Tuesday, December 30, 2008

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Accepting Nominations to National Advisory Committee

I'm taking a few days off from blogging, but I wanted to get this post up:

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting nominations for membership on the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection. The deadline to submit a nomination is Jan. 23.

The N.A.C.M.P.I. consists of 16 to 18 members and each is expected to serve a two-year term. The committee provides advice and makes recommendations regarding federal meat and poultry inspection programs and includes representatives from industry, academia, state and local government agencies, public health officials and consumer groups.

Nominations must include the nominee’s resume or curriculum vitae and should be submitted by e-mail to NACMPI@fsis.usda.gov or by mail to Mr. Alfred Almanza, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service, in care of Faye Smith, Room 1175-South Building, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, D.C. 20250, or by fax to (202) 720-5704.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kenya's Parliament Opens Door to American Genetically Engineered Products

According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Kenya's parliament voted overwhlemingly to embrace agricultural biotechnology. The vote established the Bio-Safety Bill which is the first step in the creation of regulations for the implementation of widespread use of genetically engineered seeds and plants. Kenya's president is expected to sign the bill before January 1, 2009.

The real bonus for American agribusiness is the bill will permit Kenya to import genetically modified products from US growers.

Once opened, this door can never be closed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mixed Feelings About Food For Progress Program Grants, Genetically Engineered Foods Featured

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer recently announced plans for $212 million in international assistance under Food for Progress (FFP) Program for the current fiscal year.

Under the enabling legislation, agricultural commodities may be sent to countries that are “emerging democracies” and “have made commitments to introduce or expand free enterprise elements into their agricultural economies.”

Related food aid programs state that (1) the policy of the United States is to use food aid to “develop and expand export markets for United States agricultural commodities” and, (2) that priority for food aid should be given to countries that “have the demonstrated potential to become commercial markets for competitively priced United States agricultural commodities.”

Genetically Engineered Foods the Focus of This Year’s Food Aid

This year’s allocations announced by the secretary include more than 280,000 tonnes of U.S. wheat and wheat flour, soybean and vegetable oil, soybean meal and yellow corn that will be purchased on the U.S. market and donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These commodities are eligible because they have been acquired by the US government through its price support operations.

92% of planted soybean acres in the US are genetically engineered. 63% of corn acreage in the US is genetically engineered. Many recipients of food aid from the US still prohibit the import and planting of genetically modified seed, but they accept genetically modified food from the United States.

One may not want to dwell on the politics of hunger and food aid, but one has to note that the opening and maintaining of markets is a key objective of the Food For Progress program.

CARE opts out of monetized food sales and most Food For Progress Programs

In CARE USA’s White Paper on Food Aid Policy, recognition is given that “under some circumstances food aid can harm local production and markets, undermining long-term food security.” Based on this and other reasoning CARE has decided to transition out of monetization under the Food For Progress Program. Monetization is the sale of US donated food to generate cash for humanitarian programs. CARE has taken the position that food aid should not be used to enable a donor country to establish an unfair commercial advantage and must not create disincentives to local production and markets. By September of 2009, CARE will no longer accept Food For Progress resources that come from subsidized sales or surplus disposal, nor will CARE monetize resources from the FFP Program.

CARE’s primary objection to participation is that these programs have as their stated objectives the support of US farmers, and the promotion of free enterprise and competition in agricultural economies in recipient countries.

Eliminate Objectives that Link Food Aid to Expansion of Export Markets

Policies and programs for U.S. food aid should be established and operated based on the food security needs of recipient countries and vulnerable populations rather than donor country objectives to expand its export markets.

While US food aid programs do not overtly include objectives to expand US markets (and to promote GE crops and seeds) and their success is not measured on this basis, there are provisions in current law that state market expansion as an objective. Changes are needed to correct this problem. Congress should eliminate the statement in the preamble to PL 480 that it is the policy of the United States to use food aid to “develop and expand export markets for United States agricultural commodities.”

And, in PL 480 Title I, Congress should eliminate the priority for countries that “have the demonstrated potential to become commercial markets for competitively priced United States agricultural commodities” and other references to using Title I for market development purposes.

Using food aid to compel recipient countries to accept genetically engineered crops or to open their fragile markets to US subsidized crop competition is an exploitation of our comparative advantages in food production to the detriment of the recipient countries. We should not benefit economically by the destruction of recipient countries’ ability to feed themselves or to provide for their own food security.

The Food For Progress and other food aid programs should be continued, but the purposes of the program should exclude development of export markets and the fortunes of agribusiness conglomerates.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Philadelphia Mayor Signs New Calorie Posting Law

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed a bill that orders most chain restaurants to display calorie, fat and other information. The bill was signed at the Center for Obesity Research Education at Temple University.

In November, the bill passed the City Council by a vote of 12-5. The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2010.

The Philadelphia ordinance applies to restaurant chains — including coffee shops, ice cream parlors and convenience stores — with a total of 15 or more stores, whether in the city or elsewhere. It will require their outlets in the city to tell customers about calories, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium.

Because it covers more items and has fewer exemptions, it is broader than laws passed in other places including New York City and California.

