Chicago, Illinois

A Brief History of Food Lobbying in America

There has always been corporate personhood negatively affecting the government dating back to times even before the United States became an independent country. According to the author of We The Corporations, Adam Winkler, there were corporations in the 1600s that had such great influence on the New World that they played a role in British rule entrapping pre-Independence America. One of those was the Virginia Company, a company that literally established the first North American legislature known as the General Assembly.

Even politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were making sure that corporations would have more preferential treatment than regular individuals.

Eventually in the 1880s, corporations were trying to depict themselves as individuals under discrimination, even though there were people who were the most discriminated against, none of whom received benefits the way actual corporations did such as the freedom from wrongdoing or growth into a financial and power-mongering behemoth.

Despite there being a regulation-deregulation seesaw between corporations and the government, the corporations have always found a way to not only domineer the government but even pervert its sacred institutions. According to Joshua Hunt, the author of The University of Nike, tobacco companies, would even pay off universities in the 1960s to makes sure that tobacco would be portrayed as healthy in research studies even though a 1964 Report by the U.S. Surgeon General revealed the contrary. In addition, the Sugar Research Foundation (presently known as the Sugar Association) paid Harvard scientists to publish a New England Journal of Medicine review of research on fat, sugar, and heart disease in which fat was blamed for the cause of heart disease. Not the true source, sugar.

Years later, in 1977, Senator George McGovern addressed the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs with a report about rising weight gains in civilians, rising medical costs, and obesity being the future premier source of malnutrition in the US. It also included the following dietary concerns with foods served to the public:

  • Overly fattened foods
  • Excess sugar
  • High salt intake
  • Richness in Saturated Fat
  • Richness in Cholesterol

The Egg, Sugar, Dairy, and Beef Associations were scared about revenue losses that all paid and lobbied Congress to make sure that the deletions of words such as “reduced intake,” words that would harm industry sales, would take place. 

Dietary Goals in the revised report would be dictated by industry standards that were motivated by sales. Fats such as saturated fat and cholesterol were retracted. However, manufactured “Reduced Fat” products were sold but with sugar used as fat replacements and addiction additives. That way more products would go off the shelves. Sales reached as high as $32.3 billion in the early 2000s but at another price. Obesity rates have now nearly tripled since McGovern’s report.

Now, lobbying has worsened since the Citizens’ United v. Federal Election Commission ruling of 2010, as expenditures on lobbyists in 2020 matched those in the year of the ruling. Worst, lobbying expenditures from firms including the American Beverage Association and Consumer Brands Association (formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association) are up by roughly 10 percent between 2016 and 2020. As a result, the FDA has literally approved legislation that allows foods to contain actual traces of maggots, rodent hair, animal feces, and cigarette butts.

Revelations such as these and awareness of other addictive contaminants and additives have motivated consumers to push food companies to have more transparency on their product labels. Subsequently, brands such as Campbell’s Soup, Nestle, Dean Foods, Cargill, Mars, and Danone North America have left the present-day Consumer Brands Association amid disputes over salt, sugar, and genetic modification of food causing the once lobbying monster to see its revenues fall by over half from 2016 ($35.7 million) to 2019 ($16 million).

Despite such developments over the past several years, recently departed brands are still associated with special interest trade associations such as the Plant Based Foods Association and continue to individually lobby to make sure bills are introduced and laws are passed for their own personal gains. Tobacco companies never made healthier products after cigarettes were designed to be addictive beyond smokers’ awareness levels, and current corporal culprits of the obesity epidemic have yet to fully reform or remove the products that caused extreme weight gains in the first place. Due to such acts occurring while the obesity rate for Americans has increased to 42.4 percent (an approximate 8 percent gain from 2008 to 2020), largely avoiding brands that led Americans to this epidemic is still ideal. Most importantly, labeling may not be enough as it is best to know the root of the problem when the root happens to be the culprit who caused the calamities in the first place.