Dec 2 2010

The latest on the GM front: sugar beets and apples

I haven’t seem much comment on what’s happening with Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, a suit to prevent planting of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets because USDA allowed them to be grown without filing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

This is kind of after-the-fact because Monsanto’s GM sugar beets have been planted widely for the last five years and now comprise 95% of the sugar beet crop in the U.S.

As the Center for Food Safety explains,

The court outlined the many ways in which GE sugar beets could harm the environment and consumers, noting that containment efforts were insufficient and past contamination incidents were “too numerous” to allow the illegal crop to remain in the ground. In his court order, Judge White noted, “farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination” between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops. He continued, “the legality of Defendants’ conduct does not even appear to be a close question,” noting that the government and Monsanto tried to circumvent his prior ruling, which made GE sugar beets illegal.

No surprise, Monsanto is appealing and is likely to be joined by the government in the appeal.  Food Safety News quotes a Monsanto spokesman:

With due respect, we believe the court’s action overlooked the factual evidence presented that no harm would be caused by these plantings, and is plainly inconsistent with the established law as recently announced by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said David Snively, general counsel for Monsanto, in a news release….The issues that will be appealed are important to all U.S. farmers who choose to plant biotech crops…We will spare no effort in challenging this ruling on the basis of flawed legal procedure and lack of consideration of important evidence.”

Food Safety News also reports that a Washington state apple grower has petitioned USDA to allow it to market a GM apple engineered to resist browning.

But wait.  I’m confused.  Isn’t the FDA supposed to be the agency that approves the planting of GM foods?

This sent me right to the FDA site that summarizes GM varieties that are permitted to be planted (“completed consultations“).  I see papayas and cantaloupe on the list, but not a single apple variety.

How can this company market a GM variety of apples if the FDA hasn’t approved it?  Can anyone explain what’s going on here?  Thanks.

Update December 3:  A judge in San Francisco ordered GM sugar beets planted on 256 acres to be destroyed.  USDA is appealing.  And now everyone is worried about sugar shortages.  Oh dear.

Oct 29 2010

Bisphenol A disappearing from packaging

According to FoodProductionDaily.com, a new report says that consumer concerns are driving companies to take bisphenol A (BPA) out of their packaging.  BPA, you may recall from previous posts, is an estrogen disrupting chemical in plastic containers and the linings of food cans.  Although the harm it causes is not well established, many groups have been working to get rid of it on the theory that estrogen disruption is not a good idea.

The USA Today account says

Some retailers say they’re working hard to go BPA-free. Last year, only 7% of companies had timeliness to phase out BPA. This year, 32% have set timelines, the report says. Most large baby bottle makers already have stopped using BPA.

It quotes the author of the report as saying that consumers are “voting with their shopping carts….This is definitely a story about consumers having a lot of power with the big companies….Investors and shareholders have a big impact, as well.”

In other words, getting BPA out of plastics is good for business.

And sometimes, consumer choice really works.

Oct 25 2010

Happy Halloween: UNICEF-Canada partners with Cadbury

A Canadian reader, Professor Amir Attaran of the Law and Medicine Faculties at the University of Ottawa, has just discovered UNICEF-Canada’s Halloween partnership with Cadbury:

I was not made cheery this morning when at the grocery store, I found UNICEF’s name and logo plastered all over the packages of Halloween candy.  On closer investigation, UNICEF Canada have struck a three-year partnership with Cadbury (this is the final year) where UNICEF lends its name and logo to advertising some 4 million packages of Cadbury candies each year.  In exchange, Cadbury donated some money ($500k) to UNICEF for schools in Africa.

The UNICEF Cadbury “Schoolhouse Project” (now closed) collected donations from Canadian communities for children in Africa.

UNICEF continues to collect funds for such purposes and has declared October 31 as National UNICEF Day.

Remember UNICEF’s orange trick-or-treat boxes? They helped make October 31 National UNICEF Day – and taught scores of Canadians that they can make a vital difference around the world. Today, it’s easier than ever to have an impact on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

But UNICEF-Canada is aggressively seeking donations from corporate partners, apparently with little regard for what they sell.

Invest in the world’s children today to make a world of difference tomorrow. On behalf of UNICEF Canada, we invite you to involve your organization in a rewarding partnership and unique business opportunity. UNICEF Canada designs exclusive customized initiatives that achieve real, measurable business results while meeting your humanitarian goals.

Enhance your brand, drive sales, increase revenues. UNICEF delivers….We have built direct relationships with governments, businesses and community leaders in every jurisdiction where UNICEF is present.

No other aid organization engenders greater trust. None has greater impact.

Make us part of your business strategy and join us in building a better world for children. For your bottom line, for the sake of our children and for the future of our world, there is no better investment.

As I keep saying, you cannot make this stuff up.

Candy?  Or, UNICEF’s other Canadian partners such as Pizza Nova?

I know the argument: It’s Halloween and kids will eat candy anyway, so why not make some money from it.  This is the same argument used to promote sales of junk food in vending machines in U.S. schools.

But should UNICEF-Canada be doing this?  Canadians: how about doing some serious talking about this embarrassing partnership.

Addition, October 26:  Here’s what Cadbury gets for its $500,000 donation:

A cornerstone of the partnership is the dedication of significant space on approximately 4.3 million boxes and bags of mini-treats each year to raise awareness about UNICEF and the Schools for Africa programme. Cadbury Adams will also use point of purchase displays, flyers, advertising and the Web to promote the programme and its toll-free number.

