May 1 2013

Today: The Tenth Anniversary edition of Food Politics

Please welcome the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Food Politics.

It’s comes with an exceptionally gracious Foreword by Michael Pollan.  I wrote a new Preface and a lengthy Afterword to bring it all up to date.

Doing the Afterword gave me a chance to think about what’s happened in the food movement over the past ten (eleven, really, but who’s counting) years since Food Politics first appeared in 2002.

Indeed, a great deal has happened, and much of it good, thanks to everyone who is working to create a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Read and enjoy!

Apr 30 2013

Annals of marketing: Wrigley’s caffeinated gum comes to market

Wrigley, a subsidiary of Mars (M&Ms), announced its new caffeinated chewing gum yesterday in a full-page ad in USA Today.

In response, Michael Taylor,  the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, issued an official comment:

The only time that FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s. Today, the environment has changed. Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola.

For that reason, FDA is taking a fresh look at the potential impact that the totality of new and easy sources of caffeine may have on the health of children and adolescents, and if necessary, will take appropriate action.

This is what the fuss is about:

Alert™ Energy Caffeine Gum - Mint

As Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) points out, is this something we need?

While the FDA is busy investigating deaths linked (although not conclusively) to caffeinated energy drinks, CSPI has alerted the agency to the increasingly widespread addition of caffeine to foods.

The gum contains 40 milligrams of caffeine per piece, with 8 pieces per box.

Forty milligrams isn’t much but look what else is caffeinated these days: Frito Lay’s Cracker Jack’d snack, Kraft’s MiO Energy water enhancer, and jelly beans, waffles, maple syrup, popcorn, and  beef jerky.  These are in addition to the usual sources of caffeine: coffee, tea, and cola drinks.

Most people can manage small amounts of caffeine without sleep interruptions, but larger amounts are a worry.

Pediatricians discourage use of caffeine by children and adolescents who are highly sensitive to its effects: restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and sometimes worse.

CSPI points out that Wrigley’s used to position gum as a study aid and list caffeine consumption alongside snacking and studying late at night as “choices which can negatively affect [students'] scholastic performance, as well as their overall health.”

Now, the company is pushing caffeinated gum….

Anything to sell chewing gum, I guess.

Apr 29 2013

Happy 5th Birthday: Pew Commission

Five years ago today, The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released its report: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

I was a member of the commission, put together by Pew  Charitable Trusts in partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and chaired by John Carlin, a former governor of Kansas.

The commission met for two years to investigate the effects of the current system of intensive animal production on public health, the environment, the communities housing confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and on the welfare of farm animals.

As a member, I had the opportunity to visit huge dairy farms, feedlots, pig farms, and facilities housing 1.2 million chickens.  This was, to say the least, quite an education.

The big issues? Overuse of antibiotics and the shocking environmental impact of vast amounts of animal waste.

The big surprise? Plenty of adequate laws exist to protect the environment and communities; they just aren’t being enforced.

A New York Times editorial noted that farm policies have turned “animal husbandry…into animal abuse,” and need rethinking and revision.

Indeed they did and do. 

As with all such reports, this one made too many recommendations but the most important ones had to do with the inappropriate use of antibiotics in farm animal production:

Restrict the use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics.

Another key recommendation:

Fully enforce current federal and state environmental exposure regulations and legislation, and increase monitoring  of the possible public health effects of IFAP [industrial farm animal production] on people who live and work in or near these operations.

And my sentimental favorite:

Create a Food Safety Administration that combines the food inspection and safety responsibilities of the federal government, USDA, FDA, EPA, and other federal agencies into one agency to improve the safety of the US food supply.

What good do reports like this do?

The report established a strong research basis for the need for policies to clean up industrial farm animal production and better protect the health and welfare of everyone and everything involved: workers, communities, the environment, and the animals themselves.

This is a good time to take another look at the report and consider how its basic—and absolutely necessary—recommendations can be put in place, and the sooner the better.

Apr 26 2013

Parke Wilde’s Food Policy is now out

For those of us who teach food policy and politics, a new textbook is most welcome, especially when it comes from Parke Wilde.  Wilde is now a professor at Tufts and a food policy blogger, but I first met him years ago when he was a reporter for the Community Nutrition Institute’s Nutrition Week.

His first book has just been released.

Parke Wilde.  Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction.  Earthscan, 2013.

