by Marion Nestle

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Oct 31 2014

Happy Halloween, maybe

The Union of Concerned Sciences has produced this infographic in celebration of Halloween.

Screenshot 2014-10-28 14.57.09

It’s not Halloween parents should be worrying about.  It’s every day!

The UCS graphic is based on data from 2010-2011.  The 2011-2012 data are just in and show some improvement.  Teenage boys merely consume an average of 152 grams of sugars a day, down a bit from a year ago.

Men, overall, consume 135 grams on average, and women consume 106 grams.  The average is 120 grams.

This works out to about 20% of total calories, at least twice the amount recommended.


Sep 16 2014

Trade negotiations continued: the meaning of “culturally appropriate food”

While I’m thinking about trade negotiations, I came across this example of why trade negotiators fight over every word.

NPR’s The Salt reports that member nations of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are in the process of developing guidelines for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems.

Responsible investment, they say,

is essential for enhancing food security and nutrition and supporting the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. Responsible investment is a significant contribution to enhancing sustainable livelihoods, in particular for smallholders, and members of marginalized and vulnerable groups, creating decent work for all agricultural and food workers eradicating poverty, fostering social and gender equality, eliminating the worst forms of child labour, promoting social participation and inclusiveness, increasing economic growth, and therefore achieving sustainable development.

The guidelines are responding to concerns over “land grabs” — the term used to describe how corporations and governments are taking advantage of unclear land ownership in developing countries to buy up large tracts, regardless of consequences for previous users of the land.

Land grabs displace small farmers and have become the focus of advocacy by Oxfam.

In contrast, says FAO, responsible investment contributes to food security and nutrition through:

Increasing sustainable production and productivity of safe, nutritious, diverse, and culturally acceptable food and reducing food loss and waste.

At issue is the meaning of “culturally acceptable.”

The US delegation demanded a definition, objecting that the lack of one could lead to trade barriers against, for example, genetically modified foods.

It suggested this:

For the purposes of this document, consumers, through the free exercise of their choices and demand, determine what food is culturally acceptable.

In other words, says The Salt, “as long as somebody wants to buy it, it’s fine.”

The African delegations forged a compromise.

In the current version of the document, “culturally appropriate food” enables

consumer choice by promoting the availability of and access to food that is safe, nutritious, diverse and culturally acceptable, which in the context of this document is understood as food that corresponds to individual and collective consumer demand and preferences, in line with national and international law as applicable.

Aren’t you glad they got that settled?

Aug 31 2014

Happy Labor Day Weekend: Eat!

It’s the end of summer and time to contemplate, if not visit, State Fairs selling increasingly imaginative deep-fried treats.  Apparently, deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried butter are so last year.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that the Great New York State Fair—in Syracuse, right now—has a better one: “Twinks.”

And what, pray tell, is a Twink?

The recipe:

  • Take one Twinkie.
  • Stuff with a Twix candy bar
  • Wrap in bacon.
  • Dip in batter.
  • Deep-fry.
  • Sprinkle with sugar.

The damage?  Just south of 1,000 calories.

And from Montana, Daniel Schultz sends this photo of the latest grocery store deal.  If you buy a soda cake (soda cake?) for $4.99, you get 2 liters of your favorite soft drink to wash it down, free.

Soda Cake

Drive carefully.

Aug 18 2014

Food Navigator on what’s happening with the nutrition label

Food Navigator—USA’s Elaine Watson just put together a special edition on the revamping of the Nutrition Facts label.  Her title: Radical overhaul or a missed opportunity?

To understand what’s happening with food labels, you can start with the FDA’s home page on its proposed revisions.  The comment period has ended.  You can read the comments that have been filed on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts panels, and those filed on the proposed changes to the standards for serving sizes.  These are fun to read; opinions, to say the least, vary.

But back to Food Navigator, which collects in various pieces on the topic in one place.  The “Radical overhaul” piece contains a summary of the major provisions.  Others in the series are also useful (I’m quoted in some of them):

Does vitamin D belong on the Nutrition Facts panel?

FDA proposals to list “added sugars” on the Nutrition Facts panel have already generated heated debate, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that its plan to include vitamin D is proving equally controversial…

Should ‘added sugars’ be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel?

A row is brewing over the merits of including ‘added sugars’ on the Nutrition Facts panel, with critics arguing that our bodies don’t distinguish between ‘naturally occurring’ and ‘added’ sugar – and neither should food labels – and supporters saying it will help consumers identify foods with more empty calories.

 Nutrition Facts overhaul is a missed opportunity for long chain omega-3s EPA and DHA, says GOED

The FDA’s overhaul of the Nutrition Facts panel misses a public health opportunity by prohibiting firms from even highlighting long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA on the panel, says GOED.

