by Marion Nestle

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Apr 24 2014

Vermont’s GMO labeling bill: the first domino?

Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, says he will sign Vermont’s GMO labeling bill.  The bill, (H112), which passed by a majority of 114 to 30:

  • Requires food manufacturers to label GMO products sold in Vermont starting July 1, 2016 (Meat, dairy, liquor and prepared foods sold in restaurants are exempt).
  • Will allow labels to say “partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” or “produced with genetic engineering.”
  • Says foods containing GMO ingredients cannot be marketed as “natural.”
  • Sets aside $1.5 million to pay for the inevitable lawsuits.

As always, the Grocery Manufacturers of America can be counted on to give the industry position.  H112

is critically flawed and not in the best interests of consumers.  It sets the nation on a costly and misguided path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will do nothing to advance the safety of consumer.

…The FDA, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and U.S. National Academy of Science have all found that foods and beverages that contain GM ingredients are safe and materially no different than conventionally produced products. Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic.’

Translation: if GMO’s are safe, they are OK.  Never mind all the other reasons it would be good to label them.

GMOs are the best thing that ever happened to organics.

The lawsuits will, no doubt, invoke the First Amendment.  One attorney, Jonathan Emord, says the bill should be able to withstand the challenge.

Will Vermont’s action lead to a domino effect?  Nearly 30 other states are considering such bills.

Recall that the first company to produce GMO tomatoes intended to label them (I have copies of the label in my files).  But the biotechnology industry put an end to that idea in the early 1990s.

Now it’s paying the price for a bad decision 20 years ago.  I’m surprised this took so long.

More information from FoodNavigator-USA:

Apr 23 2014

POM v. Coca-Cola at the Supreme Court: The Mind Boggles

You might think that the Supreme Court of the United States would have more important things to do than to weigh in on which of two beverage companies puts less misleading labels on its products, but apparently not.

The highest court in the land takes POM Wonderful’s accusation against Coca-Cola seriously.  Coke’s Minute Maid juice, POM says, is advertised in ways that mislead the public.

POM should know.   It’s been under fire from the Federal Trade Commission for equally absurd label claims.

Here’s the Coca-Cola product at issue.

And here’s what the label says, in case you can’t read it (with emphasis added):

Enhanced Juice/Minute Maid/100% Fruit Juice Blend

Omega-3/DHA/HELP NOURISH YOUR BRAIN

5 Nutrients to Support Brain and Body

Pomegranate  Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices

From concentrate with added ingredients and other natural flavors

Never mind the nutritional quality or the ridiculous structure/function claims on this particular product (here’s Fooducate’s analysis from 2009—it has 29 grams of sugars, among other things).

POM doesn’t want Coke getting away with selling cheap grape and apple juices as pomengranate juice and undercutting their prices.  Coke’s drink is 99% apple and grape juice; it contains less than 1% pomegranate or blueberry juice.  You would never know that from looking at the label.

Why is the court interested?  The Minute Maid label is legal by FDA standards.  Therefore, can the label be considered misleading?

Coca-Cola won in the lower court, but the Supreme Court seems sympathetic to POM (here’s the transcript of the hearing).

The New York Times account has the best quotes:

Kathleen M. Sullivan, a lawyer for Coca-Cola, said consumers were not misled.

“We don’t think that consumers are quite as unintelligent as Pom must think they are,” she said. “They know when something is a flavored blend of five juices and the nonpredominant juices are just a flavor.”

Justice Kennedy frowned. “Don’t make me feel bad,” he said, “because I thought that this was pomegranate juice.”

It also quotes from Justice Alito:

You don’t think there are a lot of people who buy pomegranate juice because they think it has health benefits, and they would be very surprised to find when they bring home this bottle that’s got a big picture of a pomegranate on it, and it says ‘pomegranate’ on it, that it is — what is it — less than one half of 1 percent pomegranate juice?”

Where is the FDA on all this?  Blame its inaction on the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which allowed ridiculous health claims on food labels and forced the FDA to keep hands off.

This outcome of this case, silly as it is, will be fun to watch.

Apr 21 2014

No nutrition in medical education? An old story that might be changing.

JAMA Internal Medicine invited me to comment on an article about the lack of nutrition education in medical schools.  This was written by Nathanial Morris, a second-year medical student at Harvard, who complains about the paucity of nutrition instruction in his curriculum.