Large Image

I blurbed it:

Food Policy in the United States is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how our food system really works or to take action to change it.  Professor Wilde provides a tough but balanced and decidedly nonpartisan overview of the facts behind the full range of policy areas—among them  agricultural support, safety, dietary guidance–that affect food production and consumption.   If you want to join the food movement to improve the system, here’s how to find out where to start.

Enjoy!

Apr 25 2013

Coca-Cola: obesity is your fault, not ours

A reader sent me an e-mail received from Coca-Cola:

As you know, obesity is an issue that affects all of us. At Coca-Cola, we believe we can help solve it by working together. As you heard back in January, we are committed to doing our part – by offering more low- and no-calorie choices, more portion controlled packages, and useful calorie information in more places than ever before.

As part of our ongoing commitment to provide more information about calories, we want to share a new “Calorie Balance”  infographic that we created. This is posted on our Company website here.

Our infographic is a simple, easy tool that informs people about where Americans’ calories are coming from and what we can all do to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

It communicates government data and third-party published studies in a compelling way, showing that too many calories consumed as compared to those expended can lead to weight gain.

OK.  I can’t resist.  Here’ just one piece of Coke’s infographic:

Guess what #4 is.   And what food is responsible for more than one-third of calories from sugars in U.S. diets?

The infographic gives no guidance about food choices or amounts best for health, but it is quite specific about physical activity.  Do lots!

Overall, I read the infographic as saying “Hey, it’s not our sugar-water that’s making you put on weight.  It’s up to you to choose what you drink and work it off with physical activity.”

Getting active is always good advice, but doesn’t Coke’s phenomenally comprehensive and astronomically expensive  marketing offensive have anything to do with food choices?  Coke must think all that is irrelevant.

I think it’s quite relevant.  And so does the research.

Apr 24 2013

FDA vs EWG: Report on antibiotic-resistant superbugs in meat oversimplified, misleading?

Earlier this month, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued a report on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat: Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets.

Its message:

Consumers have a right to know that federal scientists are finding antibiotic-resistant bacteria on retail meat in high percentages.

The report must have struck a nerve.  The FDA has now posted a rebuttal on its website, along with the agency’s interpretation of data in the 2011 Retail Meat Annual Report of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).

The EWG, says FDA, “oversimplifies the NARMS data and provides misleading conclusions.”

The FDA particularly objects to EWG’s use of the term “superbugs.”

We believe that it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as “superbugs” if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics.

The FDA says the NARMS data show:

  • No fluoroquinolone resistance in Salmonella from any source (the drug of choice for treating adults with Salmonella).
  • Resistance to trimethoprim-sulfonamide is also low (0% to 3.7%).
  • Fluoroquinolone resistance in Campylobacter has remained essentially unchanged since it was banned for use in poultry in 2005.
  • Macrolide antibiotic resistance in retail chicken isolates remains low (this is the drug of choice for treating Campylobacter)
  • Multidrug resistance is rare in Campylobacter except that gentamicin resistance increased from 0.7% in 2007 to 18.1% in 2011.
  • Resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, which are used to treat salmonellosis, increased in Salmonella from chicken (10 to 33.5%) and turkey (8.1 to 22.4%) from 2002 to 2011.  FDA has already taken action by prohibiting certain extra-label uses of cephalosporins in cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

The EWG’s response to the FDA’s rebuttal:

This is the best the agency can do?

It has been failing to protect the public health on this issue for 40 years, only recently issuing a voluntary guidance to scale back on the worst antibiotic abuses.

What are we to make of this dispute?

Beyond questions about how best to frame antibiotic resistance, some facts are clear.

  • Most antibiotics in the United States are used as growth promoters for raising meat animals, not as treatment for infections in animals or people.
  • Frequent use of antibiotics selects for and promotes the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are difficult to treat, and sometimes very difficult to treat.

It would be better for public health to end the use of antibiotics as growth promoters.

The FDA’s current stance on use of animal antibiotics appears to be more about protecting the meat industry than about protecting public health.

While waiting for the politics to get better (and this might be a long wait), the EWG has some tips for avoiding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat.  I can’t think of a single good reason not to follow these recommendations, except that they place the burden of avoiding antibiotic-resistant bacteria on you rather than on the meat industry.

