Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 6 2014

Hot potato: congress micromanages WIC package

You would think that excluding white potatoes in the WIC package (because evidence shows that WIC participants already eat plenty of white potatoes) would be small potatoes, but not to the Maine potato lobby.

It has induced Congress to intervene on behalf of Maine potatoes.  And, according to Politico it seems to have the votes.

As I’ve said in a couple of earlier posts, this looks to me like Congressional unraveling of nutritional gains for the WIC program.

Rumors say that Republican congressional staff have told WIC officials that Congress intends to go after the program just as it went after SNAP, and that this time WIC “won’t get off easy.”

WIC is demonstrably successful in improving the nutritional status of participating women, infants, and children.

The WIC package—the foods that are eligible to be purchased with WIC vouchers—is based on science-based recommendations of the Institute of Medicine.

Politico quotes Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

Members of Congress often say they want poverty programs to be more effective…Here, they are taking what’s widely agreed to be one of the most effective programs and making it less effective in order to serve parochial interests…If Congress begins mandating what foods to include and exclude in WIC irrespective of the scientific findings…the floodgates will be open in the years ahead for other legislators to demand inclusion of other products that their states produce and that may generate substantial campaign contributions.

How about writing your congressional representatives and telling them to maintain the integrity of the WIC program.  If your representatives heard from enough constituents about this issue, they might not vote for it.

Even a quick e-mail would help.

Addition: Here’s the letter from senators to USDA Secretary Vilsack.

May 5 2014

Look what I found on twitter!

This is too much fun not to share.  Merci á Bernard Lavallée pour le Tweet:

Screenshot 2014-05-02 15.13.58

May 2 2014

HFCS politics, continued. Endlessly.

Sometimes I have some sympathy for the makers of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  They get such bad publicity.

The most recent example occurred at the White House during the annual Easter Egg Roll, and involved the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), Michelle Obama.

Meet Marc Murphy, a chef, drizzling honey over a fruit salad:

MURPHY: “Honey is a great way to sweeten things, it is sort of a natural sweetener.”

FLOTUS: “Why is honey better than sugar?”

MURPHY: “Our bodies can deal with honey…The high-fructose corn syrup is a little harder to … I don’t think our bodies know what do with that yet.”

FLOTUS: “Did you hear that?  Our bodies don’t know what to do with high-fructose corn syrup. So we don’t need it.”

OK class.  It’s time for a lesson in basic carbohydrate biochemistry.

  • The sugars in honey are glucose and fructose.
  • The sugars in HFCS are glucose and fructose.
  • Table sugar is glucose and fructose stuck together, but quickly unstuck by enzymes.

The body knows perfectly well what to do with glucose and fructose, no matter where it comes from.

Now meet John Bode, the new president of The Corn Refiners Association:

We applaud First Lady Michelle Obama’s commendable work to educate the public about nutrition and healthy diets… It is most unfortunate that she was misinformed about how the body processes caloric sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup…Years of scientific research have shown that the body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup similar to table sugar and honey.

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you may recall that I have a little history with the Corn Refiners.

Bizarrely, I was caught up in their lawsuit with the Sugar Association.

And I was not particularly pleased to find several of my public comments about carbohydrate biochemistry displayed on the Corn Refiners website.  I did not want them used in support of the group’s ultimately unsuccessful proposal to change the name of HFCS to corn sugar.

I asked to have the quotes removed.  The response: “Your quotes are published and in the public domain.  If you don’t want us to use them, take us to court.”

I let that one go.

Enter John Bode, the Corn Refiners’ new president and CEO.  As it happens, I became acquainted with Mr. Bode in the late 1980s when he was Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and I was working in the Department of Health and Human Services (yes, the Reagan administration).

To my pleasant surprise, he recently wrote me “warm greetings, after many years.”  His note assured me that my request to have the quotes removed would be respected and that they would soon disappear.  And so they have, except for a couple in some archived press releases.

Score one for John Bode.

Mr. Bode has his work cut out for him.  He has to teach the world carbohydrate biochemistry, restore public acceptance of HFCS, defend against Sugar Association lawsuits, stop the Corn Refiners from being so litigious, and do some fence-mending, all at the same time.

And he must do all this in an era when everyone would be better off eating a lot less sugar of any kind, HFCS included.

 

 

May 1 2014

A Roundup (no pun intended) on organics

It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the organic front.

To put the events in context:Organics cost more.

  • Consumers spend about $30 billion on organics each year, and the numbers are rising.
  • Industrial food companies are cashing in on the market by buying up organic companies.
  • Big Organics want the rules to be as lenient as possible to all them to follow the letter of the organic standards without having to adhere to their spirit.
  • Organic production, which uses only approved pesticides and fertilizers, is an explicit critique of industrial food production methods.

