Food Politics: Jan. 19, 2011

There are a lot today.
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Domestic Food Politics:

Bombshell Retirement for ag (by Philip Brasher at The Des Moines Register):

Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who is one of the strongest and most influential defenders of farm subsidies in Congress, has announced that he’s not going to run for re-election. There are few retirements that would be as significant for agribusiness.

8 Ways to Fix Our Broken Food System (by Marion Nestle at Alternet.org):

1. Create a single food safety agency: the new law is designed to fix the FDA.  It does nothing to fix the USDA’s food safety functions.  These remain divided between the two agencies, with USDA responsible for the safety of meat and poultry, and FDA responsible for everything else.  This division pretends that animal wastes have nothing to do with the safety of fruits and vegetables which, alas, they do.

[She doesn’t offer any help for people who don’t have the ability to access fresh foods or for those who can’t afford that food at its current cost.]

7 Legislative Decisions Changing the Face of America’s Food System (by Sara Novak from Planet Green):

5.  For the first time ever the FDA has exposed the amount of antibiotics used both to fatten up factory farmed animals and to keep them from getting sick. The report said that in 2009 29 million pounds of antibiotics were given to our nation’s livestock. This is no doubt scary stuff but even still, this sort of openness speaks to a new era in food safety.

Federal government spends millions on hoop houses (by Steve Karnowski at, yes, The Daily Caller):

The federal government has spent millions of dollars to help farmers nationwide buy greenhouse-like structures called high tunnels that can add valuable weeks and even months to their growing seasons by protecting produce from chilly temperatures.

About $13 million has gone to more than 2,400 farmers in 43 states to help pay for the low-tech tunnels that look like a cross between Quonset huts and conventional greenhouses. The structures, also known as hoop houses, have been particularly beneficial in the north, where they allow farmers to plant as much as four weeks early and keep growing later in the fall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture touts the tunnels as environmentally friendly and a way to help meet the demand for local and sustainable produce. Experts say high tunnels employ efficient drip irrigation systems and reduce pest problems, diseases and fertilizer costs.

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More articles after the jump…

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Food and US Education:

School lunch gets healthier (from Culinate):

Overall calorie totals would drop, too, and nearly all trans fats would be banned. Will the plan work? It’s supposed to be phased in over time, so it’ll be years before the verdict is in.

OR does it?  Domino’s “Smart Slice” to appear in a school near you (by Jason Best from Slash Food):

Just as school districts across the country are banning things like sugary soft drinks and candy, here comes Domino’s announcing its plan to double the number of school cafeterias serving its pizzas within the next year. […]

Purists will no doubt argue that while the Smart Slice may indeed be a healthier pizza, it still looks like any other pizza, which may be great for appealing to picky school kids, but ultimately makes it that much harder to teach children about making healthy food choices when they’re outside of school.

For any parent who’s ever tried to negotiate “just one more bite of spinach” at the dinner table, however, the words of Steve Clough, Domino’s director of school-lunch sales, will undoubtedly ring true. He told Nation’s Restaurant News, “Nothing provides nutrition for kids if they don’t eat it.”

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International Food Politics:

Global Malnutrition and the Politics of Food (by Alex B. Hill at Americans for Informed Democracy):

Bill Easterly and the Aid Watch blog ask: “Can the story on US food aid get any worse?,” noting that the US continues to support relief agencies that use a corn-soy food blend that doesn’t even meet the 1960s international nutrition standards of food aid. Children in developing countries don’t necessarily die from a lack of nutritious food, but rather from the diseases that attack their weakened immune systems. […]

Because of the control by US corporations of the food industry and the US government’s subsidies for farmers, food prices have been rising steadily around the world. This impact is hitting small farmers in developing countries hardest as they struggle to find markets to sell their produce and support their families. These small farmers can’t compete with US farmers who are government subsidized or the US corporations who are mass producing and shutting them out. Even as people in developing countries struggle to buy food to eat, one in six Americans are struggling with hunger. This is largely a result of the economic downturn and has affected more than just those already considered poor in the US. It is estimated that nearly one billion people do not have access to a secure source of food around the globe.

