Peering into the politics of the food industry is like getting a peek behind the curtain where the Wizard of Oz is working the controls. It seems quite obvious that food giants like Kellogg work hard to become reputable and good not by the products they produce, but by the friends they make. You really have to look at the whole picture to see what's going on in the PR arena to understand why, in the end, the consumer gets it in more ways than one.
Buying a reputation by supporting a cause
Besides assessing whether huge food processors are good or bad or just doing their job, we should consider the ethics of associations like the American Heart Association, the Dietitian's Association and others who readily take the money of corporate sponsors. Does this prevent them from fully disclosing the truth about the unhealthy ingredients in many processed foods? You be the judge.
It's blunt but to the point
This quote from Common Dreams is so succinct that it bears publishing: "The American Heart Association (AHA) has sullied its reputation by getting in bed with whatever corporation comes around with its checkbook open."
Way back in 2004, reporter Robert Weissman wrote, "Subway has given $4 million to the American Heart Association (AHA) since 2002, and will gave an additional $6 million through 2007. That's a total of $10 million. In exchange, Subway gets to put the AHA 'fighting heart disease and stroke' logo on its materials throughout its chain of stores, according to an AHA spokesperson."
Kellogg raises kids on sugar then tells them they should eat right
Here is a direct quote from Kellogg: "Kellogg Company in 2005 kicked off a partnership with the Girls on the Run®, a nonprofit organization that encourages girls ages 8-13 to be more active, eat right and live a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Kellogg is sponsoring Girls on the Run over three years as part of its Kellogg's Frosted Flakes® Earn Your Stripes™ initiative."
In 3/4 cup of Kellogg's Frosted Flake there are 110 calories, zero fat, 140mg of sodium and 11 grams of sugar. Is this Kellogg's idea of part of a "healthy lifestyle"?
Kellogg also states, " To demonstrate its commitment and help call attention to this critical health issue, [Kellogg's] Smart Start Healthy Heart has launched a major heart health initiative. In addition to providing national support for the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women movement, this initiative includes free health screenings, community events, and on-pack promotions."
It's ironic that the maker of so many deleterious sugar-drenched dead food provides health screenings and claims to care about heart disease.
The list of sponsorships by Kellogg goes on. They talk about cancer, obesity and heart disease as being terrible and they say they work for at-risk elementary children.
An optimist might say this is confusing, given Kellogg's line of processed foods. A more realistic view is to say that they're riding both sides of the fence. And worse, groups like the AHA allow them to do so by censoring the truth in return for some huge donations.
Why pick on just one company?
Kellogg is but one in a list of corporations that put money in the hands of nonprofits while touting good health programs and serving millions of suffering people junk food. General Mills, the makers of Chocolate Cheerios, claims on their website that this product is a "good source of calcium." Really? I don't think so. A good source of calcium is broccoli, organic milk or kale. In a long list of good sources of calcium, Chocolate Cheerios wouldn't be anywhere near the top.
Then there's Post, purveyors of Fruity Pebbles children's cereal. Like the others, they also get the seal of the American Heart Association. No comment necessary.
Kraft is proud to help children make healthy lifestyle choices. How again?
Kraft Foods says it "is proud to collaborate with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation," an association "founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2005...to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity by 2015 and to empower kids nationwide to make healthy lifestyle choices."
So, Kraft, maker of something that's not cheese but is called cheese food, is concerned about our children's health? Kraft's Singles contains zero fat. Zero. How can anything made of cheese not contain fat? By the way, good fat is essential to everyone's health. It feeds the nerves, fuels the hormonal system, is needed for bone and brain development and healthy skin. There's also no calcium in Singles. How can a milk product not contain calcium? But Kraft gives some big bucks to nonprofits, so that make everything hunky dory.
Who's sponsoring the American Dietetic Association?
Dietitians get mad at me for writing these kinds of things, but let's be honest — the American Dietetic Association (ADA) is sponsored by some companies who produce substances that are bad for the health. Go to their website and see what I mean. You will find Coca Cola, Hershey, Mars, Kellogg, General Mills and Pepsico, among others.
This leads us to ask: What is the ADA's mission statement? What do they say they are all about? First of all, the name in their web address gives you a hint. It's called eatright.org. This implies that the association has something to do with eating right. Would you call a Mars candy bar, a can of Coke, a bottle of Pepsi or a box of Frosted Flakes part of a good way to eat right?
According to the ADA website, "The majority of registered dietitians work in the treatment and prevention of disease (administering medical nutrition therapy, as part of medical teams), often in hospitals, HMOs, private practice or other health care facilities. In addition, a large number of registered dietitians work in community and public health settings and academia and research. A growing number of registered dietitians work with food and nutrition industry and business, journalism, sports nutrition, corporate wellness programs and other non-traditional work settings."
So we learn that dietitians are in charge of helping people overcome and prevent disease. It could be easily argued that the sponsors of the ADA are involved in quite the opposite.
General Mills says it's all about nourishing families. Is that what their products do?
General Mills is a very big corporation, taking in $15 billion per year. It officially proclaims, "Whether through simple community breakfasts in North Minneapolis, or complex food science collaboratives in Africa, our Foundation recognizes the great opportunity and responsibility we have to unleash the power of food to nourish lives of families around the world."
From this we get the idea that General Mills is all about good nutrition. Is it? This is a corporation that makes more money than many small nations by selling products that are far from nutritious, including ice cream, pasta, pizza, junk food snacks, and all sorts of other processed foods that are loaded with sugar, refined carbs and artificial ingredients.
McDonalds rides the nutrition chariot into the London Olympic Games
USA Today reports, "McDonald's wants to sponsor the Olympics because they want everyone to think that physical activity is the determining factor in obesity — but food is," says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University."
It seems that McDonalds wasn't able to fool anyone with their health pitch. Once in a while the big corporations don't get away with it.
Protecting children is not what they are all about
So the food giants love to tell us about how they are helping children to become healthy, happy beings. Meanwhile, they thrive on feeding children health-defying foul-nutrition. Michael Simon, Grist reporter, writes, "GMA [Grocery Manufacturers Association] was among leading trade groups and corporations opposing the federal government's attempt to improve industry's own voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children.
As this Reuters special report from April explains, GMA's chief lobbyist visited the White House last July along with several top food industry representatives (from companies including Nestle, Kellogg, and General Mills) to scuttle an effort by four federal agencies that would have protected children from predatory junk food marketing."
Making lemonade out of artificial lemon flavoring
I suppose you can look on the bright side and think that at least these big food manufacturers are giving some of their profits to good causes. This might be a little easier to swallow if the companies didn't go out of their way to tout how they are playing an important role in uplifting people's nutrition and health. The fact is that they are a major source of disease in the world.
What this says about the associations who take money from manufacturers of junk foods and fast foods is for you to decide. But we have to consider this important question: Does the fact that the American Heart Association or Cancer Society, or any other influential group, is financially benefiting from sponsorships make it less likely that these associations will be truthful about the cause of major health issues? Will they be willing and eager to inform the public that sugar causes or worsens untold health problems?
The answer is obvious when we review the track records of these nonprofits: The ADA will not officially say drinking Coke or Pepsi is bad for you. And the American Heart Association will continue to blame heart disease on a lack of exercise and the consumption of fats instead of officially recognizing the dangers of sugar-loaded, low-fat processed products produced by their sponsors.