Philadelphia was once labeled the fattest city in the land by Men's Fitness magazine.

This is a follow-up to an earlier post on November 14, 2008 applauding Philadelphia's City Council for its passage of what may be the nation's toughest calorie and nutrition posting law.

G&J Gourmet Market Cocoa Products Recalled for Melamine Taint

Dorsey Marketing Inc. (DMI) of Ville St. Laurent, Quebec, Canada, has recalled the following three G&J Gourmet Market cocoa products because these products may contain melamine:

G&J Hot Cocoa Stuffer Item 120144 (UPC 061361201444). This hot cocoa product was sold in small green and blue boxes with a backer card, candy cane and marshmallows.

G&J His and Hers Hot Cocoa Set Item 120129 (UPC 489702201296). This cocoa product was sold with 2 ceramic mugs in a brown box.

G&J Cocoa item 120126, sold in 2 flavors: French Vanilla Cocoa and Double Chocolate Cocoa. G&J French Vanilla Cocoa (UPC 061361201260). This product was sold in a small green bag with a whisk attached. G&J Double Chocolate Cocoa (UPC 061361201260). This product was sold in a small pink bag with a whisk attached.

The above recalled products were imported into the United States by DMI and distributed nationwide to retailer Big Lots during the weeks of September 22, 2008 and September 29, 2008 and to retailer Shopko during the week of October 10, 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New York's Soft Drink Tax; Calorie Posting; and Economic Externalities of Super-Size Sodas

After eight years of neglecting public policy at the federal level, states and counties have taken it upon themselves to fill the void left by Bush appointees.

Counties, cities and states have banned trans fats, mandated calories be posted on menu boards, used zoning to control the rampant growth in fast food outlets, and now Governor Paterson's (D-NY) newest policy move is a tax on sugared soft drinks. With this move, Paterson accomplishes several goals. One, he adds tax revenue to New York's desperate financial problems. Two, he tackles obesity where it flourishes -- with calorie laden non-nutritious liquid candy, aka soda. And three, he fires a salvo at powerful industry groups like convenience store associations, restaurant associations, beverage lobbies, etc. who oppose any action designed to point out the evils of their products.

In economics, there is a concept called externalities. What an externality basically is is a cost not reflected in the product itself, but one that is paid for and absorbed by society at large. For example, the price of a gallon of gasoline does not cover the costs of the pollution it creates. The price of a car does not include the price of public highway construction needed for cars to drive on.

In the foodsphere, the price of a sugared soft drink does not include the medical costs of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all of the medical ailments stemming from obesity. Now I'm not naive enough to think that the soft drink tax will go anywhere other than to the general revenue of New York State, but somewhere, somehow, I'd like to think that the extra revenue to the state paid by those who drink themselves obese would be used to cover some of the health care costs borne by the state in caring for its citizens.

Is it really necessary to have 64 ounce sodas sold at gas stations and convenience stores? Have you ever seen the size of the large sodas sold at the movie chains? Taxing them is sound public policy. It is also sound public policy to require the convenience stores and movie theater to post the calories contained in those giant sodas so that consumers can see number of empty calories they would ingest and make informed decisions to reject those products.

Also, I've really been enjoying Marion Nestle's coverage of Governor Paterson's proposed soda tax.

All valuable food for thought.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama Blows It; Vilsack Wrong For Secretary Of Agriculture (Agribusiness)

Tom Vilsack is the wrong man for leading the USDA. Progressive thinkers know that the role and mandate of the USDA should change and that food and food safety should be its primary focus. It disserves the country have the USDA's focus be on the continued expansion and development of big agriculture at the expense of smaller farms, organic farms, and the food safety needs of our country and the world at large. He will be the "Secretary of Agribusiness" and subordinate the role of food to the production of commodities and monocultures.

Tom Vilsack is a firm believer in genetically engineered plants and seeds and has staked out numerous positions favoring Monsanto-led economics. He endorses the thinking of the BIGMAP herd and believes in a limited government role as related to GE crops. He has been inconsistent on the regulation of CAFOs and would likely continue the subsidies of our corn-based economy.

On November 17, 2008, I wrote:

Tom Vilsack may not be the right person for head of the USDA.

He is a probably good man who has been on the right side of many issues. He served as the governor of Iowa from 1998 to 2006 and currently is of counsel in the Dorsey Trial group in Des Moines. As part of his bio at the firm, he boasts being a Distinguished Fellow of the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products (aka BIGMAP) at Iowa State University. BIGMAP generally opposes laws and regulations what would trigger regulatory oversight for acts of genetic engineering, and believes that government regulation in and of itself may "close the door" on future innovations that might benefit society and the environment. In other words, BIGMAP prefers that the biotech and genetic engineering industries self-regulate. Vilsack is also widely thought of as a friend of Monsanto.

He showed courage several years back when as governor or Iowa he vetoed a law passed by Iowa’s legislature that would have prohibited Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from establishing air quality standards for CAFOs stricter than the federal government’s standard. That law would have also precluded the Iowa DNR from establishing standards for airborne substances for which the federal government had left a legal void.

