The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a big project on marketing foods and beverages to children. Its most recent report singles out television advertising as the most pervasive medium; even babies watch TV and see loads of commercials for junk foods. The authors, Nicole Larson and Mary Story of the University of Minnesota, provide an excellent one-stop review of methods, expenditures, and other such data, along with useful suggestions for what to do about this problem.
I’m told that FDA laboratories are still finding melamine in milk-containing food products imported from China. In response, the FDA has issued a countrywide import alert, meaning that FDA officials can detain the products without having to examine and test them. The list of detainable products is long and includes not only milk but also yogurt, desserts, cakes and cookies, candies, chocolate, beverages, and- shades of 2007 – dog and cat food.
These sound like good steps to get the food safety system under control but what I’m hearing is that the government is dealing with safety problems piecemeal – one food at a time – rather than addressing the system as a whole. Sound familiar?
As calorie labeling initiatives spread across the country, it’s fun to keep track of them. The latest is Westchester County, New York. The easiest way to get the complete list is from the menu labeling web page produced by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
April 9 update: Ulster County New York has just passed one. Here’s the latest map from CSPI.
May 6 update: Here’s where to track CSPI’s 2009 legislative summaries.
The Government Accountability Office says fixing the food safety system should be a high priority for the new administration. Specifically, it asks the new President to:
- Reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety right away, and develop longer term structures to promote interagency coordination on food safety.
- Develop a “governmentwide performance plan” for agencies to ensure that goals are complementary and resource allocations are balanced.
- Encourage Congress to assign the National Academy of Sciences to analyze alternative food safety organizational structures.
- Encourage Congress to pass “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”
Investigators at the University of Hawaii have just analyzed nearly 500 samples of fast food for their content of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. These are not radioactive but do indicate whether a plant conducts its photosynthesis through what is called a C3 or C4 metabolic pathway. Corn is a C4 crop. The analysis shows that virtually all of the meat came from animals raised on corn. The potatoes were typically fried in corn oil. Corn, say the investigators, is the basis of fast food. And virtually all fast food is raised or prepared the same way.
Didn’t we know that? Yes, but the technology used in these experiments is clever. Michael Pollan discussed this kind of chemical evidence in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Although I do not think it was his intention, many readers came away with the idea that corn is poison. It isn’t. Corn is a perfectly reasonable food, especially when mixed with soybeans, and the mix works fine for fattening up cattle. From the standpoint of nutrition and the environment, feeding cattle on grass would be ideal, but it may not always be practical. That’s why some forward thinking cattle producers are raising their animals on grass for as long as they can, and then doing a quick finish with corn and soybeans.
A more important issue may be corn subsidies. Cheap feed promotes industrial meat production, with all of its environmental and health implications. CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), as the Pew Commission said earlier this year, have truly dreadful effects on the environments of the communities in which they operate, are not healthy for animals, and overuse antibiotics, which affects human health. Corn subsidies make CAFOs possible.
We can argue about how much corn is OK, but I can’t think of any reason to exclude it from the diets of animals or humans. Corn is a good source of calories and is about 10% protein. Its oil is relatively unsaturated. And high fructose corn sweeteners are an almost one-for-one substitute for sucrose. For humans in particular, fresh sweet corn in mid-summer is surely one of the great wonders of the universe. As with so much else in nutrition, some corn is OK, but a lot may not be.
If your dog or cat was caught up in the melamine pet food recalls of 2007 (see Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine) and you would like to file a claim in the pet food class action suit, go here for information and instructions. The deadline for filing a claim is November 24.