by Marion Nestle

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Dec 19 2007

Should herbal supplements be irradiated?

NOTE: Correction to this post.  I must have been asleep when I wrote it.  Sorry!

Apparently, the Herbal Products Association has petitioned the FDA to allow herbal supplements to be irradiated at doses high enough to kill contaminating bacteria. The American Public Health Association says this is not a good idea. I don’t think so either, of course. I call irradiation a “late-stage techno-fix,” meaning that it takes dirty products and sterilizes them. Shouldn’t the dietary supplement industry get its act together and produce clean supplements to begin with?

Dec 18 2007

The Government Goes Organic?

Apparently, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has gotten a new management company to take the House of Representatives cafeteria healthy and green. Get this: the House, which serves 2.5 million meals a year, “is switching to locally grown, organic, seasonal and generally healthy food. It will be served in compostable sugar cane and corn starch containers instead of petroleum-based plastics. Even the knives and forks will be biodegradable.” The Senate, needless to say, is “the last place in America to abandon elevator operators and smoking in hallways.” Now, if they would just pass a decent Farm Bill…

Dec 16 2007

Michael Pollan’s latest

Here’s another great piece to read on a cold, snowy day. Michael Pollan’s latest is a beautifully constructed synthesis of the meaning of two bad things that happened this year: Bee Colony Collapse Disorder and community-acquired Multiple Resistance Staphylococcus aureus. Both, he shows, are the result of industrialized agriculture. Bees are migratory workers? No wonder they are stressed. The question, Pollan says, is “not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how.” Read it and get busy.

Dec 10 2007

Nutrition quality indexes: do we need them?

I’ve been meaning to say something about all the new methods for distinguishing foods on the basis of nutritional criteria. Companies like PepsiCo (“Smart Spot”) and Kraft (“Sensible Solution”) put those labels on products that meet nutritional criteria set up by the companies themselves. These criteria usually let lots of the company’s products qualify for the label. Hannaford supermarkets got independent nutritionists to develop criteria. When they applied these criteria to 27,000 products in the stores, only 23% passed the lowest screen and 80% of these were fruits and vegetables in the produce section. Bottom line: the minute you start processing foods heavily, the nutritional values decline. So now some academics are developing quality indices of one kind or another. You can read about this in last week’s New York Times. My friend Phil Lempert (“the Supermarket Guru”) also weighs in on these methods. He thinks the criteria will help consumers make better choices. I think a “better” junk food is not necessarily better. What do you think?

Dec 9 2007

Want to do something about school food? Here’s how!

The Public Health Advocacy Institute has produced “Mapping School Food: A Policy Guide“for anyone who thinks school food needs fixing. As they put it, the Guide provides “tools to help advocates find answers, resolve conflicts, and build consensus for improving school food in their community.” Sounds useful, no? Enjoy and use!

Dec 6 2007

McDonald’s latest advertising venue: report cards

We have this week’s Advertising Age to thank for telling us about McDonald’s new marketing venue: the covers of report cards! And how’s this for an incentive: kids in this school district in Florida who earn all A’s and B’s, have no more than two absences, or (not even and?) exhibit good behavior are entitled to a free happy meal when they present their report card. Next?

Plenty, apparently. See what the New York Times says about all the other food companies that have figured out creative ways to market to school kids.

Dec 4 2007

Childhood obesity: recommendations

The journal Pediatrics has a supplement this December on what to do about childhood obesity. Its parent organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics joins with a bunch of other health professional organizations to make suggestions about what doctors and other health practitioners should be doing, basically paying close attention and taking action. The same supplement has articles about prevention and treatment. These are aimed at doctors. The recommendations are just fine, but could any doctor do them? What would it take to put this kind of advice into practice?

Dec 2 2007

FDA in crisis says its own Science Board

Here’s what the New York Times has to say about the new report from the FDA’s Science Board. The Science Board is a high-level committee that directly advises the FDA Commissioner (full disclosure: I used to be a consumer representative on that Board). At the Commissioner’s request, it has just issued a no-holds-barred report on the current state of the FDA. Congress, it says, has deliberately taken resources away from the FDA to the point where it cannot possibly do what it is supposed to. The report singles out the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition–the part that deals with food regulation and safety–as a particular target for budget cuts. Since 1992, for example, CFSAN has lost 15% of its workforce, but has far more to do. You think a weak food regulatory agency is maybe not such a good idea? Let your congressional representatives know what you think about this issue. You don’t know who they are? Just go to this site, type in your zip code, and take it from there.

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