Saturday, April 29, 2006


As suburban/city kids, our kindergartner and his little sister see farm life mainly through charming agricultural festivals and the wonderful tourist farms here in New England. My parents, their "Opa and Oma," who grew up largely in Oklahoma and North Dakota, wrote the children recently by email to check up on their agricultural knowledge. The grandparents asked the kindergartner what farm animals his little sister knows. Here is the kindergartner's response by email.
Dear Oma & Opa,

Thes are the anamose [she] wahts me to writ.

Boomy [Oma and Opa's dog], pig, Shep, Bar,Wugsuma, Zebra,Croc-ad-iole, bug

Love, ...

PS She wus in a crase mud, the hole E-mal,
"Wugsuma?," you may ask. Hey, that's what his sister said, in between bursts of giggles. He warned you that she was in a crazy mood during the whole e-mail.

Federal government advertisements for pork

Our family enjoys meat in moderation, as part of meals that center on grains and fruits and vegetables, but what justifies federal sponsorship of this advertisement?

Like the beef check logo, the oval pork logo indicates that this ad campaign was funded by producer taxes collected under federal authority, and that it was approved by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.

Governance changes at AAEA Foundation

The AAEA Foundation, a non-profit foundation associated with the American Agricultural Economics Association, will see major changes in governance following a vote of the association membership this month.

In the past, the association was governed by an Executive Board (note: official name corrected 05/03/2006), while the foundation was governed by a Foundation Board. Under the new structure, the Foundation Board will end its work, and responsibility will be taken over by a committee that answers to the association's Executive Board.

Before the vote, proponents noted that the change will improve coordination between the foundation and the association.
The motivation for this proposed change is three-fold: (1) The administrative and operating expenses for travel and other support of Foundation Board members currently take between one-tenth and one-sixth of total Foundation funds ($60,000-$72,000) available for expenditure in any given year, an amount we believe is an unacceptable drain from achievement of the Foundation’s goals; (2) The Foundation Board’s semi-annual meeting process, a necessity for a large Board requiring a quorum for decision making, curbs flexibility and prevents timely action on intermittent opportunities; and (3) Because the bulk of Executive Board and Foundation Board decision making, and the AAEA Business Office support of the two boards, are concentrated at the same two meeting times of the year, Board-to-Board communication has not been highly interactive. Since many Foundation programs can complement on-going activities of the Association, such as those that support special programs or travel grants for the annual meetings, coordination with the Executive Board is important.
Opponents of the change expressed concern that the foundation would lose its independence from the professional association.
So the AAEA Board proposal to takeover the Foundation is a bad idea. The loss of the firewall, which would allow the mixing of Foundation activities with day to day membership services, is a no-no in the foundation world. It is not clear what the coordination problem is, so we don’t know if this is anything more than AAEA Board imperialism. And the cost saving may not be much because the Foundation Committee is going have to perform the same functions as the Foundation Board.
The association and the foundation are both tax-exempt non-profit organizations. The foundation will continue to fund "projects to support professional excellence in teaching, economic education, research and communication."

Fresh produce for a million seniors

From the excellent electronic newsletter, Foodlinks America:

A million elderly Americans will be getting free produce this summer, thanks to the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). Under the program, eligible seniors are given vouchers they can redeem for fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and in community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

The SFMNP reached an estimated one million seniors in 2005, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the program is expected to benefit about the same number again this season. The SFMNP, which currently operates in 46 jurisdictions (38 states, six Indian Tribal Organizations, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico) and is funded at $15 million annually, last year increased sales for 14,000 farmers selling at 2,500 farmers’ markets, 2,000 farmstands, and 215 CSAs.

Entitlement funding for the SFMNP was earmarked under the 2002 Farm Bill, exempting the program from annual appropriations battles, but locking funding in place for the five-year life of the legislation. The limitation on funds has left current state and Tribal grantees unable to grow their programs and at least eight states that have expressed interest in initiating an SFMNP are unable to access federal funds.

“I hate it because we turn so many people away,” Cindy Willard, director of the SFMNP for the Osage Tribal Council in Pawhuska, OK, which only gets enough money to serve 1,100 seniors. “We’re already getting lots of calls from elders and within two weeks after the program starts we’ll be turning people away,” she said, as word of the program spreads rapidly. Three principal means of communication among the Tribe are “telephone, telegram, and tell an elder,” Willard explained.

At recent USDA-sponsored Farm Bill forums around the country, SFMNP supporters called for an overall increase in program funding, administrative support over and above the grants for food, and the addition of other items to the program, such as honey, nuts, and eggs.

