by Marion Nestle

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Oct 20 2015

Uh oh. Big Soda lobbyists weaken Mexican soda tax

Yesterday, I received this ALERT from health advocates in Mexico:

Big Soda negotiates behind doors with PRI to reduce Mexican SSB tax to 5% for drinks with 5 grams of added sugars per 100ml– Public health advocates denounce conflict of interest and speak out in defense of the tax

Yesterday Mexico’s Congressional Finance Committee proposed and voted in favor of an alarming measure to reduce the rate of the current 10% sugar-sweetened beverage tax to 5% on products with 5 grams of added sugar or less per 100 milliliters. The measure was pushed through committee vote with a reservation from only one political party and moves on to a vote in the lower house within the next 24-48 hours. Beverages with more than 5 grams of added sugar per 100 milliliters would continue to be taxed at 10% (1 peso per liter).

A columnist in one of Mexico’s most prominent dailies indicates that this negotiation between the FEMSA Coca-Cola bottling company and the PRI political party (current administration and majority vote holder in Congress and Senate) came about after attempts at a food and beverage industry negotiation with the PRI, seeking to reduce Mexico’s SSB and snack taxes. The columnist says Bimbo (&the food industry) was eventually excluded from this negotiation to focus on an attainable goal of reducing the SSB tax. (See column in Spanish: )

After several recent press conferences and an act in Congress “to trap” industry lobby mosquitos (Oct 6), continuing to call for an increase to a 20% SSB tax in accordance with national and international expert recommendations, and warning the public and decision makers of industry lobby, today civil society advocates –the Nutritional Health Alliance and ContraPESO– published a full page ad in Mexico’s most important daily asking whether legislators are on the side of public health or soda industry interests and calling on them not to cede to the industry lobby.

In the ad (see translation below and image attached), advocates warn that the most currently consumed 600 ml sugary drink on the Mexican market that has 5 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters contains 30 grams of sugar, above the WHO’s new guidelines for healthy living.

The language of the initiative to reduce the tax recognizes the SSB tax as a public health measure and the progress made, yet proceeds to reduce the tax far below the expert recommended rate, representating a setback to Mexico’s landmark tax.

FYI: Although Mexico’s lower house of Congress (Chamber of Deputies) holds authority over final budget decisions on income, Mexican legislative process entails that the budget package, once voted in the lower house, passes to the Senate for review and a vote, before passing back to the lower house for final approval.

Tweet indignation over industry back-door negotiation and support for the current tax and need for an increased tax: #ImpuestoAlRefresco
Press interviews: contact
If you or your association can emit a declaration or letter of support, send to:

PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCATES IN MEXICO – Ad in Reforma newspapers OCT 19, 2015 – IN DEFENSE OF MEXICAN SSB TAX. Translation:
Members of Congress:

Have you let yourselves be bitten by the sugar-sweetened beverage lobby mosquitos?:

Do you serve soda industry or public health interests?

– The tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is 10% (1 peso) and not 20% (2 pesos) per liter as recommended by international and national organizations.

– The proposal to lower the tax to 5% to beverages with 5 grams or less of sugar per 100 milliliters acquiesces to soda industry interests, which are the parties mainly responsible for the collapse of public health in Mexico.

– The most consumed 600 milliliter drink in Mexico has 5 grams of sugar for every 100 milliliters contains 30 grams of sugar (6 spoonfuls).

– This surpasses the 25 grams (5 spoonfuls) that the World Health Organization establishes as a maximum amount of added sugars per day in order to preserve one’s health. (1)

– Sugar is not an essential nutrient and there is solid evidence showing that its consumption is harmful to health, contributing to overweight, obesity and caries, serious public health problems in Mexico.

Sugar-sweetened beverages kill more Mexicans a year than organized crime. (2)

Whose side are you on?


Show that you work to protect the public health of the Mexican population and not Big Soda’s profits.

We demand that the special tax be preserved and increased to 20% for ALL SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES, as recommended by international and national organizations.

Oct 15 2015

Catching up on food nanotechology

Every now and then something reminds me about food nanotechnology, the use of molecular size nanoparticles to whiten or improve the safety or shelf life of processed foods (see previous posts on the topic).

What brought this on is a recent report from Australia that sounds all too familiar.  Friends of the Earth commissioned tests and found “nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and silica in 14 popular products, including Mars’ M&Ms, Woolworths white sauce and Praise salad dressing.”  Australian regulators, however, have denied that nanoparticles are in use “because no company had applied for approval.”