The White House non-organic garden

I think this photo comes from Jerry Hagstrom who must have seen it on the day of the annual Easter egg roll.

New Picture (2)

 

Sam Kass denies that the White House garden is organic.  He told Hagstrom that “the sign was part of the Easter Egg Roll, not part of the kitchen garden…The planners of the Easter Egg Roll put up the sign…and he did not see it until he went down to the South Lawn during the event.”  The garden uses “organic practices.”

The “academic” attack on the integrity of organic certification

A report from something called Academic Reviews draws a conspiracy-theory picture of organic farmers:

Our review of the top 50 organic food marketers….reveals that anti-GMO and anti-pesticide advo­cacy groups promoting organic alternatives have combined annual budgets exceeding $2.5 billion annually and that organic industry funders are found among the major donors to these groups…These findings suggest a widespread organic and natural products industry pat­tern of research-informed and intentionally-deceptive marketing and advocacy related practices that have generated hundreds of billions in revenues.

Finally, the findings strongly suggest that this multi-decade public disinformation campaign has been conducted with the implied use and approval of the U.S. government endorsed USDA Organic Seal in direct contradiction to U.S. government stated policy for use of said seal….As a result, the American taxpayer funded national organic pro­gram is playing an ongoing role in misleading consumers into spending billions of dollars in organic purchasing decisions based on false and misleading health, safety and quality claims.

Michele Simon points out that the report is the work of the two founders of the publication, which is supported by an impressive list of food and biotechnology industry supporters.

The authors  make no statement about conflicts-of-interest.

What Americans really think about organics

Consumer Reports has a new survey of the attitudes toward organics of 1,016 adults.  The survey found:

  • 84% buy organic food and 45% but them at least once a month.
  • 81% think organic means no toxic pesticides (there are exemptions for some for up to five years).
  • 91% think organic produce should not use pesticides.
  • 61% think no antibiotics are used (there’s an exemption for streptomycin on apples and pears).
  • 86% think antibiotics should not be used.
  • 92% want a federal organic standard for fish.
  • 84% think the use of artificial ingredients in organic products should be discontinued, if not reviewed, after 5 years.

The fight between Big and Small Organics over the organic standards

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is meeting in San Antonio this week.  Advocates for maintaining the highest possible standards for organic production are worried about the NOSB’s notice last September to eliminate the rule that synthetic materials approved for the organic production be reviewed every five years (see Federal Register).

Advocates for Small Organics worry that the NOSB’s actions will damage the credibility of the USDA organic seal.  Some members of Congress agree.

the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and March Against Monsanto San Antonio (MAMSA) staged protested the sunset of the 5-year rule at the meeting.

OCA says the NOSB made the change

Here’s a photo of the protest.  Things must have gotten hot and heavy.  The political director of the Organic Consumers Association was arrested.  The group issued this statement:

When the bureaucrats running the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) call in the police to remove the political director of the Organic Consumers Association for protesting an illegal policy change, and continue to ignore the expressed concerns, and block her from attending the public meeting today, it’s clear that we need a new balance of power between the organic community and the organic industry.

This is the price of success for organics.  Everyone wants to cash in.

Addition: Ellen Fried reminds me of this terrific graphic of who owns what in organics.

Apr 30 2014

The never-ending fish dilemmas

Mal Nesheim and I have an editorial in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Advice for fish consumption: challenging dilemmas.”

We commented on a research article evaluating blood mercury levels in adults eating seafood.

In it, we point out that

the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise Americans to consume 8 ounces (227 g) of seafood per week to reach an average intake of 250 mg/d of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

This recommendation represents a substantial increase over current consumption amounts of ∼3.5 oz/wk. It is based on “moderate, consistent evidence” that the health benefits of increased seafood consumption outweigh the risks associated with methylmercury, a toxic contaminant of large predatory food fish (tilefish, shark, swordfish, king mackerel) and, to a lesser extent, albacore (white) tuna.

To avoid this toxin, the guidelines advise eating seafood typically found to be low in methylmercury, such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, and trout.

Such advice, however, leads to at least 3 dilemmas. Eating more fish might raise methylmercury intake above safe amounts. Pressures to consume more fish might place impossible demands on an already threatened seafood supply. And the obvious solution—fish farming—raises concerns about what farmed fish are fed and how farmed fish affects the environment.

We urge the 2015 Dietary Guidelines committee to take all this into consideration when making recommendations about fish consumption: “We hope that its advice for seafood consumption will help a confused public resolve some of these dilemmas and make wise seafood choices.”

Wise seafood choices may be an oxymoron, alas.

