Predictions for 2013 in Food Politics

By Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH

Food issues are invariably controversial, and anyone could see that nothing would get done about them during an election year. Looking ahead in 2013, expect more to happen. Here are my predictions.

The FDA will approve production of genetically modified salmon
Because these salmon are raised in Canada and Panama with safeguards against escape, the FDA finds they have no environmental impact on the United States. The decision is now open for public comment. Unless responses force the FDA to seek further delays, expect to see genetically modified salmon in production by the end of the year.

Pressures to label genetically modified foods will increase
If approval of the genetically modified salmon does nothing else, it will intensify efforts to push states and the FDA to require GM labeling.

Whatever Congress does with the farm bill will reflect no fundamental change in policy
Unwilling to stand up to Southern farm lobbies, Congress extended the worst parts of the 2008 farm bill until September. Don’t count on this Congress to do what’s most needed in 2013, namely restructuring of agricultural policy to promote health and sustainability.

The FDA will start the formal rule-making process for more effective food safety regulations
President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in January 2011. Two years later, despite the FDA’s best efforts, its regulations – held up by the White House – have just been released for public comment. Lives are at stake on this one.

The FDA will issue rules for menu labels
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 required calorie information to be posted by fast-food and chain restaurants and vending machines. The FDA’s draft applied to foods served by movie theaters, lunch wagons, bowling alleys, trains and airlines, but lobbying led the FDA to propose rules that no longer covered those venues. Will its final rules at least apply to movie theaters? Fingers crossed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will delay issuing nutrition standards for competitive foods
When the USDA issued nutrition standards for school meals in January 2012, the rules elicited unexpected levels of opposition. Congress intervened and forced the tomato sauce on pizza to count as a vegetable serving. The USDA, reeling, agreed to give schools greater flexibility. Still to come are nutrition standards for snacks and sodas sold in competition with school meals. Unhappy prediction: an uproar from food companies defending their “right” to sell junk foods to kids in schools and more congressional micromanagement.

The FDA will delay revising food labels
Late in 2009, the FDA began research on the understanding of food labels and listed more relevant labels as a goal in its strategic plan for 2012 to 2016. Although the Institute of Medicine produced two reports on how to deal with front-of-package labeling and advised the FDA to allow only four items – calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugars – in such labels, food companies jumped the gun. They started using “Facts Up Front” labels that include “good” nutrients as well as “bad.”

Will the FDA insist on labels that actually help consumers make better choices? Will it require added sugars to be listed, define “natural” or clarify rules for whole-grain claims? I’m not holding my breath.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation will increase, but so will pressure to cut benefits
Demands for SNAP (food stamps) reached record levels in 2012 and show no signs of decline. Anti-hunger advocates will be working hard to retain the program’s benefits, while anti-obesity advocates work to transform the benefits to promote purchases of healthier foods. My dream solution is that the groups will join forces to do both.

Sugar-sweetened beverages will continue to be the flash point for efforts to counter childhood obesity
The defeat of soda tax initiatives in Richmond and El Monte (California) will inspire other communities to try their own versions of soda tax and size-cap initiatives. As research increasingly links sugary drinks to poor diets and health, soda companies will find it difficult to oppose such initiatives.

Grassroots efforts will have greater impact
Because so little progress can be expected from government these days, I’m predicting bigger and noisier grassroots efforts to create systems of food production and consumption that are healthier for people and the planet. Much work needs to be done. This is the year to do it.

A version of this post originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and on Food Politics.

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH is the author of many influential books, among them “Food Politics,” “Safe Food,” “What to Eat” and “Pet Food Politics.” She teaches as professor in the Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health Department at New York University. For more information, visit her blog www.foodpolitics.com

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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