Vilsack did the right thing. He vetoed the law, but then he recommended a weak 30 part per billion (ppb) one-hour standard for hydrogen sulfide as a compromise; a standard weaker than states surrounding Iowa. Although Minnesota also had a 30 part per billion standard, it was for a 30-minute exposure time, not an hour.

Also, in 2001,when the EPA proposed changing the definition of a CAFO by decreasing the number of animal units that triggers an NPDES permit, Vilsack (writing for the National Governor’s Association) opposed that re-definition because of the burden on states in issuing, monitoring and enforcing NPDES permits. He gave no concern for health or environmental issues.

Vilsack also challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate CAFOs in areas that “might not” discharge into waters of the United States, in effect permitting CAFOs in arid parts of the country to avoid EPA regulations.

Vilsack also opposed other common sense changes proposed by the EPA. See Vilsack’s CAFO defense letter (National Governors Association).

He also has a history of supporting other CAFO-related laws, and has not always been on the right side of the issue. As a corn-state governor, he may have a pre-disposition toward continuing corn state subsidies, and may be less than zealous in slowing the growth of the corn-based food economy.

Finally, Vilsack needs to disclose where he stands on GMO foods and genetically engineered plants and seeds. Does he support mandatory labeling of GM foods? Will he support pending legislation to ban Terminator Seed (GURT) technology where plants yield sterile seed so that they can not be replanted for future harvests? Will he support legislation that voids retrictions on seed saving by farmers? Will his relationship with Monsanto color his judgment on these issues?

David Axelrod helped run Vilsack’s gubernatorial campaign in 1998, and was Vilsack’s long-time media consultant. Perhaps he is not the right person to screen the candidate? Perhaps food activists can play more of a role in Vilsack’s vetting? Perhaps Obama can avoid making his first big blunder?

That was November 17th. Today, I cannot help but feel disappointment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FDA Watching "Smart Choices" Front-Of-Package Nutrition Label Program For False Or Misleading Claims

The Food and Drug Administration issued a "Dear Manufacturer" letter regarding front-of-package symbols in response to recent industry efforts to create its own front-of-package marketing program.

In the letter, the FDA reminded food manufacturers and distributors that there is an existing regulatory scheme with specific requirements regarding nutrition claims.

Readers of this blog will recall that a little more than a month ago, several food companies agreed to use a front-of-pack nutrition labeling system called the Smart Choices Program on products beginning next year.

The FDA intimated its intent to monitor the Smart Choice Program and notify manufacturers when front-of-package symbols explicitly or impliedly violate legal requirements for nutrient content claims. Such use would render the labeling false or misleading.

The Smart Choices Program has received a lot of positive publicity, and there is a huge PR effort to make Smart Choices into a consumer standard for identifying good food choices.

I think the effort is misguided. It is “just-another” industry effort to self-regulate and to limit the actual dissemination of information on good versus bad food choices. From its outset, the program would have a funding stream conflict of interest, as its source of revenue to sustain itself would be conditioned on the participation of food manufacturers. That funding stream would likely dry up if standards were too rigorous, or if foods that failed to meet standards were required to state their shortcomings on their front package labels. Even in Keystone’s Request for Proposal seeking an administrator for the program, it repeatedly highlights the need to control costs to participants and to minimize the burdens on manufacturers in the provision of nutritional information.

Michael F. Jacobsen, executive director of nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest recently wrote: “A disinterested funder and committee of experts free of conflicts of interest likely would have rated the healthfulness of foods differently from the ‘better for you’ Smart Choices Program adopted by the roundtable.”

A system that is not mandatory for all foods and beverages is inherently flawed and is no different from current laws that permit manufacturers to make product claims related to good health. Smart Choices will be just another of the 25 icon systems currently in the US marketplace that permit manufacturers to puff up their food's desirability with health claims.

Also, unless there is a “Dumb Choice” standard, similar to the “Traffic Lights” program in the UK, the system is neither meaningful nor comprehensive. Self-regulation is preferred by industry as manufacturers would not be required to disclose which food products in their portfolios are “not” smart choices. The FDA mandated Nutrition Facts Panel currently in use requires uniform disclosure for all products, favorable or unfavorable.

Pending in the Senate (and likely to die there in the 110th Congress), and part of Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) HELP America Act (S.1342, Section 421, Front-Label Food Guidance Systems), is a mandate for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to solicit public comments regarding whether American consumers would be better served by establishing a single, standardized, retail front-label food guidance system regulated by the FDA.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has also petitioned the FDA to develop a standardized system of symbols for front-label claims. The better route is establishment by the FDA of a directed, standardized, and comprehensive front-of-package food labeling program and icon system with unified criteria based on the best available science, and geared toward the public’s interest in health. It should apply to all foods and beverages, and not be compromised by dependence on industry funding or industry science.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dioxin Tainted Irish Pork Products Recalled In United States, USDA Sees Low Risk Of Harm and Will Not Disclose Retail Recipients

According to the USDA, three importers of Irish pork products received pork products that have either tested positive for the presence of dioxins or may contain dioxins.

