Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 29 2008

Ah, the Center for Consumer Freedom

If you would like to know how the Center for Consumer Freedom operates, here is an e-mail message that I just received from David Martosko, who identifies himself as the Director of Research for the Center. I reproduce it here in its entirety (Here’s the post he refers to. For more information about how this group operates, follow the links on one of my previous posts). I should add that Mr. Martosko called me at 3:00 p.m. today to say “I don’t care how famous you are. We intend to take legal action.”  I didn’t think I was so famous.  I guess I should be flattered.  Here’s the written threat:

Dear Dr. Nestle,

In a blog posting on January 24, you wrote that “the tuna industry is fighting back through its public relations agency, the Center for Consumer Freedom.” You also wrote that “Every word CCF says is paid for, and some tuna association pays it to say that methylmercury is not a problem.” (source: http://whattoeatbook.com/2008/01/24/methylmercury-in-big-expensive-tuna/ )

These statements are false, and they seem calculated to do harm to our reputation.

You are free to speculate about the sources of support that our public-education efforts receive. You are not free, however, to assert things that are not true in an attempt to discredit our work. The above examples have clearly crossed the line into libel territory, and could lead to legal action.

If you have documentation that you believe substantiates your claim, I would be very interested to see it. But I am quite certain that you do not. I advise you to either post a correction or withdraw your January 24 piece entirely.

Sincerely,

David Martosko
Director of Research
Center for Consumer Freedom

cc: Richard Berman, Executive Director

Jan 28 2008

NY Times readers weigh in on methylmercury in fish

Readers of the New York Times have lots to say about last week’s methylmercury-in-sushi article. One point is that Blue Fin tuna, the largest and therefore the most contaminated kind, are hugely overfished and disappearing from the oceans.  This is another reason not to eat this fish (vote with your fork) but also a reason to call for a moratorium on catching this fish (vote with your vote).

Jan 27 2008

The environmental implications of eating meat

Mark Bittman, who usually writes about easy ways to cook great food, has a long piece in today’s New York Times about the energy and other environmental costs of eating meat. These are major. And just think what will happen if everyone in the world eats as much meat as we do!

Jan 27 2008

Coke and Pepsi promote health!

I’m getting lots of e-mails about Coca-Cola’s co-sponsorship of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Instutite’s HeartTruth Red Dress campaign to increase women’s awareness of their risk for heart disease. You can find out more about Diet Coke’s sponsorship on the Coca-Cola website. Here’s my favorite line in the news release: “Participation by Coca-Cola does not imply endorsement by DHHS/NIH/NHLBI.” Really? I’ll bet Coke hopes people will think it does.

But that’s not all. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) is partnering with Pepsi. Pepsi, it says, “will work with ADA to develop consumer and professional education programs, and tackle nutrition research questions.” How’s that for unbiased?

Jan 27 2008

Can a big guy play football on a vegan diet?

Thanks to my colleague Fred Tripp for forwarding this item from the Wall Street Journal about Tony Gonzalez, the 247-pound Kansas City Chiefs’ football player who has switched to a vegan diet to the shock of his family, fellow players, and, I guess, the world. Why anyone is surprised that people can do well on vegetarian and vegan diets is beyond me. Plant foods have plenty of protein and calories if you eat enough of them. If he is following a strict vegan diet–no animal products at all–he will need to find a source of vitamin B12 (it’s made by bacteria and incorporated into animal tissues), but supplements work just fine. I just don’t see this as any big deal. Many different dietary patterns promote health and this one can too. I suppose people will attribute any missed block or dropped pass to his diet, but cheeseburgers are not essential nutrients.

Jan 26 2008

Eating Liberally Asks Marion: is the “obesity epidemic: a myth?

In this week’s “Let’s Ask Marion,” Eating Liberally’s kat wants to know what I thought about the recent piece in the New York Times about the fat acceptance movement. Her questions are always exceptionally thoughtful. My answers try to be. Enjoy!

Jan 24 2008

Dannon sued over Activia claims

Activia “probiotic” (promoting the growth of friendly bacteria) yogurt is a case study of successful marketing, based on its claims about the benefits of its particular live-and-active bacteria. Now its maker is being sued for overhyping the science and duping consumers into paying 30% more for Activia than for other yogurts. For what the company claims, see the Danone website.

Dannon, of course, rejects the charges.

To complicate the picture, Dutch investigators report the disappointing results of a clinical trial of probiotics in treatment of pancreatic cancer; the death rate was higher among study participants taking probiotics.   Somehow, I doubt this had anything to do with the probiotics but it does suggest a need for caution in interpreting studies of benefit as well as risk.

Jan 24 2008

USDA’s new WIC standards: a great improvement!

Daniel from Ithaca writes about the USDA’s new nutritional standards for the WIC food packages for low-income pregnant women and children. He says, “it’s like I am on another planet,” meaning that he can’t believe that such good things are coming out of USDA, among them “More produce! Less juice! Less dairy! No full-fat milk! Dairy substitutes allowed! Fewer eggs! Whole grains! A greater emphasis on breastfeeding! He asks: Do you think that these changes, along with USDA’s hiring of Brian Wansink, will make for more straightforward Dietary Guidelines in 2010?

Thanks to Daniel for passing along this information. The WIC guidelines come out of a different part of USDA than the one that Brian Wansink heads but let’s hope that these changes–and his appointment–signal a new era in that agency, one that puts consumer interests first. One of Wansink’s jobs will be to oversee the appointment of USDA’s nominees to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee (the others come from the Department of Health and Human Services). Keep fingers crossed.

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