More Empty Recommendations on Junk Food Marketing to Children
By Michele Simon
This week, the nation’s top public health experts are gathered at a much-trumpeted obesity conference hosted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Weight of the Nation. (A quick glance at the agenda reveals nothing that would even begin to challenge the food industry.)
Released at this bland event was an equally uninspired report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM, an advisory arm of Congress) called, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. The irony of the report’s title gets lost among the 478 pages that aim to solve “this complex, stubborn problem” with “a comprehensive set of solutions.”
One of the recommendations intended to speed things up is for the food industry to “take broad, common, and urgent voluntary action to make substantial improvements” to marketing aimed at kids. This is certainly important, as advocates have for years been sounding the alarm about the intractable problem of junk food marketing to children and its connection to poor health. But another part of the IOM dictate sounded vaguely familiar:
If such marketing standards have not been adopted within two years by a substantial majority of food, beverage, restaurant and media companies that market foods and beverages to children and adolescents, policy makers at the local, state and federal levels should consider setting mandatory nutritional standards for marketing to this age group to ensure that such standards are implemented.
Two years? Where have I heard that deadline before? Oh yes, it was another IOM report, this one focused entirely on food marketing to children, from 2005, which reviewed the science showing a clear connection between junk food marketing and children’s dietary habits. That report said if voluntary efforts by industry to clean up its act were unsuccessful, “Congress should enact legislation mandating” a shift in advertising. Also, that “[w]ithin 2 years the Secretary [of health] should report to Congress on the progress and on additional actions necessary to accelerate progress.”
So it’s been 5 years since that earlier deadline has passed and now the food industry has 2 more years to show how much it really cares about kids? Did anyone at IOM bother to check its earlier reports before writing this one?
But it’s hardly IOM’s fault. If anyone is to blame for lack of action on this issue, it’s Congress and the White House, as two recent reports make painfully clear.
An in-depth investigation by Reuters describes the dirty details of the onslaught of Big Food lobbying in the wake of an effort by the federal government to improve voluntary guidelines on food marketing to kids.
Reuters found that food and beverage lobbyists spent more than $175 million lobbying since President Obama took office in 2009, more than double that spent in the previous three years, during the Bush administration. “In contrast, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, widely regarded as the lead lobbying force for healthier food, spent about $70,000 lobbying last year—roughly what those opposing the stricter guidelines spent every 13 hours.”
Reuters also examined lobbying visits to the White House, finding that a “who’s who of food company chief executives and lobbyists visited the White House” including:
CEOs of Nestle USA, Kellogg, General Mills, and top executives at Walt Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom, owner of the Nickelodeon children’s channel—companies with some of the biggest financial stakes in marketing to children. Those companies have a combined market value of more than $350 billion.
Another damning report emerged this month from the Sunlight Foundation found similar influence from Big Food. The strategy was for industry lobbyists to give money to members of Congress in exchange for their sending letters objecting to federal agency efforts. Here is how Sunlight describes one such transaction:
Days after receiving several campaign checks from the food lobby last May, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who is up for re-election this year, sent a letter raising concerns about the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to develop voluntary guidelines aimed at toning down the marketing of junk food to kids.
Seems Klobuchar wasn’t the only Democrat on the dole. Sunlight found that while most letter-writers were Republicans, lobbyist campaign donations held particular sway with Senate Democrats. Those who wrote letters of objection “collected on average, more than twice as much campaign money from food lobbying interests since 2008 as those who did not write letters.” A similar pattern also held in the House, where 38 Democrats wrote letters of protest.
As Jeff McIntyre, policy director for the advocacy group Children Now told Reuters: “We just got beat. Money wins.” That’s why it’s irrelevant how many more recommendations or deadlines come from the Institute of Medicine or any other panel of experts on how to “accelerate” progress. The only thing getting accelerated is lobbying dollars into politicians’ pockets. And kids’ poor health.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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