Yet the course spanned just 3 afternoons, for a total of 9 hours of instruction…The course directors told us it would be the only time for dedicated nutrition education during our 4 years as medical students. There were no examinations nor interactions with patients. The 1 lecture on obesity lasted 45 minutes…As a medical student, I cannot fathom why medical schools continue to neglect nutrition education.

When I read his article, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I wrote almost identical articles in the 1980s based on my experience at UCSF (here’s one).

I asked a former UCSF colleague, Dr. Robert Baron, to co-author the commentary with me: Nutrition in Medical Education:  From Counting Hours to Measuring Competence.

Our interest in this issue started nearly 40 years ago, when we were both at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), School of Medicine. In 1976, one of us (R.B.B.) was, like Mr Morris, a medical student advocating for nutrition instruction, while the other (M.N.) was a lecturer newly recruited to provide that instruction. For the next decade, we worked together to create “NutritionUCSF,” a comprehensive program of nutrition training that at its peak encompassed 16 hours of preclinical instruction; regular lectures and ward rounds in several clinical rotations; an intensive, 1-month fourth-year clinical elective; an ongoing lecture series for the health professions community; and postgraduate continuing education courses.

In addition to our youthful interest and enthusiasm, we were able to achieve all this for a simple reason: we had funding. Funding came first from a curriculum development grant from the Health Resources Administration and later from a private foundation. These grants allowed us to pay faculty for a small portion of their time and leverage nutrition hours into the curriculum.

Our article explains how at UCSF and some other institutions, nutrition instruction is becoming integrated into overall reform of medical education:

Today’s medical education reform movement must respond to this call by including a broad competency-based approach to improving the nutrition-related skills of physicians. When it does, we may finally have the opportunity to include advice about healthful eating as a routine part of 21st century medical practice.

Some help from Congress?

It is interesting in this context that various members of Congress are introducing bills to improve nutrition education for medical professionals, for example, the EAT for Health Act and the ENRICH Act.  Thanks to Jamie Berger for alerting me to this legislation and for sending some fact sheets about the bills: EAT for Health / ENRICH.

It’s been nearly 40 years since my involvement in this issue.  Ever optimistic, I’m happy to see some progress at last.

And this just in.

The current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has papers from a symposium on nutrition in medical education.  The first was in 1962, so the half-century saga continues.

  • Title page, program participants, and TOC:  Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1145S-1149S
  • Introduction to Nutrition Education in Training Medical and Other Health Care Professionals. Penny M Kris-Etherton, Charlotte A Pratt, Edward Saltzman, and Linda Van Horn. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1151S-1152S
  • The need to advance nutrition education in the training of health care professionals and recommended research to evaluate implementation and effectiveness. Penny M Kris-Etherton, Sharon R Akabas, Connie W Bales, Bruce Bistrian, Lynne Braun, Marilyn S Edwards, Celia Laur, Carine M Lenders, Matthew D Levy, Carole A Palmer, Charlotte A Pratt, Sumantra Ray, Cheryl L Rock, Edward Saltzman, Douglas L Seidner, and Linda Van Horn. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1153S-1166S
  • Nutrition education in medical school: a time of opportunity. Robert F Kushner, Linda Van Horn, Cheryl L Rock, Marilyn S Edwards, Connie W Bales, Martin Kohlmeier, and Sharon R Akabas. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1167S-1173S
  • Residency and specialties training in nutrition: a call for action. Carine M Lenders, Darwin D Deen, Bruce Bistrian, Marilyn S Edwards, Douglas L Seidner, M Molly McMahon, Martin Kohlmeier, and Nancy F Krebs. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1174S-1183S 
  • Challenges and opportunities for nutrition education and training in the health care professions: intraprofessional and interprofessional call to action. Rose Ann DiMaria-Ghalili, Jay M Mirtallo, Brian W Tobin, Lisa Hark, Linda Van Horn, and Carole A Palmer. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1184S-1193S
  • Policy approach to nutrition and physical activity education in health care professional training. Matthew D Levy, Lisel Loy, and Laura Y Zatz.  Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99 1194S-1201S.
Apr 14 2014

Walmart’s price-cut organics: good, bad, or indifferent?

