Statement of CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie
The National Strategy, released in advance of Wednesday’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, represents a significant step forward in the nation’s ongoing battle against food insecurity and diet-related disease. The 44-page report brims with creative solutions to some of the greatest challenges related to hunger, nutrition, and health.
CSPI is thrilled to see several of our highest priorities, encapsulated in our July 15 letter to President Biden, included in the Strategy.
First among them is front-of-package nutrition labeling. Front-of-package nutrition labeling will reach more consumers than Nutrition Facts labels, will help them choose healthier foods at a glance, and will spur companies to reformulate products in a more healthful direction. Americans are generally consuming too much sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat in their packaged foods, so to be able to quickly identify foods that are high or low in those nutrients would be a huge public health advance. As one of the organizations that has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to adopt mandatory, standardized, and evidence-based front-of-package labeling, we are thrilled that this policy is at the center of the strategy.
Importantly, the National Strategy commits the administration to accelerating the push to lower sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by extending the voluntary sodium reduction targets it issued last year to cover long-term goals. We’re also glad that the National Strategy calls for mounting a parallel effort to reduce Americans’ sugar consumption—including, potentially, by setting new sugar-reduction targets for different categories of foods.
The National Strategy also says it will “advance a pathway” for healthy school meals for all, consistent with previous administration commitments, like expanding access to free breakfast and lunch for 9 million more children by 2032. That pathway already exists—Congress just needs to take it, having failed to extend waivers providing healthy school meals for all.
The National Strategy also calls for much needed expansion in eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including for those formerly incarcerated, and proposes expanding incentive programs for fruit and vegetable purchases in SNAP, increasing purchasing power for nutrient-dense foods for people likely to experience food, nutrition, and economic insecurity.
The National Strategy calls for leveraging the purchasing and procurement power of the federal government, including by “implementing and updating” the federal Food Service Guidelines for use in government facilities and workplaces. Millions of government employees, members of the armed services, visitors to parks and memorials, patients in Veterans Administration facilities, and those in the custody of federal prisons will stand to benefit from strong food service guidelines. We urge the administration to put this in the form of an Executive Order to signal its commitment to implement food service guidelines at the dozens of federal agencies involved in procuring or serving food.
Other salient elements of the report include improved nutrition, ingredient, and allergen information online, as called for in CSPI’s comments to FDA in November 2021, and increases in funding and better coordination for nutrition research (though no endorsement of a National Institute of Nutrition).
These measures would go a long way toward addressing our current predicament. But there are some missed opportunities as well. There is no mention of a national sugary drink tax, an evidence-based approach to reduce consumption while generating funds for critical local needs.
The administration is to be commended for weaving health equity concerns throughout the report, including leveraging housing and other community programs to increase underserved communities’ access to affordable and healthy foods, diversity and inclusion in research and in the nutrition science workforce, and a focus on social determinants of health. The report also elegantly integrates the concerns around hunger and public health in a way that is mutually reinforcing. We encourage the administration to further develop strategies to advance health equity and justice, including prioritizing food sovereignty in US territories.
I look forward to participating in person at the White House Conference tomorrow but the real work begins the day after. CSPI will continue to participate actively in the process while looking forward to turning the many useful proposals in the Strategy into concrete actions.