Dear loyal followers of this blog and my work:
I am happy to share that I have started a new organization that takes my passion for good food policy in a new direction and to new heights. The Plant Based Foods Association is a trade association representing leading companies in this growing food sector. As the organization’s executive director, I am now spending almost all of my time advancing policies and practices to promote more plant-based foods. This blog and website, including all of my reports, will remain available as a resource. Of course, there is still much work to do to address the negative practices of the junk food industry. The good news is there is also much positive change happening in the food industry and I am thrilled to put my skills and passion to use for food companies doing the right thing. You can follow my progress at plantbasedfoods.org and you can still follow me on Twitter @MicheleRSimon. Thanks for your interest and support!
If you’re in the NYC area, please come see me speak. Here are the details.
The Politics of Your Plate
Author and food lawyer, Michele Simon, will discuss the latest hot topics in food politics. From school lunch to deceptive food labels to dietary guidelines and GMO labeling — every week brings another food fight. Learn about the power of Big Food and get inspired to join the food movement. If you eat, you won’t want to miss this interactive and stimulating discussion with a leading food policy expert.
Friday, April 8, 8:15 pm, East End Temple, 245 E. 17th St., NYC (near 2nd Ave.)
Services at 6:15 pm; light dinner at 7:30 pm; program follows.
I am working with a group of plant-based food companies to expand upon my previous effort to give this growing, mission-based industry a collective voice in policy and promotion. To further the cause, I am seeking an eager and passionate advocate for healthy and sustainable food to help me launch a new venture. Responsibilities include: creating target lists for collaborating organizations and media outlets, developing a social media strategy, and assisting with various administrative tasks. We are planning many exciting activities and you can help us succeed while learning in the process. If you have 10-20 hours a week available and are extremely reliable and well-organized, please email me your resume and tell me why you’re interested. Virtual OK but prefer pacific time zone. (Michele@eatdrinkpolitics.com)
Last week, the federal government released its Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (See Marion Nestle’s excellent summary of the politics.) The entire affair is an insult to the advisory committee that worked hard to do the right thing. So in the spirit of keeping their original recommendations alive, here is their single most important message.
The risk of cancer from processed meat may be small, but that doesn’t let bacon lovers off the hook
The media love a good food scare. So when the World Health Organization recently announced a scientific review of 800 studies that showed an increased cancer risk from eating too much red meat or processed meat, the headlines exaggerated the news. For example, The Guardian ran with “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes — WHO,” implying the two are equally risky, which is far from true. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …
As I posted last week, I conducted a legal analysis to counter the claim that considerations of environmental sustainability do not belong in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The same week, the USDA and HHS announced they would exclude sustainability from the final document not yet out, despite the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations that eating less meat and more plants is best, both for our own health and that of the planet. Below is a media round-up of coverage of my analysis.
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This week, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on the controversy surrounding the current update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I have written about the meat lobby’s tactics previously, and in May submitted a letter on behalf of plant-based food companies supporting the recommendation to eat less meat and more plants.
Today I am releasing a legal analysis aimed at countering USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s claim that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee went beyond the statutory authority in recommending that sustainability be incorporated into dietary advice. As my analysis shows, the USDA and HHS would be well within its legal authority to include sustainability. In summary:
- A plain reading of the statute does not preclude sustainability;
- The Congressional intent was to further a broad agenda on health;
- Previous DGA versions included issues beyond “nutrition and diet”.
You can download and read the analysis here. Thanks to My Plate, My Planet for supporting this project.
Oct. 7 update: You can also read my op-ed on this topic, published in The Hill.
The popular organic and natural foods sector has been mostly MIA in Washington. That needs to change.
The organic and natural food industry is booming. Last year, sales of organic products topped $39 billion. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most natural food companies steer clear of political battles that can have a significant effect on their business model. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …
Potential legal violations uncovered in secret PR effort to damage egg-free competitor
Hundreds of pages of disclosed communications from the American Egg Board reveal a coordinated two-year plan to undermine and attack Hampton Creek, the San Francisco-based food company, seen as a “threat” and “major crisis” to the egg industry.
One of the most important ways that industrial animal agriculture promotes its products is through Congressionally-mandated “check
off” programs. Each industry member pays into a collective fund that is controlled and managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The American Egg Board is the egg industry’s check off program. Very specific rules govern how it operates, all supposedly overseen by the USDA. The Egg Board’s stated mission (which stems from federal law) is “to allow egg producers to fund to carry out proactive programs to increase demand for eggs and egg products through research, education and promotion.”
And yet, USDA’s recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request reveals a number of highly questionable activities that likely violate federal law. The documents (summarized here) are mostly email exchanges between Egg Board executives and others in the egg industry, or with PR consultants, and reveal a disturbing pattern of attacks on Hampton Creek over a two-year period from 2013-2014. (There’s no indication that the campaign has stopped.)
As I documented last fall, Hampton Creek’s early success has touched a nerve in the industrial food industry. These documents show that the lawsuit by Unilever over the start-up’s Just Mayo product was child’s play compared to the Egg Board’s activities. Below is a summary of the most egregious communications.
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Below is an interview I gave to Natural Food Merchandiser:
Plant politics: Michele Simon sees a promising future for animal food alternatives
Michele Simon is a food lawyer and president of the consulting firm Eat Drink Politics. Recently, she organized a coalition of plant-based food companies in support of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to eat less red meat and more plant foods. As a keynote speaker at Natural Products Expo East, she’ll offer practical tips on how manufacturers and retailers can become more politically active.
NFM: What are the biggest issues facing the plant-based food industry today?
Michele Simon: Gaining more mainstream acceptance of plant-based versions of animal foods is top of mind. While we are seeing an increase in consumer interest, companies face ongoing regulatory barriers such as outdated labeling rules, as well as marketplace obstacles such as placement in stores. Also, political forces have historically created an uneven playing field. For example, most plant food companies don’t benefit from the economic subsidies the animal food industry currently enjoys. True competition requires breaking down those barriers.
NFM: How can retailers help on the front lines in their stores?
MS: First, retailers should sell plant-based versions of meat in the meat section, and plant-based versions of butter and cheese in the dairy section. It’s not fair for consumers to have to hunt down these foods in the niche sections of grocery stores. We’ve already seen an explosion of soy and almond milks because they are commonly sold in the dairy section. Retailers should also encourage tastings of these plant-based foods to increase familiarity.
NFM: How can companies have their voices heard on these issues?
MS: This spring, I organized 22 plant food companies to have their collective voice heard on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This campaign was the first step in getting plant food companies engaged in policymaking. Now we are talking about formalizing the coalition into a bona fide trade group. This sector can be a powerful voice, and taking collective action is key to the continued success of these mission-based companies.
If folks want to get involved, they can either sign up on the mailing list at LessMeatMorePlants.com or contact me.