI calls a “not-great-for-you” food. What century are we in, CSPI? The eggs-cholesterol thing was a big hubbub back in the 1970s. But there’s a difference between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. As Harvard put it (in 2006): “Fact: Eggs are a good source of nutrients. … Myth: All that cholesterol goes straight to your bloodstream and then into your arteries.”
Brownell and Nestle both have ties to CSPI, so it’s no surprise they took a dim view of a proactive move. Brownell is the man behind the “Twinkie tax”, and he advocates “slapping high-fat, low-nutrition food with a substantial government ‘sin’ tax.” According to him, certain foods are too “convenient, accessible, good-tasting … and cheap.” It’s no wonder that he argues for more oversight and regulation on food labels. But his opposition to the new voluntary label because there has been “very little scientific input” is rather comical since Brownell himself pushes soda taxes as a way to induce weight loss while acknowledging that “nobody has been able to see how people will really respond under these conditions.”
Marion Nestle served on CSPI’s board for five years. She acknowledges that Walmart’s criteria are “pretty strict,” but showed concern because the labels might increase the sales of brand products. That makes sense coming from someone who is as much anti-corporate as she is “pro-nutrition.”
For these food cops it really isn’t about what is healthy but about what they say is healthy. They want to control the definition of “good” food and “bad” food. If CSPI had its way, eggs, canned veggies, apple juice, grape juice, and some fresh lean meats couldn’t be called good for you. Since Walmart’s criteria doesn’t fit with what CSPI wants, CSPI naturally draws the conclusion that the FDA should replace the voluntary labels with a federal labeling system. Creating a new mandatory food label is just another way for food cops to say, “The government knows best.”