What are the biggest contributors of added sugars to the US diet?

Check out this analysis of NHANES data to see where our added sugars are coming from plus read new comments about the ‘added sugars’ labeling proposal from Ocean Spray cranberries and others.

Former FDA commissioner: Nutrition Facts overhaul doesn’t go far enough

FDA proposals to overhaul the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels don’t got far enough, says former FDA commissioner David Kessler, M.D.

Behavioral scientists: Changing serving sizes on Nutrition Facts label could have unintended consequences

FDA proposals to change the way serving sizes are calculated to better reflect real-life eating behavior could encourage some people to eat even more unless the wording is changed, says one expert group.

Until phosphorus gets on the USDA’s radar, labeling policy won’t change: NKF

While phosphorus is an essential nutrient found naturally in some foods such as egg yolk and milk, it is increasingly added to packaged foods via a raft of phosphorus additives, and some experts believe it should be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Canada’s proposed Nutrition Label changes emphasize calories, sugar

Health Canada is proposing changes to nutrition labels that would make them easier for consumers to read.

RD: There’s a health continuum for every food; what pillars do you want to stand on?

Rachel Cheatham, RD, founder of nutrition strategy consultancy FoodScape Group, talks food labeling at the IFT show.

Is your product ready for nutrition label changes?

“A 16-ounce drink and a two-ounce bag of potato chips are a single serving. If it’s bigger than that, from 200 to 400%, then you need to declare two columns of information—one for the serving size and one for the whole container.”

Proposed nutrition labels more effective than current labels: survey

Consumers find proposed labels easier to read in less time.

How much do consumers use (and understand) nutrition labels?

New research from the NPD Group is questioning how many US consumers even routinely check nutrition labels anymore.

 FDA’s proposed nutrition label changes emphasize calories, serving sizes

If approved, the new labels would place a bigger emphasis on total calories and update serving sizes, while also drawing attention to added sugars and nutrients such as Vitamin D and potassium.

CRN, NPA submit comments on FDA’s proposed changes to food, supplement labels

Both the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the Natural Products Association have submitted a comments on FDA’s proposed revisions for food and dietary supplement labels.

The FDA’s next step is to deal with the comments and issue final rules.  By when?

Eventually.  Stay tuned.

Jul 3 2014

“Foodies” unite: happy 4th of July

Mark Bittman got my attention and cheers when he wrote about rethinking the word “foodie.”

I do wish there were a stronger, less demeaning-sounding word than “foodie” for someone who cares about good food, but as seems so often the case, there is not…shifting the implications of “foodie” means shifting our culture to one in which eaters — that’s everyone — realize that buying into the current food “system” means exploiting animals, people and the environment, and making ourselves sick. To change that, we have to change not only the way we behave as individuals but the way we behave as a society. It’s rewarding to find the best pork bun; it’s even more rewarding to fight for a good food system at the same time. That’s what we foodies do.

He also  got the attention of George Lakoff, the Berkeley linguist best known to me for his work on the importance of “framing” advocacy issues—describing them in ways that resonate emotionally.

Lakoff writes:

As a linguist, I know that the “-ie” suffix is a diminutive marker. It is added to children’s names, serves a trivializing function, and otherwise indicates nonserious pursuits (Barbie, Baggie, birdie, hoodie, selfie and so on). The word “foodie” has this element of English grammar built in and cannot be rescued as a term for a serious food advocate…Preparing, cooking and enjoying food connects us to all living things, to the wonders of life, and to the very serious responsibilities of a food advocate.

Let’s hear it for the “very serious responsibilities of a food advocate.”

Foodie that I am proud to be, I do indeed take these responsibilities seriously.

You too, I hope.

Enjoy the long, hot weekend, the fireworks, and the food, of course.


Jun 26 2014

NY State Appeals Court says No to Portion Cap Rule

The New York State Court of Appeals issued a decision this morning on the Portion Cap Rule:

We hold that the New York City Board of Health, in adopting the “Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule”, exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority. By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York.

Although the decision applies to the Portion Cap Rule, it has a much larger meaning.

The ruling means the Court does not accept the idea that health departments have the right to set health policy for city residents.  I suspect we will be seeing the implications of this ruling for a long time to come.

The city health commissioner, Mary Bassett, issued a brief statement:

Today’s ruling does not change the fact that sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic, and we will continue to look for ways to stem the twin epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes by seeking to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods.

This doesn’t sound like the city will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but maybe it’s too early to say.

I will post additional comments later, as they come in.  Stay tuned.


