Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 23 2017

Canada’s new food label: some interesting history

Last week I posted this about Canada’s new food label:

I received a note from a reader who sent an article from the Canada Gazette giving some of the background for these decisions.

The government did a cost-benefit analysis of the then-proposed label:

Costs were estimated based on the inclusion of all regulatory options that were presented during consultations (i.e. the U.S. approach for added sugar, mandatory inclusion of vitamin D in the NFt). Stakeholders indicated that the cost would be a maximum of $727.1 million and with the removal of outliers, $598 million. However, the decision to use a Daily Value approach for sugars instead of added sugars would significantly lower these costs…The coming-into-force period of 5 years was chosen to minimize the cost of implementing the proposed amendments.

How did the Daily Value get to be 100 grams per day, twice the U.S. Daily Value of 50 grams?  All it says is:

A DV of 100 g is being proposed for sugar, and the declaration of the % DV for sugar in the NFt would be mandated for all foods.

Food industry politics in action!

Jan 20 2017

Weekend reading: Caring about Hunger

George Kent.  Caring about Hunger.  Irene Publishing, 2016

Kent is a former professor of political science at the University of Hawai’i who in his retirement is teaching at the University of Sydney in Australia and Saybrook University in California.  His book is about the causes of hunger and how to overcome them.   He’s been at this for a long time and can boil the causes down to brief summaries.

  • Disjunction: Hunger and poverty persist largely because the people who have the power to solve the problems are not the ones who have the problems.
  • Compassion: On the whole, the people who have the power do not have much compassion for the powerless.
  • Material interests: The powerful serve mainly the powerful, not the powerless, because the powerless cannot do much for the benefit of the powerful.

Much of the book focuses on compassion and what he calls “caring.”

  • Hunger is less likely to occur where people care about one another’s well being.
  • Caring behavior is strengthened when people work and play together.
  • Hunger in any community is likely to be reduced by encouraging people to work and play together, especially in food-related activities.

He gives plenty of examples of how to make all this work.

Utopian?  Yes, but we need to start somewhere.

Jan 19 2017

Some progress in healthier school meals

I am late in getting to this report on school meals from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, which came out in early December. 

Their jointly sponsored Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project took a good hard look at how schools were faring under the Obama administration’s rules for healthier lunches, breakfasts, and snacks. 

Some of their findings:

  • 6 in 10 directors said they faced only a few or no ongoing obstacles to meeting updated breakfast requirements; 4 in 10 said the same of the lunch guidelines.
  • For breakfast and lunch, the commonly cited challenges were sodium and whole grain targets.
  • Most programs use a mix of strategies—three, on average—to encourage students to eat nutritious meals (e.g., salad bars).
  • Holding taste tests with students and redistributing uneaten, sealed foods were among the most effective ways to reduce waste (but only about 40% of schools were doing this). 
  • Programs preparing more foods from scratch and increased the use of salad bars were more likely to report that student participation rose or was unchanged from 2011-2015.
  • Two-thirds of schools reported compliance with the Smart Snacks nutrition standards.
  • Equipment and labor costs were the most frequently reported financial concerns.
  • 84 percent of program directors reported rising or stable combined revenue (meal reimbursements plus snack and beverage sales) in the past year. 

Most schools are managing; some are still having problems.  My guess is that what I’ve always observed is still true: if the school food director and the principal are committed to serving healthier meals, they find a way to do that.  If not, they don’t.  Schools that cook from scratch do better—but that also takes commitment.

Most needed are (1) enough money to do it right, and (2) education, training, and decent pay for school food service personnel.

Documents and links:

 

Jan 18 2017

Sugar politics: catching up

Last week was a big one for comments about sugars.  I’m traveling this week but here’s a quick round-up.

 

Jan 17 2017

(Dis)Honest Kids

Thanks to nutritionist (and graduate of our NYU program) Andy Bellatti for sending a photo of this product.

What got his attention was “sweetened only with fruit juice.”  But it’s a juice drink, not

Jan 16 2017

NASA’s food and agriculture program: request for proposals

Who knew that NASA was interested in food security and agriculture?  I certainly didn’t.  But I was recently sent this request for proposals.  No, they are not looking to grow food on spaceships or Mars.

But they are looking to use space technology to

ROSES-16 Amendment 53: Release of New Program Element A.51 Food Security and Agriculture.

NASA solicits proposals to enable and advance uses of Earth observations by domestic and international organizations to benefit food security and agriculture. Global food security represents a major societal challenge for the coming decades, and NASA recognizes that space-based Earth observations can provide key information to support the functioning and resilience of food systems.

