by Marion Nestle

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Jul 22 2015

House to block GMO labeling tomorrow?

Ordinarily I don’t pay close attention to early congressional legislative initiatives until they seem likely to be passed by both houses and signed by the President.

But the House seems likely to pass the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (HR 1599) tomorrow, and what’s happening with it is worth a look.  Opponents call the bill the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.”  (Update July 23: the House passed the bill with a vote of 275 for and 150 against, with the help of African-American representatives).

The purpose of HR 1599 is to block states—like Vermont, for example—from requiring labels on GMO foods [see details below at *].

How it works is best seen in the amendments that will be considered tomorrow.  Of the 14 amendments proposed, the House Rules Committee will allow discussion of these four.

  • Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore:  if a U.S. company or subsidiary labels a product as containing GMOs in any foreign country, it must label the equivalent product the same way in the United States.  (Defeated 122 to 303)
  • Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif: ensures tribal sovereignty to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GMOs on tribal lands. (Defeated 196 to 227)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn: prohibits use of the term “natural” on GMO foods. (Defeated 163 to 262)
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine: strikes the entire bill and creates a USDA non-GMO certification program and label. (Defeated by voice vote)

In an op-ed in the Boston Globe, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jim McGovern say “Let consumers decide for themselves.”

Americans want more information, not less. What we need is one law that makes GMO labeling mandatory across the country and establishes a single national standard that eliminates confusion and puts consumers in charge.

This debate isn’t about the safety of GMOs. It’s about consumers’ right to know what’s in the food they put on their tables. We ought to give them that right.

It’s interesting to see who is for this bill, and who against. One major proponent is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which joined 475 other members of the industry “front group,” the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, in signing a letter in support.

Those opposed include the National Organic Coalition and the Just Label It campaign.   Also opposed are Food Democracy Now and the National Farmers Union, along with a long list of farm, consumer, and environmental groups.

Even if the House passes the bill, nobody in the Senate seems interested in it as yet.  So maybe this is all just theater.

But I read it as acknowledgment by the GMO industry and its food product supporters that the labeling issue is not going to go away.  Therefore, they had best try to preempt it by passing a law they can live with and making sure that states do not pass their own, stronger bills.

Stay tuned.

*Addition: I received a request to unpack the bill and state its terms.  HR 1599:

  • Calls for premarket notification of new GMOs introduced into the food supply.
  • Says the process of GMO is not sufficient to require labeling.
  • Says non-GMO labeling cannot imply that non-GMO is safer.
  • Blocks voluntary non-GMO labeling.
  • Prevents states from requiring GMO labeling.
  • Allows the term “natural” on labels of GMO foods.
  • Establishes a non-GMO certification program requiring process controls and preemption of state laws.

Update, July 27: According to OpenSecrets.org, representatives who voted against GMO labeling received three times as much money from agribusiness as those who did not.  OpenSecrets calls this a “cash crop.”

 

 

 

Jul 21 2015

School nutrition standards: the ongoing fight for healthier school meals

Union of Concerned Scientists food systems analysts Karen Stillerman and Lindsay Haynes-Maslow have issued firm rebuttals to the School Nutrition Association’s excuses for opposing nutrition standards for school meals.

*These two are congressional targets (see below)

Dana Woldow explains what’s really happening with schools that drop out of the meal programs ostensibly on the grounds that the new standards cost too much.

Bettina Siegel explains how anti-standard campaigns play out in Texas:

Tucked within an Orwellian press release touting its efforts to “combat child obesity,” the Texas Department of Agriculture has made official its lifting of a decade-old ban on deep fat fryers in Texas schools, as well as rolling back other common sense school nutrition measures…despite the fact that our state ranks fifth in the nation for obesity among high school students, and despite public comments reportedly opposing the TDA’s plan by an astounding margin of 105 to 8.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack pleads with the School Nutrition Association to stop fighting the healthier school meal standards.

*But the House and Senate continue to roll back the standards for whole grains and salt in their respective versions of the Agriculture Appropriations Bills.*

If you are baffled as to why the School Nutrition Association would oppose healthier meals for the children they serve, consider the food company sponsors of that organization and how aggressively SNA courts food company sponsors.  (But there’s a ray of hope.  Maybe, Dana Woldow suggests, the new SNA President will put kids’ health first).

If you are baffled as to why healthier meals for school kids would induce Congress to try to undermine them, consider the companies that profit most from selling products that do not meet nutrition standards to America’s schools.

