Peter’s Memo: Keeping an eye on Congress and the Trump administration


Peter G. Lurie, CSPI President

It’s a common refrain here in Washington that passing legislation is akin to sausage making: messy, requiring the commingling of less-than-desirable elements, and best observed from a safe distance. The result may be palatable, but only rarely is it nutritious.

Congress and the administration du jour offer no shortage of candidates for indigestion. Some recent examples:

Calories on menus. Thanks to the 2010 Affordable Care Act (and years of effort by CSPI and its partners), on May 5, 2017, menus were all set to show diners what foods at major restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, and movie theater chains would do to their waistlines.

On May 4th, the Food and Drug Administration delayed the deadline by a year. But that was too soon for Congress. This February, the House passed the cynically named Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act.

If approved by the Senate and signed into law, the act would delay the effective date well beyond May 2018. And it would let restaurants invent misleading serving sizes, hide calories in hard-to-find places in supermarkets and convenience stores, and remove calories from pizza chain menus.

Cutting sodium. In mid-2016, the FDA proposed that the food industry voluntarily cut sodium in packaged and restaurant foods, with two-year and ten-year targets.

Almost two years later, the FDA’s proposed targets have yet to be finalized. But that apparently isn’t good enough for Congress. A rider—an unrelated add-on to must-pass budget bills—is preventing the FDA from finalizing the ten-year targets (though that could change in a future spending bill).

Who needs exercise? The president’s proposed 2019 budget would slash funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and would eliminate the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.

Now that’s a novel way to deal with obesity, diet-related diseases, and physical inactivity, which account for nearly 700,000 preventable deaths each year.

A company could define a “serving” of a 500-calorie muffin as, say, just 1/5 of the muffin...without telling consumers to multiply by 5, according to Congress’s notion of “common sense.”

SNAP judgment. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps tens of millions of working Americans buy food for their families.

The Trump administration wants to replace about half of the SNAP benefits that most recipients receive with food rations.

“America’s Harvest Box” will have things like shelf-stable milk, canned meat, cereal, and peanut butter. Fresh fruits or vegetables? Fresh fish? Apparently, they’re for rich people who get to choose their own food.

Rest assured that CSPI will continue to ride herd on these and other health drainers. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. The alternative, it seems, is an overcooked sausage.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Photo: JAVA/