Washington Insider -- Monday

Food, Soda Consumption Falls

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Japan, U.S. to Meet on Sideline of TPP Ministerial This Week

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari plan to hold bilateral meetings during the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) ministerial that gets underway tomorrow on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Their goal this week, as it has been for months, is to resolve U.S. access to the Japanese rice market and U.S. import tariffs on auto parts.

Sources last week told the press that the United States is asking Japan to increase the annual quota for duty-free rice imports to 175,000 metric tons, while Japan has offered 50,000 tons. Amari has said he has no plans to increase Japan's rice quota, but the sources said Japan may be willing to offer new concessions.

There remains a question about whether the United States would agree to abolish its 2.5% tariff on imports of auto parts and what the schedule might be for doing so. Last week, reports in Japanese media indicated that the United States would eliminate the tariff on more than half of Japanese auto parts immediately after TPP takes effect and phase out the tariff on remaining parts over 10 years. If that report is correct, there likely will be push-back from members of Congress who represent states and districts that are home to U.S. automobile manufacturing.


As Legislative Days Dwindle, Boehner Acknowledges Need for Stop-Gap Bill

Earlier this year, the leaders of the majority Republican Congress hoped to do a better job of moving the 12 annual appropriations bills through the legislative process than in the past decade or so. However, with fewer than 20 legislative days left before the start of the government's next fiscal year on Oct. 1, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, now acknowledges that Congress will need to pass a stopgap funding bill (aka, a continuing resolution) by Sept. 30 to keep the government open after that.

"It's pretty clear, given the number of days we're going to be here in September, that we're going to have to do a CR of some sort," Boehner said at his weekly press briefing. "But no decision's been made about that. We'll deal with it in September when we get back" [from the congressional summer recess].

The House has passed six appropriations bills but floor action came to a halt in the wake of a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over amendments on the display of the Confederate battle flag. The Senate, which almost always lags the House, has not passed any of its appropriations measures, largely due to opposition from Democrats.

Attention now turns to whether the coming continuing resolution will be short- or long-term and whether congressional staffers will be able to bridge some significant funding disagreements during the time their bosses are enjoying their "District Work Weeks."


Washington Insider: Food, Soda Consumption Falls

Nobody really knows why U.S. food consumption and obesity jumped sharply in the 1980s, and, it appears that nobody really knows why that trend now appears to be reversing, but it seems that it is. In a long story in the New York Times on Sunday, a summary of federal and university reports are seen as strong evidence that calories consumed daily by the typical American peaked around 2003 and has fallen since.

The decline is significant, the Times says — especially since caloric intake of the average child has fallen even more that for the average consumer — by at least 9%.

The Times calls this the first sustained decline in food consumption since federal statistics began to track the subject more than 40 years ago. It is seen in most major demographic groups, including higher- and lower-income families and blacks and whites.

In a possibly related development, the amount of full-calorie soda drunk by the average American has dropped 25% since the late 1990s, the Times says.

The article traces the results that accompany consumption declines on obesity rates that are no longer rising for adults and school-aged children and falling for the youngest. The report credits a burst of scientific research about the costs of obesity and widespread public health campaigns in the turnaround.

The article discusses the difficulty of measuring food consumption and describes tracking studies by government researchers, data from food bar codes and estimates of food production. And, while there is uncertainty as to the specific causes of the decline, the article reports that experts are confident that such a shift is underway and that the changes have been the most substantial in households with children.

The report notes that public health campaigns have focused on one subject more than any other: beverages. And, it concludes that the “anti-soda messages hit their target.” Americans, on average, purchased about 40 gallons of full-calorie soda annually in 1998, but only 30 gallons in 2014 “about the level that Americans bought in 1980, before the obesity rates took off.”

Beverage companies have reacted by marketing diet drinks and investing heavily in new products, including iced teas and flavored water. “A lot of the changes we are seeing are consumer-driven,” said John Sicher, Beverage Digest’s publisher told the Times.

Except for beverages, few trends are clear, the NYT says, although experts suggest “people appear to be eating a little less of everything.”

Lest we get too euphoric about the new trend, the article quotes food experts that “the food part of our diet is horrendous and remains horrendous.” And, it reminds that the consumption downtrend “does not appear to extend to the very heaviest Americans. Among the most overweight people, weight and waist circumference have all continued rising in recent years.”

In addition, the food experts make it clear that the recent calorie reductions alone will not reverse the obesity epidemic. Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, told the Times that for Americans to return to 1978 body weights by 2020, an average adult would need to reduce calorie consumption by 220 calories a day — far more than the recent reductions.

Still the more optimistic reports from the war on obesity certainly are encouraging — especially at a time when the fog of conflicting dietary advice seems especially stifling. Perhaps it was the medical component of the anti-obesity efforts that struck home. Nevertheless, the prospect of an increasingly healthy population without the self-flagellation prescribed by the most extreme urban foodies would seem particularly welcome, Washington Insider believes.

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