Revisions to the SFMNP may occur in the near future not only as a result of legislation – if Congress takes up reauthorization of the Farm Bill this year – but also from regulations. Proposed rules for the SFMNP issued by USDA in May 2005 are expected to be finalized this summer. Among the changes proposed is a $50 annual limit on benefits per recipient, a provision that would have a significant effect on CSAs in the program.

The SFMNP has been a tremendous benefit for both seniors and farmers’ markets in Alabama, where the program run, by the state farmers’ market authority, operates in all 67 counties and will serve approximately 62,000 elders this year. “Almost all the seniors I talk to say they would not be shopping at the farmers’ market if it were not for the extra support they get for fruits and vegetables,” said administrator Don Wambles. “It is one of the most enjoyable and most beneficial government programs ever created,” added Ms. Willard.

The issue also contains great articles on recent federal budget developments, prospects for changing the name of the Food Stamp Program, and a nutrition and obesity roundup. Subscriptions to Foodlinks America are free from Barbara Vauthier (link temporarily unavailable).

Friday, April 28, 2006

"Will the Doha Round Do More Harm than Good?"

Tufts' development experts and trade agreement skeptics Timothy Wise and Kevin Gallagher ask, "Will the Doha Round do more harm than good?."

Among their findings:
For many countries the loss of tariff revenues with liberalization are greater than the projected gains from a Doha agreement. India, for example, would lose nearly $8 billion in annual revenues from manufacturing tariffs, almost four times the projected gains of $2.2 billion. For the developing world as a whole, a projected gain of just $7 billion would be swamped by $63 billion in losses from tariffs on manufactured goods.
Do the authors compare projected net gains from trade to tariff revenue losses?

If so, that would be misleading. It would be like saying, "The oil industry did badly this quarter. Sure, the profits of the three biggest companies were $16 billion (statistic corrected 5/2/2006), but their total costs of production were much higher." The statistics would be correct, but the conclusion would be wrong.

Order and disorder (a haiku?)

If not for the rules
of the game to keep us in line,
we would be lost.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Choices Magazine: special segment on biofuels

For readers interested in U.S. food policy, here are some highlights of the new issue of Choices Magazine, published this week.

A series of articles on "Biofuels: Developing New Energy Sources from Agriculture," offers contributions from James Duffield, Keith Collins, Vernon Eidman, Paul Gallagher, James Fischer, Janine Finnell, Brian Lavoie, Roger Conway, and Marvin Duncan.
As recently as the early 1900s, energy sources around the world were mostly agriculturally derived and industrial products were primarily made from plant matter. Early motor fuels also came from agriculture — Henry Ford used ethanol in his original engine and Rudolf Diesel's engine could run on peanut oil. By 1920, petroleum emerged as the dominant energy source for transportation fuels and industrial products. For over 80 years, the United States and other industrialized countries have relied on petroleum as an economical and dependable source of energy. However, this reliance on petroleum is becoming a major issue as our domestic oil supplies shrink and our dependence on oil imports grows. The papers in this session will look at agriculture's current role as an energy producer and explore opportunities for agriculture as our Nation struggles to secure its energy future.
Dragan Miljkovic questions whether obesity is a public health problem that deserves government intervention, in "Obesity: Health and Food Policy Dilemma."
Even if the motives behind any potential government intervention in this matter may be most noble, it is clear that the entire economy would be greatly affected by these policies. And any government intervention will produce winners and losers with both net social gains and losses being plausible outcomes. For example, current guidelines recommend increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, within the context of a diet whose overall calories have been moderately reduced. While this diet, if implemented on a large scale for a sustained period of time, is likely to benefit producers in these industries, reduced consumption of other foods such as meats, dairy, or sugar, to name a few, would force many producers out of business or greatly reduce their profit margins.
Given the recent interest in buying local, even to the extent of disparaging major organic retailers, Paul Patterson's report on "State-Grown Promotion Programs" is timely.
[E]xperience with state brands suggests that they may be effective in promoting the sale of some products. However, to be of economic benefit to producers, they must effectively differentiate the products, so that higher prices may be earned for these products. Producers will only enjoy an increase in profits when price rises. These price premiums are most likely to be achieved for differentiated, specialty products, whose production or reputation is uniquely tied to a particular state.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Those hog farms sure smell sweet

The federal government's Pork Board this month announced the results of a study of air quality in residences located near hog farms.