Maybe the President will veto?  The White House Office of Management and Budget filed an objection:

The Administration strongly objects to using the appropriations process for objectionable language provisions that are wholly unnecessary to the operation of the nutrition programs and would impede efficient administration of the programs. For example, on whole grains, USDA has provided States and school districts with the flexibility they need now and would consider continuing that flexibility, if needed. However, the Administration opposes inclusion of this provision in the bill, as it signals that the
waivers are not dependent on the availability of reasonably priced whole grain options.

Let’s hope Congress removes these micromanaging provisions before sending the bill to the President.

*Addition: Ten reasons why Congress should stay out of school lunch.

Jul 20 2015

Another five food industry-sponsored studies with food industry-favorable results

Here’s my latest collection of five research studies paid for by a food manufacturer who can use the study results for marketing purposes.  My point: industry-sponsored studies invariably appear to favor the sponsor’s marketing interests.

I am not looking for sponsored studies in any systematic way.  They just appear.

I very much would like to find sponsored studies that produce results contrary to the sponsor’s interests.  If you see any, please send.

In the meantime, here’s the latest collection.

Cooked oatmeal consumption is associated with better diet quality, better nutrient intakes, and reduced risk for central adiposity and obesity in children 2-18 years: NHANES 2001-2010Carol E. Carolyn E. O’Neil,, Theresa A. Nicklas, Victor L. Fulgoni, III and Maureen A. DiRienzo.  Food & Nutrition Research 2015, 59: 26673

  • Conclusion: Consumption of oatmeal by children was associated with better nutrient intake, diet quality, and reduced risk for central adiposity and obesity and should be encouraged as part of an overall healthful diet.
  • Sponsor: PepsiCo (owner of Quaker Oats); the lead author is a member of the Kellogg’s Breakfast Council.

Including “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts Panel: How Consumers Perceive the Proposed Change.  Idamarie Laquatra, Kris Sollid, Marianne Smith Edge, Jason Pelzel, John TurnerJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, June 9, 2015. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.04.017

  • Conclusion: NFPs [Nutrition Facts Panels] with “Added Sugars” declarations were misleading and the resulting misperception influenced purchase intent.
  • Funder: International Food Information Council (an industry-funded group).  Two of the authors are IFIC officials.
  • Note: The food industry generally opposes the FDA’s proposal to list “added sugars” on food labels.

Daily potassium intake and sodium-to-potassium ratio in the reduction of blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.  Aristea Binia, Jonathan Jaeger,  Youyou Hu, Anurag Singh, and Diane Zimmermann. Journal of Hypertension, Volume 33 Number 8 August 2015: 1509-1520.

  • Conclusion: Potassium supplementation is associated with reduction of blood pressure in patients who are not on antihypertensive medication…Patients with elevated blood pressure may benefit from increased potassium intake along with controlled or decreased sodium intake.
  • Sponsor: Nestlé Research Centre (all authors are affiliated with the Centre).
  • Note: Nestlé produces potassium-fortified products for patients with renal disease.  It might like to see the use of these products extended to other purposes, such as blood-pressure reduction.

Consuming High-Protein Soy Snacks Affects Appetite Control, Satiety, and Diet Quality in Young People and Influences Select Aspects of Mood and Cognition.  Heather J Leidy, Chelsie B Todd, Adam Z Zino, Jordan E Immel, Ratna Mukherjea, Rebecca S Shafer, Laura C Ortinau, and Michelle Braun. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:1614-1622   doi:10.3945/jn.115.212092.

  • Conclusion: Afternoon snacking, particularly on HP [high-protein] soy foods, improves appetite, satiety, and diet quality in adolescents, while beneficially influencing aspects of mood and cognition.
  • Sponsor: Du Pont Nutrition & Health (maker of soy ingredients). Two of the authors are employed by the company.

Effects of egg consumption on carotenoid absorption from co-consumed, raw vegetables.  Jung Eun Kim, Susannah L Gordon, Mario G Ferruzzi, and Wayne W Campbell. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 102:75-83 doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.111062

  • Conclusion: These findings support the claim that co-consuming cooked whole eggs is an effective way to enhance carotenoid absorption from other carotenoid-rich foods such as a raw mixed-vegetable salad.
  • Sponsor: American Egg Board–Egg Nutrition Center, among others
  • Nutrition 101 note: Carotenoids are precursors of vitamin A.  They are fat-soluble and require fat to be absorbed into the body.  Any food fat will do.
Jul 15 2015

The curious incident of Nick Jonas, Coca-Cola, Crossfit, and Diabetes

Thanks to Melanie Nesheim for sending me a link to Russ Greene’s (The Russells) account of Nick Jonas’s dispute with Crossfit over its posting of this image.

As best as I can tell, here’s what happened.

Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, who has Type 1 diabetes, sent out a tweet objecting to this image as insulting to people with type 1 diabetes.   Note: Sugary beverages are a not a risk factor for type 1 diabetes but they are for type 2 (see, for example thisthis, and this).

Russ Greene entered the fray with a tweet pointing out that Coca-Cola sponsors the Jonas Brothers’ concerts.

Apparently, this caught the attention of Good Morning America.

A spokesman for Nick Jonas denied that he had any kind of deal with Coca-Cola.

Capture

Maybe not, but as Mr. Greene pointed out, Coca-Cola presents or sponsors the concerts and advertises that it does so.

My conclusions from this incident:

  • In taking on CrossFit’s critique of the role of sugary drinks in diabetes, Nick Jonas became a de facto spokesman for Coca-Cola.
  • Coca-Cola’s support of Jonas Brothers’ concerts paid off.
  • Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of musicians and sports figures buys loyalty and deflects attention from the well documented role of sugary drinks in type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.

And, of course, I examine this sort of sponsorship in much greater detail in my forthcoming Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)which comes out in October.

Jul 10 2015

FDA caves in to lobbying pressures, delays menu labeling

Yesterday, the FDA announced a delay in implementation of menu labeling until December 1, 2016.

Since the FDA issued the menu labeling final rule on December 1, 2014, the agency has had extensive dialogue with chain restaurants, covered grocery stores and other covered businesses, and answered numerous questions on how the rule can be implemented in specific situations. Industry, trade and other associations, including the grocery industry, have asked for an additional year to comply with the menu labeling final rule, beyond the original December 2015 compliance date. The FDA agrees additional time is necessary for the agency to provide further clarifying guidance to help facilitate efficient compliance across all covered businesses and for covered establishments to come into compliance with the final rule. The FDA is extending the compliance date for the menu labeling rule to December 1, 2016, for those covered by the rule.

Here are the relevant Federal Register notices:

Let’s be clear about what’s going on here.  New York City, where I live, has had menu labeling since 2008.  The world has not come to an end.

The Affordable Care Act made menu labeling go national in 2010.  The Supreme Court affirmed that law in 2012.

The seemingly endless delays look like successful lobbying at the expense of consumers and public health.

The New York Times account quotes me on this point:

This is a huge victory for the restaurant lobbyists,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “Food companies must be hoping that if they can delay menu labeling long enough, it will just go away.

The pizza industry, one of the chief lobbying groups on this issue, is pleased by the decision.  Lynn Liddle, Chair of the American Pizza Community sent out this statement yesterday:

FDA’s delay confirms both the serious deficiencies in the final rules and the urgent need for enactment of the bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017).  Unfortunately, FDA proceeded with an approach to final rules that impose significant compliance costs without achieving any meaningful improvements in consumer education.  After years of uncertainty, FDA still has not addressed basic questions regarding implementation.  The American Pizza Community looks forward to continuing to work with Members of Congress to secure timely passage of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act.

If you can’t get federal agencies to back off on public health, go right to Congress.

The pizza industry had already succeeded in getting this provision in the House Agricultural Appropriations bill:

SEC. 744. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce the final rule entitled ‘‘Food Labeling; Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments’’ published by the Food and Drug Administration in the Federal Register on December 1, 24 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 71156 et seq.) until the later of— (1) December 1, 2016; or (2) the date that is one year after the date on which the Secretary of Health and Human Services publishes Level 1 guidance with respect to nutrition labeling of standard menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments.

Although this act is not yet passed and it’s not clear whether this provision would have survived, the FDA got the message (or maybe the White House made sure that it did?).

Menu labels inform the public about the number of calories in the foods they are buying.

The ferocity of lobbying on this idea suggests that restaurant companies would rather you did not have this information.

The FDA, alas, is not helping much on this one.

Jul 9 2015

Annals of the nutrition transition: KFC in Myanmar

The nutrition transition is the term used to describe a population’s rapid shift from widespread undernutrition to even more widespread overnutrition and its health consequences.

Here is an example of how that happens.

Thanks to Catherine Normile, currently working in Myanmar, for this report.

The first KFC, and the first major American fast food chain for that matter, opened in Yangon yesterday. I didn’t go inside but I scoped it out, I thought you may be interested to see the incredible crowd outside, and how unfortunate a contribution this is to Yangon’s downtown. It’s on a main road directly across the street from Bogyoke Market, the busiest market in Yangon. My favorite quote comes from this Jakarta Post article: “It is internationally famous, so I think it must be healthy.” Said by a man who queued for 3 hours to get chicken.

Myanmar1

Note the waiting crowd.

Myanmar3

There were long lines to get in.

Myanmar5

The Burmese diet is changing.  Catherine’s previous report was on the influx of Coca-Cola.

I’ll ask again: is anyone tracking changes in health statistics in that country?

Jul 8 2015

Chartwells and DC schools

Sadie Barr, who writes about school food problems in Washington, DC, wants me and readers to know about the recent $19.4 million settlement paid to the DC school district by its food service provider, Chartwells.

For what?  Overcharging the schools for its meals.

In an e-mail to me, she writes:

The issue of school food fraud isn’t new, and isn’t unique to DC. It happened in New York in 2010 and in 2012, and is probably occurring within the quarter of school districts nationwide that outsource their food service. It was written about in the New York Times in 2011 and in an investigative report published in 2009. This fraud represents millions (if not billions) of public funds going toward a company’s profits, instead of education.

How does this work?  Food service companies buy foods from manufacturers who give them kickbacks, but do not pass the savings along to the schools.

She points out that this scam affects quality of school food, posing a special burden to the more than 50% of students nationwide (it’s more than 70% in DC) who qualify for free and reduced priced meals.

The lawyers negotiating the settlement were from Phillips & Cohen LLP, a firm that specializes in representing whistleblowers.  In this case, the whistleblower was Jeffrey Mills, director of food services for the DC public schools from 2010 to 2013.

The Phillips & Cohen press release quotes Mills as complaining that Chartwells overcharged the school district and also caused circumstances when “food was delivered late, the number of meals was insufficient or the food was of poor quality or spoiled.”

Mills said that his goal had always been to improve food programs for DC’s school children: “District funds should be used to feed students the best quality food at the lowest cost.”

This is not the first time Chartwells got caught doing something like this.

In 2012, Chartwells’ parent company, Compass Group USA, paid $18 million to settle allegations by the New York Office of the Attorney General that the company wrongfully retained rebates on purchases of food and non-food commodities made under contracts with 39 school districts in that state.

Phillips & Cohen also say:

The allegations made in the District’s complaint and Mr. Mills’ complaints are allegations only.   The allegations against Chartwells have not been adjudicated.  Chartwells denies liability for the allegations.

Maybe so, but the company agreed to the $19.4 million of the DC case.

If you are having trouble understanding the fights over the USDA’s school nutrition standards, the Chartwells’ case should help.

For food service companies and the companies that supply food products, there is lots of money to be made on school meals.

Addition, July 9: DC, it seems, is renewing its contract with Chartwells, according to the Washington City paper’s story on Jeff Mills.

Addition, July 10:  The Washington City paper explains the politics of Chartwells in DC.

Jul 2 2015

Urban farms in Havana: a brief report on my brief visit

Because transportation from rural areas is expensive and trucks are few and far between (one result of the U.S. embargo), the Cuban government is promoting urban agriculture.  Our Food First tour group went to a small organic farm and store (Organopónico) in Havana:

2015-06-17 11.15.59

The farm grows a wide variety of vegetable crops, some outdoors but some under mesh.  The sun is hot.

2015-06-17 11.31.42

The farm sells produce to local residents.  I watched a steady procession of people coming to shop, only to be disappointed at the scarcity of items available.  It’s too hot to grow much this time of year.

2015-06-17 11.56.08

The board lists prices in pesos (indicated by $)—$4 to $10 a pound.

Another of the many Cuban contradictions: Cuba has two currencies, pesos and CUCs (Cuban Convertables).  A CUC is roughly equivalent to one dollar, or 24 pesos.  Salaries are paid in pesos.  Markets sell in CUCs or, recently, both.  This system, designed to take advantage of tourist dollars, is slated to end soon.

To put vegetable prices in context: the average Cuban salary is about 470 pesos a month, or $20 (but note that Cubans are given free food rations, education, and health care).

We also visited the much larger 25-acre farm in Havana’s Alamar neighborhood.

2015-06-19 10.49.07

You can see the surrounding apartments in this photo, but not the next one.

2015-06-19 10.05.31

With no money for gas or tractors, plowing gets done with oxen.

2015-06-19 10.47.15

This farm also has a store.

2015-06-19 11.19.07

I waited on a long line to buy a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

2015-06-19 11.24.43

This was incredibly delicious and totally worth the wait.

How much sugar is in this?  I searched for, but cannot find reliable Nutrition Facts for fresh cane juice.  If you happen to know where to find this, please send.*

On Monday, I’ll file the last of these Cuba posts, this one on food availability.

Note: the resumption of diplomatic relations and agreement to reopen embassies yesterday should make travel much easier.

*Answer to query: Thanks to Andy Bellatti and Cara Wilking for sending this link to a Nutrition Facts label for cane juice.  No wonder it was so good: 30 grams of sugar in 8 ounces!

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