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Beyond Meat

Plant-based meats are touted as the technological solution to the health and environmental problems caused by excessive meat-eating. Venture capital is flooding to what seems like a hot new market.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its revised school meal rules, in words that would make George Orwell proud:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today [Nov. 29] provided local food service professionals the flexibility they need to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule ... reflects USDA's commitment, made in a May proclamation to work with program operators, school nutrition professionals, industry, and other stakeholders to develop forward-thinking strategies to ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical ... This action reflects a key initiative of USDA's Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to the President's Executive Order to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens.

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A reporter asked:

I was wondering if you could share your thoughts with me about the new study finding phthalates in boxed Mac & Cheese. Should consumers be afraid of just Mac & Cheese, considering phthalates are ubiquitous and found in almost every food we consume? What are your recommendations?

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Monsanto's corporate behavior has been so counterproductive that it has damaged the reputation of the entire food biotechnology industry (I document this in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

What to do?

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not doing enough to prevent weed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) says a new report from the EPA's Inspector General's Office, which draws in part on a report from the agbiotech company, Pioneer: Weed Management in the Era of Glyphosate Resistance.

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With regret, I asked my site managers at Cre8d to block all future comments to my site, Food Politics.

The GMO trolls—people who post deliberately hostile comments—have defeated me.

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I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film. The director refuses. He believes his film is fair and balanced. I do not.

I am often interviewed (see media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context. This film is one of those rare exceptions.

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Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned pet owners not to feed specific lot numbers of Evanger's canned Hunk of Beef or Against the Grain Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy canned dog food because they might contain enough pentobarbital to sicken or kill their animals.

The FDA began investigating Evanger's Dog & Cat Food Company Inc. when it learned about five dogs in a single household that suffered acute neurological symptoms shortly after eating the product. One dog was euthanized after secondary complications and three others recovered after receiving veterinary care. One of the dogs treated remains on seizure medication and the fifth dog that ate the least amount of food recovered with time.

The stomach contents of the deceased dog and an open can of the product were tested by an FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network lab and unopened cans of the product from the pet owner and retailer that sold the products (from the same production lot), were tested by FDA's lab. All of the samples tested positive for pentobarbital.

Yikes indeed.

Pentobarbital is a drug used for euthanizing animals. Years ago, the remains of euthanized animals (sometimes pets) went to rendering plants and the resulting mess ended up in pet foods.

But when Mal Nesheim and I were researching our pet food book, Feed Your Pet Right, which came out in 2010, we searched for but could not find evidence that any pet food company was still doing that.

Everyone we asked, from veterinarians, to pet food makers, to government regulators told us that rendered, euthanized animals were no longer in pet foods, not least because the ingredients would have to be disclosed on the labels and no manufacturer wanted to do that.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it checked and the canned foods really do contain beef.

Since when are cattle treated with pentobarbital?

If they aren't, how did the drug get into the pet food?

Evanger's advertises its ingredients as "human grade." Oops.

Susan Thixton, who runs the blog, TruthAboutPetFood, snagged a screenshot of Evanger's website before they "edited" out the part about how their products are "made with completely human grade" ingredients. Here's her explanation:

The FDA must agree. It said:

In its recent press release announcing a limited product recall, Evanger's Dog & Cat Food Company, Inc. stated that the beef for its Hunk of Beef product came from a "USDA approved" supplier. However, the FDA reviewed a bill of lading from Evanger's supplier of "Inedible Hand Deboned Beef—For Pet Food Use Only. Not Fit For Human Consumption" and determined that the supplier's facility does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The meat products from this supplier do not bear the USDA inspection mark and would not be considered human grade.

For more information:

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have just issued advice to pregnant women about eating fish.

Fatty fish have long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which are good for health.

But some have methylmercury, which is toxic to the developing fetus.

And all have PCBs or other organic compounds that are unlikely to promote health.

The advice? Eat 2 to 3 servings of lower-mercury fish per week for a total of 8-12 ounces.

That's fine, but which fish are low in methylmercury?

For this, the agencies have created an reference chart that sorts 62 types of fish into three categories:

FDA

"Best Choices" (eat two to three servings a week)

"Good Choices" (eat one serving a week)

"Fish to Avoid"

Here's where things get tricky.

  • Choices to avoid include, among others, Bigeye Tuna and Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Good choices include Albacore and Yellowfin Tuna and Tilefish from the Atlantic Ocean.

Good luck telling the difference.

As I've written before (and also see this post and this one about fish politics), if you want to avoid methylmercury during pregnancy, it's best to avoid tuna. Consumer Reports advises pregnant women not to eat tuna at all.

Center for Science in the Public Interest said:

The best advice for pregnant or nursing women and parents of small children is to choose fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and sardines. They should avoid albacore tuna altogether and consume tuna labeled as "light tuna" very sparingly—no more than two ounces per week for women and one ounce per week for kids.

