by Marion Nestle

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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 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

 

Jun 10 2015

Industry-sponsored research: this week’s collection

Here is my latest roundup of industry-sponsored research producing results or opinions that favor the sponsor’s commercial interests.

Sugars and obesity: Is it the sugars or the calories?  Choo FL, Ha V, Sievenpiper JL.  Nutrition Bulletin, May 19, 2015.  DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12137

Conclusion: The higher level evidence reviewed in this report does not support concerns linking fructose-containing sugars with overweight and obesity.

Conflicts of interest: All three authors report scholarship or research support from such entities as the Canadian
Sugar Institute, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper Sapple, Corn Refiners Association, World Sugar Research Organization.

Cranberry Juice Consumption Lowers Markers of Cardiometabolic Risk, Including Blood Pressure and Circulating C-Reactive Protein, Triglyceride, and Glucose Concentrations in Adults.  Janet A Novotny, David J Baer, Christina Khoo, Sarah K Gebauer, and Craig S Charron. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:1185-1193 doi:10.3945/jn.114.203190.

Conclusion: LCCJ [low-calorie cranberry juice] can improve several risk factors of CVD [cardiovascular disease] in adults, including circulating TGs [triglycerides], CRP (c-reactive protein], and glucose, insulin resistance, and diastolic BP [blood pressure].

Sponsor: Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. and the USDA.  JA Novotny received funding from  and C Khoo is employed by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.

Effect of cheese consumption on blood lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Janette de Goede, Johanna M. Geleijnse, Eric L. Ding, and Sabita S. Soedamah-Muthu

Conclusion: Despite the similar P/S ratios of hard cheese and butter, consumption of hard cheese lowers LDL-C and HDL-C when compared with consumption of butter.

Funding. The senior author received unrestricted research grants from the Global Dairy Platform, the Dairy Research Institute, and Dairy Australia for the present meta-analysis. One other author, E.L.D., has consulted for the Dairy Research Institute.

Protein Summit 2.0: Evaluating the Role of Protein in Public Health: Proceedings of a conference held in Washington, DC, October 2, 2013.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2015 Supplement.

Program organizer: Shalene McNeill, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and a Contractor to The Beef Checkoff.

Sponsors: The Beef Checkoff, Dairy Research Institute, Egg Nutrition Center, Global Dairy Platform, Hillshire Brands, National Pork Board

My comment: Journal supplements are typically paid for by outside parties—government agencies, foundations, private organizations, or food companies.  The papers in this supplement discuss various aspects of protein and health.  All emphasize the benefits of animal protein in human diets, as might be expected, given the sponsors.

Two examples:

Commonly consumed protein foods contribute to nutrient intake, diet quality, and nutrient adequacy.  Stuart M Phillips, Victor L Fulgoni III, Robert P Heaney, Theresa A Nicklas, Joanne L Slavin, and Connie M Weaver.  Am J Clin Nutr June 2015 vol. 101 no. 6 1346S-1352S.

Conclusion: dietary recommendations to reduce intakes of saturated fat and solid fats may result in dietary guidance to reduce intakes of commonly consumed food sources of protein, in particular animal-based protein.

The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance Heather J Leidy, Peter M Clifton, Arne Astrup, Thomas P Wycherley, Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga, Natalie D Luscombe-Marsh, Stephen C Woods, and Richard D Mattes.

Conclusion:  Collectively, these data suggest that higher-protein diets…provide improvements in appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic risk factors, or all of these health outcomes.

For the record: Industry sponsorship does not necessarily mean that the reported conclusions are wrong.  It just means that the papers require even more than the usual level of critical analysis.

I am happy to post industry-sponsored studies that do not produce results that can be used to market the sponsor’s products.  Please send if you find any.

Jun 8 2015

The Blue Bell ice cream recall: a roundup

I was interested to read Michael Taylor’s comments on the recall of Blue Bell ice cream contaminated with Listeria.  Mr. Taylor is Deputy FDA Commissioner for food safety.

This was an outbreak in which 10 people were hospitalized and three died.  The best place to begin on this is on the CDC website for the Blue Bell outbreak.  It provides excellent graphics summarizing the number of cases and where they occurred:
Capture

This outbreak was particularly awful because inspections had found severe violations of standard food safety procedures, yet the company ignored them.  The result: people died.