Rupari Food Services, of Deerfield Beach, FL establishment has recalled approximately 41,020 pounds of the dioxin tainted pork that was sent to restaurants in California. The pork was sold as 44-pound approximate weight boxes of "ROSDERRA MEATS, ROSCREA, Pork Loin Back Ribs, KEEP FROZEN." The shipping label bears the Irish establishment number "EST NO. 355."

Dawn International of Acton, MA has recalled approximately 33,880 pounds of the dioxin tainted pork that were sent to distribution centers in Florida. The pork was sold as 30-pound cartons of "DAWN PORK & BACON, PORK LOIN BACK RIBS, PRODUCT OF REPUBLIC OF IRELAND." The shipping label bears the Irish mark of inspection "IRELAND 332 EC."

And, Tommy Moloney's Inc. of Long Island City, NY has recalled approximately 4,041 pounds of the dioxin tainted pork The pork was sold as 8-ounce packages of "Tommy Moloney's Traditional Irish Breakfast Bacon, Made from imported Irish Pork." The label bears the establishment number "EST. 33789" inside the U.S. mark of inspection as well as a "sell by" date between "Dec. 15, 2008" and "Jan. 31, 2009." These products were sent to retail stores in California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

The pork products were produced in Ireland between Sept. 1 and Dec. 7, 2008, and were then exported to the United States.

The USDA/FSIS was notified by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) that routine surveillance tests indicated the presence of dioxin in pork products that were sent to importers in the United States.

Here’s the thing. The USDA/FSIS has described this as a Class II recall. That means, that our government is not going to tell us what restaurants, distributors, or retail stores received the tainted products. Class II recalls have recently been exempted from the requirement that the final recipients of the recalled meat be revealed to the public. Yes, you read that correctly. We posted a similar situation earlier this month regarding recalled Polish Kielbasa.

It also means that our government considers there to be a low risk of harm to persons who eat the dioxin tainted pork. Yes, you read that correctly, too. So go ahead, enjoy the bacon in California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. Also, enjoy your pork ribs in restaurants in California and wherever the Florida distributors resold them.

Our government does not believe we have the right to know where these recalled items may be being sold or served.

USDA's Revolving Door In Full Swing

USDA’s Revolving Door In Full Swing

Elizabeth Johnson, M.S. R.D., Acting Undersecretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has joined the National Restaurant Association (NRA) as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs. In her new position, Johnson will oversee government affairs, public policy and communications for the NRA.

Before joining the USDA (along with a wave of other industry lobbyists) in 2002, she worked at Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., an international PR firm, where she was a vice president with clients in the food and agribusiness practice group.

Before that, she was the Associate Director for Food Policy for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the nation’s largest beef lobbyist.

I trust Ms. Johnson will feel at home once again in industry. Please try not to let the door hit you on the way out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Industry Successes In Menu Board/Calorie Posting Wars, Ohio And Georgia Lost to Industry Tactics, A Call To Action

Industry Successes in Menu Board/Calorie Posting Wars

Ohio Prempts Local Action

In 2005, Ohio proposed HB423. The bill would have required restaurants that are part of a chain having 10 or more locations nationally and 5 or more locations in Ohio, to list calories, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, and sodium on the menu or menu board for standard menu items as usually prepared and offered for sale. The proposed law was progressive and in-line with other jurisdictions trying to tackle obesity and related diseases. The bill never passed.

In a complete turnaround of principles, Ohio recently passed HB 217 (now Chapter 43). That law gives exclusive authority to Ohio’s Director of Agriculture to regulate the provision of food nutrition information in food service establishments. Under the law, "Food nutrition information" includes the caloric, fat, carbohydrate, cholesterol, fiber, sugar, potassium, protein, vitamin, mineral and sodium content of food.

The Ohio law quite clearly prevents any political subdivision in Ohio from enacting or adopting local legislation relating to the provision of food nutrition information at food service operations. The law takes away local options in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo (and everywhere else in Ohio) from even considering calorie posting laws in their jurisdictions. It preempts all local initiatives, and quashes the disclosure movement as it existed in Ohio before its passage.

Georgia Takes Away Local Options

Georgia passed HB 1303 and enacted, Act No. 504 in 2008. It prohibits any county board of health or political subdivision of the state including municipalities, county and local government authorities, boards, and commissions from regulating the display of food nutrition information at food service establishments. So Atlanta will not be joining Philadelphia, New York City and other progressive communities in their efforts to post calorie counts in fast food and chain restaurants. Georgia preempted any government entity in the state from even considering the passage of menu board laws within the state of Georgia.

Regressive politics at its worst.

These two states took affirmative action to preempt any local jurisdiction in their states from passing menu board laws. When industry took New York City to court to challenge its menu board law, it argued that federal law preempted states and local entities from passing such laws, and that menu board laws were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. Well, industry lost that argument. In fact, the federal government specifically excluded calorie postings on menu boards from its federal legislation and intentionally left the states to pass such laws.

Having lost the federal preemption argument, and left with the likelihood that many municipalities in the country would pass calorie posting laws, industry changed its strategy.

