California’s Prop. 37

Hello Everyone!

It’s been quite awhile since we have been here! Michele and I have made a pact to post regularly, now that we’re both done with the internship and passed the RD exam, so please keep us accountable.

There is really so much that can be written about right now — new Consumer Reports/FDA publications about arsenic in rice, the Stanford organic foods study, a new idea in San Francisco regarding food trucks and serving those who are homeless/without kitchen access, the large soda ban in NYC, McDonalds’ big announcement that they’re adding calorie amounts to their menus (though let’s be real: they’re going to have to do it anyway with the Affordable Care Act), and the list goes on. What are some topics you would like Michele and me to discuss in the coming weeks?

 

 

Today, I wanted to briefly share about California’s Proposition #37, the GMO Food Labeling Act / “Right to Know” Act. I know many of the readers are not in California, but the results from this November’s election will likely impact the whole country.

There’s so many ads and campaigns, so I went to the official CA voter’s guide and copied the description here:

“Requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as “natural.” Provides exemptions. Fiscal Impact: Increased annual state costs from a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million to regulate the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Additional, but likely not significant, governmental costs to address violations under the measure.”

A Yes vote: “Genetically engineered foods sold in California would have to be specifically labeled as being genetically engineered.”

A No vote: “Genetically engineered foods sold in California would continue not to have specific labeling requirements.”

– from the California Voter’s Guide

 

Companies who genetically modify their products have said that they don’t believe there are any additional health risks – but then why are they the ones opposing this bill? Also notably are the many, many Big Food companies that are opposing this bill – companies that have organic food lines. KCET has a full list of funders, but this graphic below depicts some of the big ones in an easier-to-read format:

Source: Cornucopia.org

 

There have been dozens of articles/op-ed pieces on this topic, including Mark Bittman and Michele Simon, so I don’t really want to just repeat what has already been said, but please take a moment to read their thoughts on this subject!

If you’re not in California, what can you do to support GMO labeling?

1. Write a note (i.e. via Facebook) to express your feelings about the company’s support/opposition to Prop 37. I wrote a sad message to Silk the other day.

2. Avoid purchasing foods made by companies who were in opposition to Prop. 37. It can be a challenge if finances/availability of other foods are an inhibitor, but it’s definitely an idea, if possible!

3. Support local farmers, as well as the organic businesses that are in favor of GMO labeling.

 

Have a wonderful weekend!

Soda Ban Denied

Have you read this article from the NY Times yet?  “US Rejects Mayor’s Plan to Ban Use of Food Stamps to Buy Soda” — http://nyti.ms/pG4X22

NYC Mayor Bloomberg had proposed not allowing soda/sugary drinks to be purchased with SNAP (food stamp) money due to obesity concerns for a two-year experiment.  The USDA, however, said that this would be too complex, and denied the proposal.

What do you think about this decision?  It’s definitely a very complex issue.  I think everyone can agree that the obesity epidemic is getting way out of hand — but now it’s a matter of how to best proceed.

I (Tina) have consistently sided with Joel Berg’s argument (in article) that “Instead of restricting the dietary choices of low-income residents, he said, city officials should reconsider how to increase the purchasing power of low-income residents so that they can buy food that is more nutritious.”  But how can this be done?  Is it realistic?  (Farm Bill 2012!)

At the same time, though, I don’t know how ethical it is on the part of the nation to use government dollars to support the purchase of soda/sugary drinks/other foods that contribute to obesity.  The USDA is really in a tough spot, because even if they did choose to limit the purchases of soda with SNAP dollars, the food industry would start fighting over the definition of “sugary drinks” (no 100% orange juice?).  Is this realistic?

Gluten-Free Labeling Standards

Has anyone noticed the deluge of products with a “gluten-free” label in the grocery store? Recently we’ve seen such products as Kellogg’s Rice Crispies, Rice Chex, Luna Protein Bars, and Subway sandwiches (?) sporting the gluten-free label. While this may seem to be a blessing for those of us with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance, it can actually make life more difficult.

There are currently no official standards regulating the term “gluten-free” on food packaging. In many European countries and Australia and New Zealand, “gluten-free” can only be used if a food has been tested and contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. In 2007, the FDA began a process to adopt these standards in the United States. But for the past four years, these has been no push to finalize the process.

Until now!

The FDA has reopened the comment period for gluten-free labeling standards. This (hopefully!) means that standards are right around the corner. Even more encouraging is the language from the FDA press release:

“We must take into account the need to protect individuals with celiac disease from adverse health consequences while ensuring that food manufacturers can meet the needs of consumers by producing a wide variety of gluten-free foods.”

http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm265838.htm

There is a 60 day comment period which opened August 3. Let the FDA know how important these standards are for the health and safety of your clients, colleagues, family, and friends! The link above will take you to the official press release, and another link for leaving comments. Let’s make this happen!

“Healthier” Happy Meals

Many apologies for the lack of updates!  Both of our personal lives have been quite crazy lately, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t new food news!

Michele will be blogging about gluten-free labeling laws and the Salmonella tainted-ground turkey incidents in the near future, so please be looking out for those!