Last year, Friends of the Earth did the same in America.  Its report, “Tiny Ingredients Big Risks,” documents nanomaterials in more than 90 food products, among them Jet Puffed Marshmallows, Trix Cereal and Nestle Original Coffee Creamer.

Nanoparticles are really small (10-9 meters, or one millionth of a millimeter).  How they work and what they might do to the human body is greatly in need of research.

The FDA’s guidance to industry—nonbinding and, in my opinion, not particularly helpful—says nanoparticles are safe in foods but that companies using them should let the FDA know about it.

It is prudent practice for you to do so, particularly when the manufacturing process change involves emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology…The consequences (to consumers and to the food industry) of broadly distributing a food substance that is later recognized to present a safety concern have the potential to be significant…FDA does not categorically judge all products containing nanomaterials or otherwise involving application of nanotechnology as intrinsically benign or harmful. Rather, for nanotechnology-derived and conventionally-manufactured food products alike, FDA considers the characteristics of the finished product and the safety of its intended use.

Are they really safe?  Nobody knows, leaving much room for unease, as Twilight Greenaway pointed out in Grist in 2012.  Her Grist colleague Tom Philpott wrote about this question even earlier—in 2010: “The strategy seems to be: release into the food supply en masse first; assess risks later (if ever).”

This is not reassuring

Web MD suggests that “while researchers are still sorting it out, avoid heavily processed foods, and read labels if you’re concerned.”

Good advice, and another reason to avoid heavily processed foods.

Oct 13 2015

Salt warning labels coming to New York City, December 1

Last month, the New York City Board of Health voted to require chain restaurants to publish warnings when menu items contain more than the recommended daily limit for sodium, thus taking the lead on regulating the amount of salt in foods.

Salt, says the city health department, is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease but also a leading driver of health disparities: blood pressure levels are higher in African-American populations.

The rule, which takes effect December 1, says that chains with 15 or more locations in New York City must display a warning symbol — a salt shaker inside a triangle — if the item has more than 2,300 milligrams of salt.

The policy does not restrict choice or limit how much sodium can be in food.

The New York State Restaurant Association (NRA) called the new rule “burdensome.”

It issued a statement:

This is just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through…Every one of these cumbersome new laws makes it tougher and tougher for restaurants to find success.

The health department estimates the regulation will apply to 10 percent of all menu items.  Some examplesof affected products (For the record, 40% of salt is sodium; for grams of salt multiply by 2.5):

  • Panera Bread Smokehouse Turkey Panini (2,590 mg),                  “
  • TGI Friday’s sesame jack chicken strips (2,700 mg)
  • Regular-size Applebee’s Grilled Shrimp ‘n Spinach Salad (2,990 mg)
  • Subway footlong spicy Italian sub (2,980 mg)
  • Red Robin monster-size salted caramel milkshake (3,400 mg)

But the Salt Institute, a salt producers’ trade group, called the policy “misguided”:

This is another example of the government creating policy based on outdated, incorrect sodium guidelines that have been refuted by ten years of research. Research shows Americans already eat within the safe range of sodium consumption and population-wide sodium reduction strategies are unnecessary and could be harmful,” said Lori Roman, President of the Salt Institute.

The consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest said the proposed warnings “will prompt restaurants to use less salt and will help consumers reduce their risk of stroke or heart attack.”

This one will be interesting to watch.  Will people pay attention?  Will chain restaurants take steps to reduce sodium levels?  Will hypertension levels decline?  I hope researchers are hard at work collecting baseline data.

Oct 12 2015

Independently funded study by Industry-funded authors finds sugary drinks to increase the risk of hypertension. The score: 70:6.

Do sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk of high blood pressure?

Yes, says this study, which was conducted by investigators who accept research funding from Coca-Cola and the Calorie Control Council (a trade association for companies that make or use artificial sweeteners).  But the study itself was funded by independent government agencies or health associations in Canada.

I’m counting it in the category of studies with results unfavorable to the food industry sponsors.

This brings the score to 70 industry-funded studies since mid-March with results favorable to the sponsor, to 6 with unfavorable results.

Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and incident hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohortsViranda H Jayalath, Russell J de Souza, Vanessa Ha, Arash Mirrahimi, Sonia Blanco-Mejia, Marco Di Buono, Alexandra L Jenkins, Lawrence A Leiter, Thomas MS Wolever, Joseph Beyene, Cyril WC Kendall, David JA Jenkins, and John L Sievenpiper.  Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 102:914-921 doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.107243.

