Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 20 2008

The end of cheap food?

Today’s Observer (London) lays out the causes and consequences of what’s happening to global food prices. Not pretty. The bleak forecast: price increases of 10% to 50% leading to “a war between the 850 million chronically hungry of the world and the 800 million motorists – all fighting for the same food crop.”

Jan 19 2008

Is safety the only issue? I don’t think so

About the previous posting on animal cloning, rj asks: What are the possibly negative consequences from consuming say cloned poultry? Does it have to do with abnormal gene expressions which may somehow impact the composition of said food item? This also makes me wonder about why genetically modified foods fire off alarms with some people…with respect to genetically modified foods [studies]…have concluded GM foods are safe…you could infer that GM foods are safe for humans too. What are your thoughts on this, Marion?”

Easy. Just because–or even if–a food is safe, it does not necessarily have to be acceptable. I am willing to grant that GM and cloned foods are probably safe, but so what? I devote the first chapter of my book, Safe Food, to a serious discussion of this question. To summarize: if you have concerns–moral, ethical, religious, social, or political–about the way food is produced, you might choose not to eat GM or cloned foods. But you don’t have a choice, because neither is labeled. I think they should be.

Jan 19 2008

Nothing is simple: sustainable palm oil?

If you eliminate oils with trans fats, you have to replace them with fats with equivalent levels of saturation, and palm oils are highly saturated and work well as substitutes. One consequence of the increased demand for palm oils is destruction of tropical rainforests. “To improve the industry’s image and avert a consumer backlash,” food companies are pushing palm oil producers to go green and promise to produce palm oils sustainably. Will this work? It will be interesting to see.

In the meantime, the New York Times has plenty to say about how using palm oil for fuel drives up the cost of food.

Jan 19 2008

After an outcry from consumers…

  • Pennsylvania backs down from its decision to ban labels on milk cartons that say the cows were not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone.
  • A European ethics panel says cloned animals should not be allowed on the market.
  • McDonald’s backs down from its “food prize” program (Happy Meals for good grades) in Florida.
    All that in just one day. Signs of a social movement anyone?
Jan 17 2008

The latest government anti-obesity campaign?

Michele Simon of Appetite for Profit fame sends me this link to AdFreak.com’s account of the Advertising Council’s  latest pro bono campaign for the Department of Health and Human Services: placing itty bitty tee-shirts in laundromat dryers with the slogan “Shrink a few sizes.”  Michele can’t tell if it’s a joke and neither can I.  Surely they have to be kidding?  Does anyone know for sure?

Jan 16 2008

FDA seeks public comment on food labels and health claims

The FDA must be hearing lots of complaints about food labels and health claims because it is asking for comments on the best way to calculate the percent daily value (DV), and on what nutrients get displayed.  It is considering removing “Calories from Fat,” for example, and requiring the amount of  monounsaturated fat to be listed. Want to comment on these ideas or suggest others?  Go to this FDA site.  As for health claims, the FDA plans to reevaluate the ones for soy and heart disease, fat and cancer, antioxidant vitamins and cancers, and selenium and cancers based on recent research.  To comment, go to the Federal Register.

Jan 16 2008

Today’s question: calcium absorption

Amanda asks: “I also read that once you take the fat out of milk, it is difficult to absorb the calcium from it. Marion, can you state whether this is true?”

Oops. No. Where this idea came from, I can only guess. Fat is required for absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and E but minerals like calcium are water-soluble so would be expected to be absorbed better from watery solutions. As it turns out, calcium absorption has been measured under all kinds of fat conditions. The result: about the same proportion is absorbed from dairy products–about 30%–no matter how much fat they have. We tend to absorb smaller proportions of calcium from foods that contain a lot of oxalates (spinach and rhubarb for example). When dairy products are added to spinach, more of the spinach calcium is absorbed, so maybe that’s where the idea came from. Does this help?

And while we are on the subject, how’s this for a proposed solution to the non-problem of calcium absorption: genetically modified carrots! Bet you never thought of that one.

Jan 15 2008

FDA rules that cloned animals are safe to eat; USDA says whoa

As predicted, the FDA says cloned animals are just fine to eat and, therefore, do not need to be labeled in any special way. According to Food Chemical News, the FDA acknowledges that people have raised “moral, religious and ethical concerns,” but emphasizes that it performed “strictly a science-based evaluation” as it is required by law to do. Yes indeed. Whenever I hear “science-based,” I know that something political is going on, in this case avoidance of those pesky “moral, religious, and ethical concerns.” Maybe that’s why the USDA says slow down. Also according to Food Chemical News, USDA “has asked cloning firms to extend their voluntary moratorium on introducing meat and milk from clones into the marketplace to enable a smooth transition for such products.”. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Even if cloned animals are safe, they are not necessarily acceptable–and the USDA seems to understand this.

And just for fun, take a look at some of the comments on this decision.

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