food | Food & Water Watch - Part 40
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Blog Posts: Food

January 25th, 2011

Obama-Mart: Is the First Lady Choosing the Wrong Partner?

Michelle Obama is right to demand change, but is she asking the wrong people to lead the charge? Photo by Ben Schumin

Michelle Obama’s clarion call to fight against childhood obesity and to promote healthy, affordable food choices for children is one we can all get behind. Her alignment with Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., could be viewed as an effort to tackle the problem directly by making positive changes to an already established system of food production and distribution. But look close enough and ask the right questions, and it’s easy to see that Walmart isn’t the solution to the problem; it’s one of the main contributors. Read the full article…

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January 21st, 2011

The Great Muffin Debate

It's amazing what Friday treats can do for your day. Would YOU eat muffins that contain methylparaben?

Perhaps some of you have a nice person in your office that brings bagels or donuts for everyone as a way of saying thanks, or just because they know people tend to love free food and treats. Here at Food & Water Watch, Fridays are treat days, and today we arrived to find containers filled with little muffins placed on the counter for the enjoyment of all — tiny bundles of blueberry and chocolate joy. Normally, that container would be gone in less than 30 minutes. But something happened today that was rather interesting to watch unfold. Read the full article…

January 20th, 2011

Is the USDA Engaged in a Chicken-for-Beef-Swap?

The USDA is under pressure — due to trade negotiations — to approve Chinese chicken imports.

Relations with China figure prominently this week as Peoples Republic of China President Hu Jintao visits the United States to meet with President Obama and members of Congress. I wonder if they’ll talk about food safety. The USDA broke its own food safety rules a while back in an attempt to quickly approve China to export chicken to the U.S. For this reason, Food & Water Watch submitted a Citizen Petition asking the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to remove China from eligibility to export processed poultry.

This is another instance of food safety taking a back seat to trade negotiations. This particular story has some history. Back in 2003, we had a slight beef problem here in the U.S., when mad cow disease was discovered in Washington State. China reacted by banning U.S. beef imports. In the beef industry’s (and the U.S. government’s trade negotiators’) efforts to overturn this ban, a chicken-for-beef swap has been on the table. The deal: if the U.S. allows Chinese chicken imports, China may start buying U.S. beef again.

Unfortunately, in the rush to approve Chinese chicken, the USDA has made critical mistakes. In 2006, they rushed the approval of a food safety rule, skipped a few steps in the approval process, and failed to submit their work to the USDA Office of Civil Rights for review, all because they wanted to be able to tell the Chinese President that they were moving forward on approving Chinese chicken in time for his visit to the U.S. at that time.

The USDA also led the public to believe that country of origin labeling would allow consumers to avoid poultry from China. But these rules would not apply to Chinese chicken, making it difficult for consumers to identify the products.

Submitting a FOIA request to the USDA revealed these mistakes, but it took close to two years of persistence to have that request fulfilled. What if we hadn’t been diligent?

Food safety in China is suspect at best; their own officials — and even Chinese consumers — point to systemic problems that could be dangerous to American consumers. The USDA’s job is to minimize risk associated with food production and importation, but their actions demonstrate that they are willing to increase risk to accommodate good trade relations.

-Rich Bindell

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FDA Says Toxic Waste® Could be Hazardous to Eat

Kids should probably eat more apples than candy. But when parents do let them have sugar, they shouldn't have to worry about the food safety practices of other countries.

The FDA recently posted a notice about a voluntary recall of all flavors of Toxic Waste® brand Nuclear Sludge® Chew Bars in seven-ounce packages. Don’t worry; the recall does not affect the Toxic Waste® drum and piggy bank or the Sour Candy Spray puppet heads.

