The processed food battlefield

If you have any remaining doubts that the processed food industry is a cutthroat, go-for-the-jugular, organized effort to extract every possible penny from your pocket, even at the expense of health, take a gander at a quote from Marion Nestle's wonderful book, Food Politics.

In Nestle's description on how food conglomerate, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), conspired to fix prices on some basic agricultural compounds, she quotes an ADM executive captured on videotape and presented in court:

"We have a saying at this company . . . our competitors are our friends and our customers are our enemies."

In other words, ADM's competitors help establish what prices should be charged for basic foodstuffs, while its customers are the ones to do battle with.

Food is a necessary commodity. You and I only need so much of it. So how does a 40 billion dollar food manufacturer extract greater and greater profits and grow their market? Motivate people to eat more. It's that simple.

Eat less? Are you kidding? Eat spinach, green peppers, beets, and other low-margin products? Get real.

Why not take 8 cents worth of wheat flour, add some sugar, food coloring, and some other enticing flavorings like high fructose corn syrup? Put it all in a cleverly illustrated package, maybe even develop an entire story line about the product, complete with clever slogans and songs and . . . ouila! You now have a food that sells for many, many times its intrinsic value.

How to make the health nuts happy? Easy: Add some fiber. Now it's healthy! And it's now part of a "balanced diet".

What if it's full of corn starch, wheat flour, and sugar of the sort that make HDL cholesterols plummet, fan the flames of small LDL, increase inflammatory measures like C-reactive protein, push people closer and closer to diabetes, and make them fat? Then be sure it's low in saturated fat! It might even qualify as "Heart Healthy" by the American Heart Association!

Processed foods have no role in the Track Your Plaque program. If you want to see your CT heart scan score skyrocket, go to your grocery store and stray into the aisles outside of the produce aisle.

But stick to the produce aisle and watch your wallet grow, your health improve, your appetite shrink, all while food processor profits plummet.

Comments (4) -

  • JT

    7/31/2007 12:02:00 PM |

    Personally, I'd like for sugar & starch to be burned as fuel for cars!  

    Oh, I remember the ADM investigations.  That was a strange case.  Mark Whitaker I believe was the name of the executive that provided information to the FBI.  What was so odd is that Mark was also in on the bribery and I guess later he committed a fake suicide.  Many called him psychotic and even the FBI kept an arms length from him even though he was their prime informant.  Mark ended up serving time in jail, I believe.      

    Dr. Davis, you have mentioned that you enjoy reading the "inside" scoop on the health business.  At one time Mark was considered the darling of ADM.  I believe he was the youngest executive to ever work at the company.  One of his larger accomplishments at ADM was to start the natural vitamin E/ sterol production plant.  Months leading up to the formal announcement that ADM was entering the natural E market - 2 or 3 nation wide scientific reports came out in the press highlighting how much better natural E was compared to synthetic E.  As I was told, that wasn't a coincidence.

  • Dr. Davis

    7/31/2007 12:55:00 PM |

    Hi, JT--


    It often seems that the most benign things on the commercial side of health have a dark side.

    I'm currently working on a book that details the dark side of healthcare, though not the food manufacturing industry. No shortage of material here!

  • Stan

    7/31/2007 4:21:00 PM |

    You are right!  But I think, there is a lot more to food marketing disinformation than just fiber, corn and starch.   Just at the time when the American and European food industry learned how to make cheap abundant vegetable oils sometime between the 1930-ties to 60-ties, articles begun appear in the popular press as if by magic, denouncing animal fat and saturated fats as supposedly unhealthy.  Not only that turned out to be a marketing masterstroke getting rid of the main competitors, that is farmer's butter and lard, but it permitted a ban on imported tropical oils as saturated.  

    It's amazing that most people including probably a majority of medical doctors fell for this deception and did not notice that there was and still is absolutely zero scientific evidence behind all that scare!  The media "fact" became the medical "fact".

    Stan (Heretic)

  • JT

    7/31/2007 8:55:00 PM |

    So you just couldn't be satisfied with revolutionizing the cardiac industry?  Now you're after the whole apple cart! : )

    Best of luck with the new book.  Hope you become the Upton Sinclair of the medical care business.  

    as a side note, I hear Hollywood is in the process of making a movie about Mark Whitacre and ADM.  I'm looking forward to seeing it.