by Marion Nestle

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Nov 23 2015

USDA grants encourage veterinarians to work on farm animals

When I wrote my books on pet foods some years ago, Feed Your Pet Right and Pet Food Politics, I was reading a lot about veterinary practice and how it has shifted from large animals to small.  The shift is so great that hardly anyone trains to be a farm-animal veterinarian anymore.  Almost all students focus on pet dogs and cats.

Among practicing veterinarians,

  • 75 % treat pets
  • 6% work treat horses
  • 8% treat farm animals


The USDA wants to change that, at least a little.

It announced an award program of $4.5 million to pay off the school loans of up to 49 veterinarians who promise to work for three years in rural America where veterinarians are scarce.  The maximum award is $75,000, which is expected to cover half the average school-loan debt.  Recipients may be required to devote at least 80% of their time to work on food animals.

Sounds like a great opportunity to get terrific experience.  I hope lots of recent grads apply.

Nov 19 2015

Feds indict dietary supplement makers

I learned about the new civil and criminal actions against makers of dietary supplements from a press release from US Senator Claire McCaskill, ranking member of the US Senate Special Committee on Aging.  The dietary supplement industry, she says, “continues to resemble the Wild West.”  

The Department of Justice, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have initiated enforcement actions against USPlabs,  which makes muscle and weight loss supplements such as Jack3d and OxyElite Pro.  The charge:

USPlabs engaged in a conspiracy to import ingredients from China using false certificates of analysis and false labeling and then lied about the source and nature of those ingredients after it put them in its products.  According to the indictment, USPlabs told some of its retailers and wholesalers that it used natural plant extracts in products called Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, when in fact it was using a synthetic stimulant manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants sold some of their products without determining whether they would be safe to use.  In fact, as the indictment notes, the defendants knew of studies that linked the products to liver toxicity.

The FDA’s statement says that it has warned consumers not to use certain USPlabs products containing a synthetic alkaloid, aegeline, which is so toxic that it induces liver problems so severe that they caused several victims to need liver transplants and one died (the New York Times says more about this).

The FDA says it:

continues to warn consumers about the risks associated with some over-the-counter products, falsely marketed as dietary supplements, which contain hidden active ingredients that could be harmful. In the last year, the agency has warned of more than 100 products found to contain hidden active ingredients. These products are most frequently marketed for sexual enhancement, weight lossand body building.

Earlier this year, Senator McCaskill:

sent letters to 15 retailers inquiring about their policies concerning dietary supplements and what they do to prevent the sale of harmful or fraudulently marketed products in their stores and on their websites and shows. This inquiry was in response to the discovery of products such as Brain Armor, which was recently removed from the Amazon website, that made false claims about their ability to enhance memory and treat dementia.

She also  

wrote FDA Acting Administrator Stephen Ostroff to request that the FDA take appropriate action to suspend sales of any supplement containing picamilon, a product that FDA has determined is not a dietary ingredient. McCaskill also asked for any documents submitted to the FDA as a part of the New Dietary Ingredient notification process that confirm the ingredient’s safety, and for any cases in which picamilon had caused ‘adverse events’ in consumers. After the FDA failed to respond, McCaskill asked retailers to voluntarily remove products containing picamilon from their shelves—an action that many took.

As past Chairman of the Senate’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee, McCaskill has also examined misleading and false claims made by makers of weight-loss products. 

Wild West indeed.  The supplement industry brought this on itself when it convinced Congress that its products were so safe and so much more effective than prescription drugs that regulations were unnecessary.  In 1994, Congress agreed and passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which essentially deregulated dietary supplements and, except for egregious instances like this one, forced the FDA to leave supplements pretty much alone.

The industry argues that there are just a few bad apples like these.  But how would we know?

Nov 18 2015

Food Policy Action releases 2015 Congressional scorecard

I went yesterday to the press conference for the release of the Food Policy Action 2015 Scorecard.










This was outdoors at Campos Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village, attended by classes of schoolkids.  The speakers:

Food Policy Action aims to improve national discussions of food policy issues by informing the public about how elected officials vote on these issues.  Hence: the Scorecard.

As I discussed last year, points are awarded for votes on bills introduced or co-sponsored that deal with:

  • Domestic and international hunger
  • Food safety
  • Food access
  • Farm subsidies
  • Animal welfare
  • Food and farm labor
  • Nutrition
  • Food additives
  • Food transparency
  • Local and regional food production
  • The environmental effects of food production

In the Senate, for example, there were just 5 bills to be voted on an 10 that were co-sponsored (but not voted on).  In the House, there were votes on 10 bills and 12 that were co-sponsored (no vote).  This leaves lots of room for improvement, even among the best.

