Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 28 2008

The sad saga of farm subsidies

So the Wall Street Journal thinks doing anything about the “thicket of hard-to-cut programs” in the Farm Bill is hopeless.  If anything, it looks like subsidies will go up.  Reason #1: $80 million worth of agribusiness lobbying last year. Reason #2: this is an election year. If you aren’t up on the ins and outs of Farm Bill politics, this article is a good place to begin. Check out the interactive map and complain!  It won’t hurt and it might help at some point.

Mar 27 2008

Are cultural elites responsible for famine in Africa?

According to a report in Food Chemical News, Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley who has written extensively about agricultural policy, says “environmental populists” in the United States and the European Union have imposed on Africa, their [our?] favoring of “small, traditional farms that grow organic crops and heirloom varieties…[equating] agricultural science with large farms, mistreatment of animals, enrichment of agribusiness corporations, and unpalatable and unhealthy food.” The resulting “hostility to science-based farming” has been devastating to Africa and other impoverished regions. How? “No African country allows cultivation of biotech crops except South Africa.” Is biotechnology the solution to Africa’s agricultural problems? As I read it, the technology is still in its infancy and still has a long way to go (see the March 20 Nature article on development of drought-resistant crops). But then, I still think Africa’s agricultural problems would be easier to solve with social, not necessarily technological, changes. But I guess that makes me an environmental populist. How about you?

Mar 27 2008

Eating Liberally’s Question: Breakfast

So what do I think of the importance of eating breakfast? Here’s what I told Eating Liberally’s KAT.

Mar 25 2008

Percy Schmeiser settles suit with Monsanto!

Why Monsanto chose to go after Percy Schmeiser is beyond me. You might remember the case: Monsanto sued this Canadian canola farmer for growing the company’s genetically modified (GM) seeds without paying for them. But Mr. Schmeiser claimed that GM canola pollen blew over and contaminated his fields.

In 2002, Canadian courts said it didn’t matter how Monsanto’s GM plants got onto his fields; Schmeiser had to pay for them. So Monsanto won the case but looked like a big bad bully.  Now Monsanto has agreed to an out-of-court settlement, surely something it should have done a long time ago.

This case reminds me of the infamous “McLibel” trial of the late 1990’s when McDonald’s sued a couple of young activists in London for saying rude things about the company. You would think the threat of a public relations nightmare would encourage companies to back off in such David-and-Goliath situations, but no such luck. I’m glad this one is over. Next?

Mar 24 2008

My new book on the pet food recall

The cover of my forthcoming book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine has just been posted on Amazon.com. Its publisher is University of California Press, which also published two of my previous books, Food Politics and Safe Food (What to Eat comes from Farrar, Straus & Giroux). I’ve just sent in the last copy-edit, am expecting page proofs in mid-April, and am hoping to see advance copies in late July. It comes out in September!

Mar 23 2008

Do Food Stamps make people fat?

The USDA has just come out with a report looking at the relationship of Food Stamps to obesity. Because rates of obesity are higher among the poor, USDA economists wanted to see if Food Stamps, which raise the amount of money low-income people can spend on food, were associated with higher rates of obesity. They were not, at least for most people, but they were associated with obesity in younger women. I have no idea what to make of this, really. It seems self-evident that having more money – enough money – to spend on food means that people will eat more healthfully. But Food Stamps are notorious for their unreliability in meeting people’s real needs.  They typically run out after three weeks, which leaves recipients scrambling to meet food needs during the fourth week of the month. Food Stamps do help to address income disparities, but not nearly enough. I’d like to see the USDA do an experiment: give women enough Food Stamps to really meet their needs and see if diets improve.

Mar 22 2008

The “Chickenization” of the Beef Industry

I’ve just learned a new word: “chickenization.” This comes from an article on meatpoultry.com explaining how consolidation in the beef industry has gotten so extreme that just three companies now control more than 70% of the market: JBS 31%, Tyson 21%, and Cargill 21%. Monopoly capitalism in action!

Mar 22 2008

Carl Warner’s photos

Mystery solved, thanks to Dawn, Renata, and Bix.  Renata sent a link to a description of Warner’s work along with more photos.  Bix sent a link to an interesting BBC program about this work.  Carl Warner has his own website, of course, but also has been a frequent subject of blogs.  This is the first I’ve heard of his work so I am glad to know about it.  He should be credited every time the  photos get e-mailed, especially because it was so easy to find out whose work it was. Thanks to all!

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