Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 5 2008

Soy infant formulas: OK but nothing special?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has just issued an updated assessment of the benefits and risks of soy infant formulas. Its conclusion: soy formulas are fine for full-term infants and hardly ever cause problems but they also are hardly ever needed as a replacement for cow’s milk formulas. Never mind which is better. Breast feeding is still best of all.

May 5 2008

Eating Liberally Asks Marion: agribusiness and the global food crisis

I forgot to post the link to Eating Liberally’s last question (and my answer) about how agribusiness is influencing the current crisis over rising food prices. Here it is.

May 4 2008

The Upcoming Farm Bill: A Primer

Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has the best article I’ve ever read on the farm bill, which is now making its way out of conference committees (see previous posts). Here’s how reporter Carolyn Lochhead starts out: “It is the rarest of moments. President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are on a collision course over a giant farm bill, but it is Bush who is broadly aligned with liberal Bay Area activists pushing for reform, while the San Francisco Democrat is protecting billions of dollars in subsidies to the richest farmers.” The interest groups slated to get pieces of this $300 billion chunk of taxpayer dollars dare not complain about it, out of fear that a more rational public policy would be worse for them. That’s politics for you, at its most raw.

May 2 2008

Nestlé (no relation) advertises to kids, cleverly

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area giving a bunch of talks. An agricultural engineer who works for USDA – and must have sneaked off work to come to one of them yesterday – tells me that if you look up the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) schedule, you get a message from Nestlé’s Nesquik “inviting all BART riders to take the Chocolate Line to their own Happy Place on Sunday, May 4, 2008.” Cartoon characters! Free rides for kids! Yummy marketing!

May 1 2008

Policy brief: the cost of higher food prices

The Oakland Institute has issued a short and useful policy brief on the social and political impact of rising food prices. I’m on the road this week and regularly reading USA Today delivered to hotel rooms. Its story yesterday about bread shortages in Egypt is surely an indication of the need for deep policy analysis followed up by immediate policy action.

Apr 30 2008

NYC Calorie labeling: update on legal situation

So the judge says the New York City Health Department’s calorie labeling requirement can go into effect right now, even while the appeals are still in progress.  Restaurants have until July 18 to comply; if they don’t, fines will kick in.   In the meantime, the legal wrangling continues. The next court date is scheduled for June 9. The Restaurant Association lawyers are keeping busy.  Will this saga never end?

Apr 29 2008

Pew report: industrial animal agriculture

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, of which I was a member, released its report today: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. This was a two-year investigation of the effects of our current system of intensive animal production on the environment, communities, human health, and the animals themselves. For me, this was an opportunity to visit huge dairy farms, feedlots, pig farms, and facilities housing 1.2 million chickens. The big issues? Antibiotics and waste. The big surprise? Laws exist; they just aren’t being enforced. This was quite an education.

The press response has been interesting, and somewhat predictable. Here’s what the Washington Post has to say. The meat industry is not pleased, as is evident from the report in the Kansas City Star.

Apr 28 2008

Hot potato: food fight looming over WIC package

Let’s see if I can explain what the latest food fight is about. The potato industry is talking about a lawsuit against the USDA to allow white potatoes to be purchased with WIC vouchers. WIC is the federal food assistance program for women, infants, and children; the program gives mothers vouchers for certain foods.  This WIC “package” includes only one fresh vegetable – carrots. The USDA is proposing to expand the WIC food package to include other fresh fruits and vegetables–but not white potatoes. I suspect that the rationale for this exclusion is that French fries made with white potatoes are already among the top three vegetables eaten in the U.S. and that nobody needs more of them.

Here’s what a representative of the white potato industry has to say: “The problem with it is there is no scientific justification for excluding potatoes from the program…potatoes are an excellent source of magnesium, potassium and calcium. In fact, they are bigger sources of those nutrients than spinach, broccoli and carrots, respectively.” Maybe, but it’s how white potatoes are eaten – loaded with fat, salt, and calories – that turns them into junk foods. The potato lobbyists are hard at work. Stay tuned.

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