Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 20 2013

Monsanto’s PR campaign “begins with a farmer”

A week or so ago I mentioned Monsanto’s concerns about its public image problem and its new PR campaign.

In Washington, DC last week, I saw what seem to be its first components in a hard copy of Politico (the online version doesn’t seem to carry the same ads).

The December 11 issue carried two Monsanto ads, this one full page:

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And this one half page:

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What farmers?  Those that use Monsanto products, of course.

This is not the first time Monsanto has used ads promoting the virtues of farmers.  Here’s one from a Monsanto campaign in 2001 that I used as an illustration in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety.

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Will ads like these help improve Monsanto’s public image?  You tell me.

Enjoy the weekend!

Dec 19 2013

Chile’s new food labeling rules: Why can’t we do this?

A reporter in South America called yesterday to ask me about the new rules for food labels and marketing to children just issued by the Chilean ministry of health.

The rules establish nutrition standards for foods.  Products that exceed the standards will have to say high in sugar, salt, or fat in brightly colored labels (red, green, blue) on the front of the packages.

New Picture

The standards themselves are much stricter than anything ever proposed in the United States, even than those of the ill-fated Interagency Working Group (IWG).

New Picture

Sodas, for example, can only contain 15 grams of sugars per 8 ounces (they typically contain 27 grams).

I’m told that other rules deal with advertising to children (no toys, nothing specifically enticing such as cartoons).

How could this happen?

I’m not up on Chilean politics.  All I know is that these rules were proposed under the current president whose wife was behind the Elige Viver Sano program, one quite similar to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!

If you know something about the politics of this initiative, please write a comment.  I’d like to know more about this.  Thanks!

Update: Thanks to Dr. Corinna Hawkes Dr Corinna Hawkes, Head of Policy and Public Affairs for the World Cancer Research Fund International sends the following information:

 

 

 

Dec 18 2013

American Meat Institute defines Fine, Lightly Textured Beef (a.k.a. “pink slime”)

Yesterday, the American Meat Institute sent out an advisory to the news media with a helpful glossary of terms to “use and avoid in coverage of lean finely textured beef” (LFTB).

Lean finely textured beef (LFTB)?  Recall the pejorative: “pink slime?”

Academic that I am, I love precise meanings.

The AMI says these terms are proper to use:

Lean Finely Textured Beef: This product is produced by Beef Products,  Inc.  More detail is available at www.beefisbeef.com.

Finely Textured Beef: This product is produced by Cargill.  More detail is available at www.groundbeefanswers.com.

Beef: Both LFTB and FTB are defined as beef by USDA.

Product: Just as a steak or roast are considered a product of a company, LFTB and FTB are products of BPI and Cargill respectively.

But AMI says, you should never use this term:

Pink Slime: While this term has been commonly used to describe LFTB, there is nothing slimy about it.  The negative connotation of the phrase “pink slime” shows bias and is inappropriate to describe a wholesome, safe, nutritious and USDA inspected beef product.

You also are not supposed to use the terms Filler, Binder, Extender, or Additive.

Aren’t you happy to have this clarified?

Dec 17 2013

The FDA issues guidance on animal antibiotics–voluntary, alas, but still a major big deal

I was in Washington DC last week when the FDA announced  that it was taking significant steps to address antibiotic resistance, a problem caused by overuse in raising animals for food.

The FDA called on makers of animal antibiotics to:

  • Voluntarily stop labeling medical important antibiotics as usable for promoting animal growth or feed efficiency (in essence, banning antibiotics from these uses).
  • Voluntarily notify the FDA of their intent to sign on to these strategies within the next three months.
  • Voluntarily put the new guidance into effect within 3 years.
  • Agree to a proposed rule to require a veterinarian’s prescription to use antibiotics that are presently sold over the counter (the proposal is open for public comment for 90 days at www.regulations.gov.   Docket FDA-2010-N-0155).

Voluntary is, of course, a red flag and the Washington Post quoted critics saying that the new guidance falls far short of what really is needed—a flat-out ban on use of antibiotics as growth promoters.

  • Consumers Union is concerned about the long delay caused by the 3-year window.
  • CSPI is worried about all the loopholes.
  • NRDC thinks the FDA is pretending to do more than it’s really doing and “kicks the can significantly down the road.”
  • Mother Jones points out that the meat industry can still “claim it’s using antibiotics ‘preventively,’ continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion and continue to generate resistant bacteria.”
  • Civil Eats reminds us that the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (on which I served) recommended a ban on nontherapeutic use of all antibiotics.

