Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 29 2015

Bird flu poses big-time challenges for egg producers

This is a roundup of recent items on the effects of bird flu on egg producers: (1) the toll of the epidemic, (2) the politics, (3) the effects on restaurants, (4) the potential for a vaccine, and (5) a Food-Navigator-USA special edition.

1.  The toll: According to the USDA’s Chicken and Eggs report, the number of chickens laying table eggs declined by 33.5 million since April 1, a loss of 11%, and the number of eggs is down by 5%.  In May alone, 31.4 million layers were “rendered, died, destroyed, composted or disappeared,” four times the usual mortality rate.  No surprise, but egg prices went up by 46 cents in the last couple of weeks and now average $2.05 a dozen for Large white eggs Grade A or better (see USDA’s National Retail Report).  Since December, USDA says there have been 223 outbreaks of bird flu that have affected 48.1 million chickens and turkeys.

2.  The politics: According to an article in Fortune magazine, the flu epidemic is a consequence of industrial egg production, in which many thousands of birds are packed together.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the crisis is its implications for the viability of industrial-scale farming. The egg industry’s huge “layer operations”…are designed to protect birds from contamination, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota at the University of Minnesota. The animals’ environment is tightly controlled…But when a virus pierces such defenses, or when defenses lapse, having all of one’s eggs in one basket (so to speak) can make the impact more devastating.

3.  Restaurants: The Des Moines Register reports that restaurants will be raising prices as a result of the egg shortage.

4.  Bird Flu Vaccine: According to PoliticoPro Morning Agriculture, a small company in Iowa says it’s got a vaccine that needs USDA approval before it can be used.  But people in the poultry industry think it might be “a non-starter for foreign buyers of U.S. poultry products.”

5.  Food Navigator-USA’s Special Edition is called Avian flu in focus: Navigating the egg shortage crisis.  As Food Navigator explains, “manufacturers that rely on egg products face some big challenges in the weeks and months ahead.”

 

Jun 26 2015

Sugar politics: a roundup of recent events

While I was visiting Cuba, formerly the largest supplier of sugar to the United States and now blocked from selling anything to us, I missed several stories about sugar.  It’s time to catch up with them.

On this last item the Post explains:

While other crop subsidies have withered, Washington’s taste for sugar has been constant. The sugar program, which has existed in various forms since the 1930s, uses an elaborate system of import quotas, price floors and taxpayer-backed loans to prop up domestic growers, which number fewer than 4,500.

Sugar’s protected status is largely explained by the sophistication and clout of a small but wealthy interest group that includes beet farmers in the Upper Midwest, cane growers in the South and the politically connected Fanjul family of Florida, who control a substantial part of the world sugar market.

Attempts to get rid of the sugar program have been constant, at least since the 1970s when I first started teaching about it, but to no avail.  Why not?  Because outrageous as the program is, it only costs the average American $10 per year—not enough to generate widespread opposition, apparently.

The bottom line on all this: eating less sugar is always a good idea.

Jun 25 2015

Industry-funded studies that do NOT favor the sponsor

I’ve been posting summaries of studies funded by food companies or trade groups, all of which come up with results that the sponsor can use for marketing purposes.

In each of these posts, I ask for examples of industry-funded studies that produce results contrary to the interests of the funder.

In response, I received this comment from Mickey Rubin, Vice President for Nutrition Research, National Dairy Council.

He gave me permission to reproduce his letter: 

Dear Marion,

By way of introduction, my name is Mickey Rubin and I am a scientist at the National Dairy Council. I understand that you know Greg Miller, and I asked him for your contact information so I could write to you directly after reading with great interest your most recent post on industry-funded nutrition research, in which you selected a sample of 5 studies/papers sponsored by industry all showing favorable outcomes. Although none of the papers you selected were sponsored by the organization I represent (although there is one dairy industry sponsored review paper in the list), what struck me is your focus on the favorable vs. unfavorable dichotomy, rather than the reality of what much nutrition science research results in: null findings.

It seems that there are fewer and fewer nutrition studies published that report the null, or find no effect. I agree with you that the reason we don’t see more of these studies in the literature has to do with bias, but I suspect that it is publication bias as much as any other bias. From my interactions with nutrition researchers, I gather it is quite difficult and sometimes impossible to get a study with no significant effects published regardless of funding source, to say nothing of allegiance bias by some researchers hesitant to publish findings that may go against their own hypotheses. Dr. Dennis Bier of Baylor College of Medicine and editor in chief of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has presented eloquently on this issue previously. You may also be aware of David Allison’s papers on other types of bias. So I think it is important to discuss all types of bias, and not just industry bias. You of course wouldn’t want your discussion on bias to be biased to just one type.

