Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 5 2007

The President’s Safety Panel: Rumors

I hear rumors from reporters that President Bush’s Food Safety Panel is to announce its recommendations tomorrow. Rumors are that there are four:

1. Give the FDA the authority to recall safe products (recalls now are voluntary).

2. Increase the number of inspectors in countries that export to the U.S.

3. Certify firms with proven records of food safety.

4. Focus resources on riskier products.

Without having seen the Panel’s report, it’s hard to comment but if this is really all there is, it isn’t much. Recall authority and more inspectors are obvious needs. But what about farm-to-table food safety standards, with testing and enforcement? What about a single food safety agency? What about more inspectors at our borders? And why do we need a certification program. Every company involved in food production should be thoroughly engaged in safety procedures. If they don’t produce safe food, they should not be allowed to remain in business. Let’s see what the report really says. Stay tuned.

Nov 4 2007

Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

Today’s New York Times has a nifty op-ed from Michael Pollan on the Farm (Food!) Bill. The Bill might be voted on this week. I suppose there is still time to scream and shout about how it needs to be brought in line with health considerations, although it’s hard to retain much optimism at this point. The Farm Bill is a terrific illustration of the ways in which agriculture is linked to food, nutrition, and health, but it also is a terrific example of why our corrupt electoral system needs fixing. If we want our representatives to put public health above corporate health, we need to find a much better way to fund election campaigns. Let’s start working on all of this right now!

Nov 3 2007

Calories galore, American-Italian style

Center for Science in the Public Interest has just done calorie counts on meals served at Olive Garden and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Pretty impressive! I don’t think you need complicated arguments about fat vs. carbohydrates to explain why people gain weight when they routinely eat meals like these. While I thoroughly agree that 50 or 100 extra calories a day do not really add up to pounds a year (because metabolism compensates for small differences), we are talking here about thousands of extra calories a day. Italians in Italy don’t eat this much, or at least they didn’t used to.

Nov 3 2007

Another Cargill E. coli Recall–a Biggie

I don’t know about you but I can’t keep up with them. So here is another million pound recall of hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This time, the USDA was on the job testing hamburger at the retail level. Good work. USDA has safety rules (HACCP with pathogen reduction) for meat and poultry packers. Now, how about enforcing them? Or is that too much to ask?

Nov 2 2007

Health claims and eco-labels on food products: the USDA’s analysis

USDA economists (a national treasure, in my opinion) have just produced an analysis of health (“no trans fat!”) and ecologic (Fair Trade, free-range) labels. Their conclusion: most of the time, the labels benefit food producers more than consumers. Why am I not surprised? Much evidence suggests that they confuse consumers about the issues (which is why I went to the trouble of writing What to Eat).

Nov 2 2007

Have any ideas for those pesky Daily Values on food labels?

The FDA has just announced that it will be revisiting the Daily Values on food labels so here’s your chance to weigh in on whether you think they are good, bad, or indifferent in helping people decide whether a food product is worth eating. These, of course, are complicated. Lower is better for saturated fat and sodium, but higher is better for fiber and vitamins. Is there a better way to do this? Now is the time to state your opinion to the FDA. How? Submit comments according to these instructions.

Nov 2 2007

Another E. coli recall: this time, frozen pizzas

Would you believe 5 million pizzas? 5 million! That’s a lot of pepperoni.

I’ll say it again: how bad does it have to get? We know how to produce safe food. If companies aren’t producing safe food, it’s because they are leaving it up to customers to cook foods properly, cutting corners, or just don’t care–and because nobody is making them. I’ll say it again: How bad does it have to get to get Congress to call for a farm-to-table food safety system in this country, one that requires companies to follow standard food safety procedures, test to make sure they are working, and pay dearly if they are not.

Nov 2 2007

The revolving door: better than ever!

Such things never cease to amaze. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a lobbying and trade organization for the retail food industry, has just recruited Robert Brackett as its new senior vice president in charge of regulatory affairs. And who could possibly be better qualified. To take this job, Mr. Brackett will be leaving his position as director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the part of FDA that deals with food issues. I hope they are paying him tons of money.

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