Who is paying more for lobbying: Big meat or Big sugar? The answer may surprise you!
*pulls back the curtain for the Big Reveal*
The meat and dairy lobbying figure is the sum of figures from meat processing, livestock, poultry and eggs, and dairy, obtained from the Center for Responsible Politics. CFRP data is in turn based on data from the Senate Office of Public Records.
Qualifications to this data: not included were lobbying data from food product manufacturers, because the products of many of these companies are heterogeneous, i.e. could favor meat or sugar, but mostly because these figures are not significant enough to move the dial.
A much bigger qualification: food and beverage companies were not included. Inclusion of these companies would absolutely have moved the needle in favor of sugar, by a good, additional $5-10M.
However, it should be noted that soft drinks only account for 20-40% of the portfolios of the major F&B companies. This means that the lobbying dollars spent by these companies were probably not directed primarily at protecting sugar-related interests. (Thus $5-10M rather than ~$28M.)
Still, it’s an important omission.
To balance out this out, however, one need only look at the Agricultural Products/Services industry.
According to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, more than 50% of American grain goes to feed livestock:
And, according to USDA, less than 10% of the corn crop goes to produce sweetener:
Therefore, because meat production is the main output for the industry’s grain production, at 50%, we would expect the bulk of this lobbying to be directed at policies that protect and promote, through the ag products/services industry, the meat industry. What is the precise figure for the meat industry? About $37M in 2017.
50% of $37M is, of course, $18.5M.
Assuming that only about 20-40% of the F&B industry’s $28M lobbying (2017; see immediately below) would be sugar-related (reflecting the product portfolio of these companies), or $5-10M, if we included both the beverages and ag products industries for sugar and meat ($10M and $18.5M, respectively; see above), the skew would still favor meat, perhaps even overwhelmingly.
An aside. One amusing feature about the above graph: 2009 saw a huge spike in Food & Beverage lobbying. That was the year Robert Lustig released his seminal Youtube video. Dr. Lustig may have literally caused the soda industry to spend tens of millions of dollars on him in a single year.
There can be no doubt that during THAT year and in 2010, most of the dollars spent by Big Beverage WERE for sugar-related interests, and this can be estimated. But again, given the much broader portfolio in non-sugar-related products, later years may have been less sugar-related.
But careful analysis needs to be done to determine that this is so; it’s not a foregone conclusion by any means, since it may be the case that these other products need less lobbying. Future work will need to be done on this issue.
In any case, one conclusion to draw is that Big Sugar and Big Meat are at minimum highly comparable in terms of the money spent to influence policymakers, with Big Meat arguably taking the substantial lead.
We should expect therefore that, if lobbying money is cause for alarm, then any sugar industry conspiracy theorist should be equally concerned about the meat industry. Yet that’s not what we see. Given this, we can hypothesize that conspiracy theories are selective:
They do not postulate conspiracy theories about industries that they are sympathetic to, even if the data suggest the same dynamics at play in these industries as those to which they are hostile.