Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 7 2014

Weekend reading: health food regulation

Jill Hobbs, Stavroula Malla, Eric Sogah, and May Yeung.  Regulating Health Foods: Policy Challenges and Consumer Conundrums.  EE Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014.

I did a blurb for this one:

Regulating Health Foods systematically organizes the widely disparate definitions, regulations, and policies used internationally to govern functional foods, supplements and nutraceuticals, and does so from the standpoint of the industry and its regulators.  Food scientists, regulators, and industry professionals will especially appreciate its detailed international perspective.

This is a book for policy wonks and students who want to find out how various countries regulate food labels, or who would llike to know such things as how Codex Alimentarius guidelines apply to health claims.  The authors, who work at Canadian Universities, have pulled together vast amounts of detailed information about label regulations by country, with commentary.  Here is an example:

Japan currently provides an interesting mix between a purely generic system and a purely product-specific one.  Although the system is decidedly more product-specific.  Standardized FOSHU [Food for Specific Health Uses] lowers the costs to individual firms seeking claims on ingredients with well-established ingredient-health effect relationships.  At the same time, there are potentially significant returns to investment for firms wishing to market a new product with health benefits.

Nov 5 2014

Yesterday’s elections: plenty of good news for the food movement

This was a big election for the food movement:

  • Soda taxes in Berkeley and San Francisco
  • GMO initiatives in Colorado, Oregon, and Maui
  • The reelection of particularly fierce opponents of food stamps
  • Minimum wage laws

Soda taxes

Hats off to Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico ProAg who stayed up half the night to file her story at 3:00 a.m.  As usual, she cuts right to the chase.  Here’s her comment on the Berkeley win:

Voters approved Measure D, a penny-per-ounce tax, by a three-to-one margin after a bitter campaign battle, with the beverage industry spending more than $2.1 million to oppose the initiative. The pro-tax campaign was bolstered by more than $650,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vote for the tax in Berkeley was a whopping 75%–a clear, unambiguous win.

The vote in San Francisco passed the tax by a majority—54.5%—but a 2/3 vote was required because the measure specified where the funds would to.

And here’s some commentary

Dana Woldow, who has covered these elections closely on the website Beyond Chron, has this to say about the Berkeley win.

Xavier Morales, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, told me that entities across the state have just been waiting to hear what happens in Berkeley and SF to advance their own local plans for a tax, and that there are ongoing discussions at the state level regarding the feasibility of a soda tax bill to help reduce diabetes, heart disease and stroke. “Other cities in the Pacific Northwest have also been watching both San Francisco and Berkeley with great interest,” he said.

Sara Soka, campaign manager for Berkeley vs Big Soda (the Yes on D campaign)says:

What happens in Berkeley doesn’t stay in Berkeley…Berkeley’s public school system was one of the first to voluntarily desegregate in 1968. It’s led in public school food policy, smoke-free areas in restaurants and bars, curb cuts for wheelchairs.  All these positive changes are now mainstream.

Michael Jacobson, director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, a long-time supporter of soda taxes, says:

Berkeley voters have shown it can be done.  A community’s health can trump Big Soda’s insatiable appetite for profit…This is a historic victory for public health and a historic defeat for the increasingly disreputable soda industry. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association can no longer count on spending their way to victory.

San Francisco’s Choose Health SF

This isn’t about one soda tax. This is about a national movement that was kicked off tonight, and we are proud to have raised the conversation about the health impacts of soda and sugary beverages, and exposed the beverage industry’s deceptive tactics.

GMO labeling and no-plant initiatives

At a cost estimated at more than $60 million, the GMO industry and its food industry friends managed to defeat labeling measures in Oregon and Colorado.

In Maui, voters passed an initiative to block cultivation of GMO materials on Maui, Molokai and Lanai until cleared by environmental and safety studies.

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation released this statement quoting Val Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization:

The effort was a misleading, fear-based campaign to put a “scarlet letter” on genetically modified foods. “We commend the citizens of Colorado for protecting the environmental benefits, food abundance and lower prices that have been delivered by seeds and crops improved through biotechnology.”

Reelection campaigns

These have to do with representatives whose positions on food stamps are especially awful.   The position of one, Florida Republican Steve Southerland, was so dreadful that he was singled out by Food Policy Action for targeting.

During discussions of the farm bill, Southerland led attempts to cut food stamps and force beneficiaries to work.  Food Policy Action’s Tom Colicchio and Ken Cook issued a statement:

This is a big win for food advocates and Florida families. Congressman Southerland has repeatedly made policy choices that are harmful to families and small farmers. Today, we proved that voters care about food issues, and they will hold their elected officials accountable on Election Day.

