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In the Food Revolution, Vote with Your Fork

Much of what we eat and how we eat it is decided by politicians and on Wall Street, according to Marion Nestle.

Nestle, author and public health and sociology professor at New York University, discussed the corporate and political influences on American agriculture industry during a recent appearance at the University of Washington in Seattle, part of the school’s “Food: Eating your Environment” lecture series.

“You can’t understand anything about how people eat until you understand how the agricultural industry works,” Nestle said.

Summarizing the dramatic changes within the food industry in the last 20 years, Nestle said that after the end of government subsidies farmers received to not farm, food production increased and the industry became more competitive.

That drove food prices down, she said, which encouraged consumers to buy more food and go out to eat more frequently, usually being served or sold larger portions.  Nestle thinks that is one of the biggest factors contributing to the national obesity problem

“Larger portions have more calories,” Nestle said. “If there’s one thing I could teach, it would be that.”

Meanwhile, laws regarding the types of claims food companies can make about their products changed. 

For example, Nestle pointed to federal laws that prohibited food companies from making health claims about food products until Congress relaxed those rules.  Suits brought by the Food and Drug Administration against food companies making questionable claims were tossed out on First Amendment, free speech law grounds.

Nestle applauded the Federal Trade Commission for recently stepping in and trying to do what she said the FDA no longer will do.  She cited the FTC’s recent move against the beverage maker POM Wonderful for exaggerated claims about  the health benefits of pomegranate juice.

Nestle takes offense to what she called, “self-endorsements,” when companies make up their own nutritional guidelines and then advertise that their food products meet those guidelines.

Saying that food safety regulation needs to improve, Nestle endorsed Senate Bill 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which would create a single agency to regulate the food industry.  The bill has been blocked in the Senate and Nestle doesn’t have much hope it will pass in the upcoming session.

“We have the same food safety system as in 1906 when Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle,'” Nestle complained. “This is a place where we need advocacy.”

She sees growing signs of such advocacy, and evidence that a “food revolution” is taking place.  In just the past year, Nestle noted, the number of farmers markets has increased by 16 percent and consumers are increasingly demanding organic foods.

The food industry needs to be more socially responsible, but consumers can force that by taking personal responsibility for what they eat.

“You need to vote with your fork,” Nestle told her audience.

© Food Safety News
  • Why do Dr. Nestle and other proponents of S 510 say things like, “We have the same food safety system as in 1906 when Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’?”
    This is preposterous! Other than Upton Sinclair’s having written “The Jungle,” everything else in that sentence is absolutely false.
    Look up “The Jungle” in Wikipedia and you will learn, “the novel was first published in serial form in 1905.’After five rejections’, its first edition as a novel was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906, and it became an immediate bestseller and has been in print ever since.”
    Why does this matter? Because it provided a major push for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act on June 30, 1906. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pure_Food_and_Drug_Act.)
    In turn, Wikipedia tells us, “The [1906] law itself was largely replaced by the much more comprehensive Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.”
    Now go to Wikepedia’s entry on it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food,_Drug,_and_Cosmetic_Act. At the bottom of the box on the right side is a section entitled, “Major Amendments.” It lists 12 bills passed by Congress. There were many other small changes made.
    Of course some of the amendments focused on drugs and not food.
    More importantly, “the food safety system” does not ONLY rely on the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The foundation of the system also includes the Public Healthy Service Act of 1944 (PHSA). In fact, the FDA asserted the huge authority of the PHSA recently in defending against a lawsuit by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF). Sec III A, The PHSA and the Interstate Ban of Unpasteurized Milk on p. 5 is a good starting point.
    Despite all of this readily accessible rebuttal of what they declare, Dr. Nestle and the Make Our Food Safe Coalition would have us believe that Federal regulation of food has NOT been “modernized” in over a hundred years.
    I agree with Dr. Nestle, “This is a place where we need advocacy” but the advocacy we need is based upon the truth not falsehoods.

  • Doc Mudd

    “Vote with Your Fork” is the perfect solution – absolutely perfect.
    If you don’t care for a food, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. But also, don’t needlessly bash it or make up silly falsehoods crusading for some dreamy elitist ‘alternative’ to be imposed upon the rest of us. If you prefer to eat some esoteric food of dubious origin and safety, privately seek it out, document its provenance to your heart’s content, pay the premium and quietly indulge yourself. Otherwise let the rest of the planet manage its global food supply sensibly, scientifically, safely and affordably.
    By all means be a finicky eater, if that pleases you, and leave the rest of us common mortals to live and eat as we please without the insipid orthorexic opinions, without the lame prosyletizing and, especially, without the ridiculous unwarranted health scares and enviro-guilt trips calculated to suck the enjoyment out of ordinary life. Live an’ let live…won’t be no trouble that way.
    Just vote with your fork and leave it at that, thanks. Common sense and capitalism will take care of the rest.

  • Why do Dr. Nestle and other proponents of S 510 say things like, “We have the same food safety system as in 1906 when Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’?”
    This is preposterous! Other than Upton Sinclair’s having written “The Jungle,” everything else in that sentence is absolutely false.
    Look up “The Jungle” in Wikipedia and you will learn, “the novel was first published in serial form in 1905.’After five rejections’, its first edition as a novel was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906, and it became an immediate bestseller and has been in print ever since.”
    Why does this matter? Because it provided a major push for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act on June 30, 1906. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pure_Food_and_Drug_Act.)
    In turn, Wikipedia tells us, “The [1906] law itself was largely replaced by the much more comprehensive Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.”
    Now go to Wikepedia’s entry on it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food,_Drug,_and_Cosmetic_Act. At the bottom of the box on the right side is a section entitled, “Major Amendments.” It lists 12 bills passed by Congress. There were many other small changes made.
    Of course some of the amendments focused on drugs and not food.
    More importantly, “the food safety system” does not ONLY rely on the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The foundation of the system also includes the Public Healthy Service Act of 1944 (PHSA). In fact, the FDA asserted the huge authority of the PHSA recently in defending against a lawsuit by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF). Sec III A, The PHSA and the Interstate Ban of Unpasteurized Milk on p. 5 is a good starting point.
    Despite all of this readily accessible rebuttal of what they declare, Dr. Nestle and the Make Our Food Safe Coalition would have us believe that Federal regulation of food has NOT been “modernized” in over a hundred years.
    I agree with Dr. Nestle, “This is a place where we need advocacy” but the advocacy we need is based upon the truth not falsehoods.

  • Here are some interview excerpts from when the FDA went after Cheerios: http://bit.ly/aKV4gv