Like the Cattlemen's Beef Board, the Pork Board is funded by mandatory assessments or taxes on producers ($65 million per year) and jointly managed by pork producers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For the air quality study, the Pork Board's headline read:
Checkoff-funded study finds hog farms not a factor
to nearby residences’ air quality
The pork industry officials just gushed about the results:
“This is great news for us as pork producers and for our neighbors,” said Craig Christensen, a pork producer from Ogden, Iowa and member of the National Pork Board.
But here are more of the details:
The study shows that an increase in the concentration of hydrogen sulfide measured on the farm does not show a similar increase in concentration inside nearby residences unless residences are located less than .4 mile (2,149 feet) from the farm and climate conditions are such that low wind speed and little solar radiation are present. Even under these conditions, hydrogen sulfide concentrations inside a residence located less than 300 feet from the largest operation in the study were recorded at levels more than 50 percent lower than the level currently set by the state of Iowa as one with potential health effects.

The study revealed that ammonia concentrations inside residences tend to be more concentrated than ammonia levels in the air outside the residence or at hog farm’s property line. The study’s authors said evidence suggests that ammonia levels may be related more to inhabitants’ lifestyles, including smoking cigarettes and having indoor pets, than to the residence’s proximity to a hog farm.
To summarize, here is a truer revision of the headline:
In the interior of homes that are sufficiently far from a hog farm, with the windows shut, and other conditions favorable, the smell of the ammonia from the hog farm is no worse than that from the interior cigarette smoke or pet urine.
And to think, those silly neighbors sometimes complain.

Mayor Bloomberg blocks food stamp access

The New York City Hunger Blog reported this week:
A day after The New York Times reported New York City would permit unemployed, able-bodied adults without children to receive food stamps for over three months in any three-year period, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed course. This time limit can be waived by cities with high unemployment rates, like Chicago, Washington, and New York. Of eligible cities, New York is one of only a handful not to exercise the waiver.

The mayor’s apparent flip-flop comes after Human Resources Administration Commissioner Verna Eggleston sent a request to the state for the waiver. Despite a proclaimed effort to fight poverty in his second term, dislike of public assistance programs may have been at the heart of the mayor’s decision. The far right hailed the mayor’s ultimate decision, while anti-poverty advocates were stunned and concerned.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Courage in Miami -- holding the line on the urban boundary

In narrow votes, the Miami-Dade County Commission decided to reject eight out of nine proposals to expand the Miami Urban Boundary to include more of the surrounding countryside, the Miami Herald reported today.
Those opposed to moving the line -- a hodgepodge of environmentalists and activists that eventually garnered support from Gov. Jeb Bush and state regulators -- hailed Wednesday's votes, which capped off more than a year of fighting a well-funded and politically powerful building industry.

''I think we're all kind of feeling like we're in a dream,'' said activist Jamie Furgang of Audubon of Florida. She said that while the activists and community groups loosely assembled under the Hold the Line campaign had also fought the Hialeah application, she considered it ``one of the less egregious ones.''
Beth Dunlop explained the importance of this vote in the Herald a few days earlier:
There are numerous reasons to hold the line as sacrosanct. It is in some ways a boundary not just between city and country but between reason and insanity. Many people innately understand the need for farms, for the rural landscape, for keeping density where it belongs (in urban areas)....

As suburbia sprawls farther out past the suburbs, more than just the earth is turned, and as it happens here, it is also happening all across the country. For many farmers, the last cash crop is sticks and mortar, a subdivision rising where once seeds were sowed. Where once there were modest, elegant farmhouses now rise giant McMansions sitting on far too much concrete. There is much at stake here, from the food grown with care by families rather than corporate entities to the loss of the land and the landscape, of a way of living, a way of being, a way of seeing. And in the doing, we are destroying irreplaceable ecosystem and demolishing some of the most picturesque (and environmentally important) of our rural and natural landscapes - those very landscapes that propelled us from being a country of small colonial settlements to a nation of pioneers and explorers, a nation that stretched in reality as well as in verse and song, from sea to sea. Where the land is beautiful or desirable, the situation is at its most acute.
The vote has national and even global interest and importance, partly because many cities face similar choices about rationalizing development of the surrounding landscape, and partly because the Everglades beyond Miami's border is the whole world's heritage.

