Surprise! When the European Commission invited food companies to submit proposals for health claims, it was inundated with thousands of them. European supermarkets used to be quieter than ours because manufacturers of packaged foods were not allowed to make health claims for them. Because health claims are great marketing tools, the food industry chafed at this restriction. The result: a deluge. Since every food except sugar and soft drinks contains some useful nutrients, can’t every product claim to promote health? The European Commission brought this on itself and will now have to sort out the mess. Can’t say they weren’t warned.
The Wall Street Journal, that increasingly surprising newspaper, wants to know whether whether food companies can be expected to police their own food safety procedures. Hardly, says the excellent writer of yesterday’s article, Jane Zhang. “…this system of ‘preventive controls’ has worked in the past only with adequate regulatory enforcement and industry support–neither of which is guaranteed.” She quotes Mike Taylor, a former official in FDA and USDA: “The reason you have regulation is some companies don’t have the market incentive to meet high food-quality standards…the public doesn’t trust a system that leaves it entirely to the industry.” Indeed. If the Wall Street Journal thinks we need better food safety regulation, maybe its time has come?
I’m confused about what’s happening at the Wall Street Journal these days. It has always had a deep political divide between the editorial and news pages. Is it possible that news is taking the lead? The October 15 opinion page has an unsigned editorial on the harm farm subsidies do third world farmers and U.S. credibility. It says, “…the case for reducing subsidies has never been stronger. Much of this mess was the work of Republicans five years ago. With the Senate getting ready to debate its farm bill, Democrats have a chance to do so something for the world’s poor and America’s taxpayers. If they don’t, it will be because they don’t want to.” This from the Wall Street Journal? Maybe the time has come?
How is this for the latest in dental research–give kids gummy bears and see whether they help prevent tooth decay when coated with xylitol, a non-nutritive, indigestible sweetener. This “Healthy Bears for Healthy Smiles” program is a research project at Case Western Reserve funded by a million dollar federal grant. The control group gets to eat organic gummy bears. Maybe if kids are forced to eat candy three times a day they will start thinking of it as medicine?
In yesterday’s New York Times, Andrew Martin says he’s gotten used to the idea that hamburgers can make people sick but it never occurred to him to worry about frozen dinners. Until now. Customers who got sick from eating ConAgra pot pies contaminated with toxic Salmonella were told it was their own fault. They should have done a better job of following the directions for cooking the pies. Martin convincingly demonstrates the absurdity of that idea. If you want to eat frozen meals, he says, you had best zap them to pieces and use a thermometer. But why not argue that ConAgra should do a better job of making safe products in the first place? Hasn’t the company ever heard of HACCP? Why isn’t it following standard food safety procedures to keep harmful microbes out of food? If ever there was a situation ripe for a lawsuit, this one is it. I’m not the only one who thinks so, apparently. The lawyers are already on the case. It should be an easy win.
I’ve just been sent this article about a Kaiser Foundation/Scholastic video game designed to teach kids about healthy eating. It’s in the form of a detective story–“Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective.” The article points out the irony of using video games to teach about diet and activity, but never mind. I can’t figure out how to make it work on my new computer so I haven’t tried it. Is it worthwhile? Useful? Fun for kids?
Representative Edward Markey (Dem-MA) is making trouble for food companies who market to kids. He wrote letters to a bunch of companies asking them to cease and desist using cartoon characters or marketing to kids under age 12. The results? Some said yes, some said no. Among the “no’s” are Dannon (so much for Stonyfield), Nestle (no relation), and Yum! This, in turn, has led to consternation in the food industry, with much concern that if companies don’t comply with such requests, they will leave the industry open to regulation. Marketing to kids is the food industry’s Achilles heel. When it comes to kids, companies cannot argue personal responsibility. It will be interesting to watch Markey on this one.