When Walmart announced last week that it would start carrying Wild Oats organic foods at prices at least 25% below those of national brand organics, I had some conflicted reactions.

Walmart’s rationale sounds terrific:

We know our customers are interested in purchasing organic products and, traditionally, those customers have had to pay more,” said Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery at Walmart U.S. “We are changing that and creating a new price position for organic groceries that increases access. This is part of our ongoing effort to use our scale to deliver quality, affordable groceries to our customers.

But Reuters explains what this is really about:

Organic foods accounted for roughly 4 percent of total U.S. food sales in 2012, but growth in the category for years has outpaced the industry overall, buoyed by growing demand for simpler food made from natural ingredients.

Organic foods often cost more than their conventional rivals, and that has limited purchases by the legions of lower-income U.S. shoppers who are needed to propel a niche product into a national player.

Walmart caters to that audience…”If we can make that price premium disappear, we think it will grow much, much faster,” Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery at Walmart U.S., said of the retailer’s small but faster-growing organic sales.

For Walmart watchers, the announcement raises many concerns.

Tom Philpott, writing in Mother Jones before the recent announcement did a brief investigation of Walmart’s organic and local offerings in Austin, Texas:

Of course, Walmart exists to generate profit, not social change. And that may explain the dearth of produce being trumpeted as local and organic in the Austin store I visited. The city teems with farmers markets, Whole Foods branches, and a successful food co-op. With so many options available, shoppers here are likely not heading to Walmart for their heirloom tomatoes. As Prevor [Jim Prevor, the Perishable Pundit] told me, the company tailors its offerings to each region. It will “essentially sell whatever its customers want, as long as there’s a profit to be made.” 

Forbes asks a tough question: Maybe Walmart has just killed the organic food market?

WalMart getting into organics in a big way [may not be] good news for the industry. Most especially when they say that they’re going to eliminate the price premium that organic has traditionally carried…I don’t think it’s revealing anything terribly new to state that those who preferentially buy organic are often those who would prefer not to be thought of as WalMart shoppers.

And Trillium Asset Management, a company that claims to be devoted to sustainable and responsible investing, wonders whether the Walmart plan means that organics have lost their soul:

Wal-Mart’s pledge…is making a whole lot of people very nervous. Wal-Mart’s modus operandi is to keep prices low by driving down costs in the production chain and keeping its own wages low; its competitors’ practices are variations of the same theme, if less cutthroat. Good ol’ American-style capitalism and its frequent bedfellow, inadequate regulation, now threaten to strip “organic” of everything it once stood for (and everything that has made it more expensive): small scale production, gentler treatment of animals, better treatment of farm workers, and the elimination of chemical aids to production.

My personal observations of Walmart stores also make me skeptical.  I haven’t seen some of the previous promises effectively translated into reality.

Walmart says it will roll out the lower priced organics to about half its 4000 stores by this summer.

I’m reserving judgment until I see how these particular promises are implemented in the stores.

This just in: USDA’s latest data on organic agriculture.

Apr 8 2014

Evaporated cane juice: Sugar by any other name…

This question came in from Lourdes, a reader:

Would you please comment on these cases and the decisions regarding the issue [evaporated cane juice, apparently].

Happy to.

Evaporated cane juice is the food industry’s latest attempt to convince you that crystallizing sugar by this particular method will make you think it is:

  • Natural and healthy.
  • Better for you than table sugar.
  • Much better for you than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Maybe, but it’s still sugar.

Pushed by food companies to let “evaporated cane juice” be used on food labels, the FDA in 2009 issued one of those non-binding guidance documents it loves to do.

Over the past few years the term “evaporated cane juice” has started to appear as an ingredient on food labels, most commonly to declare the presence of sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup. However, FDA’s current policy is that sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be declared as “evaporated cane juice” because that term falsely suggests that the sweeteners are juice…. FDA considers such representations to be false and misleading…because they fail to reveal the basic nature of the food and its characterizing properties (i.e., that the ingredients are sugars or syrups) as required by 21 CFR 102.5.

The FDA opened the matter up to public comment last month.  In the meantime, evaporated cane juice is in the courts, where more and more food regulation seems to be taking place days except that judges are balking.

