Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Are the policy makers really so much concerned about the nutrition and health of the citizens who elect them to make laws that ensure their welfare? If one goes by the action of many governments during the last three decades it is very difficult to answer the question as positive. Every one knows that business and commercial interests far outweigh any other considerations when it comes to taking decisions on policies that affect the citizen. Why is that Genetically Modified foods have conquered more than 80% of US market while almost all other countries in the world have banned their use in food products? Because the GM lobby has seen to it through its money power to influence every elected representative who mold the policies to toe its line. Latest instance is regarding the use of Potato in school lunch program in the US where Senate had to intervene to protect the interest of the Potato farmers when sound nutrition considerations require the amount of this starchy vegetable to be reduced. Here is a take on this interesting development.

"In January this year, the USDA proposed new nutrition standards for school meals based on the IOM report. These included the IOM's recommendation of no more than one cup a week of starchy vegetables. Please note: the proposal does not call for elimination of starchy vegetables. It calls for a limit of two servings a week (one cup is two servings). What's wrong with that?  Plenty, according to the potato industry, which stands to sell fewer products to the government and could not care less about spreading the wealth around to other vegetable producers. Potato lobbyists went to work (apparently the sweet corn, lima bean, and pea industries do not have the money to pay for high-priced lobbying talent).  The Potato Council held a press conference hosted by Senators from potato-growing states. The result?  The U.S. Senate added an amendment to the 2012 agriculture spending bill blocking the USDA from "setting any maximum limits on the serving of vegetables in school meal programs." Mind you, I like potatoes. They are thoroughly delicious when cooked well, have supported entire civilizations, and certainly can contribute to healthful diets. Two servings a week seems quite reasonable.  So does encouraging consumption of other vegetables as well. But what's at stake here goes way beyond the choice of one vegetable over another. At issue is Senate micromanagement of nutrition standards under pressure from food industry lobbyists"

If national policies are determined by such special interest lobbyist, what will be condition of the citizen who trusts the government to protect his interests? Imagine GOI succumbing to pressure from egg lobby in India and pass a decree that every midday school meal program should have one egg each per beneficiary! Or what if a decision is taken that bread must be used for such programs compulsorily? It is a travesty of justice that recommendations of technical bodies vested with power to evolve citizen friendly guidelines are side lined purely for favoring the industry lobby. Consumer activists and Social NGOs must raise their voice against such tendencies, visible more and more these days. 


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