The speakers explained to the kids that the Scorecard gave grades to members of Congress, just like they get, and took them through a discussion of thumbs up and thumbs down appraisals of legislators’ votes on key food issues.  Congress is doing a little better this year than last, they said, but still has a long way to go.

Those of us in New York are lucky.  Both of our Senators, Kirsten Gillbrand and Charles Schumer scored 100.

Here are my reports on the Scorecards from 2013 and 2014.  The Scorecard is a great first step in holding legislators accountable.

Nov 16 2015

FDA is taking comments on “natural”

I’m always indebted to Food-Navigator-USA for spot-on commentary on current food politics.  Here, for example, is Elaine Watson on the FDA’s amazing decision to take comments on the meaning of “natural” on food labels.

Having studiously avoided this food labeling minefield for years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has surprised many in the trade by seeking comments on the definition of a word that has launched a thousand class action lawsuits (well almost): ‘natural’.

Her piece is worth reading for its excellent reporting and interviews with industry stakeholders.

About “natural,” the FDA has said:

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

Now petitions have induced the FDA to seek comments, the first step in its standard rulemaking processes.

Specifically, the FDA asks for information and public comment on questions such as:

—Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”

—If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and

—How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

“Appropriate” in this context translates as:  Should high fructose corn syrup be considered “natural?” (The FDA said yes in 2008).   How about GMOs? (the FDA’s position on GMOs is that they are not materially different from any other kind of food).

To file comments on these and other questions,

  • For electronic submissions, go to and search for docket number FDA-2014-N-1207.
  • For submissions by mail, use the following address. Be sure to include docket number FDA-2014-N-1207 on each page of your written comments.  Division of Dockets Management, HFA-305, Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852
Nov 13 2015

Weekend Reading: Philosophy Comes to Dinner

Terence Cuneo, Andrew Chignell, Matthew C. Halteman, editors. Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Arguments over the Ethics of Eating.  Routledge, 2015.

I was happy to do a blurb for this book, having met Andrew Chignell and participated in an online course he ran at Cornell based on the book.

In recent years, I’ve seen an explosion of student and public interest in the politics and ethics of food.  It’s great to have philosophers contributing to this discussion, and this book explains why.

When thoughtful people differ about issues in food and nutrition, it isn’t always easy to decide what the right thing is to do.  Philosophers have ways of looking at controversial issues that help with such decisions.  This book lays out some typical arguments and explains how the major philosophical frameworks can help sharpen the discussion.

Nov 10 2015

Two reports: Who is Obese? How to Curb Global Sugar?

The first report is from the UK.   Fat Chance? Exploring the Evidence on Who Becomes Obese is a curious example of what happens when a sugar company (AB Sugar) partners with a health organization (2020 Health) to produce a policy document.

The report examines the role of age, gender, socioeconomic factors, the built environment, mental health and disability, sleep, bullying and child abuse, smoking, ethnicity, and religion as factors in obesity—everything except diet and activity levels.

The press release for the report gives key findings, among them:

  • Obesity rates are rising rapidly among the poor as well as other groups who experience social instability.
  • Uncertainty seems to be a significant factor for weight gain.
  • Fast food outlets near working environments have a significant impact on the BMI of men; the lack of green space has an impact on obesity rates particularly among girls.
  • Half of all people suffering with psychosis are obese.
  • Parental obesity, especially in mothers, is a far more predictive factor in childhood obesity than is ethnicity.

Its authors write:

What is particularly highlighted in recent research, though rarely explicitly stated, is that obesity rates seem to be deeply influenced by social change (not just influences within static social categories). The studies we have compiled for this review show a subtle trend that has become increasingly evident over the last decade. It is highlighted in economic mobility, rising rates of mental illness, technological habits and engagements, and rapidly shifting urban ground. Argued here, broadly speaking, is that many of these categories strongly hint to a meta-structure that remains profoundly under-researched and largely ignored. This is the structure of uncertainty, a type of habitus that influences the terms of emotional engagement between an individual and their daily life. Insidiously, it undermines health seeking behaviour by making daily decision processes cognitively intolerable and emotionally taxing.

They conclude:

…approaches to obesity that recognise and incorporate complexity might impact a host of rising health problems that affect communities across Britain. The same interventions that encourage healthy BMI may improve energy levels through metabolic process and sleeping habits, while reducing risk of mental health problems, diabetes and a range of other comorbidities not discussed in this report.

But they don’t say what those interventions might be.

Could they possibly have something to do with removing sugary drinks and foods from local environments?

For doing just that, the World Cancer Research Fund International has produced Curbing Global Sugar Consumption: Effective Food Policy Actions to Help Promote Healthy Diets & Tackle Obesity.

