Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 11 2014

Michele Simon’s latest report: “Whitewashed” (she means dairy foods)

I always am interested in Michele Simon’s provocative reports.  Her latest, Whitewashed, is no exception.  It’s about how the government promotes dairy foods, no matter what kind or where they appear.

New Picture

Read her blog post here.

Download the full report here.

Read the executive summary here.

Here’s are some of the surprising (to me) findings detailed in the report:

  • About half of all milk is consumed either as flavored milk, with cereal, or in a drink;
  • Nearly half of the milk supply goes to make about 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts–two-thirds of which is ice cream;
  • 11 percent of all sugar goes into the production of dairy products.

Where the government enters the picture is through the “checkoff programs” for promoting milk and dairy.  These are USDA-Sponsored programs, paid for by dairy farmers through checkoff fees, but run by the USDA.

U.S. Department of Agriculture employees attend checkoff meetings, monitor activities, and are responsible for evaluation of the programs. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the checkoff programs as “government speech”, finding: “the message … is controlled by the Federal Government.”

The report has some interesting findings about the checkoff.  Although checkoff funds are supposed to be used for generic marketing, the dairy checkoff helped:

  • McDonald’s make sure that dairy foods play an important role in product development.
  • Taco Bell introduce its double steak quesadillas and cheese shreds.
  • Pizza Hut develop its 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza and “Summer of Cheese” ad campaign.
  • Dominos add more cheese to its pizzas as a result of a $35 million partnership.
  • Domino’s “Smart Slice” program introduce its pizza to more than 2,000 schools in 2011.
  • Promote “Chocolate Milk Has Muscle” and “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk.”

I like dairy foods, but should the government be doing this?

 

Jun 10 2014

Dueling infographics on the school lunch wars

Thanks to Tracy Fox for sending the latest salvos in the absurd political fight over nutrition standards for school meals.

The first comes from the School Nutrition Association (scroll down to find the image).  This is the organization increasingly discredited for its close ties to food companies that supply products for school meals, as well as its lobbying of Congress on behalf of those companies .

Screenshot 2014-06-10 13.38.07

 

The second comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a major funder of anti-obesity initiatives.

infographic

This particular political fight isn’t over yet.  The School Nutrition Association is on the wrong side of this issue, as shown by the divisions in its ranks—the 19 former presidents who wrote Congress to oppose weakening the standards, for example.

Who loses in this one?  Kids’ health, alas.

Jun 9 2014

New book for city folk: The Rooftop Beekeeper

Megan Paska: The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees.  Chronicle Books, 2014.

Megan Paska sent me a copy of her new book and I’m so glad she did.  I know lots of people who want to try raising bees in their home towns but don’t know how to start.

Now I know what to tell them.  Read this book.

It covers what bees are, why they matter, why you should raise them, why cities are great places to raise them, how to start, what you need—hives, nets, food, and the like—where to put them, and how to take care of bees in every season.

And it provides recipes for doing wonderful things with the overabundance of honey your bees are likely to produce.

I particularly like this section:

What to say to your neighbors.

Bee stings hurt.  It’s easy to see why many people assume that they’re going to die when they get stung by a bee…The fact is that bees already live with us, even in a city…Next time you are at a park or see a planted flowerbed on the street, consider not only the honeybee but also other wild pollinators you will likely see there, drifting from flower to flower…As beekeepers, it’s part of our job description to enlighten others to this simple fact: Bees are not so different from us.  They live for one another, and they can’t thrive without community.

Jun 6 2014

Why would school nutritionists oppose healthier meals?

Understanding why school nutritionists want to scrap the USDA’s nutrition standards takes some effort.

The question: Why is the School Nutrition Association (SNA)—the organization that represents the interests of “lunch ladies”—supporting Republican attempts to derail the nutrition standards?

The SNA has a long and honorable history of fighting for better nutrition for children, and it supported the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act—the one that gave USDA the authority to mandate healthier meals.

Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the daily Hagstrom Report, took a stab at explaining why SNA shifted position:

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.

Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico adds to the explanation:

The story behind the school lunch flip-flop is a complicated web of lobbying change-ups, industry influence and partisan posturing inside the Beltway…Interviews with more than a dozen former and current SNA officials reveal a dramatic shift in SNA’s policy platform, and even more so, its approach: choosing to wage war on Capitol Hill — pitting the association against [Michelle] Obama and her team — instead of trying to win more concessions directly from the Department of Agriculture…[This] has sparked a civil war within the nutrition community and the association itself. Nineteen former SNA presidents wrote to appropriators last week urging them to reject calls for a waiver — a break in ranks that was painful but necessary, signers said.

She adds this critical piece of information:

Several former presidents of the organization said they are worried that food companies have influenced the group’s agenda over concerns that the nutrition standards for the $11 billion program will take a big bite out of sales of popular items like pizza and salty snacks…About half of the group’s $10 million operating budget comes from food industry members.

Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, told Jerry Hagstrom that the SNA’s current leadership is making a “serious mistake” is supporting members of Congress who want to block USDA’s standards.  If the SNA lobbies for permanent blockage of the standards, he thinks they will be “playing with fire.”  SNA, he said, is isolated on the issue.   “The stakes are really high for the future of the country,” he said. “It is a battle worth waging.”

Is SNA isolated?  Indeed it is.  Here’s the list of organizations that support the new standards, compiled by the American Public Health Association.

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!

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