Cutting 1.5 Trillion ... Calories

How does the food industry, which is under heavy criticism for its marketing practices to kids, for juicing the chemicals in its products to make them addictive, and for various and sundry alleged misdeeds, demonstrate its commitment to kids maintaining a healthy weight? Why, by establishing a group called the "Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation."

Today, the foundation, which includes giant agribusiness concerns like ConAgra and other companies that comprise about a quarter of all food manufactures, have agreed to cut a trillion and a half calories from their products by 2012. I'm not quite sure how this is going to be accomplished, nor how the calorie counts break down. All that the press release says is this:

Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation manufacturing companies will pursue their calorie reduction goal by developing and introducing lower-calorie options, changing recipes where possible to lower the calorie content of current products, or reducing portion sizes of existing single-serve products. These calorie reductions are in comparison with what was available in the marketplace in 2008.

Skepticism is warranted, if only because, so far as I can tell, there is no Calorie Measuring Authority, and the science of counting calories is not as exact as one might think. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which helped to put together today's event, spent $1 million in the first quarter of 2010 on lobbying, much of it for the maintenance of corn subsidies. 

I'd love to see them lobby for, say, tomato and fruit subsidies. More than public events, how these groups interact with Congress matters, because that's where food policy is set. I should also note that some of these same companies have spent money to convince the public that high fructose corn syrup isn't as bad as it seems to be.

That said, if these companies can pull it off, then more power to them. Let's just hope that this is one of many steps they take voluntarily.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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