Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 11 2008

Corn is in everything!

Investigators at the University of Hawaii have just analyzed nearly 500 samples of fast food for their content of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.  These are not radioactive but do indicate whether a plant conducts its photosynthesis through what is called a C3 or C4 metabolic pathway.  Corn is a C4 crop.  The analysis shows that virtually all of the meat came from animals raised on corn.  The potatoes were typically fried in corn oil.  Corn, say the investigators, is the basis of fast food.  And virtually all fast food is raised or prepared the same way. 

Didn’t we know that?  Yes, but the technology used in these experiments is clever.  Michael Pollan discussed this kind of chemical evidence in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Although I do not think it was his intention, many readers came away with the idea that corn is poison.  It isn’t.   Corn is a perfectly reasonable food, especially when mixed with soybeans, and the mix works fine for fattening up cattle.  From the standpoint of nutrition and the environment, feeding cattle on grass would be ideal, but it may not always be practical. That’s why some forward thinking cattle producers are raising their animals on grass for as long as they can, and then doing a quick finish with corn and soybeans.

A more important issue may be corn subsidies. Cheap feed promotes industrial meat production, with all of its environmental and health implications.  CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), as the Pew Commission said earlier this year, have truly dreadful effects on the environments of the communities in which they operate, are not healthy for animals, and overuse antibiotics, which affects human health.   Corn subsidies make CAFOs possible. 

We can argue about how much corn is OK, but I can’t think of any reason to exclude it from the diets of animals or humans.   Corn is a good source of calories and is about 10% protein.  Its oil is relatively unsaturated.  And high fructose corn sweeteners are an almost one-for-one substitute for sucrose. For humans in particular, fresh sweet corn in mid-summer is surely one of the great wonders of the universe.   As with so much else in nutrition, some corn is OK, but a lot may not be.

 

Nov 10 2008

Pet food settlement deadline: November 24

If your dog or cat was caught up in the melamine pet food recalls of 2007 (see Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine) and you would like to file a claim in the pet food class action suit, go here for information and instructions.  The deadline for filing a claim is November 24.

Nov 10 2008

Who will Obama appoint: the game begins

The guessing game about appointments to key posts in food and agriculture – Secretaries of USDA and HHS and head of the FDA – is now well underway.  Here’s the current guess from Packer.com, which represents the produce industry, and must be hoping for business-as-usual.  I’m hoping for a breath of fresh air.  Fingers crossed.

Nov 9 2008

Surprise: kids eat like their parents do!

I don’t really know why this would surprise anyone but a new study demonstrates that when presented with supermarket choices, even preschool kids choose the same foods their parents usually buy.  The moral: if you don’t want your kids eating junk food, don’t have it in the house!

Nov 8 2008

What’s up with Whole Foods?

My source of information on all things related to supermarket produce, Perishable Pundit, has an interesting analysis of what’s going on at Whole Foods.   The chain has just sold 17% of its stock to a private equity firm for $425 million.  What’s this about?  As the Pundit explains it, these are hard times for Whole Foods and this was the best of a bunch of unappealing options.

Nov 8 2008

Can the poor afford to eat healthfully?

USDA’s latest analysis says yes, but only if they make careful food choices, avoid convenience foods, and live in a low-cost area.  At the time of the study, a half gallon of whole milk, for example, cost a lot less in Pittsburgh ($1.45) than it did in Boston ($2.51) .

But can people in low-income areas even find food?  The Rudd Center at Yale has a new report out on how tough it is to find anything other than fast food in low-income areas –  food “deserts” as they have come to be known.

Nov 7 2008

Salmonella in pet food?

If I learned one thing from my research on the 2007 pet food recalls it is surely that the food supplies for pets, people, and farm animals cannot be separated; they are one and the same.  This is because pets eat the parts of animals that we don’t and surplus pet food is fed to pigs, chicken, and fish, which we do eat.  Now we have further reason to be concerned about how pet food is made; pet food contaminated with Salmonella can cause infections in people.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published its epidemiological investigation, of infections caused by dry dog food produced at a plant in Everson, PA owned by Mars Petcare.  Scientific American even thinks that this is worth writing about.  Me too, obviously, particularly because cases are still cropping up even though Mars issued recalls.

Update, November 10: the New York Times reports on this.

Nov 7 2008

Dietary guidelines committee: conflicts of interest

Oh no, not again!  Merrill Goozner of the Integrity in Science project at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) writes that six of the 13 members of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee, including the chair, get research support  or consulting fees from food or drug companies with vested interests in what the guidelines say.  CSPI had to dig up this information, as the sponsoring agencies did not disclose these potential conflicts of interest. 

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