by Marion Nestle

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Jul 15 2015

The curious incident of Nick Jonas, Coca-Cola, Crossfit, and Diabetes

Thanks to Melanie Nesheim for sending me a link to Russ Greene’s (The Russells) account of Nick Jonas’s dispute with Crossfit over its posting of this image.

As best as I can tell, here’s what happened.

Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, who has Type 1 diabetes, sent out a tweet objecting to this image as insulting to people with type 1 diabetes.   Note: Sugary beverages are a not a risk factor for type 1 diabetes but they are for type 2 (see, for example thisthis, and this).

Russ Greene entered the fray with a tweet pointing out that Coca-Cola sponsors the Jonas Brothers’ concerts.

Apparently, this caught the attention of Good Morning America.

A spokesman for Nick Jonas denied that he had any kind of deal with Coca-Cola.

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Maybe not, but as Mr. Greene pointed out, Coca-Cola presents or sponsors the concerts and advertises that it does so.

My conclusions from this incident:

  • In taking on CrossFit’s critique of the role of sugary drinks in diabetes, Nick Jonas became a de facto spokesman for Coca-Cola.
  • Coca-Cola’s support of Jonas Brothers’ concerts paid off.
  • Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of musicians and sports figures buys loyalty and deflects attention from the well documented role of sugary drinks in type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.

And, of course, I examine this sort of sponsorship in much greater detail in my forthcoming Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)which comes out in October.

Jul 10 2015

FDA caves in to lobbying pressures, delays menu labeling

Yesterday, the FDA announced a delay in implementation of menu labeling until December 1, 2016.

Since the FDA issued the menu labeling final rule on December 1, 2014, the agency has had extensive dialogue with chain restaurants, covered grocery stores and other covered businesses, and answered numerous questions on how the rule can be implemented in specific situations. Industry, trade and other associations, including the grocery industry, have asked for an additional year to comply with the menu labeling final rule, beyond the original December 2015 compliance date. The FDA agrees additional time is necessary for the agency to provide further clarifying guidance to help facilitate efficient compliance across all covered businesses and for covered establishments to come into compliance with the final rule. The FDA is extending the compliance date for the menu labeling rule to December 1, 2016, for those covered by the rule.

Here are the relevant Federal Register notices:

Let’s be clear about what’s going on here.  New York City, where I live, has had menu labeling since 2008.  The world has not come to an end.

The Affordable Care Act made menu labeling go national in 2010.  The Supreme Court affirmed that law in 2012.

The seemingly endless delays look like successful lobbying at the expense of consumers and public health.

The New York Times account quotes me on this point:

This is a huge victory for the restaurant lobbyists,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “Food companies must be hoping that if they can delay menu labeling long enough, it will just go away.

The pizza industry, one of the chief lobbying groups on this issue, is pleased by the decision.  Lynn Liddle, Chair of the American Pizza Community sent out this statement yesterday:

FDA’s delay confirms both the serious deficiencies in the final rules and the urgent need for enactment of the bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017).  Unfortunately, FDA proceeded with an approach to final rules that impose significant compliance costs without achieving any meaningful improvements in consumer education.  After years of uncertainty, FDA still has not addressed basic questions regarding implementation.  The American Pizza Community looks forward to continuing to work with Members of Congress to secure timely passage of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act.

If you can’t get federal agencies to back off on public health, go right to Congress.

The pizza industry had already succeeded in getting this provision in the House Agricultural Appropriations bill:

SEC. 744. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce the final rule entitled ‘‘Food Labeling; Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments’’ published by the Food and Drug Administration in the Federal Register on December 1, 24 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 71156 et seq.) until the later of— (1) December 1, 2016; or (2) the date that is one year after the date on which the Secretary of Health and Human Services publishes Level 1 guidance with respect to nutrition labeling of standard menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments.

Although this act is not yet passed and it’s not clear whether this provision would have survived, the FDA got the message (or maybe the White House made sure that it did?).

Menu labels inform the public about the number of calories in the foods they are buying.

The ferocity of lobbying on this idea suggests that restaurant companies would rather you did not have this information.

The FDA, alas, is not helping much on this one.

Jul 9 2015

Annals of the nutrition transition: KFC in Myanmar

The nutrition transition is the term used to describe a population’s rapid shift from widespread undernutrition to even more widespread overnutrition and its health consequences.

Here is an example of how that happens.

Thanks to Catherine Normile, currently working in Myanmar, for this report.

The first KFC, and the first major American fast food chain for that matter, opened in Yangon yesterday. I didn’t go inside but I scoped it out, I thought you may be interested to see the incredible crowd outside, and how unfortunate a contribution this is to Yangon’s downtown. It’s on a main road directly across the street from Bogyoke Market, the busiest market in Yangon. My favorite quote comes from this Jakarta Post article: “It is internationally famous, so I think it must be healthy.” Said by a man who queued for 3 hours to get chicken.

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Note the waiting crowd.

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There were long lines to get in.

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The Burmese diet is changing.  Catherine’s previous report was on the influx of Coca-Cola.

I’ll ask again: is anyone tracking changes in health statistics in that country?

Jul 8 2015

Chartwells and DC schools

Sadie Barr, who writes about school food problems in Washington, DC, wants me and readers to know about the recent $19.4 million settlement paid to the DC school district by its food service provider, Chartwells.