Science in the Private Interest

Interesting reading recently, from Tufts professor Sheldon Krimsky's 2003 book Science in the Private Interest:
Public policies and legal decisions have created new incentives for universities, their faculty, and publicly supported nonprofit research institutes to commercialize scientific and medical research and to develop partnerships with forprofit companies. The new academic–industry and nonprofit–for-profit liaisons have led to changes in the ethical norms of scientific and medical researchers. The consequences are that secrecy has replaced openness; privatization of knowledge has replaced communitarian values; and commodification of discovery has replaced the idea that university-generated knowledge is a free good, a part of the social commons. The rapid growth of entrepreneurship in universities has resulted in an unprecedented rise in conflicts of interest, specifically in areas sensitive to public concern. Conflicts of interest among scientists has been linked to research bias as well as the loss of a socially valuable ethical norm — disinterestedness — among academic researchers. As universities turn their scientific laboratories into commercial enterprise zones and as they select their faculty to realize these goals, fewer opportunities will exist in academia for public-interest science—an inestimable loss to society.
More information here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Benzene in Soda (2)

A friendly reader points out that the "benzene in soda" controversy isn't just about soda.
You mention sodas, and quote the guy saying something about "parents need to know what's in their children's drinks." But the first time I heard of this issue, I thought "well my kids and I almost never drink soda, so why should I care?" Imagine my surprise when I read a longer list of beverages, and saw that it included many "juice drinks" - thinks like Kool-aid Jammers, Hi-C Blasts, etc. These aren't drinks that I buy very often either, but many other parents are bringing them to soccer games for the post-game beverage.

My suggestion: write another post that elaborates on this - it's not just soda, it seems to be any beverage that includes ascorbic acid (to make claims about Vitamin C) and a benzoate (preservative).
As requested, here is the full list of products flagged by the Environmental Working Group. These products contain the two components which, in combination, raise the possibility of forming benzene.
On February 24 and February 27, 2006, EWG purchased the following drinks at four major retail outlets in Washington, DC. They all contained ascorbic acid and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate--the ingredients that the FDA and the beverage industry have said can mix together to form benzene, a known human carcinogen. The actual levels of benzene formed in these products may be at trace levels and well within legal limits for drinking water.

* Country Time Lemonade
* Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange
* Diet Pepsi Twist
* Diet Pepsi Vanilla
* Diet RockStar Energy Drink
* Fanta Orange
* Fanta Pineapple
* Fruit20 Plus 10 Natural Apple
* Giant Fruity Punch Cooler
* Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red
* Hawaiian Punch Lemonade
* Hi-C Blast, Orange Supernova
* Kool-Aid Jammers Blue-Raspberry
* Kool-Aid Jammers Cherry
* Kool-Aid Jammers Grape
* Kool-Aid Jammers Orange
* Lo-Carb Monster Energy
* Monster Energy
* Pepsi Twist Lemon
* RockStar Energy Drink
* Sierra Mist
* Sunkist
* Sunny D
* Sunny D Baja
* Sunny D Intense Sport Cool Punch
* Sunny D Orange-Fused Strawberry
* Sunny D Smooth
* Sunny D Smooth + Calcium
* Tampico Citrus Punch
* Tampico Grape Punch
* Tampico Tropical Punch
* Tropicana Twister Diet Soda (Diet Orange)
* Tropicana Twister Soda Grape
* Tropicana Twister Soda Orange
* Tropicana Twister Soda Strawberry

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friedman School research on nutrient density

From the news release:
Newswise — Why choose an apple over a bag of pretzels if they have roughly the same number of calories? It would be a simple matter of taste if calories were the only thing that counted. But nutrients count, too. For an equal number of calories, a person could also get fiber, vitamin C, and potassium by going with the apple. This example illustrates the concept of “nutrient density,” which may be new to many people, although it’s highlighted in the USDA 2005 Dietary Guidelines. Eileen Kennedy, DSc, RD, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, thinks it’s important to help consumers understand the concept of nutrient density and how to categorize and choose foods based on nutrient density.
I have been contributing some technical advice to this effort (and, to complete the disclosure, of course, Kennedy is my dean). See related writing by Kennedy in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and coverage in CalorieLab.

Michael Pollan: Omnivore's Dilemma

Michael Pollan's intriguing concept -- an ambitious new book-length treatment of the origins and implications of four very different meals -- has earned coverage from Boing Boing, the Sour Patch, an excellent interview by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, the Sustainable Table weblog, and many others. Will read after semester ends.

Update, same day: in addition, Life Begins at 30 has a nice list of speaking appearances.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sojourners Magazine's special issue: food and how we get it

Sojourners, the much-admired progressive Christian news magazine, devotes its May issue to "food and how we get it" (in better newstands, but not yet online).

