Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 18 2015

Weekend Reading: Mark Pendergrast’s Fair Trade

Mark Pendergrast: Beyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand.  Greystone Books, 2015.

fair trade

Mark Pendergrast is the author of the definitive history of Coca-Cola, For God, Love, and Coca-Cola, about which I have warmly appreciative things to say in my own contribution to that genre, Soda Politics.  

He writes a “semi regular”column on coffee for the Wine Spectator, and this is his second book on coffee.  The first was Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World.

Here, he focuses on the Doi Chaang Coffee Company, the result of a business partnership between a Canadian coffee company and a coffee-growing hill tribe in Thailand.  This is an inspiring story of social entrepreneurship at its best. Sometimes these things work.  It’s worth reading about how this one did.

Dec 17 2015

House spending deal: food issues summarized

Thanks to Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico Pro for doing the homework on food issues covered by the omnibus spending deal just agreed to by the House.  Here’s my quick summary of her summary.

  • GMO labels: the effort to preempt local and state GMO labeling initiatives failed as a result of the efforts of 30 representatives who opposed the measure.
  • Country of origin labels repealed: the meat industry scores a win in the House vote to repeal the measure.
  • Dietary guidelines: I discussed this one in yesterday’s post.  The House wants to block their release on the grounds that they are not sufficiently scientific (translation: the meat industry doesn’t like advice to eat less meat).
  • The Clean Water Act: it survives.
  • GMO salmon: it will have to be labeled.
  • Food safety funding: up more than $132 million to $2.72 billion in discretionary funding. This is a big win for the FDA. It also proposes $1 billion for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, also above the president’s request.
  • Trans fat ban”: delayed until FDA’s formal rules go into effect in June 2018.
  • School lunch flexibility: Riders allow schools to ignore whole grain requirements and block sodium restrictions pending further research.
  • Chinese chicken out of schools: Prohibits purchasing chicken that was processed in China for school meals or other federal nutrition programs.
  • More kitchen equipment: Schools get another $30 million for school equipment grants.
  • Horse slaughter: Banned.

Caveat: this is the House deal only.  The House has to vote on the actual bill, then the Senate.  Then the two bills need to be reconciled and the President needs to sign.  Until then, everything is up for grabs.

Dec 16 2015

House Appropriations Bill Affects 2015 Dietary Guidelines

The bill just passed by the House contains this language:

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this or any other 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 U.S.C. 5341), unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services ensure that each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and each new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

(1) is based on significant scientific agreement; and

(2) is limited in scope to nutritional and dietary information.

SEC. 735.

(a) Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall engage the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a comprehensive study of the entire process used to establish the Advisory Committee for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the subsequent development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most recently revised pursuant to section 301 of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 5341). The panel of the National Academy of Medicine selected to conduct the study shall include a balanced representation of individuals with broad experiences and viewpoints regarding nutritional and dietary information.

(b) The study required by subsection (a) shall include the following:

(1) An analysis of each of the following:

(A) How the Dietary Guidelines for Americans can better prevent chronic disease, ensure nutritional sufficiency for all Americans, and accommodate a range of individual factors, including age, gender, and metabolic health.

(B) How the advisory committee selection process can be improved to provide more transparency, eliminate bias, and include committee members with a range of viewpoints.

(C) How the Nutrition Evidence Library is compiled and utilized, including whether Nutrition Evidence Library reviews and other systematic reviews and data analysis are conducted according to rigorous and objective scientific standards.

(D) How systematic reviews are conducted on longstanding Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations, including whether scientific studies are included from scientists with a range of viewpoints.

(2) Recommendations to improve the process used to establish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and to ensure the Dietary Guidelines for Americans reflect balanced sound science.

(c) There is hereby appropriated $1,000,000 to conduct the study required by subsection (a).

Comment:  I continue to be astonished that the House of Representatives would take such an intense interest in the science of nutrition when it is so uninterested in the science of climate change.  And I am puzzled as to why the House thinks that nutrition scientists appointed by the Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine) would have views any different from those of the current Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Will the USDA and HHS release the 2015 Dietary Guidelines before the Senate passes its version of the Appropriations bill?

I’m in Geneva this week and am hoping they wait until I get back.

