Food Politics: Jan. 18, 2011

Science and Farming:

MU Scientists Find New Farming Method to Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Increase Farm Yields (from New Bureau: University of Missouri):

U.S. agricultural practices create 58 percent of nitrous oxide in the world, which is the third most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Scientists believe nitrous oxide contributes to global warming about 300 times more than carbon dioxide. New practices and products have been introduced to address this issue, but farmers do not have the time or profit margins to experiment with ideas that may ultimately hurt the “bottom line.” Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found methods to help farmers reduce those emissions while also increasing corn grain production.

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More articles after the jump…

Food in Schools:

USDA Starts Working on New School Food Standards (from The Atlantic):

The new standards allow skim “flavored” milk (translation: sugar-sweetened). Otherwise, says USDA, kids might not drink milk and will not get enough calcium. Sigh. Milk, as I keep saying, is not an essential nutrient. Chocolate or strawberry milk is a dessert. Chalk this one up to dairy lobbying.

The USDA based the new standards on the report released in October 2009 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM): School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children. It looks to me as though the USDA actually followed the IOM recommendations, a miracle in itself.

If you want to comment on the new standards, you can do so until April 13 at http://www.regulations.gov.

L.A. Schools Squash Jamie Oliver’s Plans For Food Revolution (from Jezebel):

Jamie Oliver is pleading with the L.A. Unified School District to reconsider after it rejected his request to film Food Revolution in its schools. 75 other districts have turned down his offer to criticize their school lunches on TV.

For more on Jamie Oliver, see these posts at Shakesville (let’s just say, she’s not a fan): Save Me From Myself, Skinny Jesus Chef! (March 25, 2010), Skinny Jesus Chef Less Messiah, More Mess-Maker (April 15, 2010), Save My School, Privileged Messiah Billionaire! (May 7, 2010), “Get Off” (Jan. 11, 2011).

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Government Accountability Office and the FDA:

GAO takes on health claims.  Yes! (from Food Politics):

Let’s hear it for the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency that has still managed to remain independent of the more corrupt aspects of Washington food politics.  In its most recent investigation, the GAO took a tough look at the inability of the FDA to hold health claims on food packages to reasonable scientific standards. […]

The GAO reviews evidence that consumers can’t tell the difference between one kind of health claim and another (I could have told them that).

Food companies take advantage of this confusion and increasingly use the stealth structure/function claims, which the FDA pretty much ignores.

The FDA has to ignore them.  It doesn’t have much choice.  The FDA has no authority to require companies to submit evidence of scientific substantiation.  The FDA is permitted to ask for the information, but it has no legal authority to force companies to provide it.

GAO: FDA lacks the power it needs to address structure / function claims (from U.S. Food Policy):

FDA was forced several years ago to allow qualified health claims, because companies had sued in court over their First Amendment rights to make claims that had some scientific evidence, even if there was not enough to count as Significant Scientific Agreement. However, the necessary cautionary statements about weak evidence are a turnoff for the consumer, so manufacturers have not made major use of these qualified health claims.

As a consequence, manufacturers have placed most of their bets on structure / function claims, which do not have to be backed by much evidence, because these claims pretend not to be health claims in the first place. The only time FDA can take action against a structure / function claim is if it is blatantly false or misleading.

The most striking thing about the new GAO report is that it recommends FDA strengthen its ability to find out if such claims are false or misleading.

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Fuck you, Lobbyists:

What kind of stewardship is this? (from The Baltimore Sun):

And make no mistake — agriculture is a major polluter. It contributes as much to the region’s water pollution woes as anyone. Scientists estimate about half the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that has caused such devastation to the flora and fauna of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries over the years can be traced to runoff from farmland.

So just as Maryland and other states seem to be on the cusp of a new hope for the bay — an effort led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that could lead to substantially less pollution entering the ecosystem over the next 15 years — who do you imagine goes to court to thwart this critical environmental initiative before it even gets started?

That would be the American Farm Bureau Federation, the so-called “voice of agriculture” at the national level, a powerful Washington lobbying group.

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International Food Politics:

Argentine farmers freeze grain sales in protest (from Reuters):

Argentine farmers halted sales of wheat, corn and soy on Monday as they went on strike over export curbs, rekindling a dispute that helped drive global grains prices to record highs three years ago.

The seven-day protest by growers in the South American nation, one of the world’s biggest food suppliers, could fuel supply concerns just as dry weather linked to La Nina worsens the outlook for soy and corn production.

Argentine farmers have been at odds with the government for years over export curbs aimed at taming double-digit inflation and guaranteeing affordable supplies of everyday staples.

They say the system of wheat and corn export quotas lets millers and exporters pay farmers low prices, and want center-left President Cristina Fernandez to scrap the caps.

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Austin Food News:

Austin Named Emerging Food Market (from Austin Business Journal):

The study ranked Austin as No. 7 on a list of the top 10 largest markets in the U.S. for franchise expansion. […]

Austin’s ranking comes as no surprise though, given the 30-plus franchises — most of which are quick-service related — planned for the local market in recent months as we’ve reported.

One of the market’s strengths for quick-service franchises is the University of Texas population, as QSR pointed out last year when Red Mango, a Dallas-based fast-growing yogurt chain in America, opened its newest store at 2222 Rio Grande Drive. The chain told QSR it targets so-called Millennials on college campuses instead of competing in crowded metro areas.

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