NCL Food Issues
Kelsey Albright has joined NCL staff as the Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow, named for NCL’s president emeritus. Kelsey is a recent graduate of Cornell University, and she is originally from Maine, New York. Find out more about Kelsey in this Q&A.
Q: We just went through a government shutdown and there is a possibility we could have another shutdown in January. Why are these shutdowns bad for America’s food safety?
A: Any time that the USDA, the FDA, or the CDC have employees furloughed, it is dangerous for America’s food supply and ultimately for consumers. The reason that these employees exist is because they serve a vital function in protecting consumers. While food inspectors at meat, poultry, and egg processing plants might not be furloughed, someone at some point in the inspection process is no longer on the job. The CDC’s ability to monitor outbreaks was most likely hampered by the shutdown. During a shutdown, consumers are also unable to get reliable information, as government Web sites are not being updated. Making sure the government agencies that monitor food are at full strength is very important for identifying outbreaks and ensuring accurate information is able to reach consumers quickly.
Q: NCL recently sued four manufacturers of “ multigrain” products the organization believes to be mislabeled. Why are these lawsuits important?
A: These lawsuits are the perfect marriage of consumer safety and nutrition. Restaurants such as are selling food directly to consumers, which makes it difficult for consumers to check nutrition labels. These restaurants are presenting the bread in a misleading fashion. They label the breads as “multigrain,” which simply means they have multiple grains in them. The Dietary Guidelines provided by the government define “whole grain” as bread or other grain products with at least 51 percent whole grains, and recommend that all Americans make half of the grains they consume whole. Many of these products fail to reach that percentage—and by a lot. It’s scary. When these “multigrain” breadmakers don’t follow the dietary guidelines, the average American is unaware they are being duped. Most people don’t know the difference between multigrain and whole grain, and they assume something labeled “multigrain” means it’s whole grain. In reality, it could have only slightly higher nutritional value—or even be the same—as white bread.
Q: Is there anything on the horizon in food safety that you are particularly excited to be working on?
A: The Food Safety Modernization Act is heading towards implementation. This is a very exciting piece of legislation since it’s the most comprehensive update on food safety by the FDA in more than 50 years. As with any legislation, there are both good and bad parts. There are some negative impacts to inspections in poultry plants, but overwhelmingly this is a step in the right direction. NCL and other food safety advocacy groups are trying to communicate with FDA to strengthen food safety standards and ensure that the changes made are in the best interest of consumers. The implementation date keeps getting pushed back by industry because change is costly for them, but we are fighting to get it implemented as soon as possible.
Q: What interests you in food policy and nutrition issues?
A: One aspect of food policy that really interests me is how Americans in poverty can access healthy food. I think that there are many factors that go into either keeping a population impoverished or lifting that population out of poverty, and I think food most definitely plays a role in that. For example, the low cost of junk food affects those who are at an economic disadvantage, so it’s important to make healthier foods more readily available and cheaper to ensure people with less money can afford high quality food. If people don’t have access to high quality food, their overall health will suffer.
Q: Why did you want to join NCL staff?
A: Food safety and nutrition have always been a passion of mine. I studied nutrition in college. How politics affects nutrition and food safety is very interesting to me, as well as the deep confusion many Americans face about making healthy food choices. I look forward to the opportunity to better understand our nation’s relationship with food and to help NCL contribute to the discussion.