Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 24 2008

Food price fixing? It’s not legal

As readers know, I love to collect reasons for the sharp increase in food prices that has occurred this year.  Here’s a new one: price fixing.  Although you might not know it from looking at the similar prices of food products in the same category, price fixing is illegal.  Federal prosecutors are apparently looking into price collusion in the tomato industry (according to the Associated Press) and egg industry (Wall Street Journal).  Who knew?

Sep 22 2008

FDA issues guidelines on cloned animals

The FDA says meat from cloned animals is safe and has produced a bunch of web documents to reassure you that you can eat these things.  Will the meat be labeled as cloned?  Of course not.  The FDA guidelines will be up for comment for the next 60 days so if you have an opinion on this development, now is your chance.  I particularly recommend the Q’s and A’s on the FDA site.  Here’s one example:  “Q: Will food from GE animals be in the food supply? A: FDA has so far not approved or authorized any GE animals for use in food. However, we are reviewing applications…We can not predict when we will complete those reviews, but we will not approve any GE animal for food use unless we find that the food from those GE animals is safe.”

Sep 20 2008

Farewell Robert Steinberg


My friend Robert Steinberg died this week after a 20-year bout with lymphoma, and I am much too sad to write about anything else.  Robert, a physician whom I met briefly when he was a resident at UCSF, was already well into his illness when he gave up his medical practice to co-found Scharffen Berger chocolates with John Scharffenberger in the mid-1990s.  We got reacquainted around then at a Chefs Collaborative meeting in Walpole, New Hampshire, where he introduced me to Burdick’s chocolates and, over the years, to much else about high-quality chocolate (see the book that he and John wrote).   As a doctor, he had no illusions about the state of his health but there was no question that chocolate gave him reason to live.  I managed to see him on most of my trips to San Francisco, but this last time – the weekend of Slow Food Nation – he didn’t feel well enough.  He had been ill for so long, and complained about it so little, that I thought he would live forever.  No such luck.  Robert, farewell.  This world will miss you. 

Sep 19 2008

COOL is coming, sort of

At long last, Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) goes into effect September 30.  Way back in 2002, Congress got the great idea to pass this legislation but there was so much opposition to it from the food industry that it got postponed endlessly – except for fish.   You might think that knowing where food is produced would be a Good Thing, but food companies say they can’t do it and raise all kinds of objections (too complicated, too expensive, not enough room on food labels, leave us alone).  Congress, sympathetic, left lots of loopholes. Consumers Union’s new guide to the new law tells you “what’s COOL and what’s not.”   CU’s press release summarizes the many exemptions: ham, bacon, roasted peanuts, anything sold in butcher shops or fish markets, mixed vegetables, trail mixes, and so forth..  As far as I can tell, nobody paid much attention to fish COOL so it will be interesting to see whether these new rules work better.  Keep asking!

Sep 18 2008

More problems with bisphenol A, maybe

A new study links bisphenol A, the chemical that leaches from #7 plastic bottles, with heart disease and diabetes.  People with higher levels of bisphenol A in their urine had a greater chance of having heart disease and diabetes.  Does this mean bisphenol A causes these conditions?  It could, but it also could mean that some other factor is responsible for both or this is just a coincidence.  While waiting for the inevitable further research, it seems reasonable to use something other than #7 plastic bottles (unless you know that the ones in the #7 category do not contain bisphenol A). The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association along with a cautionary editorial.

Sep 17 2008

Antibiotic use: resources

The Pew Charitable Trusts has launched a new website on overuse of antibiotics in industrial production of farm animals.  It summarizes and references four aspects of the antibiotic problem: the problem itself, the threat to human health, and actions needed to improve oversight and legislation.  A good resource!  And it links to the report on industrial animal agriculture production done by a committee of which I was a member.  Use and enjoy!

Sep 16 2008

Melamine in Chinese infant formula: the saga continues

My interview with Eating Liberally this week concerns the wake of the pet food recalls that I wrote about in Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. Some Chihuahua!  Now we have the Chinese infant formula scandal and don’t we wish we had Country-of-Origin Labeling?  It’s been a busy few days on the scandal.  The toll so far is 2 babies dead and 1253 sick, with 340 still in the hospital, and 53 of these are in serious condition.   The Chinese have arrested two brothers who run a milk collection center on suspicion that they added melamine to make the protein content appear higher.  An investigation of dairy producers found 22 to be producing milk contaminated with melamine.  The largest of these dairies is owned in part by Fonterra, a New Zealand company.  Fonterra says it tried to get the formula recalled earlier but the Chinese refused.

September 17: Today, it’s 3 babies dead, 1,300 in the hospital, and 6,244 sick.  They were adding melamine to cover for diluting the milk with water.  Hmm.  Just like we used to do in the early years of the 20th century before passing pure food laws.  Regulation, anyone?

When I was in New Zealand last year at a ministerial agriculture meeting, I heard a lot about how ranchers were giving up on sheep and starting large dairy farms to supply milk to China.  This meant the end of pristine streams and sheep dotting the landscape.

Sep 15 2008

FDA import rejections: a report

This is interesting.  The USDA has done an analysis of the kinds of imported foods rejected by the FDA for reasons of sanitation (the lack thereof), pesticides, and improper or no registration.   The winners are vegetables, seafood, and fruit, in that order.  This report was about the industries that are having the most problems.  It doesn’t say a word about the countries doing the exporting.  Maybe the USDA will do that next?  That’s the one I want to see.

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