Apr 29 2014

The Bloomberg soda cap rule: not over yet

Yesterday, Health Commissioner Mary Bassett announced that the National Alliance for Hispanic health and nine other New York City organizations had filed an amicus—”friend of the court”—brief in support of the ban on sales of sodas larger than 16 ounces (the “soda cap rule”).

The amicus brief filed today…is a reminder of what this rule is about: protecting the health of New Yorkers. Corporate lawsuits and well-financed marketing campaigns do not change the documented scientific fact that there is an obesity and diabetes epidemic in our city, with the epicenter in our poorest neighborhoods. We must protect New Yorkers from corporate practices that value profits at the expense of their customers’ health.

The Alliance issued its own statement.

“The beverage industry has pursued a strategy of legal obstruction and put profits over the health of its customers,” said Dr. Jane L. Delgado, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the nation’s leading science-based advocate for Hispanic health.

The amici brief concludes:

The problem that the Rule addresses – the impact of sugary drinks in contributing to obesity and other diet-related chronic disease – is an issue of importance and urgency  for millions of New Yorkers. The crisis calls for action – including the incremental action of reducing the portion sizes of sugary drinks in restaurants. For the one of every three children born in 2000 who will develop type 2 diabetes, and for the one of every two African-American and Hispanic girls who will get the disease, the question is not whether the Rule was justified but rather “What else is being done?”  It is for their sake that the Rule was adopted. It is for their sake that the Board concluded thaqt the inconvenience to the thirsty of having to order another soda was worth it.  It is for their sake that amici urge this Court to uphold the Rule.

The soda cap rule is on appeal to the State Supreme Court.  According to the Associated Press, a hearing is scheduled for June 4.

Congratulations to the new Commissioner for keeping this idea alive.

 

Apr 28 2014

Act now: support USDA’s wellness policies for schools

Now is the time to tell USDA you support its proposed guidelines for nutrition education, physical activity, and junk food marketing in schools:

The bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandated that the USDA set guidelines for what needed to be included in local school wellness policies in areas such as setting goals for nutrition education and physical activity, informing parents about content of the policy and implementation, and periodically assessing progress and sharing updates as appropriate. As part of local school wellness policies, the proposed guidelines would ensure that foods and beverages marketed to children in schools are consistent with the recently-released Smart Snacks in School standards. Ensuring that unhealthy food is not marketed to children is one of the First Lady’s top priorities; that is why it is so important for schools to reinforce the importance of healthy choices and eliminate marketing of unhealthy products.

Here are two easy ways to make sure USDA follows through on the guidelines:

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a website set up for quick letters:

While many schools have adopted policies over the past few years to support healthy eating and physical activity, implementation has not been uniformly strong. USDA’s proposed updates will strengthen implementation, help parents be better informed about the policies, and provide schools with more tools and resources.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) asks for signatures on a letter urging the USDA to ban all advertising in schools:

The USDA is urging schools only to limit junk food marketing. By attempting to set a ceiling that prohibits advertising for unhealthy foods, the USDA may set a floor that opens the floodgates for many other types of marketing in schools, setting a dangerous precedent that goes far beyond food.

Now is the time….

 

Apr 24 2014

Vermont’s GMO labeling bill: the first domino?

Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, says he will sign Vermont’s GMO labeling bill.  The bill, (H112), which passed by a majority of 114 to 30:

  • Requires food manufacturers to label GMO products sold in Vermont starting July 1, 2016 (Meat, dairy, liquor and prepared foods sold in restaurants are exempt).
  • Will allow labels to say “partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” or “produced with genetic engineering.”
  • Says foods containing GMO ingredients cannot be marketed as “natural.”
  • Sets aside $1.5 million to pay for the inevitable lawsuits.

As always, the Grocery Manufacturers of America can be counted on to give the industry position.  H112

is critically flawed and not in the best interests of consumers.  It sets the nation on a costly and misguided path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will do nothing to advance the safety of consumer.

…The FDA, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and U.S. National Academy of Science have all found that foods and beverages that contain GM ingredients are safe and materially no different than conventionally produced products. Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic.’

Translation: if GMO’s are safe, they are OK.  Never mind all the other reasons it would be good to label them.

GMOs are the best thing that ever happened to organics.

The lawsuits will, no doubt, invoke the First Amendment.  One attorney, Jonathan Emord, says the bill should be able to withstand the challenge.

Will Vermont’s action lead to a domino effect?  Nearly 30 other states are considering such bills.

Recall that the first company to produce GMO tomatoes intended to label them (I have copies of the label in my files).  But the biotechnology industry put an end to that idea in the early 1990s.

Now it’s paying the price for a bad decision 20 years ago.  I’m surprised this took so long.

More information from FoodNavigator-USA:

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