October 26, 2007
UK air-freight food organic if it aids poor
Even more interesting than the last post (on organic air-freight produce), Reuters reports that a food's "organic" status may depend on who gets to eat it:
LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Britain's largest organic food association said on Wednesday it will continue to put its stamp of approval on products sent by air freight, but only if the food sales help poor farmers.
The Soil Association, which certifies over 70 percent of organic produce sold in Britain, had previously debated refusing to certify products shipped by air freight because of high carbon emissions from airplanes.
"We recognise that building alternative markets that offer the same social and economic benefits as organic exports take time," Anna Bradley, chairwoman of the Soil Association Standards Board told a news conference.
"Our aim is to minimise airfreight by encouraging alternatives, such other forms of shipping, and creating local organic markets," she said.
The group said details of the proposal would be open to discussion throughout 2008 and would become effective from January 2009.
October 23, 2007
LA Times on Biotech foods
The Los Angeles Times science section ran an interesting piece on biotech foods. There's not really anything new, but it describes the issues pretty well (IMHO):
Biotech foods are still hard to swallow, by Elena Conis
OPPONENTS call them Frankenfoods, man-made aberrations that should be banished from our grocery stores or at least clearly labeled so consumers know what they're eating.
Supporters have long cast genetically modified foods in a different light: as answers to human problems. They would, the dream went, make crops that didn't rot, spoil or succumb to frost. They would boost harvests, feed the hungry and fortify the malnourished.
Several decades later, very few of those goals have been realized. Yet today, largely unbeknownst to most consumers, more than 70% of processed foods on grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered or biotech ingredients.
October 16, 2007
ABA Teleconference -- Hot Topics in Food Law
The ABA Section on Litigation Subcommittee on Products Liability and the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education is sponsoring a CLE teleconference tomorrow, October 17, 2007, 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
In recent years, food law has become a very important issue. With the rise in claims regarding allergens, additives, and contaminants, it is more important than ever for litigators to learn about food laws and regulations in order to serve their clients better. This teleconference will focus on several recent issues that have received national attention and will offer relevant information about the emerging litigation issues facing the food industry.
Topics to be covered include:
- Food contamination cases (such as recent salmonella contamination of spinach)
- California’s Proposition 65 and other state class actions regarding labeling
- Allergens in food and related warning issues
- New technology and accompanying risks, such as cloned beef, genetically engineered corn, and other ingredients that sound mysterious to the average consumer
October 12, 2007
CRS Report on Mortality of Americans Age 65 and Older
Open CRS has posted a Report on Mortality of Americans Age 65 and Older. Excerpt from the Summary:
In 2004, a total of 1.8 million deaths of people age 65 and older was reported in the United States; one-third lost their life to a heart condition, one-fifth to cancer. Nevertheless, the number of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease has fallen by nearly one-third since 1980. Moreover, the death rate for heart disease in 2004 was 41.6% lower than in 1980. Similarly, the death rate for stroke declined by 48.2% during the last quarter century. These declines are attributable to a number of factors, including medical advances that facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions, the introduction of new pharmaceuticals, and important changes in lifestyle behaviors, including less cigarette smoking and changes in diet. This significant decrease, however, has been partially offset by an increase in cases of some chronic conditions among older Americans. In particular, since 1980, the share of elderly deaths resulting from kidney disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, and chronic liver disease more than quadrupled (from 5.0% to 20.1%), and death rates for chronic lower respiratory diseases increased by 120%. Increases in mortality attributable to chronic illness have not been evenly distributed. Even among the elderly, death rates vary by age. Moreover, significant racial and ethnic disparities are evident, reflecting different disease profiles for underlying populations, unequal access to health care, and other sociodemographic factors, such as income and education. Diabetes has been particularly deadly among blacks and Native Americans, heart disease has disproportionately affected white men, and Alzheimer's has been especially detrimental to white women. As the population of older Americans grows and the cost of medical care increases, the public policy interest in identifying the predominant causes of death among the elderly becomes more acute. Given the concentration of medical expenditures at the end of life, and the fact that Medicare covers more than 95% of all Americans age 65 and older, understanding trends in mortality may inform policy makers as they tackle the many challenges associated with financing and delivering care to the nation's rapidly growing cohort of older Americans.
