Oh dear. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just released a summary of a new report on the use of USDA surplus commodity foods in school meals, mainly in California. The major findings? More than half the commodity foods are processed before they get to the schools and that means added fat, sugar, or salt (example: chicken to nuggets). More than 80% of funds for commodities are used for meat and cheese; only 13% is spent on fruits and vegetables. There is so little correlation between foods recommended by the USDA pyramid and those purchased by schools that the report displays a nifty side-by-side illustration of a commodities pyramid next to a USDA pyramid (the useful old one). It is an almost perfect inverse. The complete report has lots more good stuff in it. High marks to the groups that collaborated on this one, the California Food Policy Advocates and Samuels & Associates.
The FDA has issued a warning not to buy infant formula made in China (read labels!), since some of it may be in ethnic markets in the U.S. under the “grey” market. And China is investigating, threatening punishment, and issuing recalls.
I can hardly believe it but USA Today reports that Chinese infant formula has been found to be contaminated with melamine, the very same toxic ingredient that caused the pet food recalls of 2007. Melamine-laced pet foods killed cats and dogs. Who knows what it might do in infant formula. Melamine is high in nitrogen. Tests for protein just test for nitrogen and don’t care where it comes from. Melamine, which is cheap, makes pet foods and infant formulas look like they have a lot of protein, which is expensive. That would be bad enough but melamine and one of its by-products, cyanuric acid, form crystals that block kidney function. The fraudulent addition of melamine to pet food is precisely the subject of my book, Pet Food Politics. It’s subtitle is The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. Now you know why.
The Brits are much more worried about artificial colors and flavors than we seem to be, these days as a result of the Southampton study, which linked such additives to cognitive and behavioral deficits in children eating a lot of candy. Mars has now made a commitment to eventually get rid of artificial colors in its candy bars. Will they do the same thing here? If so, what will we do without blue M&M’s?
I’m in Parma on a speaking trip (to Academia Barilla), it’s my birthday, and here are three nice presents that came in on today’s Google feed (“pet food”): my latest column in the San Francisco Chronicle (“Which is better, food or nutrients?”), a review in the San Francisco Chronicle of Pet Food Politics, and an interview about the new book with Jill Richardson on AlterNet. Enjoy!
USA Today interviewed USDA officials who think food prices will go higher quickly, and maybe much higher. Grow your own, anyone?
As I keep explaining, I live in an alternative, decidedly pre-electronic universe, so I don’t even know how to begin to tell you about this, except to thank (?) Jack Everitt for attempting to bring me into the modern age. He thinks I ought to know about Tokyo Mango’s new Wii game, “Major League Eating,” the first video game ever to feature the world’s champion competitive food eaters. It comes out in Japan on October 14. Can’t wait.
What is Wii?
Apparently, the National Toxicology Program has just reviewed the data on bisphenol A, the chemical that leaches from hard plastic water bottles. Here is the NTP report. The NTP says it is a little – not a lot – worried about it on the basis of limited and inconclusive studies. The NTP used to be more worried about it, as expressed by its Board of Scientific Counselors on June 11. This finding, of course, contradicts the FDA’s more optimistic assessment. According to the Washington Post, a recent study done at Yale finds the chemical to cause problems in the brains of monkeys. The chemical industry says bisphenol A is harmless. Consumer Reports (October 2008, p. 15) says its “tests of a limited number of baby bottles detected only trace amounts of BPA that are below levels likely to post a risk for infants.” But then it recommends baby bottles made BPA-free plastic. This confusing situation elicited a New York Times editorial urging caution: “When in doubt, especially when it comes to children, err on the side of caution.” I agree. While the scientists are fighting this one out, it seems best to practice avoidance.
The FDA is holding a hearing on bisphenol A on September 16. Should be interesting.