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Date: Friday, 15 Aug 2014 15:56
As fizzy soda sales decline, top beverage manufacturers seek to convince children and parents that kids need sugary sports drinks to enhance athletic performance.

In truth, water is the best source of hydration for kids doing sports. Based on the balance of scientific evidence, the MyPlate text (.pdf) says it well: "Drink water instead of sugary drinks when you're thirsty." Plus, choosing bottled drinks instead of tap water is bad for the environment.

Early this year, Gatorade, which is owned by PepsiCo, got a pile of bad press -- including a hard-hitting Civil Eats article -- for a marketing campaign featuring Usain Bolt, which used kid-friendly games to insinuate athletic performance claims and disparage water (see below).

While reading up on that story, I came across this strange article in Snopes, which purports to fact-check a true rumor on the origins of Gatorade as a University of Florida Gators team drink, but which reads like advertising copy for the drink. The Snopes response reports as fact several marketing claims unrelated to the actual rumor at issue: "Other athletes who tried the drink soon swore by it, claiming it helped them go longer and finish stronger" and "Gatorade has since become an integral part of a number of sports."

I am writing Snopes to suggest that the site revise its article. I'll update this post if Snopes responds.
 

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "marketing"
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Date: Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 09:51
The Kellogg Company today unveiled new commitments to address actions by itself and its suppliers that affect climate change. General Mills on July 28 had announced similar initiatives.

From Kellogg's statement (.pdf) today:
As stated in our Kellogg Global Supplier Code of Conduct, we expect suppliers to support our corporate responsibility commitments by implementing sustainable operating and farming practices, and agricultural production systems. Suppliers must strive to reduce or optimize agricultural inputs; reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use; and minimize water pollution and waste, including food waste and landfill usage.
The anti-hunger organization Oxfam International had been encouraging leading food manufacturers to make such commitments. Oxfam's recent report, Standing on the Sidelines, had argued that food and beverage companies need to do more. Today, Oxfam praised Kellogg's announcement:
“We welcome Kellogg’s efforts to become an industry leader in the fight against climate change and the damage it is causing to people everywhere,” said Monique van Zijl, campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “Kellogg’s new commitments add momentum to calls on governments and the wider food and agriculture industry to recognize that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and we need to tackle it.”
In the announcement today, Kellogg says it will set targets for greenhouse gas reductions, produce a climate change adaptation strategy, take steps to limit deforestation impacts in its supply chains, and commit to disclosure of key climate change information. Oxfam said Kellogg plans to participate in the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) group and sign the Climate Declaration.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "environment, food industry, internationa..."
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Date: Monday, 11 Aug 2014 12:35
Choices Magazine -- the outreach magazine of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) -- this spring and early summer published a special series summarizing the Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the Farm Bill).

Jody Campiche organized the series and presented the theme overview:
After more than three years of debate on the next farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed into law on February 7, 2014. Overall, total spending under the new bill will be reduced by $23 billion as compared to the baseline over the next 10 years. The Agricultural Act of 2014 reforms the dairy program, includes major changes to commodity programs, adds new supplemental crop insurance programs, consolidates conservation programs, expands programs for specialty crops, reauthorizes important livestock disaster assistance programs, and reduces spending under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, despite large cuts in total program spending, the Act continues to provide important programs to ensure a safe and adequate food supply and to protect our natural resources. The articles in this theme discuss new or revised provisions relating to commodities, crop insurance, dairy, conservation, nutrition, and specialty crops as included in the Agricultural Act of 2014.
The series includes articles on commodity payments, conservation programs, dairy programs, crop insurance, specialty crops, and my contribution on nutrition assistance programs.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "agricultural economics, agricultural pol..."
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Date: Monday, 11 Aug 2014 11:56
In its 2014 awards program, the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) has given honorable mention to my book, Food Policy in the United States, in the category "Quality of Communication."

As publisher of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and other top-ranked periodicals, AAEA is the leading scholarly and professional association in U.S. agricultural and applied economics. Though my book is highly multi-disciplinary -- designed to engage non-traditional audiences interested in food policy debates -- AAEA's recognition shows that the book also meets the exacting standards of the mainstream of my home profession.

