Some years ago, the worldwide McDonald’s conglomerate persuaded schools in the Deep South — especially in Mississippi, if memory serves — to cook up hamburgers and french fries as school lunches.
Nutritionists, educators, parents and many others jumped up and fought the grease-and-fat menu, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed child-health policies telling school districts to ban from cafeteria lines foods and sugary beverages like Coca-Cola that didn’t meet nationwide “Smart Snacks” nutrition guides.
McDonald’s had worked hard to have teachers who were wearing advertising shirts serve burgers and fries alongside Ronald McDonald in McDonald’s joints. The pitch was that the teachers’ schools would get a small percentage of the money from counter sales.
The purpose, however, was to tattoo the McDonald’s brand name into the minds and psyches of the school children, who would soon be McDonald’s customers. As a McDonald’s documentary told them, “There’s nothing wrong with fast food. There’s nothing wrong with McDonald’s.”
It’s an old, old story. The dollar is indeed almighty, no matter who has to pay for it. And it isn’t only here but in other countries around the world.
For example, two new scientific studies show how multinational food companies, like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, have helped to shape decades of nutrition and health policies on obesity and diet-related illnesses — like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension — in China.
China has the world’s largest population and the largest number of children who are overweight, more than 15 million. Government campaigns to lower such rates of childhood obesity encourage children to exercise 10 minutes a day. But, inexplicably, they don’t emphasize the importance of cutting back on the calorie-laden junk foods and sugary beverages, whose sales in China crank out billions of dollars for the big U.S. companies.
In Washington, the coordinator for these companies, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) promotes itself as a bridge between scientists, government officials and multinational food companies. But in China it is so well-placed that it runs its operations from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. Among the companies bankrolling ILSI’s cash are McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co. and the Yum! brands of junk food snacks and chips.
It lobbies to cultivate key Chinese officials in an effort to stave off the growing movements for food-regulation and soda taxes that have been sweeping Europe and the West. Universities, government health agencies and hospitals in the United States — among them the multi-billion-dollar Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania — have begun to ban the sale of soft drinks containing sugar on their premises.
Not long ago, I wrote about another alphabet lobbying agency here in the U.S., the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The “exchange” in its name is between big-money corporate donors and state legislators. The corporations pay ALEC’s expenses and contribute to legislators’ election campaigns. In return, legislators in Pennsylvania and other states carry the agendas of Big Business to Harrisburg and statehouses throughout America.
So it can happen here.
Just as the more than 10,000 lobbyists in Washington actually write the bills on which Congress puts its stamp, ALEC drafts legislation designed to carry out its members’ corporate goals. It claims to introduce 800 to 1,000 bills each year in our 50 state legislatures and get 20 percent of them enacted. That’s bad business for us.
Over 10 years, big business corporate backers put more than $370 million into the election war chests of ALEC’s friends in state senates and assemblies. Two thousand state legislators are members of ALEC; that’s a quarter of all state legislators in America.
The corporations themselves each pay $25,000 or more to become ALEC members, and they pay ALEC’s expenses. A list of its current and past corporate members includes Alcoa, Amazon, Amoco, Amway, AT&T, Boeing, BP, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Corrections Corporation of America, CVS, Dell, Dupont, Exxon Mobil, Facebook, General Electric, General Motors, Google, Home Depot, IBM, Koch Industries, McDonald’s, Merck, Microsoft, Sony, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, Visa and Walmart.
When you look at the list of corporations and see the number of state senators and representatives who are doing their bidding, here as in China, you have to realize that the things they’re doing are not benefiting us. At their root are the self-protecting and self-aggrandizing principles of the same billionaires who benefited most from the huge 2017 tax cuts for the richest one percent in America.
All in all, it’s a continuous and relentless across-the-board attack on the rest of us, the people who depend on old-age and disability protections, on Medicare and Medicaid, on job and consumer protections, on Obamacare, on unemployment insurance and on the hard-won safety net that Congress and our state legislatures are undercutting every day.
Have a Coke? No thank you.
(Bomboy has taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities.)