Sunday, November 30, 2008

Do pork producers want the right to vote on their checkoff program?

Pork producers and importers who want the pork checkoff program to be subjected to a referendum must submit a form to USDA between Dec. 8 and Jan. 2.

If 15 percent of producers and importers say they want a referendum on the Pork Checkoff Program, a referendum would be held within one year after the results are announced. But, conveniently, the whole thing is set up so that failing to express a view counts the same as voting against a referendum.

A USDA press release, website, and Federal Register announcement (.pdf) summarize the procedures for pork producers and importers to let their views be heard. Although the Federal Register announcement includes a link to the form producers and importers are supposed to use, I cannot find the form at the link given, or any other obvious place on USDA's website. Unless I have missed something, this will make it very difficult for producers to exercise their rights.

The 4-week window for submissions was announced by USDA on Nov. 13, giving producers who want the opportunity to vote a very short time to spread the word, especially given the timing over the holiday season.

The pork checkoff program used the Federal Government's powers of taxation to collect $63 million in mandatory assessments in 2008 from pork producers and importers, to fund advertising and promotion efforts, including those using the slogan "Pork. The Other White Meat." The money is overseen by the National Pork Board, a semi-public entity that gives most of it in contracts to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the industry's private-sector trade association. All Pork Board supported advertising messages must be approved by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which oversees the program and has part of its resulting administrative expenses paid by pork producers' checkoff money.

There are many reasons why pork producers and importers might feel they deserve the chance to vote on whether the mandatory checkoff program should continue. For example:

1. The pork checkoff program is an ineffective way of increasing consumer demand for pork. The program's own official estimates find that a 10% increase in generic pork advertising leads to a 0.21% increase -- one fifth of 1% -- in the quantity of pork consumed.

2. The pork checkoff program is bruising for a fight with the nutrition and health community, which may come to a head early in the new administration. It may turn out to be a terrible liability for pork producers to have their advertising program controlled by the federal government. For example, under the slogan "Counting Carbs? Pork's Perfect," the pork checkoff program's website promoted low-carb fad weight loss diets until 2007, when I filed a petition to have this slogan removed on grounds that it contradicts the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The slogan was removed from the websites, and USDA said the program is no longer using the slogan, though without exactly confirming that the change was in response to the petition. If producers were less dependent on the federal government for approval of advertising programs, the producers would have more control over their own marketing messages. There may be similar reasons why pork producers would not want to rely so heavily on a new federal government administration with an increasingly environmental outlook.

3. A well-designed voluntary checkoff program, which would not require federal powers of taxation to force unwilling producers to pay up, might be reasonably successful at raising funds anyway. A recent article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics explored clever voluntary payment mechanisms.

4. The NPPC, the National Pork Board, and USDA have never given a public accounting to producers or anybody else, explaining in detail how they arrived at the $60 million dollar price tag for the property rights to the "Other White Meat" brand, which the NPPC sold to the National Pork Board in 2006. My Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request yielded highly censored documents, which showed only that somebody has something to hide in this whole unseemly affair. Insufficient information has been provided to verify that this appraisal was correct and legitimate.

5. Producers were denied their rights to approve the checkoff program in 2000, so the current program has only the window-dressing but none of the substance of a voluntary program. I asked USDA recently if there wasn't supposed to be some evidence of continuing producer support for the checkoff program. The reply by email said, "The Pork Board is only required by the Act to have an initial referendum within 24 to 30 months of the onset of the program. The last referendum for the Pork Checkoff program was conducted in September 2000, as a result of a petition by producers. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman determined the results as non-binding." Just like that.

If you hear anything more about this issue, please post it in the comments. I have seen just about no coverage of this issue in the mainstream press or the agricultural press. I couldn't find anything prominently posted on the website for Pork magazine. Is there some code of silence thing going on here?

Oh, how COOL

Many of you may have noticed yet another “thing” on your food labels. While Country Of Origin Labeling (or COOL) was already printed on wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, the 2008 Farm Bill has expanded the list to cover some muscle cuts of meats, ground meats, perishable agriculture commodities, ginseng and nuts. The implementation is the responsibility of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and so far, as expected, their job has been far from cool.

