Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 18 2009

More on Salmonella in Peanut Butter

I’ve been out of the country for the past week (Panamá, warm and lovely) but have been kept up on the peanut butter outbreak, courtesy of Eric Burkett of  His posts thoroughly cover events in this latest outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium.  The outbreak is so widespread that the FDA has a special site devoted to it with a useful Q and A.  The FDA warns consumers not to eat any recalled peanut butter or foods made with it (the list is on the FDA site).  Peanut butter in jars seems to be OK, so far.  If you want to see the epidemiology, the CDC has the case-report charts and state maps online.  The lawyers are also getting into the act: Marler Clark is always a source of information about actionable foodborne illnesses, and O’Steen & Harrison also seems to be keeping close track. At issue is where the contamination occurred, where the contaminated peanut butter was distributed, and what other food companies are using this peanut butter.  That this information is not readily available is further evidence of the need for better food safety requirements, oversight, and traceability.  Let’s hope the new administration takes this on, and soon. And until it does, best to grind your own peanuts!

Update January 19: Just ran across this article on how Salmonella gets into peanut butter in the first place.  The usual way: animal feces.  Roasting the peanuts should kill Salmonella, so the contamination must have occurred later.  Did the factory have a HACCP plan in place?  If so, they must not have been paying much attention to it.

Update January 20: Add Cliff and Luna bars to the list.

Jan 17 2009

Complementary and alternative medicine stats

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has released its annual statistics on use of such therapies.  I love the definitions: complementary therapies are used along with conventional medicine; alternative is in place of, and integrative uses both.  And here’s what everyone is using:

see chart

Jan 16 2009

Center for Consumer Freedom exposed

Thanks to Robyn O’Brien of for telling me about CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) and its website devoted to exposing Richard Berman ( and the various nefarious activities of his Center for Consumer Freedom.  The Center is set up in a way that allows it to keep its clients secret.  This allows groups like the National Restaurant Association to pretend they are interested in public health while supporting the Center’s attack-dog tactics against critics (like me and others – see previous posts).  A source of information about this group is most welcome.

Update September 13, 2009: By this time, I suppose everyone has seen the open letter written by Rick Berman’s son, David, formerly with the Indie rock group Silver Jews.  Dated January 19, 2008, it is titled “My father, my attack dog.”  It begins, “Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction: My father.”   A heartbreak.

Update June 24, 2010: PR Watch has a feature on Rick Berman.

Jan 15 2009

Obese Americans outnumber the overweight

The National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks such things, reports that the percentage of Americans defined as obese now exceeds the percent who are just overweight, 34% as opposed to just under 33%.  This means that while the prevalence of obesity (BMI >30) has doubled since 1980, the prevalence of overweight (BMI 25-29) has stayed about the same.  The big are getting bigger.  Some overweight people are moving into the obese category.  And their places are filled by the formerly non-obese.  It doesn’t look like this problem is going to go away soon.

Jan 14 2009

Oh no! Not another food quality rating scheme!

This time it’s Sara Lee, which has just introduced yet another scheme for showing off how nutritious its products are.  Thanks to FoodEducate for alerting me to this one and also for this site’s excellent history of such schemes from 1862 to now.  All of these schemes can be manipulated so the packaged foods look like they contain more nutrients than real foods.  FDA: take this on, please.

Update January 15: And now Jewel-Osco stores join the party.  I’d say this has gotten completely out of hand.

Update January 17: Add Nutrition IQ from the Supervalu supermarket chain to the list.

Jan 13 2009

World food crisis: causes and effects

More reading catch up: the November 2008 issue of the journal, Agricultural Economics, has a collection of academic analyses of the causes and effects of rising food prices. These authors blame the world food crisis on weak monetary policies, demand for food as biofuel, and restrictive trade policies.  Others may disagree but whatever the causes, the consequences are unlikely to be good.

Jan 12 2009

USDA: subsidizing F&V won’t do much good

 The USDA has a new report out analyzing the effects of a 10% subsidy on fruits and vegetables.  This, its economists say, would increase consumption a little, but not enough to meet recommendations and the cost would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Does this mean that lowering the cost of F&V isn’t worth the trouble?  Why am I not convinced by this argument?

Jan 11 2009

Pet food settlement: indefinitely delayed

Two unnamed parties have filed appeals to the $24 million settlement of the Menu Food pet food recall claims for compensation for pet illnesses and deaths.  These appeals will delay payments to pet owners who filed claims, perhaps, according to the judge, by months or even years.  Details about who is filing the appeals and why are not available, but one source says they have to do with labeling and fairness issues.  Woe.

And more woe.  Mars continues to expand its recalls of pet foods made at its now closed Allentown, PA plant.

Update January 15: here’s one of the objecting lawyers.  He thinks owners of pets affected by melamine-contaminated pet food deserve more than the $24 million settlement.

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