Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
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.

Sep 14 2008

USDA discusses food deserts

One of the lesser known (to me, anyway) provisions of this year’s farm bill was to ask the USDA to do a study of food deserts –  parts of inner cities and rural areas that do not have access to fresh foods.  The Economic Research Service, a section of the USDA that performs major public service, is holding a conference on food deserts on October 9 in Washington.  Its agenda looks terrific. Check it out!

Sep 13 2008

USDA commodities in school meals

Oh dear.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just released a summary of a new report on the use of USDA surplus commodity foods in school meals, mainly in California.  The major findings?  More than half the commodity foods are processed before they get to the schools and that means added fat, sugar, or salt (example: chicken to nuggets).  More than 80% of funds for commodities are used for meat and cheese; only 13% is spent on fruits and vegetables.  There is so little correlation between foods recommended by the USDA pyramid and those purchased by schools that the report displays a nifty side-by-side illustration of a commodities pyramid next to a USDA pyramid (the useful old one).  It is an almost perfect inverse.  The complete report has lots more good stuff in it.   High marks to the groups that collaborated on this one, the California Food Policy Advocates and Samuels & Associates.

Sep 12 2008

More on Chinese infant formula

The FDA has issued a warning not to buy infant formula made in China (read labels!), since some of it may be in ethnic markets in the U.S. under the “grey” market.  And China is investigating, threatening punishment, and issuing recalls.

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