The legislation has roots in the 2002 farm bill. On January 27, 2004, Public Law 108-199 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2006. On November 10, 2005, Public Law 109-97 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2008.

The bill has been framed as effort to provide consumers with information to make informed decision regarding where their food comes from, partially due to the recent attention to local food movements. What they tried to avoid was the ‘elephant in the room’ to all of us, food safety. The reason to avoid food safety? Maybe it is admitting that there is a problem with food safety in this country? Or maybe we don’t want to offend the countries we trade with? Whatever the reason, you are now going to know if you cow was a Canadian or if your tomatoes have been on further vacations then you.

Like most pieces of legislation there are a few exemptions to rule:

1. Non-PACA licensed stores. The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) is a federal law that regulates the produce industry (this could be butcher shops, convenience stores, etc.).

2. Food Service Establishments.

3. Certain processing methods:
- any covered commodity that has undergone processing that results in a change (cooking, curing, smoking, restructuring);
- any covered commodity that has been combined with another food product that is not water salt or sugar (does this mean a rise in peas and carrots? Oh dear!).

And it is these “exemptions” that seem to be causing a lot of ruckus. Say for instance: mixed salad versus bagged spinach? Mixed salad wouldn’t be covered, but the spinach would require labeling. How about a fruit cup that contains melons and strawberries? Nope, does not require a COOL label.

Dried fruit is not subject to COOL labeling requirements since the drying process changes the character of the fruit. Mushrooms, if fresh, are covered. Dried mushrooms are not covered. Packages of different colored sweet peppers (green, yellow, and/or red), combined in a package, will require country of origin notification because there is one U.S. Grade Standard for sweet peppers, regardless of the color.

And if you think the produce industry is confused on how to implement, the coolness continues for the meat industry responsible for muscle cuts beef, veal, pork, lamb and chicken and the ground counterparts.
a) Product of the U.S.—meat from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States or from animals present in the United States on or prior to July 15, 2008.
b) Product of the U.S., Country X—meat from animals born in Country X and raised and slaughtered in the United States.
c)Meat from these animals were not exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States or imported for immediate slaughter -- meat from animals imported into the United States for immediate slaughter.
d) Product of Country X—foreign meat imported into the United States

Attempt at implementation has been revealing how meat is carried through the supply chain. From birth, to stockyard, to feedlot, to slaughter, animals can have quite a stamped passport and these complexities of the livestock industry may have some product labels listing multiple countries. That's especially true of ground beef, because some meat processors combine cuts from a number of countries to make ground meat and hamburger patties.

Meat packers and large agribusinesses initially opposed the rule because they want continued access to imported (often cheaper) meat, without facing a penalty in the marketplace from consumers who may think American meat is safer. They also argued that the label is unnecessary, too expensive and would be a record keeping nightmare (in this case, "they" was Tyson vice president testifying against COOL at USDA education session).

Proponents for the bill consider COOL a feather in their cap. They believe the greatest advantage is knowing exactly where your food comes from. They argue that COOL gives consumers the ability: to support more local economies, to choose fresher food, and could ultimately prevent food safety problems associated with imported foods.

Some caveats, because what would policy be without them?

1. There is a loophole: Food further processed in foreign countries, may still receive US determination i.e. baby carrots

2. Commingled commodities: goods from mixed countries require all countries to be identified i.e. a mixed bin of tomatoes

Whether you are for or against Country Of Origin Labeling, what this bill teaches us is that these laws are never cut and dry. Once the rule making and regulation begins, what sounded like a great idea can sometime turn into something that is not-so-COOL.

Note: cross-posted from Epicurean Ideal.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Brave New Foundation's Meet the Bloggers recently had on guests: Marion Nestle blogger on Food Politics; Catherine Gund of Whats on Your Plate; and Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally. The Bloggers all discussed a hot issue in the food world: Food Safety. Trueman also plugs the good people at the Eat Well Guide and how to find a "natural turkey" and local foods in your area.

From Wall Street to Main Street

As Congress moves to bail out some of the largest corporations in order to prop up the economy, Main Street is jumping on the bandwagon to ask for a little help in these hard times. Is this the 'new New Deal?'