Mr. Taylor asks if this outbreak could have been prevented with better FDA regulation.  In 2010, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) but it’s taken time for the implementation.  Taylor says:

the preventive controls for human food rule, if finalized as proposed, would require that companies like Blue Bell have a written food safety plan, based on an analysis of likely hazards, and companies would have to show us that plan during inspections.Listeria monocytogenes is a classic example of a hazard that a company should be controlling. Under the proposed standards, companies would be required to have the right controls in place to minimize hazards and would have to verify that their controls are working.

But, he says, to implement the law, the FDA needs funding: “If we do not get the funding, we will lose momentum, and implementation will be badly disrupted.”

Congress, no doubt, will continue to keep the FDA on a short string.  No industry likes being regulated and the food industry fights regulation in every way it can.

The FDA needs to do more to ensure food safety but can’t without inspectors.

That leaves legal approaches.  For these, I go right to the websites of the Marler-Clark law firm, which specializes in food safety cases.

Here’s what Bill Marler and his colleagues have had to say about the Blue Bell case (most recent first and I may be missing some):

Marler-Clark is filling a critical regulatory gap by suing companies that cause foodborne illnesses and deaths.  But this is after-the-fact.

As Bill Marler has been pleading since 2007: please put me out of business.

Prevention would be much, much better.  Hence the need for more FDA resources.

Update, June 12: The CDC concludes its investigations and the FDA releases reports

Jun 2 2015

Industry-sponsored research: this week’s collection

Every time I collect five, I’m posting studies sponsored by food companies or trade associations that show benefits of the sponsor’s products.

I would love to be able to post industry-sponsored studies with results contrary to the sponsor’s interest, but I’m just not finding any.  If you run across some, please send.

Here’s this week’s batch, with comments on the last two:

Probiotic supplementation prevents high-fat, overfeeding-induced insulin resistance in human subjects. Carl J. Hulston, Amelia A. Churnside and Michelle C. Venables British Journal of Nutrition (2015), 113, 596–602 doi:10.1017/S0007114514004097.

  • Conclusion: These results suggest that probiotic supplementation may be useful in the prevention of diet-induced metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
  • Sponsor: The present study…was financially supported by industry funds. The cost of consumables for the study was covered by an educational grant from Yakult UK Limited.

Dairy Foods and Dairy Proteins in the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A   Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence.   Gonca Pasin and Kevin B Comerford.    Adv Nutr 2015; 6:245-259. doi:10.3945/an.114.007690.

  • Conclusion: Given cultured dairy products’ long history of safe use, and whey protein’s overall efficacy in clinical studies so far, these dairy products appear to have great potential to assist with the management of T2DM in millions of people worldwide, in an inexpensive and easily implementable manner.
  • Sponsor: California Dairy Research Foundation. G Pasin is the executive director of the California Dairy Research Foundation. KB Comerford is a paid consultant for the California Dairy Research Foundation.

One Egg per Day Improves Inflammation when Compared to an Oatmeal-Based Breakfast without Increasing Other Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Diabetic PatientsMartha Nydia Ballesteros , Fabrizio Valenzuela, Alma E. Robles, Elizabeth Artalejo, David Aguilar, Catherine J. Andersen, Herlindo Valdez  and Maria Luz Fernandez.   Nutrients 20157(5), 3449-3463; doi:10.3390/nu7053449

  • Conclusions:  When compared to an oatmeal breakfast, one egg per day did not result in changes in plasma glucose, our primary end point…[and other markers] indicating that eggs can be consumed without any detrimental changes in lipoprotein or glucose metabolism in this population. The most interesting finding, however, was that eggs—possibly due to their content of highly bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin—reduced inflammation in diabetic subjects when compared to oatmeal intake.
  • Sponsor: Egg Nutrition Center

The Acute Electrocortical and Blood Pressure Effects of ChocolateM. Montopoli, L. C. Stevens, C. Smith, G. Montopoli, S. Passino, S, Brown, L. Camou, K. Carson, S. Maaske, K. Knights, W. Gibson, J. Wu.  NeuroRegulation 2015;2(1):3-28.  doi: 10.15540/nr.2.1.3.

  • Conclusions: This is the first known study to investigate acute EEG effects of consuming chocolate and suggests a potential attention-enhancing effect… there is clearly the possibility of an application of this combination of L-theanine and cacao in the treatment of hypertension.
  • Sponsor: “Chocolate products for this study were provided by a generous grant in supplies from The Hershey Company…Grateful appreciation is expressed to Dr. Debra Miller and to the staff at The Hershey Company for their guidance and support throughout this project and for their careful review of this manuscript prior to submission.”

