Food Politics: Jan. 26, 2011

Domestic Food Politics:

The grain and cotton growers that dominate U.S. farm subsidies came out unscathed in the first proposal from some of the most conservative House Republicans to cut spending. Instead, the Republican Study Committee targeted spending for organic farmers, sugar growers and an export promotion program that is popular with fruit and vegetable growers.

The panel made no proposal to cut the biggest single source of farm subsidies – the $5 billion in fixed annual payments that primarily go to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton. About 10 percent payments go to Iowa alone.

Instead, the committee proposed to eliminate a program that subsidizes the cost of getting certified as an organic farm, packer and processor. The proposal is listed as saving more than $56 million. But a group that backs the program, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, says there isn’t that much there. The 2008 farm bill allocated $22 million for the program over five years and most of that has already been spent, and it may run out of money entirely in the fiscal year that starts this fall, said Ariane Lotti, the group’s policy director.

Girl Scout Cookies, whose ordering season finished last week in the Chicago area, came with an extra pledge this year.  For the first time ever, the scouts could promise that the majority of the cookies on the order form — five of eight varieties — contained no hydrogenated oils. In other words: No artery-clogging trans fats.

That was great news for health-conscious cookie lovers who didn’t order Samoas, Tagalongs or Thin Mints. Despite carrying a “0 grams trans fat” badge since 2007, these three — most popular cookies on the roster — still feature partially hydrogenated oils as their second and third ingredients.  This inconsistency is allowed under rules from the Food and Drug Administration, which mandated labeling on artificial trans fats starting in 2006 but allows products to be marked “0 grams trans fat” as long as the amount falls below 0.5 grams per serving.  In this case of Samoas, that’s two cookies. So a person who eats eight of them could be taking in nearly 2 grams of trans fats — a substance the National Academy of Science says cannot be safely consumed in any amount.

Mark Bittman (who I love and whose work I credit with giving me the confidence and the ability to cook good food) says goodbye to his ‘The Minimalist’ column at NYT:

International Food Politics:

Most consumers are ignorant of the multinational parent companies behind so-called ethical brands such as Rachel’s Organic, Seeds of Change and Green & Black’s, according to a survey due to be published this week by the consumer organisation Which?.

Three-quarters of the people questioned also believe companies should be clear about ownership on the brand’s packaging, but the survey, to published on Thursday, reveals that corporate parents often keep quiet about their ethical offspring.

Of the 2,110 Which? members surveyed, between 74% (for Green & Black’s) and 96% (for Copella) were unaware of the big names behind 10 popular ethical brands. And, once they found out, of those whose opinion changed, more had a negative reaction than a positive one. “Consumers are being misled,” said one respondent while another commented: “I feel conned.”

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