Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 10 2008

South Korea riots: update

Update, June 10: Now the protests have grown to 70,000 people and the entire South Korean cabinet has offered to resign–all because it agreed to accept U.S. beef, which all those people believe is tainted with mad cow disease.

Jun 10 2008

USDA’s Road to Healthville

Yesterday, I received a press announcement from the USDA with an invitation to join today’s press conference, “The Road to Healthville: Challenge to End Childhood Obesity.” The press release explains:

“This new approach represents a significant paradigm shift for USDA. For over 100 years USDA has been providing the public with nutritional guidance based on the latest science. However, as we know, waistlines have continued to expand over recent years…So what do we do in encourage healthy eating?

Dr. Brian Wansink, Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, has introduced a completely new approach — in a word “reminders.” If the public were to get a prompt or cue throughout the day (where we purchase food, prepare food, work and play), a subtle or gentle reminder, people will begin to respond with improved eating habits. Further, if corporations were enlisted in this effort with their extensive reach into the market-place to provide MyPyramid-based messaging and product development, there is reason to believe that healthier eating patterns and lifestyles will be adopted.”

Kellogg is among the charter members.  Today’s Kellogg press release lists what the company promises to do.  Uh oh. It’s developing a curriculum for K through 8 school kids.  Want to bet that Kellogg’s logo will be prominently displayed?

Jun 9 2008

They’re rioting in Korea

More than 65,000 people in Seoul took to the streets to protest the South Korean government’s decision to allow imports of American beef. Why? Because we haven’t convinced them that our cattle do not have mad cow disease. Sunday, 40,000 rioted again. The issue has a long history rooted in distrust of America dating with our war with Korea in the early 1950s. It also has a lot to do with our less than stringent efforts to ensure that U.S. cattle do not have or get mad cow disease. The situation with Korea is a mess, and one likely to be difficult to clean up.

Jun 8 2008

Nebraska Beef makes you sick? Blame church ladies!

Here’s a good one. The ever vigilant Andrew Martin, a business reporter for the New York Times, writes that a meat-packing company, Nebraska Beef, is suing the Salem Lutheran Church in Longville, Minnesota, because the church ladies didn’t cook its meat well enough. It’s their fault 17 people at a church social got sick and one died. Never mind that that the same toxic strain of E. coli that made people sick could be traced to the Nebraska Beef slaughterhouse. Moral: it’s your own stupid fault if you don’t cook tainted meat long enough to sterilize it. Silly me: why do I keep thinking that meat should be safe before it gets to you? Let’s hope the courts hold Nebraska Beef plenty accountable for this incident.

Jun 8 2008

Tyson’s antibiotic-free ploy, checkmated

Thanks to Susan Schneider, who writes a blog on agricultural law (now added to my blogroll), for alerting me to her post about the Tyson’s antibiotic-free claim on the labels of its antibiotic-treated chickens. This is a good story–one of the usual deceit and denial–and she tells it well. Enjoy?

Jun 7 2008

World food crisis, continued

The emergency meeting of world leaders to discuss the global food crisis foundered when each country focused on its own own needs and political problems.  As the New York Times explained, “everyone complained about other people’s protectionism–and defended their own.”  In the meantime, food has become a hot commodity for investment speculation, and Monsanto says it will solve the crisis through genetic modification (rising food prices did wonders for the company’s stock in the last year).   The need for enlightened leadership seems especially acute these days, alas.

Jun 6 2008

Food safety: this time, tomatoes

So now tomatoes are contaminated with Salmonella, this time with the uncommon serotype, Saintpaul, and the FDA says not to eat tomatoes from a bunch of states in the Southwest.  But the New Mexico government says the contaminated tomatoes come from Mexico.  If this is correct, it’s globalization time again.  The FDA notes that tomatoes from everywhere are now coming into harvest. That is why, in 2007, the agency started a “tomato safety initiative” to get growers to take action to prevent Salmonella contamination. Initiatives are voluntary, here and in Mexico. Surely, it is time for mandatory? And mandatory import inspections?  Michael Doyle, a food safety expert based at the University of Georgia, says globalization raises food safety risks. This may seem evident, but I like his quote: “It is the industry that is responsible for producing safe foods. It is the government’s responsibility to verify that they are producing safe foods.”

As for the perspective of strong supporters of the produce industry, check out what the Perishable Pundit has to say about the way the FDA is handling this incident.   What he calls the “gracious” comments of California tomato growers are also worth a look.

Jun 5 2008

European Commission dietary recommendations: Fox guarding chickens?

I’d been hearing rumors about how the the European Commission is spending $20 million  to develop dietary recommendations and food standards that will apply to all EU member states.  I now have some confirmation of them through the British magazine, Private Eye (May 30, 2008).   The project, called EURRECA, will be conducted by a bunch of universities but the overall management is going to be through the European branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), “a front for the food and bioscience industry.” ILSI is funded by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Bayer CropScience, and Monsanto, among other such entities.  So $20 million in taxpayer dollars will be  laundered through a food and agbiotech front group.  Private Eye says that it eagerly awaits “EURRECA’s no doubt scientifically rigorous and untirely unbiased conclusions.”

I could do this for a lot less than $20 million, but nobody asked me, alas.

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