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Jun 11 2015

Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)

Cover for Soda Politics

Publication date: October 5, 2015

Order from Oxford University Press.  Order from Amazon.

View the Table of Contents

Use and enjoy the list of media resources—links to videos, audios, songs, movies, infographics, commercials—keyed to illustrate the text.

This book:

  • Answers the question, how did what is essentially flavored sugar-water come to mean so much and to have such devastating health and food policy consequences?
  • Is the first to focus on the history, politics, nutrition, and health of soda, integrating public health science with historical and cultural research
  • Helps readers understand how we created this food system, what its problems are, and what we can do to fix these problems
  • Is illustrated with 70 figures and 50 tables
  • Comes with a Foreword by Mark Bittman, food journalist and columnist for The New York Times
  • Comes with an Afterword by Dr. Neal Baer, pediatrician and television writer and producer

Here are the book’s blurbs:

  • “The soda industry is a powerful economic operator. Economic power readily translates into political power. Soda Politics is exactly the kind of carefully-researched investigative reporting needed to open the eyes of the public and parliamentarians to the health hazards of what is, as the author rightly notes, essentially liquid candy in a bottle.” –Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization
  • “No book in history has so completely laid bare the soda scourge that touches every corner of the world. Marion Nestle shows how this happened, its impact on human health and well-being, who the players are, and, most importantly, what might be done. This is the right book at the right time.” –Dr. Kelly Brownell, Dean, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
  • “Marion Nestle is one of the greatest muckrakers of our time, and what she does is vitally important-for our health, our environment, and for future generations. Here, she wages war against the soda titans with such piercing clarity and so many irrefutable truths that all other arguments crumble.” –Alice Waters, Founder and Proprietor of Chez Panisse
  • “Comprehensive and well-written, this book will help frame a thoughtful public policy debate about nutrition and the societal impacts and costs of obesity.” –Ann M. Veneman, Former US Secretary of Agriculture and Former Executive Director of UNICEF
  • “What happens when the food industry’s most insightful critic turns her sights on soda? This razor-sharp, fun to read, plan-of-battle for one of the greatest public health fights of our time. Big soda may have all the money, but those who would enter this fray, as we all should, now have their champion.” –Michael Moss, Author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
  • “For decades, soda companies have amassed fortunes off drinks that are making us sick. It took someone like Marion Nestle to cut through the spin and uncover the high cost of cheap sodas.” –Robert Kenner, Director/Producer, Food Inc. and Merchants of Doubt
  • “Long recognized as an important and informed voice in our national and international discussions on nutrition and health, Marion Nestle has written another book that will keep us talking. With an impressive combination of scholarship and advocacy, Dr Nestle takes an unflinching look at the soda industry, its products and the impact on health. Soda Politics deserves the attention of the public and policy makers, and should make us all think more carefully about choices we can make to improve health and well-being.”–Margaret Hamburg, M.D., Former Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 

REVIEWS

Here’s the first review from the August 2015 Library Journal:

Nestle (nutrition, New York Univ.) once again exposes the dark side of the food business. As in her 2007 Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, the author examines the soft drink industry, demonstrating how products that are basically flavored water with added sugar contribute to obesity, type-2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. She discusses the composition and production of soda, the adverse effects of excess sugar consumption, and product marketing. The companies’ targeting of children, low-income, and minority communities; lobbying of Congress to prevent legislation that would impact profits; funding of research to produce results that obscure the facts about soda; and donations to health organizations and charities in order to be portrayed as socially responsible corporations make it difficult for citizens to act. Nestle reveals what can be done and how to do it, providing relevant data, analyzing that information, and illustrating its difficulties. She then advocates for smaller portions, taxing sugary drinks, and excluding soda from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provides examples of successful campaigns, a list of groups advocating for healthy beverage choices, and extensive notes. VERDICT An outstanding manual for health educators, activists, and anyone seeking information about the soda industry and its impact on health.—  Barbara Bibel, formerly Oakland P.L.