Cathleen Hockman-Wert, author of Simply in Season, discusses how she made the transition from frugal low-cost food shopping -- in the tradition of the Mennonite More-with-Less Cookbook -- to a new willingness to pay more for food that meets her principles.
I still value frugality.... But price is no longer my first consideration. I want my food to have good stories. A priceless benefit of going local is that I can know those stories: I can ask my farmer.
Bethany Spicher Schonberg writes about the changing retail scene in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington (where our family lived until moving to Boston in 2003). At the end of our block on Holmead Place, where there once was a community garden in a lot that had been empty for decades, there is now a brand new Super Giant mega-food-store.
And what makes you guilty anyway? "Shopping at giant," I said suddenly. "I feel guilty about shopping at Giant."
Cathy C. Campbell meditates on the line from the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread."
The more ease and confidence we have in acquiring food, the easier it is to miss the radical edge that cuts through this prayer. As we appreciate this edge, our eyes open to the power of God's economy of grace to feed the world with the food that genuinely delights and satisfies.
Tom Philpott, a journalist and farmer who we quote frequently in this weblog, writes about a neighborhood farm in Brooklyn. Bryan Beiler writes "The Tao of Dumpster Diving."
"What is this -- some kind of school project? You guys aren't homeless, are you?" asked the clean-cut young policeman with well-gelled hair. His confusion was understandable. Actually, the first thing he said was, "You're eating out of the garbage? That's disgusting."
And much more.

Interesting links in sidebars and advertisements include: Slow Food U.S.A., the Foods Resource Bank, FoodRoutes, the Community Food Security Coalition (already in our sidebar), the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and Bread for the World.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Benzene in Soda

Here are some links about the recent controversy over benzene in sodas.

The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) acknowledged last week that cancer-causing benzene has been found in sodas at levels that exceed the standards for benzene in drinking water (AP, via Washington Post yesterday). This admission corrects the record, after FDA had earlier claimed only insignificant amounts of benzene had been found. The FDA and the beverage industry point out that benzene exposure in other circumstances, such as cigarette smoking, is higher than the exposure in sodas.

Lawsuits over benzene exposure were announced yesterday. "Parents have a legal right to know if benzene is in their children's drinks," one of the attorneys argued (Food Navigator today).

Here is an advocacy group's history of the controversy.

Ross Getman of implies that knowledge of the benzene scandal might have been connected to Lester Crawford's resignation as FDA commissioner in 2005, although he doesn't provide much detail to prove this. Crawford was also at the time being asked questions about investments that created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In weblogs, here is AMERICAblog and Effect Measure.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Restaurant receipts with nutrition information?

See the weblog covering one company's proposal.
The Nutricate Receipt is just like a normal receipt, but it also displays the nutritional information of your order. In addition, the receipt provides customers with fitness tips and suggestions on how they can modify their order in the future to make it a healthier meal. Here's a sample:

Bill addresses competitive foods in schools at the federal level

See Marian Burros in the New York Times:
The days when children consume two orders of French fries in the school cafeteria and call it lunch may be numbered. A bipartisan group in Congress plans to introduce legislation today that would prohibit the sale in school not only of French fries but also of other fatty or sugary foods, including soft drinks.

Under the bill, an amendment to the National School Lunch Act, high nutritional standards would be required of all food sold on school premises. That means not just in cafeterias but in vending machines, school stores and snack bars as well, even at fund-raising events.
Or Libby Quaid from AP (via

"Junk food sales in schools are out of control," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said Thursday. "It undercuts our investment in school meal programs and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease."

Harkin and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to have the Agriculture Department set new nutritional standards for all food sold in schools. The goal is to restrict junk food sales in schools.

The department sets standards for breakfasts and lunches in federal school meal programs, which reimburse public and nonprofit private schools for giving free or reduced-price meals to kids. Those meals must follow federal dietary guidelines, which call for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less calories, fat, added sugars and sodium.

But the standards don't apply to a la carte lines in cafeterias, vending machines or school stores. The Agriculture Department has tried to restrict junk food before, but a 1983 federal court ruling, in a lawsuit by the National Soft Drink Association, said the limits could only apply to cafeterias during meals, not for the entire day throughout campus.

Today, candy, soda and other snacks are sold in nine out of 10 schools, according to the Government Accountability Office. Already plentiful in high schools, junk food has become more available in middle schools over the past five years, GAO found.

Call for Papers: Our Daily Bread -- What Does it REALLY Cost?

Tufts University Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE) would like to inform you of an interesting opportunity for researchers in the area of food policy:

Sustainable Ventures announces a "Call for Papers" for the Prize,

"Our Daily Bread: What Does It REALLY Cost?"

Cosponsored by the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition.

