Lies Lobbies Food is a fact-filled book with a critical approach to the state of the food industry in the EU. Examples show the extent of the situation.
This book, published in 1998, deals with the major problems caused by the very strong food industry. Billions in profits make it possible for international companies to regulate consumer behavior and the decisions made in politics. This book was published a few years before Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, which examines the situation even more critically.
"Lies Lobbies Food" focuses primarily on the situation in the EU. It is filled with facts and examines the food industry with a critical eye. The numerous examples provided show just how drastic the situation is. The message is clear and well-founded:
However, the authors don’t challenge or pressure us. They leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions.
The chapter “What You Can Do” does however include some ideas and tips on actions that individuals can take. The authors also examine areas where EU policy has wreaked great havoc. At the end of the chapter, there are six ideas for both political and individual action that needs to be taken. The authors Ingrid Reinecke and Petra Thorbrietz describe a situation that hasn’t changed much in the 15 years since they wrote this book.
Those who don’t defend themselves will end up eating a poor diet. In line with this motto, the book shows readers what food has to do with politics and what we can do to work against new lies from old lobbies. What you eat, how you eat, and what ultimately ends up on your plate is less a question of your taste, but is determined by political and industry interests. And what is served in Germany or Austria and in France or Italy is no longer determined by national authorities, but instead by the European Union and must comply with the laws of the world market. In our age of globalization and corporate consolidation, this means that a very few large companies ultimately determine what you eat.
The images I have added to this book review serve to break up the text and provide space for additional comments. The book itself does not contain any images. The images here are from Wikipedia, I took them myself, or they are from the public domain.
Note: The chapter titles and all quotations in italics are translated from the original German.
Contents and my remarks:
Farmer Sacrifice — The Abolition of Agriculture
European Morals — Chacun à son goût (Everyone has their taste)
Rotten Arguments — From the Field to the Dump
Matters of Taste — On Dry Soups and Ready-Made Dishes
Power Politics — The Dictatorship of Standards
Label Fraud — The Swine Internationale
Chain Reactions — The Trade and Its Consumers
Bacteria off the Assembly Line — If it Doesn’t Make You Sick, It’s Fresh
Code of Eating — Consumer Protection as a Barrier to Trade
What Can You Do? — The Power of the Consumer
The individual chapters have a type of “subtitle” that always starts with “or:” Each chapter is divided into several topics.
I have linked numerous terms to Wikipedia (in italics, linked in October 2013). Entries on Wikipedia often lack objectivity. Representatives of specific industry groups also write many articles, and an account from the opposing point of view is often not possible.
In addition, many important entries do not exist. For example, there is no entry for “The Hormone Scandal.”
An entry on the "Anbauverband der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökologischer Landbau", AGÖL (Farming association of the organic farming working group) is missing, but its successor organization (2002), "Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft, BÖLW", (Organic food industry association) is described briefly (German version only).
Other entries are strongly influenced by the establishment, which is described in the book.
Otherwise Wikipedia just gives a general overview of the subject. Links not in italics lead to articles of my own or are anchor texts.
Amazon doesn’t have a review of this book, but at Vegetarismus.ch/heft/99-2/lobbies.htm (in German only) you will find the following:
After reading this book, you will know why the EU pays subsidies for live animals to be transported across all of Europe. Or why cucumbers are no longer crooked (because they must comply with EC/UN quality standard FFV-15) and why asparagus from Greece now costs only half as much.’ What we end up eating is a question of political and industry interests. This book shows the EU’s power structure and lack of control mechanisms.
It is clear that the EU in its present form is incapable of caring for the well-being of its citizens (and even less for the welfare of the animals). Lobbies and commissions lacking transparency set the terms and direction to be taken. An example of this was a note from a commission member on BSE (mad cow disease) that was leaked to the press. It contained the following statements: ‘We have to downplay this matter by disinforming the public!’ Ironically, this EU official was also responsible for consumer protection ...
This book also covers ‘milk lakes’ and ‘meat mountains’ as well as soilless cultivation and irradiation of food. One note on eggs is that 300 million ‘organic eggs’ are sold in the EU annually, but only 50 million actual organic eggs are produced. A generous estimate is that at least one third is falsely labeled.