David Katz in Nature 526: 34–35 

For me, the single most stunning and appalling revelation comes in the section about environmental impact and industry responses to it. It is that between 340 and 620 litres of water are used for every litre of soft drink produced, about 20% of that related to packaging. Despite such disturbing revelations,Soda Politics is not discouraging…Throughout the book, Nestle provides tactics for practical, local advocacy, such as working with school wellness committees and engaging local policymakers. And since 2002, the proportion of US citizens who say that they avoid soft drinks has risen by 20%, reaching nearly two-thirds of the population…For public health to prevail over soda politics as usual, we have miles to go. This book is the richly drawn map of how to get there, from here.

From Science Magazine, October 16, 2015:285

The standard operating practices of companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo demand the same level of scrutiny as cigarette companies, and for many of the same reasons, argues Marion Nestle in the introduction of her new book, Soda Politics. What follows is a thorough and unflinching look at the soft-drink industry’s role in promoting the consumption of sugary drinks despite growing evidence that they are detrimental to our health. The book begins with a basic primer of the range of health problems that have been linked to soda consumption, from tooth decay to obesity and diabetes, hitting its stride with an eviscerating assessment of the industry’s marketing and advocacy practices.

From US Food Policy, November 11, 2015

For those readers who share Nestle’s critical perspective on the food industry, it is obvious that this book would be informative. But here is the greater surprise: this solid book is by far the best source on this topic for any reader, with any perspective on economics or politics.  If I worked for a trade association, or an industry front group, or an esteemed professional association that relies on soda industry funding, or the House Agriculture Committee, or a sugar manufacturer, or a high-powered corporate law firm, I might store this book in my desk drawer rather than my book shelf … yet I would read it word for word.

From The Independent, November 12, 2015

In Soda Politics (OUP, £19.90), Dr Marion Nestle does us all a great service by spelling out clearly and authoritatively the dreadful price we are paying for guzzling gallons of sugared water – Coke and Pepsi by any other name. Big Soda, as Dr Nestle calls the billion-dollar corporate giants behind this poison, know exactly how bad their products are for us but are so powerful no one takes them on. Rise up and rebel, Nestlé urges.

From the L.A. Review of Books, November 19, 2015

Nestle writes like an investigator hunting every possible scrap of damning material for a prosecutorial brief, which will no doubt make her book an excellent resource for activists and reformers seeking remedies in Washington, in the courts, and, perhaps, in the aisles of the local supermarket.

From the New York Times Book Review, November 21, 2015

Big Soda knows what it’s doing.

Fortunately, so does Marion Nestle. The nutrition professor, advocate and investigator best known for “Food Politics” profiles the soft drink industry in her expansive, superbly researched new book, “Soda Politics: Taking On Big Soda (and Winning).” It isn’t so much a narrative as a well-organized barrage of facts, some eye-popping (the world’s soda companies produce nearly two trillion 12-ounce servings annually), others banally incriminating. They come off the page like jabs in a sustained pummeling lasting more than 400 pages. Even if Nestle is only half right, it’s still a total knockout.

From The Economist, November 28, 2015

Drinks companies must also reckon with a small army of health advocates, among which Ms Nestle is a major-general.

From Matthew Donnelly, Gulp, November 30, 2015

This is a food advocates’ book which forensically analyses the tactics of the ‘Soda’ industry.

From Jane Lear at TakePart, December 2, 2015

Nestle is foremost an educator and an activist, and Soda Politics is worth its price alone for the chapters on advocacy, from recruiting public health leaders and working from within to protecting public water resources…In other words, we can change things, one Big Gulp at a time.

From The Lancet–Diabetes/Endocrinology , February 4, 2016: “comprehensive…cogent and fair-minded.”

Caffrey M.  Is soda the new tobacco? An expert and new CDC data say yes.  American Journal of Medical Care 2016;22(4):139-141.

Sabnavis M.  Bitter fizz.  Financial Express (India), March 20, 2016: A book that exposes that there’s more ill in a cola bottle than mere sugar—environment costs, high water use and pure politics.

Das Gupta U.  The bitter fight over sugary drinks.  Business standard (India), March 22, 2016.

Angier N. The Bear’s Best Friend.  New York Review of Books, May 12, 2016: 56-58.

Janer Z.  Profit Before People: The Case Against the Soft Drink Industry.  The Wire, April 24, 2016.

Hearne SA.  Behind the curtain.  Health Affairs, May 2016:936.

Mosaffarian D.  The politics and science of soda and our health.  The Lancet 2016;387 (May 28):2190-2191.