At National Dairy Council we have an extensive program of nutrition research that we sponsor at universities both nationally and internationally. While I can’t speak for all of industry, we strongly encourage the investigators of all of our sponsored studies to publish the findings, no matter the results. Thus, we would expect our sponsored studies to have a similar “success” rate as those sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. In fact, that is exactly what one recent analysis – not sponsored by the dairy industry – found, reporting that there was no evidence that dairy industry funded projects were more likely to support an obesity prevention benefit from dairy consumption than studies sponsored by NIH.

We feel this transparency is not only critical to the credibility of the research we sponsor, but we also feel it is important that our research contributes to nutrition science knowledge as a whole. We hope that other scientists take the findings from studies we sponsor and build upon them, and if it is by using research dollars from other sources, even better! I’ll be the first to stand up and say that one favorable study on milk, as an example, does not close the books on the subject. We need many studies in many different labs sponsored by multiple agencies in order to produce a portfolio of knowledge. I suspect that is certainly an example of where you and I are in agreement.

That all said, please allow me to provide some examples of studies the National Dairy Council has sponsored that are published and, rather than showing a clear benefit, do not refute the null hypothesis. These are all studies published within the last 4 years. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, but rather just a sample similar to what you provided. I could also provide you a list of studies we have sponsored that have shown favorable results for dairy, but you seem to have that covered, and I’ll instead wait until one of our sponsored studies appears in a subsequent blog post J.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I appreciate the dialogue.

Here’s his list of papers:

Studies with null finding:

Bendtsen et al. 2014: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24168904

  • No unique benefit of dairy protein over other proteins for weight maintenance

Maki et al. 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23901280

  • No effect of three servings of dairy on blood pressure

Chale et al. 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23114462

  • Whey protein supplementation offered no additional benefit over resistance training alone in older individuals

Lambourne et al. 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23239680

  • No change in body weight or composition in adolescents performing resistance training and supplemented with milk, juice, or control

Van Loan et al. 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21941636

  • Recommended dairy servings offered no additional weight loss benefit over calorie restriction without dairy servings 

Studies with mixed findings (some outcomes changed, others null):

Maki et al. 2015: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25733460

  • The main finding from the study was that dairy intake had no effect on glucose control whereas sugar sweetened product consumption contributed to a worsening of glucose control in at-risk adults.

Dugan et al. 2014: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24236646

  • Waist circumference and BMI were lower in women after consuming the dairy diet as compared to the control diet. Fasting glucose was lower in men following the dairy diet as compared to the control diet. There were no differences in blood pressure, serum lipids, fasting insulin, or insulin resistance between the treatments.

Here’s what I wrote in response:

I am familiar with charges of bias against independently funded researchers (“White-hat Bias”), which equates industry biases with biases that result from career objectives and other goals.  I do not view the biases as equivalent.  Industry-sponsored research has only one purpose: to be used in marketing to sell products.   As I have said repeatedly, it is easy to design studies that produce desired answers.

When I was in graduate school in molecular biology, we were taught—no, had beaten into us—to do everything we could to control for biases introduced by wishful thinking.  I don’t see that level of critical thinking in most studies funded by food companies.

You may be correct about the influence of publication bias with respect to dairy studies, but how do you explain the situation with sugar-sweetened beverages?  Studies funded by government and foundations typically indicate strong correlations between habitual consumption of sugary beverages and metabolic problems, whereas studies funded by the soda industry most definitely do not.   The percentages are too high to be due to chance: 90% of independently funded studies show health effects of soda consumption whereas 90% of studies funded by soda companies do not.  This is troubling.

We’ve seen the results of studies funded by tobacco and drug companies.  Are food-industry studies different?  I don’t think so.   What seems clear is that industry-induced biases are not recognized by funding recipients, a problem in itself.

That’s why I’m posting these studies as they come in and begging for examples of industry-funded studies that do not favor the interests of the donor.

Thanks to Mickey Rubin for writing and for permission to reproduce his letter.

Let the discussion continue!

Jun 24 2015

Let’s stop Congress from interfering with the dietary guidelines, please

Politico Morning Agriculture reports today on an unprecedented move by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).  The committee sent a letter to members of Congress to protest legislative interference with its scientific process.

Recall: The DGAC’s research report alarmed meat producers when it said that sustainability needed to be considered in developing dietary guidelines.

Of course sustainability should be considered in developing dietary guidelines.  Agricultural policy needs to be linked to health policy, and it’s high time we did so.

But industry protests and letters from Congress induced USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to assure Congress that the 2015 guidelines will focus only on nutrition.

That was not enough.  Industry groups induced the House of Representatives to put this rider in the 2016 Agricultural Appropriations bill:

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, revised pursuant to section 301 of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (7 20 U.S.C. 5341), unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:

(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans shall be based on

(A) scientific evidence that has been rated ‘‘Grade I: Strong’’ by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and

(B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake.

Politics in action!