It engaged its favorite legislators to sponsor laws in the House and Senate called the LEAN Act. The primary purposes of the LEAN Act are to create a federal preemption of calorie posting and menu board laws (and to preclude state and local governments from being able to pass such laws), and to enable restaurants to post calories in places other than on menus and menu boards (where customers are likely to see them). The LEAN Act permit postings in menu supplements or on signs other than where prices are posted.

Industry’s other strategy was to get to state legislatures and have their favorite state assemblymen and senators introduce laws that preempt local jurisdictions in their states from passing calorie posting and menu board laws. Georgia and Ohio are two of industry’s successes.

Voters in Georgia and Ohio should recognize that they’ve been had and ask for a statewide mandate requiring calorie posting and menu board laws similar to those in California and New York City. Alternatively, they should ask for repeal of their state’s preemption law. Repeal would enable local counties and cities to consider their own protective legislation, and allow local initiatives to combat obesity.

As another alternative, voters in Georgia and Ohio (and everywhere else) should support the federal MEAL Act. It largely mirrors New York City’s successful menu board law and would apply it nationally. Although both the LEAN Act and the MEAL Act will likely die in Congress this year, both are certain to be reintroduced in the new 111th Congress next year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Flawed Study on Effects of Calorie Labeling On Fast Food Meal Choices

Effects of calorie labeling and value size pricing on fast food meal choices: Results from an experimental trial.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Behavioral, Nutrition and Physical Activity concludes that additional research is needed to better evaluate the effects of calorie labeling and value size pricing on fast food meal choices.

It reaches this conclusion based on its published results which finds no significant differences between the average energy content (calories) of meals ordered from a menu that included calorie information (without value-size pricing) as compared to those meals ordered from a menu that did not include calorie information (but had value-size pricing). In other words, it found no meaningful difference in food choices when calories were posted on the menu. The study reports similar results across age, race and education levels.

This is a deeply flawed study.

The study should not have tried to tackle both calorie information and value-size pricing, particularly where it acknowledges that most participants did not understand the value-size pricing component. It only served to confuse the results.

There was no context given to participants regarding the calorie information. The study says, “[T]o put the calorie information in context the average daily calorie needs of adult men and women were provided in a ‘Calories Count’ information box in the right hand bottom corner of the menu.” Women were told that “most need less than 2000 calories in a day.” Men were told that “most need less than 2400 calories in a day.” The mypyramid.gov web site posts those calorie amounts for males and females between 19 and 30. But, for women and men between 31 and 50, calories would be 1800 and 2200, respectively, and for 51-plus, 1600 and 2000 calories, respectively. Age participants in the study ranged from 16 through 61+, and many were given incorrect information about their calorie needs.

There was also no information given as to what intake of calories beyond 2000 and 2400 would mean to participants. There was no mention of weight gain, high blood pressure, obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes, increases likelihood of stroke, or any of the other effects of over intake of calories. No health organization or municipality trying to affect change by posting calories is doing so in a vacuum. Public education campaigns accompany calorie posting laws in every jurisdiction that has enacted menu board laws.

Also, although the study was just published, the data collected was from October 2005 and April of 2006, a time before a single jurisdiction in the country passed a calorie posting law.

The study should have considered the methodologies used by Mary Bassett, MD, MPH and others, and collected its data from actual register receipts from purchasers at fast food restaurants, as reported in the peer reviewed American Journal Of Public Health, August 2008. Having participants order fast food from conference rooms in suburban hotels or church basements does not reveal real-time live food choices.

The study should have chosen participants from a jurisdiction that has already passed a calorie posting law, so there would at least be some likelihood that participants received some education as to the dangers of excessive calorie intake.

The study included the results as between males and females; between those that reported the importance of nutrition in fast food purchases; and, between those that reported the importance of price in fast food purchases -- three distinct groups. The authors gathered demographic information on body mass index (BMI), but did not report differences in behavior among those with normal BMIs, those considered overweight, and those considered obese.

The data does shows that significantly lower calorie intake among those reporting that nutrition was important when buying fast food. This would indicate that those persons educated as to the effects of nutrition availed themselves of the calorie information to make meaningful choices.

Also, the study has a methodological weakness. Participants were exposed to the calorie information on only one occasion, a critical shortcoming especially if repeated exposure to calorie information is required before awareness or behavior change can be expected.

Lack of context of the calorie information was perhaps its greatest fault. Participants were only told that they need less than a certain number of calories per day, but were not told what they need them for. Also the wording of the calorie information was awkward. A second group of participants should have been told that eating more than a specified number of calories could have a detrimental health affect.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The study abstract can be found here, and a PDF file of the actual study can be found here. This flawed study will likely become a darling of the restaurant industry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Michael Pollan On Bill Moyers Journal

Bill Moyers sits down with Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley, to discuss what direction the U.S. should pursue in the often-overlooked question of food policy. Here is a link to the show and a transcript.

Knox County, TN Considering Calorie Counts on Menu Boards; List of Speakers from Nashville Meeting On Menu Boards

Knox County, TN is considering a law to put calorie counts next to prices on fast food and chain restaurant menus.

Over 60 percent of Knox County residents are overweight or obese. "It costs Knox County alone $200 million a year in extra medical costs for overweight and obesity," says Knox County Health Department Director Mark Jones.