Examples of actions which have had these effects include school nutrition standards in Queensland, Australia; a vending machine ban in France; a front-of-package symbol that led to product reformulation in the Netherlands; soda taxes in France and Mexico; a programme targeting retail environments in New York City, USA; a programme promoting increased water consumption in schools in Hungary; school fruit and vegetable programmes in Netherlands and Norway; a healthy marketing campaign in Los Angeles County, USA and a comprehensive nutrition and health programme in France.

The first report asks us to solve problems of poverty, instability, and mental health before taking action to prevent obesity, even when actions are known to be effective.  The second calls for such actions now.

Could AB Sugar’s sponsorship possibly have something to do with this difference?

Nov 4 2015

Does eating eggs raise blood cholesterol levels?

The Physicans Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a group advocating against use of animals in research but for vegetarian and vegan diets, has started a campaign to restore egg-and-cholesterol recommendations to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Eggs are the largest source of cholesterol in American diets.

The campaign involves billboards like this one, in six locations in Texas:


It also involves a new organization ( with an interactive website on a dozen issues related to egg production and consumption.

The one that particularly caught my eye was #5.

A 2013 review suggested that high-cholesterol foods have only a modest effect on blood cholesterol. Of the 12 studies it relied on, 11 were industry-funded.

In a letter to Congressman K. Michael Conaway (Rep-TX), Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM’s president, wrote:

This week, billboards near your Texas offices will alert you to the dangers Americans face if cholesterol warnings are removed…Eggs are the leading source of cholesterol in the American diet.  A report (which I’ve included for your review) in the autumn 2015 Good Medicine magazine finds that this recommendation may have been influenced by egg-industry-funded cholesterol research. America’s heart disease and diabetes epidemics will continue unabated if the egg industry succeeds in its efforts to get cholesterol warnings out of the guidelines.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) said this about dietary cholesterol.

Cholesterol. Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report.2,35 Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.

The DGAC based its unconcern about dietary cholesterol on two references:

2.  Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, de Jesus JM, Houston Miller N, Hubbard VS, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S76-99. PMID: 24222015. Its conclusion:

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether lowering dietary cholesterol reduces LDL–C.

35.  Shin JY, Xun P, Nakamura Y, He K. Egg consumption in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(1):146-59. PMID: 23676423. This study, which was also independently funded, concluded:

compared with those who never consume eggs, those who eat 1 egg per day or more are 42% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Among diabetic patients, frequent egg consumers (ie, > 1 egg/d) are 69% more likely to have CVD comorbidity…This meta-analysis suggests that egg consumption is not associated with the risk of CVD and cardiac mortality in the general population. However, egg consumption may be associated with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes among the general population and CVD comorbidity among diabetic patients.

Were these references based largely on studies funded by the egg industry?  If so, PCRM is correct in arguing that the question of egg consumption and blood cholesterol levels merits much closer scrutiny and analysis than it is currently receiving.

What does a study funded by the egg industry look like?  Here are two one from my recent collection:

The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study—a 3-mo randomized controlled trial, by Nicholas R Fuller, Ian D Caterson, Amanda Sainsbury, Gareth Denyer, Mackenzie Fong, James Gerofi, Katherine Baqleh, Kathryn H Williams, Namson S Lau, and Tania P Markovic.  Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101:705-713.

  • Conclusion: High egg consumption did not have an adverse effect on the lipid profile of people with T2D [type 2 diabetes] in the context of increased MUFA [monounsaturated fatty acid] and PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] consumption. This study suggests that a high-egg diet can be included safely as part of the dietary management of T2D, and it may provide greater satiety.
  • Sponsor: Australian Egg Corporation

Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Berger, S., Raman, G., Vishwanathan, R., Jacques, P.F., Johnson, E.J., 2015. Am J Clin Nutr ajcn100305. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.100305.  Am J Clin Nutr August 2015
vol. 102 no. 2 276-294

  • Conclusion: Reviewed studies were heterogeneous and lacked the methodologic rigor to draw any conclusions regarding the effects of dietary cholesterol on CVD risk.  [Implication: suggestions that eggs might raise cardiovascular risk are unwarranted]
  • Sponsor: Supported by USDA agreement 1950-51000-073 and the American Egg Board, Egg Nutrition Center.  The funders did not have a role in the study selection, quality assessment, data synthesis, or manuscript preparation.
Nov 3 2015

Food-Navigator-USA’s roundup of articles on bakery and snack trends

Snacks are trending.  As Food-Navigator-USA’s analysts see it, “there are new opportunities in gluten-free, ethnic breads and gourmet bakery items, while snack makers are tapping into consumer demand for ancient grains and seeds, plant-based proteins, and bean, pea and lentil-based ingredients….Americans are increasingly abandoning three square meals a day for serial snacking.”

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