Sustainable Ventures is offering individual authors or teams a $10,000 prize plus benefits for the study that best measures the true costs of a loaf of bread. The winning study will provide an analytical framework that measures integrated social, environmental and financial performance. By revealing and quantifying hidden costs of a loaf of bread, the framework will help people make more informed choices to protect and restore our world. See the

Holy Days

A student writes that many Coca-Cola consumers stock up on the special version offered for sale during Passover. Apparently, the Passover version has real cane sugar in place of corn syrup. You can tell Passover Coke from Regular Coke because it has yellow caps and has a KP on it or another kosher symbol with a P after it. I found a report from a couple years ago on NPR.

For Palm Sunday today, our church had a donkey from Heifer Project out in the driveway to greet the children. The kids loved it. Heifer International has for many years been one of our family's favorite charities. Its eloquently simple business model provides gifts of livestock to farmers overseas, who value the animals as an income flow (milk, wool) and as a capital asset (dowry, bride-price, or eventually, meat). Then, from the eventual offspring, the beneficiary makes a gift to another farmer family and proudly becomes a donor himself or herself. And thus, paradoxically, does generosity make the poor as great in spirit and heart as the rich.

As you probably know, the donkey is the symbolic animal for Palm Sunday, because the absurd "prince" that Christians worship rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on the back of -- not a warhorse -- but a donkey. Of course, that was a long time ago. Our princes know better now how to keep us safe with mighty weapons.

Happy holy days to you and yours.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

New York Times: Test every cow for mad cow disease

On the theme of our earlier post, here is today's editorial in the New York Times:

The U.S.D.A. should test every cow that goes to slaughter. The cost is not prohibitive. Fear is the problem. The current testing program for mad cow disease is intended to produce, at best, a snapshot of the likelihood of the disease. The program rests on assumptions that reflect, as assumptions tend to do, only what we know already, and we do not know nearly enough about mad cow disease.

The fear is that broad testing may reveal a higher rate of infection and destroy consumer confidence, with a devastating impact on the cattle market. Which leaves us where we are now: relying on what we don't know to make us feel safe.

New York Red Bulls -- using claims of performance enhancement to market stimulant beverage to athletes and fans

Beverage sellers often use implied claims of performance - enhancing powers to market stimulants to athletes and sports fans.

For example, the makers of the stimulant beverage Red Bull recently purchased the major league soccer team for New York and New Jersey, formerly called the MetroStars, and renamed the team the New York Red Bulls.

See the Google Answers service for an interesting report on health questions that were raised following the death of an Irish athlete who had consumed three cans of Red Bull and 3 similar deaths in Sweden. A Food Safety Protection Board in the United Kingdom recommended (bold added):
a) stimulant drinks should be labelled with an indication that they are unsuitable for children (under 16 years of age), pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine

b) they should be classified with other beverages of high caffeine content

c) the consumption of stimulant drinks by children under 16 years should be discouraged

d) caution should be exercised in the consumption of stimulant drinks with alcohol

e) they should not be consumed in association with sport and exercise as a thirst quencher

f) they are unsuitable rehydration agents for use in sport and during exercise
When stimulant beverage makers use implied claims about athletic performance, the key adjective is usually "implied." More explicit claims would raise a number of legal and public relations hazards: in addition to liability concerns if somebody dies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might inquire whether the product should be regulated as a drug, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) might ask if the advertising messages are false and misleading, and the marketing partners in the sports world might decide the performance enhancing claims just stink.

But somebody at Red Bull didn't get the memo.

Jack from Fork & Bottle sent us an interesting report by email. He read the following question and answer in the print version of the New York Times, from an interview with Dietrich Mateschitz, founder of Red Bull (bold added).
Q. Is Red Bull, which has high sugar and caffeine content, appropriate for athletes?

A. If people would spend some time looking at our numerous clinical studies, research and test results, they would probably have to change their mind. Red Bull is unquestionably appropriate for athletes due to the benefits it provides, like increased concentration, improved performance and reaction speed.
Jack reports that this question and answer are now missing from the "version" of the same article that appears in New York Times online. He has written the "newspaper of record" to ask the reason for this deletion from the record. We will let you know if he hears back.

[Update 4/7/2006: Jack heard back from the office of the public editor: "Thanks for writing. The New York Edition of the paper did not have those paragraphs, and that is generally the version that makes it onto the Web site. There was less space provided for the story in the New York Edition than in the National Edition, so the change seems to have merely been the result of some minor trimming by editors." It is suprising that they would "trim" the most interesting paragraph of the interview -- space certainly must have been tight that day.]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

See the Meatrix II


Oh, those clever wits ...

... at the Center for Consumer Freedom. Follow the link for a clearer image and more hilarity.

