Tuesday, December 28, 2004
I don't imagine the Journal's editorialists will be convinced by a link to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's report on restaurant labels (even though the CSPI report has a nice feature called "Who would guess?," which shows how difficult it is to estimate calories without labeling). Instead, I should quote the view of the Journal's own favorites at FDA at greater length than the editorial did, because it somewhat rebuts the restaurant industry's whining about costs:
The [Obesity Working Group] recommends that FDA encourage restaurants to provide more, and more readily available, nutrient content information at the point-of-sale. The restaurant industry has voiced concern that requiring nutrition labeling for all menu items is infeasible because recipes change frequently, and patrons often request customization of their meals and the number of options available for customization is large.... Nevertheless, the OWG believes that the restaurant industry could provide some level of nutrition information to its patrons to enhance their ability to make wise food choices. Calculating nutrition information may have been a difficult task for most members of this industry in the past, when such information had to be determined by direct chemical analysis. This task, however, is easier today because nutrient composition databases and software for labeling are readily available.
Or, to pick another fairly mainstream source, here are two of USDA's intrepid economists writing in Choices, the magazine of the American Agricultural Economics Association:
The revolution in eating out is one leading suspect in the obesity epidemic. Whether mandatory or voluntary, restaurant calorie labels should be widely adopted. That would be refreshing.
One of the most widely discussed information blackout zones is for food sold at restaurants and fast-food establishments. Although the 1994 National Labeling and Education Act requires that manufacturers include a nutrition information panel on the label of almost all packaged foods, it does not require any similar disclosure for foods purchased at restaurants—food away from home (FAFH). This information requirement gap may be increasingly important as a source of information failure. Not only are Americans consuming large amounts of FAFH, but the nutritional content of FAFH tends to be less healthy than foods prepared at home.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
The most novel contribution of today's ERS report, by Robert King, Ephraim Leibtag, and Ajay Behl, is to pay close attention to the reasons why grocery prices might in principle be higher in low income neighborhoods. Most importantly, it studies differences in retail operating costs and finds no evidence that stores serving the poor (i.e. having high rates of food stamp redemption) have higher costs than stores serving the more prosperous. If you have trouble believing anything but the worst about food prices in poor neighborhoods, consider a couple other twists the authors raise. For one thing, small traditionally managed (wholesale supplied) stores occur in the wealthiest neighborhoods as well as the poorest. Also, while food costs are higher for some urban stores that serve the poor, labor costs for such stores are lower.
The authors don't quite put their foot down and make a strong claim that there is nothing to worry about in food price differentials. Instead, they mildly state their conclusion with an if/then structure: "If the poor do pay more, factors other than operating costs are likely to be the reason." But, except for citing previous research on the well-established pattern that prices are higher in corner stores than in supermarkets, they seemed to find little evidence of discrimination.
The final paragraph asks some good questions, which might be taken as a warning to "be careful what you wish for." For low-income urban neighborhoods, the arrival of new and better managed supermarkets is as two-sided as other aspects of gentrification. It brings good things that newcomers and long-time residents alike have long desired, but it may do so by displacing less-efficient local retailers with a long history of service to the neighborhood.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Frankly, I have never really lost any sleep over the farmers' First Amendment rights in this case. But consider the absurdity of the government claiming that all of these messages are the government's own. I will post a link to the full oral argument transcript when it becomes available in a few more days.
Ginsberg [sic] expressed some concern that checkoff promotions are advocating eating beef, when there are efforts being made by the U.S. Surgeon General, another federal government official, to promote eating beef in moderation as part of a balanced diet. She indicated that could be a conflict of interest for the government.
Yes, real Americans need a more effective dietary aid than the Food Guide Pyramid. Here's my idea: We should use farmers. Lord knows we pay them enough. In the past five years, the Department of Agriculture paid 92 BILLION TAXPAYER-SUPPLIED DOLLARS in subsidies to farmers, including such hardscrabble sons of the soil as (I am not making this up) Scottie Pippen, who makes $18 million a year playing basketball, and who got $131,575 in farm subsidies; and Ted Turner, who is worth more than $6 billion, and who got $176,077 in subsidies. So here's my proposal: Any farmer who (a) receives taxpayer money, and (b) is worth more than $1 million, should be required to spend 10 hours per week actively preventing taxpayers from eating so much. Picture the scene: You're in the convenience store. You grab a package of Hostess brand Ding Dongs. You're heading for the checkout counter, and . . . BAM, you're grabbed from behind by Ted Turner!Want the facts about those subsidies to millionaire farmers? See the large database posted online by the Environmental Working Group.
Friday, December 17, 2004
- Elise Golan, branch chief for the Diet, Safety, and Health Economics Branch at USDA's Economic Research Service,
- Andrea Carlson, who might be called a "nutrition economist" at USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion,
- Christine Ranney, a leading expert in food and consumer economics at Cornell,
- Victoria Salin at Texas A&M,
- Sandra Hoffman at Resources for the Future, and
- Brian Gould, the section's webmaster and one of the very few people in the country who could possibly explain to you how dairy pricing works.
The full association's annual summer meeting has been increasingly hospitable to research that is way downstream from the farm gate. The deadline for proposed papers for the 2005 summer AAEA meeting is January 14. The association also sponsors sessions at the annual meetings of the Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA), which is where mainstream economists throw their wild and crazy avant garde parties every January. In a nice gesture of support for research in this weblog's area of interest, AAEA is sponsoring a session on food assistance programs and food security at the January 2005 ASSA meetings in Philadelphia. In that session, I will give a paper with Mark Nord about whether the Food Stamp Program improves food security. Watch this space in the near future for the answer.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
I am writing to express my concern about the safety of the USDA's recall system as it relates to meat. The USDA should have mandatory recall authority on tainted meat so that the public health is not compromised by producers or processors who do not voluntarily come forth when their meat is contaminated with E. coli, listeria, or mad cow disease. Furthermore, I am shocked that the USDA keeps secret the names of retailers that are selling recalled meat. That seems almost criminal. I am appalled that the USDA, an agency charged with protecting the safety of the food supply, has entered into secrecy agreements with a reported twelve states regarding recalled meat.The language is sufficiently fierce that I will provide a follow-up post with the case in favor of the current policy, if anybody can make it. Write me. The new website also has a nice newsroom with national press on food safety policy.
What particularly disturbs me about commercial intrusions into school meals is that they are so unnecessary. Schools are perfectly capable of producing nutritionally sound foods that taste good and are enthusiastically consumed by students as well as teachers. From my own observations, a healthy school meals program (in every sense of the word) requires just three elements: a committed food service director, a supportive principal, and devoted parents. It just seems so obvious that the future of our nation demands each of these elements to be in place in every one of the 95,000 schools in the country. These are, after all, our children.See www.foodpolitics.com for Marion's mix of sober analysis, personal reporting, and understated outrage at book length.
Public health advocates certainly won’t shed any tears over the loss of these two corporate apologists. Veneman’s legacy includes how, upon the discovery of the first U.S. cow infected with mad cow disease, she cheerfully encouraged Americans to go back to eating their hamburgers, while nearly a year later, testing remains woefully inadequate thanks to cattle industry pressure.Simon says it won't matter who replaces Veneman -- "as long as they are on the Bush team, just expect business as usual" -- but some of us can't help following the news. Here is the farm policy weblog's summary of news coverage about Agriculture nominee and Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns.
But Thompson wins the prize for most quotable quotes in favor of food industry interests. Who can forget how, at a 2002 meeting of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (a powerful trade association), he told members to “go on the offensive” against critics blaming the food industry for obesity.