Knox County officials have been looking at the proposal for a while, even traveling with Nashville (which has drafted its own version of the law) officials to cities that have already taken the plunge.

Here is a list of speakers (and the establishments they represented) at the public meeting held in Nashville, TN last month on its pending proposal:

Dr. Paul – MPHD - For
Robert DeYoung – White Castle System, Inc. - Against
Charlie Pastors – B.F. Nashville, Inc. – Wendy’s - Against (Wendy's Official Position at link)
Jarron Springer – Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association - Against
Todd Saxey – The Old Spaghetti Factory, District Manager - Against
Kelly Napier – Rafferty’s Restaurants - Against
Anshika Sharma – MPHD Youth Advisory Board - For
Catherine Floyd – Citizen - For
Dr. Roger Cone – Vanderbilt University - For
Dr. Joan Randall – Vanderbilt University - For
Genie Moore – Middle Tennessee Chapter of the American Diabetes Association - For
Walt Baker – Tennessee Restaurant Association, TN Hotel & Lodging Assn.- Against
Leslie Cherry – O’Charley’s - Against
Nick Taras – Robert-Orr/Sysco - Against
Patrick Sheeny – CBRL Group, Inc. - Against
Dr. David Schlundt – Vanderbilt University - For
Stephen Anderson – Logan’s Roadhouse - Against
Dr. Tom Cook – Vanderbilt University - For
Dan Haskell - Tennessee Restaurant Association, TN Hotel & Lodging Assn., Gaylord Entertainment, Tennessee Retail Assn., Nashville Chamber of Commerce - Against
Rob DelMoro, Regal Entertainment Group - Against
Mark Balsinger, Carmike Cinemas - Against
Tony Thompson – National Association of Theatre Owners of Tennessee - Against
Tamara Lister – Famous Dave’s - Against
Nathan Ridley - Boult Cummings Law Firm - Against
Chelsea Williams – Citizen - For
Henson Moore – Schlotzsky’s Deli, Bojangles - Against
Claire McKeever –Food Security Partners of Middle TN - Against
Dr. Alisa Haushalter – MPHD - For

You can see for yourself where industry falls out on the proposal. The Board will consider the measure again at its February 9, 2009 meeting, where hopefully, the proposal will be voted on.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Walgreens Recalls Melamine Tainted Chocolates

Walgreens is recalling 173 teddy bears with chocolate bars sold in stores since late September 2008. Analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that certain samples of the chocolate provided with the teddy bears were contaminated with melamine.

The item is described as an approximately 9-inch high Dressy Teddy Bear with 4-oz. Chocolate Bar. The product's UPC number is 047475864485, and the product tag also includes the item number 291332.

It was only a matter of time before more melamine tainted products surfaced in the United States. In the new few weeks or months we will start to see more melamine recalls, especially for products made with milk protein concentrates, a manufactured item that is largely imported in mixed batches from overseas.

"Got Milk" may as well read "Got Melamine." We need to support mandatory country of origin (mCool) labelling for for dairy products.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Two Recalls You Can Not Trace To Retail Stores

Last week DeNunzio's Sausage recalled 36,388 pounds of Polish Kielbasa, and John Soules Foods recalled 8,496 pounds of cooked chicken strips. Both recalls were based on the food manufacturers' failure to disclose known food allergens on their labels. Normally, this site reports or links to the retail stores that received the recalled products so that consumers can be aware of possible dangers.

A new policy by the USDA will prevent this blog and others from revealing the names of the retail stores that received the recalled meats. The policy precludes the USDA from revealing retail consignees by designating the recalls as Class II recalls. Earlier this year, the USDA classified the massive recall of downer cows as a Class II recall.

This flaw in reporting requirements is not unintentional. It is part of the design of the Bush administration to enable industries to self-police and regulate their own bad acts. The consumer suffers and industry gets to continue to limit information about recalled products.

To anyone with a food allergy unlucky enough to have purchased a product recalled for an undeclared allergen, the recall was not low-risk at all. All Class I and Class II (to the extent they exist at all) recalls should have a mandatory requirement that all retail recipients of recalled products be revealed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friendly's Abandons Trans Fats, But Does It Really Matter

The Friendly Ice Cream chain of about 500 restaurants, said it is "officially banning artificial trans fat" from its menu. Earlier this year, Friendly's disclosed plans to join other restaurant chains in phasing out trans fat oil and said then that it expected the transition to be completed by the fall. Numerous city and municipal governments have already banned trans fats including New York and Boston.

So no more trans fat at Friendly's. But have you looked at its menu.? If you eat the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich Wrap (no fries, no soda), you are still getting 1300 calories, of which 810 come from fat. The 90grams of fat equal 138% of the recommended amount for an entire day.

The 22grams of saturated fat amount to 110% of a daily allotment. 140mg of cholestoral are about one half a daily allowance, and the wrap has a whopping 2,870 mg of sodium. That is more than a full teaspoon or 120% of a recommended daily amount.

So, no more transfat, but you still eat there at your own health risk.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

France Recalls Melamine Tainted Chinese Soymeal, Feed Intended for Organic Poultry

Almost 300 tons of soymeal from China, used to feed organic poultry in western France, were taken off the market after testing positive for melamine at 50 times the recommended limit.