My department chair, Will Masters, wrote the nomination letter to AAEA:
Prof. Wilde’s book distills the instructional content of his 13-week graduate course on U.S. Food Policy into a very readable 200 pages, enlivened with anecdotes from 10 years of experience blogging on the topic at http://usfoodpolicy.blogspot.com. The quality of writing is extraordinary, making economic insights accessible by clear use of plain language, amply illustrated with well-designed charts and tables, plus sidebars with more academic material to add depth without interfering with the story line. The book is particularly innovative in its scope, spanning agricultural production and international trade, food manufacturing, grocery stores and restaurants, food safety and labeling, advertising and health claims, and nutrition assistance programs....
In summary, Prof. Parke Wilde’s Food Policy in the United States offers a big step forward in fulfillment of the AAEA’s vision and mission. This book exemplifies the highest standard of scientific communication needed by our profession, first to help students in classrooms all across the country, and then to help graduates improve food and agricultural policy in Washington and elsewhere.
I hope the AAEA's honorable mention encourages faculty to consider using this book for courses that address -- in a lively but rigorous way -- the immense student interest in food movements and food policy. Faculty members who are considering adoption may acquire a copy from the publisher.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "agricultural economics, agricultural pol..."
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Date: Thursday, 07 Aug 2014 15:45
Here is a Google Trends report of online interest in "dietary guidelines" and "paleo diet", United States, 2004 to the present. Notice the two peaks for interest in "dietary guidelines," corresponding to the release of new Dietary Guidelines for Americans once every five years.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "dietary guidelines"
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Date: Friday, 13 Jun 2014 18:30
The Menus of Change -- a project of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America -- brings together industry folks, chefs, academics, and advocates to discuss private-sector and public-sector action regarding both nutrition and the environment.

The new annual report summarizes recent trends, progress, and lack of progress, topic by topic.
At the end of the day, what we as chefs and operators choose to offer as a plate of food has enormous consequences, for the health of our customers and our planet. And yet just as we embrace evidence-based guidance from the scientific community as a key reference point in decision-making, we also know that we need—nationally—something akin to a new “moonshot” program to better and more fully realize the possibilities of bringing together deliciousness with healthy, sustainable food choices. This is an issue for all of us: our families, our schools, our employees, our troops. And it needs to start with a renewed commitment to the fundamentals: what we might call “farming for flavor.”
Restaurant News published a good summary of the project's lively and engaging second annual summit, which was held this week in Boston. The article noted that three leading themes from the summit were coping with climate change, finding better ways to source protein, and increasing fruit and vegetables on menus.
The conference’s presenters tied the three topics together, presenting evidence that excessive consumption of red meat is a leading cause of heart disease and a contributor to diabetes, and that red meat — particularly beef — is a key contributor to global warming. They said foodservice operators should try to introduce other sources of protein and also replace much of that protein with vegetables and fruit, particularly since most Americans eat more protein than they need.
Menus of Change is just one of several initiatives that seem to combine sustainability and nutrition issues in higher profile ways. I am on the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee for this project. Other such efforts include the AGree agricultural policy initiative, some of the work last year of the Food Forum at the Institute of Medicine, and the current round of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (for example, see the recent presentation by Kate Clancy).

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "environment, restaurants"
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Date: Wednesday, 11 Jun 2014 19:28
For a child, eating a piece of fruit is not some big challenge like climbing Mount Everest.

It is realistic for us to expect school meals programs to meet the modest sensible new standards. All over the world, children are capable of eating the basic amounts of fruits and vegetables that are served under the new standards. Throughout longer-term U.S. history, I imagine children have eaten meals with these amounts. It is the recent history of fast food meals in school that are the aberration.

In a transitional year, it is not surprising to see some reports of increased plate waste. Everybody recognizes that plate waste may go up for new menu items, and then come down again as children become accustomed to them.

