Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 25 2009

Eating Liberally: peanut butter

Eating Liberally’s kat wants to know what the deal is on Salmonella in peanut butter.  The list of recalled products gets longer every day and now some members of Congress want the FDA to ask for recalls of all peanut butter, even that in jars.  The CDC reports nearly 500 cases of illness and, perhaps, as many as 7 deaths.  If you want to see something amazing, take a look at the FDA’s recall list.  Where will this end?  Here’s what I said to kat.

Jan 24 2009

Update on obesity issues

While the new website was in production, I got a bit caught up on my reading.  Here’s what’s been happening on the obesity front.

Middle-age spread: eat less or else! A new study proves what every woman over the age of 50 knows all too well: you just can’t eat the way you used to without putting on the pounds.  Muscle mass declines with age, calorie needs do too.    Activity helps some, but not enough.  I think it’s totally unfair, by the way, but I’m guessing the same thing happens to men (but they have more muscle to begin with).  Alas.

Turn off the TV: Common Sense Media looked at 173 studies of the effects of watching TV on child and adolescent health.  Of 73 studies examining correlations between TV-watching and obesity, 86% found strong associations.  TV-watching was also strongly associated with such unfortunate outcomes as cigarette smoking, drug use, early sexual activity, and poor academic performance.  Conclusion: if you want to encourage kids to be healthier, turn off the TV!

British government launched an anti-obesity campaign: The UK government’s Change4Life campaign is designed to promote healthier lifestyles.  This is causing much discussion, not least because of its food-industry sponsorship (uh oh).  Food companies are said to view the campaign as good for business (uh oh, indeed). The government wants everyone to help with the campaign by putting up posters and such, and its website is cheery.  Buried in all of this is some good advice, but most of it is phrased as eat better, not eat less or avoid.  That, of course, is why the food industry is willing to fund a campaign which, if successful, could hardly be in the food industry’s best interest.

Jan 23 2009

Welcome to the new site

Here it is and welcome.  Hope you like it.  I’ll be working on the debugging and updates over the next few weeks so it should only get better.  Thanks for your patience!

Jan 23 2009

COOL? Will we ever have it?

One of the first things President Obama did on his first day in office was to freeze last-minute regulations squeezed in by the Bush administration, among them Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

On January 15, cutting it close, the USDA  issued final rules for COOL for meat, poultry, and fish, as well as for plant crops: fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as well as, oddly, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The rules were supposed to take effect March 16. They excluded foods that were cooked, cured, or smoked, or mixed with other food ingredients (examples: chocolate, breading and tomato sauce). These were the same as previous versions and full of loopholes (see previous posts on the topic). I thought the lame-duck rules were better than nothing, but now it seems we are starting over.

Big question: will the Obama administration make the rules better or worse?  Fingers crossed.

Jan 20 2009

USDA defines “natural” meats

The USDA has finally posted its rules for health claims on meats in the January 16 Federal Register. After dealing with the 44,000 or so comments it received on the issue, the USDA defines what “naturally raised” means for meat and livestock.  In sum: no growth promoters, antibiotics, animal by-products, or fish by-products. This is a voluntary standard, but should help.

Jan 19 2009

CSPI sues Coke over Vitamin Water claims

Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a class-action lawsuit against Coca-Cola, the parent company of Glaceau Vitamin Water.   Vitamin Water, says CSPI, makes sugary drinks that promote obesity but positions these products as healthful because they contain added vitamins and herbs.  Does this make them healthier?  No, but it certainly makes them sell better.

Jan 18 2009

More on Salmonella in Peanut Butter

I’ve been out of the country for the past week (Panamá, warm and lovely) but have been kept up on the peanut butter outbreak, courtesy of Eric Burkett of Examiner.com.  His posts thoroughly cover events in this latest outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium.  The outbreak is so widespread that the FDA has a special site devoted to it with a useful Q and A.  The FDA warns consumers not to eat any recalled peanut butter or foods made with it (the list is on the FDA site).  Peanut butter in jars seems to be OK, so far.  If you want to see the epidemiology, the CDC has the case-report charts and state maps online.  The lawyers are also getting into the act: Marler Clark is always a source of information about actionable foodborne illnesses, and O’Steen & Harrison also seems to be keeping close track. At issue is where the contamination occurred, where the contaminated peanut butter was distributed, and what other food companies are using this peanut butter.  That this information is not readily available is further evidence of the need for better food safety requirements, oversight, and traceability.  Let’s hope the new administration takes this on, and soon. And until it does, best to grind your own peanuts!

Update January 19: Just ran across this article on how Salmonella gets into peanut butter in the first place.  The usual way: animal feces.  Roasting the peanuts should kill Salmonella, so the contamination must have occurred later.  Did the factory have a HACCP plan in place?  If so, they must not have been paying much attention to it.

Update January 20: Add Cliff and Luna bars to the list.

Jan 17 2009

Complementary and alternative medicine stats

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has released its annual statistics on use of such therapies.  I love the definitions: complementary therapies are used along with conventional medicine; alternative is in place of, and integrative uses both.  And here’s what everyone is using:

see chart

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