That’s why EWG’s advice to Be Vocal makes especially good sense:

Be vocal: 

  • When you’re eating out: ask if the meat was raised without unnecessary antibiotics. 
  • „At the doctor’s office: don’t press for unnecessary antibiotics. 
  • With your friends: share this tip sheet or a wallet guide with them. 
  • „Make your voice heard: Go to ewg.org/antibioticsaction to find out how you can help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics [Try www.ewg.org--the link given here doesn't seem to work].
Apr 23 2013

Marketing foods and drinks to kids in school goes on and on

I’ve just been sent a new report on the current status of marketing foods and beverages to children at school: Promoting Consumption at School: Health Threats Associated with Schoolhouse Commercialism.

This reportfrom the National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado, Boulder,  makes sobering reading.

As the press release explains,

In their quest for additional funding, many schools and school districts have allowed corporations to promote the consumption of sweetened beverages and foods of little or no nutritional value in school and in conjunction with school projects…corporations can seem philanthropic when they provide sponsored educational materials…to schools and teachers. These materials can be colorful and engaging, and may align with state and now Common Core standards, but they also present a worldview consistent with that of the sponsor.

If you think that the food companies are making good on their pledges to reduce marketing to kids, this report will make you think again.

Here are a few snippets:

  • Available data suggest that the total amount of money spent on advertising food and beverages to children, both in and out of schools, has decreased over the past few years.  However, any reduction in spending reflects at least in part a shift to less expensive, but more effective, alternative media advertising.
  • Food and beverage companies advertise in schools in multiple ways: (1) appropriation of space on school property, (2) exclusive agreements, (3) sponsorship of school programs, (4) sponsorship of supplementary educational materials, (5) digital marketing, (6) sponsorship of incentive programs, and (7) fundraising.
  • Teaching materials may not mention the sponsor but reflect the sponsor’s views, such as that all beverages count toward hydration.
  • Digital marketing to school kids is a deliberate strategy, as explained by a Coca-Cola executive:  “We’re especially targeting a teen or young adult audience. They’re always on their mobile phones and they spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet.”
  • Health and wellness initiatives designed to promote physical activity and movement may appear to meet federal guidelines but “are problematic in that they shift the onus for obesity from the corporation’s responsibility to market healthy food to the consumer’s responsibility for making healthy choices.”

The report is a terrific summary of what’s happening with food marketing in schools, loaded with facts, figures, and references.  

In light of the evidence it provides, the report’s recommendation seems grossly understated:

Policymakers should prohibit advertising in schools unless the school provides compelling evidence that their intended advertising program causes no harm to children.

What’s missing from this report is a blueprint for action.

For that, you must go elsewhere, for example, to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Berkeley Media Studies Group, or the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Do you know of other good sources for taking action on marketing in schools?  Do tell.

Apr 22 2013

Food politics makes strange bedfellows, again

Last week, I wrote about the dairy industry’s petition to avoid having to follow FDA rules about labeling artificial sweeteners on the front of milk cartons.

Cara Wilking, Senior Staff Attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University points out that the Sugar Association, the trade association for producers of cane and beet sugar, is right on top of this issue.

To assist consumers in making informed choices about what is sweetening the products they purchase, the Sugar Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting changes to labeling regulations on sugar and alternative sweeteners.

In this petition we asked that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols be identified on the front of the package along with the amounts, similar to what is required in Canada.

If it is important to you to know if the product you purchase contains artificial sweeteners, let your congressional representatives know that FDA needs to take action on this important consumer issue.

The Sugar Association, obviously, represents the producers of cane and beet sugar. It wants to sell more sugar.  It doesn’t like artificial sweeteners much.  [Recall: it doesn't like me much either---go to Media and scroll down to the bottom to read the Sugar Association's letter threatening to sue me].

In contrast, the dairy industry wants to sell more milk.  Sweetened milk, no matter with what, sells to kids.  School kids are a big market for the dairy industry.  This market, however, is not doing well these days, according to the dairy industry’s August 2012 School Channel Survey.

Schools and processors are realizing 59% of current potential…Milk potential stands at 6.29 milks per student each week…Actual usage is 3.74 milks per student each week.  Elementary schools: 70% of potential being realized, down 1 point Secondary schools: 50%, down 1 point over last year.

Achieving ‘a milk with every meal’ translates into nearly 300 million incremental gallons….

Of course artificial sweeteners should be prominently labeled.  The Sugar Association has this one right.

Whatever your opinion, you can file comments at www.regulations.gov. Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147.

 

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