Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 29 2015

Court asks for life in prison in peanut butter Salmonella case

Federal court officers are recommending what attorneys are calling an “unprecedented” sentence of life in prison for a Stewart Parnell, the former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America.  He was convicted last fall of selling bulk peanut butter from his plant in Georgia to food processors—even after the peanut butter tested positive for Salmonella.

The CDC associated the tainted peanuts with the deaths of 9 people and illnesses among more than 700.

The government’s sentencing recommendations say:

The Government submits that the U.S. Probation Office correctly calculated the Sentencing Guidelines adjusted offense level for Stewart Parnell to be 47 with criminal history category I, which results in a life sentence Guidelines range; for Michael Parnell, to be adjusted offense level 37 with criminal history category I, which results in a 210 to 262 months Guidelines range; and for Wilkerson to be adjusted offense level 30 with a criminal history of I, which results in a 97 to 121 months Guidelines range.

Does the punishment fit the crime?  Bill Marler’s discusses of the legal issues related to this conviction as opposed to the results of similar cases.  Marler is usually unsympathetic to owners of companies producing foods that kill people, but in this instance he says:

I find it a bit hard to parse out why some have been targeted – OK, perhaps the Parnell prosecution is a bit easier because it was so clearly intentional – and some have not, or at least not yet.  Honestly, what are the differences in prosecuting the Jensens, DeCosters and ConAgra and leaving the others – so far – unmolested…Is it the number of sick, the number of dead? Is it the economic consequences? What really are the criteria, or, should it simply be left to the discretion of the prosecutor as to who or what feels the sting of the criminal justice system?

Jul 28 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership’s food issues: rice, sugar, Malaysian palm-oil, trans fats

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations are taking place this week in Maui, as usual, in deep secret.

Doug Palmer of Pro Politico describes the major food issues: dairy, origin names, pork, rice, and sugar.  The issues come down to market share.  Every country wants to protect its own products but have free access to markets in other countries.

Although not a food, tobacco best explains why the TPP makes people nervous.  US tobacco companies want the TPP to open new markets.  But one of the TPP provisions is said to allow corporations sue governments that pass rules that might hurt the corporation’s business.  Philip Morris sued Australia over its “plain packaging” law and is now suing Great Britain.

The US position is supposedly that a country’s measures  to protect the health of humans, animals, or plants should not be in violation of the TPP, and that challenges to tobacco-control measures should be cleared with TPP partners.   Malaysia, for example, has proposed to exempt tobacco-control measures from challenges under TPP.

Malaysia?

The State Department has just taken Malaysia off its list of the worst countries for human trafficking (see the July 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report).

What a coincidence.  This allows Malaysia to participate in TPP negotiations.

But what bad timing.  The Wall Street Journal has just published a harrowing story about the de facto slavery of palm-oil workers on Malaysian plantations (the New York Times just did one on “sea slaves” forced to fish for pet food or animal feed).

As Rainforest Action Network said of the Malaysia story in a press release:

July 27, 2015 (SAN FRANCISCO) – The Obama administration has removed Malaysia from the list of worst offenders for human trafficking and forced labor today, one day after The Wall Street Journal published an extensive report on human trafficking and forced labor on Malaysian palm oil plantations that directly supply major U.S. companies. Malaysia is one of 12 nations in the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and inclusion of a country with the lowest ranking in the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report would be problematic for the administration.

And then, there’s the trans-fat connection:  The US demand for replacement of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils has pushed Malaysia and other palm-oil countries to produce more palm oil, faster.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

Palm oil has been repeatedly named on the U.S. Department of Labor’s list of industries that involve forced and child labor, most recently in 2014. Activists have blamed palm-oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia for large-scale deforestation and human-rights abuses. Oil palm growers respond that the palm tree, a high-yield crop, is a useful tool for socioeconomic development.

palm oil

The TPP is hard to understand, not least because negotiations are secret.  In giving the President the go-ahead to sign the agreement, Congress made two stipulations:

  • Congress must be notified 90 days in advance of signing.
  • The terms of the agreement must be disclosed to the public 60 days prior to signing.

At least that.  TPP deserves very close scrutiny.

Jul 27 2015

Our endlessly arcane and unhealthy sugar policy

While we are on the topic of sugars (see previous post) I saw this ad on the Hagstrom Report.  I wondered what it was about.
sugar

I went to the American Sugar Alliance website to look.

Legislation introduced by Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) to end global sugar subsidies in favor of a free market has picked up key endorsements in recent weeks, including many conservative organizations and numerous lawmakers.

Yoho’s bill would instruct the administration to target the foreign sugar subsidies that are distorting world prices. Once foreign subsidies are eradicated, U.S. sugar policy would be eliminated.

