Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Oct 13 2014

Rules for calorie labeling on restaurant menus: where are they?

Remember menu labels?  We’ve had them in New York City since 2008.

In 2010, President signed national menu labeling into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.  The FDA proposed rules for labels in 2011, collected comments on the proposed rules, missed the July 3, 2014 deadline for issuing them, and by all reports sent them to the White House Office of Management and Budget last April.

What is the holdup?  Lobbying of course.

  • The delay on releasing the final rules is widely reported to be due to lobbying efforts by industry groups.  Known to have visited the White House and FDA officials are, among others, the Food Marketing Institute, Publix Super Market, Schnuck Markets, Kroger, Dominos Pizza, the Pizza Hut Franchise Association and Hungry Howies.
  • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the National Grocers Association (NGA) and Food Industry Association Executives (FIAE) held a lobbying “fly-in” to prevent FDA’s final menu labeling rule for calorie disclosures being extended to grocery stores.
  • A bill backed by the supermarket industry is the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 1249/S. 1756) which would require menu labeling only for establishments where the majority of business is derived from restaurant-type food.

As for whether menu labels do any good:

At the moment, studies of the effects of menu labeling are restricted to laboratory models or situations in New York and other cities that passed such laws within the last few years.

More definitive research must wait for the final FDA rules and their application.

How about releasing the rules soon?  They’ve been dragging on way too long.

 

 

Oct 10 2014

At last! Amy Bentley’s “Inventing Baby Food”

Amy Bentley.  Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Transformation of the American Diet.  University of California Press, 2014.

001

My esteemed colleague Amy Bentley, who came to NYU to so competently kick-start our programs in Food Studies, has produced her long-awaited study of the baby food industry.

My blurb for it ended up as part of the cover design:

Amy Bentley’s engaging, brilliantly researched book is a revelation.  Who knew that all those little baby food jars could tell us so much about the commercial, cultural , and personal history of food in America..  Inventing Baby Food is an instant food studies classic.

This doesn’t quite do justice to this book.  It’s wonderfully written, terrifically illustrated, and thoughtfully historical in how it grounds infant feeding practices in their past and present social context.

Here’s Amy on what this book is about:

Not all mothers feel as I do about feeding their children, and there are innumerable ways to be a nurturing parent that do not involve food.  Still, providing food is so closely connected to nurturing that even mothers who feel secure in their status but aren’t able, or don’t like, to prepare food probably feel a twinge of guilt over it.  As the following chapters demonstrate, the practice and advice changes over the years; the science becomes more refined and findings shift; and corporate capitalism continually explores and shapes the material culture of infant feeding, uncovering and instilling in parents previously unknown desires and needs.  Yet the connection among feeding nurturing, and being a “good mother” remains constant.

Enjoy!  I did.

Oct 8 2014

Some thoughts on military might: obesity, candy, and the USDA’s arms race

Mission: Readiness versus obesity

As I noted in an earlier post, Mission: Readiness, an organization of former high-ranking military officials concerned about obesity and other health problems in military recruits and personnel, has issued a hard-hitting defense of USDA’s school nutrition standards.

New Picture (1)

But the military loves giving candy to kids

Dr. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, who is engaged in international programs to reduce sugar-induced tooth decay among children, sends the results of her Google search for “US Military give children candy.”

Halloween candy buy back: To prevent tooth decay in US children, this program is having us send our candy to servicemen. Do they eat it themselves, or do they give it to local children where they serve?

A historical perspective on generations of military candy practices

US troops endanger Afghan children by giving them with candy

Images for US soldiers giving children candy

Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez notes that it’s not just the military that give children in developing countries candy—it’s also tourists and aid workers in developing countries and refugee camps.

She understands why it feels good to do this, but points out that the children might not have toothbrushes or dental treatment.  Candy, she emphasizes, contributes to severe tooth decay, mouth pain, malnutrition, problems in school, etc.

Why is the USDA Buying Submachine Guns?

Another reader, Kris Gilbertson, asks this question based on an article in Modern Farmer.

According to a USDA press rep, the guns are necessary for self-protection.

