Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 22 2016

GMO labeling: it’s happening!

When the Senate last week failed to pass a bill that would block individual states from passing laws requiring GMO labeling, it meant that Vermont’s labeling law would go into effect July 1.  Vermont passed its bill in 2014.

 

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Too bad for the Grocery Manufacturers Association and its food and biotech company members who spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting labeling requirements.

Food companies now have a big problem.  If they want to sell products in Vermont, they must comply with GMO labeling.  Also, if other states pass slightly different laws, they will have to do labels state by state—a compliance nightmare.

Hence their attempt to get Congress to preempt Vermont’s law.  That ploy failed.

The result: one huge food company after another says it will voluntarily institute GMO labeling to comply with Vermont’s requirements.

As quoted by Reuters, General Mills says:

We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers, and we simply won’t do that,” Jeff Harmening, head of General Mills’ US retail operations said in a post on the company’s blog. “The result: Consumers all over the country will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills food products.”

Politico Morning Agriculture explains:

To be sure, General Mills is labeling as a practical business decision, not to change the policy discussion. The first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law is set to take effect in Vermont on July 1. As of that date, food makers face fines of $1,000 per day for every product type found on grocery store shelves in the state that’s not properly marked.

In the meantime, the Non-GMO Project, which certifies products as GMO-free, has put its seal on tens of thousands of products.

The reality: the public wants GMO foods to be labeled.

This should come as no surprise.  Public surveys since the late 1980s have come to the same conclusion.

Q: Why aren’t GMO foods labeled as such?

A.  Industry lobbying and an FDA too weak to stand up to it (see my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

The GMO and grocery industries brought this situation on themselves by so strongly opposing labeling in 1994.  Believe me, they were warned (I witnessed all this as a member of the FDA Food Advisory Committee at the time).

Unless the industry can find another way to stop it, foods will be GMO labeled this year.

My prediction: the world will not come to an end.

Mar 21 2016

The UK soda tax: a tipping point?

Wonder of wonders, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has put a soda tax into his new budget initiative (see BBC account, the video and text of Osborne’s speech, and the Treasury department’s fact sheet on the soda tax).

Here’s how the tax is supposed to work:

Shocking: Many of Britain's most sugary drinks contain more that the daily recommended amount for one person

Osborne says the tax will bring in £520 million ($732 million) in the first year, and he intends to use it to fund more sports in schools.

But it goes into effect in April 2018.  This is to give the industry time to reformulate products with less sugar.  But—the delay also gives the industry ample time to block the tax.

Public Health England supports the tax (see statement).

But the soda industry wasted no time reacting to this bad news.

  • Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drink companies strongly objected.
  • The immediate result: a fall in their stock prices.
  • The immediate reaction: Sue the government.  On what grounds?  Discrimination.  The tax does not affect sugary juices, milkshakes, or processed foods.

New tax: Soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar will be taxed at 6p per can or carton and drinks with more than 8g of sugar will be taxed at 8pm, which if passed on to the consumer means a can of Old Jamaica ginger beer will go up from 58p to 66p

The makers of artificial and alternative sweeteners think this will be a win for them.

Will the tax help reduce obesity?  On its own, that would be asking a lot.

Jamie Oliver, the British chef who favors the tax, says of course it won’t work on its own.  It needs to be accompanied by six additional actions (food labels, better school food, curbs on marketing to kids, etc.).

Why are soda companies so worried about this?  It could be catching.

Will the UK tax stick?  Watch Big Soda pull out every stop on this one.

And think about what they are doing to fight soda taxes when you read or hear that soda companies want to be part of the solution to obesity.

Mar 18 2016

Six industry-funded studies. The score for the year: 156/12

Since March 16, 2015, I’ve been collecting research studies funded by industry or conducted by investigators with food industry connections.  These are studies that I’ve either run across in the course of my reading or that were sent to me by readers (thanks especially to Cole Adams).

It has now been a year since I started doing this.  If I have counted correctly, this somewhat haphazard collection comes to a grand total of 168 funded studies, 156 of them with results favorable to the sponsor’s interests, but only 12 industry-funded studies with unfavorable results.

