Four Big Food Fights Under Trump
BY MICHAEL F. JACOBSON, PH.D.
The efforts of President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act have clearly gone down in flames. For now, at least, “Obamacare” remains the law of the land. While affordable health insurance was a major achievement of the Obama presidency, his administration should also be known for its focus on preventing disease through better diet. Thanks in part to the personal interest of former First Lady Michelle Obama in reducing childhood obesity, the Obama administration advanced several important public policies that make it easier for Americans to eat well. The following four big fights involving food will determine whether the Obama’s nutrition legacy will endure:
Calorie counts on chain restaurant menus and menu boards. Menu labeling is literally part of the Affordable Care Act. The Food and Drug Administration—as well as the restaurant industry—had been preparing for a May 2017 deadline for calorie counts to become mandatory on menus. But days before that deadline the Trump Administration delayed the enforcement date. The practical effect of the delay is unclear, since many chains are already complying. But the delay does give opponents more time to weaken menu labeling legislatively (which Domino’s and other pizza chains are trying to do). (Meanwhile, CSPI and other groups have sued the Trump administration for delaying the regulation without adequate justification.)
Updated Nutrition Facts labels with added sugars. But for the addition in 2006 of a new line for trans fat, nutrition labels have not been updated since their introduction in 1993. Science has advanced since then. Science-based updates to Nutrition Facts labels proposed by the Obama Administration put more visual emphasis on calories and added an important new line, and a corresponding Daily Value, for added sugars. That’s an important way to help consumers cut their sugar intake. As with menu labeling, Donald Trump delayed the implementation date, even though the new label is increasingly used in the marketplace. We’ll be watching carefully to make sure that the sugar and soda lobbies don’t use the delay to kill the added-sugars line.
Healthier school meals. The passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act during the Obama administration effectively got soda and junk food out of schools once and for all. And in the intervening years the U.S. Department of Agriculture has gradually required school food service providers to improve the nutritional quality of school breakfasts and lunches. However, in one of his first acts as Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue rolled back some of that useful progress, including by waiving important targets for sodium reduction. Schools were well on their way to making required progress
and generally weren’t clamoring for more delay.
Safe food. Outbreaks linked to peanut butter, spinach, and other healthy foods spurred the passage of major legislation in 2010 that reformed the FDA’s food safety functions—putting an emphasis on prevention instead of cleaning up after people suffered illnesses. But that progress could be undermined if Trump’s budgets don’t include sufficient spending for the new inspections required by that law. But the greatest threat to food safety under Donald Trump might be legislation sponsored by the so-called Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives: the Regulatory Accountability Act is designed to grind down the already-glacial pace of federal rulemaking to a halt. The bill, which we’ve taken to calling the “Filthy Food Act,” would affect every aspect of America’s food supply, undermining federal work to prevent bioterrorist attacks on our food sources, inspect meat and eggs for Salmonella, and reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat and poultry. It’s already passed—quietly—in the House of Representatives, so it’s worth letting Senators know of your opposition to S.951.
Americans deserve to know what they’re eating, and we deserve food that is nutritious and safe. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a broad, bipartisan consensus for preserving these major advances for nutrition and food safety. Republicans get heart disease, cancer, and food poisoning to the same extent that Democrats and independents do. The reason Obamacare opponents didn’t get their “repeal and replace” is because angry constituents made their voices heard—and senators listened. The outcome of these four fights depends on angry eaters speaking out in the same way.