Sep 26 2010

Forget previous post: that’s not what happened

Jessica Leighton, the FDA senior science advisory whose speech was quoted in Food Chemical News (I wrote about this yesterday) writes to tell me that she has been badly misquoted about the FDA’s plans for food labels.

The reporter, she says, appears to have mixed up a variety of talks or questions from the audience to the panel.

I said nothing about caffeine or “natural.”  I don’t remember mentioning the percent of key ingredients in parentheses after the ingredient name either.    I also said we are looking into added sugars but did not say we are doing anything about them.

I am taking her word for it and have taken down the post.  Apologies to all.

Aug 17 2010

UK beef producers demand approval for cloned meat

According to a report in Food Chemical News (August 17), Britain’s National Beef Association wants the country’s beleaguered Food Standards Agency to allow sales of meat from cattle with a cloned grandparent.

Why?  Since the rest of the European Union and the United States allow sales of meat, milk, and other food products from animals with cloned grandparents, it’s not fair to Britain’s beef industry to prevent such sales.

The British public now knows that meat from imported cloned animals has entered their food supply.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal says those cloned animals came from Wisconsin.

This is possible because the U.S. allows cloning.  It just wishes producers of cloned animals would hold off a bit until the international regulatory situation is clarified. They have not held off.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate milk or meat from offspring of cloned animals, and doesn’t require labeling. Two years after the agency concluded those food products were safe, they’re in the American food supply.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requests that the industry continue a voluntary moratorium on placing products from original clones in the food supply to allow trade partners in other countries to pursue their own regulations.

Offspring of clones – including the animals that are the focus of British news reports – are not subject to the voluntary moratorium, and are not identified through a U.S. program that tracks clones. The clone offspring linked to the United Kingdom’s food supply were identified by the UK’s Food Standards Agency.

The British regulations distinguish between selling meat from cloned animals (banned) and meat from children or grandchildren of cloned animals (murky).

Our FDA doesn’t care one way or the other.  It says cloned meat is safe, which it well may be.  But if you prefer not to buy it, too bad for you.  The FDA does not require cloned meat to be labeled in any special way.

Organic, locally grown meat, anyone?

Jul 13 2010

Whatever happened to the FTC’s nutrition standards for food marketing?

I keep hearing rumors that food industry opposition is what is holding up release of the FTC’s position paper on nutrition standards for marketing foods to kids.

I titled my previous post on this report “Standards for marketing foods to kids: tentative, proposed, weak,” because I thought they left far too much wiggle room for companies to market products that I would not exactly call health foods.

Now, Melanie Warner points out that even so, the proposed standards will exclude a great many highly profitable food products.  Hence: food company opposition.

Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood quotes an executive of the food industry’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative: “There are very few products, period, that meet these standards, whether they’re primarily consumed by adults or children.”

The food industry has consistently opposed giving the FTC more authority over marketing of foods and supplements.  Here is another reason why this agency needs it.

Update, July 24: The missing FTC report is front-page news!  William Neuman is on the front page of the New York Times with a detailed account of the Federal Trade Commission’s lack of action on food company advertising practices.  The FTC standards were expected last week but nobody seems to know when, if ever, they will be released.

Update, July 30: Here is Colbert’s take on the delaying of FTC standards.

Jun 23 2010

CSPI to McDonald’s: take toys out of Happy Meals, or else!

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has written a letter to McDonald’s threatening to sue if the company refuses to remove the toys from its Happy Meals.

This comes at a time of rapidly accumulating evidence for the effectiveness of toys, cartoons, and the like in encouraging even very young children to pester their parents for products, to prefer such products and to believe that branded products taste better.

Here is the press release announcing this action.  And here is CSPI director Michael Jacobson’s statement about it.

McDonald’s has 30 days to respond.  Can’t wait to see what it says.

Feb 10 2010

Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity: Applause!

I had best comment on this before anyone asks.   First Lady Michelle Obama wants to do something about childhood obesity and has gone into action.  She announced her “Let’s Move” initiatives accompanied by much fanfare.  Check out:

This is big news.  I see much to admire here.  The campaign focuses on kids.  It is sensitive to political realities (it’s called the uncontroversial “Let’s Move,” not the inflammatory “Let’s Eat Less” or “Let’s Eat Better”).  It’s brought a large number of groups on board (the New York Times account emphasizes this point).  It aims to do something useful about school food and food “deserts” (areas without grocery stores).  And it derives directly and explicitly from the White House garden.

I wasn’t able to watch the press conference but I hear that Will Allen was an invited speaker.  Allen is the charismatic and highly effective head of Growing Power, which runs urban farms in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I’m told he said:

  • It’s a social justice issue.
  • Every child in this country should have access to good food.
  • We have to grow farmers.

Yes!

Before the announcement, Marian Burros wrote in Politico.com about the barriers this effort will face (I’m quoted in her article).   And the Los Angeles Times discussed the enormous and enormously successful lobbying effort undertaken by the soft drink industry against soda taxes.  It predicted that the First Lady would not mention soda taxes when she announced her obesity campaign.  Indeed, she did not.

But she did say:

The truth is our kids didn’t do this to themselves.  Our kids didn’t choose to make food products with tons of fat and sugar and supersize portions, and then to have those foods marketed to them wherever they turn.

So let’s call this campaign a good first step and give it a big round of applause.  I hoping everyone will give it a chance, help move it forward in every way possible, and keep fingers crossed that Mrs. Obama can pull it off.

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