As I just told a reporter, ”

The key issue here is whether health departments have the right to set policy to protect the health of citizens under their jurisdiction.  This court says no, but this seems precedent-setting. The medical community most definitely should support measures to improve the environment of food choice.  Changing the behavior of individuals is extremely difficult and rarely successful; it works much better to improve the environment so it’s easier for individuals to make healthier choices.

On the court decision: The vote was 4 to 2, with one abstention.   Here’s a quotation from Judge Susan Read’s dissenting opinion:

What petitioners have truly asked the courts to do is to strike down an unpopular regulation, not an illegal one…To sum up, if the People of the City or State of New York are uncomfortable with the expansive powers first bestowed by the New York State Legislature on the New York City Board of Health over 150 years ago, they have every right and ability to call on their elected representatives to effect change. This Court, however, does not…The majority fails to advance any persuasive argument why the judiciary should step into the middle of a debate over public health policy and prohibit the Board from implementing a measure designed to reduce chronic health risks associated with sugary beverages just because the Council has not chosen to act in this area.

The New York Times also quotes from this dissent:

In a blistering dissent of the opinion, Judge Susan P. Read wrote that the ruling ignored decades of precedent in which the Board of Health was given broad purview to address public health matters, such as regulating the city’s water supply and banning the use of lead paint in homes.  The opinion, Judge Read wrote, “misapprehends, mischaracterizes and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”  One justice in the majority, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, seemed to share those concerns, writing in a separate concurrence that “no one should read today’s decision too broadly.”

It’s always amusing to hear what the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief supporting the soda industry’s position, has to say:

New York City’s misguided soda ban was arbitrary, paternalistic, and profoundly inconsistent with separation-of-powers principles. The Court’s decision to strike it down vindicates fundamental constitutional values, protects consumer freedom, and encourages sound regulatory policies.

Jane Delgado of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health’s issued a statement:

 We are deeply disappointed that the court today limited the power of the NYC Board of Health to
act on behalf of the health of New Yorkers… The portion cap rule is the right policy for New York City and communities throughout the nation facing the rise of chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

May 27 2014

Olivier de Schutter finishes tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Olivier de Schutter must be finishing up his six-year term as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

His final report to the U. N. Human Rights Council

Objectives such as supplying diverse, culturally-acceptable foods to communities, supporting smallholders, sustaining soil and water resources, and raising food security within particularly vulnerable areas, must not be crowded out by the one-dimensional quest to produce more food,

In a speech to the annual summit of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Reuters reports: 

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed, he said.

De Schutter, who has held his post of special rapporteur on the right to food since 2008 and earlier headed the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In 2005, a U.N. convention on tobacco control aimed at reducing deaths and health problems caused by the product went into force after long negotiations under the umbrella of the WHO.

In a report to the rights council in 2012, de Schutter said a similar accord on food should include taxing unhealthy products, regulating food high in saturated fats, salt and sugar, and “cracking down on junk food advertising.”

That report also called for an overhaul on the system of farm subsidies “that make certain ingredients cheaper than others”, and for support for local production “so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.”

De Schutter  reports that public procurement can and should be used to ‘buy justice’ in food systems (also see press release):

“Public procurement represents a rare opportunity to support more nutritious diets and more sustainable food systems in one fell swoop,” he said, as he released his final publication as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Recalling that OECD countries spend an average of 12% of GDP on public procurement, and developing countries only slightly less, he identified five principles for using public procurement to support the realization of the right to food:

  • Source preferentially from small-scale food producers and help them to access tenders
  • Guarantee living wages and fair prices along the food supply chain
  • Set specific requirements for adequate food diets
  • Source locally whenever possible and impose sustainability requirements on suppliers; and
  • Increase participation and accountability in the food system

De Schutter has done honorable work as Special Rapporteur and his role in this position will be missed.

Apr 18 2014

CDC’s food safety report card: no happy news

The CDC has just issued its latest report on foodborne illness and food safety progress from 2006 to 2013.

It’s report has a couple of frowny faces—Campylobacter and Vibrio cases are up—and nothing else has changed.

Nothing to smile about.

Laboratory diagnoses of other foodborne microbial illnesses are also rising.

Figure: Changes in incidence of laboratory-confirmed bacterial infections, United States, 2013 compared with 2006-2008 (data are preliminary). Yersinia = 7% decrease, Vibrio = 32% increase, STEC Non-O157  = 8% increase, STEC O157 = 16% increase, Shigella = 14% decrease, Salmonella = 9% decrease, Listeria = 3% decrease, Campylobacter = 2% increase

The food industry needs to do a better job of producing safe food.

Let’s hope the new food safety rules go into effect soon and get followed.

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