In this week's Congressional struggle over child nutrition programs, some folks describe the new rules in terms of a food police state run amok. This is not fair. In contrast with government restrictions on, say, advertising practices targeting adults, what we serve in schools has nothing to do with police power. Taxpayers and parents are entrusting schools with several billion dollars each year, in return for feeding our children. Surely the adults who receive these funds for this task can serve reasonably healthy meals.

I had the chance to discuss these issues with Alan Bjerga at Bloomberg, whose article was published today. He quotes both critics and supporters of the new rules. I pointed out that the new standards themselves are probably not the problem. I strongly suspect that the school food service operations would be better sports about this change if only Congress had offered them more than a measly six additional cents per meal to compensate for the potential cost increases that might result.

Other recent coverage comes from National Public Radio. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers this infographic (which I saw on the Food Politics blog).


Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "children"
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Date: Wednesday, 11 Jun 2014 18:42
Food industry critic and reform advocate Michele Simon this week released a new report sharply critical of marketing practices for certain dairy foods including pizza and sugar sweetened dairy drinks. Most of this marketing effort originates with the federal government's fluid milk and dairy checkoff boards, which are semi-public government-endorsed programs that are funded through a tax or mandatory assessment on dairy producers.


My view of this issue is not anti-dairy, nor do I favor government restrictions on private-sector advertising for dairy products. Yet, surely reasonable people can agree on this: any federal government-sponsored producer boards, and any marketing funded using the federal government's power of taxation, ought to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The checkoff marketing should not be for Pizza Hut or for sugar-sweetened drinks. In these times of major health crisis and rising public sector health costs, we should expect the foods and beverages marketed in the government's own voice to be healthy.

For readers following up on this story, here are some related links from a diversity of official and non-official sources.
  • The U.S. Food Policy blog post on this topic in February.
  • The annual report to Congress from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), describing the fluid milk and dairy checkoff programs. Although the report is annual, the most recent report online appears to be 2011.
  • A report from USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) earlier this year about pizza consumption in the United States.
  • The dairy checkoff program's website describing its partnerships with Domino's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and McDonald's, with an online video titled "McDonald's thanks America's dairy farmers."
  • A 2010 article by Kim Severson in the New York Times about sugar-sweetened milk in school meal programs.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "checkoff, dairy"
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Date: Friday, 23 May 2014 16:04
In a Marketplace report last night, Dan Bobkoff describes the excitement of new crops for global farmers without overstating the power of any single new crop to transform the world. To communicate this balance of opportunity and realism, Bobkoff chatted with my fellow Tufts economist Will Masters.
Masters is chairman of the Food and Nutrition Policy Department in the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts. He says more often than not, so-called miracle crops like moringa or breadfruit are distractions. "Why [is] it that it didn't get identified as a huge success previously?"

In other words, it's not like farmers haven't tried many of these crops before. Farmers experiment. They'll plant something new, and see how it does. And, over the years, many of these so-called superfoods failed for the most mundane of reasons. They take too long to grow, require too much labor or are prone to pests. It's not as easy to spread breadfruit as wheat.

"That search across all the available biodiversity has been going on for thousands of years," Masters said, "and it's led to a system that has found a half dozen or dozen major species that feed the world. And that's because those major species have some pretty amazing characteristics."

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "agricultural economics, international tr..."
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Date: Thursday, 15 May 2014 16:32
In Mother Jones this week, Kiera Butler has a striking report about the food industry presence at a conference of the California Dietetic Association. The description of attendees consuming and discussing their free McDonald's salads makes the association seem careless with its valuable public image and credibility.

One might ask, how on earth could dietitians ally themselves with major fast food chains, instead of with advocacy groups -- or hard-hitting magazines -- that seek to better represent the public interest?

Part of the answer, surely, is that the food industry provides funding to the dietetics associations. This is the answer Mother Jones might emphasize.

Another part of the answer is that the food industry publicly endorses the best judgment of dietitians and nutrition scientists on the leading diet and health questions of the day. Actual products may not follow this judgment, but the industry's public communications are deeply respectful of the profession. Industry representatives endlessly tell the profession, "We listen to your advice, while those would-be do-gooders in the public interest community foolishly pursue one nutrition fad after another."