NASA encourages that proposals involve a multisectoral, transdisciplinary team of organizations as a consortium to manage a program of activities to achieve the objectives. The scope includes applications development, user characterization and engagement, innovative communications work, and impact assessments as part of the activities.

The solicitation includes two elements: International Food Security and Domestic Agriculture.  Key objectives include:

  • Advance use of Earth observations for enhanced food security and improved agricultural practices, especially for humanitarian pursuits, economic progress, resilience, and sustainability;
  • Increase the adoption of Earth observations applications and broaden the suite of organizations routinely using them to inform decisions and actions;
  • Expand the number of applications developed, tested, and (if successful) adopted across sectors, decision types, and other meaningful factors;
  • Advance understanding of effective ways – both technically and programmatically – to enable sustained applications of Earth observations;
  • Enhance awareness within food security and agricultural communities of upcoming Earth observing satellite missions and encourage the community development of new applications;
  • Advance impact assessment techniques quantifying the benefits of Earth observations, increasing the number of examples and case studies across sectors and decision types;
  • Identify opportunities and topics for possible future investigations;
  • Advance communication of the benefits of Earth science and observations.

Notices of Intent to propose are requested by February 17, 2017, and proposals are due April 7, 2017.

Information about a preproposal conference from 2:30-4:00 pm eastern time on February 24, 2017, and later a Frequently Asked Questions document, will be posted on the NSPIRES web page for A.51 Earth Science Applications: Food Security and Agriculture. 

Questions concerning this program element may be directed to Brad Doorn at Bradley.Doorn@nasa.gov with “ROSES FS & Ag Inquiry” in the subject line or by contacting him via information listed in the summary table of key information.

Wouldn’t this be fun and fascinating to work on?  I’d love to!

 

Jan 13 2017

Weekend reading: GMO food fights

McKay Jenkins.  Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet.  Avery, 2017.

I wrote my own book about GMOs, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (revised and expanded edition, 2010).  Its first chapter and second half of the book are about the topic.  Many other books have written about GMOs, but I thought this one was good enough to blurb:

McKay Jenkins has done the impossible.  He has produced a remarkably fair and balanced account of the contentious role of GMOs in the U.S. food supply, calling the shots as he sees them.  Pro- and anti-GMO proponents will find plenty to argue with, but anyone wanting to understand what the fights are really about and why they matter will find this book a big help.

Jan 11 2017

What SNAP recipients buy at one big retail grocery

Advocates have been pressing USDA for years to (1) get data on what SNAP recipients buy with their benefits, and (2) permit pilot studies of what happens to purchases of soft drinks if you exclude them from the benefit package.

In 2012, I did a post on the 2012 SNAP to Health report.  Its recommendations:

  1.  Protect SNAP benefits.
  2.  Collect data

Lots of people have been trying to get USDA to produce data.  Anahad O’Connor, the author of the New York Times account, filed a Freedom of Information request with USDA.  In response, USDA sent him a report it had commissioned from IMPAQ, a “beltway bandit” consulting firm.  His story is here (I’m quoted).

Now we have a partial answer.  IMPAQ analyzed data from one large, unnamed retailer (could it be Walmart?).

Here’s USDA’s summary of the study (and here’s the complete study).

The USDA says the study shows that SNAP recipients buy pretty much the same amounts of what everyone else buys.

Summary category data show that both SNAP and non-SNAP households focused their spending in a relatively small number of similar food item categories, reflecting similar food choices. The top five summary categories totaled about half of the expenditures for SNAP households and non-SNAP households (50 versus 47 percent). Commodity-level data (in the full report) show that both SNAP and non-SNAP households made choices that may not be fully consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

My reading of the report suggests that in this study, SNAP recipients spent more of a combination of their SNAP benefits and their own private money on:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Hamburger
  • Frozen meals
  • Salty snacks
  • Lunch meats
  • Flavored milk
  • Kids cereals
  • Frozen French fries
  • Convenience foods in general
  • Infant formula

The report does not discuss why these differences might exist but it would be interesting to find out.

If sugar-sweetened beverages really comprise 9.5% of purchases, that comes to $6 billion a year.

That’s why taking them off the list of eligible foods is worth a try.

Recent SNAP news

The USDA is sponsoring a pilot project to allow SNAP participants to buy foods online from certain retailers, including Amazon in three states, Fresh Direct in New York, and various grocery chains in other states.

The idea is to make it easier for SNAP participants to get access to healthier foods.

I hope the USDA is keeping score on what gets bought online, and whether foods cost more.  The benefits are not allowed to be used for delivery costs.

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