It’s a perfect Catch 22: The courts won’t rule until the FDA issues regulations.  The FDA won’t issue regulations while the matter is in the courts.

The bottom line?  As NPR puts it, “Sugar by any other name tastes just as sweet — and has just as many calories.”

To repeat: Evaporated cane juice is sugar.  Cane sugar is sugar.  All forms of sugar have calories, even when Kale flavored (thanks to Jill Richardson for sending this along).

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Apr 7 2014

USDA’s enthusiastic (?) support of organic production

The USDA, whose job is to promote industrial agriculture, is usually an  uncomfortable home for the National Organic Program, but occasionally says something nice about it.

A couple of weeks ago, the USDA announced how much the organic industry has grown and how much the agency is doing to promote it.

The organic industry, says USDA:

Comprises more than 25,000 certified organic operations in more than 120 countries.

Includes 18,513 certified organic farms and businesses in the United States alone, representing a 245 percent increase since 2002 (see list of certified USDA organic operations).

Enabled 763 producers to become certified organic in just 2013, an increase of 4.2 percent from the previous year.

Generated $35 billion in retail sales last year (this sounds like a lot but the food industry generates more than a trillion dollars in annual sales).

Here’s what the USDA says it’s doing to help organic farmers.

  • Providing access to conservation programs
  • Providing access to loans and grants
  • Funding organic research and education
  • Helping to mitigate pest emergencies.

And here’s what the farm bill is doing for organics:

  • $20 million annually for dedicated organic research, agricultural extension programs, and education.
  • $5 million to fund data collection on organic agriculture. t
  • Expanded options for organic crop insurance.
  • Expanded exemptions for organic producers who are paying into commodity “check off” programs.
  • Improved enforcement authority for the National Organic Program.
  • $5 million for a technology upgrade of the National Organic Program
  • $11.5 million annually for certification cost-share assistance to cover 75 percent of certification costs up to $750 per year.

Adds up to more than $40 million and sounds good, no?  Industrial agriculture gets $20 billion a year.

Organics are still a tiny fraction of the U.S. food supply and all too easy for USDA—and Congress—to ignore and not take seriously.

Upping sales would help.  A lot.

 

Apr 3 2014

Raw milk: coming soon to a state near you?

I haven’t said much about raw milk in a while, but not because nothing is happening with it.

Tarini Parti writes in Politico that a bipartisan coalition of House members wants to end the long-standing ban on interstate marketing of raw milk.

Raw milk, Parti says, is “bringing together some of the most anti-government libertarians and left-leaning liberals.”

Politics makes strange bedfellows!

What unites them?  Freedom of choice, of course.

“It’s nice to see that people are now advocating for their right rather than science,” said Baylen Linnekin, executive director of Keep Food Legal, a group that describes itself as “the first nationwide membership organization devoted to food freedom—the right of every American to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing.”

In a statement on his two bills, Massie [Rep-KY], too, highlighted the right to choose argument. “Today, many people are paying more attention to the food they eat, what it contains, and how it is processed. Raw milk, which has been with us for thousands of years, is making a comeback among these discerning consumers,” he said. “Personal choices as basic as ‘what we feed our families’ should not be limited by the federal government.”

As for the pesky matter of science, take a look at Bill Marler’s website, Real Raw Milk Facts, where he collects:

As a reality check, take a look at the answer to the question, How many people get sick from raw milk compared to pasteurized milk?

But never mind all that.  ProPolitico’s Morning Agriculture report (behind the paywall, alas) listed states that are working on bills to make it easier to get raw milk.

– California: AB 2505 was introduced Feb 21 and would allow dairies to sell or share raw milk from cows on that facility directly to consumers. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture March 13: http://bit.ly/1e16K5u

– Georgia: HB 718 would set requirements for the sale of “ungraded milk” to consumers as long as it is labeled: http://1.usa.gov/1af433N

– Hawaii: HB 1987 and its companion S 2562 would allow the distribution of raw milk as part of a cow share, goat share or sheep share program. The measure was approved by the House Agriculture Committee, Jan. 27, but the House Committee on Health, the next hurdle for the legislation, has deferred on taking up the bill. S 2562 has yet to see any committee action: http://1.usa.gov/1djbG47

– Iowa: SF 61 was carried over from 2013, and would put a moratorium on the enforcement of all state rules governing the sale of raw products, including produce, honey, nuts eggs and milk: http://bit.ly/1cJOujV. SF 2306, meanwhile, would allow for the sale of cheese produced from raw milk and details labeling requirements for the product: http://bit.ly/1mCTtbr.

