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  • 2011: A Year to Remember (and Forget!)

    It wasn’t until I started compiling stories for this post that I realized just how much had taken place this year on issues of food, agriculture, and nutrition. While by no means a definitive list, I think it covers the most substantial events.

    So, if you’ve been spelunking in Antarctica for the past twelve months — or just want a short trip down memory lane — let’s review 2011, the year where:

    • The Food Safety Modernization Act — passed on December 22, 2010 — was signed into law by President Obama on January 4. It certainly had good intentions (mainly to appoint more resources to issues of foodborne illness), but many couldn’t help but wonder: “with what money?”.
    • The United States Government Accountability Office expressed what many nutrition and public health advocates had been thinking for years in their report titled: “FDA Needs to Reassess Its Approach to Protecting Consumers from False or Misleading Claims”.
    • The Nutrition Keys were unveiled by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Hailed as a way to support Michelle Obama’s goal of “solving childhood obesity within a generation”, this voluntary Front of Package labeling scheme was nothing more than a lazy “cut and paste” job from what was already displayed on the Nutrition Facts label.
    • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines were unveiled, marking the first time Uncle Sam went on record with such basic concepts as “fill up half your plate with fruits and vegetables” and “enjoy your food”. Snark aside, it at least urged Americans to “drink water instead of sugary drinks”.
    • The Beef Checkoff Program and the American Heart Association became BFFs. Here’s hoping for a dramatic fallout!
    • The Environmental Working Group called attention to a group of studies which showed “a connection between prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and diminished IQs in children between the ages of 6 and 9″.
    • AGree — “a collaborative initiative of nine of the world’s leading foundations [that] seeks to engage a variety of stakeholders in a dialogue that leads to positive and fair U.S. policy change” — was formed. As is my modus operandis with these sorts of developments, I turned to Marion Nestle for insight.
    • The Los Angeles Unified School District banned “flavored milks” (which I believe should instead be referred to as “sweetened milks”). On my wish list for 2012: hundreds of more counties will follow suit, and Registered Dietitians will cease the starry-eyed chocolate milk worship.
    • The Environmental Working Group released “The Meat Eaters’ Guide to Climate Change and Health”. Among the conclusions: lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and farm-raised salmon are the biggest environmental “no-no”s, pasture-raised and organic eggs are a better pick than chicken or turkey, and organic milk has a carbon footprint similar to that of beans, legumes, and vegetables. Of course, a diet low in — or free of — animal products is the best way to go.
    • A federal class action lawsuit was filed against Wesson (owned by ConAgra) for deceptively marketing its genetically modified oils as ‘natural’.
    • To the delight of shareholders, Campbell’s announced it was increasing sodium levels in its lower-sodium soups.
    • Sam Kass — White House chef and Senior Policy Advisor for the White House’s Healthy Food Initiatives — gave a keynote speech at the 6th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference, where he unabashedly declared his allegiance to Big Food, claiming childhood obesity “will not be solved unless we really work with and involve the private sector”. He also defended the soda industry. Way to push for brave new policies and a paradigm shift!
    • Subway took healthwashing to a new level, fortifying its highly processed breads with calcium and vitamin D. I wasn’t impressed, to say the least.
    • The USDA “rejected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s [2010] proposal to bar New York City’s food stamp users from buying soda and other sugary drinks with them”.
    • The Nutrition Keys took on a new identity: Facts Up Front. That reminds me — did you know that “meaningless” and “inconsequential” can be used interchangeably?
    • Denmark imposed the world first’s “fat tax”, aimed at curbing intake of saturated fats (I would have preferred they tackle omega-6 loaded oils like corn and cottonseed). A sugar tax is apparently in the works.
    • The Center for Science in the Public Interest revived its annual Food Day event after a 34-year hiatus. It encouraged Americans to “eat real” and was a rousing success.
    • The seemingly endless lawsuit between Big Sugar and the Corn Refiners Association over renaming high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” inched forward. While we await a final decision, Americans would be better off curbing their intake of added sweeteners, regardless of their moniker.
    • A 28-state Listeria cantaloupe outbreak — “the most deadly in the United States in 100 years” — came to a close. Final tally: 146 illnesses and 30 deaths.
    • McDonald’s shares rose to record highs. Don’t worry, we have that ultra powerful jumping-jack antidote, remember? And, as Sam Kass assured us earlier in the year, we need McDonald’s and other food industry giants to help us reclaim children’s health. Eat your GMOs and run along now!