If I understand this correctly, Congressman Yoho is offering a trade:  If foreign governments of sugar-producing countries will stop subsidizing their countries’ sugar producers, we will stop charging tariffs on the sugar we import from them and we will end our quota system for sugar beets, both of which keep U.S. sugar prices considerably higher than world market prices.

For decades, U.S. Presidents have pledged to fix sugar policies (see my post explaining how they work), but they always get stopped by the well organized interests of the U.S. sugar industry—the producers of cane and beet sugar.

Current policies result in higher sugar prices for consumers but since the higher costs average out to only about $10 per person per year, nobody gets too upset about them.

European sugar quotas are supposed to end this year.  Whether they will is uncertain.

But wait!  Maybe higher sugar prices are a Good Thing.  Higher prices generally discourage consumption.

Clearly, these higher prices are not high enough.  This graph shows trends in the availability (not really consumption) of sugars in the food supply per capita, in pounds per year.

Capture

The good news: Total sugars have been declining in the food supply since about 2000 and now “only” amount to about 100 pounds per person per year.

Most of the drop is in the availability of cane and beet sugars (sucrose), now down to just over 40 pounds per capita.

The not-so-good news:  Sucrose (glucose and fructose) is being replaced by corn syrup (glucose) and high fructose corn syrup (glucose and fructose).

The bottom line: just about everyone would be healthier consuming less of any kind of sugar.

Jul 24 2015

Good news: FDA proposes Daily Value for Added Sugars–10% of calories

The FDA announced this morning that it is proposing a Daily Value (the maximum) for Added Sugars on food labels—10% of calories.

Susan Mayne, FDA’s Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, explains the rationale: this is the percentage recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and practically every other health authority that has examined the evidence on sugars and health.

Ten percent of calories means 200 calories on a 2000 calorie daily diet, or 50 grams, or 12 teaspoons—the amount in one 16-ounce soda.

If you drink a 16-ounce soda, you have done your added sugars for the day.

If this seems abstemious, consider that 10% of calories is more generous than the amount recommended by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition:

It is recommended that the average population intake of free sugars should not exceed 5% of total dietary energy for age groups from 2 years upwards.

The World Health Organization’s recent report on sugars and health also views 10% as the absolute maximum:

  • In both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation).
  • WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (conditional recommendation).

The WHO report explains:

The recommendation to further limit free sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy intake, which is also supported by other recent analyses, is based on the recognition that the negative health effects of dental caries are cumulative, tracking from childhood to adulthood…No evidence for harm associated with reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 5% of total energy intake was identified.

Americans, on average, consume way more than 10% of calories from added sugars, so this recommendation means a sharp restriction.

It means consuming less of sugary products: sodas, baked goods, and all those packaged foods with added sugars.

The proposal is up for comment.

You can bet that there will be plenty.

Congratulations to the FDA for this one.  Let’s hope it sticks.

How to Comment

To comment on the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Label:

  1. Read the proposed changes.
  2. Starting Monday, July 27, 2015, go to Regulations.gov to submit comments.
Jul 23 2015

Congress continues to intervene in Dietary Guidelines

Let’s review where we are on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) filed its scientific report in February.  More than 25,000 people filed comments.  Now, USDA and Health and Human Services staff must deal with the comments and write the actual dietary guidelines, the policy document scheduled for release later this year (see Timeline).

Recall that the DGAC report caused much controversy when it linked agricultural to health policy by recommending a diet that promotes health and protects the environment—one that is largely plant-based.

Lobbyists for food companies affected by such recommendations went straight to Congress.

The result?  Congress used the appropriations process to set limits on what the guidelines could say.

House Agricultural Appropriations Bill 

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans…unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:

(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans— (A) shall be based on scientific evidence that has been rated ‘‘Grade I: Strong’’ by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and (B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake.

(2) The Secretaries shall release a preliminary draft of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a list of all the scientific studies and evidence supporting each revised or new nutritional or dietary information or guideline, for a period of public comment of at least days.

(3) Following the end of the public comment period, the Secretaries shall provide a period for agency review of public comments of at least 60 days.

Senate Agricultural Appropriations Bill 

SEC. 733. None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.

The White House Office of Management and Budget objected to the House provision:

The Administration strongly objects to using the appropriations process for objectionable language provisions that are wholly unnecessary to the operation of the nutrition programs…The Administration is also concerned with objectionable language that interferes with evidentiary standards, limiting the ability of USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop dietary recommendations based on the preponderance of the strongest available scientific evidence, as is current practice. The language would also delay the availability of updated guidelines.

The appropriations bills have not yet been reconciled or sent to the President.  Let’s hope Congress decides to leave nutrition advice to people who know something about it and stay out of it.

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.
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