For example, consider the claim in the Mother Jones article that mounting scientific evidence shows that "high-fructose corn syrup prompts more weight gain than other sugars." The article links to this four year old 2010 press release from Princeton University, which imprecisely summarizes its supporting scientific journal article (.pdf), which in turn has been strongly criticized by NYU's Marion Nestle, who is quoted as a trusted authority in the same Mother Jones article (!), and who further links to a more detailed evisceration of this research.

It is fine to criticize high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) along with sugar, because of strong evidence that both are associated with risk of weight gain. But the current evidence does not support Mother Jones' claim that HFCS prompts more weight gain than other sugars. That claim -- and more specifically the casual and uncritical link to the Princeton University press release -- plays into the industry's strategy for befriending dietitians.

Writers and advocates who care about the public interest really can persuade the dietetics profession to adopt a more independent and skeptical stance in its relationships with the food industry. We could begin by avoiding these failures in summarizing the best scientific evidence.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "nutrition science"
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Date: Wednesday, 14 May 2014 12:41
Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat is a classic in the history of U.S. food policy, written by sociologist  Janet Poppendieck, focused on the connections between agricultural crisis and food programs for the poor in the Great Depression.

The new edition from the University of California Press, published this month, includes a foreword by Marion Nestle and a delightful new epilogue bringing the story up to date from the book's original publication in the 1980s to the present. And by "the present," I mean the book includes material as recent as the key January 2014 compromise over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions new Farm Bill. (In terms of the publishing mechanics, how is this even possible?).

I read the new manuscript last year at the request of the publisher (and recommended republication):
The book is well-written and detailed, making bureaucratic correspondence come alive as lively argument. It has an authoritative and believable voice, while still carrying passion for the plight of the poor and hungry. I knew this already from reading Poppendieck’s more recent books on the emergency food system and on school meals reform. The pig slaughter story will stick in my head permanently now. The use of archival material adds novelty, but the book serves well even digesting and interpreting known topics.
Immediately today I will add this book to my U.S. food policy syllabus and place an order request to my university library.


Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "food assistance, food security, hunger, ..."
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Date: Thursday, 08 May 2014 13:13
The new documentary movie Fed Up, by Stephanie Soechtig, will be released widely tomorrow. It rightly focuses on sugar consumption as a key contributor to chronic disease in the United States.

If you see this movie and want some links to reliable information, here is a quick rundown of both the diagnosis and the potential solutions.