Louisiana:  HB 247 seeks to allow the sale of raw milk and unpasteurized cheese on the farm where it has been produced, though it would require the milk be clearly labeled as raw and deny liability by the state or farm in the case of illnesses from consumption. The bill, filed Feb 20, also would prohibit advertising: http://1.usa.gov/1mkdPDj

– Maryland: SB 1092 was introduced Feb. 28 and would require producers of raw milk to have a written contract with consumers of the product and set up testing, safety and labeling requirements. It also would require producers to register with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: http://1.usa.gov/1ptnqtf. However, HB 3, which would have allowed for the distribution of raw milk to a cow share or Community Supported Agriculture agreement member, was withdrawn March 24 after an unfavorable report by the Health and Government Operations Committee: http://1.usa.gov/1djegqR

– Massachusetts: HB 3857 would allow for the home delivery of raw milk to members of a cow share or a CSA agreement, and allow for farmers to sell raw milk from farm stands that are not on the site of where the milk is produced: http://1.usa.gov/1aSLUta

– Michigan: HB 5336 would prohibit federal regulation of any food, including raw milk, that is produced and then sold in the state: http://1.usa.gov/1fCGgaQ

– New Jersey: AB 543 would create a permitting program to allow farmers to sell raw milk, though only on the property where the milk is produced. The bill also seeks to set up testing requirement, storage temperature requirements and would mandate warning labels: http://bit.ly/1fmdbRv

– New Jersey: S 1285 would permit the sale of raw milk and milk products to individuals and retail stores and sets inspection and testing standards, in addition to requiring that producers do not use growth hormones on the cows: http://bit.ly/1pEsMjO

– Oklahoma: HB 2595 would amend the state’s Milk and Milk Products Act to ensure it does not prohibit the sale of raw milk. The measure would take effect Nov. 1, 2014: http://bit.ly/1oeBgTo

– Rhode Island: S 2224 would require the state’s milk commission to establish rules for the sale of raw milk, but the Senate Health and Human Services Committee recommended the bill be held for further study on March 11: http://bit.ly/1fAIQk2

– South Dakota: SB 126 would have created an exemption from state laws governing dairy products for raw milk that is packaged on the farm where it is produced and sold by the farmer, but the measure was tabled Feb. 21 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in a 5-1 vote: http://1.usa.gov/1bhvrt4

– West Virginia: HB4274 would have permitted the sale of raw milk in the state as of Jan. 1, 2015, and HB 4273 would have allowed for participants in cow share programs to receive raw milk. However, the bills did not make it to a vote before the West Virginia legislative session ended, March 14: http://bit.ly/1lunSck and here: http://bit.ly/1bQGUQj

How’s that for an impressive list.

 

Mar 28 2014

Salmonella is NOT an inherent part of chicken, proves Denmark

Yesterday, Food Safety News republished the last of a four-part series in the Portland Oregonian about how Denmark was able to get rid of Salmonella in chickens, but we can’t. 

This one explains why.

[USDA] announced a plan last year to stem Salmonella. Its goal is to reduce illnesses by 25 percent by 2020. The plan, which is still being rolled out, includes a controversial overhaul of inspections, enhanced testing and a first-ever limit on allowed Salmonella in cut-up chicken.

Denmark opted for a more comprehensive approach, attacking Salmonella in flocks, poultry barns, animal feed and slaughterhouses.

Why can’t we do that too?

  • The U.S. chicken industry is too big.
  • Reforms would cost too much.
  • Chicken prices would rise.
  • Chicken would cost more than beef.
  • Nobody–industry, regulators or retailers—wants to bother.
  • The U.S. food safety system is too fractured; no federal agency has the authority to mandate such reforms.
  • USDA food safety authority only starts at the slaughterhouse, not the farm.

An impressive number of excuses, no?

Better make sure you handle chicken as if it were radioactive and cook it thoroughly.

This series is well worth a read if you want to understand what’s wrong with our food safety system.

 

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