A report just out from the European Union explains why food companies so strongly oppose traffic light systems for labeling food products. Consumers interpret red lights as meaning “don’t eat me.” Here is how the U.K. Food Safety Authority is using traffic lights. Compare this to the check mark system preferred by the food industry.
In case you were wondering how come Bill Niman is no longer associated with Niman Ranch meats, yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle explains the whole sad story, one framed by the writer as a matter of idealism vs. economic realities.
Perhaps coincidentally, Nicolette Hahn Niman’s new book, Righteous Porkchop, is just out. This is a thoughtful and affecting memoir of her version of the events–her background as an activist lawyer, her romance with Bill, and their work together. I blurbed it, pointing out that it should establish her as an independent national voice for efforts to reform industrial animal production.
I also blurbed Betty Fussell’s entertainingly researched cultural history of American beef, Raising Steaks. If you want to know what the fuss about humanely and sustainably raised meat is about, these books are a great starting point.
Thanks to CSPI’s Margo Wootan for sending the link to this nifty video about school lunch lobbying (she is featured in it, eloquently). The video, made by the American News Project, takes place at a January 28 hearing on school lunch nutrition regulations run by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM is working on developing science-based criteria for the nutritional quality of school meals. Take a look at who is in the audience. Question: What are they doing there? Answer: The USDA buys enormous quantities of food commodities to supply schools enrolled in federal school meal programs. The video gets a 5-star YouTube rating, and for good reason.
My latest Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle…
As I argued in my book, Safe Food, in 2003, the big problem with genetically modified foods is not whether the foods are safe to eat. Instead, the real problem is a matter of who controls the food supply. To understand, for example, why GM foods are not labeled as such, it is useful to understand that the biotech food industry is secretive, agressive in defending its property rights and attacking critics, and relentless in protecting its corporate interests. Today’s example: biotech food companies are not permitting independent research scientists to study the foods. As reported in the New York Times, corporate control and secrecy have gotten so bad that a group of 26 corn-insect researchers has complained to the EPA that companies are not permitting them to grow GM crops for research purposes. This, of course, makes questions about the environmental and human health risks unanswerable.
Biotech food companies complain bitterly about consumer distrust of their products. The remedy is simple: label the foods and let independent researchers study their environmental and safety effects.
I am interested to see that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has taken on Topps marketing as a new campaign, and for good reason. Topps, famous for chewing gum and baseball trading cards, makes a bunch of candies aimed at kids, one of them in the shape of infant feeding bottles. Disney is now using a kids’ music group – the Jonas Brothers – to promote the baby bottle candy. Not a good idea.
In 2007, Michael Eisner, the former head of Disney bought Topps from the family firm that had owned it for decades. Long before the sale, I once had lunch with Arthur Shorin, the former owner of Topps. I was impressed by his responsible attitude about marketing candy to children. He was facing a difficult problem. Without doing irresponsible marketing, he couldn’t sell enough candy to stay in business. Hence the sale to Eisner. At the time, Mr. Shorin said “This will be a change in ownership, not a change in direction.” Well, that’s business for you.
Update February 20: thanks to Dan for the correction. Fixed.
Some group at Harvard does telephone surveys of consumer attitudes and did one about the recalls. News accounts say that nearly all of the more than 1,000 respondents had heard about the recalls, but about a quarter of them erroneously thought that national brands of peanut butter in jars had been recalled. Companies that put peanut butter in jars must do their own roasting, which is why they are announcing their safety in ads and on websites. Consumers, the survey found, were not aware of the range of products affected. How could they be? I get announcements of newly recalled products every day and the total now exceeds 2,000. The take-home lesson? Until we have a decent food safety system in place, avoid mass-produced foods with multiple ingredients (especially if you don’t know what they are or where they came from), buy local, and consider cooking – it solves a lot of safety problems. Other ideas?