Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 17 2008

In defense of food writing

Thanks to Colman Andrews, food writer par excellence and now writing for Gourmet.com, for his impassioned defense of food writing as a means of analyzing and making sense of important issues in society.  I’m constantly having to defend my academic interest in food against charges that it is too quotidian to matter. Food matters.  That’s why my column in the San Francisco Chronicle is called Food Matters.

Nov 16 2008

Food miles: a real issue or a distracter?

The Mercatus Institute has produced a report arguing that food miles – the environmental cost of the distance food travels – is a meaningless concept based on erroneous assumptions, and that the “buy local” movement is focused on the wrong issues.  I don’t know anything about the Mercatus Institute other than what is on its website, and I don’t recognize the names of its members.  Anybody know anything about it?  Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about this group in 2004.

Nov 15 2008

The latest on food marketing to kids

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a big project on marketing foods and beverages to children.  Its most recent report singles out television advertising as the most pervasive medium; even babies watch TV and see loads of commercials for junk foods.  The authors, Nicole Larson and Mary Story of the University of Minnesota, provide an excellent one-stop review of methods, expenditures, and other such data, along with useful suggestions for what to do about this problem.

Nov 13 2008

FDA stops imports of Chinese milk products

I’m told that FDA laboratories are still finding melamine in milk-containing food products imported from China.  In response, the FDA has issued a countrywide  import alert, meaning that FDA officials can detain the products without having to examine and test them.  The list of detainable products is long and includes not only milk but also yogurt, desserts, cakes and cookies, candies, chocolate, beverages, and- shades of 2007 – dog and cat food.

Nov 13 2008

Tracking Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)

If you want to understand what’s going on with Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), try USDA’s exceedingly useful COOL website.  If you are really serious about tracking COOL, you can subscribe to a listserv for updates.

Nov 12 2008

China arrests melamine feed producer

According to Food Chemical News (November 10), China has arrested the owner of a poultry feed company in Liaoning Province.  The numbers are interesting.  Reportedly, he admitted buying 45 tons of melamine in July, using it to produce 287 tons of chicken feed, and selling 212 tons to the Dalian Hanovo Enterprise Group, the company that produced melamine-contaminated eggs sent all over China.  The remaining 75 tons has been destroyed.In the meantime, the Chinese agriculture ministry is reported to have sent 369,000 inspectors to examine 250,000 feed producers, and to have closed down 238 illegal farms.  It had already closed down 130 dairy farms, and 20% of the country’s dairy producers are said to be out of operation.

These sound like good steps to get the food safety system under control but what I’m hearing is that the government is dealing with safety problems piecemeal – one food at a time – rather than addressing the system as a whole.  Sound familiar?


Nov 12 2008

Calorie labeling updates

As calorie labeling initiatives spread across the country, it’s fun to keep track of them.  The latest is Westchester County, New York.  The easiest way to get the complete list is from the menu labeling web page produced by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

April 9 update: Ulster County New York has just passed one.  Here’s the latest map from CSPI.

May 6 update: Here’s where to track CSPI’s 2009 legislative summaries.

May 13 update: Massachusetts passes labeling law.  That’s the second one (California did this back in September but it doesn’t go into effect until 2011).

Nov 11 2008

GAO says Obama should fix food safety

The Government Accountability Office says fixing the food safety system should be a high priority for the new administration.  Specifically, it asks the new President to:

  • Reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety right away, and develop longer term structures to promote interagency coordination on food safety.
  • Develop a “governmentwide performance plan” for agencies to ensure that goals are complementary and resource allocations are balanced.
  • Encourage Congress to assign the National Academy of Sciences to analyze alternative food safety organizational structures.
  • Encourage Congress to pass “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”
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