It’s a book well worth reading, and the appendix contains a lot of important contact information and additional tips (sic) for consumers.”
If you want to learn more about the topics addressed in this article, we have recommended a few books on the food industry at the end of this book review.
Page 255: Petra Thorbrietz, born 1954, Dr. rer. pol., studied journalism and wrote her dissertation on networked thinking in journalism. She worked as an editor for Natur (Nature, German magazine), Wochenpost (Weekly post, German newspaper), and Die Woche (The week, German newspaper). Thorbrietz has also written for radio and television.
She was awarded the Österreichischer Staats- und Förderungspreis für Wissenschaftspublizistik (Austrian national prize for scientific writing) and the prize from the Darmstädter Schader-Stiftung (Darmstadt Schader foundation)
for the implementation of socio-scientific results in practice.
There is an entry on Petra Thorbrietz (in German only) on the German version of Wikipedia with a listing of her awards.
Ingrid Reinecke, born in 1954,
has worked as a photographer, secretary, and Greenpeace campaigner. She established the traveling exhibition “Essen aus dem Genlabor” (Food from the genetics lab) and is an editor of the Brandt Report.
You can go to Anstiftung-Ertomis.de/die-stiftung/team to see her picture and contact information.
The two German authors report in a very forthright manner about the negative side of the agricultural policy dictated by the EU. They explain why the food that ends up on our plates is not so much a question of our own taste preferences, but more so a question of economic and political interests. (p. 10)
An ever decreasing number of companies determine what the around 370 million citizens in the EU are eating. Hardly any other industry has undergone such an intense consolidation process as has the food industry.
Similar to Salt Sugar Fat, which is written about the United States, this book describes the actions of multinational corporations in detail, in many cases from the production of seeds to the sale of finished products. These corporations also determine which pesticides and seeds are used, and where possible, the role tht genetic engineering plays.
An important statement from 1998 (p. 12):
Only four percent of agricultural products in Germany arrive on the market in their natural state; the rest disappears into the industrial food machines. The future of food, as seen by the food strategists, has little to do with nature. Removed from the ground, food becomes a shapeless mass of raw protein, fats, and carbohydrates with a range of designs.
It is quite shocking to see the extent that false advertising is committed by the industry. Such offenses are numerous, but can you imagine how many offenses there are that haven’t ben reported? It’s far worse than the nice picture of a romantic farmhouse placed on packs of eggs from battery hens. At least that can be brought to court today.
But, according to Martin Wille, head of the Behördliche Lebensmittelüberwachung (German food regulatory administration similar to the FDA) in North Rhine-Westphalia, his administration was notified about label fraud in 1994.
Sample inspections in Düsseldorf stores and markets revealed that 24 of 26 wholesalers that were examined falsely labeled more than half of their goods (p. 17).
The book also addresses problems that industrialized nations cause in developing countries. One example is how the EU and United States systematically destroy the livelihoods of small farmers through subsidized food deliveries.
In the section titled “The Subsidized Paradise,” the authors explain how the EU used subsidies to change the system so that food is now mostly produced by large corporations, regardless of consumer demand.
The EEC in 1957 wanted to increase the per capita income of farmers and at the same time obtain cheaper food. At that time, representatives from Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux states agreed on a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Using examples, the book shows why CAP brought about large increases in volume and lowered prices. And the authors explain the unnecessary and harmful effects, which have only increased in recent years. This is partly due to gross political errors. The book emphasizes the consequences for human health and the environment.
Large surpluses were and are produced and end up on the world market with high subsidies. This causes the demise of farms and impoverishment of farmers in other countries.
In Africa, for example, highly subsidized frozen beef was thrown on the market at dumping prices, which put the regional livestock industry under pressure, an industry that at the time was being supported by European development assistance. In 1991, the EC paid almost 2'000 million marks in export subsidies to sell meat in West Africa for only 50 million marks.
Please pause a moment to grasp the meaning of this statement.
Even in Europe, 80% of the subsidies went to only 20% of farms.
