Repast – New Episode! Reforming Food Systems with Nancy E. Roman

Listen to the new episode of Repast, a food law and policy podcast from the Resnick Center.

In this episode of Repast, Diana Winters and Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), discuss Nancy’s journey to her work with transforming the food landscape, and some of PHA’s most significant campaigns.  These include Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi, a food equity campaign held in conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Netflix show about good food, and its Healthy Hunger Relief initiative, where it is working to improve the nutritional profile at our nation’s food banks.

Nancy and Diana also discussed some of the most important action items Nancy would like to see both in the Biden administration and globally, and looked forward to the upcoming PHA Summit, and the UN’s 2021 Food Systems Summit, a potentially transformative moment in food systems reform.

Diana Winters is the Deputy Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

Nancy E. Roman is the President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America.

You can read Nancy E. Roman’s latest blog post on reforming the food system here.

You can register for the PHA 2021 Summit, to be held virtually on May 12, 2021, at 10am PT/1pm EST, here.

You can find more information about the UN’s 2021 Food Systems Summit here.

A Historical Perspective on Regulating Eating Places Amid a Pandemic

by Brian Fink*

The ferocity and turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic has, at times, been compared to the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918–1920.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in July 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic could reach the same tragic magnitude as the Spanish Flu.  The United States lost about 675,000 people to that virus.  In February 2021, it had already lost 500,000 to the new one.  There are many comparisons to be made, and the present feels frighteningly familiar.

That is why I decided to see for myself how we regulated restaurants, bars, and the rest of the budding American hospitality industry during the Spanish Flu.  To do that, I analyzed scores of newspaper stories and advertisements from between 1918 and 1920.

What I discovered was déjà vu: a global pandemic, mask mandates, forced quarantines, fake news and newspapers fanning the flames of fear, eating places and entertainment venues shuttered, curfews and restricted hours of service, restaurants struggling to survive, businesses deemed essential and nonessential, anti-vaxxers, hairbrained explanations of how the virus started, an economy on the brink, and, oh, the fighting and the politics.

Continue reading “A Historical Perspective on Regulating Eating Places Amid a Pandemic”

Two Important Food Policy Roadmaps

by Diana Winters

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic, and over this past year, the preexisting weaknesses, incapacities, and inequities of the national and global food system have been glaringly evident. From food and supply shortages, to disease outbreaks in meat production facilities, to the breakdown in school lunch distribution networks, to an enormous rise in food insecurity, the pandemic emergency brought the dangers of consolidation in the food system and shortsighted agricultural and nutrition policy to the forefront of public awareness.

Two recent reports, one by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, and one by the Center for Good Food Purchasing, have outlined roadmaps toward a stronger food system.

Food Forward NYC is organized around five goals supporting a framework to lead to a ore healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system in a decade’s time. These goals are: (1) All New Yorkers have multiple ways to access healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food; (2) New York City’s food economy drives economic opportunity and provides good jobs; (3) The supply chains that feed New York City are modern, efficient, and resilient; (4) New York City’s food is produced, distributed, and disposed of sustainably; and to (5) Support the systems and knowledge to implement the 10-year food policy plan. Each of these goals will require collaboration among multiple stakeholders, and the Office of Food Policy will issue a biennial report as to the City’s progress.

The Good Food Purchasing Program roadmap for the post-pandemic food system we need also posits a ten-year timeframe for the building of a stronger and better food system. The roadmap is built around five core values that support the Center for Good Food Purchasing’s program: Valued Workforce; Local Economies; Animal Welfare; Nutrition; and Environmental Sustainability, all of which are guided by equity, transparency, and accessibility. The roadmap is organized around three key pillars of success: (1) the power of partnerships; (2) shared goals and infrastructure, and; (3) transformational policies.

Both of these reports seek to utilize the observations and lessons drawn from the pandemic emergency’s impact on the food system so that as we rebuild, we recreate as well.

Op-ed: How to Feed America Better Post-Covid

By Veronica Goodman*

When teachers locked up their classrooms last March, few thought that a year later schools would still be shuttered and that millions of children would lack access to essential services, such as meals, and that millions of jobs would be lost, leaving many individuals and families struggling to put food on the table. America’s hunger crisis is now so acute that a recent analysis found that the number of children not getting enough to eat was ten times higher during the pandemic, while nearly 1 in 6 adults – or close to 24 million Americans – reported that their households did not have enough to eat sometimes or often in the past seven days.  