That’s more than enough to make this point: it’s a lot easier to find industry-funded studies with results favorable to the sponsor’s interest than against it.

I will do a more accurate count and see what other conclusions, if any, can be drawn from this collection as soon as I can get to its analysis.

In the meantime, I’m stopping the collection.  From now on, I will only post sponsored studies that raise particular issues or that I find particularly amusing.

Here’s the last bunch:

Missing Lunch Is Associated with Lower Intakes of Micronutrients from Foods and Beverages among Children and Adolescents in the United States.  Kevin C. Mathias, PhD, Emma Jacquier, MMedSci, Alison L. Eldridge, PhD, RD.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.021.

  • Conclusions: This study identifies potential concerns for children missing lunch with respect to micronutrient intakes and shows that the lunches consumed by children in the United States are an important source of essential nutrients, but also less healthful dietary components.
  • Disclosures: All authors are employed by the Nestlé Research Center, Lausanne Switzerland (Nestec Ltd). Funding was provided by Nestec Ltd (Vevey, Switzerland) 

Higher-protein diets improve indexes of sleep in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults: results from 2 randomized controlled trials.  Jing Zhou, Jung Eun Kim, Cheryl LH Armstrong, Ningning Chen, and Wayne W Campbell.   Am J Clin Nutr March 2016;vol. 103 no. 3 766-774. doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.115.124669.

  • Conclusion: The consumption of a greater proportion of energy from protein while dieting may improve sleep in overweight and obese adults.
  • Disclosures: WWC was a member of the National Dairy Council Whey Protein Advisory Panel while the research was being conducted. The other authors reported no conflicts of interest related to the study.

A randomized trial of high-dairy-protein, variable-carbohydrate diets and exercise on body composition in adults with obesityEvelyn B. Parr, Vernon G. Coffey, Louise E. Cato, Stuart M. Phillips, Louise M. Burke andJohn A. Hawley. Obesity.  Article first published online: 2 MAR 2016.  DOI: 10.1002/oby.21451

  • Conclusions: Compared to a healthy control diet, energy-restricted high-protein diets containing different proportions of fat and CHO confer no advantage to weight loss or change in body composition in the presence of an appropriate exercise stimulus.
  • Funding agencies: Supported by a grant from the Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium, Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd…to JAH, VGC, SMP, and LMB).  Disclosure: The authors declared no conflict of interest.

Cranberry juice capsules and urinary tract infection after surgery: results of a randomized trialBetsy Foxman, PhD; Anna E. W. Cronenwett, BA; Cathie Spino, DSc; Mitchell B. Berger, MD, PhD; Daniel M. Morgan, MD.  Am J Obstet Gynecol 2015;213:194.e1-8.

  • Conclusion: Among women undergoing elective benign gynecological surgery involving urinary catheterization, the use of cranberry extract capsules during the postoperative period reduced the rate of UTI by half.
  • Disclosure: The authors report no conflicts of interest… We also thank Theralogix, LLC (Rockville, MD) for providing cranberry juice capsules and placebo for use in this study.
  • Comment: With respect to herbal medications, JAMA says “Only the use of cranberry for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women is supported by some scientific evidence.”  It does not say whether that evidence was obtained by cranberry or cranberry supplement producers.

Coffee Consumption Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of Plasma and Has No Effect on the Lipid Profile or Vascular Function in Healthy Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. Gloria M Agudelo-Ochoa, Isabel C Pulgar´ın-Zapata, Claudia M Velasquez-Rodriguez, ´  Mauricio Duque-Ramirez, Mauricio Naranjo-Cano, Monica M Quintero-Ortiz, Oscar J Lara-Guzman, and Katalina Munoz-Durango.  J Nutr 2016;146:524–31.