Thanks to subsidies from the EU, in 1996, for example, Europe exported 42'500 tons of cheap meat, causing the whole Southern African region to suffer. The number of cattle slaughtered there decreased by almost 40%. At the same time, the EU supported the beef market there as a development program. In this way, the EU improved sales of European intervention meat and destroyed large parts of local production in Africa. But other economically weak countries were also impacted.
Development aid is an important issue. Sir Hans Wolfgang Singer demonstrated the deteriorating trade balance for periphery countries. The subsidy policy of the United States and EU destroy businesses in developing countries. And when subsequently Africans began to try to make it to Europe by any and all means, this subject was not considered.
People flock to Europe because we deprive them of their livelihoods with this subsidy policy. Politics and large corporations (farmers and exporters) are responsible for this exploitation. In return, our society collects aid for development.
Critics of the havoc we have wreaked in Africa usually only refer to the exploitation of raw materials.
It is interesting to read how different parts of the world have different food taboos. These show how much we are influenced by family, religion, and region. We take the things we see around us for granted and consider other behaviors to be strange.
The next topic in the book is “Big Farmers against Small Farmers.” It deals with agriculture commissioner Mansholt’s plan to liquidate farms that have been labeled unproductive.
The radical reform attempt called the Mansholt plan was finally politically rejected, but only officially. The political organization simply continued to only support farms above a certain size and the Minister of Agriculture Josef Ertl coined the slogan
Wachsen oder weichen (Grow or go). But eventually politicians also put a stop to Ertl’s program.
Nevertheless, the EU increased the use of artificial fertilizers fivefold to 282 pounds (128 kg) per 2.5 acres (1 hectare). That was later reduced to 220 pounds (100 kg). But the new varieties, such as short-stemmed grains, required an ever increasing amount of fungicides and other chemicals.
Reinecke and Thorbrietz provide examples to show how these false incentives in Europe led to massive overproduction. Years earlier, it had led to similar negative results in the United States.
The GATT agreements became effective in 1995 and the successor organization, the World Trade Organization (WTO) could not or did not want to prevent, for example, that Nelson Mandela was not able to export wine to the EU.
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 countries in 1947. The next GATT treaties were developed in the Tokyo Round from 1973–1979 and the Uruguay Round starting in 1982, but they weren’t signed until April 16, 1994. They were seen as temporary measures; however, they served as the basis for the establishment of the WTO and afterwards as its overarching treaty.
This chapter deals with fake papers of origin. In the mid-1990s Bernhard Friedmann, President of the European Court of Auditors, warned that in his estimation, scammers ripped off more than 10 % of the EU budget funds annually. Subsidy fraud is popular because 90 % of the EU budget goes to subsidies, half of which flows into agriculture (p. 39).
Customs stamps are stolen and forged, shipping documents and invoices are tampered with, false animal health certificates are submitted, officials are bribed and goods are falsely declared, or changed out at night. While the southerners prefer to illegally move wine, olive oil, and fruit, the North focuses on the illegal livestock trade (p. 39).
We read that the EU pays eight billion euros per year in subsidies to sell food products that were produced with support funds. An interesting statement:
The president of the European Court of Auditors Bernhard Friedmann reported a case in which 1'000 trucks with Polish meat and cattle traveled to Africa. For weeks, a customs office in southern Spain confirmed that these transports left the EU according to law. But it turned out that this customs office hadn’t existed for years (p. 42).
It is quite possible that this shipment was returned to Poland with fake papers of origin for additional subsidies.
This most interesting kind of fraud does not even require transports, only the relevant papers. Here is an example of an Irish Delivery:
Officially, 10'000 tons of beef from the EU inventory were to be sent to Italy for processing and then were to be sold — with particularly high subsidies — in countries of the former Soviet Union. But at least 200 tons of this meat ended up on the British market in unprocessed form (p. 43).
The lack of internal borders gave rise to new “transnational scammers.” An effective shared criminal law system is lacking, a fact which well-organized scam networks skillfully exploit.
The EU is working to counter fraud with the UCLAF (Unit for the Coordination of Fraud Prevention), IRENE, PRE-IRENE and “green telephones” (see EUR-Lex). Finally, the EU wants to sanction not only individuals but also companies.
