Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 8 2017

Pet owners: watch out for Evangers’ beef foods

The FDA warns pet owners not to feed their pets any of these foods because of risk of pentobarbital contamination (this seems like a really good idea).

  • Evanger’s Hunk of Beef: 20109
  • Evanger’s Braised Beef: 20107
  • Against the Grain Pulled Beef: 80001

The products have expiration dates of December 2019-January 2021.

The FDA explains:

The FDA began investigating Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company Inc. when it learned about five dogs in a single household that suffered acute neurological symptoms shortly after eating the product. One dog was euthanized after secondary complications, and three others recovered after receiving veterinary care. One of the dogs treated remains on seizure medication, and the fifth dog that ate the least amount of food recovered with time.

The stomach contents of the deceased dog and an open can of the product were tested by an FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network lab, and unopened cans of the product from the pet owner and retailer that sold the products (from the same production lot), were tested by FDA’s lab. All of the samples tested positive for pentobarbital.

In a classic example of how NOT to instill confidence among customers in your products, Evangers’ is fighting the FDA’s assertions about how it sources ingredients.

I highly recommend working with the FDA to clean up food safety problems.  Really, that is a much better approach.

Pet food buyers: There are plenty of pet food brands that do not contain pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug).

Give Evangers’ a pass until all this gets straightened out.

Mar 7 2017

Conflicts of interest among National Academies’ GMO committee members: an analysis

Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University and Tim Schwab of Food and Water Watch have done an analysis of financial conflicts of interest among members of the committee that produced a large report on agricultural biotechnology last year.  Their paper (and the report) are open access so you can read them both and decide for yourself whether you think Krimsky and Schwab are being fair.

Academics’ financial ties to companies with an interest in the outcome of their work are a well established problem because such ties are known to influence the results and interpretation of research as well as the opinions of advisory committee members—even though the recipients of corporate gifts (even small ones) are unaware of the influence , had no intention of being influenced, and deny that such influence exists.

The Academies’ GMO report stated that none of the 20 committee members had financial ties to the GMO industry.

But these investigators found evidence of several kinds of undisclosed ties among six of the 20 members:

  • Holds patents
  • Holds equity
  • Serves on company advisory committee
  • Receives research funding
  • Employed by company or non-profit funded by company
  • Consults for company

The authors make it clear that these sorts of financial ties ought to have been disclosed.  I agree.

But here’s the National Academies’ in-denial response to the paper.  My translation: “we did everything right and this is a witch hunt.”

No you did not do everything right.  Disclosure should be rigorous, given the level of passion involved in views of GMOs and the need for trust in Academy reports.

And no, this is not a witch hunt.  This is a call for full disclosure.

Mar 6 2017

Food-Navigator-USA Special Edition on Beverages

Here is another one of FoodNavigator-USA’s Special Editions, meaning collections of its articles on specific topics written mostly from the perspective of food beverage companies.  This one is on trends in commercial beverages, and is highly relevant to food politics.

Special Edition: Beverage trendwatching

Few sections of the store are as dynamic as the beverage aisles. Meanwhile, the pressure to ‘clean up’ labels continues unabated. But how can we distinguish passing fads from sustainable trends? And who are the entrepreneurial companies driving innovation in this category?

Mar 3 2017

Weekend Reading: Letters to a Young Farmer

Martha Hodgkins, ed.  Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future.  Princeton Architectural Press, 2017.

This publication is from the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.  Its executive director, Jill Isenbarger, explains what it is:

Letters to a Young Farmer, written by some of the most influential farmers, writers, leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time, offers advice, observations, gratitude, and a measure of harsh reality.  Farming is a difficult endeavor and an arduous undertaking at best, yet farming remains one of the most important, tangible, and meaningful things one can do to improve human and environmental health and community well-being.  And it is vital to our future.

The book contains 36 letters, all inspiring.  One of them is mine (you can read it here).

Mar 2 2017

Don’t we need a millennium development goal for social rank?

Yes, says Martin Tobias’s must-read commentary in The Lancet.

The commentary cites a paper in the same issue arguing that low social rank, meaning “powerless to determine your own destiny, deprived of material resources, and limited in the opportunities open to you,” has a profound effect on lifestyle and life chances.  Its authors base these views on a study of 1·7 million adults followed up for mortality (all cause and by cause) for an average of 13 years.

Even with use of a crude categorisation of social rank based on occupation (professional, intermediate, and unskilled), the study was able to quantify the social gradient in mortality: an approximately 20% increase in risk per unit decrease in rank.

