by Marion Nestle

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Oct 29 2013

How charitable is McDonald’s? Not very, says new report.

If McDonald’s apparently generous support of Ronald McDonald House Charities leaves you with warm feelings about the company’s philanthropic efforts, it’s time to rethink those feelings.

Michele Simon’s latest report, Clowning Around with Charity, should destroy all illusions about McDonald’s charitable giving.

New Picture (7)

The report comes to some interesting conclusions.  McDonald’s, it finds:

  • Promotes itself through Ronald McDonald House Charities but contributes only about 10% of the charity’s revenue.
  • Takes credit for donations.
  • Sells unhealthy children’s menu items by linking their sale to very modest charitable giving.
  • Profits from marketing to children in schools under the guise of charity and education.
  • Spends about a billion dollars a year on marketing, but only a small fraction of that amount on charitable causes.
  • Donates a lower percentage of its profits to charities than many other corporations and private citizens.
  • Explicitly created Ronald McDonald House for public relations purposes.

If you think about it, none of this is surprising, but it’s fascinating to have it all in one place.

Here’s today’s coverage so far:

Oct 28 2013

Interview with Maria Rodale about the politics of your plate

I was recently interviewed by Maria Rodale about Eat, Drink, Vote (published, not coincidentally, by Rodale Books).

Politicians in Washington may bicker back and forth about issues that don’t seem all that immediately relevant to your daily life, but their decisions do trickle down to you—three times a day, every time you sit down for a meal. Your dinner plate (and your cereal bowl and your lunch box) are ruled by politics, from the lobbyists who made your chicken cheaper to the Congresspeople who listened to food marketers’ pleas to limit restrictions on advertising to children.

Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and author of the popular FoodPolitics.com blog, has tried to capture the politics of your plate in a new book, Eat Drink Vote, a compilation of political cartoons that perfectly capture the absurdity that is our nation’s food regulatory system. (Check out a sampling: The 19 Biggest Food Problems in America)

Here’s the video:

Oct 25 2013

Remarks at James Beard food conference

I participated in the James Beard Foundation’s annual food conference, Paradox of Appetite: Hungering for Change, earlier this week in a panel with other recipients of the 2013 James Beard Leadership awards.

If you would like to hear my short remarks (and see the video prepared for the award), click below.

Thanks to the Beard Foundation for all of this.  Enjoy!

Oct 23 2013

Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production: Update

I was a member of this Pew Commission, which produced a landmark report in 2008: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

Our report’s conclusion: The current system of raising farm animals poses unacceptable risks to public health, to communities near Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and to the environment.

Our key recommendations:

  1. Ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production.
  2. Define nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure.
  3. Implement new systems to deal with farm waste.
  4. Phase out gestation crates, restrictive veal crates, and battery cages.
  5. Enforce the existing environmental and anti-trust laws applicable to food animal production.
  6. Expand animal agriculture research.

Recently, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) did an in-depth analysis of what has happened with these recommendations.  Its dismal conclusion: The problems have only gotten worse.

Many hoped the release of the report, which occurred within a year of a change in the administration, would help trigger a sea change in the federal government’s approach to regulating the food animal production industry…Early administrative appointments to top regulatory posts held promise for meaningful changes.

CLF’s review of the policy-landscape changes in the five years since the release of the report paints a very different picture. Contrary to expectations, the Obama administration has not engaged on the recommendations outlined in the report in a meaningful way; in fact, regulatory agencies in the administration have acted regressively in their decision-making and policy-setting procedures.

In addition, the House of Representatives has stepped up the intensity of its attacks on avenues for reform and stricter enforcement of existing regulations, paving the way for industry avoidance of scrutiny and even deregulation, masked as protection of the inappropriately termed “family farmer.”

The assaults on reform have not been limited to blocking policies…Instead, the policy debate…has shifted to the implementation of policies such as “ag-gag”, agricultural certainty, and right-to-farm laws, all of which are designed to further shield unsavory industry practices from the eye of the public and the intervention of regulators.

This week, some of the Commission members answered questions from ProPolitico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.  Ralph Loglisci reports in Civil Eats on that meeting and his conversation with former Pew Commission director Robert Martin, who is now the Center for a Livable Future’s Director of Food System Policy:

I think issues are going to drive change at some point. You’ve got this big group of people who want to see change. The problems of antibiotic resistance are worsening–the problems of 500 million tons of (animal) waste we produce each year are worsening and the ground in many areas of the country is really saturated with phosphorous. You can’t transport the material, so you’ve got to disperse the animals. So, the problems are reaching really a crisis point. So that could really force action too.

