by Marion Nestle

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Jul 4 2016

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy eating:

And happy thinking.  Check out Senator Elizabeth Warren’s speech on industry consolidation and concentration, including what is happening in the food industry.

Competition in America is essential to liberty in America, but the markets that have given us so much will become corrupt and die if we do not keep the spirit of competition strong. America is a country where everyone should have a fighting chance to succeed—and that happens only when we demand it.

Here’s one idea:

The Agriculture Department has a role to play in making sure that poultry farmers and produce growers aren’t held hostage to the whims of giant firms.

Jun 1 2016

FDA: What is happening with front-of-package labels?

The FDA issued its final rules for the Nutrition Facts panels, but now I want to know: What ever happened to its front-of-package (FOP) initiatives?

The New York Times editorial on the new food label raised this very question.

But the labels, which most food companies will have to use by July 2018, still have serious limitations. They require busy shoppers to absorb a lot of facts, not all of which are equally important, and then do the math themselves while standing in the grocery aisle. And the labels are on the back of the package, where only the most motivated shoppers will look.

The editorial refers to the FDA’s front-of-package initiatives early in the Obama administration.  These involved two reports from the Institute of Medicine.  The first, released in 2010, examined about 20 existing front-of-package schemes cluttering up the labels of processed foods and evaluated their strengths and weaknesses.  It recommended that FOP labels deal only with calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.  My question at the time: why not sugars?  The committee’s answer: calories took care of it.

But the IOM’s second report in 2011 included sugars and recommended a point system for evaluating the amounts of it and those nutrients in processed foods.  Packages would get zero stars if their saturated and trans fat, sodium, or sugars exceeded certain cut points.

The Times editorial explained what happened next:

the Grocery Manufacturers Association [GMA] called the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation “untested” and “interpretive.” Along with the Food Marketing Institute, it developed its own front-of-package labeling system, which includes some useful information, but is more complex and less helpful than the institute’s version.

As I stated at the time, the FDA let the GMA get away with this and has said not one more word about front-of-package labels.

According to the Times, the FDA is still studying the matter.

it’s not clear when or if the agency will require front-of-package labels. The food industry, of course, wants to make its products appear as healthy as possible. The F.D.A. would serve consumers best by taking the Institute of Medicine’s good advice and putting clear and concise nutrition labels right where most shoppers will see them.

It certainly would.  It’s time to take those IOM reports out of the drawer and get busy writing rules for them.

Apr 22 2016

Weekend reading: Jennifer Clapp’s FOOD, 2nd ed.

Jennifer Clapp.  Food, 2nd ed.  Polity, 2016.

I did a blurb for the first edition of this book, and also for this second edition:

The global food economy may seem remote from daily experience, but Jennifer Clapp explains how it affects every aspect of what we eat and, therefore, our health and welfare.  From the standpoint of globalization, food is no longer merely a source of nourishment or a mark of culture but a fungible commodity in the global food economy.  Food unpacks and clarifies the mind-numbing complexities of today’s global food marketplace, international trade, transnational corporations, and financial markets.  It provides the information and tools advocates can use to redesign the global food economy to promote fair trade, food justice, and food sovereignty.

Apr 20 2016

Federal Appropriations and the FDA

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee passed the 2017 Agriculture-FDA spending bill.

As Politico explains (behind a paywall, unfortunately)

The bill would boost funding for rural development to $2.9 billion and allocate an additional $33 million over fiscal 2016 levels for the FDA to carry out the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

This isn’t nearly enough to permit FDA to carry out its functions.

The committee also passed amendments to:

  • Block the USDA from carrying out rules to protect chicken farmers with contracts with processing companies (they own the birds).
  • Exempt e-cigarettes from FDA regulations that restrict e-cigarettes advertising.

Can someone please explain to me why agricultural appropriations committees have jurisdiction over FDA and FDA spending is linked to agriculture spending?  OK, this is an historical anomaly; the FDA used to be part of USDA, but that was nearly a century ago.

Today’s FDA is part of the public health service, along with the CDC.

Shouldn’t health committees decide how much funding should go to FDA’s mandate to protect public health?

Just asking.

Apr 19 2016

A rare industry-funded study with unhappy results for the Honey Board funder

The USDA has just done a write up on a study it funded in collaboration with the National Honey Board:  Consumption of Honey, Sucrose, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup Produces Similar Metabolic Effects in Glucose-Tolerant and -Intolerant Individuals.

This was one of the 12 industry-negative studies I posted to my collection of 168 industry-funded studies from March 2015 to March 2016.

 

The USDA article explains:

Controversy exists over whether all sweeteners produce the same metabolic effects in consumers despite the sweeteners’ chemical similarities. A study conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers indicates that consuming lower amounts of added sugars is a more effective approach to health than finding a sugar that is more neutral in terms of its health effects…Volunteers [consuming honey, white cane sugar, or HFCS] did not show any differences in blood sugar levels based on the dietary sugar source. In addition, blood levels of triglyceride, an indicator of blood fat concentrations (a marker for heart disease risk), increased in response to all three sugars tested.