Diagnosis of the problem
  1. Mainstream sources agree with the movie that sugar consumption is a problem. Based on an exhaustive review of the balance of evidence in the scientific literature, the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans plainly recommends that Americans reduce their consumption of calories from added sugars. Fed Up's broad indictment of sugar is endorsed by the movie's most reliable interviewees, such as former FDA Commissioner David Kessler.
  2. Sugar is not consumed in the abstract -- it comes from particular foods. As noted in a "Sugar 101" primer from the American Heart Association, the leading sources of added sugars in our diet include soft drinks, baked goods, candy, and ice cream. Americans would live longer and have better health if we reduced consumption of these foods.
  3. Unless you are prepared to critically evaluate the complex scientific literature, it is optional and not necessary to buy in to a variety of specific scientific claims about sugar. Among the interviewees in Fed Up's trailer, which I watched today, I have heard nutrition scientist Robert Lustig focus more narrowly on fructose, and I've heard Gary Taubes more broadly criticize all carbohydrates. I personally find the sources cited in #1 above more persuasive than either Lustig or Taubes, but who knows? Either or both of them may turn out right. It doesn't matter for the basic indictment of the foods in #2 above.
  4. Some people blame marketing, and others blame federal subsidies. The influence of marketing is real, while the subsidy story is generally unconvincing. To understand how federal subsidies affect corn syrup, for example, one must pay attention not just to price-suppressing corn subsidies (which have been tiny in recent years anyway), but one also must pay attention to corn-based ethanol policies that have made corn syrup more expensive. I think critics of "subsidies" mostly have not taken the time to learn about specific subsidy programs, but rather are expressing -- correctly -- their recognition of the longer term impact of the industrialization of the food system. Regardless, the specific blame doesn't matter much. However we assess the relative contribution of these factors, we should always remember the more fundamental fact that will remain with us even if marketing policies or subsidy policies are reformed: products with sugar are sweet and people desire them. That's the big source of our challenge.
Solutions to the problem
  1. Tax. Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich report that, in connection with the premier of Fed Up, some in Congress are expressing renewed interest in a tax on sugar sweetened beverages. USDA research shows that an increase in the price of these beverages likely would make a considerable difference on consumption. It is true that part of the gains -- but only part -- would be offset by increased intake of other caloric beverages that substitute for the beverages that are taxed. It is also true that higher beverage prices would be regressive (affecting low income folks relatively more than high income folks). Finally, the most important thing about a tax is that it political death to seek to tax, as if taxes were a good thing. The only politic way to pursue a beverage tax is to institute it as part of the Congress' unavoidable responsibilities to fund essential government services (such as military and roads), reduce the deficit, and seek to balance the budget. The sound argument is, "so long as we are reluctantly compelled to institute a small sensible tax on something, we might as well save some public health expenditures by placing the tax on sugar sweetened beverages."
  2. The food environment. I think it is time for schools, offices, restaurants, and all sorts of public venues to revisit their role in making sugary foods -- and especially beverages -- available to excess. At one time in the past, somebody might have seemed overwrought or joyless for enforcing limits on bake sales in schools, for example, or an occasional fast food meal as a reward for good school performance. But, decades into the current nutrition dilemma, I think we should be more grateful and supportive of those who propose holding a firm line on making the food environment healthier, especially for our children.
  3. Improving nutrition assistance programs. First, nobody should even contemplate any part of solution #3 unless they also are boldly supporting proposals in #1 and #2. It is poisonous to discuss improving changes to nutrition assistance programs for low-income Americans unless we are firmly on the record supporting corresponding changes in the food environment for people of all income groups. Second, any proposed improvements should incorporate input from anti-hunger advocates as well is public health advocates, and they certainly should draw on input from program participants themselves. If bold new nutrition assistance program options are pursued on a pilot scale, we may be surprised at the response from program participants.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "dietary guidelines, sugar"
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Date: Wednesday, 30 Apr 2014 09:10
Many people feel that low-income neighborhoods have less access to supermarkets than other neighborhoods do.

In research published recently in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, my colleagues and I found otherwise:
In contrast with the conventional wisdom, the results show that high poverty block groups had closer proximity to the nearest supermarket than other block groups did, on average: 85.6% of high-poverty block groups had a supermarket within 1 mile, while 76.8% of lower-poverty block groups had a supermarket within this distance. 
This finding makes sense when you consider the average population density of poor neighborhoods. Low-income neighborhoods may be urban or rural, but on average they are more likely than other neighborhoods to be urban and population-dense. Supermarkets tend to locate reasonably close to where people live.

When measuring local food retail access, it is useful to recognize that most Americans drive to grocery stores. Even though low-income Americans are less likely to own an automobile, this basic reliance on driving is true even for most low-income Americans. We found that the population living far from a supermarket and lacking an automobile is fairly small:
Population density is a strong predictor of proximity to the nearest supermarket. Block groups with very high population density generally had very close proximity to a nearest supermarket. In block groups lacking a nearby supermarket, rates of automobile access generally were quite high (more than 95%), although this still leaves almost 5% of the population in these areas lacking both an automobile and a nearby supermarket.
Other recent research on the food retail environment similarly emphasizes the importance of automobile access. For example, see a fascinating report by Mabli and Ohls (.pdf) on the website of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.