  • Conclusions: Both coffees, which contained CGAs [chlorogenic acids] and were low in diterpenes and caffeine, provided bioavailable CGAs and had a positive acute effect on the plasma AC [antioxidant capacity] in healthy adults and no effect on blood lipids or vascular function. The group that did not drink coffee showed no improvement in serum lipid profile, FMD [flow-mediated dilatation], BP [blood pressure], or NO [nitrous oxide] plasma metabolites.
  • Funding: Supported by Vidarium, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Research Center, Nutresa Business Group; CES University; and the University of Antioquia.
  • Author disclosures: GM Agudelo-Ochoa, IC Pulgarın-Zapata, OJ Lara-Guzman, ´ and K Munoz-Durango are researchers at Vidarium, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Research Center, Nutresa Business Group. M Naranjo-Cano and M Quintero-Ortiz are researchers at the Colcafe Research Coffee Group, Colcafe S.A.S. CM Velasquez-Rodrıguez and M Duque-Ramırez, no conflicts of interest.

Consumption of Fish Oil Providing Amounts of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid That Can Be Obtained from the Diet Reduces Blood Pressure in Adults with Systolic Hypertension: A Retrospective Analysis. Anne M Minihane, Christopher K Armah, Elizabeth A Miles, Jacqueline M Madden, Allan B Clark, Muriel J Caslake, Chris J Packard, Bettina M Kofler, Georg Lietz, Peter J Curtis, John C Mathers, Christine M Williams, and Philip C Calder.  J. Nutr. March 1, 2016 vol. 146 no. 3 516-523

  • Conclusions: These findings indicate that in adults with isolated systolic hypertension, daily doses of EPA+DHA as low as 0.7 g show clinically meaningful BP reductions, which, at a population level, could be associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk. Confirmation of findings in an RCT in which participants are prospectively recruited on the basis of BP status is required to draw definite conclusions.
  • Author disclosures: CK Armah, EA Miles, JM Madden, AB Clark, MJ Caslake, CJ Packard, BM Kofler, G Lietz, PJ Curtis, JC Mathers, and CM Williams, no conflicts of interest. AM Minihane is academic advisor for International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) Europe Obesity and Diabetes Task Force and receives funding from Abbott Nutrition, USA. PC Calder serves on advisory boards of Pronova BioPharma, Aker Biomarine, Danone/Nutricia, Smartfish, Sancilio, DSM, Solutex, and ILSI Europe.
Mar 17 2016

Politico’s The Agenda: The Food Issue (with my article on the farm bill)

Politico’s magazine, The Agenda, has an entire issue on food.  The lead  piece is The Great FLOTUS Food Fight and there are other interesting pieces too: The U.S. food safety system, a survey of food experts, a video of kids talking about their school lunches, and a Q&A with Tom Vilsack.

But also scroll around to find my contribution, The Farm Bill Drove Me Insane.

It starts:

In fall 2011, in an act of what can be described only as hubris, I had the bright idea of teaching a course on the farm bill.

For nearly 25 years, I had been writing and teaching about food politics and policy at New York University, and I knew that the farm bill dictated not only agricultural policy, but also such things as international food aid and feeding the hungry in America. It had to be one of the most important laws affecting food systems—if you care about such matters, likely the most important. With the 2008 farm bill up for renewal, I wanted to know more about it, and professor that I am, I thought: What better way to learn something than to teach it?

Big mistake.

Read more here.

Mar 16 2016

My latest edited book: Big Food: Critical perspectives

Simon N. WilliamsMarion Nestle (Editors).  Big Food: Critical perspectives on the global growth of the food and beverage industry.  Routledge, 2016.

Mar 15 2016

Five more industry-positive studies. The score: 150/12

Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial.  Thomas M Longland, Sara Y Oikawa, Cameron J Mitchell, Michaela C Devries, and Stuart M Phillips.  Am J Clin Nutr  March 2016  vol. 103 no. 3 738-746. doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.115.119339

  • Conclusion: Our results showed that, during a marked energy deficit, consumption of a diet containing 2.4 g protein · kg−1 · d−1 was more effective than consumption of a diet containing 1.2 g protein · kg−1 · d−1 in promoting increases in LBM [lean body mass] and losses of fat mass when combined with a high volume of resistance and anaerobic exercise.
  • Conflicts of interest: SMP has received research funding, travel allowances, and honoraria from the US National Dairy Council and Dairy Farmers of Canada. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest related to the study.
  • Comment: Dairy, of course, is a source of protein.

