Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 18 2008

More and more on the soda tax

Nicholas Kristof writes about it in the New York Times today.  As for me, I did 7 radio interviews on Fox News this morning, including two in Georgia, home of Coca-Cola.  The Fox News folks are shocked, shocked: Where’s personal responsibility?  Where’s parental responsibility?

OK, but what about liquid candy?  And marketing to kids?  And all the research linking frequent consumption of soft drinks to childhood obesity?

OK.  I’m not crazy about regressive taxes, and I think the distinction between sugary soft drinks and sugary juice drinks doesn’t make much sense, but I’m interested to see how this idea works.  Let’s call it an interesting experiment and hope that someone is doing the research.

Dec 17 2008

Bookkeeping: End-of-year columns

I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks.  Enjoy!

Dec 17 2008

The new Secretary of Agriculture is Tom Vilsack

Well, we now have our answer to the question of who President-elect Obama will appoint to head the USDA: former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.  I don’t know much about him.  What I hear is that he is former chair of the Governors Ethanol Coalition (uh oh), the Governors Biotechnology Partnership (oops), and the National Governors Association’s Natural Resources Committees (not sure about this one). I’m disappointed.  This looks like mainstream, industrial agriculture to me, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for awhile.

The Organic Consumers Association, however, is not.  It says his appointment is hardly “change we can believe in,” and it “sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration.”  If you agree with the OCA, you can join its petition opposing the appointment.

According to, Vilsack is a lawyer who does not have roots in farming.  He did, however, compete for the presidential nomination.  And let’s not forget Wikipedia, which has already added this appointment to Vilsack’s biography; its entry points out that this appointment strongly contradicts Obama’s campaign promises: “Obama and Biden will fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability.”

Ah politics.

And for more about this appointment, see Kerry Trueman’s Eating Liberally blog.

Dec 16 2008

More on the NY State soft drink tax

Here’s the proposed statute. The relevant section reads:

“Create Sales Tax on Soft Drinks. Imposes an additional 18 percent rate of sales and compensating use taxes on fruit drinks that contain less than seventy percent of natural fruit juice and non-dietetic soft drinks, sodas and beverages. By increasing the price, it will discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from excessive consumption of these beverages. Revenues will be directed for health care initiatives.”

And here’s the American Beverage Association’s predictable response:  hurts the middle class, nobody wants it, no science or logic behind it.  The New York Times refers to what’s happening as a “spirited debate” (I am a participant).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  For example, the maker of a carbonated juice drink wrote me to complain that her product, which is 50% juice and taxable, contains under 70 calories per 8-ounces in comparison to non-taxed 100% fruit juice at 110 calories/8 ounces.  Obesity is about calories, no?  Or is it really about the kinds of products people habitually drink?

Dec 16 2008

FDA says it’s OK for women and children to eat more fish (oops)

The Washington Post says the FDA has breached the policy on fish consumption that it worked out with the EPA in 2004 and now proposes – in the last days of the Bush administration and without discussing the matter with EPA –  to increase the amount of fish considered safe for women and children.   Why?  Because, it says, the benefits of omega-3s in fish outweigh the risks of methylmercury contamination.  The EPA and environmental groups that work on fish safety are outraged, and with good cause, I’d say.  Check out the arguments.  You know this is about politics (translation: support of the fisheries industry) when the FDA says this is “science-based” policy (always a dead giveaway) and the Environmental Working Group says the FDA is nothing more than a “patsy for polluters.”

Dec 15 2008

Tax soft drinks in New York?

Governor Paterson says he can raise $404 million in state revenues with a 15% tax on soft drinks (but not diet sodas, juices, milk, or water).   I’m curious to know what you think of this idea.  Please weigh in.

Dec 14 2008

USDA to test meat and poultry for melamine

The USDA says it will be taking samples of meat and poultry products that contain ingredients derived from milk to find out whether they contain melamine and, if so, how much.   It will be sampling five kinds of products: baby foods, cooked sausages, breaded chicken, meatballs, and meat and poultry wrapped in dough (including calzones).  Great.  I’m hoping they will be using the same kinds of methods used by FDA and coordinating closely with that agency.  If ever we needed a reason to have just ONE food safety agency instead of the multiple ones we have now (USDA, FDA, EPA, etc), melamine is as good as any.

Dec 13 2008

Those pesky HFCS commercials: a reaction

The makers of the terrific movie, King Corn, must have a bit of time on their hands.  Inspired by the Corn Refiners’ commercials for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), they have created a spoof.  Enjoy (?)

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