  • Conclusions: SSBs were associated with a modest risk of developing hypertension in 6 cohorts. There is a need for high-quality randomized trials to assess the role of SSBs in the development of hypertension and its complications.
  • Funding: “The Canadian Institutes of Health Research…through the Canada-wide Human Nutrition Trialists’ Network and by the Diet, Digestive Tract, and Disease (3D) Centre, which is funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation.  The Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Ontario Research Fund provided the infrastructure for the conduct of this project.”  Some of the investigators also received funds from Canadian government agencies or health associations.
  • Authors’ funding disclosures: RJdS has received research support from the Calorie Control Council and the Coca-Cola Company…ALJ is a part owner, vice president, and director of research of Glycemic Index Laboratories, Toronto, Canada….JB has received research support from the Calorie Control Council and The Coca-Cola Company…CWCK has received research support from the Calorie Control Council, the Coca-Cola Company (investigator initiated, unrestricted grant), Hain Celestial, Kellogg, Kraft, Loblaw Companies Ltd., Solae, and Unilever…DJAJ has received research grants from Loblaw Companies Ltd., Unilever, the Coca-Cola Company… JLS has received research support from the Calorie Control Council and the Coca-Cola Company…travel funding, speaker fees, or honoraria from the Calorie Control Council, the Canadian Sugar Institute, World Sugar Research Organization, White Wave Foods, Abbott Laboratories, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, The Coca-Cola Company, and the Corn Refiners Association….


This is an exception that proves the rule.  In this study, a group of investigators, some—but not all— of whom typically receive funding from food companies, participated in a study funded by Canadian government and health agencies.

One possible explanation is that when investigators typically funded by soda companies are funded independently,  they design and conduct independent research.

If nothing else, this study is evidence for the need for and value of independent funding of nutrition research.

Oct 7 2015

The bizarre saga of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Continued

Two events yesterday:

#1.  USDA and HHS announce that sustainability will not be part of the Dietary Guidelines.

This year, we will release the 2015 edition, and though the guidelines have yet to be finalized, we know they will be similar in many key respects to those of past years. Fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats and other proteins, and limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium remain the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

…In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.”  The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.

OK, but see Michele Simon’s analysis of the legal issues related to sustainability in the guidelines, and My Plate My Planet’s analysis of the comments filed on the sustainability question.

As my analysis shows, the USDA and HHS would be well within its legal authority to include sustainability. In summary:

    • A plain reading of the statute does not preclude sustainability;
    • The Congressional intent was to further a broad agenda on health;
    • Previous DGA versions included issues beyond “nutrition and diet”.

And also see Kathleen Merrigan et al’s argument in favor of sustainable dietary guidelines in Science Magazine.

So this is about politics, not science.

#2.  A coalition of critics of the Dietary Guidelines is attempting to block their release.

Yesterday’s Hagstrom Report and, later, Politico (both behind paywalls) reported that this group is calling on  USDA and HHS to turn over the guidelines to a committee of the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board for reexamination before releasing them to the public.

The issues?  The meat and beverage recommendations.

The group is funded by philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold, who fund Nina Teicholz’s work.

Teicholz is on the board of the group as is Cheryl Achterberg, dean of the Ohio State University College of Education, and John Billings, who directs the Wagner School’s Health Policy and Management Program at NYU (why they agreed to do this is beyond me).

Hagstrom notes that coordinating support is coming from Beth Johnson, a former undersecretary for food safety at USDA who has her own consulting firm with clients apparently including the National Restaurant Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Other members of the advisory board include several scientists who do research funded by food companies.

The Coalition’s website is here.

This morning’s Politico Pro Agriculture has a long piece on the funding behind the coalition.

In the lead up to congressional hearings on the proposed 2015 dietary guidelines, the Arnolds are spending an initial $200,000 to communicate that critique and to advocate for changes that they say would improve the process. They have funded the new political action group, called The Nutrition Coalition, whose well-placed lobbyists have helped Teicholz score face-to-face meetings with top officials in Congress and the White House to push for an independent review of the guideline process. The team helped persuade lawmakers to insert language in the fiscal 2016 House agriculture spending bill to direct the National Academy of Medicine to conduct such a review.

Really? Eating fruits and vegetables and not overeating calories requires this level of lobbying?

This too is about politics.

The mind boggles.