 New York City Coalition Against Hunger notes these election results:

  • Steve Southerland (Florida 2), arguably the greatest Congressional opponent of SNAP/Food Stamps, lost his re-election bid.
  • PA Governor Tom Corbett who – soon after becoming Governor – wanted to slash Food Stamps benefits – lost big.
  • In contrast, Thad Cochran, who is perhaps the GOP’s strongest supporter of SNAP/Food Stamps, won re-election to the Senate by a wide margin in Mississippi.

It quotes executive director Joel Berg: “Cutting SNAP and other safety net programs is bad policy, bad morals, and, as last night’s results show, bad politics.”

Minimum Wage Laws
Voters in four red states (SD, AR, AK, NE) passed raises in the minimum wage by wide margins, even though they defeated Democratic candidates.

My comments on all of this

  • To the question, will soda taxes reduce consumption, I would answer: the soda industry thinks so to the tune of $11 million in San Francisco and Berkeley.
  • To the question, will GMO labeling hurt the GMO and food industries, I would answer: the industries think so to the tune of about $100 million so far.
  • These expenditures—and the bullying that go with them—are sufficient to explain the voter turnout.

If you haven’t seen Nightline’s exposé of the soda industry’s tactics, now might be a good time to take a look.

And celebrate!

 

 

Nov 4 2014

Souvenirs from the Dietitians’ annual meeting

The annual meeting of the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetic Association, always provides an incredible exhibit of products from food companies—the latest in dietetic junk food and food company nutritional spin.

Knowing how much I enjoy these things, and that I am working on a book about food advocates and the soft drink industry (Oxford University Press, September 2015), several of my colleagues brought back souvenirs.

Functional foods (with “healthy” ingredients above and beyond what occurs naturally)

  • For Keurig brewing machines, a container of Fibersol Cran-Raspberry flavored instant tea mix, with soluble fiber added (is tea really a significant source of soluble fiber?).
  • MealEnders.com’s chocolate mint signaling lozenges, “an antidote to overeating.”  If you feel that you are overeating, suck on one: “take control, curb appetite, get results” (if only).
  • A 6-ounce can of Kao Nutrition’s black coffee with 270 mg polyphenol (coffee chlorogenic acid), naturally present because the coffee was not brewed at high temperature (well, coffee is a plant extract, after all).

Swag

  • A pen with a pull-out section that gives the potassium content of commonly consumed foods (these come in other versions too, apparently).

Soda company propaganda

  • A brochure from PepsiCo’s Nutrition Team, HydrateNow.  Gatorade, it points out, is 93% water (and the other 7%, pray tell?.
  • A pamphlet from PepsiCo on Calorie Balance: “many things influence your everyday nutrition.  For maintaining a healthy weight, the most important factors are how many calories you eat and the total calories you use up”  (but if those calories happen to be empty?).
  • A PepsiCo brochure on Diet Beverages for People with Diabetes (but it still is advertising Pepsi).
  • A list of PepsiCo drinks that meet the USDA’s nutrition standards for schools (a long list, alas).
  • A scientific paper, “What is causing the worldwide rise in body weight,” sponsored by Coca-Cola (Coke’s answer: lack of physical activity, of course.)
  • A poster from the American College of Cardiology, “Striking an energy balance,” sponsored in part by Coca-Cola.   It says: “Drink water or no- or low-calorie beverages” (it does not say you should Drink less soda”).
  • A pamphlet on National School Beverage Guidelines sponsored by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple, and the American Beverage Association:  “The beverage industry committed to bold change and then made it happen.  Working with our school partners, we transformed the beverages available to students” (yes, but it doesn’t explain that public pressure forced them to do this).
  • A Coca-Cola pamphlet, Balancing Act.  This gives five easy ways to burn 100 calories: playing soccer 13 minutes, briskly walking 15 minutes, climbing stairs 10 minutes, jumping rope 9 minutes, gardening 19 minutes (based on a 150 lb person).  Funny, it doesn’t mention that one 12-ounce Coke is 140 calories.
  • A FamilyDoctor.org pamphlet, Healthy Eating for Kids, from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Dietetic Association, distributed with a grant from Coca-Cola.  It lists healthy eating habits—family meals, be active, limit screen time, stay positive, etc (but—surprise—does not suggest that your kid might be healthier not drinking sugar-sweetened beverages).

Treasures, all.  I really love this stuff.  Thanks.