Comment: I learned about this study from FoodNavigator, which deserves highest praise for this headline: “Step aside energy drinks: Chocolate has a stimulating effect on human brains, says Hershey-backed study.”  Bravo!

Efficacy and safety of LDL-lowering therapy among men and women: meta-analysis of individual data from 174 000 participants in 27 randomised trials.   Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaboration.  Lancet 2015:385:1397-1405.

  • Conclusion: “In men and women at an equivalent risk of cardiovascular disease, statin therapy is of similar effectiveness for the prevention of major vascular events.”
  • Conflicts reported: The CTT Collaboration reports funding by various British and Australian research councils and foundations, “and not by the pharmaceutical industry.” But, it says, most of trials covered by its analysis were supported by the drug industry, and numerous members of the CTT report fees, grants, consultancies, or honoraria from various companies making cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Note:  drug companies have a vested interest in promoting drug, rather than dietary, approaches to LDL-lowering.

Comment: Conflicts of interest do not necessarily mean that the results of the study were manipulated or wrong.  They do mean that the methods and results require more than the usual level of scrutiny.  Sponsored studies almost invariably produce results consistent with the sponsor’s economic or marketing interests.

It’s likely that some industry-sponsored studies produce conclusions contrary to the sponsor’s interest.  If you know of any, please send.

May 28 2015

What’s up with the Trade Promotion Authority act?

What’s going on with the Trade Promotion Authority act (TPA) has lots of people worried.   The bill, known as “fast track,” allows President Obama to make trade agreements that Congress can approve or reject, but cannot change.

The Senate passed the TPA.  It now goes to the House.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a congratulatory statement:

Today the Senate helped move America closer to securing responsible agreements that open markets for America’s farmers, ranchers and agribusiness and create jobs and improve wages across the country…Our farmers and ranchers face exorbitant tariffs and others barriers in important foreign markets, and if we do not act to maintain and gain market share in these places, our competitors will.

On the other hand, 2009 labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other organizations oppose the TPA.  They say “Fast Track is rigged to give special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers.”

TPP rally Maryland

In an article in the American Journal of Public Health last year, tobacco researchers explained the problem:

International trade agreements relocate decisions about tobacco control policy to venues where there is little opportunity for public scrutiny, participation, and debate…“Fast-track authority,” in which Congress cedes ongoing oversight authority to the President, further distances the public from the debate.

As I explained in previous posts on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), trade agreements:

  • Are conducted in secrecy
  • View safety regulations and matters such as country-of-origin labeling (see yesterday’s post) as trade barriers
  • Allow multinational corporations to sue governments for passing laws that might affect corporate profits

I’ll be trying to keep up with what’s going on with trade agreements.  Stay tuned.

May 27 2015

What’s up with Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)?

The attack on Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) is a good example of why international trade agreements require close scrutiny.

In my book What to Eat, I had this to say about COOL (among other things):

In 2002, Congress passed a law requiring Country of Origin Labeling (the apt acronym is COOL) that was to take effect in 2004.  Later, under pressure from the food industry, Congress postponed the deadline until the end of September 2006…In America, food industry opposition to COOL is just about universal.   The industry complains that tracking the origin of foods is difficult, but also would prefer that you not know how far food has traveled before it gets to you.   The Grocery Manufacturers of America, an especially vigilant trade advocacy group, called the 2002 bill “a nasty, snarly beast of a bill,” but even stronger opposition came from the meat industry.   Its lobbyists argued that COOL would be “extraordinarily costly with no discernible benefit,” but their real objection was that meat producers would have to track where animals and products come from—another sensible idea that they have long resisted.

Nevertheless, COOL was supposed to go into effect for meat in 2008 and finally did so in 2014.  In the meantime, Canada and Mexico went to the World Trade Organization to argue that COOL unfairly discriminated against meat produced in those countries.

The Hagstrom Report lists Canada’s threatened trade retaliation (if the U.S. keeps COOL, Canada will raise tariffs on these products).

The WTO agrees that Canada and Mexico have the right to do this.

Now the House has introduced a bill to repeal COOL.  The House Agriculture Committee voted for the repeal.

So much for consumers’ interest in knowing where foods come from.

I’ll be posting more about trade agreements this week and next.  Stay tuned.

May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

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