Daily Ticker

Soda, GMOs and food stamps: The biggest food stories of 2013

Daily Ticker

2013 is turning out to be big year for controversies about the food we cultivate and consume, and that trend is expected to continue into the new year.

Tamar Haspel, who writes the "Unearthed" column for the Washington Post, joined The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task to discuss the biggest food stories.

The War on Sugary Drinks. It's Complicated.

More than a year ago New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned the sale of most sugary drinks bigger than 16 ounces, but the New York State Supreme Court reversed the ban calling it "arbitrary and capricious."

Haspel tells The Daily Ticker that despite the court's decision the prominence of this issue in the media "is helping to reduce sugar consumption." And she expects more elected officials and public health advocates to join the fight. Mexico has already proposed a ban similar to Mayor Bloomberg's.

The Farm Bill. Also complicated.

The current farm bill expires at the end of this year and Congress has not yet agreed on a replacement. House and Senate versions of a new bill take very different approaches. The House version, for example, excludes food stamps from the farm bill and proposes $40 billion worth of cuts to the program. A Senate version would cut about one-tenth of that.

Whatever happens, "it's clear there will be substantial cuts to food stamps," says Haspel. "How much we don't know yet."

Related: The Farm Bill is Like Welfare for the Wealthy: Mark Bittman

She expects the new farm bill to also change the way farmers are paid, shifting direct payments to a beefed up insurance program.

New FDA Guidelines

If we are what we eat, we probably should know what's in the food we're eating. That's been the push among many food activists who would like to see more labeling to explain exactly what's  in our food.

This year the FDA issued new guidelines to reduce the use of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for human consumption. The FDA is asking drug makers to change the rules regarding how a drug can be used so that farmers don't use antibiotics to grow bigger livestock. It's also requiring that licensed veterinarians oversee the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Animals, by the way, consume about 80% of the antibiotics produced in this country.

Haspel says the "industry is largely on board with this" because it fears the alternative: legislation that would be legally binding, not voluntary.

New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman calls the FDA move "An industry-friendly response to the public health emergency of diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resistance that is bred in industrially raised animals." He doesn't think it will work.

Related: Food Labeling Laws: It's a Matter of 'When' Not 'If"

The meat industry, however, is not happy with another FDA initiative: country of origin labeling for meat. That requires meatpackers to list where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. This requirement "has a lot of repercussions because animals get moved around a lot," says Haspel. "It means at every stage they have to be kept separate."

Labeling for Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) was another big story in 2013 that is expected to continue into next year.

Related: Michael Pollan: Genetically Modified Foods Offer Consumers “Nothing”

Here states appear to be taking the lead. Connecticut passed a law requiring labeling of food containing GMO ingredients and Whole Foods announced it would label all GMO foods it sells by 2018. Meanwhile, voters in Washington state defeated a GMO-labeling bill, and the state legislature in Oregon passed a bill that prohibits the banning of GMO foods.

The Daily Ticker will have a separate interview with Haspel on the growing GMO dispute. Watch for it.

Tell us what food stories were the most important to you this year and what you're watching in 2014.

Send an email to: thedailyticker@yahoo.com.

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