Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 13 2008

Tracking Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)

If you want to understand what’s going on with Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), try USDA’s exceedingly useful COOL website.  If you are really serious about tracking COOL, you can subscribe to a listserv for updates.

Nov 12 2008

China arrests melamine feed producer

According to Food Chemical News (November 10), China has arrested the owner of a poultry feed company in Liaoning Province.  The numbers are interesting.  Reportedly, he admitted buying 45 tons of melamine in July, using it to produce 287 tons of chicken feed, and selling 212 tons to the Dalian Hanovo Enterprise Group, the company that produced melamine-contaminated eggs sent all over China.  The remaining 75 tons has been destroyed.In the meantime, the Chinese agriculture ministry is reported to have sent 369,000 inspectors to examine 250,000 feed producers, and to have closed down 238 illegal farms.  It had already closed down 130 dairy farms, and 20% of the country’s dairy producers are said to be out of operation.

These sound like good steps to get the food safety system under control but what I’m hearing is that the government is dealing with safety problems piecemeal – one food at a time – rather than addressing the system as a whole.  Sound familiar?

Nov 12 2008

Calorie labeling updates

As calorie labeling initiatives spread across the country, it’s fun to keep track of them.  The latest is Westchester County, New York.  The easiest way to get the complete list is from the menu labeling web page produced by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

April 9 update: Ulster County New York has just passed one.  Here’s the latest map from CSPI.

May 6 update: Here’s where to track CSPI’s 2009 legislative summaries.

May 13 update: Massachusetts passes labeling law.  That’s the second one (California did this back in September but it doesn’t go into effect until 2011).

Nov 11 2008

GAO says Obama should fix food safety

The Government Accountability Office says fixing the food safety system should be a high priority for the new administration.  Specifically, it asks the new President to:

  • Reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety right away, and develop longer term structures to promote interagency coordination on food safety.
  • Develop a “governmentwide performance plan” for agencies to ensure that goals are complementary and resource allocations are balanced.
  • Encourage Congress to assign the National Academy of Sciences to analyze alternative food safety organizational structures.
  • Encourage Congress to pass “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”
Nov 11 2008

Corn is in everything!

Investigators at the University of Hawaii have just analyzed nearly 500 samples of fast food for their content of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.  These are not radioactive but do indicate whether a plant conducts its photosynthesis through what is called a C3 or C4 metabolic pathway.  Corn is a C4 crop.  The analysis shows that virtually all of the meat came from animals raised on corn.  The potatoes were typically fried in corn oil.  Corn, say the investigators, is the basis of fast food.  And virtually all fast food is raised or prepared the same way. 

Didn’t we know that?  Yes, but the technology used in these experiments is clever.  Michael Pollan discussed this kind of chemical evidence in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Although I do not think it was his intention, many readers came away with the idea that corn is poison.  It isn’t.   Corn is a perfectly reasonable food, especially when mixed with soybeans, and the mix works fine for fattening up cattle.  From the standpoint of nutrition and the environment, feeding cattle on grass would be ideal, but it may not always be practical. That’s why some forward thinking cattle producers are raising their animals on grass for as long as they can, and then doing a quick finish with corn and soybeans.

A more important issue may be corn subsidies. Cheap feed promotes industrial meat production, with all of its environmental and health implications.  CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), as the Pew Commission said earlier this year, have truly dreadful effects on the environments of the communities in which they operate, are not healthy for animals, and overuse antibiotics, which affects human health.   Corn subsidies make CAFOs possible. 

We can argue about how much corn is OK, but I can’t think of any reason to exclude it from the diets of animals or humans.   Corn is a good source of calories and is about 10% protein.  Its oil is relatively unsaturated.  And high fructose corn sweeteners are an almost one-for-one substitute for sucrose. For humans in particular, fresh sweet corn in mid-summer is surely one of the great wonders of the universe.   As with so much else in nutrition, some corn is OK, but a lot may not be.


Nov 10 2008

Pet food settlement deadline: November 24

If your dog or cat was caught up in the melamine pet food recalls of 2007 (see Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine) and you would like to file a claim in the pet food class action suit, go here for information and instructions.  The deadline for filing a claim is November 24.

Nov 10 2008

Who will Obama appoint: the game begins

The guessing game about appointments to key posts in food and agriculture – Secretaries of USDA and HHS and head of the FDA – is now well underway.  Here’s the current guess from, which represents the produce industry, and must be hoping for business-as-usual.  I’m hoping for a breath of fresh air.  Fingers crossed.

Nov 9 2008

Surprise: kids eat like their parents do!

I don’t really know why this would surprise anyone but a new study demonstrates that when presented with supermarket choices, even preschool kids choose the same foods their parents usually buy.  The moral: if you don’t want your kids eating junk food, don’t have it in the house!

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