It is worthwhile to compare these findings to other influential literature on lack of access to supermarkets. The online tool from the Reinvestment Fund identifies areas with Limited Supermarket Access (LSAs). The detailed report (.pdf) from the Reinvestment Fund agrees with our findings in several respects. For example, Table 2 in the TRF report confirms that low-population-density neighborhoods tend to have high average rates of automobile access (above 95%). Table 3 in the TRF report shows that neighborhoods with higher population density and lower average rates of automobile access typically have very short median distances (much less than a mile) to the nearest supermarket. The Reinvestment Fund classifies a particular neighborhood as having Limited Supermarket Access if the nearest supermarket is farther than a threshold distance based on non-poor neighborhoods with similar automobile access and population density. In urban areas, the threshold distance may be four fifths of a mile away, and in some cases merely a third of a mile away.

Because supermarkets are an automobile-oriented retail format, I have some misgivings about defining limited access using such short threshold distances, even for low-income populations. But I am eager to hear the views of others on that question.

The implied remedy in any method for identifying areas without supermarkets is to invite or persuade a supermarket to locate in a particular location. The new supermarket outlet will have to compete with other stores that customers at all income levels may prefer. The new store will not have a captive market. Of course, if communities put great effort into attracting a supermarket, we hope it will succeed and thrive once it gets there!
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "food retail, local"
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Date: Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 12:28
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) will give the keynote speech Friday April 11, 4pm, at a Tufts University conference titled "Food Stamps and Hunger in America."

The event is part of the annual "Issues of the Future" conference organized by Tufts Democrats. Rep. McGovern is a leading advocate in Congress on behalf of U.S. nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Chapter 10 in Food Policy in the United States addresses "Hunger and Food Insecurity," including links to many other readings and data resources. On this blog, related material can be found under the tags for SNAP and hunger. For example, a 2011 data visualization shows how SNAP participation ebbs and flows with the changing macroeconomy.

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "hunger, SNAP, Tufts"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:35
At Civil Eats yesterday, Aliza Wasserman explains the dilemma for the public interest entrepreneurs who are developing a fair trade banana market. The article describes a recent conference at Tufts University.

The most difficult question is whether fair trade bananas should come only from smallholders and cooperatives (preserving fair trade principles but limiting scale), or instead whether fair trade sourcing should allow larger plantations so long as they follow the stipulated principles (sacrificing a small-is-best principle but achieving a larger share of the total market).

Wasserman writes:
Fair Trade banana plantations have also been crucial to building a robust supply of Fair Trade bananas. Plantations represent both a key challenge and opportunity, by providing the promise to impact the broader industry and bring Fair Trade bananas to a larger consumer base. Nearly everyone at the conference hoped to impact the broader industry, whether they are focused on the future of small-scale or “smallholder” farmers, or the overall future of Fair Trade bananas.

But many of the presenters felt that the current pricing system, in which the Fair Trade certifying bodies, like Fair Trade International or FLO, distribute the same premium to plantation owners and small landholders alike, represents a major flaw in the system. Many in the industry believe that cooperatives of small producers should receive a premium that is linked to their higher cost of production relative to plantations, which can take advantage of economies of scale. Yet, the first banana producer to receive Fair Trade certification was a plantation, and scaling up Fair Trade would not be possible without them.
While a student at the Friedman School, Wasserman was a regular contributor to the U.S. Food Policy blog.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "fruits, international trade"
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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2014 10:13
I enjoyed this video for sharp writing, clarity of data presentation, and measured tone.

While still relying on economic markets for a thriving food economy, we nonetheless can expect our major grocery chains to do better on wages. No matter what one thinks of the proposed federal minimum wage increase, it is clear that the nation's leading employers should face binding social norms that constrain them to pay wages that reach a certain threshold.

What should the threshold be? It is possible that some threshold would be too high, counter-productively putting grocery companies out of business. But, this video focuses on a much more humble and minimal threshold. At the very least, major grocery chains should pay wages sufficiently high to keep workers off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls.

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "food retail, labor"
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 08:51
Leading fast food companies have pledged to follow specific advertising guidelines under the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a project of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB).

