Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Expert Panelists Discuss Poverty, Health & Food Policy

The Yale Food Law Society, Yale Health Law & Policy Society, and the Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy at Yale Law School hosted a high-profile lineup of panelists and moderators to discuss poverty, health, and food policy in the U.S. on January 27, 2016.

The lunchtime discussion examined how the legal community can help promote better nutrition among low-income Americans through food policy. The panel featured Kelly Brownell, Dean of Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, and Kurt Messner, (Acting) Regional Administrator of the USDA Food & Nutrition Service. It was moderated by Professor Abbe Gluck ’00, Director of the Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy at Yale Law School, and Professor Emily Broad Leib, Deputy Director of the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation.

Messner discussed the 15 major programs that are intended to address food and nutrition in the U.S., the largest being SNAP (food stamps), which provides supplemental food programs to support communities and supplement school systems and food banks. Messner cited the more than 31 million students participating in the school lunch program, providing a local example in Fair Haven, where schools now offer free and reduced meals. Teachers and administrators agree that the program is having a positive impact in schools, he said.

Brownell discussed the many legal needs and opportunities in food law and urged young legal minds to bring their talent to this robust and interesting area of study and practice. He highlighted critical and diverse opportunities to deal with food-related issues, including hunger and food security, obesity, the environmental impact of agriculture, and food safety and security. Brownell described how these issues come together to form a disjointed policy picture, which generates an important role for law to help remedy it.

Brownell also detailed a case study he was involved in that examined a misleading labeling program called the “Smart Choices Program,” which was launched by the food industry in 2009. The program enabled the food industry to create its own nutritional standards for any food and designate it as a “smart choice.” Foods like Fruit Loops and Hellman’s mayonnaise were labeled smart choices under this program. Seeking to end this practice, Brownell contacted the Connecticut Attorney General at the time, Richard Blumenthal ’73, and his office took action. Blumenthal brought a lot of attention to the Smart Choices Program, and it very quickly dropped from labels. Brownell noted that this was a great example of how identifying a key change agent was critical to effective advocacy for policy change.

The discussion also examined the tension that has developed between increasing access to food and ensuring that increased access enables healthy eating. Further, the discussion highlighted the political nature of food policy by identifying food policy’s connection to controversial areas in the legal realm, including sustainability, agricultural development, and climate change.

In concluding the event, the moderators and panelists stressed how important it is for people to be aware of and engaged with these issues— and in particular, for students to seize the opportunity to get involved as this new area of law continues to evolve. “Thank goodness you’re here,” Brownell said in closing, addressing the group of approximately 100 students in attendance. “We need bright young minds working on these issues, and there are so many great opportunities.”

The Yale Food Law Society (FoodSoc) is a nonpartisan community that promotes the study of and engagement with food and agriculture law and policy. FoodSoc advocates an approach that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

The Yale Health Law and Policy Society (YHeLPS) organizes health-related programming at YLS. YHeLPS invites speakers, plans networking events, organizes experiential learning opportunities, and coordinates with health organizations throughout Yale University.

Established in 2015, the Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy at Yale Law School is the first of its kind to focus on the governance, business, and practice of health care in the United States.