February 7, 2012

Backed by Big Food, Congressman Introduces Bill to Ban Govt. From Advertising Against Junk Foods

Backed by Big Food, Congressman Introduces Bill to Ban Govt. From Advertising Against Junk Foods
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)

With widespread obesity, heart disease, lung cancer, and other ailments that can result from unhealthy diets continuing to be pressing problems in the United States, freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) introduced a bill last week to shield food and beverage companies from any government advertising or publicity informing the public about the dangers of consuming certain products.

DesJarlais’s bill is called the “Protecting Foods and Beverages from Government Attack Act of 2012,” and its purpose is summed up as follows:

To prohibit the use of Federal money for print, radio, television or any other media advertisement, campaign, or  form of publicity against the use of a food or beverage  that is lawfully marketed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The effective consequence of this bill would be to ban the government from advising the public against, for example, consuming too many fatty foods or sugary drinks. It is unlikely that most Americans are so offended by government advertising about unhealthy diets — nutrition guidelines have been published by the federal government since 1916 — that they would demand a ban like DesJarlais is proposing.

However, some groups that would support such a ban are the food and beverage industries, which are regulated by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Among Political Action Committee (PAC) donors to DesJarlais’s 2012 campaign, the agribusiness sector is the leading donor. The congressman has received $14,000 from crop production & basic processing company groups, including $5,000 from American Crystal Sugar. He has also received $1,000 from the Food Marketing Institute, which calls itself the “voice of food retail.”

The Republic Report called DesJarlais’s congressional office and asked about the campaign contributions from the food industry. “You know, I’d have to take a look at that,” the press secretary responded when asked if DesJarlais’s bill would benefit donors like American Crystal Sugar. “I don’t know, to be honest. I’m not really versed on sugar policy.”

The Republic Report later spoke to Richard Vaughn, the congressman’s legislative director. “Here’s what I know, as it relates to this office, legislatively, I don’t even know who contributes to the congressman’s campaign. It doesn’t dictate our legislative initiatives,” said Vaughn. “The congressman has always been a less big government, less federal spending kind of member. That’s been his focus. That’s his attention, and that’s his directive to me as a legislative staffer. Whether it’s legislation that we’re voting on on the floor or whether it’s legislation that we’re introducing.” Both the legislative director and press secretary also several times reiterated that, as congressional staff, they are not allowed to comment on issues related to DesJarlais’s campaign.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly why the congressman wants to stop the government from advising its citizens against unhealthy diets, but it certainly seems to be a ban that his campaign donors would profit from.