These voluntary pledges remain quite weak. One recent summary of the argument that these pledges are insufficient [note: slight edit for clarity Apr 5] comes from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. The companies describe the pledges in shorthand, saying loosely that they now advertise only healthy food to children. In truth, more precisely, the companies still advertise both unhealthy and healthy food choices to children.

For example, a company pledge may claim to show only children's meals with comparatively healthy sides and beverages (such as apple slices and milk) and not less healthy options (such as french fries and sugary soda). Even with no further deception, the advertisements for the healthy meals help build brand awareness with children, increasing probability of generating a purchase occasion. Once the child and guardian are in the restaurant, the company heavily markets apple slices and french fries, milk and soda, whatever it takes to make the sale. The CFBAI guidelines address advertising on television and the web and do not prevent marketing of unhealthy options at the point of purchase, so the unhealthy options remain a large fraction of actual revenues for children's meals.

And, in any case, there is further deception. New research supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that most children who view Burger King advertisements showing apple slices think the advertisement is showing french fries. The apple slices look like french fries, and the children overlook a small apple symbol on the package.

I do not believe the confusion is accidental. Reason Magazine's Hit and Run blog credulously accepts an account in which the children's misunderstanding merely shows that Burger King is effectively marketing apples by presenting them in an "apple fries" format, but that sounds like spin to me.

You can judge for yourself. Here is the actual video from the research team, led by James Sargent, MD, co-director Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Ask yourself, is Burger King advertising only apples (as the company's CFBAI pledge claims), or is Burger King also in practice advertising french fries to children (in which case the company's CFBAI pledge is dishonest)?

I'm enough of an economist that a fast food company's marketing fails to outrage me. I expect Burger King to market burgers and fries as vigorously as it can, subject to the dual limitations of government rules and social norms. What bothers me instead is that organizations that purport to be independent referees serving the public interest -- such as CFBAI -- pretend that the fast food companies really have voluntarily ended their advertising of unhealthy food to children. It is admirable to seek market-oriented business-friendly solutions to social problems, but let's not deceive ourselves by claiming that marketing unhealthy food to children is a problem we already have under control.

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "children, food advertising"
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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 12:35
Nobody understands better than farmers that immigrants to the United States are real people and hard workers, not a caricature.

When the leadership of the House of Representatives last year nearly failed to pass the farm programs, conservation programs, and nutrition programs in the farm bill, it showed that farmers had lost much political influence in the House. Similarly, as ferociously anti-immigrant views recently have blocked immigration reform in the House, farmers again feel the loss of their political influence.

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post this week described the views of Craig Regelbrugge, the co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform:
“I hear from growers frequently who basically say, `I used to be a loyal check writer when the Republican Party called, but at this point, the checkbook is closed,’” Regelbrugge tells me. “I’m hearing from growers who are no longer writing checks supporting the party.”
Likewise, the Post quoted Mike Gempler of the Washington Growers League:
“We’re seeing a lack of response to our needs and concerns from significant parts of the Republican caucus in the House,” Gempler tells me. “They either have ideological issues or they are catering to a more reactionary crowd.”

“We want to see the leadership, including Cathy [McMorris Rodgers of Washington], move on this,” Gempler continues. “The chances for getting immigration reform are lessening quickly. If we don’t get this done by August recess, we’re going to be in trouble as an industry.”
Not all Republicans are anti-immigrant, just those who pander to certain constituencies that use terrible anti-immigrant rhetoric to block reform in the House. In more ordinary times, many farmers have voted Republican, and they likely will do so again in the future. I follow the carefully non-partisan work of the AGree agricultural policy initiative on this issue.
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "farmworkers, immigration"
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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 11:21
Educators and school nutrition personnel in recent years have been discussing and debating the merits of serving breakfast in the classroom at the start of the school day, rather than in cafeterias. Participation is higher for breakfast in the classroom, leading to high hopes for increased impact on beneficial health and learning outcomes, while at the same time raising concerns about over-consumption for children whose in-class breakfast is their second meal of the morning.