“OIG [USDA's Office of the Inspector General] Special Agents regularly conduct undercover operations and surveillance. The types of investigations conducted by OIG Special Agents include criminal activities such as fraud in farm programs; significant thefts of Government property or funds; bribery and extortion; smuggling; and assaults and threats of violence against USDA employees engaged in their official duties,” wrote a USDA spokesperson.

One can only resort to cliche: food for thought.

Oct 7 2014

Start baking: In Search of the Perfect Loaf

Samuel Fromartz, In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey.  Viking, 2014.

 

Fromartz is a journalist, blogger (chewswise.com), and editor in chief of The Food and Environment Reporting Network.

I happily blurbed this one:

Fromartz is a passionate, deeply serious home baker who writes eloquently and gracefully about what it takes in skill and ingredients to produce a delicious baguette or country loaf.  His account of the history and comeback of heritage wheat grains is a revelation that will send even the most gluten-phobic reader to search for breads made from them.  Perfect Loaf is a lovely book–a perfect read for anyone who cares about good food.

Oct 6 2014

Mexico’s front-of-package food label: Eat more sugar!

Mexico has a new scheme for front-of-package labeling.

Take, for example, this label for Coca-Cola’s “green” Life drink, sweetened with sugar and Stevia.

New Picture (5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The label says:

Sugars

9 g

10%**

The asterisks take you to this explanation:

**Of the daily nutrients recommended based on a diet of 2000 calories

Huh?  Since when is sugar intake recommended?  Since when does 9 grams equal 10% of a recommended amount?

How is it possible that Mexico set a daily standard intake (equivalent to our Daily Value) of 90 grams (!)—nearly twice as much as the amount recommended as an upper limit by the World Health Organization  and many other international health authorities?

The answer: food politics, of course.

Most international health agencies recommend an upper limit for added sugars of 10% of calories (50 grams for a 2000-calorie diet).  They consider 5% (25 grams) even better for health and especially for dental health.

The Mexican label covers total sugars.  This hides the copious amounts added by food companies.  All of the sugar in Coca-Cola Life is added.

How did this happen?  From what I’ve heard,

  • Mexican public health authorities were not consulted about this standard.
  • Although public health scientists filed well-documented objections, these were ignored.
  • Critics are now under a gag order.  If they work for the government, they are not allowed to criticize the sugar label.

Officials of the Ministry of Health and the Mexican equivalent of the FDA have close ties to food companies.  They produced this label in collaboration with the food industry, with no input from independent public health experts.

For a country that leads the world in obesity prevention policies, this label is a huge embarrassment.  It should be fixed, immediately.

Ecuador, on the other hand, is using this front-of-package label.  Wouldn’t it be helpful if everyone did?

New Picture (6)

Oct 3 2014

Where to find Coca-Cola Life in Mexico? In the produce section, of course.

I’m in Mexico City and María Verónica Flores Bello, who teaches at a university here, gave me this photo taken at a Selecto supermarket.  It, she says, is Coca-Cola’s “brand new green Coca Cola, sweetened with stevia and sugar, as healthy and fresh as eating vegetables….”la foto

Here’s the label:

coca cola life

Soon to a supermarket near you?  Only if Mexicans buy it.

I’ll explain what these labels mean on Monday,

Happy weekend.

Oct 1 2014

Time Magazine Editorial: Soda Industry Promises

I was asked by Time Magazine to write a comment on the soda industry’s recent promises.  It was posted yesterday.

The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

Agreeing to decrease soda consumption by 20 percent is easy to do when demand is already falling rapidly

–Marion Nestle, September 30, 2014

The recent pledge by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to reduce calories that Americans consumd from their products by 20 percent by 2025 elicited torrents of praise from the Global Clinton Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the national press.The real news: soda companies are at last admitting their role in obesity.Nevertheless, the announcement caused many of us in the public health advocacy community to roll our eyes. Once again, soda companies are making promises that are likely to be fulfilled anyway, whether the companies take any action or not.

Americans have gotten the word. Sodas in anything but small amounts are not good for health.

Although Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association have funded studies that invariably find sodas innocent of health effects, the vast preponderance of research sponsored by the government or foundations clearly demonstrates otherwise.

Think of sodas as candy in liquid form. They contain astonishing amounts of sugars. A 12-ounce soda contains 10 (!) teaspoons of sugar and provides about 150 calories.