Health and nutrition policies of the world's 25 top food companies

Here is the Guardian's story, based on a report (.pdf) from Tim Lang, Geof Rayner, and Elizabeth Kaelin of the Centre for Food Policy at City University in London.

Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent
Tuesday April 4, 2006
The Guardian

The world's top 25 food companies have not taken significant action to improve diets despite their claims, according to a report published today.

City University, London, has done an audit of the top 10 food manufacturers, top 10 food retailers and top five food service companies, comparing what they have done against the strategy agreed by the World Health Organisation to tackle obesity and other diet-related diseases. It finds that only a handful are acting on excess fat and sugar in the diet and only 10 are tackling salt levels.

Researchers at City University reviewed the companies' policies on nutrition, research and development, marketing, labelling and other criteria relating to health, as reported in the firms' annual accounts or on their websites last year.

"Their performance is by and large pathetic," said Tim Lang, one of the authors of the report, The Food Industry: Diet, Physical Activity and Health. "The companies that appear to be doing the most are the ones under intense pressure because their product ranges are the unhealthiest, but there is a whiff of desperation about what they are doing rather than long-term commitment to better food."

Retailers performed particularly poorly, although of the top global retailers operating in the UK, Tesco scored more highly than Wal-mart.

Unilever was the exception among manufacturers, singled out by researchers for anticipating trends in health rather than reacting defensively to criticism.

Researchers also found variation within categories, saying that campaigners had succeeded in demonising certain leading companies but not changing behaviour in categories as a whole.

Thanks to a Friedman School student for sending the link.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sustainability conference at Tufts Friedman School, April 11

The intrepid graduate student group Food has organized what promises to be a fascinating conference on sustainability here at the Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University.
Sustainability in the Balance:
Juggling Environmental Health, Economic Profitability, and Social Equity in the Global Food System

April 11, 2006 2:30 – 7:00 pm
Reception to follow

Presented by FOOD: A Student Initiative of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Tufts University, 150 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA Behrakis Auditorium. 2: 30 pm

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Ecologically Sound Agriculture: Principles, Practices, Constraints Dr. Fred Magdoff, Professor of Soils, Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Vermont and Northeast Region USDA SARE Coordinator. Professor Magdoff will discuss the agro-ecological principles necessary for ‘sustainable’ agriculture. He will contrast the inputs and practices needed for ecologically-based agriculture with those used in conventional agricultural systems. He will also address some of the political, social, and economic stumbling blocks to promoting sustainable agriculture in the U.S. and in developing countries.

4:00 pm PANEL I: Changing Trends in the Global Food System: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Agriculture Sustainable agriculture rests on the principle that present-day food needs can be met without compromising the food security of future generations. As the global demand for food mounts and the fragility of the natural environment becomes ever more apparent, farmers, communities, and governments must identify ways to ensure agricultural sustainability without sacrificing productivity. In light of the challenges facing world agriculture, each panelist will sketch their vision for an agricultural system that can balance the three pillars of sustainability: environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity. Panelists: Dr. Richard Levins, John Rock Professor of Population Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health; Dr. Robert Paarlberg, Betty Freyhof Johnson Class of 1944 Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College and Associate Professor at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; Dr. Molly Anderson, Consultant on Science and Public Policy.

5:45 pm PANEL II: Biofuels: Friend or Foe of the Food System? Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are often portrayed as the next great wave in green energy and a potential savior of the U.S. farm sector. Opponents argue, however, that biofuels should not be viewed as a sustainable solution because at least for the most industrial crops, like corn and soy, more energy is used in the production of the biomass than is generated by the fuel. Also to be considered are the environmental, livelihood, and food security issues involved in a large scale transformation of the industrial agricultural sector from a food industry to an energy industry. This panel will explore the science underpinning the debate and the implications of using increased crop-based energy sources in the context of decreasing fossil fuel availability. Panelists: Jim Kleinshmit, Senior Associate, Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy; Dr. William Moomaw, Director, Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, The Fletcher School, Tufts University; Dr. Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, Associate Director, Agricultural Policy and Analysis Center, The University of Tennessee.

Symposium Sponsors: Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts Institute of the Environment, Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, Tufts University College of Citizenship and Public Service Tufts, Food and Awareness Project.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Feds approve Quiznos Prime Rib promotion; nutrition facts guarded as secret

The federal government is advertising a new food product. No, it's not fruits or vegetables. Not whole grains. Not lowfat milk.

The federal government in December approved a massive campaign of television advertisements and other marketing to promote ...
... the Quiznos Prime Rib Sub.
See the luscious television advertisements, and notice the "beef check logo" indicating endorsement of the message by the Beef Board and the federal government.

