Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 3 2016

Where are we on GMO politics: an update

State GMO labeling bills: While Congress dithers, states are getting busy.  The Sunlight Foundation’s SCOUT database on state GMO legislative initiatives is searchable.  Examples:

Detente between producers of GMO and labeling advocates: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack held a meeting to attempt to forge some kind of accord between producers of GMO foods and advocates for GMO labels.  By all reports, it didn’t work.  Earlier, Vilsack tried to negotiate detente between GMO producers and producers of organic foods.  That didn’t work either.

GMO Salmon: The FDA says it will not allow imports of GMO salmon.  Since GMO salmon are produced in Canada and Panama, this action in effect bans GMO salmon from the US food supply.  The FDA is working on labeling guidelines and probably wants them out before allowing imports.

Monsanto’s conversation:  Monsanto’s interactive website invites you to be part of the conversation.  Aything you like.  Someone from Monsanto will respond.  This site is clearly keeping Monsanto’s PR staff on its toes. Here is just one example:

Feb 2 2016

Food-Navigator’s Special Edition: Food for kids!

I greatly enjoy Food-Navigator’s collections of articles on specific topics.  Here’s one on marketing foods to kids.

While there is some evidence that the tide may now be turning on childhood obesity, 8.4% of US 2-5 year-olds; 17.7% of 6-11 year-olds and 20.5% of 12-19-year-olds are still obese, and many are lacking in essential nutrients from potassium, dietary fiber and calcium, to vitamin D. So how can the food industry respond to these concerns and develop more nutritious, but appealing snacks, meals and beverages for kids?

Addition, February 3: A reader reminds me that Food-Navigator published a guide to creating successful children’s brands a couple of months ago.

Feb 1 2016

A food politics souvenir of Auckland

On my way to Australia, I stopped in Auckland.

The Auckland train station is clean and beautiful—and a perfect site for advertising Coca-Cola.IMG_20160118_1439519

A short ferry ride lands you in vineyards.

IMG_20160117_1240520

Food thoughts to ponder early on a Monday morning in Sydney (Sunday afternoon in New York).

Jan 30 2016

Weekend Reading: From Farm to Canal Street

Valerie Inbruce.  From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace.  Cornell University Press, 2015.

I live in downtown Manhattan, love to wander through the open-air food markets in Chinatown, and have always wondered how the extraordinarily fresh and exotic vegetables and fruits get there.  Who grows them, and where?

The answers: supply chains based on family connections (of course), in Florida, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Inbruce views the supply chains as an alternative to industrial food systems, one that provides vegetables of outstanding quality at low cost, while supporting small farmers.

Instructors of courses in food systems: this book belongs in your syllabus.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in who produces food for urban areas and how it gets into cities.

 

Jan 29 2016

What does “natural” mean? One more time.

I’ve written repeatedly about the problem of “natural” on food labels, but the issue just doesn’t go away.  It won’t, until the FDA decides to rule on what it means.

Now Consumer Reports has done a survey of public understanding of the term.

The survey reveals that 62% of respondents want foods to be “natural.”   When they see the claim on a food package, they believe it has been verified independently.  Oops.

They also believe that “natural” means no artificial ingredients (correct, according to the FDA’s non-definition) or GMOs (incorrect).  The survey confirms the idea that many people think “natural” is the same as “organic,” which it is not.

Consumers, says Consumer Reports, are naturally confused.  And why wouldn’t we be, given the products labeled as “natural” (see the examples collected by Consumer Reports).

The FDA is currently collecting its own comments on this issue.  You can weigh in until May 15.  Please do. 

Jan 27 2016

Two industry-funded studies with results that must have disappointed sponsors. The score: 105/11

Sharp-eyed readers have sent in two studies sponsored by food companies with results that will be difficult to use for marketing.  This brings the score since mid-March to 105 sponsored studies useful in marketing to 11 that are not.

Effects of Pomegranate Extract Supplementation on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Physical Function in Hemodialysis Patients. Wu Pei-Tzu, Fitschen Peter J., Kistler Brandon M., Jeong Jin Hee, Chung Hae Ryong, Aviram Michael, Phillips Shane A., Fernhall Bo, and Wilund Kenneth R.. Journal of Medicinal Food. September 2015, 18(9): 941-949. doi:10.1089/jmf.2014.0103.

  • Conclusions: Systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure were reduced by 24±13.7 and 10±5.3 mmHg, respectively, in POM (P<.05). However, the BP differences in POM were no longer significant after controlling for baseline BP…However, pomegranate supplementation had no effect on other markers of cardiovascular disease risk, inflammation and oxidative stress, or measures of physical function and muscle strength. While pomegranate extract supplementation may reduce BP and increase the antioxidant activity in HD patients, it does not improve other markers of cardiovascular risk, physical function, or muscle strength.
  • Funding: This work was supported by the POM Wonderful, LLC.