On page 54 there is a particularly interesting example involving live cattle from Eastern Europe. A company was supposed to export these to Italy for slaughter and then transport the meat via Malta back to the East. But what happened was quite different. They used export funds to sell inferior, re-declared meat to Gabon. Where the real meat was not clarified. But just the unauthorized export refunds for the “export” to Gabon amounted to 24 million euros.
The section “Surplus in Abundance” looks at several aspects including the lack of critical media coverage of the chemical industry. The film "Vergiftet oder arbeitslos" (Poisoned or unemployed) by media scholar Bernward Wember was kept in the TV station’s “poison cabinet” until the film was finally aired in 1982 (p.56).
Millions of tons of fruits and vegetables that are unsalable surplus get buried in the ground. This contaminates the soil and groundwater because of the decay process and chemicals. And the produce was originally good food.
In 1995 the European Court took stock of the disposable economy. In the financial year 1992/1993 a total of 4.3 million tons of fruits and vegetables were taken from the market. Two percent went to charities in hospitals and schools, 14 percent was processed into animal feed, 24 percent was fermented to make industrial alcohol, but 60 percent was thrown away.
Destroying the produce seems to be cheaper than organizing its distribution — and millions of euros can be made. In the section titled
Mushy Tomatoes and Canned Cabbage the authors describe how EU-sponsored raw produce leaves through the back door of a juice factory unprocessed, to then again receive the euro blessing at the delivery gate the next day (p. 63).
This chapter explains what the change to move “away from our own stove” entails in terms of disadvantages for our health.
However, statistical figures on the implications of the shift toward ready-made products are not available. You can really only estimate the consequences if you carefully examine the developments in the health sector.
People like to emphasize the higher life expectancy. However, we owe this to the major advances that have been made in medicine. It has more than compensated for our poorer habits in regards to lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, and stress.
The younger generation in the United States already has a lower life expectancy than the previous generation.
The following remark made by the person who uploaded the photo shows how well the “bliss point” is hit:
It’s been years since I stopped by for a meal at Pinks Hot Dogs, so I decided I needed to come back here. Naturally me and Megz ordered one of their ‘Super Special’ hot dogs. All I can say, is they were so good that my heart will probably never forgive me, and they're also quite challenging to eat without getting too messy. I still think my favorite hot dogs in Los Angeles are from the street vendors who sell them bacon-wrapped hot dogs, apparently the city is cracking down on those vendors though ...
something to do with health concerns or something to do with permits or some shit like that ...
Not that it would stop me from ordering one if I see a vendor ...
Canned, frozen, and prepackaged foods, including instant soups, are not only a problem because of the reduced vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, but also because of the additives they contain.
The raw food materials are broken down into their chemical components in distillers and then ‘reassembled’ on a conveyor belt assembly line into new artificial products. As well as losing their natural nutritional value, many additives are mixed in to facilitate processing. These include thickening agents, foaming and anti-caking agents, antioxidants, enzymes, flavorings, preservatives, alkali, acids, salts and colors (p. 73).
Note: The term “distillers” is not quite correct, or too simplified, but the statement as a whole is true.
The authors then turn to the problem of flavorings and state that 12'000 artificial flavorings are currently on the European market. These and other various “technical agents” such as synthetic resins (plastic) don’t have to be included on the label in the EU.
Note: Plastic harms animals and nature, sometimes to a very large extent.
Reinecke and Thorbrietz provide quite clear and vivid descriptions of some of the production processes. In the section titled “Why cook?” we read that even top chefs in restaurants and hotel chains sometimes use precooked and prepackaged portioned convenience foods and therefore serve dishes such as "Piatto di Pesce raffinato" (a refined fish dish).
A high-end restaurant on the Hamburg Alster (river flowing through Hamburg, Germany) apparently had the following dish on their menu:
Seeteufelkotelett und Scampi vom Grill auf einer leichten Tomatensauce mit frischem Salbei (Grilled monkfish cutlets and scampi on a light tomato sauce with fresh sage), and it was prepared it from premade components supplied by steakhouse king Eugen Block (founder and owner of a restaurant chain and other related companies in Germany and other European countries). The chef merely has to heat up the food and arrange it on a plate.