Consumption of dairy foods and diabetes incidence: a dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies. Gijsbers LDing ELMalik VSde Goede JGeleijnse JMSoedamah-Muthu SS. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Feb 24. pii: ajcn123216. [Epub ahead of print]

  • Conclusion: This dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies suggests a possible role for dairy foods, particularly yogurt, in the prevention of T2D. Results should be considered in the context of the observed heterogeneity.
  • Funding: This meta-analysis project on dairy products and incident diabetes was funded by Wageningen University.  SSS-M previously received funding from Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute, and Dairy Australia for projects related to dairy effects on lipoproteins and mortality; JMG previously received funding from the Global Dairy Platform and Dutch Dairy Association for projects related to dairy and cardiovascular diseases; and ELD previously consulted for the Dairy Research Institute. LG, VSM, and JdG reported no conflicts of interest related to the study. Any prior sponsors had no role in the design and conduct of the study, data collection and analysis, interpretation of the data, decision to publish, or preparation of this manuscript. The current funder had no role in design and conduct of the study, data collection and analysis, interpretation of the data, or decision to publish.
  • Comment: The conclusions put a positive spin on results that can also be considered equivocal.

Plenary Lecture 2: Milk and dairy produce and CVD: new perspectives on dairy and cardiovascular health. Julie A. Lovegrove* and Ditte A. Hobbs.  Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Page 1 of 12 doi:10.1017/S002966511600001X.

  • Conclusion: These apparent benefits of milk and dairy foods have been attributed to their unique nutritional composition, and suggest that the elimination of milk and dairy may not be the optimum strategy for CVD risk reduction.
  • Conflicts of Interest: The authors have previously received funding for research from AHDB Dairy. J. A. L. has acted as an advisor to the Dairy Council. J. A. L. has received funding for research from Volac for BBSRC case studentship and ‘in kind’ foods from Arla for an MRC funded study.

Multivitamin/mineral supplements: rationale and safety – A systematic review. Hans K. BiesalskiJana Tinz.  Nutrition, in press 2016.  doi:10.1016/j.nut.2016.02.013

  • Conclusion: Taken together, these findings indicate that MVM can be safe for long-term use (more than 10 years).
  • Funding: Editorial support was provided by Peloton Advantage and funded by Pfizer.

The challenges of vitamin and mineral supplementation in children with inherited metabolic disorders: a prospective trial.  A. Daly, S. Evans, S. Chahal, I. Surplice, S. Vijay, S. Santra and A. MacDonald.  J Human Nutrition and Dietetics.  Article first published online: 18 JAN 2016. DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12354 (thanks to Cole Adams for sending).

  • Conclusions: Despite improvements in some nutritional markers, overall use of the vitamin and mineral supplement was less than prescribed. New methods are needed to guarantee delivery of micronutrients in children at risk of deficiencies as a result of an essential manipulation of diet in inborn disorders of metabolism.
  • Funding: Anita MacDonald has received research funding from Merck Serono, Vitaflo Ltd and Nutricia. She is on Advisory Boards for Arla, Merck Serono and Nutricia. Anne Daly and Sharon Evans have received research funding from Vitaflo Ltd, and Nutricia. Research funding was obtained from Vitaflo International for the funding of this project.
Mar 14 2016

Gaming Australia’s Health Star labeling system

Australia has government-sponsored front-of-package nutrient labeling—the Health Star system—that looks a lot like the U.S. grocery industry’s Facts Up Front, but is even more favorable to manufacturers of processed foods.

As I explained a few years ago, Facts Up Front was a successful scheme by the Grocery Manufacturers and Food Marketing Associations to head off the FDA’s attempts to put traffic-light signals on the front of processed food products (here’s more of the back story).

Like the U.S. system, the Australian system is voluntary.  Unlike it, Health Stars are prominent and convey the impression that the more starts, the better.

A year into the program, Australian newspapers are writing about how companies are “gaming” the system:

SOURCE: CHOICE

Deakin University professor of public health nutrition Mark Lawrence said the health star rating system was being exploited as a marketing tool by junk food manufacturers to make consumers think their food was healthy. He said the scheme for packaged food undermined the public health message that people should eat fresh, unprocessed food.

