Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 20 2007

Brian Wansink! At the USDA!

Every now and then something incredible happens and here it is. Brian Wansink, Cornell Professor and author of Mindless Eating, has been appointed executive director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. This is the piece of USDA responsible for dietary advice to the public. Wansink is the guy who does the terrific research on environmental determinants of overeating showing that large portions, wide drinking glasses, foods close by, and health claims encourage everyone to eat more calories than they need or want. Will he be able to anything good at USDA? Let’s hope so. In the meantime, cheers to USDA for making a brilliant appointment.

Nov 19 2007

The (silly) battle of the antioxidants

Which fruit has the most antioxidants? The latest report says blueberries, followed by cranberries, apples, red grapes, and finally green grapes. What? Pomegranates don’t even make the top five? In this case, who knows? The investigators were testing a new assay method and those were the only fruits they examined. Never mind. It doesn’t matter. A fundamental principle of nutrition is variety. In this case, variety means that it’s good to eat different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Each contains its own unique complement of antioxidants and other nutrients and if you eat a variety of foods, you are likely to get all the ones you need and not overdo on any.

Nov 19 2007

UK alters traffic light labeling system to account for added sugars

According to FoodProductionDaily, my newsletter source for information about food and nutrition in Europe, the U.K. Food Standards agency is changing its red-yellow-green labeling system to distinguish added sugars from those naturally present in foods. This is a good idea and I wish the FDA would do the same thing, but one of the reasons given doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. According to this report, the Food Standards Agency agreed to do this because “sugars derived from fruit, such as fructose, are generally lower in calories, while added sugars are perceived as unhealthier.” Added sugars may be perceived as unhealthier, but sugars are sugars and they all–sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, and all the rest–have the same number of calories, roughly 4 per gram. I think there is a better reason: naturally occurring sugars come with everything else that’s in fruits and vegetables, and added sugars don’t.

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Nov 18 2007

Are there lobbyists for good causes?

Today’s question comes from Nic: “Are there lobbyists that work for promoting public health and nutrition, or does Congress primarily receive information through government groups (FDA, etc.)?”

Yes, lobbyists work for nutrition and health groups. These groups register as lobbyists and you can look them up on congressional listings. Groups such as the American Public Health Association and Center for Science in the Public Interest have people on staff whose job it is to provide information to elected officials and federal agency staff. But these groups don’t have anywhere near the resources or political clout of food or drug companies. Donations to election campaigns: that’s the real problem, as you can see by looking at data collected by Open Secrets.

Nov 17 2007

The Farm Bill: Will the Saga Never End?

So now the Senate has blocked action on the Farm Bill, perhaps to give President Bush a break so he won’t have to veto it, which is what he said he would do. As I suggested in my last post on the topic, the Bill is hopeless to understand: 1360 pages, 17 of them just for the Table of Contents. They should all be ashamed. It’s time to elect congressional representatives who represent the public interest and care about issues like sustainability and health. I wonder how we can do that?

Nov 16 2007

Kraft unloads Post cereals

Kraft Foods is selling off Post cereals to Ralcorp Holdings, a company that markets foods under private labels. Kraft had revenues of $34 billion in 2006, of which $21 billion came from U.S. consumers; its profits were about $3 billion. It spent $105 million to advertise Post cereals that year, down 23% from 2005, clearly a sign of disinterest. Kraft used to be owned by Altria which used to be Philip Morris which bought Kraft for $12.9 billion in 1988. Post makes Fruity Pebbles and runs a website for kids. European food analysts speculate that Kraft is doing this because of “the double whammy of high cereal prices and strict legislation on advertising to children.”  Kraft’s products have never been endorsed by the American Heart Association, because that organization does not accepts payments for its HeartCheck certification for products owned by cigarette companies.  My question: will the American Heart Association endorsement now start appearing on Post cereals?

Nov 15 2007

U.S. food “insecurity”: is 11% OK?

Since 1995, the USDA has done census surveys of the extent of food “insecurity”–the euphemism it uses for not having enough food to eat–in the U.S. population. USDA has just released the 2006 survey, which finds 10.9% of the population–including about half a million children–to be food insecure. This percentage is about the same as in previous years. About half of the food insecure population gets federal food assistance, Food Stamps, WIC, or others. What about the other half?

Nov 15 2007

Canine Nutrition: Q and A

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a book about pet food with Cornell professor Malden Nesheim. We are the new nutrition editors of BARK magazine, which has just printed our first answers to Nutrition Perspectives questions. We will be answering questions for BARK occasionally so if you have some, send them along.