The intrepid investigative reporting team of Donald Bartlett and James Steele has taken on Monsanto in the current issue of Vanity Fair, of all places (I am most familiar with their prize-winning but controversial work for Time, which fired them in 2006). Monsanto is the company that brought us genetically modified bovine growth hormone and Roundup-Ready corn and soybeans, and, of course Roundup itself. Bartlett and Steele have much to say about the company’s methods for enforcing its patent rights and casual dealings with worker safety. It’s a long article, but worth reading.
People keep asking me if I know anything about the presidential candidates’ positions on food policy. I didn’t, but thanks to Alexandra Lewin, a doctoral student at Cornell, I now do. She has just filed a summary of where the candidates stand on food issues – “Corporations, health, and the 2008 presidential race” – on the Corporations and Health Watch site. Take a look!
So now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have reviewed the literature on claims that drinking 8 glasses of water a day makes you healthier. Their conclusion: not really (except under conditions of excessive heat, exercise, or illness). This is old news–you get plenty of water from whatever you are drinking and what’s naturally in food–but it’s bad news for health claims made by bottled water manufacturers. They, as you might expect, do not have nice things to say about this research.
The April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association carries three research papers on the current state of food marketing to children. One finds that websites targeted to kids carry advertising for junk foods. One compared breakfast cereals marketed to children to those marketed to adults; the kids’ cereals had more calories, sugars, and salt but less fiber and protein (oh, great). The third looked at Saturday morning TV and found 90% of the food commercials to be for junk foods. Hmm. Doesn’t sound like much has changed since the Institute of Medicine’s call for stopping all this (or at least slowing it down). Time to hold food companies accountable, I think.
According to Food Navigator, the FDA says it’s too busy to deal with the question of whether high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be labeled as “all natural,” something the Sugar Association and Sara Lee would dearly love to be allowed to do. This non-action, in effect, is the FDA’s way of just saying no. HFCS, as the FDA points out, requires enzymes to break starch into glucose and to convert some of the glucose to fructose, and that ain’t necessarily natural. The Sugar Association is “deeply disappointed” in the FDA’s decision. Why am I not surprised?
I am indebted to Jim Prevor, the Perishable Pundit, for close tracking of the FDA’s import alert on Salmonella in cantaloupes. His most recent post contains a terrific interview with an FDA official about this incident. It is as good an example of what the FDA is up against in these kinds of investigations as any I can imagine. Perishable Pundit views food safety issues from the standpoint of the producers of fruit and vegetables who have much to lose if the FDA finds something wrong. The FDA looks at the issues from the standpoint of consumer protection. Thanks to the interviewer, Mira Slott, and to the FDA official, Sebastian Cianci, for grappling with these issues with much thought and mutual respect.