Tobias’ commentary recommends evidence-based strategies to minimize the impact of social hierarchy on health:

Invest in children

  • Early childhood development enrichment programs

  • Intensive parent support (home visiting) programs

  • Enrollment of all children in early childhood education

Get the welfare mix right

  • Regulate markets as necessary

  • Implement income transfer policies that redistribute resources (ie, progressive tax and benefit regimes)

  • Optimize balance between targeted and universal social protection policies through benefit design that minimizes both undercoverage and leakage

  • Eliminate child poverty through monetary and non-monetary support for families with dependent children

Provide a safety net

  • Provide income support or tax credits

  • Provide social housing

  • Subsidize childcare

  • Provide free access to health care (especially preventive services)

Implement active labor market policies

  • Provide job enrichment programs

  • Democratize the workplace (involve employees in decision making)

  • Provide career development and on-the-job training

  • Provide fair financial compensation and intrinsic rewards

  • Promote job security

  • Discourage casualization of the workforce

Strengthen local communities

  • Foster regional economic development

  • Promote community development and empowerment

  • Encourage civic participation

  • Create mixed communities with health-enhancing facilities

Provide wrap-around services for the multiply disadvantaged

  • Coordinate services across government and NGOs

  • Provide intensive case management when necessary

  • Foster engagement of the targeted families and individuals

Promote healthy lifestyles

  • Strengthen tobacco control and addiction services

  • Improve the diet of poor families (eg, through subsidizing fruit and vegetables, community gardens, purchasing co-ops, school meals)

  • Provide green space and subsidized sport and recreation facilities

Ensure universal access to high quality primary health care

  • Subsidize practices serving high need populations

  • Provide additional nursing and social worker support for practices in disadvantaged areas

  • Assist patients with clinic transport and childcare

  • Provide services free at point of use

  • Provide conditional cash transfers (to increase demand for clinical preventive services)

The paper is open access.  Spread it around.  Pick the recommendation you think most important, and get to work!

Mar 1 2017

The recent Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ election: controversy over non-disclosure of industry ties

I’ve been asked to comment on the recent presidential election held by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND—formerly the American Dietetic Association).

I’m not a member of the Academy, but I followed this election with great interest because one of the candidates (who ultimately lost) is a consultant for food companies but did not say so.

A member of the Academy called for transparency and posted the names of the candidate’s clients on Twitter.  For this, she was severely criticized.

The only point at issue here is the need for disclosure.  Whether the lack of disclosure cost the candidate the election is hard to say.

Conflicts of interest caused by financial relationships with food companies are a big issue in the Academy, which has been struggling hard to develop policies that will protect it from conflicts of interest.

Andy Bellatti, of Dietitians for Professional Responsibility, had three questions for the candidates:

  • What are your thoughts on possible outreach strategies to bring dietitians who are currently not members of the Academy back into the organization?
  • How would you like to see the current conversation on corporate sponsorship continue over the next year?
  • What would you like to say to dietitian colleagues who want to see more robust criteria around exhibitor presence and session sponsorship at FNCE?

Unfortunately, neither candidate responded to them.  Their answers would have been instructive.

Much has been written about the politics of this particular election, all of it worth reading.

Feb 28 2017

Policy wonks: It’s farm bill time again (but there’s help)

Let’s all give thanks to Philip Brasher who is writing a series of articles on the 2018 farm bill for Agri-Pulse.

If you are curious—and brave enough—to dive into this incredibly important but overwhelmingly detailed and phenomenally politicized piece of legislation (my take on the farm bill is here) , here is the place to start.

He’s done three so far:

More to come.  Don’t miss them.

In the meantime, just to get you started on the politics, literally hundreds of farm groups signed a letter to Congress urging it not to cut farm programs.

The undersigned organizations, representing America’s agriculture, nutrition, conservation, rural development, finance, forestry, energy, trade, local government, plant/animal health, agricultural sciences and veterinary medicine, labor, outdoor recreation, equipment manufacturing, cooperatives, hunters, anglers and crop insurance sectors, strongly urge you to reject calls for additional cuts to policies within the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry or the House Committee on Agriculture.

During consideration of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Agriculture Committees made the difficult choices necessary to deliver a bipartisan bill. Budget cuts made in that bill should be recognized as Agriculture’s contribution to deficit reduction. We know the committees will once again face challenging budgetary and policy choices in the development of the 2018 Farm Bill. That is why it is so important you ensure the committee process for the farm bill can proceed with some budget flexibility.

I’ll be following this as best I can.  Stay tuned.

Feb 27 2017

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas)

The chair of the House Ag Committee , Mike Conaway from Texas, provides his votes on issues summarized in a handy chart.  ‘

According to Politico, his opinion on whether SNAP should omit sugary beverages is unclear, although

He did offer his take on sugar-sweetened drinks: “Sugary drinks have a clear impact on people’s health, but if we eliminated them off the face of the earth, I don’t know that obesity rates would be any different.”

And then there’s The Food Marketing Institute , which posted this appreciative tweet:*

 

Page 5 of 354« First...34567...Last »