Thanks to blogger Hemi Weingarten for telling me about the new scheme from Stop and Shop to help you pick out the thousands of foods it identifies as better for you. As you know from my previous postings on these schemes (filed under Scoring Systems), I don’t have much love for food rating systems. They depend entirely on who devises them. It is very much in the interest of Stop and Shop, PepsiCo, Kraft, Unilever, and all the other companies that are doing this to devise criteria that allow lots of their products to qualify. Recall the Hannaford example: when the supermarket chain recruited independent nutrition experts to devise criteria, less than one-fourth of the products in the stores qualified even for a one-star rating and most of those were fruits and vegetables in the produce section. The moral: eat minimally processed foods and you don’t have to worry about such things.
The childhood obesity team at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sends along its new year’s greeting: “great anti-junk food marketing” moments in 2008. These mostly focus on progress in industry self-regulation (voluntary) but also on congressional legislation to restrict marketing and put healthier foods in schools. Food marketing to kids is the point of food industry vulnerability. Food companies must stop marketing junk foods to kids. Voluntary self-regulation is notoriously ineffective. Legislative intervention is essential. Maybe this will be possible under the new administration? Fingers crossed.
Bill Marler, of the legal firm specializing in food safety cases, lists his top 10 picks for the food safety scandals of 2008, beginning with globalization and ending with pet food.
And Food Chemical News (December 31) says the FDA will be testing for melamine in farmed fish and fish feed from China. When Hong Kong officials said they found melamine at 6.6 ppm in fish feed, the FDA wondered whether melamine could accumulate in fish tissues. Apparently, that is exactly what it does. The Los Angeles Times (December 24) says FDA testing found whopping amounts of melamine – 200 ppm – in catfish, trout, tilapia and salmon that had eaten melamine-tainted fish feed. This is way higher than the maximum “safe” level of 2.5 ppm in food. So put fish from China on your list of what not to eat.
Let’s hope the new president picks someone for USDA undersecretary and FDA commissioner who takes food safety seriously. That’s my wish (well, one of them) for the new year. Peace to all.
While you can still get into this, take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s terrific map of the world food crisis. You click on the country of interest and instantly see a graph comparing grain consumption to production. Compare grain-producing countries like the U.S., Canada, and Russia (shown in green) to grain-consuming countries like Mexico and South Africa (shown in blue). The moral: the situation is getting too close for comfort.
An interesting question came in yesterday (see comment #32) from Susan, who is planning to apply for Food Stamps (now called SNAP – Supplemental Food Assistance Program). Susan writes: “I am afraid of being humiliated by my employers and/or coworkers when they find out…My main concern is my employers will humiliate me when they discover I applied for FS/Snap. Any responses?”
Mine: SNAP is an entitlement program. If Susan qualifies, she is entitled to the benefits. Other ideas?
This week, EatingLiberally.org wants to know whether I think organics are honest. Do organic food producers really follow the USDA’s Organic Standards? I think most do, but the question comes out of an incident in California where a fertilizer seller was passing off an unapproved chemical fertilizer as organic. Apparently, state agriculture officials knew about this but didn’t bother to tell anyone or do much about it. Not a good situation. Here’s my response to all this.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has a committee doing a big study that will lead to recommendations for improved nutrient standards for school breakfast and lunch programs sponsored by USDA. The committee has just released its “Phase I” report, which explains how it plans to go about setting those standards and asks for public input. This report is available online as a pdf (go to “Read” and click on “full text”) so you can read it and let the committee know what you think of its approach. For anyone interested in the school meal situation, the report is a great place to start. It gives the history of the programs and explains why so many people think changes are needed. It will be interesting to see where the committee goes with this project. Stay tuned!
At the request (and expense) of Kellogg’s, the Life Science Research Organization convened an expert panel to evaluate studies linking consumption of whole grains – as defined by FDA – to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Using the FDA’s definition, the panel judged the studies insufficient to support a claim that whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The FDA defines whole grains as whole: grains that are ground, cracked, or flaked but include all the parts in their original proportions. When the panel expanded the definition of whole grains to include supplements of bran, germ, or fiber, the results came out better. Supplements work better than the real thing! Kellogg’s must be pleased with the results of its investment.