“Over the course of the past half century, during which PepsiCo’s revenues
have increased more than a hundredfold, a public-health crisis has been
steadily growing along with it. People are getting fatter,” opines The New
Yorker’s John Seabrook in this article examining the tension between the
ubiquitous snack food empire and its recent foray into “authentic, scientifically
advantaged” functional foods designed “for different life stages—snacks for
teens, snacks for pregnant women, snacks for seniors.” In particular, Seabrook
focuses on PepsiCo’s recruitment of academics, scientists and former regulators
to bolster its new global health agenda, which includes efforts to reduce
sodium and sugar in its flagship products, as well as launch “better for you”
foods that re-create both the physical and aspirational experience associated
with high brand recognition.

“No one I met at PepsiCo better represents the complicated relationship
between private food companies and public health than Derek Yach, the
company’s director of global-health policy,” writes Seabrook. An epidemiologist specializing in non-communicable diseases, Yach “made his name” at the World Health Organization (WHO), where he was “the architect of the
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.” But when he turned his attention
to “Big Food,” Yach allegedly found himself thwarted by industry interests
who described his proposals as anti-business. “We were able to paint the
tobacco companies as morbidly untouchable,” Yach told Seabrook. “They sold
one product, and it wasn’t good for you—there’s no way to make a healthy
cigarette. But you can make healthy food.”

After leaving WHO, Yach eventually joined PepsiCo and has since publicly defended his decision to work in the private sector, where he has been able to implement many of his nutrition proposals as companywide guidelines. In addition, PepsiCo has apparently hired other consultants like David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and George Mensah, an obesity specialist previously with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to work on its obesity, nutrition and health policies. Still, as Seabrook reports, these hires have done little to assuage the suspicions of public health advocates. “The best thing Pepsi could do for worldwide obesity would be to go out of business,” New York University Food Studies Professor Marion Nestle was quoted as saying.

About The Author


For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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