    Whew.

    Let’s see what 2012 has in store. Well, we already know one thing coming down the pike — McDonald’s ‘farm to fork” greenwashing campaign. Happy New Year?

    Share

    22 Comments

    1. Elizabeth | HEALing Foodie said on December 20th, 2011

      Terrific recap! And thanks for bringing up articles that I had missed earlier this year. Happy holidays, Andy!

    2. Brandon said on December 20th, 2011

      I like this.

    3. Judy Mayer said on December 20th, 2011

      Terrific recap of the year. Really educated me as to so many of the issues relating to food and nutrition. Definitely worth the read.
      Thanks,

    4. Food Babe said on December 21st, 2011

      Wow – Thanks for recapping all this. The “honey” ah ha was the most eye opening thing of the year…

    5. Lauren Slayton said on December 21st, 2011

      nice reading list, let’s not forget the ADA telling us to drink diet soda.

    6. Dana said on December 22nd, 2011

      I don’t like industry being bedfellows with health organizations any way you slice it, but just so you know, there’s no scientific basis for the idea that beef is harmful to cardiovascular health. It would actually be refreshing to me if the health organizations would encourage more of the foods that are healthy for us, rather than having to fly into a rage every time the American Diabetes Association insists that diabetics should eat lots of carbs (for instance).

      Agreed with you about the Denmark fat tax, up to a point. The truth is that natural fats and oils do not come in a one-fatty-acid variety, so it’d be rather difficult to tax omega-6 without also taxing foods containing other types of fats. Even the aforementioned beef has an impressive amount of monounsaturated fat in it. (So does lard, by the way.)

    7. Andy Bellatti said on December 22nd, 2011

      Dana,

      My issue with the Beef Board and American Heart Association teaming up to promote extra-lean beef has to do with all the heart-healthy nutrients *lacking* in said ultra lean beef. No omega 3s, no monounsaturated fats, no phytonutrients, no antioxidants, etc. There is nothing about extra-lean beef that merits a “heart-healthy” stamp on it. Also, there is plenty of science showing that high intakes of red meat are harmful to health in general (not specifically to heart disease, but certainly to increased risk of certain cancers). Americans could really benefit from cutting back (not necessarily completely doing without, but significantly cutting back) on animal products and eating more minimally processed, plant-based foods.

      I am aware that grass-fed beef has a better fatty acid composition (i.e.: CLA, more omega 3s, etc.), but the beef getting the AHA “stamp of approval” is 98% fat-free and corn-fed. Again, absolutely no merit to it.

      Even though higher-fat beef has monounsaturated fats, I still don’t think that merits pushing Americans to eat more of it, considering that we as a nation barely manage to eat half the recommended amount of fiber on a daily basis. Guidelines should encourage less meat and more beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.

      I also understand that natural fats and oils contain a variety of fatty acids, but corn and cottonseed oil are largely composed of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. So, in that sense, it can be quite easy to tax (ie: any oil that contains x% or more of a certain fatty acid is taxed). It is also important to separate high-fat foods from extracted oils, as I explained in this post: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=6243

    8. Tanya said on December 23rd, 2011

      Thanks for the “trip down memory lane” Andy! I appreciate all of your posts and insights. Sometimes I get a little depressed though thinking about “Big Food” and what they have done and continue to do. Those of us in the nutrition education field just have to keep making a difference one person at a time I guess…..

    9. Rants and Plants said on December 23rd, 2011

      Awesome round up. What a wonderful blog. That post by Mark Bittman after his fast was one of my favorite foods posts of the year as well.

    10. Judy Pokras said on December 24th, 2011

      Dana,

      I’m guessing you haven’t watched the brilliant documentary “Forks Over Knives.”

      If you had seen this, I don’t think you’d be saying that no one has shown why meat is bad for humans to eat.

      Judy Pokras

    11. Mrs Q said on January 4th, 2012

      Thanks for the mention, my dear!

    12. Lonna Zorn said on February 24th, 2012

      Very illuminating blog, I found it thru a Google search. I bookmarked your site & I will certainlybe back! :)

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