As I told Politico Morning Agriculture, I’ve never heard of a DGAC writing directly to Congress.  But I understand its frustration.  The committee was asked by USDA and HHS to review and consider the science of diet and health and did so. It reported what its members believe the science says. Some segments of the food industry don’t like the science so they are using the political system to fight back. The idea that some members of Congress would go along with this is shameful.

CSPI has organized a letter-writing campaign to defeat the rider and provides these tools:

Let’s keep Congress out of the dietary guidelines process.  The process may not be perfect but scientific committees do the best they can to advice the public about dietary practices that are best for health—and, at long last, the environment.

Political interference with this process is not in the best interest of public health, and should be strongly discouraged.  If you agree with this view, CSPI makes it easy for you to say so.  Sign on now.

Update, June 25: Politico Morning Agriculture reports today that the Senate bill reads: “None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.”

Jun 23 2015

The food industry’s undue influence on the American Society for Nutrition

I’m catching up with events I missed while offline in Cuba.  Here’s one: Michele Simon’s new report:

The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) is the leading organization for physicians and scientists who conduct nutrition research.  I’ve been a member for years and have long fretted about the ASN’s too-cozy relationships with food company sponsors (for example, see my posts on the ill-fated Smart Choices campaign and on a recent ASN annual meeting).

Simon has now done for the ASN what she previously did for the American Academy of Dietetics.

A few of her findings:

  • Of the 34 scientific sessions at ASN’s annual meeting, 6 were supported by PepsiCo, and others were supported by the Egg Nutrition Center, Kellogg, DuPont Nutrition and Health, Ajinomoto, and the National Dairy Council.
  • The International Life Sciences Institute (a front group for Big Food and Big Pharma) sponsored a session on low-calorie sweeteners; speakers included a scientific consultant for Ajinomoto, which produces aspartame.
  • For $35,000, junk food companies can sponsor the hospitality suite at the annual meeting, where corporate executives socialize with nutrition researchers.
  • ASN published an 18- page defense of processed food that consists of numerous talking points for the junk food industry, such as “There are no differences between the processing of foods at home or at a factory.”
  • ASN opposes an FDA proposed policy to include added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel, at a time when excessive sugar consumption is causing a national public health epidemic.

I’m quoted in the report:

I think it’s important that professional societies like ASN promote rigorous science and maintain the highest possible standards of scientific integrity. Research and education about food and nutrition are easily influenced by funding from food companies but such influence often goes unrecognized. This means that special efforts must be taken to avoid, account for, and counter food industry influence, and organizations like ASN should take the lead in doing so.

The report has been well covered by the media:

Relations between nutrition scientists and food companies worry me.  Here’s another example: Portuguese nutritionists have produced an e-book extolling the virtues of cereal-based drinks.  The book is sponsored by Nestlé (the company, not me).  Nestlé, no surprise, is the market leader for these products in Portugal.  I thank Vladimir Pekic of BeverageDaily.com for finding this one.

Jun 22 2015

Yes, you can buy Coke and Pepsi in Cuba

I’ve been in Cuba for the past week on a food sovereignty agricultural tour sponsored by Food First.

I will have more to say about this trip, but I’ll start with my obsession with sodas (because of my forthcoming book, Soda Politics): Does the U.S. embargo prevent sales of Coke and Pepsi in Cuba?

Based on research for the book, I know that Cuba is one of the last remaining countries in which Coke and Pepsi cannot be marketed.  North Korea is another.  Myanmar used to be in that category, but came out of it a couple of years ago.

So I was fascinated to see this street cart in Old Havana (Coke hecho en Mexico):

2015-06-13 16.00.44

And in a small market near the Hotel Nacional (Pepsi bottled in El Salvador):

2015-06-18 16.46.59

And in a suburban supermercado outside of Havana (3-liter Cokes from Mexico):

2015-06-19 15.50.43As for soda marketing, it’s only collectors’ items.  These are on the wall of Paladar San Cristóbal, in Central Havana:

2015-06-19 13.45.41

As I’ll discuss in later posts, these are harbingers of marketing to come.

Jun 12 2015

Early book preview: Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)

NOTE: FoodPolitics.com is going offline.  Will return June 21

Soda Politics is in press.

It comes out from Oxford University Press on October 1.

Soda Politics KD7_comp

It has a Foreword by Mark Bittman and an Afterward by Neal Baer (my grateful thanks to both).

For information about Soda Politics, go to:

Enjoy!

Jun 11 2015

San Francisco supervisors vs. sugary drinks

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved three measures to deal with sugary drinks:

1.  Put warning labels on all print and billboard ads for sodas and sugary drinks sold in the city (those with more than 25 calories per 12 ounces).

2.  Ban soda ads on city property

3.  Prohibit the use of city funds for the purchase of soda or sugary beverages

Will the mayor sign the measure?

Will the city’s famous freeway sign look like this?

coke-sign.jpg

 

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