Democratic Senators are working to pass the Reid-Byrd Econ Stimulus Bill. In response to higher unemployment, rising food costs, higher energy costs, State budgets in crisis, and increased dependence on foreign oil, President-Elect Obama has called for a second stimulus bill to jump start the economy and help Americans recover from the recession.

It is well known that the hits on Wall Street take a few months to trickle down to Main Street. The bill focuses on the areas of society that are being hit the hardest:

Unemployment: "The U.S. economy has lost jobs every month this year, a total of 1.2 million jobs, with almost half of the job losses coming in the last 3 months alone." The bill would extend unemployment benefits by seven weeks in all states.

State Economies: The package includes $37.8 million to help States reduce their share of Medicaid, in order to ease the budget shortfalls affecting local economies.

Auto-Industry Assistance: $25 billion in loans with required long term financial plans.

Tax Relief for New Car Purchasing: to help tax payers afford new cars, while propping up the automobile industry.

High Food Costs: "$445 million for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program (which would allow 600,000 women and children to receive WIC benefits, meet some of the rising demand due to a faltering economy, and allow states to avoid creating waiting lists). $50 million is included for Food Banks, $8 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food program, and $60 million for senior meals programs (18 million more meals)."

High Energy Assistance: In order to help Americans cope with spiraling energy costs, $500 million is included for weatherization programs.

Energy Independence: The stimulus makes major investments in electrifying vehicles with $300 million for advanced battery research, and $1billion for the advanced battery manufacturing loan guarantee program which will authorize over $3.3 billion in loan guarantees. In addition, the stimulus includes $500 million to help local governments improve energy efficiency; $500 million for additional energy efficiency and renewable energy research, development and deployment; and $140 million for electricity transmission improvements.

Caring for the Environment: Over $5 billion is included for environmental clean up, urban and rural clean water systems, and for maintenance of our parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.

Building Infrastructure and Creating Jobs: The stimulus package includes: $13.5 billion for building and repairing highways, bridges, mass transit, airports, and AMTRAK, creating 470,000 jobs.

Housing: The Committee bill includes $700 million for capital funding grants to public housing agencies and $200 million to provide housing agencies with additional funding to alleviate the increased costs of energy.

Improving the Quality of Life for Military Families: $175 million for the construction, replacement, and improvement of military family housing at Army and Air Force installations, and an additional $75 million for the construction of child development centers at Navy installations.

Education and Job Training: $2.5 billion is included for school repairs, $600 million for youth training and dislocated workers, $200 million for the Community Services Block Grant, and $36 million for homeless education.

Health: $1 billion to restore some of the purchasing power of NIH that was lost because of inflation in the past five years and allow NIH to award as many as 2,700 new research project grants that could lead to cures and treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and many other devastating diseases.

Small Businesses: The stimulus provides $615 million to support $22.5 billion in zero-fee loans to small businesses under the 7(a) program and the 504 program. The bill also provides $1 million to support $10 million in new microloans for small businesses and $4 million for critical technical assistance for these “micro” borrowers.

Border Security and Crime Fighting: The bill includes over $1 billion for border security and other homeland security investments.

Science: $675 million for NASA, Department of Energy and Cyber Security.

Disaster Assistance: Relief support for farmers facing crop damage, and community disaster loans.

Consumer Protection: 13.1 million to permit prompt implementation of new authorities enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-246), $75 million for the FBI for agents to investigate rising claims of mortgage fraud, and $10.5 million for the Treasury Inspector General to conduct critical reviews of bank failures.

ADA: National Food and Nutrition Conference

At the end of October 10,000 Registered Dietitians gathered in Chicago for the National Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The conference revealed movements in dietetics and educational sessions discussing the latest field research.

As a dietitian, I am grateful for the opportunity to meet up with old friends, network and hear the latest in the nutrition world. I am happy to see a movement in dietetics that seems to be taking a more holistic approach to the field, and the dietitians role in hunger and environmental nutrition.

As you can image, there is no shortage of food products in the Expo center. Why would industry want to exhibit at FNCE? According to the ADA website: to increase access, visibility and time and money.
THE FOOD & NUTRITION CONFERENCE & EXPO (FNCE) gives you the most cost-effective way to meet face-to-face with thousands of qualified foodservice, nutrition and healthcare decision makers. You’ll develop solid new business leads while building on existing relationships.

