Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 4 2014

Guess who funded the contradictory fructose study?

Today, Michael Goran and his colleagues published an NIH-funded study demonstrating that the proportion of fructose in products made with high fructose corn syrup is often higher than 55%—as much as 60% to 67%.

This matters because of concerns that high intake of fructose might induce insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.

Today also, a different group of investigators published a study saying just the opposite.  Fructose in products, it says, is in close agreement with the amount expected.

Who funded this one?  The International Society of Beverage Technologists, whose executive board represents soda companies.

Really, these kinds of results are so predictable that all I have to do is see the results to guess who must have funded the study.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

 

Jun 3 2014

Dietary Guidelines Committee under attack for caring about how food is produced

I received an e-mail from the communications director of the Independent Women’s Forum, a group whose mission is to “improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”

Interesting.

The group and its friends have just sent a letter to USDA and HHS complaining that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is exceeding its mandate.

Among our most acute concerns is the “mission creep” of the Committee, which has expanded to include non-dietary factors such as “carbon footprints,” “climate change,” “urban agriculture,” and “green cleaning and pest control practices.”

This likely reflects the composition of the Committee, which is nearly all epidemiologists from elite academic institutions with no direct experience in the practical realities of how food is produced and what average Americans may choose to eat.

We need only consider the strongly negative reaction to recent changes to the school lunch rules to understand what is at risk if this Committee attempts to dictate over-reaching changes to the American diet.

This would be funny if it weren’t part of the Republican agenda to roll back improvements in nutrition advice and practice aimed at preventing obesity and its related chronic diseases.

What the IWF is saying is that its members know better about what’s good for health than all those elite epidemiologists, scientists, and other experts on the committee who are worried about what climate change will do to our food supply.

Let’s hope the agencies ignore this letter.

Jun 2 2014

Sugar politics: Kara Walker’s “Marvelous Sugar Baby”

Don’t miss the Kara Walker installation at the old, molasses-stained, about-to-be-demolished Domino sugar refinery in Brooklyn, practically under the Williamsburg bridge.

Kara Walker_2

the colossal sphinx is plastered with 35 tons of sugar, much of it on the floor by this time.

What is this about?

Kara Walker_1

The sign says:

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby

An Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

The installation is open Friday to Sunday, free.  Details here.

A word of advice to Citibike users: Check the availability of docking stations before setting out.

May 30 2014

FDA to hold hearing, take comments on new food label: deadline August 1

The FDA is holding a public meeting on June 26 to solicit comments on its proposed rules for Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels.

The meeting’s purpose is to

  • Inform the public of the provisions of the proposed rules and the rulemaking process (including how to submit comments, data, and other information to both dockets)
  • Respond to questions about the proposed rules
  • Provide an opportunity for interested persons to make oral presentations.

Instructions and information

Deadlines for the hearing

  • June 12, 2014: Closing date for request to make Oral Comment
  • June 12, 2014: Closing date to request special accommodation due to a Disability
  • June 20, 2014: Closing date for Registration

The deadline for comments on the proposals has been extended to August 1: Submit either electronic or written comments to FDA’s Division of Dockets Management.

Here’s your chance to weigh in on the proposed label changes.  Don’t miss it!

May 29 2014

Historic! First Lady and President actively support school nutrition standards

Today, the House Appropriations Committee will discuss the annual spending bill for the Agriculture Department, meaning that it will consider proposals to weaken nutrition standards for school meals.

In what has to be a groundbreaking move, First Lady Michelle Obama has an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times.

Yet some members of the House of Representatives are now threatening to roll back these new standards and lower the quality of food our kids get in school. They want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.

…Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches? You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense. Yet we’re seeing the same thing happening again with these new efforts to lower nutrition standards in our schools.

Our children deserve so much better than this.

Yes, they do, and how terrific that she is saying this.

Also a must read is ObamaFoodorama’s account of the President’s position on all this.  From White House press secretary Jay Carney:

It is “inappropriate to let politics and pressure from the food industry” change federal law.

“The President and First Lady both feel very strongly about the need to continue moving forward when it comes to school nutrition and not allowing politics to pull us backward,” Carney said.

Carney made his comments during a gaggle aboard Air Force One when asked about the President’s “reaction” to the First Lady’s event on Tuesday with school nutrition pros.

For a nutritionist like me, this is history in the making.  Cheers to both and let’s hope their efforts work.

Addition, June 2:  If you cannot understand why the School Nutrition Association is pushing for the waiver and elimination of the rules, see Jerry Hagstrom’s lucid explanation: they don’t cook.

When the school-lunch program started, most schools cooked their own food. As the number of children participating in the school-lunch program grew, the need to provide more food led the schools to buy prepackaged, processed food, which led to the companies making those foods becoming big players within SNA. Under the new rules, those companies have to come up with tasty products with less salt, sugar, and fat and use whole grains. At the same time, the fruit and vegetable requirements—which bring more business to the United Fresh Produce Association—threaten to take up more of the school-lunch budget.