For what?  Overcharging the schools for its meals.

In an e-mail to me, she writes:

The issue of school food fraud isn’t new, and isn’t unique to DC. It happened in New York in 2010 and in 2012, and is probably occurring within the quarter of school districts nationwide that outsource their food service. It was written about in the New York Times in 2011 and in an investigative report published in 2009. This fraud represents millions (if not billions) of public funds going toward a company’s profits, instead of education.

How does this work?  Food service companies buy foods from manufacturers who give them kickbacks, but do not pass the savings along to the schools.

She points out that this scam affects quality of school food, posing a special burden to the more than 50% of students nationwide (it’s more than 70% in DC) who qualify for free and reduced priced meals.

The lawyers negotiating the settlement were from Phillips & Cohen LLP, a firm that specializes in representing whistleblowers.  In this case, the whistleblower was Jeffrey Mills, director of food services for the DC public schools from 2010 to 2013.

The Phillips & Cohen press release quotes Mills as complaining that Chartwells overcharged the school district and also caused circumstances when “food was delivered late, the number of meals was insufficient or the food was of poor quality or spoiled.”

Mills said that his goal had always been to improve food programs for DC’s school children: “District funds should be used to feed students the best quality food at the lowest cost.”

This is not the first time Chartwells got caught doing something like this.

In 2012, Chartwells’ parent company, Compass Group USA, paid $18 million to settle allegations by the New York Office of the Attorney General that the company wrongfully retained rebates on purchases of food and non-food commodities made under contracts with 39 school districts in that state.

Phillips & Cohen also say:

The allegations made in the District’s complaint and Mr. Mills’ complaints are allegations only.   The allegations against Chartwells have not been adjudicated.  Chartwells denies liability for the allegations.

Maybe so, but the company agreed to the $19.4 million of the DC case.

If you are having trouble understanding the fights over the USDA’s school nutrition standards, the Chartwells’ case should help.

For food service companies and the companies that supply food products, there is lots of money to be made on school meals.

Addition, July 9: DC, it seems, is renewing its contract with Chartwells, according to the Washington City paper’s story on Jeff Mills.

Addition, July 10:  The Washington City paper explains the politics of Chartwells in DC.

Jul 2 2015

Urban farms in Havana: a brief report on my brief visit

Because transportation from rural areas is expensive and trucks are few and far between (one result of the U.S. embargo), the Cuban government is promoting urban agriculture.  Our Food First tour group went to a small organic farm and store (Organopónico) in Havana:

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The farm grows a wide variety of vegetable crops, some outdoors but some under mesh.  The sun is hot.

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The farm sells produce to local residents.  I watched a steady procession of people coming to shop, only to be disappointed at the scarcity of items available.  It’s too hot to grow much this time of year.

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The board lists prices in pesos (indicated by $)—$4 to $10 a pound.

Another of the many Cuban contradictions: Cuba has two currencies, pesos and CUCs (Cuban Convertables).  A CUC is roughly equivalent to one dollar, or 24 pesos.  Salaries are paid in pesos.  Markets sell in CUCs or, recently, both.  This system, designed to take advantage of tourist dollars, is slated to end soon.

To put vegetable prices in context: the average Cuban salary is about 470 pesos a month, or $20 (but note that Cubans are given free food rations, education, and health care).

We also visited the much larger 25-acre farm in Havana’s Alamar neighborhood.

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You can see the surrounding apartments in this photo, but not the next one.

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With no money for gas or tractors, plowing gets done with oxen.

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This farm also has a store.

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I waited on a long line to buy a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

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This was incredibly delicious and totally worth the wait.

How much sugar is in this?  I searched for, but cannot find reliable Nutrition Facts for fresh cane juice.  If you happen to know where to find this, please send.*

On Monday, I’ll file the last of these Cuba posts, this one on food availability.

Note: the resumption of diplomatic relations and agreement to reopen embassies yesterday should make travel much easier.

*Answer to query: Thanks to Andy Bellatti and Cara Wilking for sending this link to a Nutrition Facts label for cane juice.  No wonder it was so good: 30 grams of sugar in 8 ounces!

Jun 30 2015

The FDA’s latest move on trans fats

I’m still catching up on what happened during the week I was offline in Cuba (more on that later this week).

One big event was the FDA’s announcement that it no longer considers artificial trans fat as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for human consumption, meaning that processed food manufacturers need to get rid of it.  They get three years to do so.

Here are the relevant documents:

Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has petitioned the FDA to get rid of trans fats for decades, describes this move as a “huge advance.”

As for complications:

  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is worried about the half-gram loophole:  “FDA memos show…80 percent of these uses [of partially hydrogenated oils containing trans fat] don’t require disclosure of the presence of trans fat because of the half-gram loophole.”
  • Politico Pro reports that “food industry lawyers are already scouring the document in hopes of finding some way to shield them from legal action” and that a ban on trans fat will increase demand for palm oil causing widespread deforestation across Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Politico Pro also reports on a lawsuit filed immediately against Heinz for using trans fat in its frozen microwave french fries and tater tots while marketing its products as trans fat free.

I vote for the FDA’s move as a long-awaited step in the right direction.  Progress!

Addition, July 5:  The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has a somewhat different view.  Trans fats are already gone, thanks to consumers, and all the FDA has done is to set up a basis for class-action suits.

 

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.

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