October 03, 2007
The Right to Food
In South Africa, National Nutrition Week takes place next week (Oct 9-13) with the theme, The Right to Food. I don't post much foreign food news here, basically because there is too much to keep up with, but the right to food is an issue that I want to explore at some point. So here's the blurb and the link from allAfrica.com:
The Right to Food, explained the [Department of Health], should not lead to childhood obesity and chronic diseases later in life. . . .
According to the World Health Organisation, growth retardation in the womb is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure. . . .
Therefore, says the department, the right to food starts during pregnancy.
September 12, 2007
Indiana University offers new Anthropology of Food doctorate degree
Indiana University PhD Track in the Anthropology of Food
Food represents an integral part of human livelihoods, biology, identity, and culture. The practical dimensions and ramifications of food production, consumption and sharing, and the symbolic and ideological meanings attached to food, have relevance across all of anthropology’s subdisciplines – sociocultural anthropology, bioanthropology, archaeology and linguistics. As a theme it integrates aspects of all the four traditional subfields of anthropology.
September 07, 2007
Food, Law, and Culture panel presenters wanted
Christopher Buccafusco (Phd candidate, U. Chicago) is soliciting paper presentations for panels on "Food, Law, and Culture" for the annual Law, Culture, and Humanities Conference to be held at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, March 28-29, 2008. The conference is sponsored by the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities.
Last year we organized two panels with papers on such topics as the legal regulation of margarine, taxation and the family farm, cultural identity and the 21st Amendment, and federal school lunch programs. Recent work in the humanities and social sciences has begun to explore food’s role in culture, and our goal will be to apply this interdisciplinary scholarship to critically examine the place(s) of food in the law. Important questions include: How can we explain the law’s varying treatment of food? What role does law play in shaping cultural ideas about food and food production? And, inversely, how does food culture affect the law? My work, for example, analyzes the treatment of culinary creativity by modern intellectual property law.
Topics can include, but are not limited to:
Intellectual property rights in genetically modified foods Hunger strikes and force-feeding prisoners Last meals Food torts, e.g,. exploding sodas, fingers in chili, coffee in the lap Government regulation of food and alcohol Obesity regulation Dietary laws and regulations in different cultures Trademark rights in appellations of origin Farm subsidies and international trade Linguistic classification of food, e.g. kosher, 1st Growths, Organic Sumptuary laws Famine Labeling, packaging, and branding Rationing Food stamps Ethanol production and the food supply
The deadline for submissions to the conference is October 15, 2007, so please let me know as soon as possible if you think you might be interested in joining the panel. Abstracts can wait until closer to the deadline. Also, please circulate this to any colleagues that might be interested. Feel free to contact Chris Buccafusco directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 27, 2007
I attended – and chaired a session – at a meeting of scientists in Cambridge yesterday to discuss 'Foodomics? Why we eat, What we eat and What’s Next on the Menu'. It was a fascinating day, starting with an overview from Susan Jebb from the MRC Human Nutrition Research, who argued that the big issue in food is obesity. She pointed out that in evolutionary terms, we have been more concerned with hunger than satiety and that our response to the former is much greater than to the latter. Somehow we can always fit in that extra portion!
Inmates denied food for grooming violations
From The State (Columbia, SC):
Some state inmates who break prison rules — including grooming standards — are being denied food, according to Corrections Department documents.
The practice, outlined in an internal e-mail from Corrections Department director Jon Ozmint and in agency medical reports, says inmates who chose to break the rules are choosing not to eat.
