Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 1 2009

Happy new year: Top food safety crises of 2008

Bill Marler, of the legal firm specializing in food safety cases, lists his top 10 picks for the food safety scandals of 2008, beginning with globalization and ending with pet food.

And Food Chemical News (December 31) says the FDA will be testing for melamine in farmed fish and fish feed from China.  When Hong Kong officials said they found melamine at 6.6 ppm in fish feed, the FDA wondered whether melamine could accumulate in fish tissues.  Apparently, that is exactly what it does.  The Los Angeles Times  (December 24) says FDA testing found whopping amounts of melamine – 200 ppm – in catfish, trout, tilapia and salmon that had eaten melamine-tainted fish feed.  This is way higher than the maximum “safe” level of 2.5 ppm in food.  So put fish from China on your list of what not to eat.

Let’s hope the new president picks someone for USDA undersecretary and FDA commissioner who takes food safety seriously.  That’s my wish (well, one of them) for the new year. Peace to all.

Dec 31 2008

Look quickly: WSJ map of the world food crisis

While you can still get into this, take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s terrific map of the world food crisis.  You click on the country of interest and instantly see a graph comparing grain consumption to production.  Compare grain-producing countries like the U.S., Canada, and Russia (shown in green) to grain-consuming countries like Mexico and South Africa (shown in blue).  The moral: the situation is getting too close for comfort.

Dec 30 2008

Are food stamps humiliating?

An interesting question came in yesterday (see comment #32) from Susan, who is planning to apply for Food Stamps (now called SNAP – Supplemental Food Assistance Program).  Susan writes: “I am afraid of being humiliated by my employers and/or coworkers when they find out…My main concern is my employers will humiliate me when they discover I applied for FS/Snap. Any responses?”

Mine: SNAP is an entitlement program. If Susan qualifies, she is entitled to the benefits.  Other ideas?  

Dec 29 2008

Are organics a scam? This week’s Q and A for Eating Liberally

This week, EatingLiberally.org wants to know whether I think organics are honest.  Do organic food producers really follow the USDA’s Organic Standards?  I think most do, but the question comes out of an incident in California where a fertilizer seller was passing off an unapproved chemical fertilizer as organic. Apparently, state agriculture officials knew about this but didn’t bother to tell anyone or do much about it.  Not a good situation.   Here’s my response to all this.

Dec 28 2008

IOM Report on School Food Standards: Phase I

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has a committee doing a big study that will lead to recommendations for improved nutrient standards for school breakfast and lunch programs sponsored by USDA.  The committee has just released its “Phase I” report, which explains how it plans to go about setting those standards and asks for public input.   This report is available online as a pdf (go to “Read” and click on “full text”) so you can read it and let the committee know what you think of its approach.  For anyone interested in the school meal situation, the report is a great place to start.  It gives the history of the programs and explains why so many people think changes are needed.  It will be interesting to see where the committee goes with this project.  Stay tuned!

Dec 26 2008

Do whole grains do any good?

At the request (and expense) of Kellogg’s, the Life Science Research Organization convened an expert panel to evaluate studies linking consumption of whole grains – as defined by FDA – to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Using the FDA’s definition, the panel judged the studies insufficient to support a claim that whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.  The FDA defines whole grains as whole: grains that are ground, cracked, or flaked but include all the parts in their original proportions.  When the panel expanded the definition of whole grains to include supplements of bran, germ, or fiber, the results came out better.   Supplements work better than the real thing!  Kellogg’s must be pleased with the results of its investment.

Dec 24 2008

Cookbook history: just in time for Xmas

The Economist, of all things, is getting serious about Food Studies.  It has a lovely history of cookbooks in its current issue, accompanied by a wonderful illustration.  The writer is anonymous, of course (I will never understand why The Economist doesn’t let its writers sign their articles–most annoying).  Cookbooks, says Anonymous, do more than teach how to cook.  They tell us what’s happening in society and help us deal with life.  Buy cookbooks as presents, read them, try a recipe or two, and eat the result!  I can’t think of a better gift.  Happy holidays to all!

And here’s an idea: if you happen to have more cookbooks or books about food than you have room for, and are looking for a wonderful and appreciative home for them, send them to the NYU Fales special collection of materials on Food and Cookery.   The collection has 20,000 volumes so far, thousands of pamphlets, and a rapidly growing collection of papers from food professionals.

Dec 23 2008

FDA warns Coke: Coke Plus violates Jelly Bean rule!

Thanks to Jack Everitt for forwarding an article from Reuters U.K. about the FDA’s recent warning to Coca-Cola.  Coke Plus, says the FDA, violates the Food and Drug Act.  Food companies are not allowed to add vitamins and minerals to sugary carbonated water (or jelly beans)  just so they can be marketed as healthy.

OK, but Coke Plus is not exactly a secret.  How come the FDA waited to do this until this “midnight” period just before a new administration takes over?  And how come, asks Jack, do we have to “hear about this from a UK newspaper, rather than a US one. Just like with the last election, we now have to rely on out-of-the-country news sources.”

Let’s hope the FDA is a high priority for Obama.  It should be!

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