The advertising campaign, which runs from February through May this year, is a partnership between Quiznos and the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, a semi-governmental program to promote beef demand. The Beef Board is established by Congress, overseen by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, and funded through $46 million per year in mandatory assessments -- taxes -- collected from beef producers under federal government authority. The Beef Board is one of several meat and dairy commodity "checkoff" programs, which dwarf federal support promoting fruits, vegetables, or the Dietary Guidelines.

Neither Quiznos nor the Beef Board nor USDA would provide the nutrition facts information for the Prime Rib sub in response to requests from U.S. Food Policy. A press release from the Beef Board gives the flavor of the product: "The Quiznos Prime Rib Sub is a double portion of tender prime rib, piled high with melted mozzarella cheese and sauted onions, and then topped with a mild peppercorn sauce." The Impulsive Buy website described the product as "an orgy of meat" (and provided a grotesque photograph).

The beef checkoff program has been controversial with beef producers, some of whom objected to the tax and sued in federal court, arguing that the program violated their First Amendment rights by forcing them to support advertising campaigns with which they disagree. I described much of this controversy in a working paper (.pdf). In a case that was decided by the Supreme Court in May, 2005, the federal government responded that these advertising campaigns represent the government's own "government speech." In the majority opinion of the Supreme Court (.pdf), Justin Antonin Scalia explained:
The message of the promotional campaigns is effectively controlled by the Federal Government itself. The message set out in the beef promotions is from beginning to end the message established by the Federal Government.
In dissent (.pdf), Justice David Souter pointed out that many consumers may not even recognize that the government has endorsed the beef advertisements: "[A] compelled subsidy should not be justifiable by [government] speech unless the government must put that speech forward as its own."

All Beef Board promotions must be approved by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. The Quiznos Prime Rib promotion was approved in a December 27 letter (.pdf) from Barry Carpenter, Deputy Administrator of the Livestock and Feed Program within AMS. Carpenter wrote to the Beef Board: "We have reviewed and concur with your decision to approve this promotional partnership."

As a consumer, you can recognize which advertisements were approved and endorsed by the federal government by the appearance of the "beef check logo."

The federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans are supposed to be the government's "one voice" on nutrition communication. The guidelines promote increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lowfat milk, within a balanced diet whose overall calories have been reduced. By subtraction, one might expect the federal government to go easy on promoting caloric sodas, sugary desserts, and high-fat meat and dairy products. It might seem difficult to reconcile the Dietary Guidelines with the Quiznos promotion.

In response to an email query about whether the Quiznos promotion was reviewed for consistency with the Dietary Guidelines, Kenneth Payne of AMS responded, "We are not required to do this by law."

Payne's email stated,
Again, as part of USDA's oversight, we are required to review such promotions to ensure that they comply with the Beef Promotion and Research Act and the Beef Promotion and Research Order. The program's goal is designed to strengthen the position of beef in the marketplace and to maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets and uses for beef and beef products. Ultimately, it is the consumers' choice to make a commodity part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. The Board promotes beef to give the consumer options to include beef as part of a healthy and well balanced diet.
The goal of the Beef Board's Quiznos promotion is to increase beef sales and support the purchase of 2.0 million "incremental pounds of Prime Rib/Beef." The Beef Board sought and received USDA approval to spend $100,000 of its own money in order to leverage a much larger sum (redacted in the copy of the letter U.S. Food Policy received from USDA) of advertising money from Quiznos. According to Payne, "In fiscal year 2005, the Beef Checkoff Program invested $475,000 in national partnerships [with restaurants], while the partners invested $27 million, or a leveraged ratio of 56:1 for Checkoff dollars invested. The total incremental pounds of beef sold during these promotions were 3,254,000."

The Beef Board's press release reported that the Prime Rib promotion was inspired by the success of the Steakhouse Beef Dip promotion discussed earlier in this weblog:
A successful cooperative promotion between Quiznos and the Beef Checkoff Program in 2004 encouraged Quiznos and beef checkoff leaders to conduct the current promotion, according to Laurie Bryant, chairman of the Joint Foodservice Committee. That promotion, for the Steakhouse Beef Dip Sub, shattered projections for sales. As a result of its success, the company added the sandwich as a permanent menu item. “

"We a’re thrilled to be working with Quiznos again," according to Bryant, a member of the Cattlemen'’s Beef Board. "Our relationship with the Quiznos marketing team is excellent, and our track record with this company and others we have partnered with has proven the value of these types of cooperative promotions."
U.S. Food Policy sought comment from the public relations staff at the Beef Board by telephone and email, and requested nutrition facts from Quiznos, to no avail.