Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Apr 3 2008

Marketing junk food to kids: new research

The April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association carries three research papers on the current state of food marketing to children. One finds that websites targeted to kids carry advertising for junk foods. One compared breakfast cereals marketed to children to those marketed to adults; the kids’ cereals had more calories, sugars, and salt but less fiber and protein (oh, great). The third looked at Saturday morning TV and found 90% of the food commercials to be for junk foods. Hmm. Doesn’t sound like much has changed since the Institute of Medicine’s call for stopping all this (or at least slowing it down). Time to hold food companies accountable, I think.

Apr 2 2008

FDA says HFCS cannot claim to be “natural”

According to Food Navigator, the FDA says it’s too busy to deal with the question of whether high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be labeled as “all natural,” something the Sugar Association and Sara Lee would dearly love to be allowed to do. This non-action, in effect, is the FDA’s way of just saying no. HFCS, as the FDA points out, requires enzymes to break starch into glucose and to convert some of the glucose to fructose, and that ain’t necessarily natural.  The Sugar Association is “deeply disappointed” in the FDA’s decision.  Why am I not surprised?

Apr 2 2008

Salmonella in imported cantaloupes: a problem?

I am indebted to Jim Prevor, the Perishable Pundit, for close tracking of the FDA’s import alert on Salmonella in cantaloupes. His most recent post contains a terrific interview with an FDA official about this incident. It is as good an example of what the FDA is up against in these kinds of investigations as any I can imagine. Perishable Pundit views food safety issues from the standpoint of the producers of fruit and vegetables who have much to lose if the FDA finds something wrong. The FDA looks at the issues from the standpoint of consumer protection. Thanks to the interviewer, Mira Slott, and to the FDA official, Sebastian Cianci, for grappling with these issues with much thought and mutual respect.

Apr 2 2008

Contest: Make a film!

Those clever King Corn guys are running a contest: who can make the best statement about food politics using clips from King Corn and whatever. The winner gets $1,000 and fame. The deadline is May 30, and here’s how it works.

Apr 1 2008

Your thoughts on FDA’s food protection plan?

The FDA is seeking public comment – that means you – on its food protection plan announced late last year. The request for comment points out that we now get our food from 150 countries through 300 ports-of-entry, and that imported foods account for 15% of all foods by volume, 60% of fresh fruits and vegetables, and 75% of seafood. Gulp. Here’s your chance to say what you think the FDA should be doing to ensure the safety of the food supply, domestic and imported. How about standard food safety rules (of the HACCP and pathogen reduction type) from farm to table, for starters? Just dreaming….

Apr 1 2008

FoodBuzz interview and book review

I’ve just discovered my March 12 interview with Adriana Velez on www.foodbuzz.com and her review of What to Eat. Thanks Adriana!

Mar 31 2008

28 million Americans need food stamps?

Today’s New York Times reports that 28 million low-income Americans will be getting Food Stamps this year, the largest number ever.  The headline sums up the reasons: vanishing jobs and higher prices.  The cost to taxpayers: $36 billion, and rising.  The Food Stamp program, worth an average of less than $100 per month per person, is the USDA’s main contribution to the safety net for low-income adults. Its other big food assistance program, WIC (for Women, Infants, and Children), is also under pressure.  WIC is not an entitlement so whatever Congress allots for it is all there is.  Why do I think we will be hearing a lot about the inadequacies of federal food assistance this year?

Mar 30 2008

USDA’s new report on food availability

The USDA is a big, complicated agency with many units working at apparent cross purposes. I particularly like the work of the Economic Research Service, which produces reports on many interesting aspects of the food economy. Here is a new one, for example, on trends in the availability of foods for consumption by Americans from 1970 to 2005. This is not a report on what people actually eat. “Availability for consumption” means foods produced in the United States, less exports, plus imports, divided by the total population. My favorite figures from the report: added fats and oils account for 32% of caloric availability (this does not count the fat normally present in foods), and added sugars are up 19%. Dietary recommendations suggest consuming no more than 8 teaspoons of sugars a day; 30 are available per capita. This report does not give nutrient information, but other USDA/ERS reports show that the number of calories available for consumption increased from 3,200 to 3,900 per person per day over that period. If more food is available, more of it has to be sold….

Correction: make that 4,000 calories per person per day in the latest USDA report.

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