I was going to write about McDonald’s (and other fast food chains) decisions to make “healthier” happy meals.  In case you haven’t heard, McDonald’s recently declared that each happy meal will now come with 1/4 cup of apple slices, 1 ounce less fries, the option of low-fat milk (or soda) and the same hamburger/cheeseburger/mc nuggets entree.

At first glance, I was excited for this small change!  But then, after thinking about it some more, and reading articles by Bellatti, Nestle, and Simon, I have different thoughts:

1. 1/4 cup of apple slices is realistically probably just 2-3 small slices.  That’s really not much.  And, the default drink is still soda, not milk.

2. I think Michele Simon said it best: “McDonald’s ultimate goal is to make as little change as possible to get media attention (and praise from the likes of the first lady), while distracting policymakers from doing its job setting the boundaries of corporate behavior.”

3.  Bellatti also reminds us that it’s easy to get caught up in reduction of bad things — like less trans fat or salt, for example — but forget the importance of eating good things like fiber, potassium, etc.

What are your thoughts on McDonald’s new happy meal?  Should we support the small changes, in the hopes that will encourage larger changes in the future?

Did you know…

…that if you’re an ADA member, you can subscribe to the Daily ADA Knowledge Center emails?  They’re a fantastic way to quickly view the headlines of new food and nutrition news, read about latest research publications, and see how different ways that RDs are involved in the food world.  I don’t usually have time to read all the articles, of course, but they are all about hot topics in our field.

Log on to eatright.org
At the bottom of the page, click on the E-Newsletters icon (under “Stay Connected”) –> Manage Your Subscriptions
Subscribe to “Daily News”

Now, I know the American Dietetic Association often has a bad reputation because they receive corporate funding from organizations like Coca-Cola.  However, I believe it is very important to be part of the ADA if one is an RD/soon-to-be RD because this organization is the one that is working hard to maintain our rights as professionals.  They help to advocate for licensing laws (California and Washington, in particular, are currently working on this!), work with public policy groups, and so much more.  Even though we may not directly see the impact of the ADA in our day-to-day life, this organization is making our jobs as effective and valued as possible.

If you are a dietetic student or an RD: Are you a member of the ADA?  Why or why not?
And for everyone: What are your thoughts about the ADA, particularly regarding corporate sponsorships?

Humane Society and Egg Producers Deal

We’re a little behind here on Two Food NeRDs. Tina is busy preparing to move from Seattle to San Francisco and start her dietetic internship (hooray!), and I am smack-dab in the middle of cherry harvest here in The Dalles. So, we’re going to play some catch-up.

I have been hearing a lot the past two weeks about the joint agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States. Michele Simon at Food Safety News wrote a very informative article about the deal, found here:

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/07/who-really-benefits-from-the-egg-industry-deal/

The deal is, as far as I can tell, still only a verbal agreement. I think the desire to improve growing conditions for chickens is laudable, and necessary. But what will this agreement actually accomplish? The phase-in period for the new standards is very long. The proposed federal legislation would also be the toughest sanction allowed anywhere in the country. This means that any state, such as California, Oregon, and Washington which were attempting to/have passed stronger legislation could only impose the federal standards, nothing more.

I am suspicious of the motives of the United Egg Producers. They saw a grassroots movement toward better conditions taking place, and are trying to finagle the best deal possible. Any thoughts on this? Is it a good thing for industry and consumer protection groups to strike deals? Who wins and who loses? Will the result be better conditions for chickens and safer food for all of us?

Food Ark: Maintaining Biodiversity

In 80 years, look at the change in biodiversity:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/07/food-ark/food-variety-graphic

What can be done?  What should be done?  What is the impact of less biodiversity?

National Geographic just published a fascinating article (“Food Ark” – http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/07/food-ark/siebert-text) about the topic of biodiversity, particularly the impact science has had for farmers around the world.

The world population keeps growing, and there are millions of hungry people (at least 925 million people are chronically hungry in the world).  That’s a lot of people.  How can we prepare for the future?  How can we make sure that the scientific research and foreign assistance that we (as Americans/other countries) are offering is actually effective and sustainable?  Or are we all just a few bacteria/fungi away from losing our entire food supply?

Fortunately, international aid groups are trying to increase food production in more sustainable ways.

I really liked what Dr. Woerde, who is working in Ethiopia to increase biodiversity, said about this:

“The people planning this are aware that the first green revolution failed over time. There are some intelligent ideas, but they are still placing too much emphasis on a narrow range of varieties. What about the rest? We’ll lose them. Believe me, I’m not against science. Why would I be? I’m a scientist. But contextualize it. Combine science with the local knowledge, the farmer’s science.”

This is all pretty abstract to us here in America.  Most of us reading this are not worried about a drought or storm wiping out our whole livelihood.  Why should we care?

Personally, I think that everyone in the world is our neighbor — and that we need to look out for the well-being of all our neighbors.  This could mean standing up to Monsanto when they abuse small farms, or encouraging community organizations to work with their population instead of at their population.  It can mean lobbying Congress to not cut foreign assistance aid (which, by the way, makes up less than 1% of the federal budget!), or domestic nutrition programs (like SNAP and WIC).

Thoughts?