Dec 15 2015

The AP’s investigation of slavery in the Asian shrimp processing business

I’ve been asked to comment on the Associated Press investigation of slave-like working conditions in the Asian shrimp-processing industry.  It’s an ugly story, with seemingly everyone turning a blind eye to horrendous working conditions, child labor, and forced labor in order to keep the cost of shrimp—our number one seafood import—dirt cheap.

The AP quotes Susan Coppedge, the U.S. State Department’s new anti-trafficking ambassador.  Who knew that we even had an anti-trafficking ambassador?  But here’s the 2015 Trafficking report.

Ciooedge said

problems persist because brokers, boat captains and seafood firms aren’t held accountable and victims have no recourse.

“We have told Thailand to improve their anti-trafficking efforts, to increase their prosecutions, to provide services to victims,” she said. She added that American consumers “can speak through their wallets and tell companies: ‘We don’t want to buy things made with slavery.'”

The AP points out

Thailand is not the only source of slave-tainted seafood in the U.S., where nearly 90 percent of shrimp is imported.

The State Department’s annual anti-trafficking reports have tied such seafood to 55 countries on six continents, including major suppliers to the U.S. Earlier this year, the AP uncovered a slave island in Benjina, Indonesia, where hundreds of migrant fishermen were trafficked from Thailand and sometimes locked in a cage. Last month, food giant Nestle disclosed that its own Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers and has vowed to force change.

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Dec 14 2015

This week’s five industry-funded studies. The score: 90:9

Here are another five industry-sponsored studies with results that can be used for marketing purposes (otherwise, what’s the point?).

Effects on childhood body habitus of feeding large volumes of cow or formula milk compared with breastfeeding in the latter part of infancy David Hopkins, Colin D Steer, Kate Northstone, and Pauline M Emmett.  Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:1096–103.

  • Conclusion: “The feeding of high volumes of cow milk in late infancy is associated with faster weight and height gain than is BM feeding. The feeding of bottle-fed infants with high volumes of cow milk in late infancy may have a persisting effect on body habitus through childhood.”  The authors point out “Our findings strengthen the current American Academy of Pediatrics and United Kingdom Department of Health guidelines, which stress the need to not introduce cow milk as a main drink before 12 mo of age. Parents should be advised about the appropriate volume of milk to offer their children once complementary feeding is established.”
  • Funding: The research, although specifically funded by Wyeth Nutrition, was carried out independently. DH previously received funding from Pfizer Nutrition Ltd. KN and PME have, from time to time, received research funding, and PME has received consultancy funding from Pfizer Nutrition Ltd., Plum Baby, and Danone Baby Nutrition (Nutricia Ltd.). PME currently receives research funding from Nestlé Nutrition.
  • Comment: The study finds that differences between the growth of children fed breast milk or formula disappear by age two.  Infants fed cow milk grew significantly faster than both of the other groups.

Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. Liana C Del Gobbo, Michael C Falk, Robin Feldman, Kara Lewis, and Dariush Mozaffarian. Am J Clin Nutr December 2015, vol. 102 no. 6 1347-1356.

  • Conclusions: Tree nut intake lowers total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, ApoB, and triglycerides.
  • Funding: LCDG and DM received modest ad hoc consulting fees from the Life Sciences Research Organization (LSRO) in Bethesda, MD, to support this study. MCF, RF, and KL received payment through LSRO (<5% of gross income) to conduct a review of nuts and cardiovascular health outcomes, which was funded through a contract with the International Tree Nut Council (ITNC).

Safety and efficacy of cocoa flavanol intake in healthy adults: a randomized, controlled, double-masked trial Javier I Ottaviani, Marion Balz, Jennifer Kimball, Jodi L Ensunsa, Reedmond Fong, Tony Y Momma, Catherine Kwik-Uribe, Hagen Schroeter, and Carl L Keen. Am J Clin Nutr December 2015, vol. 102 no. 6 1425-1435

  • Conclusion: The consumption of CFs [cocoa flavanols] in amounts up to 2000 mg/d for 12 wk was well tolerated in healthy men and women.
  • Funding: Supported in part by an unrestricted gift from Mars Inc. The company also provided the food-grade, standardized test materials and authentic analytical standards as gifts…. JIO, MB, CK-U, and HS are employed by Mars Inc., a company with long-term research and commercial interests in flavanols and procyanidins. CLK has received an unrestricted research grant from Mars Inc. and is the current holder of the Mars Chair in Developmental Nutrition. In addition, CLK has consulted for other food companies and government agencies with an interest in health and nutrition, as well as in phytonutrients, including flavanols and procyanidins.

Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Roger D Gibb,*, Johnson W McRorie Jr., Darrell A Russell, Vic Hasselblad, and David A D’Alessio. Am J Clin Nutr December 2015 , vol. 102 no. 6 1604-1614.

  • Conclusion: These data indicate that psyllium would be an effective addition to a lifestyle-intervention program.
  • Funding: RDG, JWM, and DAR are full-time employees of P&G, which markets a psyllium product. DAD has received an unrestricted research grant from P&G. VH has received research funding from P&G.

Fresh Pear Consumption is Associated with Better Nutrient Intake, Diet Quality, and Weight Parameters in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010.  O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL (2015) J Nutr Food Sci 5: 377. doi:10.4172/2155-9600.1000377

  • Conclusion:  Compared to non-consumers [of pears], consumers were 35% less likely to be obese (p<0.05). Fresh pears should be encouraged as a component of an overall healthy diet.
  • Funding: Partial support was received from the United States Department of Agriculture/ Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS)…Partial support was also received from Pears Bureau Northwest.
  • Comment: I’m guessing the same result could be obtained by looking at consumption of any other fruit.  And to prove my point that this is about marketing, here’s the press release.
Dec 11 2015

Holiday reading: Savoring Gotham

Andrew F. Smith, ed.  Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Oxford’s latest food encyclopedia celebrates the food of New York in 570 entries written by 180 foodies.    Full disclosure: two entries are mine—menu labeling and soda “ban.”  And I also turn up as an entry in the biography section (thanks Judith Weinraub).

The entries cover everything that Andy Smith and his team could think of,  in alphabetical order from A&P to Zeppole (following Zagat).  The entries cover specific foods and beverages, of course, but also history, politics, biography, museums, restaurants, retailers, publishing, media, holidays, neighborhoods, organizations, and bars.

As you might expect from anything edited by Andy Smith, the entries are written well and easy to read.  It’s lavishly illustrated and fun to browse.  A small sample from the “C’s” to illustrate the range: Cosmopolitan, Cotton Club, Cream Cheese, Cries of New York, Cronut, Cuban.

Something for everyone.  And it’s in paperback and affordable.

Dec 10 2015

Food Navigator-USA Special Edition: Time for Tea

I like the way FoodNavigator-USA collects its recent articles on single topics in one place.  This particular FoodNavigator-USA Special Edition explored the specialty tea business: green tea, innovative formats (e.g., tablets, pods, ready to drink, premium bags), and marketing strategies.

Given the new tea shops appearing one after the other in my neighborhood, the tea business must be booming.

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Dec 9 2015

Arsenic in rice: another food safety worry?

I am often asked about the potential dangers of arsenic in rice.  As with all such questions, I start with the FDA.

The FDA says the amounts of arsenic it finds in foods do not pose a risk at current levels of consumption.  Brown rice, it finds, has levels of arsenic much higher than those in white rice.

Consumer Reports also tested rice samples.  It recommends against feeding rice cereals to children.  It calls on the FDA to set standards for arsenic levels in rice products.  These, according to the tests, vary widely.  Basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan and U.S.-grown sushi rice are “better choices.”  Just one serving of rice cereal or rice pasta could put a child over CR’s recommended weekly limit

On this basis, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation— The R.I.C.E (Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure) Act— to limit the amount of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of arsenic in rice foods.  The act would require the FDA to set limits on arsenic in rice.

Politico reported that the US Rice Federation questioned the science behind the Consumer Reports story:

Arsenic in our food supply is a challenging, yet unavoidable, situation which is why we support the FDA studying the issue carefully,” said Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation.  “But CR’s new consumption recommendations aren’t supported by any science that we’ve seen.”

How does arsenic get into rice?  Lots of ways, apparently: naturally occurring, but also from arsenic pesticides that persist in soil.  The flooding makes rice especially susceptible.

What to do while waiting for a resolution to safety questions?  Prepare rice in a coffee percolator says a recent study.  This flushes out a lot of the arsenic.

And everything in moderation, of course.

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