Every sector of the food industry is represented at over 2200 booths: beverages, supplements, snack foods, 'functional foods', meal bars, as well as trade groups: The Almond Board of California, Peanut Institute, National Cattleman's Beef Association, National Dairy Council, National Chicken Council, even the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Dietitians can be seen ravenously filling their "eco friendly bags" with free samples of protein chews, appetite suppressant pills, gluten free snack foods, pastas, sweeteners, bakery products, get the picture, as well as nutrition information pamphlets and handouts that can be used to educate RD's clients.

Here is an example of the one from Frito Lay:

The highlight of the conference for me was Organic Valley Farm Tour, Elkhorn, Wisconsin sponsored by Organic Valley in conjunction with the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. A fabulous, day-long organic farm tour with a host of activities, including a milking parlor and milk house tour and demonstration; a pasture tour and discussion about organic grazing systems; a visit with Dr. Paul Dettloff, Organic Valley staff veterinarian, about herd health and animal well-being; and discussions about the current research and health benefits of organic foods. Lunch was provided on the farm followed by a cooking demonstration by Chef Monique Hooker, author of Cooking with the Seasons.

Some of the topics of the sessions I attended were: Food Access & Community Partnerships - Steps to Reducing Health Disparities, Food or Fuel: The Economic Facts , and the session: The Science of Organics: Nourishing the Land, Animals and People, was co-presented with Helen Costello MS, RD, LD, who currently works at the New Hampshire Food Bank and a former Friedman School graduate, was standing room only.
Food (and Water) For Thought Film Feastival, was a special event Co-hosted by HEN DPG & American Overseas Dietetic Association (AODA) at the Chicago Cultural Center. We viewed films on water conservation, water access, and global food security. After the films, a discussion with expert panelists including one of the filmmakers about how these issues affect our planet, our nation, and our communities.

Attending the session Sustainable Food Systems: Opportunities for Dietitians by speakers: Angie Tagtow, MS, RD, LD Environmental Nutrition Solutions and Alison Harmon PhD, RD, LN Montana State University was pivotal for me as a dietitian. I was pleased to see the room, young and old, captivated by the session. It is refreshing to me to see dietitians interested in how their food system is so connected to health and how excited they are to be exploring solutions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Award for McDonald's ad

The Association of National Advertisers, Inc., gave an award this week to Mcdonald's for multicultural advertising, for the following commercial. According to Laurel Wentz on the ANA site: "Tony Suarez, McDonald's VP-multicultural marketing, said the spot was done by DDB, Chicago, with input from Hispanic shop Alma DDB, Coral Gables, Fla."

Because the commercial is clearly marketing McDonald's to children, it offers insight into the boundaries of the company's voluntary pledge on the website of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

Will such pledges materially affect the food marketing environment facing our children? That is the key question during the current trial period of industry self-regulation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

11.1% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2007

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week estimated that 11.1% of U.S. households were food insecure at some point in 2007. In a 30-day period, 6.3% of households were food insecure.

USDA estimated that 4.1% of U.S. households experienced "very low food security" at some point in 2007. USDA used to call such housheolds "food insecure with hunger." A simpler single survey question showed that 3.3% of respondents reported being "hungry" at some point in the previous 12 months, because of not being able to afford food.

The estimates were based on a set of questions about symptoms of food hardship on the Current Population Survey in December, 2007. Anti-hunger groups noted that the new USDA estimates do not capture likely recent increases in poverty and hunger due to the financial crisis.

To put the statistics in context, the United States will fail to achieve national targets for reductions in food insecurity.

Household food insecurity, 1995-2007
Data source: USDA. Graphic: Parke Wilde.

As part of the department's criteria for evaluating food assistance programs, USDA strategic plans set targets for 2005 and 2007 in the rate of "very low food security" among households with incomes below 130% of poverty. In a 2004 paper (.pdf) for the Center for National Statistics at the National Academies, I discussed some ways these evaluation targets might or might not work as intended. After establishing these targets, USDA has not followed up and reported progress toward meeting them, and is considering changes to its evaluation approach in light of the CNSTAT report on food security measurement.