Reading the tea leaves for the future of the global food trade (by Tom Philpott at The Grist):

But if food trade that makes sense involves limits, U.S. food/ag trade policy — and that of allied institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — at least since the Reagan years has been about the removal of limits: maximum production and zero barriers. To examine the fruits of this policy, one need only look at the evisceration of Mexico’s smallholder farmers since NAFTA, or the World Bank-induced coffee crisis of the late ’90s/early ’00s, or what happened to Haitian agriculture under Bill Clinton’s influence.

Walmart, KFC, and others fight over Africa’s new middle class (by Holly Richmond at The Grist):

Africa is being invaded by the likes of Walmart, KFC, Smirnoff, and Nestlé, says The Wall Street Journal [$ub. req]. Like a post-larvae butterfly, the glittery wing of a new middle class has caught the eye of international companies — and their pupils are turning into dollar signs. […]

Raising an army of consumers on every continent sounds downright frightening, considering the amount of energy and resources that go into making our crap. On the other hand, ain’t really our place to deny developing countries what we in the first world already have.

Richmond is writing about this article by Peter Wanacott from the WSJ: A Continent of New Consumers Beckons:

There’s a new gold rush under way for the African consumer, a campaign that spans the continent and aims to reach an emerging middle class. These are the people who have begun to embrace cellphone messages, restaurant meals and trips down supermarket aisles.

In Kenya, a battle between units of Britain’s Vodafone Group PLC, and India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. has driven down the consumer’s cost of a text message to a penny. Yum Brands Inc. of the U.S. recently said it wants to double its KFC outlets in the next few years to 1,200.

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Recalled Meat:

United Food Group Recalls 7,875 pounds of Angus Beef Patties Due to Listeria (by Bill Marler at Marler Blog):

United Food Group, LLC, a California business, is recalling approximately 7,875 pounds of ready-to-eat Angus Beef patties that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The products subject to recall include 22.5-pound cases of “FULLY COOKED BLACK ANGUS GROUND BEEF STEAK PATTIES,” with each case containing 75 individual 4.8-ounce patties.  Each package bears the establishment number “EST. 31835” inside the USDA mark of inspection, a use-by date of “10-11-2011,” and is marked with either “LINE #31 or LINE #32.”

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Michael Pollan:

Conversations With History: The Politics of Food. (from Somerco):

Host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer Michael Pollan for a discussion of the agricultural industrial complex that dominates consumer choices about what to eat. He explores the origins, evolution and consequences of this system for the nations health and environment. He highlights the role of science, journalism, and politics in the development of a diet that emphasizes nutrition over food. Pollan also sketches a reform agenda and speculates on how a movement might change Americas eating habits. He also talks about science writing, the rewards of gardening, and how students might prepare for the future.

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False Advertising:

Kellogg’s Pays Up for False Claims on Rice Krispies (by Jessie Cacciola at Slash Food):

Remember those Rice Krispies cereal boxes from 2009 that claimed the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” breakfast would “support your child’s immunity?” This was right around the time parents were vaccine-crazy over the bird flu? As you might have guessed, that claim wasn’t true. Neither was the company’s claim that their Frosted Mini Wheats were “clinically shown to improve children’s attentiveness by nearly 20%.” And for that, Kellogg’s is paying.

Surprise! Most “better-for-you” kids food aren’t (by Marion Nestle at Food Politics):

The Oakland-based Prevention Institute has just released its new research report: Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food.  The report summarizes the Institute’s investigation of whether kids’ foods with “better-for-you” front-of-package labels meet dietary recommendations and nutrition standards.

Bottom line: they don’t. […]

Claiming Health makes it clear that without rigorous nutrient standards, plenty of not-so-good-for-you foods will be labeled as better for children.

As I keep saying, alas, front-of-package labels, like health claims, are about marketing, not health.

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