This issue has arisen before. In Cooper v. Sheriff, Lubbock County (929 F.2d 1078), a Texas prisoner was similarly denied food when he "chose" not to dress properly. Denial of food in such circumstances could rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment under some circumstances.
March 21, 2007
New Conflict-of-Interest rules for FDA Advisory Committees
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced new draft guidance that would implement a more stringent approach for considering potential conflicts of interest for its advisory committee members and for recommending eligibility for meeting participation. FDA is accepting public comments on the proposal for the next 60 days. . . .
This new guidance (www.fda.gov/oc/advisory/waiver/coiguidedft.html) would reduce the likelihood that the process for recommending waivers would vary from meeting to meeting. In addition to a more streamlined approach for considering who may participate in meetings, FDA would tighten its policy for considering eligibility for participation. If an individual has disqualifying financial interests whose combined value exceeds $50,000, after applying certain exemptions, the person would generally not be considered for participation in the meeting, regardless of the need for his or her expertise. If the financial interests are $50,000 or less, after applying certain exemptions, the individual might be recommended to participate as a non-voting member. Only individuals with no potential conflicts would be eligible to fully participate in meetings as voting members.
March 15, 2007
Oregon Considering Banning Junk Food from Schools
The Oregon legislature is considering a bill that would require school foods to be healthy, but the measure is controversial.
We're teenagers. We don't want healthy food," explained Kaleb Lewis, a junior at Portland's Cleveland High School.
The debate is triggered by House Bill 2650, which would cap the amount of fat, sugar and calories for food sold in schools. A House subcommittee took up the measure, the third attempt in three sessions to target junk food in schools.
According to a dietician interviewed for the Oregonian article, at least 10 states have already adopted such legislation.
This is where nutritional information passes through policy on the way to becoming law. Why cap the amount of fat? What if the information we have about fat is wrong? What if the information we have about fat is old and outdated? What if Atkins is right? What about almonds? Could a snack be more healthy than almonds? Here's what the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has to say about almonds:
Almonds have high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which make up 93% of their total fat content. The most important if these is oleic acid. Frequent consumption of this helps to reduce levels of cholesterol in general and "bad" or LDL cholesterol, while building up "good" or HDL cholesterol. Being a foodstuff of vegetable origin, almonds do not contain cholesterol.
Due to their high vitamin E content, almonds provide an extra dose of antioxidants, playing an important part in the prevention of coronary illness and cancer. A 30g portion of almonds provides 50% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E. They also contain vitamin B6 in smaller amounts.
Almonds have the highest fibre content of any tree nut, which is important in facilitating and regulating colon transit, so avoiding constipation and preventing cardiovascular illness.
Almonds are an important source of minerals such as calcium, necessary for the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth, magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus and zinc.
February 26, 2007
ConsumerAffairs says Industrial Food is a Growing Menace
Tom Glaister of ConsumerAffairs.Com has posted an article, Industrial Food A Growing Menace describing safety issues arising from mass-produced food. The Consumer Affairs website also has a link to a short YouTube video description of the problem.
"I was recently hanging out in a country where everyday around 200,000 people get sick from bad food, 900 are hospitalized and 14 die," Glaister writes. "All in all it was quite a scary experience eating out in the U.S.A."
February 12, 2007
Forum on Food Sovereignty Feb 23-27
World Forum on Food Sovereignty will be held in Mali on 23–27 February 2007. The meeting will bring together 600 delegates from five continents to reaffirm the right to food sovereignty and to begin an international drive to reverse the worldwide decline in local community production of food.
The principle of food sovereignty was first launched by Via Campesina in 1996 during the FAO World Food Summit which took place in Rome.
Since then this proposal has started to play a key role in the debate on agriculture and alternatives to neo-liberal policies. Before the introduction of the concept of food sovereignty, food security was limited to searching for ways to guarantee sufficient food through trade, at the national or international levels. The principle of food sovereignty puts agricultural producers at the centre of the debate, and supports all peoples in their right to produce their own food independently of market conditions.
