Filed Under: Food Police

Food Cops Gather Their Forces

At last year’s 130th annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA), California food cop Harold Goldstein mused: “Our task is — our hope is –- to build a movement nationwide with all of you, so we can change this fast-food culture.” Goldstein will sit on a panel discussing obesity “policy advocacy” at November’s 131st meeting. He’ll also moderate a panel titled “Is Childhood Obesity the Next Tobacco? ” — featuring professional food scolds like Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Kelly Brownell of twinkie-tax fame, and California State Senator Deborah Ortiz, whose bill eliminating soda in most California public schools was signed into law last month. Ortiz’s speech will be called “We’ve done it, you can too.” And that’s just the beginning.

With nearly 200 papers and speeches on the topic of obesity, this year’s APHA confab is directly aimed at controlling what’s on your dinner plate. The APHA even has a “Socialist Caucus,” which will host Marion Nestle, queen of the food busybodies, for a speech on “food politics.” Martin Donohoe, another Socialist Caucus speaker, will complain about a make-believe list of risks from genetically enhanced food, including “allergies and toxicities from new proteins”; the “transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to human pathogens”; and the “corporate control of agriculture.”

Of course, this scare story is just so much reckless speculation, as leading authorities have declared biotech crops to be safe time and time again. But here’s the funny part: Donohoe will argue that opponents of a failed Oregon ballot measure — which would have mandated cumbersome labels on food grown with genetically enhanced crops — themselves “frightened the public with pseudoscientific misinformation.”

This isn’t the only bout of biotech-bashing in APHA’s coming attractions. Notorious UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, whose study on genetically enhanced corn in Mexico became a case study on scientific hoaxes after it was retracted by the prestigious journal Nature, is also slated to speak. And where would anti-biotech ranting be without the insane Precautionary Principle? The APHA apparently believes the anti-technology doctrine is important enough to merit its own session.

Another session will dredge up overblown fears about toxins in fish. It will feature Dr. Jane Hightower, whose deeply flawed study on mercury in seafood touched off our current craze on the subject. The moderator will be David Wallinga of the modern-farm-hating Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. He showed up at last year’s APHA meeting to promote junk-science fears about antibiotics in farm animals.

Perhaps most ominously, one session on “environmental approaches” to combating obesity will feature a talk on “applying tobacco control tools to the problems of hunger and obesity.” These “tools” include the “use of licensing and land use laws to regulate fast food and junk food retailers.” In other words, APHA will give serious consideration to zoning restrictions on restaurants and food retailers. That kind of radical approach makes a predictable talk by CSPI’s Margo Wootan (lamenting generous portion sizes at low cost) seem almost reasonable.

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