One complication is that the prevalence of "very low food security" is much worse for households that participate in the Food Stamp Program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), than among low-income nonparticipants, presumably because people who face greater hardship are more likely to participate. The detailed tables of the USDA report this week show, furthermore, that the prevalence of "very low food security" among participants actually appears to be increasing over time.

At the very least, this trend makes it difficult to use such data to demonstrate the beneficial effect of SNAP in reducing food insecurity and hunger. I have been using every opportunity to encourage USDA to pilot and evaluate possible program changes, such as twice-monthly benefit delivery, which might increase the effect of SNAP on measured rates of household food insecurity by reducing the episodes of hardship toward the end of the month.

Data source: USDA. Graphic: Parke Wilde.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Unanswered questions about children's food and beverage advertising

In July, based on information collected through federal subpoena, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) produced a detailed report on the massive extent of children's food and beverage advertising (see earlier post).

A concurring statement (.pdf) by Commissioner Jon Leibowitz most strongly criticized two industries whose practices "leave a tinge of heartburn": the beverage and fast food restaurant industries.
First, the disproportionate amount ($474 million) to market sugary carbonated beverages to adolescents is striking – that’s nearly $20 per American teenager in 2006. The marketing efforts must be working; on average, adolescents get eleven percent of their calories from soft drinks. Studies show that those who drink more soda are more likely to become overweight. To their credit, the major carbonated beverage marketers entered an agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and have committed to phase out the sale of full-calorie sodas in schools, shifting to lower calorie and more nutritious beverages. Wouldn’t a responsible next step be to extend this effort beyond the schoolhouse door, and curtail at least some marketing of full-calorie soft drinks to school-age youth – including teens – whether on television, via the Internet, in stores, or elsewhere?

Second, the big dollars to promote fast food restaurants to children are also somewhat hard to stomach: the $520 million for advertising and the toys included with fast food children’s meals was more than twice the amount spent by any other food category to target children under twelve in 2006. Some inner city low-income neighborhoods have numerous quick service restaurants but few grocery stores or markets that sell nutritious foods, so many of the children most at risk for obesity rely on fast food as a mainstay of their diets. Studies show that over-consumption of fast food likely contributes to overweight and obesity. I recognize that McDonald’s and Burger King are working to develop new, lower calorie menu items for children. But surely more can be done to add options to fast food menus and improve families’ incentives to order healthier choices.
Some leading soda and fast food restaurant companies have refused to participate in the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a Better Business Bureau project that hopes to forestall legislative action by demonstrating that the food and beverage industries can regulate themselves voluntarily.

Why isn't Yum Brands, including Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, on the list of participating companies? Stare at these brand logos and ask, "Why do they insist on unrestrained marketing to children during an epidemic of obesity?"

Why isn't Schweppes, including the Dr. Pepper and Snapple brands, part of the Initiative? An early press release from the Initiative listed Cadbury Schweppes as a founding member, but after a corporate reorganization, only the Cadbury Adams candy part is currently listed in the Initiative's website. The Initiative's six-month progress report (.pdf) covers some trivial issues at great length, but steers so far clear of criticizing companies that it never once mentions the absence of the major beverage company that was listed as a founding member of the Initiative. Stare at this brand logo, and ask yourself, "Did Schweppes commit to restrained advertising to kids, but then change its mind? If so, why?"

And what about Nestle? Just as the FTC report was coming out in July, the Better Business Bureau heralded the last-minute participation of the multinational food corporation, which has a long history of controversial marketing practices. The Initiative has lenient standards for company pledges, as a condition of participation, but Nestle has not yet made public any standards on the Initiative's list of pledges. It is unseemly for the Initiative to give Nestle such an eager press release last July while simultaneously accommodating months of continued foot-dragging on the details of the company pledge. In response to an email query, the Initiative expresses "hope" that the company's pledge should be posted later this month. Stare at this logo, and ask, "How strong will Nestle's pledge be when it is finally shared with the public?"

