by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: USDA

Apr 9 2008

USDA keeps moratorium on cloned animals

The USDA says it has no intention of ending its recommended voluntary moratorium on introduction of meat and milk from cloned animals into the food supply. This continues to be an example of bizarre regulation. The government says it’s OK to eat such foods; it just thinks companies should not try to sell them. “Clone-free” labels, anyone?

Mar 31 2008

28 million Americans need food stamps?

Today’s New York Times reports that 28 million low-income Americans will be getting Food Stamps this year, the largest number ever.  The headline sums up the reasons: vanishing jobs and higher prices.  The cost to taxpayers: $36 billion, and rising.  The Food Stamp program, worth an average of less than $100 per month per person, is the USDA’s main contribution to the safety net for low-income adults. Its other big food assistance program, WIC (for Women, Infants, and Children), is also under pressure.  WIC is not an entitlement so whatever Congress allots for it is all there is.  Why do I think we will be hearing a lot about the inadequacies of federal food assistance this year?

Mar 30 2008

USDA’s new report on food availability

The USDA is a big, complicated agency with many units working at apparent cross purposes. I particularly like the work of the Economic Research Service, which produces reports on many interesting aspects of the food economy. Here is a new one, for example, on trends in the availability of foods for consumption by Americans from 1970 to 2005. This is not a report on what people actually eat. “Availability for consumption” means foods produced in the United States, less exports, plus imports, divided by the total population. My favorite figures from the report: added fats and oils account for 32% of caloric availability (this does not count the fat normally present in foods), and added sugars are up 19%. Dietary recommendations suggest consuming no more than 8 teaspoons of sugars a day; 30 are available per capita. This report does not give nutrient information, but other USDA/ERS reports show that the number of calories available for consumption increased from 3,200 to 3,900 per person per day over that period. If more food is available, more of it has to be sold….

Correction: make that 4,000 calories per person per day in the latest USDA report.

Feb 14 2008

USDA challenges food companies to help end childhood obesity

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.

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Feb 13 2008

Country-of-origin labels: voluntary?

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.

Feb 4 2008

USDA reviews food industry progress on fiber

The USDA has now given us a poster child for the food industry’s good intentions in helping to improve the American diet.  The agency’s new fact sheet on dietary fiber documents how the food industry has used technology to add fiber and whole grains to processed foods.  Even so, the total amount of fiber and whole grains available in the food supply just doesn’t seem to budge.   Why not?  The USDA says the grain-based food industry isn’t giving the agency the data it needs to demonstrate increases and that “a collaborative working relationship” is needed to get better data.   Getting more data from the food industry–especially about food composition–would be nice but isn’t going to help people eat more fiber-rich foods.  For that, how about eating unprocessed foods!

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Jan 14 2008

USDA seeks food industry action against obesity

According to Food Chemical News (this link may only be available to subscribers), the USDA is about to launch “Project M.O.M” (Mothers and Others and MyPyramid), a program that challenges food businesses to develop plans to counter childhood obesity through diet and activity. One problem: programs must be based on the Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid. It will be interesting to see what they come up with. Stay tuned.


Jan 9 2008

The FDA’s New Year’s Gift: Posters!

The FDA has produced electronic posters giving the nutrient content of raw fruits, raw vegetables, and cooked seafood (purchased raw). Why? I’m guessing because real foods don’t come with Nutrition Facts labels and you have to go to the USDA’s nutrient composition data base to find out what the details are. You can download the posters in small, medium, large, and extra-large, or just in text format. If you care about which fruit or vegetable has the most of any one nutrient, here’s an easy way to find out. Have fun with them!