One tested lot contained 116mg/kg of melamine, while the permissible level is no more than 2.5mg/kg. Other untested batches were delivered to some 127 organic farms in the Loire region in western France.

The scandal is the latest to rock China's food industry, which has been tarnished by a series of health scares over dangerous products in recent years. Melamine falsely boost protein levels in food products.

First milk products, then eggs, then fishmeal, now soy. Is this the final death knell for the Chinese food export industry?

USDA Inspection Reveals Excessive Drug Residue In Slaughtered Farm Animals

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an investigation of John Mellot Farm located at 6512 Lemar Road in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania 17236, and found Mellot offered for sale an animal for slaughter as food that was adulterated.

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) analysis of tissue samples collected from a bob veal calf identified the presence of neomycin at 8.42 parts per million (ppm) in the kidney tissue of the animal. The FDA has established a tolerance of 7.2 ppm neomycin in cattle kidney. Neomycin is an antibiotic used to kill bacteria in the intestinal tract.

The investigation also found that Mellot held animals under conditions that are so inadequate that medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues were likely to enter the food supply, and that Mellot failed to maintain treatment records on medicated animals.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer Sings Bush's Praises & Accomplishments, Warns Obama Against Change

I offer this transcript verbatim. In it Ed Shafer touts George Bush's accomplishments, fears the new administration and offers words of advice on how Obama can be just like George Bush.

From Ed Shafer:

"Senator Obama's election has drawn the world's attention because of who he is and because of the very positive things his journey to the White House has brought to our country. But in the coming years what will probably be more relevant to all of us—and certainly to you—is what the President-elect thinks about agriculture, about trade and conservation, about renewable energy and nutrition issues and how his views will translate into public policy.

The past eight years have been a remarkable time for American agriculture. President Bush has ushered in an unprecedented growth in the agriculture economy. And it's my hope that the Obama administration will look at the long line of administration successes in agriculture and find a way to build on them with a bipartisan approach. I have certainly grown to appreciate the positioning, I guess, of the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, as a nonpolitical department. [Editor's Note: Is he serious?] And I certainly hope that stays that way with the new administration.

The prosperity that we see in agriculture today is driven by strong commodity prices, rising export demand and the rapid growth of the renewable fuel industry in rural America. This year cash farm income is on track to set an all-time record of over $100 billion. And we expect export sales to reach a record $114 billion and generate one-third of all cash receipts for U.S. farms. The new global marketplace has emerged, and it's centered on one billion new middle class consumers in developing countries like Mexico and India and China. They're driving strong demand for grains, but also for our beef and pork, and for chicken, for our dairy and processed food products as well.

And these are markets that America's farmers and ranchers are well-positioned to serve. All they need is fair access and a level playing field with our foreign markets. And that's why President Bush has consistently made expanding free trade one of his highest priorities.

Results from our nation's past efforts in that arena have been impressive. In 1994 when North American Free Trade Agreement created a free trade zone covering the United States, Canada and Mexico our agriculture exports to those countries were about $10 billion a year. Today Canada and Mexico rank as our two largest markets for agriculture goods, and our total exports to them will reach $30 billion this year.

The Central American Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement has seen a similar success. Since it began to take effect in 2005, our agriculture exports to the member nations have grown rapidly. Our export sales to the five nations that have fully implemented the agreement jumped to $2.3 billion in 2007, a 67 percent increase from their pre-agreement level. And they'll be up another 45 percent this year.

The Bush Administration has also pushed hard to conclude a series of bilateral free trade agreements, including those with Colombia and Korea and Panama. Those are awaiting actions by Congress. The administration has also tried to advance the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks because it is important to all of us in agriculture as we pursue trade in the global economy.

All in all, this administration has negotiated 17 free trade agreements. The trade agreements we now have in place have opened the door for market-share gains by American producers in agriculture and in other sectors as well. And in 11 of the 17 agreements that have been implemented, agriculture product exports have increased by 76 percent—in Costa Rica, in Omar and Peru—that are being implemented. But as I mentioned we've got Colombia, Panama and Korea that need to have Congressional approval. Those three agreements, along with Peru in South America, can mean an increased $3 billion in agriculture exports annually and should be put in place.

The agreements have given our producers the tools to protect those gains against challenges from producers in other nations as well. We've made sure the agreements have the control mechanisms in them. [Editor's Note: What does he mean by control mechanisms to protect against challenges?]

So the question for the next president is whether we continue to seek wider market opportunities for our producers or pull back. You know, there are a lot of isolationists out there, people who have the mistaken idea that somehow we are sheltered from the global economy. And I read—like you—that in the last election that those anti-trade folks have gained seats in Congress. [Editor's Note: Who is he referring to, and how does he define "anti-trade"?] They are going to work toward moving us backward on our trade agreement, and if they prevail it will be bad for U.S. agriculture.

And 40 percent of the gross domestic product increase last year in this country was driven by trade, and certainly agriculture has the only positive trade balance of any sector in our economy. I think actually the National Association of Manufacturers says that now one piece of appliances, or something like that, has a positive balance of trade, but they're the new kids on the block. Agriculture has been consistent in a positive balance of trade for this country.