Is there any hope?  It sounds like things will have to get worse before they get better.  But how much worse?

I wish there were better news.  Food safety, animal welfare, and environmental advocates: get together and get busy!

Oct 22 2013

The 2013 Kass Lecture at Harvard Medical School

I’m giving The 2013 Fae Golden Kass Lecture on November 12 (details about time, place, and registration are below).  The lectureship was created by gifts of the family and friends of Fae Golden Kass to support an annual lecture by a woman in the medical sciences.
Here’s what the Harvard Medical School newsletter has to say about it:

Politics of the Plate

By Susan Karcz

There was a time in the U.S. when grocery store shoppers may not have noticed that nutrition facts labels and lists of ingredients on food packages were sometimes difficult to decipher; or that high-fat, high-sugar foods were frequently marketed to children; or that unsubstantiated health claims often appeared on food packaging.

That time has passed.  Americans have now become more aware of, and concerned about, what’s in their food and where it comes from thanks to the work of Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, an acclaimed exposé of the U.S. food industry’s influence on food policy, which was first published in 2002.

Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, can pinpoint the moment in the early 1990s when she first became aware of the politics of food. She was attending a conference at the National Cancer Institute on how behavioral factors affect cancer risk when a physician gave a presentation on how cigarettes were marketed to children all over the world.

Nestle described her “absolute shock” at seeing images of cigarette advertisements displayed in remote areas of the world and at playgrounds in the U.S. While she had known that cigarettes were marketed to children, she said she never really noticed the full extent of the advertising. That’s when she had the thought that this scrutiny should go further. “We should be doing this for Coca-Cola,” she recalled thinking.

In contrast, as a public health nutritionist in the 1980s and 1990s, Nestle said she remembered speakers at obesity meetings talking about how to encourage mothers to improve their children’s diets, but marketing was never discussed. Nutrition societies and professional organizations were (and still are) sponsored by food companies, she said, but nobody noticed.

“I wrote Food Politics to get people to notice,” Nestle said.

Nestle has done more than get people to notice since then. She has also shaped the public conversation about how politics affects what all of us eat.

Food safety, labeling, ingredients, agribusiness, health claims, obesity, nutritional supplements, marketing practices—Nestle has researched and written about it all. Her work examines scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choice, obesity and food safety, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing.

Nestle’s most recent book is Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics. Her blog, Food Politics, includes a wealth of information on food and nutrition policy.

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To attend:

Nestle will present the 2013 Kass Lecture, titled “Food, Nutrition and Public Policy: Science vs. Politics” for members of the Harvard community in the HMS Walter Amphitheater, TMEC, 4-5 p.m. on Nov. 12. A reception and book signing will follow.  To register, click here.

Oct 16 2013

Today is World Food Day: Perspectives

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has organized a series of Perspectives on World Food Day.

Mine is titled “A Push for Sustainable Food Systems.”  It’s illustrated with cartoons from Eat, Drink, Vote.

Marion_Nestle_photo_2.jpg

From my perspective as a public health nutritionist, this year’s theme for World Food Day,Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition, seems especially appropriate.  Food insecurity and obesity are the most important nutrition problems in the world today.  Each affects roughly a billion people.  Each is a consequence of food system inequities.

Most countries produce or import enough food for the needs of their populations, but do not always ensure that it is equitably distributed.  Because many people lack resources to obtain adequate food on a reliable basis, hunger is a matter of politics.  Political conflict, insufficient responses to natural disasters, corrupt institutions, and inequalities in income and education constitute the “root” causes of malnutrition.  It’s not enough to distribute food to hungry people.  Governments should take actions to redress system inequities that lead to hunger in the first place.

Similarly, the causes of obesity go beyond the poor food choices of individuals.  Obesity is one result of an industrialized and unsustainable food system that treats agricultural products as commodities, uses most of these products  to feed animals or produce fuel for automobiles, provides little support to farmers who produce fruits and vegetables, and provides endless incentives for overproduction.

