I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks. Enjoy!
Well, we now have our answer to the question of who President-elect Obama will appoint to head the USDA: former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. I don’t know much about him. What I hear is that he is former chair of the Governors Ethanol Coalition (uh oh), the Governors Biotechnology Partnership (oops), and the National Governors Association’s Natural Resources Committees (not sure about this one). I’m disappointed. This looks like mainstream, industrial agriculture to me, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for awhile.
The Organic Consumers Association, however, is not. It says his appointment is hardly “change we can believe in,” and it “sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration.” If you agree with the OCA, you can join its petition opposing the appointment.
According to meatpoultry.com, Vilsack is a lawyer who does not have roots in farming. He did, however, compete for the presidential nomination. And let’s not forget Wikipedia, which has already added this appointment to Vilsack’s biography; its entry points out that this appointment strongly contradicts Obama’s campaign promises: “Obama and Biden will fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability.”
And for more about this appointment, see Kerry Trueman’s Eating Liberally blog.
Here’s the proposed statute. The relevant section reads:
“Create Sales Tax on Soft Drinks. Imposes an additional 18 percent rate of sales and compensating use taxes on fruit drinks that contain less than seventy percent of natural fruit juice and non-dietetic soft drinks, sodas and beverages. By increasing the price, it will discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from excessive consumption of these beverages. Revenues will be directed for health care initiatives.”
And here’s the American Beverage Association’s predictable response: hurts the middle class, nobody wants it, no science or logic behind it. The New York Times refers to what’s happening as a “spirited debate” (I am a participant).
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. For example, the maker of a carbonated juice drink wrote me to complain that her product, which is 50% juice and taxable, contains under 70 calories per 8-ounces in comparison to non-taxed 100% fruit juice at 110 calories/8 ounces. Obesity is about calories, no? Or is it really about the kinds of products people habitually drink?
The Washington Post says the FDA has breached the policy on fish consumption that it worked out with the EPA in 2004 and now proposes – in the last days of the Bush administration and without discussing the matter with EPA – to increase the amount of fish considered safe for women and children. Why? Because, it says, the benefits of omega-3s in fish outweigh the risks of methylmercury contamination. The EPA and environmental groups that work on fish safety are outraged, and with good cause, I’d say. Check out the arguments. You know this is about politics (translation: support of the fisheries industry) when the FDA says this is “science-based” policy (always a dead giveaway) and the Environmental Working Group says the FDA is nothing more than a “patsy for polluters.”
Governor Paterson says he can raise $404 million in state revenues with a 15% tax on soft drinks (but not diet sodas, juices, milk, or water). I’m curious to know what you think of this idea. Please weigh in.
The USDA says it will be taking samples of meat and poultry products that contain ingredients derived from milk to find out whether they contain melamine and, if so, how much. It will be sampling five kinds of products: baby foods, cooked sausages, breaded chicken, meatballs, and meat and poultry wrapped in dough (including calzones). Great. I’m hoping they will be using the same kinds of methods used by FDA and coordinating closely with that agency. If ever we needed a reason to have just ONE food safety agency instead of the multiple ones we have now (USDA, FDA, EPA, etc), melamine is as good as any.
Food Democracy is circulating a petition to the Obama transition team to appoint a USDA Secretary who cares about sustainability (what a concept!). Click on the link to join the movement! If you want to read more about this, see Nicholas Kristof’s column linked to my post on December 10 and Michael Pollan’s magazine piece linked to the one on October 12.