Nov 3 2014

Farewell to the “Mayor of Food,” Boston’s Thomas Menino

Corby Kummer’s moving tribute in the Atlantic to the former Mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino explains that Minino deserved the title “Mayor of Food” because he

loved food almost as much as he loved Bostonians. He loved eating it, talking about it, and arguing about it…Menino cared about food for exactly the reasons today’s food-movement activists do, and long before it was fashionable to embrace what food can and should mean: access to fresh produce for everyone of every income level; gardens as ways to unite and repair communities; and, most importantly, fresh food as a route to better health. The mayor told everyone, including his biographer, longtimeAtlantic senior editor Jack Beatty, that he wanted to be remembered as “the public-health mayor.”

In November, 2013 I attended the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Boston, at which Mayor Menino gave a speech.

I was amazed to hear him say that the single biggest political battle of his five terms as mayor was getting sodas out of the public schools.

He was proud that Boston students are now drinking less soda.

Mayors willing to fight for public health are rare.  He was indeed the public health mayor and is badly missed.

Oct 31 2014

Happy Halloween, maybe

The Union of Concerned Sciences has produced this infographic in celebration of Halloween.

Screenshot 2014-10-28 14.57.09

It’s not Halloween parents should be worrying about.  It’s every day!

The UCS graphic is based on data from 2010-2011.  The 2011-2012 data are just in and show some improvement.  Teenage boys merely consume an average of 152 grams of sugars a day, down a bit from a year ago.

Men, overall, consume 135 grams on average, and women consume 106 grams.  The average is 120 grams.

This works out to about 20% of total calories, at least twice the amount recommended.

Boo!

Oct 29 2014

The Environmental Working Group’s Scorecard on Processed Foods: A Revelation

On Monday this week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) announced that it was releasing Food Scores: Rate Your Plate.

This is an astonishing interactive food database that rates 80,000 (!) supermarket foods on their nutritional value, ingredients as well as contaminants, and level of processing.

The database awards scores ranging from 1 (terrific) to 10 (really bad).

Feeling unimaginative this week, I typed in “Apples” and found 13 products, scored at from 1 to 6 points.  You can click on the product to get EWG’s breakdown of how and why each product is scored.

Some of the EWG findings are amazing and, in some cases, alarming:

  • 58% of the products scored contain added sugars.
  • 46% of the products contained “natural” or artificial flavors.

The average food in its database has:

  • 14 ingredients;
  • a 58 percent chance of containing added sugar (including a 22 percent chance of added corn syrup) and is 13 percent sugar by weight;
  • a 46 percent chance of containing artificial or natural “flavor” and a 14 percent chance of artificial coloring;
  • a serving size of 80 grams packing 121 calories;
  • 446 milligrams of salt per 100 grams. For some foods, that amounts to 30 percent of the daily salt intake recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and that’s in a single serving.

 Play around with the site.  You will learn plenty about what’s on those shelves.  EWG has performed a great public service in making this information accessible.

Here are the relevant documents:

And just for fun, here’s the USDA’s Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2011-2012 with its searchable version of foods, portions, and nutrients.

Oct 27 2014

Yes, food is worth serious study.

Yesterday, the New York Times Magazine carried this advertisement:

IMG-20141027-00232

It’s from the University of California’s new Global Food Initiative: “Helping the world feed itself sufficiently and nutritionally—that’s the power of public.”

I’m proud to be a graduate of UC Berkeley, a public university that provided me with an education—from undergraduate through doctoral—that was, at the time, at a cost low enough so I could take advantage of it.

If Food Studies had existed when I was a student there, I would have enrolled in it immediately.  Instead, I had to wait until we could invent it at NYU in 1996.

But how wonderful that the UC system is using the Global Food Initiative to advertise the power of a public education.

And how wonderful that food education is respectable enough to be advertised in the New York Times.

Oct 24 2014

Weekend reading: Congressman Tim Ryan’s Real Food Revolution

Congressman Tim Ryan.  The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the Family Farm.  Hay House, 2014.

Congressman Tim Ryan (Dem-Ohio) describes himself on his Website as

a relentless advocate for working families in Ohio’s 13th District. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 and was sworn in on January 7, 2003. Successfully reelected five times, he is now serving in his sixth term…He is a champion of efforts to make college more affordable, revitalize America’s cities and improve the health and well-being of American families and children.

I did a blurb for his latest book and meant every word:

It’s wonderful that Congressman Tim Ryan cares about the way food affects the health of Americans.  I just wish more members of Congress cared about these issues too.

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