The principle of food sovereignty promotes the development of alternative production, distribution and consumption models based on a new logic, far removed from that of neo-liberalism, which for its part gives the central role to markets and liberalisation of trade, and which considers that only international markets can solve the problem of food insecurity.
No organic clones!Leahy, Kohl Introduce Bill Prohibiting Cloned Products From Organic Labeling
Can clones be organic? U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) Thursday introduced legislation to bar products that are produced from cloned livestock from receiving an organic food label under the National Organic Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While the issue might seem like an obvious one, the National Organic Standards as they now stand, could allow cloned animal products to be labeled organic.
Meat: Section 205.236(a) provides, in general, that livestock products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be from livestock under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation. Under this rule, a cloned cow could give birth to an organic calf as long as the cow is under organic management during the third trimester of gestation.
Milk: There is an exception for Dairy animals. Under § 205.236(a)(2), milk or milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management for at least 1 year prior to the production of the "organic" milk or milk products. In other words, a non-organic cow (for eating purposes) that has been under organic management for at least a year could produce organic milk under current standards -- even if that cow is a clone.
I'm new at this, so maybe there are regulations I don't know about. Please straighten me out, if so! But I think the challenge is that the organic standards just didn't address this issue -- thus the need for further discussion.
Here's the link to Senator Leahy's press release. If it doesn't work, go the Senator's home page and link to it from there.
January 22, 2007
What a tangled web. Ethanol production has increased the demand for corn. Higher corn prices are good news for corn growers, but not such good news for livestock owners. And high corn prices are definitely not good news for tortilla eaters.
Tortilla prices are rising, even as tortilla dough does not. This is not good news in Mexico.
In recent weeks, the price of a kilo of tortillas, which are made from white corn, went over 10 pesos ($0.90), after rising almost 11 percent in 2006 and 70 percent over the last six years.
Mexico uses more than 9 million tons of corn each year for the production of tortillas, and this product is such an integral part of the country's diet that a rise or fall in its price can have a considerable effect on the consumer price index and on jobs in this nation of more than 100 million. checkbiotech.org
Some Mexican agricultural interests think that genetically engineered corn would help to solve this problem. Mexico has resisted genetically engineered corn until now.
Mexico, which produces some 22 million tons of white corn annually, has had a moratorium on the planting of genetically modified corn for the past eight years.
* * *
U.S.-based agricultural technology and products provider Monsanto would be the main beneficiary if the Mexican Agriculture Secretariat, or Sagarpa, authorizes the planting of genetically modified corn, Greenpeace said.
Is the rising price of corn being used as a pretext to get approval for biotech corn?
January 14, 2007
Finnish working group favors GMOs
A Finnish working group submitted its report to the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture this week. While I don't usually blog overseas news such as this, the Helsingin Sanomat report on the article does a nice job of setting forth competing considerations in a straightforward fashion. Finland has not yet adopted genetically modified plants (or been de facto forced to accept them through contamination), but it is looking for ways to increase its agricultural productivity.
Becoming more competitive is an important goal, and the report recommends not only genetic modification of crops, but also larger farms and tax breaks.
Wal-Mart Still Mislabeling
The Cornucopia Institute has filed another complaint against Walmart, this time with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Communication. According to the Reid Magney of the Winona Daily News (Winona, MN), WalMart claims the mislabeling is inadvertent.
While the labeling error regarding Stonyfield yogurt (photo) may be an easy mistake to make -- some Stonyfield yogurt products are organic, but others are not -- the error has already been brought to the attention of the company. (Blogged here). Last fall, Cornucopia also filed a complaint with the USDA after the company failed to respond to complaints. The Winona Daily News article cites numerous other mislabelings, as well.