The Hagstrom Report is keeping track of the testimony at today’s congressional hearing on the guidelines.

Oct 2 2015

Weekend Reading: Emily Yates-Doerr’s “The Weight of Obesity”

Emily Yates-Doerr.  The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala. University of California Press, 2015.

Emily was a student in NYU’s anthropology department and I’ve admired her work for a long time.  Her book is based on her remarkable dissertation work, and I was happy to be asked to blurb it:

Emily Yates-Doerr gives us an anthropologist’s tough analysis of how one resource-poor Guatemalan population responds to an increasingly globalized food supply as it transitions rapidly from widespread hunger and malnutrition to the increasing prevalence of obesity and its health consequences.  The Weight of Obesity views this “nutrition transition” from the unusually revealing perspective of an insider who experienced it personally with eyes wide open.

For me, the most riveting parts of her book are the transcribed conversations between clinic nutritionists and patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—a case study in the cultural gap between nutrient-based advice (“nutritionism”) and the way people actually eat.  The effects of the rapid influx of “ultra-processed” products on the health of the populations studied here are also painfully clear.  This is an ethnography of the nutrition transition caught just as these cultural and dietary shifts were occurring.

Sep 29 2015

Cocoa flavanols: science or marketing?

Sunday’s New York Times carried this full-page advertisement.

cocoa via

The ad is from Cocoa Via, a company owned by Mars.  It quotes a dietitian stating that cocoa flavanols “support healthy blood flow…which allows oxygen and nutrients to get to your heart more easily.”

The ad directs you to the full story at (where you see more ads).

I posted the science behind this ad earlier this month in my collection of industry-funded studies with results favorable to the sponsor’s interests.  To repeat:

Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study Roberto Sansone, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos , Jan Heuel, David Falk, Dominik Schuler, Rabea Wagstaff, Gunter G. C. Kuhnle, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, Hagen Schroeter, Marc W. Merx, Malte Kelm and Christian Heiss for the Flaviola Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program.  British Journal of Nutrition, September 9, 2015. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002822.

  • Conclusion: In healthy individuals, regular CF [cocoa flavanol] intake improved accredited cardiovascular surrogates of cardiovascular risk, demonstrating that dietary flavanols have the potential to maintain cardiovascular health even in low-risk subjects.
  • Funding: Additional funding was provided…through an unrestricted grant by MARS Inc. MARS Inc. also provided the standardised test drinks used in this investigation… H. S. provided test drinks on behalf of Mars Inc… H. S. is employed by MARS Inc., a member of the Flaviola research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities. [The conflict statement also discloses that MARS employee H.S. shared responsibility for designing the study, writing the paper, and approving the final content].
  • Comment: Lest the “eat more chocolate” message of these studies be missed, Mars sent out a press release: “Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people.”

Now we have a full-page ad in the New York Times.

Here’s what the ad does not say:

  • CocoaVia is owned by MARS, Inc (this appears nowhere in the ad).
  • Flavanols are usually destroyed during normal cocoa processing.
  • Most chocolate contains few flavanols; CocoaVia’s process preserves some of the flavonols in very dark chocolate.
  • Flavonol-rich or not, chocolate candy is not a health food.

Like most conflicted research, this is about marketing—hence, the ad—not science.

Sep 24 2015

Sugar politics: A roundup of items

This week’s post about sugars #4:

Sugar politics is in the news and I’ve been collecting items about it.

  • U.K. consumers say sugar is their #1 food issue, beating out waste and salt.
  • The Florida sugar industry is giving generously to Republican presidential candidates.
  • Australian sugar growers are pushing for greater access to the U.S. sugar market through the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and are in part responsible for the impasse in signing it (this is not necessarily a bad thing).
  • U.S. candy makers are not happy about the suspension agreements brought against Mexican sugar imports.  These, they say, have raised the price of sugar.  Ordinarily, under NAFTA, Mexico is allowed to ship as much sugar to the U.S. as it likes, with no tariffs.  But Mexico agreed to new trade caps in return for not having to deal with antidumping investigations (isn’t trade fun?).
  • The Washington Post has a good summary of where we are on putting Added Sugars on food labels.
  • The FDA will take comments specifically on its Nutrition Facts panel studies, including controversial research on how well consumers would understand an added sugars label, the agency announced in a Federal Register notice.  The comment period is extended to October 15.
  • The FDA’s move follows a letter from law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz that criticized the agency for not taking comments on its consumer research.
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