Yes, the loopholes are real, but I view the FDA’s guidance as a major big deal.  The agency is explicitly taking on the antibiotic problem.  It is sending a clear signal to industrial farm animal  producers that sooner or later they will have to:

  • Stop using antibiotics as growth promoters.
  • Stop using antibiotics indiscriminately, even for disease treatment.

I think the FDA is dead serious about the antibiotic problem.  If the FDA seems to be doing this in some convoluted fashion, I’m guessing it’s because it has to.  The FDA must not have been able to find any other politically viable way to get at the antibiotics problem.

I see this as a first step on the road to banning antibiotics for any use in animals other than the occasional treatment of specific illnesses.

As the New York Times puts it,

This is the agency’s first serious attempt in decades to curb what experts have long regarded as the systematic overuse of antibiotics in healthy farm animals, with the drugs typically added directly into their feed and water. The waning effectiveness of antibiotics — wonder drugs of the 20th century — has become a looming threat to public health. At least two million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections.

Still not convinced antibiotics are worth banning for promoting growth?

The best explanation is the Washington Post’s handy guide to the antibiotic-perplexed.  Here, for example, is its timeline of development of microbial resistance to antibiotics.  The bottom line: the more widespread the use of antibiotics, the greater the onset and prevalence of resistance.  And it takes practically no time for bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotic drugs.

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Resources from FDA

Dec 16 2013

The White House does Xmas

Along with thousands of others, I got to attend one of the glittery White House holiday parties last week.  The President, just back from South Africa, made a brief appearance.

My favorite: Bill Yosses’ pastry-and-candy White House mounted on a fireplace of cookie tiles, some in classic Dutch style but with Washington DC scenes replacing windmills.

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And the cookies!  They were in endless supply, crisp and delicious.   They mystery: how they get produced in this quantity.  Even by New York City standards, the White House kitchen is small.

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In a year notable for government inaction on crucial legislation, the party was a welcome respite.  As today’s New York Times puts it, 

the lack of movement in the Senate is only half the story of a Congress that has reached record levels of inactivity. Lawmakers simply are not spending as much time in Washington for many reasons, including a distaste for the contentious atmosphere that a deeply divided government has created and the demands of a fund-raising schedule…There was no agreement on a farm bill that would provide agricultural subsidies as well as food stamps for poor families.

Happy holidays.

Dec 13 2013

Weekend reading: A Big Fat Crisis

Deborah A. Cohen.  A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic—And How We Can End It.  Nation Books, 2013.

Cover: A Big Fat Crisis

Here’s my blurb:

Deborah Cohen gives us a physician’s  view of how to deal with today’s Big Fat Crisis.  In today’s “eat more” food environment, Individuals can’t avoid overweight on their own.   This extraordinarily well researched book presents a convincing argument for the need to change the food environment to make it easier for every citizen to eat more healthfully.

And from the review on the website of the Rand Corporation, where Deborah Cohen works:

The conventional wisdom is that overeating is the expression of individual weakness and a lack of self-control. But that would mean that people in this country had more willpower thirty years ago, when the rate of obesity was half of what it is today. Our capacity for self-control has not shrunk; instead, the changing conditions of our modern world have pushed our limits to such an extent that more and more of us are simply no longer up to the challenge.

Dec 12 2013

Food & Water Watch: Grocery Goliaths

Food and Water Watch has some excellent new resources on supermarket shopping:

Food & Water Watch found that the top companies controlled an average of 63.3 percent of the sales of 100 types of groceries (known as categories in industry jargon). In a third (32) of the grocery categories, four or fewer companies controlled at least 75 percent of the sales.

I will never think of “choice” the same way again.

Dec 11 2013

Food Policy Action releases handy Congress “scorecard” on food issues

Washington is such a mess that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and this one is really useful.

Food Policy Action to the rescue.

Food Policy Action is a project of the Environmental Working Group.  Ken Cook of EWG is its chair.  Tom Colicchio is listed as the first board member.

The 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard ranks each member of the Senate and House on their votes on food issues.

The interactive map lets you click on a state and see how our congressional representatives are voting.  According to the scorecard, 87 members are Good Food Champions.  We need more!

I looked up New York.  Senator Charles Schumer gets a perfect 100%.  Yes!

But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand only gets 67%.

How come?  Click on her name and the site lists her votes on key legislation.  Oops.  She voted against GMO labeling and against a key farm bill amendment on crop insurance.  If you click on the button, you get to learn more about this vote and the legislation.

This kind of information is hard to come by.  Food Policy Action’s scorecard is easy to use and performs a terrific public service.

Thanks to everyone responsible for it.

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