Marion_Nestle_photo_1.jpg

The result is an overabundant food system dependent on the sales of meat and obesity-promoting snack and beverage products, and on marketing such products to populations in low-income countries. Much evidence confirms that individuals find it difficult to resist food marketing pressures on their own.  If countries are to prevent rising rates of obesity, governments must intervene.

The extent to which governments should be involved in the food choices of individuals is a matter of debate.  Making sure people are fed is one function of government; another is promoting public health.  Because research demonstrates profound effects of food marketing on personal dietary choices, governments can set policies that make healthful choices the easier choices such as promoting fruit and vegetable production and setting limits on marketing practices, not least to reduce health care costs.

Whether the world can continue to produce enough food to meet growing population needs is questionable, but the need for sustainable food systems is not.  Governments must support food systems that provide farmers and workers with a reasonable standard of living, replenish soil nutrients, conserve natural resources, and minimize pollution and greenhouse gases—and promote health.  Governments and corporations must go beyond perceptions of food as a fungible commodity to understand food as an essential source of life, and firmly link agricultural policies to those for health, labor, and the environment. If politicians cannot commit to policies to reverse global warming, then ordinary citizens will have to take action.  And they are rising to the occasion, as exemplified by today’s burgeoning food movement.

Oct 11 2013

Annals of public speaking: Apologies to the Newark Museum for my missed lecture

My apologies to the Newark Museum and to anyone who came to my scheduled talk last night.

I missed my lecture for the standard excuse: bad traffic karma.  Very bad.

Even though rush hour traffic through the Holland Tunnel was horrendous, I would have made it on time if the taxi driver had not decided to sneak through the last red light before entering the approach to the skyway in New Jersey.

He was caught, pulled over and—alas for both of us—found to be driving with a suspended license.

So there we were, stuck along the side of a walled highway, with no escape possible.

I explained my plight to the arresting officer, but got no sympathy.

I felt sorry for the driver but even sorrier for the people waiting for me to show up.

I’m disappointed not to get to the museum (I worked hard on that talk).  And the museum looks like a wonderful place to visit.

 

I’m hoping my lecture gets rescheduled.  If it does, I promise to take the PATH train.

Oct 10 2013

Annals of Government shutdown: What’s up with Salmonella Heidelberg?

I’ve been trying to make sense of what’s happening with the latest horrible food poisoning outbreak: this time of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg.  Food Safety News and attorney Bill Marler have been following the events closely.

They reported that USDA—not CDC (which was on furlough)—issued the Public Health Alert.

But the outbreak is so serious that CDC recalled staff from furlough.  Now the CDC is back on the job.  It reports that as of October 7:

  • 278 persons in 17 states are infected with 7 outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg.
  • 42% of them are hospitalized (this is unusually high), and no deaths have been reported.
  • 77% of cases are in California.
  • The source is Foster Farms chicken

What does Foster Farms have to say about this?

First, it blames the government:

Consumers should know that as recently as Oct. 8, USDA-FSIS publicly assured the safety of our chicken:  “Foster Farms chicken is safe to eat but, as with all raw chicken, consumers must use proper preparation, handling and cooking practices.” There is no recall in effect and FSIS continues to inspect our poultry on a daily basis, certifying it as Grade A wholesome.”

Then, Foster Farms argues that toxic, antibiotic-resistant salmonella are normal on poultry:

Raw poultry is not a ready-to-eat product. All raw poultry is subject to naturally occurring bacteria… According to the CDC, “It is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have Salmonella bacteria. CDC and USDA-FSIS recommend consumers follow food safety tips to prevent Salmonella infection from raw poultry produced by Foster Farms or any other brand.”

Bill Marler asks how come Foster Farms is not issuing a recall?

Good question.  Take a look at CDC’s most recent Epi curve.  Usually, these show a standard distribution pattern over time with cases rising to a peak and then declining.  This one shows no sign of decline.

Persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Typhimurium, by date of illness onset as of October 7, 2013

OK, so what, as Bill Marler asks, will it take to close Foster Farms or force it to recall its tainted products?

For starters, how about getting the government opened again.  And insisting that FDA issue the final food safety rules and start enforcing them.

Update, October 11:  On October 7, USDA sent three letters of intended enforcement to Foster Farms:  Letter #1Letter #2, and Letter #3.  Now, according to a report from Bill Marler, the USDA has decided not to close Foster Farms or force a recall.

And here are two useful articles from Politico:

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