Today’s “Ask Marion” on Eating Liberally follows up on my previous post about the FDA Science Board’s tough review of agency resources and competence. Enjoy!
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.
At the moment, these agencies do not have the authority to order companies making contaminated foods to recall the unsafe products. They have to ask for voluntary recalls. Why? Because meat companies much prefer recalls to be voluntary. Now, the Food Marketing Institute, which represents and lobbies for food companies of all kinds, has broken with meat trade associations on this issue. Recall authority, it says, might help restore flagging consumer trust in the food supply. I’m glad they finally figured that one out.
The Department of Agriculture, apparently concerned about consumer confusion over what “natural” meat might be, is proposing to define the term. Right now, “natural” means minimally processed plus whatever the marketer says it means, and nobody is checking (I devote a chapter of What to Eat to explaining all this). This proposal, as the USDA explains, would be a voluntary marketing claim (“no antibiotics, no hormones”). The proposal is open for comment until January 28. Want to comment? Do that at this site.
The USDA has just published a report on eating whole grains. Who eats them? Hardly anyone, apparently–just 7% of the people surveyed meet recommendations. This 7% is the population segment that reads food labels, buys organic, and eats healthfully anyway. The USDA wrote this to establish a baseline. Stay tuned for the interventions. What should they be?
The Wall Street Journal offers a terrific window on India’s food transition. Take a look at the slideshow comparing India’s vegetable markets now to what they will look like once the German retailing company, Metro, gets established.