Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 15 2009

Correction: Food safety information in TWO places!

I spoke too soon (see previous post).  For government food safety information, try www.foodsafety.gov.   Bill Marler, the lawyer whose Seattle firm represents victims of food poisonings, has just launched www.foodsafetynews.com.  These will be covering much of the same information, but from distinctly different perspectives, I’m willing to bet.  It will be instructive – and fun – to compare!  Cheers to both for putting all that information in one place.

Sep 14 2009

USDA to define “natural”

I can hardly believe it but the USDA is about to define what “natural” means for meat and poultry products (on the link, look for Docket No. FSIS-2006-0040A).

At the moment, the USDA has two definitions of “natural.”  Its Food Safety and Inspection Service says meat and poultry can be labeled “natural” if they are only minimally processed and don’t have any artificial flavorings, colorings, preservatives, or other additives.   But the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has its own ideas.  It says “naturally raised” means the meat must come from animals raised with no hormone growth promoters, no antibiotics, and no animal by-products.  Hmm.  How about all of the above?

Let’s hear applause for the new USDA administration for taking this on.  OK FDA: now it’s your turn!

Sep 11 2009

Food safety information: all in one place!

If you are trying to keep up with food safety information – and trust me, this is not for the faint-hearted – it has just gotten a little bit easier.  The government has launched a new site at http://www.foodsafety.gov/index.html.  If we can’t have a single food agency, we can at least have a single food safety site.  It’s got a widget to track outbreaks, links to regulatory information, and plenty of advice for consumers.  Now, if Congress would just pass some decent food safety laws….

Sep 10 2009

Cereal makers object to anti-salt ads in U.K.

The British Food Standards Agency is about to take on the high amount of salt in processed foods.  Leading cereal makers are not happy about this.   They don’t the think the campaign is appropriate because cereals account for “only” 5% of the salt in British diets.  Salt reduction is the new frontier of concerns about health.  Expect to hear lots more about how much of it is in processed and restaurant foods this year.

Sep 8 2009

McDonald’s goes non-GM (in the U.K., at least)

A colleague brought back a couple of brochures she picked up at a McDonald’s in London.  They make interesting reading, especially the parts about genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

“The Simple Facts About Our Food” (printed April 2007) says:

The feed used for rearing our chickens is not genetically modified and is free from antibiotic growth promoters…We know consumers in the UK often express concern about GM products or ingredients and therefore we can reassure you that we do not use any GM products or ingredients containing GM material in our food.

“That’s What Makes McDonald’s” (2008) says:

Our free range eggs…come from hens fed on a non-GM diet and are free from artificial colorants…We’d like to reassure you that we don’t use any GM products or ingredients containing GM material in our food.

Have questions?  McDonald’s U.K. answers them (sort of) at www.makeupyourownmind.co.uk.

GM labeling (or non-GM) is a no brainer.  If McDonald’s can do it in the U.K., it can do it here.  And so can all other food makers.  You don’t have to decide whether GM is good, bad, or indifferent to want it labeled.  Labeling would reduce suspicion, if nothing else.

And I wonder how those GM Nutrageous candy bars (see previous post) are doing in the U.K.

Sep 7 2009

FDA to research food labels

The FDA just announced in the Federal Register that it plans to take a good hard look at public understanding of what’s currently on food labels.  It says it will do an Internet survey of 43,000 people to:

  • Identify attitudes and beliefs to do with health, diet and label usage
  • Determine relationships between these attitudes and beliefs, demographics, and actual label use
  • Look at the relevance of these attitudes
  • Identify barriers to label use

I hope they ask me!

What is this about?  Let me take a wild guess: Health claims?  Smart Choices labels?  Anything that makes people think highly processed foods are good for them?  Or distracts from the Nutrition Facts panel?

The FDA is required to allow 60 days for comment.   Tell the FDA you think the more research it does on food labels, the better!

Sep 5 2009

Kellogg’s asks for a Froot Loops correction. More on Smart (?) Choices

Froot Loops

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from Dr. Celeste Clark, Kellogg’s senior vice president for global nutrition, corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer.

She had seen my previous blog post on the Smart Choices program, and wanted me to know that Froot Loops has been reformulated to contain 3 grams of fiber, not less than 1 gram, as I had posted, and that  in all fairness, I ought to post the new version.  Sure.  Happy to.  Here it is.Froot Loops_Nutrition Facts

This higher fiber product, of course, gets us into the philosophical question:  Is a somewhat-better-for-you, highly processed food really a good choice?  Does the additional 2.5 grams of fiber convert this product to a health food?  Whether Froot Loops really is a better choice than a doughnut as the Smart Choices program contends, seems debatable.

If I read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list correctly, Froot Loops cereal contains:

  • No fruit
  • Sugar as the first ingredient (meaning the highest in weight–41%)
  • Sugar as 44% of the calories
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and, therefore, trans fat (although less than half a gram per serving so the label can read zero)

But with an implied endorsement from the American Society of Nutrition, which is managing the Smart Choices program, I guess none of that matters.  Or maybe the added fiber cancels all that out?

I pointed out to Dr. Clark that I had just bought the fiberless Froot Loops at a grocery store in midtown Manhattan, which means the old packages must still be on the market.

I discussed this and other such products with William Neuman of the New York Times whose reporting on the Smart Choices program appears on the front page of today’s business section under the title, “For your health, Froot Loops.  Industry-backed label calls sugary cereal a ‘Smart Choice.'”

According to his well reported account, Kellogg’s and other participating companies pay up to $100,000 for that seal.  No wonder the American Society of Nutrition and everyone else involved in the program want to set nutrition standards so loosely that they can encompass as many products as possible.   The more products that qualify for the Smart Choices logo, the more money the program gets.  I’d call that a clear conflict of interest.

Neuman managed to find nutritionists who defend the program.  I am not one of them.

Update September 6: CBS did a story on Smart Choices (I’m interviewed in it)

Update September 9: The American Society of Nutrition must be getting a bit defensive about the negative publicity, as well it should be.  It has issued an explanation to members.

Sep 4 2009

Slow Food Eat-In for School Meals: September 7

How’s this for community organizing?  Slow Food’s national Eat-In to support legislation to get better food into schools is happening this Labor Day.  So far, 295 groups throughout the country have signed up.  Interested in participating?  Here’s the information.

time_for_lunch-header

Slow Food explains what this is about:

On Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009, people in communities all over the country will sit down to share a meal with their neighbors and kids. This National Day of Action will send a clear message to Congress: It’s time to provide America’s children with real food at school.

Getting Congress’ attention is a big job, and we need your help. On Sept. 7, attend an Eat-In taking place near you.

If there isn’t an Eat-In in your area, sign up to organize one. Sept. 7 is right around the corner, so it doesn’t have to be a big event. You can gather your friends for an outdoor picnic on Labor Day, take a photo (the more creative, the better) and email it to timeforlunch@slowfoodusa.org immediately following your picnic. That’s a terrific way to show your support.

Regardless of the way you show your support, please let us know about your plans, so we can add it to the map. If you’d like to spread the word about your picnic and invite your neighbors to join you, please download our Organizer Toolkit, which has suggestions that you may find useful.

Sounds like fun!  And if enough people get involved, we may even get some action from Congress.

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