Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 8 2008

Can the poor afford to eat healthfully?

USDA’s latest analysis says yes, but only if they make careful food choices, avoid convenience foods, and live in a low-cost area.  At the time of the study, a half gallon of whole milk, for example, cost a lot less in Pittsburgh ($1.45) than it did in Boston ($2.51) .

But can people in low-income areas even find food?  The Rudd Center at Yale has a new report out on how tough it is to find anything other than fast food in low-income areas –  food “deserts” as they have come to be known.

Nov 7 2008

Salmonella in pet food?

If I learned one thing from my research on the 2007 pet food recalls it is surely that the food supplies for pets, people, and farm animals cannot be separated; they are one and the same.  This is because pets eat the parts of animals that we don’t and surplus pet food is fed to pigs, chicken, and fish, which we do eat.  Now we have further reason to be concerned about how pet food is made; pet food contaminated with Salmonella can cause infections in people.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published its epidemiological investigation, of infections caused by dry dog food produced at a plant in Everson, PA owned by Mars Petcare.  Scientific American even thinks that this is worth writing about.  Me too, obviously, particularly because cases are still cropping up even though Mars issued recalls.

Update, November 10: the New York Times reports on this.

Nov 7 2008

Dietary guidelines committee: conflicts of interest

Oh no, not again!  Merrill Goozner of the Integrity in Science project at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) writes that six of the 13 members of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee, including the chair, get research support  or consulting fees from food or drug companies with vested interests in what the guidelines say.  CSPI had to dig up this information, as the sponsoring agencies did not disclose these potential conflicts of interest. 

Nov 6 2008

What Obama thinks about agriculture

Meatpoultry.com has collected President-Elect Obama’s statements about agriculture from his website (you will need to register – it’s free – to read this).  As with much else about Obama’s views, these ideas sound hopeful.  He will need much encouragement to follow through on some of these promises.

Nov 5 2008

California passes prop. #2

President Obama!  Other amazing things happened too.  I’m not sure which is more amazing: the approval of Proposition #2 by an astonishing 63% of California votors, or today’s up-to-the-second Wikipedia entry on the election results.  If you read Prop #2, you can see that it abolishes veal crates, battery cages, and sow crates and requires veal, chickens, and pregnant pigs to be given enough space to turn around, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.  They can’t do these things now?  Nope.   So now what happens: will meat producers reform their confinement practices?  Or will they simply move their production operations to other states or countries?  We can only wait until 2015 – which is when all this is supposed to come into effect – and see.

Nov 3 2008

Vote!!!

Lucien Joppen, who writes for Voedingsmiddelen Industrie, a Dutch food business magazine, asked this question: What does the U.S. election of either Obama or McCain mean for food and health policy? Here’s what I told him in English:

If it is McCain, it is business as usual or – impossible as it may be to imagine – worse. If Obama is elected, things could get better. The decision to vote for Obama may be a matter of the triumph of hope over experience, but everyone I know who cares deeply about social issues wants him to win, and by a huge margin. I do too.

The history of American politics teaches that once elected, candidates do not necessarily keep campaign promises so let’s not deal with the details. Both candidates have issued vague health care proposals and neither seems willing to take on insurance companies and demand what experts believe is absolutely necessary to fix the system: develop a single-payer health care program with universal coverage. If McCain is elected, we have no reason to expect improvement. If Obama wins, we can hope that he will use his mandate to push through a single-payer system.

As for food policy, the big question is who is appointed to lead the USDA. Historically, the USDA has promoted the interests of agribusiness. It still does, but the agency is now also responsible for everything connected to food policy: farm subsidies, land use, organic standards, international food trade, food assistance to low-income families, and dietary advice to the public. If McCain is elected, expect to see another USDA Secretary who represents agribusiness. I do not know who is advising Obama about agricultural issues (he has not asked me, alas), but let’s hope his advisers have a broad view of food and nutrition policy that includes social concerns about food security and food equity. Maybe we will get lucky. Let’s hope for fair weather and a huge voter turnout. Every vote counts, and—according to this video—mine is especially valued (and yours too!).

Nov 2 2008

Eating Liberally: What’s up with salt?

For this week’s Q and A on Eating Liberally, kat connects the dots between the recent increase in salt-induced kidney stones in children and the food industry’s new Smart Choices labeling system which, as I pointed out a few days ago, is particularly generous in the salt standard.

Nov 1 2008

Dietary Guidelines: the process begins

According to Food Chemical News, November 3 (which, alas, only subscribers can read online), the first meeting of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee began with speeches from the agency sponsors.  FCN quotes Penelope Slade Royall, deputy assistant secretary of health in HHS’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (an office in which I worked from 1986-88):

“even when the new guidelines are approved and released in 2010, there’s nothing the committee can do to change people’s behavior…There are very dedicated people across the country working on these [guidelines] and I don’t understand why we’re not more successful.”

Really?  I can make some guesses.  Why not start by making the guidelines clear, direct, and unambiguous?  How about “eat less sugar,” “eliminate sugary drinks,” “eat less fast food,” “eat less often,” and “eat smaller portions.”   Or just the mantra of What to Eat: “Eat less, move more, eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and don’t eat too much junk food.”

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