As far as I can tell, health claims are completely out of control and food companies can say practically anything they want to about the health benefits of their products or ingredients. Not so, says a lawyer who steers food companies “to the bucks, not the courts.” His ten rules suggest the need for honesty and integrity (what a concept!). My favorite: “Just because others do it, doesn’t mean it’s OK.” Now, if we could just get Congress to agree that health claims ought to have some real science behind them….
Since 2001, investment analysts in Great Britain have argued that food companies must take responsibility for their contribution to obesity or risk losing business over the long term. The investment analysis, from JP Morgan in the UK, says some companies (Danone, Unilever, Nestlé) are making some progress in some ways, particularly in Europe, but most say they are doing more than they really are–more show than tell. The analysts’ recommendation: food companies should do more–much more–to demonstrate their commitment to the health of their consumers.
But how can they, especially in the U.S., where Wall Street cares about only one thing: growth and more growth. I don’t see how companies can make real progress until the investment system changes. A somewhat better junk food is still a junk food, alas.
University of California Press has just put up the web page for my forthcoming book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. It’s official publication date is September 15 but UC Press says it expects to start shipping copies out in mid-July. The page went up on Amazon last week. I’m expect the page proofs with revised figures next week, so it’s really on its way. And I only have one thing to add since the last revision: the announcement of the April 1 settlement of the class action suit against Menu Foods and the other companies involved in the recalls last year. Stay tuned!
Remember the Southampton study of food colors and hyperactivity that I commented on some months ago? On the basis of that study, the British Food Standards Agency is asking food companies to voluntarily get rid of color additives in food products aimed at young children. Since those products are junk foods anyway, and everyone – especially anti-additive advocacy groups - wishes kids would eat less of them, the study gives the agency some ammunition. The point of color additives, after all, is to make junk foods look like they taste good. Kids don’t need junk foods or color additives, but I wish I felt more confident about the science.
Thanks to Eliza McEmrys for telling me about this:
“Hi Dr. Nestle,: Thank you for maintaining such an interesting blog!
Avoiding junk food is sign of illness? Who knew?
Canadian food companies argue that there is no point in banning food marketing to kids because the bans don’t keep kids from becoming obese. Maybe, but I’m just back from the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue in Washington, DC, a conference in which officials from Canada and Europe discussed what they were doing to address childhood obesity on the policy level. In a word–European countries are taking the challenge seriously and are doing a lot more than we are. I was most impressed by a report about Quebec, which banned marketing to kids in 1982. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but rates of childhood obesity are lower in Quebec than in any other Canadian province. But so are fast food sales so it’s no wonder food companies are upset.
The USDA says it has no intention of ending its recommended voluntary moratorium on introduction of meat and milk from cloned animals into the food supply. This continues to be an example of bizarre regulation. The government says it’s OK to eat such foods; it just thinks companies should not try to sell them. “Clone-free” labels, anyone?