03/26/19

Annual DC Conference Talks Cannabis, Food Sustainability and More

On March 14-15, FoodMinds attended the Consumer Federation of America’s 42nd Annual National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC. This event brought together more than 250 guests, including many leaders in the food industry, government and consumer advocacy spaces to discuss priority topics in food, agriculture and nutrition policy.

The conversation at this year’s conference focused on many persistent issues including food safety, SNAP/barriers to benefits, the Farm Bill and salt/sugar consumption. Alongside these more evergreen issues were newer topics like food as medicine, cannabis, trade and food waste. With the recent announcement of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s departure, it’s still unclear how the department’s sodium reduction strategy and Nutrition Innovation Strategy will progress. However, Food Dive spoke with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) after the event, who noted that consumer advocates have received a lot of reassurance that the public health initiatives will continue.

There was a significant emphasis and thematic approach to sustainability this year with sessions on the environmental, economic, and social elements of sustainability. Many in the room were calling on food industry to drive change, fueled by consumer demand.

Please note: the key themes and takeaways noted below were focus points of discussions/presentations; they do not necessarily reflect FoodMinds’ point of view.

  1. With a growing population and planetary constraints, it is more important than ever to address sustainability multidimensionally. CPG companies have to work in tandem with suppliers and build cross-sector collaborations, with sustainability at their core. Danone spoke about their recent B Corporation status and how the company was created as a public benefit corporation, which weaves sustainability and public health into the DNA of the company.
  2. Changes to dietary patterns to promote human and planetary health are needed, but no one specifically discussed the EAT-Lancet Commission or other recent reports. Speakers commented on the need to focus on the nutrient density of food in tandem with improved agricultural practices.
  3. There was a real interest in safeguarding SNAP and nutrition benefits amidst bipartisan conversation on cutbacks. CSPI discussed the missed opportunity through SNAP in improving health and nutrition outcomes, which could include disincentives for SSBs and unhealthy foods and beverages.
  4. State-level efforts on sugar-sweetened beverage taxes will continue in the years to come. According to Kim Kessler, Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it is the role of the state to innovate, test and evaluate policies which can then influence federal policy.
  5. It’s still a wild-west in the U.S. cannabis industry, but major players are stepping up to the plate and self-regulating themselves with the absence of federal regulation. Several panelists noted that we’re a long way from any type of national consumable product. Plus, USDA regulations and guidance related to industrial hemp won’t be in place until the 2020 growing season; the department just began the rulemaking process in February.
  6. Many sessions discussed ways in which the private sector is working to fill a perceived gap, be it with plant-based/cell cultured meat of insurance-incentive options for healthy eating prescription programs. Cell cultured meat was discussed by several speakers, and FDA reiterated its commitment to ensuring consumer trust and clarity in how these new technologies will be used and properly labeled.
  7. Food waste efforts focused on recovery efforts (ugly produce, recovery/redistribution) rather than a more preventive approach. There was less discussion on policy or industry solutions to prevent food waste in the first place. 

Contact us at [email protected] for more information on our food and nutrition affairs work and navigating this evolving landscape, both nationally and globally.

Carla Curle, MS is an assistant account executive at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla, in San Francisco

Kathryn Harrington is a senior vice president at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla, in Washington, DC