Today’s New York Times has a juicy article in the business section about the differing opinions of obesity experts about New York City’s proposal to require certain restaurants to post calorie information on menu boards. The head of one obesity society, who is a frequent consultant to the food and restaurant industry, apparently thinks calorie labeling will backfire by “inadvertently encouraging patrons to consume lower-calorie foods that subsequently lead to greater total caloric intake because of poor satiating efficiency of the smaller calorie loads.” Coincidence?
The USDA has just issued a corporate challenge to food companies to “step up to help end childhood obesity by empowering the household gatekeeper to assist her in modeling a healthy lifestyle and by providing information to help her make healthy food choices for herself and her family.” How? Uh oh. By using MyPyramid. This may indeed be a challenge. Even nutritionists have trouble understanding how to use MyPyramid. USDA provides a long list of suggestions of ways food companies might use MyPyramid. These make me think we will have to wait and see whether such things as CDs in cereal boxes, placemats, and websites are able to use the Pyramid for real education rather than for marketing the companies’ products.
With perfect timing for the romantic occasion, federal investigators are looking into the possibility that Big Food is fixing chocolate prices, and in three different countries yet. The allegations? “Top executives at Hershey Co., Mars, and Nestle [no relation] met secretly in coffee shops, restaurants and conventions to set prices.” Although, as I discussed in Food Politics, it seems obvious from supermarket prices that such things must go on all the time, price-fixing is illegal. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Thanks to Maya Joseph for sending Ben & Jerry’s endearing cow cloning song. Its message: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. But wait! Isn’t Ben & Jerry’s owned by Unilever? Does this mean that Unilever–a huge multinational food corporation that sells nearly $60 billion annually–opposes animal cloning? Or is the company just leaving Ben & Jerry’s alone with its core customers?
Unless Congress does something weird, Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) will go into effect this spring. Apparently, some companies are already doing it. I’m traveling this week and bought a little packet of Snak Club Tropical Mix at an airport news stand, thinking that it would be mostly raisins and peanuts, which it mostly was. The COOL was an unexpected bonus although I hardly know what to make of it: “Product of U.S.A., may contain ingredients from Thailand and/or Phillipines [sic] and/or Mexico and/or China and/or Chile and/or Argentina.” Somehow, I’m guessing that this is not what proponents of COOL had in mind, exactly.
Adam Drewnowski at University of Washington in Seattle has come up with yet another scoring system to rank the nutritional value of food products. So we now have three done by independent scientists: Hannaford’s, David Katz’s, and now this one (see previous posts). And companies like Kraft (Sensible Solutions) and PepsiCo (Smart Spot) have their own. What is a consumer to do? I, of course, say get rid of all of them. I’m willing to concede that an alternative would be for the FDA to convene a summit and select one rating method. As these systems proliferate, the “one rating system” idea looks better and better, no?
Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the FDA to take away GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status for salt because of its links to high blood pressure. Yesterday’s USA Today did a story on this issue with some terrific graphics, unfortunately not shown in the online version. Missing is the pie chart showing the sources of salt in American diets: naturally occurring 12%, added at the table 6%, used during cooking 5%–and 77% in food processing! If you want to avoid salt in your diet, you have to avoid processed foods. American producers say they cannot remove salt from their products or nobody would buy them. Really? The Australians have managed to convince their food industry to reduce the salt. They’ve even achieved a 13% reduction in the salt in Vegemite!
Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture in the Nixon administration, died last week at the age of 98. He had a long and varied career, but in the context of food systems he is famous for having revolutionized U.S. agricultural policy. Instead of paying farmers not to produce food, he encouraged farmers to produce as much food as possible. They did, and indeed produced so much corn that new uses had to be found for it. Voila! High fructose corn syrup! The movie, King Corn, includes an interview with Mr. Butz. He was proud of having so greatly increased U.S. food production. Indeed, the number of calories in the U.S. food supply increased from about 3,200 per day in the mid-1970s to the present 3,900 per day, with all the consequences that I discuss in Food Politics and in What to Eat. His passing marks the end of an era.