The sharp rise of hunger during the pandemic is yet another woeful legacy of the Trump administration’s mishandling of the Covid crisis, including trying to deny access to food relief by placing unnecessary bureaucratic barriers on states and even attempting to kick nearly 700,000 unemployed people off of food assistance in the midst of a once-in-a-century public health crisis. President Biden has thankfully made quick progress to address the hunger crisis through executive action and proposed legislation, but there is more work to be done to make our federal anti-hunger policy more resilient going forward for the next crisis, and to address the structural barriers to food affordability and access.

In his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order that will help alleviate the hunger crisis by increasing benefits of the Pandemic-EBT program (P-EBT) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as calling for the Agriculture Department to modernize the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the cost of a market basket of foods upon which SNAP benefits are based. Biden’s American Rescue Plan will also significantly bolster food assistance programs around the country. Collectively, these changes should make food aid more generous and better targeted.

However, many anti-hunger innovations were born of necessity during the pandemic, and these should serve as lessons learned going forward to better prepare for a future crisis. The P-EBT program has been a success at bridging the gap in nutrition for low-income children who used to obtain meals through programs at their schools, but who could no longer do so with schools closed. This program should be studied to see if it can be converted to a Summer EBT option going forward. Furthermore, to stay ahead of a future crisis, researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have suggested that Congress “leverage the P-EBT structure to create a permanent authorization for states to issue replacement benefits (similar to P-EBT, and perhaps renamed “emergency-” or E-EBT) in case of lengthy school or child care closures resulting from a future public health emergency or natural disaster.” This would make it easier for states to act quickly and not rely on Congressional action should schools need to close in the future. Finally, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici has introduced a bill that would more effectively allow schools to distribute free meals to students and other community members in need, and to extend meal service for afterschool meals and snack programs. These measures would make our systems nimbler and more responsive should a future disruption, national or local, occur.

America’s hunger crisis did not start with the pandemic, and policymakers should go further to address three key underlying causes and structural barriers to food access and affordability. First, the White House should focus on stricter antitrust enforcement in the food industry. The U.S. food and agriculture industry is concentrated, with a few large firms dominating many markets, which can drive up consumer prices on basic nutrition staples. Second, Congress should enact the HOPE Act, introduced by Reps. Joe Morelle and Jim McGovern and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) which would create online accounts that enable low-income families to apply once for all social programs they qualify for, rather than forcing them to run a bureaucratic gauntlet that makes it difficult for low-income Americans to get public assistance. Third, Congress should take up legislation, such as the bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act put forth by Sens. Mark R. Warner, Jerry Moran, Bob Casey, Shelley Moore Capito, that incentivizes food providers to set up shop in rural and hard-to-reach communities to improve food access for the estimated 40 million Americans living in “food deserts” that lack a nearby grocery store or food pantry or bank.

Food insecurity is not just a moral issue, it also has economic and social costs. Adults who go hungry are less productive and are more likely to suffer from chronic illness. Hungry children are more likely to get sick and fall behind in school. One in five Black and Hispanic households report they are unable to afford food. Poor nutrition and soaring rates of metabolic disease are a drag on the economy and contribute to rising healthcare costs and early deaths in minority and low-income families that are disproportionately more likely to experience poor nutrition and health as a result of food insecurity. And a boost in food assistance programs has even been found to speed economy recovery during a downturn and serve as an “automatic stabilizer”, an added bonus of fighting hunger during the Covid recession.

It’s time for a new national commitment to wiping out hunger and malnutrition in America. The pandemic and the associated hunger crisis have taught us valuable lessons that we should use so that we can be better prepared to face a future crisis and to curb hunger in America.

*Veronica Goodman is the Director of Social Policy at the Progressive Policy Institute. In her role, she develops and analyzes policies designed to help lift more Americans out of poverty and to strengthen the middle class, focusing on social mobility, inequality, labor, and modernizing social services. Veronica earned graduate degrees in economics and public management from Johns Hopkins University, and her undergraduate degree from The George Washington University.

You can find Goodman’s full paper on a comprehensive federal approach to the hunger crisis here.

