Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 5 2009

Food Safety Legislation: Fix FDA vs. Fix the System?

Senator Dick Durbin (Dem-IL) has introduced The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to give this beleaguered agency the tools and resources to do its job properly.  The proposed Act got immediate endorsements from food industry trade groups: grocery manufacturers, producers of fresh vegetables, and producers of frozen foods, for example.

How come food lobbying groups suddenly want a stronger FDA?  No doubt because the alternative is a single food safety agency that would impose real rules with real teeth, and would oversee the safety of food from farm to table.  Rosa DeLauro introduced just such a bill in the House.

And how’s this for today’s rumors (most definitely unconfirmed): Michael Osterholm is up for USDA undersecretary for food safety and Michael Taylor for head of the White House Office of Food Safety.  Caroline Smith DeWaal, a strong consumer advocate for foods safety is out of the running; she works for Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  These are just rumors.  If they turn out too be true, I will have more to say about the potential nominees.

Mar 4 2009

Food, Inc.: The Movie

I talked my way into a press screening of Food, Inc. last night.  Good thing.  This film is the riveting documentary directed by Robert Kenner due for release soon but already generating lots of buzz, and for good reason.  It’s a terrific introduction to the way our food system works and to the effects of this system on the health of anyone who eats as well as of farm workers, farm animals, and the planet.  It stars Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, among others, but I was especially moved by Barbara Kowalcyk, the eloquent and forceful food safety advocate who lost a young son to E. coli O17:H7 some years ago.  I can’t wait for the film to come out so everyone can see it.  I will use it in classes, not least because it’s such an inspiring call to action.  Here’s the trailer.

Mar 3 2009

Equal-opportunity product placement: Splenda

The creativity of marketers never ceases to amaze.  Johnson & Johnson, maker of the artificial sweetener, Splenda, has a product-placement partnership with Harlem Heights, the BET reality show aimed at the black hip and fabulous. As the New York Times puts it, the partnership is about integration – this time of products into the daily business of cast members.  The Times quotes BET’s vice-president for integrated marketing:  “You need to…understand exactly where some of the natural, organic places for integrations are, so things don’t feel staged.”

At last, a new meaning to the idea of integration!

Mar 2 2009

Today’s chocolate problem: cow burps

Today’s snow storm has closed New York schools and cancelled my scheduled lecture on Staten Island.  This unexpected holiday gives me time to contemplate the latest challenge to marketers of chocolate candy: gas emissions from dairy cows.

Cadbury estimates that 60% of the carbon footprint created by its chocolate operations in the U.K. comes from dairy cows.  The average cow, it says, gives off 80 to 120 kilograms of methane annually, an amount equivalent to that produced by driving a car for a year.

The remedy?  Reduce cow burps.   How?  Cadbury is going to try feeding them more clover, more starch, and less fiber, and treating them better.

Will this work?  If it does, will you buy more Cadbury chocolate?

Mar 1 2009

Self-regulation of food marketing to children: an analysis

Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts who writes a blog on food policy, has just sent me his analysis of food companies’ attempts to self-regulate the way they market junk foods to children.  As he puts it, self-regulation is at a “critical juncture.”  Translation: the voluntary system isn’t working very well.  Food companies, he suggests, must do a better job or expect others to do it for them.

Feb 27 2009

Calories count (duh?)

Researchers, bless them, have done the obvious at last and published it in the February 26 New England Journal of Medicine (and here’s how USA Today explains the study).  They put some intrepid volunteers on 1400-calorie diets varying in content of protein (15-25%), fat (20-40%), and carbohydrate (35-65%) and waited to see how much weight they would lose by the end of two years.  Ta-da!  The participants all lost a lot of weight in 6 months, but slowly gained it back.  By the end of 2 years, they lost about the same amount of weight regardless of the mix.  Conclusion: when it comes to weight loss, how much you eat matters more than what you eat.  Or, as I am fond of saying, if you want to lose weight, eat less!

Feb 26 2009

Food marketing news II: Baked Lays

Food marketing is on my mind these days.  It clearly is also on the mind of marketers at Pepsi.   What’s wrong with you women.  You aren’t buying enough Baked Lays? Pepsi’s research on your feelings about snacking and guilt reveals that you want foods that are healthier.  Pepsi’s answer to this problem?  New packaging, of course.   This ad is probably too small to read but here’s what it says: First woman: “These things are the best invention since the push-up bra.”  Second woman: “I wouldn’t go that far.”  I wouldn’t either, alas.

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Feb 25 2009

The news in food marketing: love of Tropicana packaging?

When it comes to food marketing, I know I live on another planet but really, doesn’t the fuss over the packaging of Tropicana go too far?  According to the report in the New York Times, consumers are so upset over Pepsi’s new Tropicana carton design that they have forced Pepsi to withdraw it.  Pepsi, it seems, underestimated the deep emotional bond its customers had with the original packaging.  Deep emotional bond?  With orange juice packaging?  Readers: I need some help with this one.

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As if that weren’t enough, CSPI’s Margo Wootan sends me the latest newsletter from the Council of Better Business Bureaus giving details of voluntary efforts by food companies to improve the nutritional quality of products marketed to kids.   Do these seem like significant improvements?

Finally, the new USDA Secretary has just announced a partnership with Disney and the Ad Council to promote the MyPyramid for kids.  Isn’t this nice of Disney?

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