Bravo to the Undoing of Michelle Obama’s ‘Signature Achievement’

Following the Trump Administration’s proposal of new rules for the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service that would give schools more flexibility in the foods served in government-provided meals, the mainstream media lost no time in displaying their fawning Obama-worship. This was the lede in a January 17 Washington Post news story:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken another whack at former first lady Michelle Obama’s signature achievement: Establishing stricter nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches. And on her birthday.

Although we count ourselves among those who think the Obamas and their supposed accomplishments are best forgotten, this new attention to Mrs. Obama’s “signature achievement” warrants an examination of her record.

Just as the Obamas were leaving the White House, the departing first lady decided to partner with the radical left-wing Food Policy Action Education Fund, a sister organization of radical Food Policy Action. In an advertisement video released in January 2017, Michelle Obama intoned, “What a wonderful world it would be if all the children had the nutrition they need.”

That is rich, given that at every opportunity, her husband’s administration obstructed new, innovative technologies that could have offered cheaper, safer, higher-quality products that would especially have benefited the poor. Often, these actions were solely for personal political advantage. (Did we hear someone mutter, “abuse of power”?)

Obama’s campaign, dubbed “A Place at the Table,” was backed by $300 million in donated media, including TV, digital and print. It was a kind of sequel to the film documentary of the same name that chef and FPA co-founder Tom Colicchio helped produce (and that was co-directed by his wife). The nationwide campaign was managed by another member of the left-wing, pro-nanny-state all-star team, Willy Ritch, former communications director for U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), a leading demagogue in the fight to politicize food.

By partnering with a radical left-wing activist group rather than an organization actually focused on feeding hungry people, the former first lady chose to further politicize an issue that should be above partisan politics. There are many organizations that successfully put politics aside and bring people together in the fight against hunger, such as No Kid Hungry, the sponsor of the Cooking Matters program, which teaches families how to “shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget,” or any of the countless faith-based groups that daily provide meals to people in need in their communities.

It is no surprise that Michelle Obama decided to partner with a divisive, ideological group and to cloak it in a do-gooder, feed-the-hungry campaign. The ad provided links to celebrity chef and activist Tom Colicchio, whose political action committee is known for creating the risible “Food Policy Action Scorecard,” which scores lawmakers on how liberal they are on food issues.

Even among clueless celebrities, Colicchio stands out. An example is his New York Times rant about the FDA’s decision not to require a “genetically modified” label on an Atlantic salmon called “AquAdvantage,” which differs from its wild cohorts only by reaching maturity almost twice as fast as its unmodified siblings.

(Thanks to President Obama’s FDA, which kept the poor fish treading water in regulatory limbo during a 22-year review, the entire once-promising sector of genetically engineered food animals has virtually disappeared.)

But for good measure, Colicchio took a few misinformed swipes at genetic engineering in general.

Consider the following (non-exhaustive) illustrations of Colicchio in La-La Land:

This “super” salmon was conceived by combining genes from Chinook salmon that produce extra growth hormone with an “antifreeze” gene from a bottom-feeder, the non-Kosher ocean pout. The result is a fish that grows far faster and larger than non-engineered salmon.

In the real world, however, the AquAdvantage salmon contains a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and a regulatory sequence of DNA from the ocean pout that enables the new gene to produce salmon growth hormone year-round instead of just seasonally. (Neither of these has even the remotest connection to “anti-freeze.”)

As a result, AquAdvantage salmon reach market size in about half the time as conventional Atlantic salmon, but they are not larger than conventional Atlantic salmon at maturity. And they are otherwise indistinguishable—same taste, nutritional value, and appearance as their non-engineered siblings. The only thing not kosher here is Colicchio’s tripe.

Colicchio would further have us believe that:

The use of GMOs has led to unintended consequences. For instance, most GMO crops are engineered to withstand blasts of a powerful weed killer that the World Health Organization has decided probably causes cancer.

In the real world, however, the molecular techniques for genetic modification are an extension, or refinement, of those used for decades or even centuries. The modifications are far more precise and predictable (and to this point have also been more sustainable and benign to the natural environment) than the older ones described in the point above, so “unintended consequences” are far less likely with the modern molecular techniques of genetic engineering.

There have been some unintended consequences with the older, pre-molecular techniques for genetic improvements, such as a new potato variety with high levels of a toxin and inadvertent susceptibility of new corn varieties to a fungal infestation, but not with the far more precise and predictable, newer techniques of genetic engineering.

The “powerful weed killer” that Colicchio referred to is glyphosate, one of the most benign and biodegradable herbicides. As to his assertion that it “probably causes cancer,” once again Colicchio simply doesn’t understand the science. The data (and a selected set of data, at that) were reviewed to determine whether glyphosate is capable of causing cancer, but without any consideration of likely exposure levels.

Finally, contrary to Colicchio’s assertion, the World Health Organization, along with every regulatory agency worldwide that has evaluated glyphosate, concluded that it was not carcinogenic. (It was only a rogue, corrupt component of WHO that concluded that glyphosate could be harmful, but it did not evaluate risk.)

Michelle Obama’s decision to partner with Tom Colicchio should be no surprise, given her past choices of collaborators. She picked Debra Eschmeyer to be executive director of her signature Let’s Move! program.

Eschmeyer’s campaign to get more gardens into schools is the type of bumper-sticker-style health advocacy that makes advocates feel good but does little to address the real challenges facing our country. We’re not going to solve the obesity problem by telling urban children to become farmers: It was 10 degrees in New York City in the middle of the school day when she was appointed, and that was balmy compared to the weather in the Northern Great Plains. So much for Eschmeyer’s penchant for fresh, locally grown produce; a (heated) bus ride to Walmart would have made more sense.

Michelle Obama, like her husband and his minions when he was president, is allied with elitists who ignore and distort science to promote their leftist agendas. Fortunately, they’re no longer in a position to ram their policies down our throats.

About Henry I. Miller

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA. Please follow him on Twitter @henryimiller.

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