I would encourage President Elect Obama to take a hard look at the record of success with agriculture trade—and not tear it down, but build upon it the strength that agriculture can bring to our exports, and in fact to the world.

To deserve the support of all Americans, wherever they live, our safety net of farm programs must make wise and efficient use of taxpayers' dollars. And to withstand challenges for our trading partners, they need to be seen as market-based and not price-distorting. [Editor's Note: Does he mean the way we subsidize corn?] That's why we argued strongly for a meaningful cap on adjusted gross income on overall payment limits and of a new approach on setting marketing loan rates as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

And our farm policies for the new administration must be seen as fair, both here in the United States for our taxpayers, but also from our trading partners abroad. Continued conservation, rural development, and renewable energy initiatives are all critical to the future of rural America, and they all depend on strong and broad-based public support for farm policy and farm programs.

President Bush has been an outspoken advocate for our conservation efforts throughout his time in office. The 2002 Farm Bill marked an historic increase in funding for conservation programs, and the 2008 Farm Bill as a follow-up was another bold step forward that will boost conservation programs by more than $4 billion over the life of the new bill. The conservation programs we now have in place advance environmental goals by preventing soil erosion, preserving wildlife habitat and improving carbon capture while also allowing users to earn additional revenue from their own land.

This administration has also invested an average of $14 billion a year in Rural Development projects—36 percent higher level of spending in rural areas than when we took office. These investments have created or saved over 2 million jobs and have brought broadband services to 2.7 million homes and businesses in rural areas. This has allowed 60 million people who choose to live and work in rural America to be able to compete in the global marketplace.

We've upgraded health care and emergency response services $50 billion in grants to rural infrastructure efforts, and we committed more than $800 million to new renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects. Yet we know that more investments will be needed to ensure that rural America enjoys the same access to services and economic opportunities as our more densely populated parts of the country.

The rapid growth in demand for renewable fuels has brought new jobs and new possibilities to rural America while also enhancing America's energy security. This industry has made remarkable progress in a short period of time, and yet it's still evolving and still changing. Today there is a broad bipartisan agreement that to meet the nation's future energy needs we must develop new policies, new biomass feedstocks, and new business models that go with them. The new farm bill provides $1 billion to help with that transition.

But this industry will need continued public support to reach its full potential. In all these areas—in conservation, rural development, renewable fuels—the Obama administration will have the chance to consolidate and build upon a record of success over the last eight years. And I would encourage them to do so.

Finally, the continuing challenge in food security must be met at home and abroad. Since 2001 this administration has worked hard to make sure that more of the people eligible for domestic nutrition programs actually enroll and receive benefits. We are proud that the rate of participation has climbed from 54 percent in 2001 to 67 percent in 2006, the last year that we have been able to measure.

On the international front, we face the urgent reality of a world population that will grow by more than 70 million people this year and will continue to do that every year. We have to find a way to feed all these new mouths without using any more land. [Editor's Note: Is this his way of saying he believes GE will bring increased yields per acre?]

For all of us in food and agriculture, this really is the challenge of the 21st century. Our administration has worked to develop long-term solutions to world hunger, and there are many, many different dimensions to this challenge. But we believed in meeting this challenge it will require us to share more than just our surplus commodities.

Now we're proud that the citizens of the United States of Americans provide more than 50 percent of the world's food aid today. But that doesn't solve the problem. We believe we must provide countries with better agriculture methods, with more understanding of the land yield with the production of our crops, with better infrastructure, with improved marketing opportunities, with ways to grow our crops so that we can teach and export our expertise in this country that develops the most abundant and least costly food supply in the world.

And certainly we have to provide more countries with opportunities through biotech crops to boost productivity, to increase yields and to create viable and less import-reliant markets. [Editor's Note: But of course he opposes (1) any type of labeling of GE plants and seeds; (2) bans on seed terminator technology; (3) bans on contract provisions prohibiting seed saving by growers; and (4) any application of antitrust laws to seed conglomerates.]

Here again it's going to be up to the next president to decide whether we move forward in this arena or leave our past policies behind. President-elect Obama and my successor, whomever that is going to be, will have my sincere good wishes in dealing with these dilemmas. But it is in everyone's best interest that they find the right answers."

And, there you have it. Read the original release here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beef Made For Blimpie Recalled For Listeria Monocytogenes

Home Market Foods, Inc., a Norwood, Mass., firm, is recalling approximately 5,250 pounds of ready-to-eat frozen beef sandwich portions that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The product recalled is: 3.5-ounce individually wrapped packages of "Blimpie FULLY COOKED SEASONED BEEF SHAVED STEAKS Thinly Sliced with Onions." Each label bear the establishment number "EST. 2727" inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as a printed Julian date of "3198," "3228" or "3238," on the products available for consumer purchase.

The ready-to-eat frozen beef portions were produced on Nov. 14, 17, 18 and 20, 2008, and distributed to retail institutions in the Atlanta metropolitan area, California, Florida, Illinois and New York. Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease.