by Marion Nestle

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Jul 15 2014

Food packaging materials contain a lot of iffy chemicals

Authors employed by the Food Packaging Forum Foundation, funded by the packaging industry but working “independently of donors’ special interests,” have produced a surprising analysis of chemical in food packaging that comes into contact with food during production, handling or storage.

Why surprising?  Because the results are indeed against donors’ special interests.

Such chemicals, the authors say, can contaminate food through migration from the packaging.  About 6000 such substances exist, some of which are associated with disease.  These are Chemicals of Concern (COCs).

This study identified chemicals used in packaging that are considered to be COCs.  It found 175 such chemicals in use.  Of these, 54 are “candidates for Substances of Very High Concern.”

From a consumer perspective, it is certainly unexpected and undesirable to find COCs [chemicals of concern] being intentionally used in FCMs [food contact materials], and thus it seems appropriate to replace substances case by case with inherently safer alternatives.

This comes from people in the industry.  I hope makers of packing materials—and food safety regulators—pay close attention.

Jul 8 2014

Conflicts of interest in nutrition research:

Over the July 4th weekend, a reader sent a link to a paper about to be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition titled Increased fruit and vegetable intake has no discernible effect on weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

I took a look at the abstract:

Studies to date do not support the proposition that recommendations to increase F/V intake or the home delivery or provision of F/Vs will cause weight loss. On the basis of the current evidence, recommending increased F/V consumption to treat or prevent obesity without explicitly combining this approach with efforts to reduce intake of other energy sources is unwarranted.

This would seem to make some sense, no?  But the dismissal of recommendations to increase fruit-and-vegetable consumption sent up red flags.

My immediate question: who paid for this study?

Here’s the conflict of interest statement.

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Note the presence of companies making processed foods whose sales would decline if people ate more F&V.

A coincidence?  I don’t think so, alas.

More evidence: just today, Bettina Siegel sent me her post on a paper sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association, once again with a predictable outcome.

When it comes to nutrition research, “guess the sponsor” is a game that is all too easy to win.

Jul 7 2014

Use of menu labeling: baseline data from USDA

USDA has a report out on consumers’ use of nutrition information in restaurants before the menu labeling law goes into effect.

What law?  The menu-labeling provision that is part of the Affordable Care Act still—four years later—waiting for the FDA to get around to issuing final rules (I last wrote about this in April 2013).

In 2011, the FDA proposed rules for public comment, and proposed final rules in 2013:

These too were opened for public comment with the process expected to be completed in February 2014.  Oops.  Missed that one.

Rumors are that the FDA is under pressure from pizza chains and movie theaters to be exempt from the final rules, and that the White House is holding them up.  The White House has had them for 90 days.  That’s supposed to be the limit.

According to Politico Pro Agriculture

It was three months ago today that the White House first received FDA’s final rules for calorie labels on menus and vending machines, and by the Office of Management and budget’s own rules, that means time is up. Interagency review at OMB is supposed to take no more than 90 days before the final release of a measure, though that timeframe is often extended with little explanation on more controversial initiatives. While OMB is always mum on its schedule for rule reviews and releases, the end of the standard review period is sometimes a hint that something will be coming, if not today — the day before a long weekend — then soon. In the meantime, brush up on the issue here: http://politico.pro/1mKNcFr and here: http://politico.pro/1lzZLDe

In the meantime, the USDA has done some research and come up with some interesting findings:

Among people who eat out, the ones most likely to use nutrition information on menu boards are those who:

  • Eat out less frequently
  • Have other healthy behaviors (such as having dark green vegetables at home).
  • Rate their diets as good.
  • Are women.
  • Participate in SNAP.

SNAP participants?  Really?  If true, SNAP participants are more eager for calorie information than the general population, and good for them!

These results explain much about the confusing findings from studies of New York City’s menu labeling law.  These generally find no overall effect although calorie labels have a big effect on people who are conscious of health to begin with (me, for example).

FDA: how about getting out the final rules?  Then we can sit back and watch USDA economists compare what’s happening to these baseline results.

Jul 1 2014

Summer reading and cooking: Calories In, Calories Out

Catherine Jones and Elaine Trujillo.  The Calories In, Calories Out Cookbook: 200 Everyday Recipes That Take the Guesswork Out of Counting Calories – Plus, the Exercise It Takes to Burn Them Off.  The Experiment, 2014.

Screenshot 2014-07-01 09.08.14

Ordinarily, I don’t blurb or review cookbooks, but this one is introduced with a chapter on “Understanding the World of Calories” by my Why Calories Count co-author, Dr. Malden Nesheim.

Why Calories Count recommends understanding calories but most definitely does not recommend counting them.  They are too difficult to count accurately unless you weigh everything you are eating, and that’s not much fun for most people.

But if you happen to enjoy counting calories, this book is for you.  It does several clever things:

  • It arranges the recipes by calories from 0-199 per serving to 300-399 per serving.
  • For every recipe, it gives calories, a few other nutrients, and diabetes exchanges.
  • For every recipe, it also lists the kinds and duration of physical activity needed to balance the calories.
  • It gives ways of fiddling with the recipes to adjust calories.
  • It answers FAQs about calories.
  • It lists gluten-free options.

On top of all that, the book is beautifully designed and illustrated, exceptionally easy to read, and scientifically sound.

Even better, the recipes are easy to follow and look delicious.

Let me give one example: creamy chocolate pots (Pots de Crème)

  • 148 calories in: These have 3 grams of protein, 16 of carbohydrates, 8 of fat, and 2 of fiber; 24 milligrams of sodium, 1 carb choice, 1 whole milk diabetic exchange.
  • 148 calories out: Women need to walk 36 minutes or jog 17 minutes.  Men need to walk 30 minutes or jog 14 minutes.

Anyone reading this book will learn a lot about nutrition and calorie balance.

Anyone who enjoys calorie numerology, will have a lot of fun with this book.

Jun 27 2014

Lobbying in action: pizza!

This just in from Politico Morning Agriculture:

At their recent Capitol Hill fly-in, members of the American Pizza Community — which included representatives from Domino’s Pizza, Godfather’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut — met with more than 70 congressional offices, according to a statement from the APC. Part of their ask was for lawmakers to back the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. The bill, which was introduced about a year ago by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), would exempt grocery stores from the ACA menu labeling requirements and allow restaurants to disclose calorie counts online.

American Pizza Community?  Indeed, yes.

The American Pizza Community is a coalition of the nation’s largest pizza companies, regional chains, local pizzerias, small franchise operators, supplier partners and other entities that make up the American pizza industry. This joint effort will highlight the importance of the pizza industry on American communities and promote policies that permit its continued success, including reasonable menu labeling standards, including small business owners in tax reform, commodity policies and employment and labor policies.

The APC knows how to work the system.  Meeting with 70 congressional offices takes some hefty organizational work.

This is, no doubt, how pizza came to be counted as a vegetable in the school lunch program.

Happy weekend!

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Jun 19 2014

Corn Refiners to test the new food label

ProPolitico writes that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and five other industry groups have written the FDA that they intend to fund their own research on the FDA’s proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label.

The FDA already has a research project underway.

Why would the CRA—the trade association for the makers of high fructose corn syrup—want to bother with an expensive and complicated research project like this?

In an interview, John Bode, CRA president and CEO, told Politico:

The FDA has estimated that changes to the label could cost the industry $2.3 billion, but ‘we suspect that is a very conservative number.

OK.  So one purpose of the research will be to prove that the new food label will cost industry a lot more money than the FDA estimates.

Let me take a guess here and surmise that another purpose will be to prove that listing “added sugars” on food labels “misleads” the public.

This will be industry-funded research.  No matter how well it appears to be done, it is highly likely to produce the answers the CRA wants.

Otherwise, why do it?

If you are a betting person, this one looks like a sure thing.

FDA: finish up those studies and get the results out!

Addition, June 20:  Legal analysts, one a former attorney for CSPI who now works for a law firm representing industry clients, advise against putting “added sugars” on the label.  

 

Jun 13 2014

The FDA, cheese boards, and public policy

Is the FDA at war with small, artisanal cheese makers?

I hope not.

But the FDA seems especially clumsy in its dealings with artisanal cheese makers over food safety issues.

The FDA has some legitimate concerns.  Milk is anything but sterile.  Salting and aging cheese kills pathogens but not always completely, and there is always a possibility of recontamination of the rind.

Like all food producers, cheese makers— no matter what their size—ought to be following standard food safety procedures.  Most do.

Even so, contamination happens.  That’s why testing is such a good idea.   It can stop contaminated cheese from making customers sick.

Last week, an FDA official, Monica Metz,  set off a firestorm with a letter to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets,

The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that “all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.” 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized.  The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.

The American Cheese Society immediately issued a rebuttal:

For centuries, cheesemakers have been creating delicious, nutritious, unique cheeses aged on wood.

Today’s cheesemakers—large and small, domestic and international—continue to use this material for production due to its inherent safety, unique contribution to the aging and flavor-development process, and track record of safety as part of overall plant hygiene and good manufacturing practices. No foodborne illness outbreak has been found to be caused by the use of wood as an aging surface.

The FDA responded with a clarification

Recently, you may have heard some concerns suggesting the FDA has taken steps to end the long-standing practice in the cheesemaking industry of using wooden boards to age cheese. To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese. Nor does the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) require any such action. Reports to the contrary are not accurate.

Whew.  Hang onto those boards, but do keep them clean.

As for the FDA: it needs to go further and do a whole lot more to reassure artisanal cheese makers who are convinced that the agency is out to get them and put them out of business. 

Jun 11 2014

Michele Simon’s latest report: “Whitewashed” (she means dairy foods)

I always am interested in Michele Simon’s provocative reports.  Her latest, Whitewashed, is no exception.  It’s about how the government promotes dairy foods, no matter what kind or where they appear.

New Picture

Read her blog post here.

Download the full report here.

Read the executive summary here.

Here’s are some of the surprising (to me) findings detailed in the report:

  • About half of all milk is consumed either as flavored milk, with cereal, or in a drink;
  • Nearly half of the milk supply goes to make about 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts–two-thirds of which is ice cream;
  • 11 percent of all sugar goes into the production of dairy products.

Where the government enters the picture is through the “checkoff programs” for promoting milk and dairy.  These are USDA-Sponsored programs, paid for by dairy farmers through checkoff fees, but run by the USDA.

U.S. Department of Agriculture employees attend checkoff meetings, monitor activities, and are responsible for evaluation of the programs. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the checkoff programs as “government speech”, finding: “the message … is controlled by the Federal Government.”

The report has some interesting findings about the checkoff.  Although checkoff funds are supposed to be used for generic marketing, the dairy checkoff helped:

  • McDonald’s make sure that dairy foods play an important role in product development.
  • Taco Bell introduce its double steak quesadillas and cheese shreds.
  • Pizza Hut develop its 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza and “Summer of Cheese” ad campaign.
  • Dominos add more cheese to its pizzas as a result of a $35 million partnership.
  • Domino’s “Smart Slice” program introduce its pizza to more than 2,000 schools in 2011.
  • Promote “Chocolate Milk Has Muscle” and “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk.”

I like dairy foods, but should the government be doing this?

 

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