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Perspective:
Industry Issues

We all need to stand up for a balanced diet

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

I’m a big believer in personal responsibility, but the very idea of personal responsibility seems to be under siege from an increasing cacophony of voices, and the food industry stands to lose big.

Take Michael Moss, The New York Times reporter, who recently wrote a book titled Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. In the book he makes the case that food companies are in the business of formulating products that will be addictive (because of salt, sugar and fat) and will make us all obese. He even includes quotes from food scientists who worked on previous product formulations seeming to support this notion.

Broadcast media have gotten in the game, too, providing entertainment around pseudo-science claims instead of giving factual, helpful information to consumers. Dr. Mehmet Oz of “The Doctor Oz Show” is a recent example. Just this month, an episode of the show featured a “dairy elimination diet.” It offered no supporting science, just the great and powerful Oz.

The media and activists are out in front with this unwarranted assault, but government officials and politicians are increasingly jumping on the “big food is evil” bandwagon without much to back up their claims.

The fact is, food companies spend lots on consumer research and choice to determine exactly what consumers want so they can be responsive and provide it. For instance, many of our companies have learned that consumers want many different options of dairy products, including some with lower calories and individual portions. The companies responded by providing new formulations, portions and packaging. It’s a symbiotic relationship built on mutual respect and response. If we provide the products consumers want in a tasty, affordable and healthy way, they will buy and enjoy them. Win-win.

Never has it occurred to me (nor do I believe) that there is a more sinister motive in play to make consumers obese. But many consumers may be inclined to believe it if the drumbeat from activists and the media gets louder, and they hear it more and more. Unfortunately, we have experience that shows us consumers can be convinced it’s OK to regulate and outlaw things that they deem “bad for us.”

What if consumers really start to believe some of our food products are bad for them? Will this lead to lawsuits against food companies for attempting to “addict” consumers and make them fat? We’re already seeing effects in the policy arena with attempts to change labels to warn people against salt, sugar and fat or safe technologies, or ban products, like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to do with the failed 16-ounce drink cup limit. And these attempts are growing dangerously. For instance, over the past two years, more than two dozen states and seven cities have considered “soda taxes” to discourage consumption of sugary drinks.

With all the outside noise, I think many are forgetting the meaning of a balanced diet. Balance requires a range of options to meet our daily requirements, and dairy remains one of the best values in the store.

What we can do as an industry association?

At IDFA we are taking this seriously, so we’re involved on each and every issue where government is writing restrictions and regulations that aren’t based on sound science or facts to impose on our members’ products. We’re talking with FDA to make sure our members’ views are known on a range of hot-button issues, including sodium, front-of-pack labeling and revisions to the nutrition facts panel. With USDA, we have been tireless in making the case to keep a variety of nutritious dairy products in schools as they craft school meal regulations.

And we’re working with both USDA and FDA as they begin updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Sometimes we need a little help from our friends on Capitol Hill, too, to raise issues when administrative agencies stray too far from fact-based decisions. It’s important to have some of those checks and balances solidly in place.

What can companies do?

Brands have credibility with consumers. And it helps if consumers know your brand stands for “good for you” products that offer good taste. This credibility increasingly includes your “greenness” and the work you do to support the communities where you have facilities. It is becoming more and more important to tell your story and earn consumer trust so that the cacophony of critics and regulators don’t win the day.

To make sure the food industry doesn’t lose big, let’s stand together — tall and proud — to support the science that demonstrates dairy products are and should remain an important part of a healthy, balanced diet.

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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