Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 7 2008

More on bisphenol A: uh oh

Apparently, the National Toxicology Program has just reviewed the data on bisphenol A, the chemical that leaches from hard plastic water bottles.  Here is the NTP report.  The NTP says it is a little – not a lot – worried about it on the basis of limited and inconclusive studies.  The NTP used to be more worried about it, as expressed by its Board of Scientific Counselors on June 11.  This finding, of course, contradicts the FDA’s more optimistic assessmentAccording to the Washington Post, a recent study done at Yale finds the chemical to cause problems in the brains of monkeys.  The chemical industry says bisphenol A is harmless.  Consumer Reports (October 2008, p. 15) says its “tests of a limited number of baby bottles detected only trace amounts of BPA that are below levels likely to post a risk for infants.”  But then it recommends baby bottles made BPA-free plastic.  This confusing situation elicited a New York Times editorial urging caution: “When in doubt, especially when it comes to children, err on the side of caution.”  I agree.  While the scientists are fighting this one out, it seems best to practice avoidance.

The FDA is holding a hearing on bisphenol A on September 16.  Should be interesting.

Sep 6 2008

WHO issues report on social determinants of health

The World Health Organization has just issued the final report of the “Marmot Commission” on Social Determinants of Health: “The development of a society, rich or poor, can be judged by the quality of its population’s health, how fairly health is distributed across the social spectrum, and the degree of protection provided from disadvantage as a result of ill-health.”

This book-length report (7MB to download) is now the most authoritative source available on why and how changes in the social, economic, and political environment–including food and nutrition–are so necessary to improve global health.  Use it!

Sep 5 2008

The Economist reviews Pet Food Politics

I don’t do this sort of thing very often on this site so please indulge me a little.  Today’s issue of The Economist features Pet Food Politics as its lead Books & Arts review.  I recorded a podcast to go with it and that’s available too.  Enjoy! (I did).

Sep 4 2008

HFCS: Sweet surprise?


So many people have sent me the link to the Corn Refiners’ Association website extolling the virtues of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that I thought you had best not miss it.   OK, so lots of people think HFCS is the new trans-fat.  It isn’t, but is insulting your intelligence an effective way to deal with that concern?  It’s hard to know what on the website is most offensive: the videos of dumb people being condescended to by friends who think they know better (and what’s up with the race and gender combinations?), the slogans (“HFCS has no artificial ingredients and is the same as table sugar”), the quiz questions (“which of the following sweeteners is considered a natural food ingredient: HFCS, honey, sugar, or all of the above”), or the take home message: “As registered dietitians recommend, keep enjoying the foods you love, just do it in moderation.”

Let’s agree that HFCS has an enormous public relations problem and is widely misunderstood.  Biochemically, it is about the same as table sugar (both have about the same amount of fructose and calories), but it is in everything and Americans eat a lot of it—nearly 60 pounds per capita in 2006, just a bit less than pounds of table sugar.   HFCS is not a poison, but eating less of any kind of sugar is a good idea these days and anything that promotes eating more is not. 

According to SourceWatch, this website is part of a $20 to $30 million campaign to make you stop thinking there is something evil about HFCS.  Are you convinced?  If the essence of public relations is to get attention – and there is no such thing as bad publicity – they got it with this website.

And thanks to my colleague Andy Bellatti who points out that another website run by the Corn Refiners provides a disclaimer: “Materials on this site are provided for informational purposes only, do not constitute legal advice and are not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up-to-date.”  Oh.  Maybe that explains it.

Sep 3 2008

The latest soft drink: Embodi

Sandja, who works for a PR agency, wants me to know about Embodi: “What if you could have all the health and longevity benefits of red wine without the negative effects of alcohol? In fact, what if it came in the form of a delicious and antioxidant-rich fruit drink that you could enjoy daily?

I love the idea that red wine has special health benefits, especially at a really nice dinner.  But here comes Sandbox Industries, a company devoted to dreaming up brilliant new business ideas, one of which is Embodi, a non-alcoholic soft drink fortified with polyphenol antioxidants like the ones in red wine.  The ads say “now you can have all the benefits of red wine without the headache.”   But I thought it was the alcohol in wine, beer, and spirits that was most strongly associated with reduction in heart disease risk.

Alas, Sandja did not send the Nutrition Facts labels and they are not on the website so what is in this drink is a mystery.  But that’s not its point.  It’s a business venture.

Update, September 4: After reading my post, the Embodi PR folks forwarded their well hidden Nutrition Facts label–90 calories per bottle from 22 grams of sugars.  The ingredients?  “Water, organic fruit juice blend (organic white grape, organic red grape, organic apple,  organic pomegranate, and organic pear juices from concentrate), grape pomace extract, and natural flavors.”  No wonder they don’t put this information on the website.

 Update, September 6: Oops.  The PR folks wrote again and I stand partially corrected.  The Nutrition Facts label is indeed on the website.  You have to click on the bottle label and up it pops.   But the ingredient list part of the label is not (or if it is, I can’t find it).  Sandja writes: “There is complete transparency of ingredients and nutrition facts.  The grape pomace extract is what holds the health benefits.”  I’d say partially transparent.”  And the pomace extract is second-to-last on the ingredient list so there can’t be much of it.  

Sep 2 2008

Junk foods in schools–still there

Every now and then the CDC surveys the use of “competitive” (translation: junk) foods in public schools.  The latest survey reports little change from 2004.  About 80% of public schools let kids buy snacks or sodas during school hours, although what those items are varies widely.  About 70% of schools sell sports drinks but only about 30% sell fruits and vegetables.   Kids can buy bottled water in about 80% of public schools, which makes me wonder whatever happened to free water from drinking fountains.  I’ve been in schools that do not sell competitive foods at all.  Something to consider?

Sep 1 2008

Plastics are OK says ADA

The American Dietetic Association says plastic water bottles are OK to use and there is no need to worry about them.  Aren’t you relieved?  No conflicts of interest are noted in this report, but I hear rumors, as yet unconfirmed.

Aug 30 2008

Court says no to private testing for mad cow

Sometimes I think we live in an alternate reality.  The U.S. Court of Appeals (District of Columbia Circuit) has now overturned a lower court ruling that allowed Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to conduct its own tests for mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE).  Imagine!  Creekstone wanted to demonstrate that its beef was free of BSE so it could be sold in Asia.  But that would imply that other meat was not safe and force other companies to test as well.  Apparently, the USDA does not think that would be fair and the Appeals Court agrees.  What about fairness to beef eaters?  About that, the court had nothing to say.

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