Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 19 2008

National Restaurant Association (NRA): calorie labeling

From the NRA website:

“The NRA does not support legislation or regulation which requires mandatory nutritional labeling on menus or menu boards. Restaurants should have flexibility and freedom in how they may choose to provide nutrition data to their customers. The National Restaurant Association opposes any proposal that includes a one-size-fits-all menu-labeling approach.”

The site links to a nifty map of state and local proposals, as well as to summaries of pending legislation on this and other issues that worry the NRA. This group should be worried. It is fighting its customers who care about health, which seems like an odd business strategy.

Feb 19 2008

Food safety: the big picture?

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, has tallied up the recalls and other food safety scares from the last 18 months.  It’s an impressive list, and provides plenty of evidence for the need of a complete overhaul of our food safety system.

Feb 18 2008

The biggest ground beef recall ever

The USDA is announcing the largest recall of ground beef in U.S. history: 143 million pounds, most of it already sold and, presumably, eaten.  The meat was produced at the  Westland/Hallmark Meat company in Chino, California. The recall follows a shocking video of an investigation by the Humane Society at that plant.  The video, which is not easy to watch, shows “downer” cows being slaughtered for food as well as other violations of regulations for meat slaughter. The USDA is taking this very seriously, if too late to keep the meat out of the food supply. It has posted answers to Frequently Asked Questions on its website, along with a transcript of a technical briefing, and links to related statements. And here’s what today’s New York Times has to say about it (as always, the writer, Andrew Martin, provides great quotes).  If you are puzzled about what humane treatment of farm animals might have to do with the safety of the meat we eat, here is as good an explanation as anyone could ask for.

Feb 16 2008

Sponsored science: opinions on calorie labeling

Today’s New York Times has a juicy article in the business section about the differing opinions of obesity experts about New York City’s proposal to require certain restaurants to post calorie information on menu boards. The head of one obesity society, who is a frequent consultant to the food and restaurant industry, apparently thinks calorie labeling will backfire by “inadvertently encouraging patrons to consume lower-calorie foods that subsequently lead to greater total caloric intake because of poor satiating efficiency of the smaller calorie loads.” Coincidence?

Feb 14 2008

USDA challenges food companies to help end childhood obesity

The USDA has just issued a corporate challenge to food companies to “step up to help end childhood obesity by empowering the household gatekeeper to assist her in modeling a healthy lifestyle and by providing information to help her make healthy food choices for herself and her family.” How? Uh oh. By using MyPyramid. This may indeed be a challenge. Even nutritionists have trouble understanding how to use MyPyramid. USDA provides a long list of suggestions of ways food companies might use MyPyramid.  These make me think we will have to wait and see whether such things as CDs in cereal boxes, placemats, and websites are able to use the Pyramid for real education rather than for marketing the companies’ products.

Feb 14 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day: Chocolate is price-fixed?

With perfect timing for the romantic occasion, federal investigators are looking into the possibility that Big Food is fixing chocolate prices, and in three different countries yet.  The allegations?  “Top executives at Hershey Co., Mars, and Nestle [no relation] met secretly in coffee shops, restaurants and conventions to set prices.”   Although, as I discussed in Food Politics, it seems obvious from supermarket prices that such things must go on all the time, price-fixing is illegal.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Feb 14 2008

Ben & Jerry’s sings about cloning

Thanks to Maya Joseph for sending Ben & Jerry’s endearing cow cloning song. Its message: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. But wait! Isn’t Ben & Jerry’s owned by Unilever? Does this mean that Unilever–a huge multinational food corporation that sells nearly $60 billion annually–opposes animal cloning? Or is the company just leaving Ben & Jerry’s alone with its core customers?

Feb 13 2008

Country-of-origin labels: voluntary?

Unless Congress does something weird, Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) will go into effect this spring. Apparently, some companies are already doing it. I’m traveling this week and bought a little packet of Snak Club Tropical Mix at an airport news stand, thinking that it would be mostly raisins and peanuts, which it mostly was. The COOL was an unexpected bonus although I hardly know what to make of it: “Product of U.S.A., may contain ingredients from Thailand and/or Phillipines [sic] and/or Mexico and/or China and/or Chile and/or Argentina.” Somehow, I’m guessing that this is not what proponents of COOL had in mind, exactly.

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