Recently there has been a significant increase in corporate lobbying against any efforts to regulate the food industry or bring order to the bits and pieces of nutrition information scattered throughout the government.
In an interview last week, Esther Peterson, the White House Consumer Affairs Advisor said she was bitter about the business lobby which has successfully defeated the Consumer Protection Agency bill. Peterson said: "one of the things that frightens me the most is the growth of corporate lobbying power . . . and the fact that they are using mainstream people to do their work."
Reports of a $2-million war chest, put together by the food industry, advertising agencies, trade associations and broadcasters, to defeat any regulatory action by the FTC over children's advertising have appeared in two trade journals, Broadcasting and Advertising Age. The president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, George Koch, said recently that "industry will spend a lot more than that before it's over."
This build-up of anti-consumer politicking prompted a Georgetown University law professor to advise a group of consumer activists last week to counterattack or lose whatever gains they have made already.
John Kramer, a supporter of consumer causes as well as a consultant to a Congressional committee, told a two-day seminar, made up largely of consumer activists and nutritionists but with some food industry officials in the audience, to forget about grand victories like achieving a national nutrition policy and concentrate on winning small skirmishes. "You should adopt modest, piece-meal objectives that are reasonably coherent and proceed to utilize every available avenue of redress to compete to secure these objectives. You should abandon any effort to embrace one unified policy and, instead, willingly accept the chore of negotiating fragments through the legislatives process," Kramer said.
Some of the audience at the second annual seminar sponsored by the Community Nutrition Institute, a public interest group, and underwritten by Family Circle Magazine and Food Marketing Institute, an association of food wholesalers and retailers, disagreed with Kramer, but in light of the business lobby's obvious recent successes on the Hill, some people seemed willing to listen to the professor.
While most of the speakers at the seminar talked about need for more research in nutrition before a definitive policy can be formulated, Kramer told the audience: "many of your policies are so vague and ambiguous as to be worthless guides for regulatory or legislative action."
In the meantime, he said, those who oppose the nutrition lobby keep winning victories. Within the past few months businesslobbying has been able to postpone an effort by the Food and Drug Administration to ban saccharin; defeat "a relatively innocuous nutrition information bill . . .", delay the ban on the use of fortified donuts and cupcakes in the school breakfast program and so far, limit the Federal Trade Commission's authority to make make final regulations governing children's television advertising. (The full House has not yet voted on an Appropriation's Committee amendment limiting FIC's authority.)
Kramer advised his audience "to live with and learn the Congressional jurisdiction rules, not expect to change them. You have to draft your legislation in such a fashion as to assure parliamentary assignment to friendly rather than enemy committee territory. . .
"There are more of you than there are businessmen, but they did a better job on the Consumer Protection Agency. Don't swallow the excuse that they are wealthier. They may be, but then you have to work harder to overcome, if possible that obvious advantage.
"At the same time," Kramer said, "you have to be constantly alert for sneak attacks from the rear.
"It is easier to tilt at windmills than with the GMA and cattlemen," he said.