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News for March 5, 2010

Corn Farmers Say Food Inc. Shouldn't Win Oscar

WASHINGTON - The corn industry is lashing out at an Oscar-nominated documentary that has grossed out grocery shoppers, saying the film is unfair to many of the nation's farmers and shouldn't win.

"Food Inc.," which was nominated for best documentary, has captured audiences with its behind-the-scenes look at the food industry, bringing cameras into feedlots, slaughterhouses and chicken farms used by corporate agriculture, describing stomach-turning practices in an effort to encourage consumers to buy locally grown and organic foods that aren't mass produced.

The corn industry, one of several food industries attacked in the film, is fighting back. Though the official voting for Sunday's Academy Awards is over, the National Corn Growers Association, the industry's largest trade group, is encouraging corn farmers to get the word out in the media and on social networking sites like Facebook to rebut the documentary in the final days before the Oscars.

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The True Cost of Cheap Food

Cheap food causes hunger.

On its face, the statement makes no sense. If food is cheaper it’s more affordable and more people should be able to get an adequate diet. That is true for people who buy food, such as those living in cities. But it is quite obviously not true if you’re the one growing the food. You’re getting less for your crops, less for your work, less for your family to live on. That is as true for Vermont dairy farmers as it is for rice farmers in the Philippines. Dairy farmers today are getting prices for their milk that are well below their costs of production. They are putting less food on their own tables. And they are going out of business at an alarming rate. When the economic dust settles, this will leave us with fewer family farmers producing the dairy products most of us depend on.

This is the central contradiction of cheap food. Low agricultural prices cause hunger in the short term among farmers. And they cause food insecurity in the long term because they reduce both the number of farmers and the money they have to invest in producing more food.

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Health claims on food packages are under fire, but more shoppers rely on nutrition labels

While food makers are getting more creative about the health claims they make on the front of their products -- olive oil that cures cancer and green tea that cures Alzheimer’s disease -- a new survey finds that American shoppers are getting more savvy about reading the old-school nutrition information printed on the back of food packages.

For the first time, more than half of shoppers (54%) told interviewers for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2008 Health and Diet Survey that they “often” read the nutrition label when they consider buying a product. Two-thirds of those label readers said they look for information about calories, fat, salt and vitamins. But only 46% of the 2,584 adults surveyed said they used the nutrition label to assess the calorie content of packaged foods, and 34% said they rarely or never do.

Declarations that products are “low fat,” “high fiber” or “cholesterol-free” sway only 38% of consumers, and 27% said they routinely ignore them. That might explain why marketers have been making ever-more-ambitious claims about the healing powers of their foods and beverages. If so, there’s evidence that the strategy has backfired: 56% of those surveyed said they doubted the accuracy of some or all of those claims.

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