Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 7 2008

Monsanto to give up on rBGH!

After 20 years of controversy, Monsanto is looking for a buyer for recombinant bovine somatotropin, the growth hormone that increases milk production in dairy cows. How come? According to the New York Times, Monsanto says this has nothing to do with problems selling the hormone and didn’t say a word about consumer opposition. I think consumer opposition had plenty to do with this, don’t you?

Aug 6 2008


I figure I might as well have some fun with my new column in the San Francisco Chronicle. The column is a Q and A, and the first sets of Qs came from the editors. This one is about pizza, things. They tell me the next questions will come from readers, and the plan is to run the column once a month.

Aug 5 2008

CSPI’s new study on kids’ menus

Center for Science in the Public Interest has a new study out on the nutrient composition of kids’ meals in fast food restaurants. Of course they are all (OK, just 93%) too high in calories. Of course the default option includes sodas (Subway is the sole exception).  If calories were on menu boards, would parents think twice about ordering these things?  Might be worth a try, given that the average child under 18, or so reports USA Today, eats 167 meals a year in restaurants.

Aug 4 2008

Calorie labeling: it’s catching

As predicted, other cities and counties are following New York’s example and requiring calories to be listed on menu boards. The latest is Portland, which follows Seattle and San Francisco, if you are keeping score.  In Portland, 90 chains are involved so there will be plenty to talk about.  Who’s next?

Aug 3 2008

Surprise! Americans have more food available

Sunday’s New York Times has a beautifully illustrated account of how the U.S. food supply has changed since 1970, based on USDA food supply data. These do not measure actual food intake. Instead they measure food produced in the U.S., less exports, plus imports. The USDA has collected (or computed) such data since 1909 and to the extent that they are collected the same way every year, give a good idea of food trends, even though they overestimate actual food intake. I like this USDA data set a lot. It shows that production of all foods is up, with the biggest increases in fats (59%), grains (42%), and sugars and corn sweeteners (17%). Vegetables are up (15%), but so are corn sweeteners (373%), cream cheese (350%), and sour cream (275%). The article doesn’t say so, but calories went up from about 3,200 to 4,000, an increase of 800 calories per person per day since the 1970s. Why are Americans gaining weight? Duh. There is more food around and we are eating it.

Aug 1 2008

Salmonella saintpaul goes to Congress

So it wasn’t tomatoes; it was a jalapeno pepper (maybe). Congress wants to know what took the FDA so long and why the Florida tomato industry got creamed in the process. But every proverbial cloud has a silver lining: the food industry wants more regulation. It’s about time.  They finally figured out that a stronger FDA would be good for business. Look what it took to teach them this lesson!  Not a pretty sight.

Jul 31 2008

The FTC number: $1.6 billion to market to kids

The FTC has released its new report on food marketing to kids.  The big news?  The food industry only spends $1.6 billion for this purpose, a figure nobody I know believes.  The FTC had to subpoena this information and I’m sure that companies gave the lowest number they could.  Kellogg may spend $32 million just for media advertising for Cheez-Its, but I’m sure it’s hard for the company to figure out how much of that goes for packages with cartoons on them.  The FTC press release compliments food companies for all the great things they are doing to protect kids from what they used to do.  It makes recommendations that begin with words like “work toward,” “encourage,” “continue,” and “consider,” but nothing much that says “stop!”  I think $1.6 billion is likely to be an underestimate but it doesn’t really matter.  The number should be zero, no?

Jul 31 2008

Note to The Economist: read the newspapers!

All The Economist has to do (see previous post) is read the press. Here are a couple of relevant items. What’s bad for restaurants is good for Kraft Foods. Its sales of all those packaged foods are growing. That’s what people are eating instead of going out, apparently. Next, the parent company of two restaurant chains–Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale–in the “casual dining” sector filed for bankruptcy. Why? Higher food costs and fewer casual diners. And McDonald’s is about to give up its popular dollar menu. I suppose there could be an upside to this, but I’m dubious. You think so? Go tell The Economist.

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