Single-Minded Approach

Marion Nestle hails the proposed Safe Food Act of 2015:

“The Government Accountability Office has been pressing for a single food agency for decades, mainly because food safety authority is largely split between FDA and USDA in ways that make no sense at all. It’s terrific that DeLauro and Durbin are taking the matter up again and writing op-eds to encourage support. They deserve all the support they can get!”

Falling Through the Cracks

Wil S. Hylton explores the gaps in America’s food safety system:

“In the U.S., responsibility for food safety is divided among fifteen federal agencies. The most important, in addition to the F.S.I.S., is the Food and Drug Administration, in the Department of Health and Human Services. In theory, the line between these two should be simple: the F.S.I.S. inspects meat and poultry; the F.D.A. covers everything else. In practice, that line is hopelessly blurred. Fish are the province of the F.D.A.—except catfish, which falls under the F.S.I.S. Frozen cheese pizza is regulated by the F.D.A., but frozen pizza with slices of pepperoni is monitored by the F.S.I.S. Bagel dogs are F.D.A.; corn dogs, F.S.I.S. The skin of a link sausage is F.D.A., but the meat inside is F.S.I.S.

“‘The current structure is there not because it’s what serves the consumer best,’ Elizabeth Hagen, a former head of the F.S.I.S., told me. ‘It’s there because it’s the way the system has grown up.'”

The State of Food

Mark Bittman repeats his call for a national food policy, and says that the key issues confronting most Americans—”income, food (thereby, agriculture), health and climate change”—are all related:

“You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture, you can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything.”

Shaping Policy

Scientists have proposed revamping the food pyramid to help tackle climate change, reports Evan Halper:

“The unexpected debate began with a suggestion by a prominent panel of government scientists: The food pyramid — recently refashioned in the shape of a dinner plate — could be reworked to consider the heavy carbon impact of raising animals for meat, they said. A growing body of research has found that meat animals, and cows, in particular, with their belching of greenhouse gases, trampling of the landscape and need for massive amounts of water, are a major factor in global warming.”

Meat of the Matter

Mark Bittman says that the lifting of the foie gras ban in California is “pretty much a nonissue”:

“[Except] to point out that as a nation we have little perspective on animal welfare. To single out the tiniest fraction of meat production and label it ‘cruel’ is to miss the big picture, and the big picture is this: Almost all meat production in the United States is cruel.”

Questions of Fact

As Eliza Barclay reports, since people tend to underestimate how much they eat and overestimate how much they exercise, these self-reported measures “no longer have a justifiable place in scientific research,” says a new paper published in the International Journal of Obesity:

“That’s some strong language, considering that these data have been used in hundreds of major studies to inform hundreds of public health policies and clinical recommendations.

“The underlying message here? A lot of these policies and recommendations are wrong and misleading people in their decisions about their health.”

Truth in Spending

Emily Cassidy says that the spending bill passed recently by Congress contains a statement to hide the environmental impact of our industrial food system:

“The statement, crafted by the House and Senate appropriations committees, orders the Obama administration to make sure that the 2015 edition of the federal government’s ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ contains ‘only nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors.’

“Sounds innocent but by ‘extraneous,’ the Congressional authors meant that the Dietary Guidelines report, which represents the federal government’s official position on nutrition and food, must not disclose inconvenient facts about how food is produced.  Specifically, these members of Congress don’t want the white paper, issued every five years, to describe environmental damage inflicted by some industrial agriculture methods that pollute air and water and contribute to climate change.”

How What We Eat Impacts Our Climate

Anna Lappé says people are beginning to make the connection:

“In 2010, when I was on tour promoting my book Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, I felt lonely. Not because no one was showing up for my book talks, they were. And not because I was alone; with my nine-month-old daughter in tow, I was never by myself. I felt lonely because, back then, there were very few of us talking about the connections between food and climate change, despite the fact that the global food system—from field to plate to landfill—is responsible for as much as one third of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

“In just a few years that has changed. Somewhat.”

Pushing for Healthier School Lunches

Six cities—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and Orlando—recently announced their intention to buy only antibiotic-free chicken for their school lunch programs. Mark Izeman explains why this is a big deal:

“The six cities are part of a newly formed coalition called the ‘Urban School Food Alliance.’ The overall goal of the Alliance, as I’ve written before, is to leverage their joint food purchasing power — $550 million per year — to not only help get better food for kids in lunch rooms, but also to help drive the market for affordable, healthy and sustainable food for all schools across the country.

“The New York City school system alone serves 860,000 meals per day, the largest institutional provider of meals in the nation after the Department of Defense. So when NYC and these other districts speak, food suppliers around the country listen.”

Stretched Thin

The increasing popularity of organic foods is causing the USDA fits, says Caelainn Barr:

“The $35 billion organic-food industry has nearly tripled in size in the past decade, challenging the Agriculture Department’s ability to monitor the more than 25,000 farms and other organizations that sell organic crops and livestock.

“There are currently 81 accredited “certifying agents,” or groups that stamp food as organic in the U.S. But of the 37 that had a complete review this year, 23 were cited for failing to correctly enforce certification requirements on farms in audits, according to an internal Agriculture Department report.”