New research in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management uses a "difference in difference" design before and after implementation in a large urban school district in the southwest, finding that breakfast in the classroom rather than the cafeteria has a positive effect on test scores. It is possible that the benefits are due to improved performance on the day of the test (perhaps because the kids were less hungry that morning) rather than longer term learning, but the favorable results are still notable.

This research, and related research, is discussed in a new video from ChildObesity180, an initiative led by Christina Economos and many colleagues here at the Friedman School at Tufts. This video, which briefly summarizes both sides of the debate before arguing in favor of breakfast in the classroom, is part of an extensive video series on school breakfast issues.

Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "children, school nutrition, Tufts"
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Date: Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 10:09
With support from the Obama administration, Congress is contemplating an increase in the minimum wage, in small annual steps to $10.10 per hour by 2016. After that, the minimum wage would rise automatically with inflation.

A group of several hundred economists signed a letter of support sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute. The letter said the proposal would help 17 million workers directly, and perhaps another 11 million workers by boosting wage expectations at the low end of the labor market. The letter said the weight of recent research shows "that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market."

A competing group of several hundred economists signed a letter of opposition. The letter says the consequence of the minimum wage proposal is "that business owners saddled with a higher cost of labor will need to cut costs, or pass the increase to their consumers in order to make ends meet. Many of the businesses that pay their workers minimum wage operate on extremely tight profit margins, with any increase in the cost of labor threatening this delicate balance."

In my own profession, several leading agricultural and applied economists signed each letter.

The New York Times this week pointed out that the letter of opposition was not really written by Vernon Smith, the lead signatory, who is a Nobel-winning economist. The letter was circulated by a firm hired by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which has much to lose from the new minimum wage proposal. Smith is quoted saying he hadn't known who originated the statement, but he didn't mind that it turned out to be the restaurant industry, because the content of the letter is what mattered.

I asked a couple of my favorite agricultural and applied economists who had signed each letter if they wanted to respond to the controversy. One who signed the letter of support just confirmed that he supported the proposed minimum wage increase, but preferred not to say more.

Dan Sumner, a leading food policy thinker and economist at UC Davis, who signed the letter of opposition, gave this response. I had asked him if he felt "ill-used" by the restaurant industry. His email tackles the concern that the NRA support was non-transparent, discusses anti-poverty policies he judges superior to the minimum wage, and casts the minimum wage unfavorably in the context of other governmental efforts to set prices.
Parke:

I just assumed the min wage letter was developed and circulated by an interest group. Interest groups are the ones with enough interest to organize such an effort.

But, like Lucas and Smith, the proposition and argument itself is what matters to me. I have no connection with fast food places.

I put the minimum wage in the category with farm subsidies as a silly policy ill-targeted and worse than worthless for three reasons.

a. It uses policy resources, effort and attention, that would be better spent doing effective things to help the poor, such as earned income credits or targeted education programs or quality day-care or ...

b. It sends the signal that government price fixing is good policy more broadly. I know from my own specialty that government-set prices are generally bad policy. Thinking we can fix labor market problems or ill-trained workers or any other problem by having members of Congress set some favored price based on what their favorite lobby says it should be just encourages shoddy thinking.

(You will recall that is my problem with the press and the Congress continuing to act as though food stamps had anything to do with food. The reason I like the SNAP program is that is is unrelated to nutrition and the nanny notion that the feds should tell people how to spend their money, even charity.)

c. Minimum wage is so ill targeted as a poverty program and really does make it harder for some poor gal with very little to offer to get that first job. If I have to pay $10 anyway I can turn her away and hire only her sharper cousin, who already had a leg up.

Anyway, that's my off the cuff thinking.

By the way, the interest groups I have least time for are the ideological lobby groups and NGOs that seem to be very loose with the facts and analysis. These range from Heritage to HSUS to the Union of Concerned Scientists. My sense is these folks are just as likely to have an underlying bias to everything they do, and they pretend they act in the "public interest" relative to firms and groups of firms who have clear financial motivations.

Dan
Author: "Parke Wilde (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "advocacy, agricultural economics, Congre..."
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