Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
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.

Mar 29 2008

Food Fight video: 50 years of history

My son Charles said I had to see this 5.5-minute video: the history of warfare from World War II to the present, only this time expressed through the foods of the various combatants. I guess it goes under the heading of Food Art. In any case, it must have been a lot of fun to make. Have a great spring weekend, and enjoy (?).


Mar 28 2008

Oh no! Now see what the USDA is doing

So now the USDA is proposing to forget about its promise to identify retailers selling recalled meat – unless the health risk is really, really bad. Oh great. The agency now thinks it’s just fine if consumers don’t realize that the meat they bought from local stores was later recalled.  It’s up to you to track all those lot numbers and know what you bought and where you bought it.   Rumors are that USDA is reneging on its promise to keep consumers better informed under pressure from the food industry.  Let’s keep an eye on this one.

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!

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