CSPI Seeks Change in Bush Policy Prohibiting Use of Federal Funds to Discourage Soft Drink Consumption
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reverse a policy adopted during the Bush administration that precludes states from using federal nutrition education funds to discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. In a June 12, 2009, letter, CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, Director of Legal Affairs Bruce Silverglade and Senior Staff Attorney Ilene Ringel Heller take issue with a 2003 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) memorandum telling state officials that they could not use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds to disparage or criticize any food. It was apparently issued after Maine launched an ad campaign encouraging residents to reduce their soda consumption.
According to CSPI, this policy has been continued under the new administration, appearing in recent SNAP education guidance materials that state, “SNAP-Ed funds may not be used to convey negative written, visual, or verbal expressions about specific foods, beverages or commodities.” This apparently includes “[n]utrition education messages which convey negative messages or disparage specific foods, beverages or commodity [sic]” and “messages of belittlement or derogation of such items, as well as any suggestion that such foods, beverages or commodities should never be consumed.”
Linking the consumption of soft drinks to obesity, CSPI details various state campaigns encouraging people to think about the sugar they are consuming when they drink soda, which campaigns were either scrapped or cut back due to an inability to use federal funds. The letter also discusses the USDA’s own nutritional guidelines, which “repeatedly emphasize the value of limiting the consumption of soft drinks.” CSPI concludes, “States should be able to provide accurate dietary advice, using the same effective mechanisms employed by nutrition educators
throughout the country without having to worry about offending specific segments of the food industry or violating USDA rules.”