And are PCBs a non-issue? Could fish politics have anything to do with this?

Here are the documents:

Jennifer Falbe and other investigators from Kristin Madson's group at UC Berkeley have just produced an analysis of the effects of the Berkeley soda tax on consumption patterns.

Berkeley's soda tax passed in a landslide in November 2014.Berkeley vs. Big Soda

They surveyed people in low-income communities before and after the tax went into effect. The result: an overall 21 percent decline in reported soda consumption in low-income Berkeley neighborhoods versus a 4 percent increase in equivalent neighborhoods in Oakland and San Francisco.

The Los Angeles Times breaks out these figures:

In Oakland and San Francisco, which have not yet passed a tax, sales of regular sodas went up by 10 percent.

Other findings, as reported by Healthy Food America:

  • During one of the hottest summers on record, Berkeley residents reported drinking 63 percent more bottled water, while comparison cities saw increases of just 19 percent.
  • Only 2 percent of those surveyed reported crossing city lines to avoid the tax.
  • The biggest drops came in consumption of soda (26 percent) and sports drinks (36 percent).

Agricultural economist Parke Wilde at Tufts views this study as empirical evidence for the benefits of taxes. He writes on his U.S. Food Policy blog that it's time for his ag econ colleagues to take the benefits of taxes seriously:

There is a long tradition in my profession of doubting the potential impact of such taxes … Oklahoma State University economist Jayson Lusk, who also is president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), has blogged several times about soda taxes, agreeing with most of the Tamar Haspel column in the Washington Post and concluding stridently: "I'm sorry, but if my choice is between nothing and a policy that is paternalistic, regressive, will create economic distortions and deadweight loss, and is unlikely to have any significant effects on public health, I choose nothing" (emphasis added).

Wilde points out that Lusk has now modified those comments in a blog post.

All that said, I'm more than willing to accept the finding that the Berkeley city soda tax caused soda consumption to fall. The much more difficult question is: are Berkeley residents better off?

Yes, they are.

The Berkeley study is good news and a cheery start to the week. Have a good one.

Addition

Politico adds up the "piles of cash" being spent on the soda tax votes in San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda and analyzes the soda industry's framing of the tax as a "grocery tax."

Food Politics

By Marion Nestle

For some time now, I’ve been arguing that legal scholars ought to be challenging the contention of food corporations that the First Amendment gives them the right to market foods any way they like, even to kids.

I simply cannot believe that the founding fathers of the U.S. intended the First Amendment for this purpose.

In December 2010, I urged public interest lawyers to examine current food marketing practices in the light of the First Amendment. I am pleased to see that they are now doing so.

Samantha Graff of the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN) forwards two co-authored articles published this month:

Health AffairsGovernment Can Regulate Food Advertising to Children Because Cognitive Research Shows It Is Inherently Misleading, by Samantha Graff, Dale Kunkel, and Seth E. Mermin.

The childhood obesity crisis has prompted repeated calls for government action to curb the marketing of unhealthy food to children. Food and entertainment industry groups have asserted that the First Amendment prohibits such regulation.

However, case law establishes that the First Amendment does not protect “inherently misleading” commercial speech. Cognitive research indicates that young children cannot effectively recognize the persuasive intent of advertising or apply the critical evaluation required to comprehend commercial messages.

Given this combination—that government can prohibit “inherently misleading” advertising and that children cannot adequately understand commercial messages—advertising to children younger than age twelve should be considered beyond the scope of constitutional protection.

American Journal of Public Health: Protecting Young People from Junk Food Advertising: Implications of Psychological Research for First Amendment Law, by Jennifer L. Harris and Samantha K. Graff.

In the United States, one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, yet food and beverage companies continue to target them with advertising for products that contribute to this obesity crisis.

When government restrictions on such advertising are proposed, the constitutional commercial speech doctrine is often invoked as a barrier to action. We explore incongruities between the legal justifications for the commercial speech doctrine and the psychological research on how food advertising affects young people.

These papers are a great start to the conversation, as was a previous contribution from these authors: A Legal Primer for the Obesity Prevention Movemen, American Journal of Public Health, 2009.

First Amendment scholars—weigh in, please.

And while pondering these questions, take a look at Raj Patel’s piece in The Atlantic, Abolish the food industry. In his view, the First Amendment issue is a no brainer:

I side with the American Psychological Association in thinking that advertising to children is unconscionable. Rather than dwell on the First Amendment issue, which strikes me as an easy case to make, I think it’s worth addressing a deeper question underlying the San Francisco cigarette-in-pharmacy ban—Why allow an industry that profits from the sale of unhealthy food at all?

For more information, click here.

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