 

MEDIA ON SODA POLITICS

2016

April 14  Opinion piece in Reforma.com (in Spanish).

April 14 Article in La Jornada about my lecture in Mexico City (in Spanish)

March 24 BYU radio Matt Townsend show

March 2 ABC-FM interview with Margaret Throsby, Classic FM

March 1 Lecture to Sydney Ideas, U. Sydney

March 1 ABC News radio and print interview with David Taylor

Feb 29  Interview (online) with ABC Sydney

Feb 27  “At Lunch With” column in the Sydney Morning Herald: “the powerful foodie”

Feb 24  Podcast of lecture on Soda Politics at the University of Melbourne

Feb 19 Radio interview with Mark Colvin, ABC News (Sydney)

Feb 19 Podcast interview with Colvinius, ABC News (Sydney)

Feb 18  BTR Media podcast (my interview on Soda Politics is at 13.01)

Feb 7  Wisconsin Public Radio interview

Feb 1  Interview (online) with Chris Radicz of the American Society for Nutrition

Jan 29  Interview with BreakThroughRadio’s Rebecca Chodorkoff

Jan 20 Interview with Suzi Phillips, U. Auckland

2015

Dec 16  Podcast with Steve Mirsky of Scientific American

Dec 16  Food Tank’s favorite books of 2015

Dec 9 Edible Manhattan and Brooklyn, Favorite Books.

Dec 9 Civil Eats’ 20 Best Food and Farm Books of 2015

Dec 5 KCRW radio, Evan Kleiman’s Good Food

Dec 1  KALW hour-long radio San Francisco interview

Nov 23 Soda Politics podcast, New America NYC

Nov 11  Interview with Reserve Editorial Team, In the Kitchen

Nov 6  Audio recording of Q and A talk at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, with Dr. Alice Huan-mei Chen

Nov 3 Good Food World book description

Nov 1  Interview in Nutrition Action Healthletter, November 2015:1-5

Oct 28  The Seattle Times

Oct 27  The Salt on Soda Politics

Oct 27 Texas Public Radio on Soda Politics

Oct 20  Video of presentation to New York Times Food for Tomorrow Conference on soda taxes

Oct 19  Article in Veille Action pour de Saines Habitudes de Vie (in French)

Oct 19  Interview with Lingyi Hou for NYU’s Washington Square News

Oct 15 KUT News radio, interview with Tom Philpott 

Oct 9 Interview Q & A with Nancy Huehnergarth on Huffington Post

Oct 8  Interview Q & A with Andy Bellatti on Civil Eats

Oct 7  MP3 interview with Carl Lenoe on Super Human Radio

Oct 6  CSPAN video recording of book event at NYU

Oct 6  Radio interview with Dr. Mercola, with transcript.

Oct 5  Interview with Roberto Ferdman in the Washington Post

Oct 5 Caselli_Mechael L.  “Soda Politics” & science: 5 issues.  Food Insight, IFIC.

Oct 5 Foodline radio interview

Oct 4  Interview with Johnny Adamic of the Daily Beast

Oct 2  Interview with Jamie Ducharme of Boston Magazine online

Sept 28  Interview podcast with Dr. Mercola.  Condensed version.  Full version.

Sept 25  Interview with Julia Belluz, Vox

Sept 21  Interview  with Katy Kieffer, Heritage Radio

Sept 10  Interview Q and A with Natural Path

Jun 11 2015

San Francisco supervisors vs. sugary drinks

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved three measures to deal with sugary drinks:

1.  Put warning labels on all print and billboard ads for sodas and sugary drinks sold in the city (those with more than 25 calories per 12 ounces).

2.  Ban soda ads on city property

3.  Prohibit the use of city funds for the purchase of soda or sugary beverages

Will the mayor sign the measure?

Will the city’s famous freeway sign look like this?

coke-sign.jpg

 

Jun 10 2015

Industry-sponsored research: this week’s collection

Here is my latest roundup of industry-sponsored research producing results or opinions that favor the sponsor’s commercial interests.

Sugars and obesity: Is it the sugars or the calories?  Choo FL, Ha V, Sievenpiper JL.  Nutrition Bulletin, May 19, 2015.  DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12137

Conclusion: The higher level evidence reviewed in this report does not support concerns linking fructose-containing sugars with overweight and obesity.

Conflicts of interest: All three authors report scholarship or research support from such entities as the Canadian
Sugar Institute, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper Sapple, Corn Refiners Association, World Sugar Research Organization.

Cranberry Juice Consumption Lowers Markers of Cardiometabolic Risk, Including Blood Pressure and Circulating C-Reactive Protein, Triglyceride, and Glucose Concentrations in Adults.  Janet A Novotny, David J Baer, Christina Khoo, Sarah K Gebauer, and Craig S Charron. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:1185-1193 doi:10.3945/jn.114.203190.

Conclusion: LCCJ [low-calorie cranberry juice] can improve several risk factors of CVD [cardiovascular disease] in adults, including circulating TGs [triglycerides], CRP (c-reactive protein], and glucose, insulin resistance, and diastolic BP [blood pressure].

Sponsor: Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. and the USDA.  JA Novotny received funding from  and C Khoo is employed by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.

Effect of cheese consumption on blood lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Janette de Goede, Johanna M. Geleijnse, Eric L. Ding, and Sabita S. Soedamah-Muthu

Conclusion: Despite the similar P/S ratios of hard cheese and butter, consumption of hard cheese lowers LDL-C and HDL-C when compared with consumption of butter.

Funding. The senior author received unrestricted research grants from the Global Dairy Platform, the Dairy Research Institute, and Dairy Australia for the present meta-analysis. One other author, E.L.D., has consulted for the Dairy Research Institute.

Protein Summit 2.0: Evaluating the Role of Protein in Public Health: Proceedings of a conference held in Washington, DC, October 2, 2013.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2015 Supplement.

Program organizer: Shalene McNeill, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and a Contractor to The Beef Checkoff.

Sponsors: The Beef Checkoff, Dairy Research Institute, Egg Nutrition Center, Global Dairy Platform, Hillshire Brands, National Pork Board

My comment: Journal supplements are typically paid for by outside parties—government agencies, foundations, private organizations, or food companies.  The papers in this supplement discuss various aspects of protein and health.  All emphasize the benefits of animal protein in human diets, as might be expected, given the sponsors.

Two examples:

Commonly consumed protein foods contribute to nutrient intake, diet quality, and nutrient adequacy.  Stuart M Phillips, Victor L Fulgoni III, Robert P Heaney, Theresa A Nicklas, Joanne L Slavin, and Connie M Weaver.  Am J Clin Nutr June 2015 vol. 101 no. 6 1346S-1352S.

Conclusion: dietary recommendations to reduce intakes of saturated fat and solid fats may result in dietary guidance to reduce intakes of commonly consumed food sources of protein, in particular animal-based protein.

The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance Heather J Leidy, Peter M Clifton, Arne Astrup, Thomas P Wycherley, Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga, Natalie D Luscombe-Marsh, Stephen C Woods, and Richard D Mattes.

Conclusion:  Collectively, these data suggest that higher-protein diets…provide improvements in appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic risk factors, or all of these health outcomes.

For the record: Industry sponsorship does not necessarily mean that the reported conclusions are wrong.  It just means that the papers require even more than the usual level of critical analysis.

I am happy to post industry-sponsored studies that do not produce results that can be used to market the sponsor’s products.  Please send if you find any.

Jun 8 2015

The Blue Bell ice cream recall: a roundup

I was interested to read Michael Taylor’s comments on the recall of Blue Bell ice cream contaminated with Listeria.  Mr. Taylor is Deputy FDA Commissioner for food safety.

This was an outbreak in which 10 people were hospitalized and three died.  The best place to begin on this is on the CDC website for the Blue Bell outbreak.  It provides excellent graphics summarizing the number of cases and where they occurred:
Capture

This outbreak was particularly awful because inspections had found severe violations of standard food safety procedures, yet the company ignored them.  The result: people died.

Mr. Taylor asks if this outbreak could have been prevented with better FDA regulation.  In 2010, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) but it’s taken time for the implementation.  Taylor says:

the preventive controls for human food rule, if finalized as proposed, would require that companies like Blue Bell have a written food safety plan, based on an analysis of likely hazards, and companies would have to show us that plan during inspections.Listeria monocytogenes is a classic example of a hazard that a company should be controlling. Under the proposed standards, companies would be required to have the right controls in place to minimize hazards and would have to verify that their controls are working.

But, he says, to implement the law, the FDA needs funding: “If we do not get the funding, we will lose momentum, and implementation will be badly disrupted.”

Congress, no doubt, will continue to keep the FDA on a short string.  No industry likes being regulated and the food industry fights regulation in every way it can.

The FDA needs to do more to ensure food safety but can’t without inspectors.

That leaves legal approaches.  For these, I go right to the websites of the Marler-Clark law firm, which specializes in food safety cases.

Here’s what Bill Marler and his colleagues have had to say about the Blue Bell case (most recent first and I may be missing some):

Marler-Clark is filling a critical regulatory gap by suing companies that cause foodborne illnesses and deaths.  But this is after-the-fact.

As Bill Marler has been pleading since 2007: please put me out of business.

Prevention would be much, much better.  Hence the need for more FDA resources.

Update, June 12: The CDC concludes its investigations and the FDA releases reports

Jun 2 2015

Industry-sponsored research: this week’s collection

Every time I collect five, I’m posting studies sponsored by food companies or trade associations that show benefits of the sponsor’s products.

I would love to be able to post industry-sponsored studies with results contrary to the sponsor’s interest, but I’m just not finding any.  If you run across some, please send.

Here’s this week’s batch, with comments on the last two:

Probiotic supplementation prevents high-fat, overfeeding-induced insulin resistance in human subjects. Carl J. Hulston, Amelia A. Churnside and Michelle C. Venables British Journal of Nutrition (2015), 113, 596–602 doi:10.1017/S0007114514004097.

  • Conclusion: These results suggest that probiotic supplementation may be useful in the prevention of diet-induced metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
  • Sponsor: The present study…was financially supported by industry funds. The cost of consumables for the study was covered by an educational grant from Yakult UK Limited.

Dairy Foods and Dairy Proteins in the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A   Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence.   Gonca Pasin and Kevin B Comerford.    Adv Nutr 2015; 6:245-259. doi:10.3945/an.114.007690.

  • Conclusion: Given cultured dairy products’ long history of safe use, and whey protein’s overall efficacy in clinical studies so far, these dairy products appear to have great potential to assist with the management of T2DM in millions of people worldwide, in an inexpensive and easily implementable manner.
  • Sponsor: California Dairy Research Foundation. G Pasin is the executive director of the California Dairy Research Foundation. KB Comerford is a paid consultant for the California Dairy Research Foundation.

One Egg per Day Improves Inflammation when Compared to an Oatmeal-Based Breakfast without Increasing Other Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Diabetic PatientsMartha Nydia Ballesteros , Fabrizio Valenzuela, Alma E. Robles, Elizabeth Artalejo, David Aguilar, Catherine J. Andersen, Herlindo Valdez  and Maria Luz Fernandez.   Nutrients 20157(5), 3449-3463; doi:10.3390/nu7053449

  • Conclusions:  When compared to an oatmeal breakfast, one egg per day did not result in changes in plasma glucose, our primary end point…[and other markers] indicating that eggs can be consumed without any detrimental changes in lipoprotein or glucose metabolism in this population. The most interesting finding, however, was that eggs—possibly due to their content of highly bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin—reduced inflammation in diabetic subjects when compared to oatmeal intake.
  • Sponsor: Egg Nutrition Center

The Acute Electrocortical and Blood Pressure Effects of ChocolateM. Montopoli, L. C. Stevens, C. Smith, G. Montopoli, S. Passino, S, Brown, L. Camou, K. Carson, S. Maaske, K. Knights, W. Gibson, J. Wu.  NeuroRegulation 2015;2(1):3-28.  doi: 10.15540/nr.2.1.3.

  • Conclusions: This is the first known study to investigate acute EEG effects of consuming chocolate and suggests a potential attention-enhancing effect… there is clearly the possibility of an application of this combination of L-theanine and cacao in the treatment of hypertension.
  • Sponsor: “Chocolate products for this study were provided by a generous grant in supplies from The Hershey Company…Grateful appreciation is expressed to Dr. Debra Miller and to the staff at The Hershey Company for their guidance and support throughout this project and for their careful review of this manuscript prior to submission.”

