by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: USDA

Dec 12 2008

Want a better USDA? Sign here!

Food Democracy is circulating a petition to the Obama transition team to appoint a USDA Secretary who cares about sustainability (what a concept!).  Click on the link to join the movement!  If you want to read more about this, see Nicholas Kristof’s column linked to my post on December 10 and Michael Pollan’s magazine piece linked to the one on October 12.

Nov 20 2008

Organic farmed fish (and water) on the way, alas

Actually, they are more or less here already, but the USDA National Organic Standards Board has just given them a big OK.   According to yesterday’s Food Chemical News, the Board approved (13 to 1) a rule to allow “farmed carnivorous fish to eat meal and oil derived from sustainably wild-caught fish — a practice to be phased out over 12 years until non-organic fish feed is no longer needed” (huh?).  It also approved a more controversial recommendation (the vote was 10 to 4) to “allow use of open net pens in organic aquaculture, but with restrictions to prevent escapes of farmed fish and recycling of nutrients. Net pens would only be allowed in specified areas to avoid lice contamination.”

USDA-approved agencies have been certifying farmed fish as organic for several years now, so the Board was forced to take a stand on this question.  As I have mentioned in previous posts on this topic (and written about extensively in What to Eat), organic rules are supposed to be about the conditions of production.

Since when is ocean water organic?   And isn’t feeding “sustainably wild-caught fish” to farmed fish something of an oxymoron? The producers of farmed fish are desperate to be able to market them as organic.  So isn’t this move more about marketing than about producing fish sustainably and healthfully?

While we are on the subject of marketing, I’ve just gotten a press release from a company selling what it says is the first certified organic bottled water.  Since when is water not organic?  And what’s so special about this one?

The National Organic Program says it welcomes feedback and comments.  Here’s where to send them.

Nov 13 2008

Tracking Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)

If you want to understand what’s going on with Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), try USDA’s exceedingly useful COOL website.  If you are really serious about tracking COOL, you can subscribe to a listserv for updates.

Oct 24 2008

USDA proposes new pasture rules for organic ruminants

Under the current rules, meat sold as organic must come from animals with access to pasture.  Loophole alert!  The animals did not have to be raised on pasture.  The USDA now proposes to close the loophole as it applies to ruminant animals. This proposal is open for comment.  If you want to see how such things are done, this one is an excellent example (it includes a detailed history of the regulations, among other useful things).  USDA wrote this in response to more than 80,000 comments on the “announcement of proposed rulemaking.”  Virtually all of these wanted organically raised ruminants to be grazing on pasture.  The Federal Register notice is 24 pages of tiny type but my immediate take is that the USDA proposals are really good.  Take a look and see what you think.  I’m withholding final judgment until somebody does a decent summary so I don’t get bogged down in “We propose to remove the word “or” at the end of paragraph X and replacing the period at the end of paragraph Y with a semicolon.”

Sep 30 2008

Country-of-origin labels at long last (sort of)

While the U.S. economy is falling into the tank, it helps to think of cheerier topics.  This very day, after years of delay, mandatory country-of-origin labeling (M-COOL) supposedly goes into effect.  The “supposedly” is because M-COOL still faces so much opposition. If the experience with fish COOL is any indication, we will see lots of passive ignoring of the rules.

The legislation requires grocery stores to say where a motley collection of foods – beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, macadamia nuts, pecans, peanuts, and ginseng – were raised or grown. This is great but you can drive a truck through the loopholes.  Excluded are food service, processed foods, Internet sales, and butcher shop sales.  And then there’s the 6-month grace period.  Here again is Consumer Reports’ guide to the exceptions.

If you don’t see COOL on products that are supposed to have such labels, ask why they aren’t there.  Tell the store managers you want to know where your food comes from and remind them that they are required by law to tell you.


Sep 15 2008

FDA import rejections: a report

This is interesting.  The USDA has done an analysis of the kinds of imported foods rejected by the FDA for reasons of sanitation (the lack thereof), pesticides, and improper or no registration.   The winners are vegetables, seafood, and fruit, in that order.  This report was about the industries that are having the most problems.  It doesn’t say a word about the countries doing the exporting.  Maybe the USDA will do that next?  That’s the one I want to see.

Sep 14 2008

USDA discusses food deserts

One of the lesser known (to me, anyway) provisions of this year’s farm bill was to ask the USDA to do a study of food deserts –  parts of inner cities and rural areas that do not have access to fresh foods.  The Economic Research Service, a section of the USDA that performs major public service, is holding a conference on food deserts on October 9 in Washington.  Its agenda looks terrific. Check it out!

Sep 13 2008

USDA commodities in school meals

Oh dear.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just released a summary of a new report on the use of USDA surplus commodity foods in school meals, mainly in California.  The major findings?  More than half the commodity foods are processed before they get to the schools and that means added fat, sugar, or salt (example: chicken to nuggets).  More than 80% of funds for commodities are used for meat and cheese; only 13% is spent on fruits and vegetables.  There is so little correlation between foods recommended by the USDA pyramid and those purchased by schools that the report displays a nifty side-by-side illustration of a commodities pyramid next to a USDA pyramid (the useful old one).  It is an almost perfect inverse.  The complete report has lots more good stuff in it.   High marks to the groups that collaborated on this one, the California Food Policy Advocates and Samuels & Associates.