Half-hearted and long-delayed participation, as well as outright non-participation, undermine the incentives facing competitors that do participate and weaken the prospects for meaningful self-regulation as an effective response to concerns about unhealthy food and beverage advertising to children.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

ADA, Dietitians, Corporate Sponsorship & HFCS

Some developments this year in the debate over high-fructose corn syrup: December 14, 2007: assistant editor at In These Times, Jacob Wheeler wrote an article called Corporate Potluck: Dietitians and their company sponsors make strange buffet fellows which highlighted the corporate industry partners attending the American Dietetic Association's 2007 Food and Nutrition Conference(FNCE). March 1, 2008: American Dietetic Association Welcomes The Coca-Cola Company as an ADA Partner. The press release says:

The program provides Partners a national platform via ADA events and programs with prominent access to key influencers, thought leaders and decision makers in the food and nutrition marketplace. About the time the dietitians were becoming critical of their own association, criticism was coming from the very influential and proficient author and renowned food policy advocate Marion Nestle. She quotes on her blog
Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours.
Furthermore, an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History or Four Meals and more recently In Defense of Food, An Eaters Manifesto, Micheal Pollan had this to say:
Well, nutrition science is very compromised by industry. Organizations like the American Dietetic Association take sponsorship from companies who are eager to find -- you know, be able to make health claims.
Soon the Corn Refiners Association launched a PR campaign that took Dietitians along with them with a full page ad in the Washington Post: "Registered Dietitians agree that HFCS is the same as table sugar and can be enjoyed in moderation."

This year at the American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference in Chicago, The Corn Refiners Association had an exhibit that included information about "the many ways corn based ingredients are contributing to great-tasting food and beverage choices and to innovations that enhance nutrition and help reduce calories and fat."

I guess the question is, who is supposed to be teaching who about nutrition?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Food Fight, the documentary

Filmaker Chris Taylor's new documentary, Food Fight, casts the inventors of California cuisine as captains of the revolutionary overthrow of the industrial food system.

The most fun comes when the film is least reverential to its champions, famous restauranteurs Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, and Wolfgang Puck, taking them down a peg. There is an amusing sequence where several interviewees find themselves at a loss for words trying to describe the towering ego that accompanied Towers' innovations in the kitchen of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse during the 1970s. One interview explains that the famous restaurant's wonderful daring could at times lead to failures in between its successes:
Most of the time it was excellent. Sometimes it was inedible. There was this episode with eel ...
Based on a DVD viewing, Bonnie at Ethicurean gives the film a fairly rough review. At times, I agree, it risked pretention. How did the filmakers catch the down-to-earth Grist editor and farmer Tom Philpott in a sentence where "de-contextualized" wasn't even the longest word? The interviews have Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle, who in real life always offer something new to think about, saying instead the same things they said in other documentaries, like King Corn. And of course King Corn had a more entertaining premise and more charming everyman protagonists in place of the now-prosperous chef heroes.

Still, I sure had fun at the film's North American premiere in Los Angeles this afternoon. I can imagine that the highly appreciative audience and after-movie question and answer period with the filmaker and several high-profile guests all contributed energy and excitement that might be missing from a DVD viewing. I almost didn't get let in to the full theater on Hollywood Boulevard (itself a fun flamboyant scene for a visitor from Boston!), arriving a couple minutes late from the APPAM meetings.

The movie has many other strengths. There is a particularly nice sequence with Will Allen and collaborators in Milwaukee. A compelling account of the 2008 Farm Bill included terrific good guy / bad guy interviews with Ron Kind (D-WI) who sought reform and Collin Peterson (D-MN) who defended the interests of low-cost industrial production.

Plus, nobody makes a movie like this to get rich. I can enjoy seeing King Corn, Fast Food Nation, Affluenza, Food Fight, and all the good movies by people who want to make a better world, without quibbling too much over the details.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Calorie label round-up

Perhaps in response to the many critics of menu labeling skeptical that the average consumer even knows how many calories they should be eating in a given day or meal, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has started advertising what could be considered general nutrition information-- how many calories adults should consume in a day-- in NYC subway cars. The three-month campaign, which began this past Monday, also includes the number of calories for a few example foods like a giant muffin and a chicken burrito.