The food industry is always looking for or purposely setting new trends, for example, ethnic food, fit through food, and functional food. And they have naturally also tried to stretch the meaning of the term “health food.” With ready-made meals and prepackaged food for the sick, infants, young children, and athletes, the industry has found interesting target groups.
Cheap additives such as vitamins, minerals, flavors, and preservatives in these kinds of food are a real problem. In addition, unhealthy amounts of vitamin E are added to food —
even though people already gets enough of this vitamin. They also include other information, for example, that too much calcium blocks absorption of iron and too much iron blocks the absorption of zinc (p. 83).
Note: This is reminiscent of the principle of optimum instead of maximum because even “good substances” and/or important substances can be harmful in too great a quantity.
The Berlin Federal Institute for Consumer Health Protection and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV, Berliner Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinärmedizin) sees a special tactic in this: ‘Manufacturers are increasingly trying to bring their biologically active products on the market as dietary supplements in order to avoid expensive drug approval processes (p. 84).
Note: In 2002, the government dissolved the BgVV. The larger part of the BgVV was integrated into the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and a smaller part into the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL).
In the section entitled “Red and round,” the authors discuss developments in cultivation. The EU did not yet require the origin and production method to be labeled on the food packaging at that time. Today, at least some minimal information is required as this article on labeling and nutrition from the European Commission website shows.
Biophysicist and food expert Fritz A. Popp has found through biophoton measurements that the energy balance of plants is changed if they come from greenhouses. The authors provide a quote made by Federal Minister of Economics Günter Rexrodt in 1997:
Today about 40 percent of all food products on the market are made using genetically engineered enzymes, starches, vitamins, and additives.
The authors also list common additives such as amino acids, vitamins, sweeteners, enzymes, and sugar substitutes such as glucose syrup and fructose, which are also found in candy, licorice, jam, and pudding mixes (p. 95).
Xylitol has a similar taste and sweetness as compared to sucrose. Nobel Laureate (1902) Hermann Emil Fischer (1852–1919) discovered xylitol as a sweetener in 1890. Xylitol is a relatively expensive sugar substitute but has anti-cariogenic effects; in other words it is effective against plaque bacteria.
For some animals such as dogs, cattle, goats, and rabbits, xylitol is very toxic even at a dose of 0.1 g per kg of body mass and is fatal at 3–4 g.
Along with sorbitol, birch sugar (xylitol) is a natural sugar alcohol that can be found in many vegetables (including cauliflower) and fruits (plums, strawberries, and raspberries), but usually makes up less than 1% of dry matter.
See also sweeteners made from stevia that habe been positively received.
The genetically modified soy plant has existed since November 1996, and its beans are used in more than 30'000 foods.
The Novel Foods Regulation for such genetically modified products was created in order to achieve greater economic potential. Labeling is required only at a certain percentage and not at all for additives such as flavorings and enzymes.
“According to this regulation, only five to ten percent of the foods produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) require special labeling” (p. 100).
In the section titled “Laboratory recipes,” the authors provide information about surimi. This originally referred to a type of imitation crab meat prepared made from minced fish meat and cooked with sugar and jellied.
This substance is then enhanced with flavors, flavor enhancers, and other additives. It even is sold as expensive shrimp, squid, or crab meat.
Different species of fish that are processed in huge factory ships into flour, oil, and imitation meat are the basis for this product.
However, surimi is often produced from imitations instead of fish. In 1994, random checks found that this was the case for 70 % of the products.
This freeze-stabilized protein mixture has a long shelf life and is even used in sausage, cheese, pizza, soup, pet food, baby food, and potato chips along with other additives and flavorings (p. 102).
(The following is not about Quorn.) In order to show just what can be done in the laboratory, Japanese chemists developed a protein-rich creation from feces that not even a butcher could distinguish from beef in texture, smell and taste.
The authors cover how the industry exploits the fact that most people in the Western world are satiated or even over-satiated.
The industry tries to bring as many tasty products on the market as possible. Since just a few corporations are behind the numerous brands, it is in fact an oligopoly.