It should surprise no one that adults and children who habitually consume sugary drinks are far more likely to take in fewer nutrients, to weigh more, and to exhibit metabolic abnormalities compared to those who abstain or drink only small amounts.

And, contrary to expectation, diet sodas don’t seem to help. A widely publicized recent study suggests that artificially sweetened drinks affect intestinal bacteria in ways, as yet undetermined, that lead to metabolic abnormalities–glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This research is largely animal-based, preliminary, and requires confirmation. But one thing about diet drinks is clear: they do not do much good in preventing obesity.

People who drink diet sodas tend to be more obese than those who do not. The use of artificial sweeteners in the United States has gone up precisely in parallel with the rise in prevalence of obesity. Is this a cause or an effect? We don’t know yet.

While scientists are trying to sort all this out, large segments of the public have gotten the message: stay away from sodas of any kind.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. per capita consumption of soft drinks has dropped by about 20 percent. If current trends continue, the soda industry should have no trouble meeting its promise of another 20 percent reduction by 2025.

Americans want healthier drinks and are switching to bottled water, sports drinks, and vitamin-fortified drinks—although not nearly at replacement levels. The soda industry has to find ways to sell more products. It also has to find ways to head off regulation. Hence: the promises.

To deal with sales shortfalls, the leading soft-drink brands, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have expanded their marketing overseas. They have committed to invest billions to make and promote their products in Latin America as well as in the hugely populated countries of Asia and Africa where soda consumption is still very low.

From a public health standpoint, people everywhere would be healthier—perhaps a lot healthier—drinking less soda.

In California, the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley have placed soda tax initiatives on the November ballot. The American Beverage Association, the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and the like, is funding anti-tax campaigns that involve not only television advertising and home mailings, but also creation of ostensibly grassroots (“astroturf”) community organizations, petition campaigns, and, when all else fails, lawsuits to make sure the initiative fails. These efforts are carbon copies of the tactics used to defeat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s portion size cap proposal.

If the soda industry really wants to help prevent obesity, it needs to change its current practices. It should stop fighting tax and size initiatives, stop opposing warning labels on sugary drinks, stop lobbying against restrictions on sodas in schools, stop using sports and music celebrities to sell products to children, stop targeting marketing to African-American and Hispanic young people, and stop funding research studies designed to give sodas a clean bill of health.

And it should stop complaining, as PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi didlast week, that nobody is giving the industry credit for all the good it is doing.

If the government really were serious about obesity prevention, it could ban vending machines from schools, set limits on the size of soft drinks sold at school events, define the amount of sugars allowable in foods and beverages, and, most of all, stop soda marketing aimed at children of any age.

Because neither the soda industry nor the government is likely to do any of this, public health advocates still have plenty of work to do.

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. She is currently working on a book titled Soda! From Food Advocacy to Public Health.

Sep 30 2014

What do you think? Is the “Revolving Door” useful or conflicted?

My post about the “Revolving Door” elicited a thoughtful response from Jerry Hagstrom, Founder and Executive Editor of the immensely useful Hagstrom Report, to which I subscribe.

He writes: “You seem critical of the “revolving door” but I would ask the following:

  • What would you have these people do for employment when they leave government? If they are political appointees,  they can’t stay forever.
  • Shouldn’t they use their knowledge? Should they be expected to move into an entirely different field? Wouldn’t it be a shame for the professional world of food and agriculture to lose their expertise?
  • What about academics who take government jobs and then go back to academia? Don’t they learn how to get research grants? But their knowledge of how government works is considered valuable to universities and to students.
  • Do you see any problem with someone being in government and then going to work for a nongovernmental organization or a foundation or coming from an NGO or a foundation into government? That happens too and those institutions have agendas.

As a reporter I view all these people with a combination of faith and skepticism whether they are in government or out.

Good questions, with no easy answers.

Open Secrets provides many examples of government officials who become lobbyists for the industries they used to regulate.

Conflicts of interest are likely to be even greater for those who revolve the other way—from industry to government–and especially when former industry executives move to high-level positions in regulatory agencies.

If nothing else, I see the revolving door as giving the appearance of conflict of interest.

Readers: What do you think?  How would you respond to Jerry Hagstrom’s questions?

 

 

 

Page 2 of 28012345...Last »