The association between dietary saturated fatty acids and ischemic heart disease depends on the type and source of fatty acid in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Netherlands cohort.  Jaike Praagman, Joline WJ Beulens, Marjan Alssema, Peter L Zock, Anne J Wanders, Ivonne Sluijs, and Yvonne T van der Schouw.  Am J Clin Nutr. First published ahead of print January 20, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122671

  • Conclusions: In this Dutch population, higher SFA intake was not associated with higher IHD risks. The lower IHD risk observed did not depend on the substituting macronutrient…Residual confounding by cholesterol-lowering therapy and trans fat or limited variation in SFA and PUFA intake may explain our findings.
  • Authors’ disclosures: JP is financially supported by a restricted research grant from Unilever Research and Development, Vlaardingen, Netherlands. MA, AJW, and PLZ are employees of Unilever Research and Development. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest related to this study.
  • Comment: Unilever sells low-saturated fat/high-polyunsaturated fat margarines (e.g., Flora, Becel) for reducing coronary risk.  If higher saturated fat intake does not increase heart disease risk (perhaps because the study subjects were on statins), these products are unnecessary.
Jan 26 2016

Celebration food, Australia Day style

Here in Australia, yesterday was Australia Day (somewhat equivalent to the American Fourth of July) although many prefer to call it Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning and to make it an occasion for protest.  Hence: the fuss over the what Google Australia posted as the day’s Google Doodle.

Newcomer that I am, I celebrated with some Glebe Street gelato:IMG_20160126_1952109

Can’t read the sign?

“Celebrate Australia Day with Vegemite Gelato on toast!”

Yum.

Jan 25 2016

Milk marketing, Australian style

I’m in residence at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney for a bit and am getting the chance to learn the Australian version of food politics.

I like milk with my coffee.  Here’s all they had at a local corner store.

 

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The banner on the label says that it “NATURALLY contains A2 protein.*”

A2 protein?  What’s that?

The label, alas, is not much help.

*Dairy Farmers milk naturally contains A2 protein as well as A1 protein.  Of those proteins, our tests to date confirm that 50-7-% is A2.

So?  Should we care?  YES, according to the A2 Milk Company:

The two main types of milk proteins are the casein and the whey proteins. These make up to 80% and 20% of the protein content of cows’ milk respectively. Other proteins present at low levels in milk include antibodies and iron carrying proteins.

Beta-casein makes up about one third of the total protein content in milk. All cows make beta-casein but it is the type of beta-casein that matters. There are two types of beta-casein: A1 and A2. They differ by only one amino acid. Such small differences in the amino acid composition of proteins can result in the different protein forms having different properties.

According to a press account,

For nearly 20 years, there have been claims that the A2 beta-casein protein is easier to digest than A1, but it’s been dismissed as unscientific.  This pilot study at Curtin University…found subjects on an A2 milk diet reported less bloating abdominal pain, and firmer stools, by staying off A1 beta-casein.

But this milk contains both A1 and A2 proteins.

In any case, guess who funded this research!

Comparative effects of A1 versus A2 beta-casein on gastrointestinal measures: a blinded randomised cross-over pilot study.  Ho S, Woodford K, Kukuljan S, Pal S.  Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;68(9):994-1000. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.127. Epub 2014 Jul 2.

  • Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest differences in gastrointestinal responses in some adult humans consuming milk containing beta-casein of either the A1 or the A2 beta-casein type, but require confirmation in a larger study of participants with perceived intolerance to ordinary A1 beta-casein-containing milk.
  • Funding: This study was supported by a grant from A2 Dairy Products Australia, who also supplied the milk.  A2 Dairy Products Australia had no role in the data analysis of this study.

The label has more to say:

Of course, it’s made here in New South Wales and it’s Permeate Free—so it’s less processed and simply delicious.

Permeate Free?   What’s that?  A local website explains:

Permeate is simply a collective term for the natural lactose, vitamin and mineral components which are separated from fresh milk by a process called ultrafiltration. Because milk is a natural food (and tastes different from cow to cow) filtering the permeate out (before putting it back in) allows processors to regulate their milk so they can control the taste, protein and fat content.

Apparently, Australian labeling authorities allow this process to qualify as “natural?”

The label lists these ingredients: Skim milk, milk, milk solids [the source of the extra A2 proteins and the Permeate?].

Next time, I’ll look for a product with precisely one ingredient: milk.

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