Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 15 2009

Obese Americans outnumber the overweight

The National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks such things, reports that the percentage of Americans defined as obese now exceeds the percent who are just overweight, 34% as opposed to just under 33%.  This means that while the prevalence of obesity (BMI >30) has doubled since 1980, the prevalence of overweight (BMI 25-29) has stayed about the same.  The big are getting bigger.  Some overweight people are moving into the obese category.  And their places are filled by the formerly non-obese.  It doesn’t look like this problem is going to go away soon.

Jan 14 2009

Oh no! Not another food quality rating scheme!

This time it’s Sara Lee, which has just introduced yet another scheme for showing off how nutritious its products are.  Thanks to FoodEducate for alerting me to this one and also for this site’s excellent history of such schemes from 1862 to now.  All of these schemes can be manipulated so the packaged foods look like they contain more nutrients than real foods.  FDA: take this on, please.

Update January 15: And now Jewel-Osco stores join the party.  I’d say this has gotten completely out of hand.

Update January 17: Add Nutrition IQ from the Supervalu supermarket chain to the list.

Jan 13 2009

World food crisis: causes and effects

More reading catch up: the November 2008 issue of the journal, Agricultural Economics, has a collection of academic analyses of the causes and effects of rising food prices. These authors blame the world food crisis on weak monetary policies, demand for food as biofuel, and restrictive trade policies.  Others may disagree but whatever the causes, the consequences are unlikely to be good.

Jan 12 2009

USDA: subsidizing F&V won’t do much good

 The USDA has a new report out analyzing the effects of a 10% subsidy on fruits and vegetables.  This, its economists say, would increase consumption a little, but not enough to meet recommendations and the cost would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Does this mean that lowering the cost of F&V isn’t worth the trouble?  Why am I not convinced by this argument?

Jan 11 2009

Pet food settlement: indefinitely delayed

Two unnamed parties have filed appeals to the $24 million settlement of the Menu Food pet food recall claims for compensation for pet illnesses and deaths.  These appeals will delay payments to pet owners who filed claims, perhaps, according to the judge, by months or even years.  Details about who is filing the appeals and why are not available, but one source says they have to do with labeling and fairness issues.  Woe.

And more woe.  Mars continues to expand its recalls of pet foods made at its now closed Allentown, PA plant.

Update January 15: here’s one of the objecting lawyers.  He thinks owners of pets affected by melamine-contaminated pet food deserve more than the $24 million settlement.

Jan 10 2009

Would you believe peanut butter?

So this big outbreak of Salmonella that has sickened 400 people throughout the country has finally been traced to – peanut butter.  Not just any old peanut butter, but the kind that is sold in huge containers to institutions.    How did Salmonella get into peanut butter?  Either the production lines were washed with sewage-contaminated water or somebody’s hands were really dirty. This is another example of the reason why we must, must, must do something to improve food safety oversight, starting with requiring all food producers – without exception – to use standard food safety procedures and to be subject to inspection to make sure they follow those procedures.

And the maker of the peanut butter, King Nut, has issued a recall.

January 14 update: The FDA posts the recall notice.

Jan 10 2009

GAO says oversight of GM crops could be better

The Government Accountability Office has just produced a report looking at the way the federal agencies regulate (or don’t regulate) genetically modified crops.  At issue is the escape of unauthorized modified genes into supposedly non-GM crops, animals, or the environment.  The report notes six such incidents.  These, it says, caused not harm to human or animal health but did result in “lost trade opportunities.”  The report documents long-standing gaps in coordination and direction among the three regulatory agencies involved: FDA, USDA, and EPA. If I count right, it’s been nearly 15 years since the FDA approved the first genetically modified food (bovine growth hormone, quickly followed by tomatoes) and the government still can’t figure out what to do about them.

It’s interesting that this report comes just as Monsanto is asking the FDA to approve the company’s new supposedly drought-tolerant.  If this corn really does what it is claimed to, it could fulfill what biotechnology companies have long promised.  We will have to wait and see on this one.

Jan 9 2009

More voting opportunities: victory gardens and USDA

Slow Food USA is promoting efforts by groups who want an organic garden grown at the White House and who would like to see some representation of interest in sustainable agriculture at the USDA.  Here’s your chance to sign petitions on both those issues.  And the American Gothic illustration of the Obamas is pretty cute too.

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