Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 25 2008

USDA releases report on school lunch program

The USDA has just published an analysis of its school lunch program. Among other useful information–the history, funding, etc–this report asks an interesting and pointed question: Does the school lunch program promote obesity in order to support industrial agriculture? The answer: it just might. This is a must-read for anyone interested in doing anything to make school lunches better for health and the environment.

And here’s a commentary in the San Francsico Chronicle from some folks on the front line of school lunches in the San Francisco Bay area.  Even a little more money would go a long way.

Aug 23 2008

Pet Food Politics is out!

I am off to California for Slow Food Nation and the launch of Pet Food Politics. The events start with readings at pet food stores, Holistic Hound in Berkeley (Sunday, 4:00 p.m.) and Noe Valley Pet Co. in San Francisco (Monday, 6:00 p.m.). Others are listed under Public Appearances. I’ve never done readings in pet food stores before, so this should be fun. Stay tuned.

Aug 22 2008

Europe hangs tough on health claims

According to Food Chemical News (I am hoping this link works), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has just rejected 7 or 8 health claims proposed by food companies for marketing purposes.  It looks like EFSA–what a concept–is trying to hold health claims to some reasonable level of scientific substantiation.  It turned down petitions from a company wanting to advertise a soy and flaxweed product as “induces bone formation and increases bone mineral density,” and the National Dairy Council of Ireland which proposed that three dairy servings a day promoted healthy weight during childhood and adolescence.  Although it agreed that Unilever could claim that plant sterols lowered blood cholesterol,” it took out the words “significantly” and “is proven.”  Food Chemical News says these decisions sent “shockwaves through the food industry.” I’ll bet.

Aug 21 2008

Goodie! Irradiated spinach!

The FDA has just sent me its latest Constituent Update. This one announces that the FDA has approved a petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association on behalf of the Food Irradiation Coalition (guess what that is) to allow irradiation of fresh iceberg lettuce and spinach. Never mind insisting that producers and packers produce safe produce, let’s just zap it! The FDA is collecting comments on this dubious initiative, and it must know what to expect: “Electronic objections may be submitted to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov.”

If you do weigh in, be sure to refer to Docket No. FDA-1999-F-2405 (formerly 1999F-5522). The request for comment isn’t posted yet, but presumably will be soon at the Constituent Update site.

And here’s what the European food industry community has to say about this.

Aug 20 2008

Industry funding has no effect on research quality!

I love the way sponsored science works. We now have data claiming that there is no difference in the quality of controlled clinical weight loss trials whether they are funded by industry or independently. The senior author on this comparative study is the very same person who was relieved of his responsibilities as head of a national obesity society because he wrote a letter opposing calorie labeling without disclosing that he was paid to do it (see previous post on this topic).  NIH paid for this study in part (the other parts aren’t attributed).  For this study, as the paper says, “Ethical approval is not required.”

Aug 19 2008

GM foods: the solution to world hunger?

Proponents of genetically modified foods as the solution to the world food crisis have been busy. Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute blames Prince Charles for the crisis because of the Prince’ distaste for GM foods. In a quotation dear to my heart, he asks: “How would the future king tell the cat and dog owners of Britain that, because of his anti-science elitism, pet food sales must be banned so people could eat?” So without GM foods, we won’t have by-products of human food production to feed to pets?   And then today’s Science Times interviews Dr. Nina Federoff, science advisor to Condoleeza Rice. She says all foods are GM anyway.  Without them, we will have to destroy the world’s forests.  And heaven help us if we rely on organics: “If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn’t support the world’s population–maybe half.” Why do I think there are some logical pieces missing here? Maybe because the Hudson Institute is not exactly free of corporate influence? Or Dr. Federoff really is, as the interview suggests indirectly, the “ambassador from Monsanto?”

Aug 17 2008

USDA: it takes more than education to change dietary choices

USDA economists have just produced a theoretical study proposing – surprise! – that knowledge of nutrition is not sufficient to change dietary behavior. What they call “immediate visceral factors” (i.e. hunger, food in front of you, large portions) overpower “cognitive dietary information.” They don’t put it this way, but that’s why personal responsibility doesn’t work. You have to change the food environment to make it easier to make better choices. It’s nice to have some evidence….

Aug 15 2008

Food label boredom?

The USDA has just come out with a new study documenting declining use of the Nutrition Facts labels, especially among adults too young to have known anything about them when they first came out in the early 1990s.   Now that trans fats are zeros, the only thing people look at these days are fiber and sugar.  To this one-track mind, this is another reason why calorie labeling is a good idea.  Why don’t people look at calories on package labels?  I’m guessing because they get confused by the serving size.  About five years ago, the FDA proposed a way to make calories more prominent but nothing ever came of it (too much opposition).  I still have hopes.

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