Food Policy with Senator Tom Harkin – a Repast Interview

We are so pleased to share this terrific new episode of Repast, where Michael Roberts interviews Senator Tom Harkin on his years in Congress and his significant impact on food policy, the Harkin Institute and its focus on wellness and nutrition–including the Institute’s upcoming symposium on food as medicine--and the opportunities Senator Harkin sees for food policy with the Biden administration.

You can listen to the episode here.

Repast – A New Podcast Series from the Resnick Center

by Diana Winters

The Resnick Center is excited to share our new monthly podcast series, Repast, where we will interview a thought leader in the field of food law and policy to discuss past achievements, current developments, and future challenges.

In the first episode, Michael Roberts interviews Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on his new book, Salt Wars: The Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet.  Salt Wars describes the long struggle to reduce the dangerous levels of sodium in the American diet, and explains how industry has fought efforts to regulate salt.  In this episode, Roberts and Jacobson discuss the harms of salt, government inaction, and the exceptional nature of food regulation in the United States.

You can listen to Repast here, and buy Salt Wars here.

P.S. My 12-year-old son, Ike wrote and performed the music for the podcast, so listen for that if nothing else. 🙂

Addressing Honey Fraud and the Pollination Crisis

by Diana Winters

The scope of honey fraud is enormous.  Demand for honey has doubled in the U.S. in the past 25 years, but production has not kept up. The increase in demand for honey has coincided with a critical decline in honey bee populations globally.    So to keep consumers’ honey pots full with cheap honey, producers have increasingly cut honey with cheaper substances like corn syrup.

As adulterated honey takes over the mass market, beekeepers and legitimate honey producers cannot recoup their expenses by selling pure honey and are going out of business.  The loss of these businesses has dire consequences for our declining honeybee population, which in turn has repercussions far beyond honey production. 

Those trying to solve these two problems—honey market fraud and the loss of bee populations—must recognize that they are inextricably linked.  The failure to do so may be catastrophic. This is because the decline in honey production is the least of our worries when it comes to declining honeybee populations; the consequences of reduced pollination are far worse.  Three out of four fruit or seed crops need pollinators to continue producing, and the loss of bees has led to what some see as a pollination crisis.

Commercial beekeepers’ revenue comes from the sale of both honey and pollination services.  When beekeepers go out of business because they cannot compete on price with honey producers mixing cheaper products into honey, they also cease providing pollination services. 

But this linkage has not been effectively addressed by policymakers. One reason is that the declining honeybee population is seen as an environmental problem, while fraud is an economic one, and these problems are addressed by different federal agencies.  Notably, a 2014 effort by the White House to address the pollination crisis did not include the FDA, the only agency with the authority to address honey adulteration.  Moreover, the FDA’s approach to honey fraud has been anemic.  It focuses on labeling rather than stronger action like setting out a specific formula or method of production for honey.  

Michael T. Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA Law School, has published a white paper with the support of the American Honeybee Producers Association that identified an approach to stopping honey fraud while also saving the honeybee.

First, federal agencies—including the FDA, the USDA, and the EPA— must work together to adopt food-systems thinking with the twin goals of addressing pollination and honey production.  If the White House fails to order coordination among these entities, Congress should legislate this coordination.  And regardless of whether the White House or Congress act, the FDA should take immediate action against honey fraud.  Next, retailers should work with the American Honey Producers Association to develop strategies to address honey fraud and to save pollinators.  For example, in the absence of governmental standards, retailers should consider creating private standards in the supply chain to counter fraud. 

Moreover, all the stakeholders in this pollinator economy—including regulators, retailers, and beekeepers—must educate the consumer on the value of unadulterated honey. 

Currently, there are overwhelming incentives and an absence of consequences for food manufacturers to engage in honey fraud, and this takes a vast toll on consumers, the legitimate honey producer, and pollinators.  To fix this, we must make the connection between healthy pollinator populations and pure, authentic honey as clear to everyone as it is to beekeepers and legitimate honey producers.

Guide to Careers in Public Interest Food Law and Policy Published

By Diana Winters

A food law and policy career, especially for attorneys interested in working in the public interest sector, can take many shapes. Food policy work often intersects with other legal subject matters, such as housing, health care, education, and family law. For this reason, the Resnick Center has put together a digital guide to Careers in Public Interest Food Law and Policy to help law students and graduates understand the varied directions a public interest food law career can go, and how to embark upon such a career path.