Think we got this information from an article in The Onion? Think again. Read the full article…

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January 18th, 2011

Farming and Feeding the World

I saw my friend Danielle Nierenberg only a couple of times in the past year during her brief visits to the U.S. from Africa, where she has been traveling to document innovations that “Nourish the Planet” for the 2011 edition of State of the World. A colleague at my former organization, the Worldwatch Institute, Danielle has always inspired me with her commitment to sustainability and, in her words, “food systems that help people”. As global food prices continue to rise thanks volatile commodity markets, and, as Tom Philpott at Grist notes, “For the second time in three years, the globe is lurching toward a full-on, proper food crisis,” food systems that help people are more important than ever. Read the full article…

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January 11th, 2011

The New Food Safety Contradiction

Here are three recent food recalls that aren't enough to convince some members of Congress that funding the new food safety bill would be a good idea.

While many of us began another year thinking about food and trying to make better choices than the “cookies-only” diet, President Obama started off 2011 by signing into law a bill that will hopefully allow us to improve food safety.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, signed by Obama soon after he stepped off of Air Force One upon his return from Hawaii (Hey, some people have to pee right away, and others have to sign a federal bill), is the first major overhaul of the FDA’s food safety responsibilities since 1938. (Think of how food and food production has changed since then; I don’t think they yet had the stuff that makes cheesy puffs such a vibrant orange.)

A law is only as good as the rules agencies write to put it into practice — and the money allocated to enforce it. This new law is not exactly chock full of enforcement muscle, and it will most likely take a few years to see the bill’s various components fully applied. Read the full article…

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Sustainably Sourced? Prove it!

We all know that food labels can often be misleading. They can contain information that subtly persuades consumers to make inaccurate assumptions about a food product. Sometimes, a label might even contain a false claim. Typically, all we can do when we see a label that we know isn’t really true is to moan or sigh and accept the fact that food companies can generally get away with lying to us about what’s in their product and/or how it was produced. This is why my hero of the week is ClientEarth, because they are putting their feet down and saying, “Prove it!” Read the full article…

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December 7th, 2010

I’ve Got a Sustainably-Labeled Bridge I’d Like to Sell You

Lately, I feel like someone could slap a sticker on the Brooklyn Bridge that says, “This bridge is certified sustainable,” and we would just accept it. Since most of us have no idea what would make a bridge sustainable, we would have no way of knowing if it’s truly sustainable or not. Even if the Brooklyn Bridge were certified sustainable by, let’s say, the National Sustainable Bridge Inspection Association (NSBIA), we would need to inquire as to what standards were established for that certification and why. Most importantly, people we trust in the bridge business would all have to agree on those standards. They would also have to agree that those standards, if met, would allow a bridge to be certified sustainable. This all seems straightforward, yet we allow ambiguity to exist in the organic labeling of our food.  Look what’s been happening at the fish market… Read the full article…

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December 2nd, 2010

Mapping America’s Factory Farms

Food & Water Watch now proudly unveils the latest version of our Factory Farm Map, which charts the concentration of factory-farmed animals across the country.

It’s called the food “industry” for a reason. If you’ve seen Food Inc., you understand why. In that film, and here at Food & Water Watch, some careful analysis reveals the massive network of production and distribution that has become our food system. Thanks to advertising, marketing and fancy packaging, the images we create for ourselves of the places where our food comes from are often in direct contrast to the reality of where most of it is produced. Much of the time, we may be thinking farm, but we’re really getting factory. Read the full article…

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November 9th, 2010

Cheese Biz

You can put cheese on most anything, but extra cheese won't help farmers sell more of it at a fair price.

We live in a food world of rather unusual contradictions. Some of them would almost seem amusing if it weren’t for the impact they can have on food policy and public health.

Sunday’s New York Times article on the lengths USDA goes to in its promotion of cheese consumption reveals the stunning failure of a federal agency to establish a true north when it comes to their mission that includes both giving nutrition advice and promoting American agriculture.

On one hand, in its role as the official mom of nutrition policy, the USDA warns us about the saturated fat in our cheese and reminds us that Americans eat far too much of it — three times the amount we ate in 1970. Then, on the other hand, the agency spends more money to fund marketing campaigns that encourage us to pour another layer of cheese onto our triple cheese burritos, cheese sandwiches and pizzas. Read the full article…

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