I am indebted to Jim Prevor, the Perishable Pundit, for close tracking of the FDA’s import alert on Salmonella in cantaloupes. His most recent post contains a terrific interview with an FDA official about this incident. It is as good an example of what the FDA is up against in these kinds of investigations as any I can imagine. Perishable Pundit views food safety issues from the standpoint of the producers of fruit and vegetables who have much to lose if the FDA finds something wrong. The FDA looks at the issues from the standpoint of consumer protection. Thanks to the interviewer, Mira Slott, and to the FDA official, Sebastian Cianci, for grappling with these issues with much thought and mutual respect.
Those clever King Corn guys are running a contest: who can make the best statement about food politics using clips from King Corn and whatever. The winner gets $1,000 and fame. The deadline is May 30, and here’s how it works.
The FDA is seeking public comment – that means you – on its food protection plan announced late last year. The request for comment points out that we now get our food from 150 countries through 300 ports-of-entry, and that imported foods account for 15% of all foods by volume, 60% of fresh fruits and vegetables, and 75% of seafood. Gulp. Here’s your chance to say what you think the FDA should be doing to ensure the safety of the food supply, domestic and imported. How about standard food safety rules (of the HACCP and pathogen reduction type) from farm to table, for starters? Just dreaming….
Today’s New York Times reports that 28 million low-income Americans will be getting Food Stamps this year, the largest number ever. The headline sums up the reasons: vanishing jobs and higher prices. The cost to taxpayers: $36 billion, and rising. The Food Stamp program, worth an average of less than $100 per month per person, is the USDA’s main contribution to the safety net for low-income adults. Its other big food assistance program, WIC (for Women, Infants, and Children), is also under pressure. WIC is not an entitlement so whatever Congress allots for it is all there is. Why do I think we will be hearing a lot about the inadequacies of federal food assistance this year?
The USDA is a big, complicated agency with many units working at apparent cross purposes. I particularly like the work of the Economic Research Service, which produces reports on many interesting aspects of the food economy. Here is a new one, for example, on trends in the availability of foods for consumption by Americans from 1970 to 2005. This is not a report on what people actually eat. “Availability for consumption” means foods produced in the United States, less exports, plus imports, divided by the total population. My favorite figures from the report: added fats and oils account for 32% of caloric availability (this does not count the fat normally present in foods), and added sugars are up 19%. Dietary recommendations suggest consuming no more than 8 teaspoons of sugars a day; 30 are available per capita. This report does not give nutrient information, but other USDA/ERS reports show that the number of calories available for consumption increased from 3,200 to 3,900 per person per day over that period. If more food is available, more of it has to be sold….
Correction: make that 4,000 calories per person per day in the latest USDA report.
My son Charles said I had to see this 5.5-minute video: the history of warfare from World War II to the present, only this time expressed through the foods of the various combatants. I guess it goes under the heading of Food Art. In any case, it must have been a lot of fun to make. Have a great spring weekend, and enjoy (?).
So now the USDA is proposing to forget about its promise to identify retailers selling recalled meat – unless the health risk is really, really bad. Oh great. The agency now thinks it’s just fine if consumers don’t realize that the meat they bought from local stores was later recalled. It’s up to you to track all those lot numbers and know what you bought and where you bought it. Rumors are that USDA is reneging on its promise to keep consumers better informed under pressure from the food industry. Let’s keep an eye on this one.