Although the guide contains some resources specific to UCLA Law students, it also contains many more general resources, and will be useful to all law students and law school graduates seeking to explore public interest food law and policy careers.

We’re excited about this guide, and hope it can help grow our vibrant field.

By 2030 50% of American adults will be obese, and 25% will be severely obese

by Diana R. H. Winters

If the predictions from a recent New England Journal of Medicine article (pay-walled, but 3 free articles a month available with account creation) come true, the implications–for our nation’s health, for our health care system, and for our economy–are vast.  The study shows that by 2030, almost half of American adults will be obese and a quarter will be severely obese.  The study authors were meticulous in their methods to increase the reliability of their projections.

The study found that there is great variation among states, with over 29 states projected to have higher than 50% obesity, and a large variation in the prevalence of obesity according to income.  Severe obesity will be much more common among low-income adults than higher income adults.

The study also notes that the health consequences of this magnitude of obesity in the population are enormous, and will likely increase socioeconomic disparities.

Although the researchers are light on policy suggestions, the authors do write that, “a range of sustained approaches to maintain a healthy weight over the life course, including policy and environmental interventions at the community level that address upstream social and cultural determinants of obesity, will probably be needed to prevent further weight gain across the BMI distribution.”

In the New York Times, Jane E. Brody notes in covering this study that the United States has done very little to address the food environment that has led to such a marked increase in obesity (since 1990, obesity in the United States has doubled).  Policy interventions such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, portion control, and partnering with restaurants and food manufacturers to reformulate food to be more healthy would be a start.

In fact, another article published today in the New York Times shows that multifaceted policy intervention can have a huge effect on consumption.  It is four years since Chile passed a series of sweeping laws to combat obesity including raising taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and “advertising restrictions on unhealthy foods, bold front-of-package warning labels and a ban on junk food in schools,” and there has been a marked drop in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.  That article cited a public health policy professor from Harvard University who said “the early results suggested that a raft of food policies, not just stand-alone measures like soda taxes, were needed to address a growing obesity crisis that is affecting nations rich and poor.”

As the study and these articles note, time is short.  The costs of obesity at this magnitude are enormous – on quality of life, on health care spending, on the economy, on socioeconomic disparities.  We need these policies, and we need them now.

 

 

Resnick Center Partners with UN on Global Food Initiatives

UPDATE (June 26, 2019): Please see here for the FAO’s press release regarding this partnership: http://www.fao.org/partnerships/academia/news/news-article/en/c/1198206/ 

 

 

Reprinted from UCLA Law News and Events (https://law.ucla.edu/news-and-events/in-the-news/2019/06/resnick-center-partners-with-un-on-global-food-initiatives/)

The Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law has entered into a partnership with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on a series of research and advisory initiatives to confront global food security, nutrition, safety and quality.

The parties signed a memorandum of understanding at an FAO event in Rome on June 10, where leaders in global food policy gathered for a series of talks on the future of food. Michael Roberts, executive director of the Resnick Center, attended and served as a featured participant in a roundtable discussion on academic perspectives of global nutrition policy.

The agreement establishes a working relationship between the Resnick Center and the UN, including an initial project involving food fraud that builds on recent research by UCLA Law scholars. Hilal Elver S.J.D. ’09, who serves as the Resnick Center’s global distinguished fellow and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, was instrumental in building the partnership between the center and the FAO.

“FAO is glad to partner with UCLA, one of the most prestigious academic institutions around the world,” FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said in a statement. “Promoting healthy food systems has become a top priority [in] sustainable development, and this cannot be done with [inadequate] regulation. … UCLA law school expertise, in particular on food law, will surely contribute to address this key challenge.”

The collaboration continues the close relationship between the Resnick Center and the FAO. Graziano da Silva visited UCLA Law in February 2019, where he emphasized that simply providing food to hungry people around the world is not enough. Rather, he said, serving healthy food should be a paramount concern.

“We need to reposition our food systems from feeding people to nourishing people,” Graziano da Silva told an audience of UCLA Law students and professionals in the field. “Obesity and overweight are growing faster than hunger. It is an epidemic. The right to healthy food should be a key dimension for zero hunger and for the right to food itself.”

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