 

May 28 2014

Let’s Move! on the move to rescue school nutrition standards

At a time when Michelle Obama is under widespread criticism for complicity with the food industry (see Fed Up!, the movie), she and her Let’s Move! staff are doing everything possible—openly and overtly—to preserve the nutrition standards in the school meals program.

As I’ve written previously, a House subcommittee voted to allow schools to waive the new standards.  Waivers mean that Congress is interfering—on political grounds—with nutrition standards established by scientific committees of the Institute of Medicine.

Here’s what the White House is doing:

(Audio) USDA — Hosted media call on nutrition and military readiness

Mission: Readiness urges vigilance against special interests

Roll Call — National Security Will Suffer With Derailment of School Nutrition Standards

It’s impressive that the White House is taking on this issue so forcefully.

Support the Let’s Move! staff.  Sign CSPI’s Change.Org petition and write your legislators.  They are discussing this issue right now.  Tell them now!

May 27 2014

Olivier de Schutter finishes tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Olivier de Schutter must be finishing up his six-year term as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

His final report to the U. N. Human Rights Council

Objectives such as supplying diverse, culturally-acceptable foods to communities, supporting smallholders, sustaining soil and water resources, and raising food security within particularly vulnerable areas, must not be crowded out by the one-dimensional quest to produce more food,

In a speech to the annual summit of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Reuters reports: 

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed, he said.

De Schutter, who has held his post of special rapporteur on the right to food since 2008 and earlier headed the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In 2005, a U.N. convention on tobacco control aimed at reducing deaths and health problems caused by the product went into force after long negotiations under the umbrella of the WHO.

In a report to the rights council in 2012, de Schutter said a similar accord on food should include taxing unhealthy products, regulating food high in saturated fats, salt and sugar, and “cracking down on junk food advertising.”

That report also called for an overhaul on the system of farm subsidies “that make certain ingredients cheaper than others”, and for support for local production “so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.”

De Schutter  reports that public procurement can and should be used to ‘buy justice’ in food systems (also see press release):

“Public procurement represents a rare opportunity to support more nutritious diets and more sustainable food systems in one fell swoop,” he said, as he released his final publication as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Recalling that OECD countries spend an average of 12% of GDP on public procurement, and developing countries only slightly less, he identified five principles for using public procurement to support the realization of the right to food:

  • Source preferentially from small-scale food producers and help them to access tenders
  • Guarantee living wages and fair prices along the food supply chain
  • Set specific requirements for adequate food diets
  • Source locally whenever possible and impose sustainability requirements on suppliers; and
  • Increase participation and accountability in the food system

De Schutter has done honorable work as Special Rapporteur and his role in this position will be missed.

May 23 2014

GMO labels cost families $800/year: Guess who paid for the study?

Yesterday, Food Navigator reported that Cornell economists calculated that GMO labels would cost the average family of four a whopping $800 per year.

This seemed so improbable that I immediately wondered:  Who paid for it?

I clicked on the link to the study: Bingo!

The work on this report was supported financially by the Council for Biotechnology Information.

You won’t find the list of companies and groups that support the Council on its website, but Source Watch fills the gap.

I am increasingly alarmed by the increasing extent of industry research sponsorship—it’s become a huge issue in  studies of nutrition, diet, and health.

The influence of funding source on research outcomes is so predictable—many studies have now shown that industry-funded studies almost invariably produce results that favor the sponsor—that I’m batting nearly 100% on conflict-of-interest  checks, of which this GMO study is a particularly blatant example.

It’s not that industry pays investigators to find the desired answers to questions.  It’s more complicated than that.  It has to do with the way investigators ask and try to answer the research questions.  The industry favored biases get built into the study’s assumptions and controls, often (I think) unconsciously.

This study, for example, is based on an elaborate set of assumptions leading to the $800 per family estimate.  Other assumptions might give different results.   The authors do not discuss the limitations of their estimates, nor are they required to in this type of report.

But I’m willing to hazard a guess that independently funded studies would come to considerably lower estimates.

Moral: if a study produces surprising results that favor an industry position, look hard to see who sponsored it.

Addition, May 24:

A reader sent in further information about the Council for Biotechnology Information:

Council for Biotechnology Information

1201 Maryland Avenue, SW., Suite 900, Washington, DC 20024 USA

Phone: 202-962-9200 web site: http://gmoanswers.com

(CBI: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Council_for_Biotechnology_Information.

http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Council_for_Biotechnology_Information.

Experts: http://gmoanswers.com/experts. Founding members and supporting partners:

http://gmoanswers.com/about. There are also offices in Saskatoon (SK, Canada)

(http://whybiotech.ca)  and Mexico City (AgroBio Mexico: http://agrobiomexico.org.mx.)

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