White cane sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, linked together (but quickly separated in the body).  Honey and High Fructose Corn Syrup are glucose and fructose, already separated, but with slightly higher percentages of fructose.  Biochemically, they are not all that different.

So the results of this study, disappointing as they may have been to the Honey Board, were predictable on the basis of basic sugar biochemistry.

 

Mar 22 2016

GMO labeling: it’s happening!

When the Senate last week failed to pass a bill that would block individual states from passing laws requiring GMO labeling, it meant that Vermont’s labeling law would go into effect July 1.  Vermont passed its bill in 2014.

 

Capture

Too bad for the Grocery Manufacturers Association and its food and biotech company members who spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting labeling requirements.

Food companies now have a big problem.  If they want to sell products in Vermont, they must comply with GMO labeling.  Also, if other states pass slightly different laws, they will have to do labels state by state—a compliance nightmare.

Hence their attempt to get Congress to preempt Vermont’s law.  That ploy failed.

The result: one huge food company after another says it will voluntarily institute GMO labeling to comply with Vermont’s requirements.

As quoted by Reuters, General Mills says:

We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers, and we simply won’t do that,” Jeff Harmening, head of General Mills’ US retail operations said in a post on the company’s blog. “The result: Consumers all over the country will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills food products.”

Politico Morning Agriculture explains:

To be sure, General Mills is labeling as a practical business decision, not to change the policy discussion. The first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law is set to take effect in Vermont on July 1. As of that date, food makers face fines of $1,000 per day for every product type found on grocery store shelves in the state that’s not properly marked.

In the meantime, the Non-GMO Project, which certifies products as GMO-free, has put its seal on tens of thousands of products.

The reality: the public wants GMO foods to be labeled.

This should come as no surprise.  Public surveys since the late 1980s have come to the same conclusion.

Q: Why aren’t GMO foods labeled as such?

A.  Industry lobbying and an FDA too weak to stand up to it (see my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

The GMO and grocery industries brought this situation on themselves by so strongly opposing labeling in 1994.  Believe me, they were warned (I witnessed all this as a member of the FDA Food Advisory Committee at the time).

Unless the industry can find another way to stop it, foods will be GMO labeled this year.

My prediction: the world will not come to an end.

Feb 10 2016

The American Society for Nutrition appoints Advisory Committee on Trust in Nutrition Science

I am a long-standing member of the American Society of Nutrition (ASN), and have been troubled for years by its cozy financial relationships with food companies (see, for example, this post from 2009 and the response from ASN).

ASN’s members are nutrition researchers.  The Society publishes the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Journal of Nutrition, and Advances in Nutrition, sources of many of the industry-funded research articles I post regularly on this site.

ASN’s financial ties to food companies were the subject of an investigative report by Michele Simon last year: “Nutrition Scientists on the Take from Big Food: Has the American Society for Nutrition Lost All Credibility?

I am delighted to report that the ASN has now responded to these concerns, and in an especially constructive way.

The Society has just announced appointment of an Advisory Committee on Trust in Nutrition Science.

The Advisory Committee is charged with identifying best practices to allow effective collaborations while ensuring that ASN’s activities are transparent, advance research, and maintain scientific rigor; engendering trust among all nutrition science stakeholders…“Maintaining trust among all constituencies and stakeholders is paramount in ensuring that ASN and its membership are effective in carrying out ASN’s mission, to develop and extend the knowledge of nutrition through fundamental, multidisciplinary, and clinical research.” said ASN President Dr. Patrick Stover.

I’m even more delighted by the membership of this truly distinguished committee.  Whatever this group decides ought to carry a lot of weight.

Here’s the committee:

  • Cutberto Garza, MD, PhD, University Professor, Boston College, (Chair)
  • Vinita Bali, Chair, Board of Directors, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition
  • Catherine Bertini, Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs, Syracuse University
  • Eric Campbell, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Edward Cooney, JD, Former Executive Director, Congressional Hunger Center
  • Michael McGinnis, MD, Executive Officer, National Academy of Medicine
  • Sylvia Rowe, President, SR Strategy, LLC
  • Robert Steinbrook, MD, Professor Adjunct, Internal Medicine, Yale School of Medicine
  • Carol Tucker-Foreman, Distinguished Fellow, Consumer Federation of America Food Policy Institute
  • Catherine Woteki, PhD, Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, US Department of Agriculture
  • Patrick Stover, PhD, President, American Society for Nutrition (ex-officio member)
  • John Courtney, PhD, Executive Officer, American Society for Nutrition (ex-officio member)

The group is expected to complete its work within a year.  I eagerly await its report.

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.
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