Comment: I learned about this study from FoodNavigator, which deserves highest praise for this headline: “Step aside energy drinks: Chocolate has a stimulating effect on human brains, says Hershey-backed study.”  Bravo!

Efficacy and safety of LDL-lowering therapy among men and women: meta-analysis of individual data from 174 000 participants in 27 randomised trials.   Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaboration.  Lancet 2015:385:1397-1405.

  • Conclusion: “In men and women at an equivalent risk of cardiovascular disease, statin therapy is of similar effectiveness for the prevention of major vascular events.”
  • Conflicts reported: The CTT Collaboration reports funding by various British and Australian research councils and foundations, “and not by the pharmaceutical industry.” But, it says, most of trials covered by its analysis were supported by the drug industry, and numerous members of the CTT report fees, grants, consultancies, or honoraria from various companies making cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Note:  drug companies have a vested interest in promoting drug, rather than dietary, approaches to LDL-lowering.

Comment: Conflicts of interest do not necessarily mean that the results of the study were manipulated or wrong.  They do mean that the methods and results require more than the usual level of scrutiny.  Sponsored studies almost invariably produce results consistent with the sponsor’s economic or marketing interests.

It’s likely that some industry-sponsored studies produce conclusions contrary to the sponsor’s interest.  If you know of any, please send.

May 28 2015

What’s up with the Trade Promotion Authority act?

What’s going on with the Trade Promotion Authority act (TPA) has lots of people worried.   The bill, known as “fast track,” allows President Obama to make trade agreements that Congress can approve or reject, but cannot change.

The Senate passed the TPA.  It now goes to the House.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a congratulatory statement:

Today the Senate helped move America closer to securing responsible agreements that open markets for America’s farmers, ranchers and agribusiness and create jobs and improve wages across the country…Our farmers and ranchers face exorbitant tariffs and others barriers in important foreign markets, and if we do not act to maintain and gain market share in these places, our competitors will.

On the other hand, 2009 labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other organizations oppose the TPA.  They say “Fast Track is rigged to give special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers.”

TPP rally Maryland

In an article in the American Journal of Public Health last year, tobacco researchers explained the problem:

International trade agreements relocate decisions about tobacco control policy to venues where there is little opportunity for public scrutiny, participation, and debate…“Fast-track authority,” in which Congress cedes ongoing oversight authority to the President, further distances the public from the debate.

As I explained in previous posts on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), trade agreements:

  • Are conducted in secrecy
  • View safety regulations and matters such as country-of-origin labeling (see yesterday’s post) as trade barriers
  • Allow multinational corporations to sue governments for passing laws that might affect corporate profits

I’ll be trying to keep up with what’s going on with trade agreements.  Stay tuned.

May 27 2015

What’s up with Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)?

The attack on Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) is a good example of why international trade agreements require close scrutiny.

In my book What to Eat, I had this to say about COOL (among other things):

In 2002, Congress passed a law requiring Country of Origin Labeling (the apt acronym is COOL) that was to take effect in 2004.  Later, under pressure from the food industry, Congress postponed the deadline until the end of September 2006…In America, food industry opposition to COOL is just about universal.   The industry complains that tracking the origin of foods is difficult, but also would prefer that you not know how far food has traveled before it gets to you.   The Grocery Manufacturers of America, an especially vigilant trade advocacy group, called the 2002 bill “a nasty, snarly beast of a bill,” but even stronger opposition came from the meat industry.   Its lobbyists argued that COOL would be “extraordinarily costly with no discernible benefit,” but their real objection was that meat producers would have to track where animals and products come from—another sensible idea that they have long resisted.

Nevertheless, COOL was supposed to go into effect for meat in 2008 and finally did so in 2014.  In the meantime, Canada and Mexico went to the World Trade Organization to argue that COOL unfairly discriminated against meat produced in those countries.

The Hagstrom Report lists Canada’s threatened trade retaliation (if the U.S. keeps COOL, Canada will raise tariffs on these products).

The WTO agrees that Canada and Mexico have the right to do this.

Now the House has introduced a bill to repeal COOL.  The House Agriculture Committee voted for the repeal.

So much for consumers’ interest in knowing where foods come from.

I’ll be posting more about trade agreements this week and next.  Stay tuned.

May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

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