Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 17 2008

OK. Time to talk about the American Dietetic Association’s alliances with food companies

Ashley just posted this message: “Today I received an email from the American Dietetic Association [ADA] welcoming the Coca-Cola company as a corporate sponsor. As a rookie RD this type of announcement is perplexing and often disturbing. What is more bothersome is that the President of ADA referred to the American Public as consumers… How do I align myself with an organization that aligns themselves with industry more than social activism?

Thank you Ashley for reminding me about some previous comments about the ADA’s industry partnerships, including this one: “I feel badly that you chose to put down ADA for its message instead of joining forces and finding ways that we can work together…as an organization which does not have much money this is the way that we can fund educational programs for our members and get our scientific message out to the public…I hope that you will consider joining with us instead of voicing criticism for this well-respected organization of highly educated and well-trained health professionals.”

Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours. Consider the ADA’s Nutrition Fact Sheets, for example, each with its very own corporate sponsor (scroll down to the lower right hand corner of the second page to see who paid for the Facts). Is the goal of ADA really the same as the goal of the sponsors–to sell the sponsor’s food products? Is this a good way to get important scientific messages to the public?  ADA members: how about doing something about this!

Mar 17 2008

Soft drinks in decline?

The Wall Street Journal reports that sales of Coke and Pepsi and other top brands slipped last year by a percentage point or two. They can’t keep up in the face of rising commodity costs, prices, and the popularity of vitamin waters and sports drinks. The drop might seem like a blip but these companies have stockholders to please and are supposed to be growing and increasing their sales every quarter. So it’s no surprise that the WSJ is taking such a hard look at the declining bottom lines. Expect to see even more production of functional drinks, sweetened and not, and at higher prices, of course.

Mar 17 2008

A ban on marketing food to kids?

Consumers International and the International Obesity Task Force have just proposed a ban on global marketing of food to children that goes much further than the voluntary promises of food product companies like Kraft, Kellogg, and PepsiCo. The proposal calls for:

  • No radio or TV advertising of junk foods (including beverages) from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • No marketing of junk foods on social-networking Web sites and other forms of new media.
  • No gifts and toys to promote junk foods.
  • No use of celebrities to market junk foods.
  • No use of cartoon characters to market junk foods.

Why are they doing this? Because voluntary industry efforts are not working. I wonder how far they will get with this thoughtful and hard-hitting proposal.

Mar 16 2008

Food prices up, up, and away

So what’s going on with food prices? In the last year, milk is up 17%, dried beans 17%, cheese 15%, rice and pasta 13%, bread 12%–and eggs 25%. The last time I bought a quart of milk at my local anything-goes corner store, it was $2.40. Why? For eggs, it’s clear: growing corn for ethanol drives up corn prices and chicken feed. For eggs and everything else we have the perfect storm: increased demand (from China), decreased supply (ethanol), and higher fuel prices. I’m sure there are other reasons too, but these will do for a start. This is why food systems matter.

Mar 15 2008

Qualified health claims–eeks!

Applause for our representatives who have written the FDA to something better about qualified health claims (to read the actual claim, scroll down to the end of the text, just above the signature). These, in case you have forgotten, are claims that companies can put on food product labels as long as the claim is accompanied by a disclaimer. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but here’s the one for corn oil: “Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim (my emphasis). To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.” Maybe the letter will induce the FDA to review this policy?

Mar 14 2008

Food safety as part of homeland security?

I’ve just been interviewed by HS (Homeland Security) Daily Wire about food safety in a globalized economy.  The interviewer started off asking about the implications of mature capitalism so we were at it right away.  I’m not sure what this group is, but the interview was fun to do.

Mar 14 2008

My first pet food interview!

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a couple of books about pet food. The first, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, comes out in September from University of California Press (no info there yet, but soon, hopefully). After the Pet Expo in San Diego, I was interviewed by Pet Connection about this book and the next one, What Pets Eat, which I’m doing with Malden Nesheim for Harcourt, and which won’t be out for years.

Mar 13 2008

Consolidation in the meat industry: a good thing?

A reader of the last post on the big meat recall asks for the second time (sorry I didn’t get to it earlier): “I recently read an article by Tim Phillpot about the consolidation of the meat industry and how this gives them leverage to control how beef is raised and sold. Apparently JBS (Brazil) is planning on buying National Beef Packing here in the US. The comments say that most analysts think the deals are positive. What do you think are the ramifications of such a concentration of power and influence?”

Indeed. We’ve just seen one result of industry consolidation: a recall of 143 million pounds of ground beef. I’m not sure that everyone views this deal favorably. I’m hearing a lot about anti-trust laws. In its March 5 account, the Wall Street Journal noted that the deals “will almost certainly prompt regulatory scrutiny because of their size and potential effect on the marketplace.”

What’s this about? The U.S. dollar is weak so American companies are a bargain for foreign investors; beef producers are cutting back on production because of the high price of grain (in part because its grown for fuel); and the industry is worried that the government will enforce safety regulations. If you control a big percent of the market–and the newly merged company will control 33% all by itself–you call the shots. I’m hoping that federal regulators will pay as much attention to this huge beef company merger as as it did to the tiny (by comparison) takeover of Wild Oats by Whole Foods last year.

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