Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 21 2008

Food safety: China to send inspectors to U.S.?

In the wake of the melamine scandals, the FDA sent 8 inspectors to open offices in three Chinese cities.  According to Food Chemical News (FCN), China announced that it would be sending inspectors to the U.S.  FCN speculates that this may mean that tensions between the two countries are mounting, particularly because FDA officials “never mentioned the new Chinese inspectors in scores of press releases publicizing the opening of the upcoming China offices.”

Nov 21 2008

Meet the bloggers?

It’s a whole new media world out there and I can’t say I’m adjusting to it easily. On Wednesday this week, a couple of techies came to my office with a laptop at which I stared while questions emerged from it.  The result?  It’s on the website of Meet the Bloggers.  They also seem to have posted parts of the interview on YouTube here and also here.   Electronically challenged as I am, this does take some getting used to.  But enjoy!

Nov 20 2008

Organic farmed fish (and water) on the way, alas

Actually, they are more or less here already, but the USDA National Organic Standards Board has just given them a big OK.   According to yesterday’s Food Chemical News, the Board approved (13 to 1) a rule to allow “farmed carnivorous fish to eat meal and oil derived from sustainably wild-caught fish — a practice to be phased out over 12 years until non-organic fish feed is no longer needed” (huh?).  It also approved a more controversial recommendation (the vote was 10 to 4) to “allow use of open net pens in organic aquaculture, but with restrictions to prevent escapes of farmed fish and recycling of nutrients. Net pens would only be allowed in specified areas to avoid lice contamination.”

USDA-approved agencies have been certifying farmed fish as organic for several years now, so the Board was forced to take a stand on this question.  As I have mentioned in previous posts on this topic (and written about extensively in What to Eat), organic rules are supposed to be about the conditions of production.

Since when is ocean water organic?   And isn’t feeding “sustainably wild-caught fish” to farmed fish something of an oxymoron? The producers of farmed fish are desperate to be able to market them as organic.  So isn’t this move more about marketing than about producing fish sustainably and healthfully?

While we are on the subject of marketing, I’ve just gotten a press release from a company selling what it says is the first certified organic bottled water.  Since when is water not organic?  And what’s so special about this one?

The National Organic Program says it welcomes feedback and comments.  Here’s where to send them.

Nov 19 2008

Eating Liberally: melamine again

Kat’s question for me is “Shouldn’t the FDA keep melamine out of our domestic food chain?”  Well yes.  It should.  And thanks to Sokie Lee for forwarding the Mao poster from her “say no to made in China” campaign.  Still, I don’t think we should be too xenophobic about China.  After all, its food safety system is about where ours was before we got food and drug laws in 1906.  It’s just a lot bigger and more complicated so it has even more work to do to keep its – and our – food safe.  And here’s Sokie’s poster in miniature:


Nov 18 2008

Food allergies: OK to eat peanuts if pregnant?

A new study reports that children of women who ate peanuts during pregnancy had lower rates of peanut allergies than women who were told not to eat peanuts.  This could be good news.  But I’m baffled by food allergies.  Why are rates rising?  Why don’t we know more about them?  Why isn’t there more research?  I’m getting lots of questions about them lately.  Good places to start: The National Library of Medicine explains the research.  Organizations like the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and the Food Allergy Initiative provide basic information.  And for personal experience, Allergic Girl has plenty to say on her blog.

Nov 17 2008

Latest San Francisco Chronicle column: salt

This time, it’s about salt and how difficult it is to go on a low-salt diet when 80% or so of the salt in American diets is already in food before it even gets to you.

Nov 17 2008

In defense of food writing

Thanks to Colman Andrews, food writer par excellence and now writing for, for his impassioned defense of food writing as a means of analyzing and making sense of important issues in society.  I’m constantly having to defend my academic interest in food against charges that it is too quotidian to matter. Food matters.  That’s why my column in the San Francisco Chronicle is called Food Matters.

Nov 16 2008

Food miles: a real issue or a distracter?

The Mercatus Institute has produced a report arguing that food miles – the environmental cost of the distance food travels – is a meaningless concept based on erroneous assumptions, and that the “buy local” movement is focused on the wrong issues.  I don’t know anything about the Mercatus Institute other than what is on its website, and I don’t recognize the names of its members.  Anybody know anything about it?  Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about this group in 2004.

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