This article quotes a statement by Kellogg that sales of Nutrigrain cereal went up after the company reformulated the product to raise its rating from 2 to 4 stars.

But isn’t reformulation a good thing?  It could be but just because a processed food is “better-for-you,” does not necessarily make it a good choice.

Professor Mark Lawrence of Deakin and Christina Pollard of Curtin University write:

Its main design limitation is that it simplistically frames the cause of, and solution to, dietary imbalances in terms of nutrients. This is fundamentally at odds with the latest nutrition advice, which uses a food-based approach…So what the health star rating system ends up doing is encouraging marketing of unhealthy or discretionary foods, as healthy options.

Overall, they point out:

Part of the problem is that the campaign’s main message – “the more stars the better” – is misleading…The actual health message is to eat more of these [recommended healthy] foods; it’s not that we should try to eat food with more stars.

Good advice.

Mar 12 2016

“Superannuated Chardonnay Socialist!” Moi?

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sarah Whyte of ABC 7:30 interviewed me and others for a 6-minute segment on Coca-Cola’s funding of health researchers.  Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

TIM OLDS, UNI. OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA: I’ve got about $26 million worth of funding, and of that, probably less than $2 million would have come from industry sources. Most of it comes from government schemes such as the NHMRC and the ARC, a lot from government departments.

SARAH WHYTE: So when you take that funding, do you get other academics saying you shouldn’t be taking funding from that?

TIM OLDS: We get a lot of academics saying that.

SARAH WHYTE: He disagrees with people like Marion Nestle who says his work is compromised.

TIM OLDS: I think frankly this is an example old-style, superannuated chardonnay socialism.

Oh.

Here’s what he’s referring to (the dates are Australian).

February 17  Marcus Strom, a business reporter with the Sydney Morning Herald, invites me to lunch to discuss issues related to Soda Politics.

February 24  Strom publishes an article based on our conversation: “What Coca-Cola isn’t telling you about its health funding in Australia” (the video tells the story).

February 26  The Sydney Morning Herald publishes Strom’s account of our lunch interview.

March 1  I give a lecture on Soda Politics at the University of Sydney.

March 3  In response to my remarks, the director of Coca-Cola Amatil makes this statement: “one can [of soda] a week not unhealthy.”

March 10  Coca-Cola publishes a preliminary version of its “commitment to transparency,” listing some of the community organizations it funds.

March 10  Strom writes an analysis of the transparency list—$1.7 million in support of research over five years—noting several key omissions.

March 10  ABC 7:30 runs its video (and see transcript).

March 10  A blogger publishes a list of individuals funded by Coca-Cola during that period.

March 11  Coca-Cola releases the complete version of its transparency list, including the names of individuals.

March 11  I receive an e-mail message from a Coca-Cola official stating the company’s commitment to transparency.

We are continuing to progress on our commitment to enhance our transparency in markets across the globe. Today, in Australia and New Zealand, we launched country-specific websites listing our health and well-being partnerships, research and health professionals and scientific experts that have received financial support from Coca-Cola from 2010-2015. In December 2015, we launched sites with this information in Great BritainGermanyFranceIreland, DenmarkFinlandBelgiumSwedenNorway and the Netherlands.  We will publish the six-month update for the U.S. later this month.

March 11  Strom attempts to interview the 14 health experts on Coca-Cola’s list; most don’t return his calls.

Coca-Cola deserves much praise for following through on its transparency commitments.  The aftermath continues.

Additions: New Zealand transparency and more from Australia

March 3: Coke: One can a week ‘not unhealthy’

March 11:  Coca-Cola cash went to NZ health organisations and research

March 11: Coca-Cola funds research in NZ, NZ Herald

March 13: Three Kiwi health professionals took money from Coca-Cola

March 14:  Gary Moorhead, past CEO of Sports Medicine Australia argues that shaming researchers does no good

March 15: NZ Dominion Post editorial says dentists should not take money from Coca-Cola

March 16: The Press, New Zealand, editorial on whether Coca-Cola should be paying scientists

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