The continued mislabeling would be troubling in any case, but even more so because WalMart is doing it. Surely in an ideal world, all food production would follow strict organic standards, and surely in an ideal world, organic food would be readily available and affordable. So WalMart's decision to sell organic products (or grab organic market share, depending on one's perspective) should be a welcome turn of events. But Walmart is so huge that it really could dilute organic standards. It's not just about outcompeting small producers -- the organic ideal itself seems to be at stake. From a law school perspective, this is a great issue -- Sho is harmed? Who has standing to complain? How do standards become law? What is the appropriate role of government in establishing and enforcing standards for production, labeling, and marketing?
December 02, 2006
National "healthy" foods and the junk food culture<p>As I reported <a href="http://foodlawprof.typepad.com/food_and_nutrition_law_an/2006/12/food_babel_cspi.html">yesterday</a>, the Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the FDA to develop national "healthy" labels. The plea is a response to the plethora of food company labels and symbols on supermarket shelves, and the rationale is that "a prominent and reliable symbol on the fronts of packages would be a tremendous help to those harried shoppers racing through the supermarket."</p> <p>This makes sense, but I think it misses the bigger picture. Rather than speeding up the Harried-Shopper Race with easy-to-recognize quick-to-grab preprocessed packaged foods, perhaps we should try to eliminate the Harried Shopper Race altogether. What if people actually had time to cook their own foods? (See my<a href="http://foodlawprof.typepad.com/food_and_nutrition_law_an/2006/12/government_shou.html"> post</a> today about British Tory leader David Cameron's comments.) There would be no need to race down the long aisles of prepackaged foods. But this would require a change in culture rather than more rules that seem to be consumer-oriented, but actually function to perpetuate an unhealthy lifestyle and by facilitating the marketing of processed foods.</p>
December 01, 2006
Food Babel -- CSPI Wants Uniform "Healthy Food" Labeling System
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a petition with the FDA asking it to create uniform "healthy food" symbols that would replace the sometimes meaningless or misleading symbols designed by processed food manufacturers.
“The supermarket is teeming with competing ‘healthy food’ symbols that run the gamut from highly helpful to fatally flawed,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But a prominent and reliable symbol on the fronts of packages would be a tremendous help to those harried shoppers racing through the supermarket. Not everyone has the time or knowledge to scrutinize the Nutrition Facts labels or to decode the symbols Kraft, PepsiCo, General Mills, or other companies happen to be using.”
* * *
According to CSPI, well-designed “healthy food” symbols would steer Americans away from foods that promote obesity, heart disease, and other serious health problems, and toward fresh and processed foods that promote good health.
What foods would those be, exactly? And who gets to decide? Don't we already have this with FDA-approved health claims? Do food packaging claims (FDA-approved or not) actually serve to educate consumers?
“The FDA should tear down this Tower of Babel propped up by food companies, and give consumers the reliable information they need at a glance,” said CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade, who was a driving force in winning passage of the 1990 law that led to the Nutrition Facts label.
November 30, 2006
FDA Is Set To Approve Milk, Meat From Clones - washingtonpost.com
FDA Is Set To Approve Milk, Meat From Clones By Rick Weiss Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, October 17, 2006; Page A01 Three years after the Food and Drug Administration first hinted that it might permit the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals, prompting public reactions that ranged from curiosity to disgust, the agency is poised to endorse marketing of the mass-produced animals for public consumption. . . .
"Our evaluation is that the food from cloned animals is as safe as the food we eat every day," said Stephen F. Sundlof, the FDA's chief of veterinary medicine, who has overseen the long-stalled risk assessment.
I think this misses the point of objections to cloning and other practices that permanently change the world. While the food product may be the same, the effect on herds and potentially on future food supplies cannot be known. The practice may serve the goal of more quickly providing more food, but that goal seems to me short-sighted and likely to lead permanently in a direction we may want to go. Have we created agencies whose mandates can only lead in one direction? Perhaps the FDA is doing its job perfectly in this case -- carefully examining every aspect of the cloned meat product to determine its safety. But what if we are not asking the right questions?