Following on the calorie labeling scheme for chain restaurants implemented in July in NYC, Californians will also be receiving even more calorie information. Last week, the state was the first in the nation to require calorie labeling for standard menu items at restaurant chains.

Yum Brands, the owner of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell, has announced that it will voluntarily add calorie labeling to all of its menu boards, but not its drive through menus. Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest thinks this a national "game-changer" due to the size of the Yum Brands' franchises.

It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to the mandatory and voluntary provision of calorie information, in addition to how restaurant chains respond, perhaps by increasing their low-calorie options if they find changes in trends of consumer food choices.

(Example of ads in NYC subway)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Blueprint to End Hunger

In conjunction with Bread for the World, a coalition, called National Anti-Hunger Organizations (NAHO), has released the 2008 Blueprint to End Hunger, outlining the steps needed to fight hunger in America. The blueprint emphasizes a commitment from all sectors of society- government, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals—and specifies the actions needed from each sector.
As the Blueprint makes clear, Americans have the ability and the means to end hunger. The fastest, most direct way to reduce hunger is to strengthen and expand the federal nutrition programs. These programs weave a nutritional safety net and serve as a major bulwark against hunger. By strengthening the programs and improving people’s access to them, the United States could do much more to reduce hunger.

But the Blueprint goes beyond outlining what is needed from Congress and the President to strengthen these programs. It describes the actions state and local governments can take to make the most effective use of the programs. The Blueprint also illustrates how government, businesses, schools, and nonprofits can work together to connect hungry people with the assistance they need, and explains why it is important for everyone to raise awareness of hunger and advocate for policies to end hunger.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The diversity of state experiences with food stamp caseload dynamics

I will be in Los Angeles later this week, to give a paper on the Thrifty Food Plan research at one Saturday session of the annual meeting of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM).

While there, I hope to see first hand some of the food retail hardships in the car-centered city, which have been getting a lot of coverage lately. See, for example, the report "Shopping for a Market" about new food retail entry (by researchers at Occidental), and the report "Designed for Disease" linking food retail to health conditions (by researchers at UCLA). Send any suggestions for places to visit or good food movement people to meet.

Meanwhile, I will be moderating another Saturday session, about how state-level differences in economic conditions and food stamp policies are related to differences in food security, hunger, and other outcomes. Nader Kabbani and I did a study a few years ago, investigating the importance of state-level variations in food stamp policies -- such as the length of the certification period for proving continued eligibility -- which turn out to be surprisingly influential in the Food Stamp Program, despite the program's reputation as a last bastion of national level rules in a sea of federalism.

Here is a fun illustration of the data from Nader's and my study. The basic static pattern in the opening picture is that states with higher unemployment tend to have higher food stamp participation. Hit play to see the dynamics of food stamp caseloads over the course of the 1990s, during a period just before (blue) and after (red) the adoption of welfare reforms. By clicking, you can select particular states to follow over time. Or, by selecting different variables from the triangle symbols, you can look at different variables, such as the certification periods discussed above.

Raisin Brahms and Van Goghgurt

Warning: do not write the anti-advertising agency's Steve Lambert asking for rates on advertising work, unless you are ready to be mocked! From the agency's blog, I enjoyed these public service videos from the Ad Council and the American Council for the Arts, playing off major food brands. Was this done with permission of the food brands?


Vote today. Vote for the country you want to live in. Vote for peace, justice, economic growth, national security, God's purpose, your investment interests, or good stewardship of the environment you want to leave your children and grandchildren. Name your principles and vote for them today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The role of folate (an interpretation)

Many readers of this blog have probably been wondering about "the role of folate in epigenetic regulation of colon carcinogenesis."

What? As you check your memory banks for things you have been wondering about, this doesn't sound familiar?

Perhaps it will help if I give an interpretation in plain English: many readers have been wondering "whether too much folate raises the risk of colon cancer." Ah, that sounds more familiar. U.S. Food Policy covered that question last Fall.

See, it all depends on the interpretation.

Consider this video.

That is Friedman School Ph.D. student Lara Park's submission to the 2009 "Dance Your Ph.D." contest, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Apparently, the contest outcome depends in part on the number of YouTube views.