Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Apr 10 2017

ICYMI: The tasteless Pepsi commercial–a roundup

Apr 7 2017

Cheery weekend reading: Berkeley’s soda tax

When I was in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago, I met Dechen Tsering who works with Health, Housing and Community Services for that city.  She keeps an eye on what’s happening with the revenues collected from the city’s soda tax.

She sent me a link to the soda tax Website.

It’s full of useful information about the tax and what is happening with it.

Since 2015, the Berkeley City Council has allocated a total of $5 million from the General Funds for community agency grants and Public Health Division staffing to support the Healthy Berkeley Program. The funded programs aim to reduce consumption of all sugar-sweetened beverages.

If you want to know which organizations are getting tax funds in 2017, take a look here.

And here’s more than you ever wanted to know:

1. Complete SSB Tax Ordinance.

2. Glossary of definitions.

3. FAQs about the SSB tax.

4. SSB tax revenue 10.20.2015

5. SSB tax revenue 2.9.2016

6. SSB tax revenue 5.2.2016

7. SSB tax revenue 3.29.2017

8. SSB tax forms and instructions

Impressive, no?  A bright ray of sunshine for the weekend.

Apr 6 2017

FoodNavigator USA’s Special Edition on Sweeteners

FoodNavigator-USA, a food-industry newsletter that I read regularly, publishes occasional “Special Editions,” meaning collections of articles it has published on specific topics.  This one is on Sweeteners and Sugar Reduction,

Food and beverage manufacturers have a far wider range of sweetening options than ever before, from coconut sugar to allulose, monk fruit and new stevia blends. This special edition looks at the latest market developments, the changing political landscape, formulation challenges and consumer research. It will also address some labeling and regulatory issues affecting the market, from new FDA requirements to list added sugar on the Nutrition Facts label and the extent to which the ‘GMO factor’ is impacting purchasing decisions for sweeteners.

Apr 5 2017

The Brazil meat scandal: A Global Meal News roundup

Global Meat News is another one of those industry newsletters I follow closely.  It’s been tracking what’s been happening with meat in Brazil.  This is a great place to find out about this quickly.

Apr 4 2017

More on the prospective FDA Commissioner: Where is food?

Here’s what’s come in on Scott Gottlieb’s nomination as FDA Commissioner since my post last week.

From the New England Journal of Medicinea scathing commentary observes that “Gottlieb’s background places the agency, and the public, in a difficult position.”   Two reasons: (1) “His previous experience in academic medicine, applied science, and government service is threadbare.”  (2) “Gottlieb has been enmeshed in highly remunerative relationships with the biopharmaceutical industry, including sitting on various corporate boards…Gottlieb seems unlikely to have earned his corporate-board perches with scientific expertise.”

From Politico: Gottlieb says he will recuse himself–for one year (that’s all?)–from some (not all?) agency decisions dealing with more than 20 drug companies.  This is because he is a board member or adviser to those companies or funds them through his venture capital roles.  Here is his financial disclosure form.

From StatNewsMore details on Gottlieb’s financial entanglements with drug companies: “Gottlieb’s critics argue that his expansive resume creates a conflict-of-interest minefield that could cast doubt on the FDA’s decision making.”

From the New York Times:

Dr. Gottlieb, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has also been a prolific writer and public speaker, criticizing the agency’s approach. “In so heavily prioritizing one of its obligations — the protection of consumers — the F.D.A. has sometimes subordinated and neglected its other key obligation, which is to guide new medical innovations to market,” Dr. Gottlieb wrote in 2012 in National Affairs, a conservative-leaning political journal.

Also from the New England Journal of MedicineA commentary discusses the challenges faced by an FDA Commissioner having to do with evidence for drug efficacy, drug development, and drug prices.  It concludes: “All these challenges require a strongly resourced FDA working at the cutting edge of regulatory science. A commissioner who is able to advocate for such a vision, which includes less dependence on industry funding, will bring the agency into the 21st century.”  Will someone so closely tied to the drug industry fit this description?

Concerns about Gottlieb center on his financial ties to the drug industry.

But what about food?

A reader reminds me about pre-election promises to get rid of the FDA Food Police.

From The Hill, September, 2016:

In a fact sheet posted online Thursday, the campaign highlighted a number of “specific regulations to be eliminated” under the GOP nominee’s economic plan, including what they called the “FDA Food Police.”

“The FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food,” it read.“The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when,” the statement continued. “It also greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.”

One can only speculate at this point, but I’m assuming that what you see is what you get.

Apr 3 2017

The U.K.’s efforts to reduce sugar intake

The British government is serious about reducing sugars, especially in the diets of children.  Its agency, Public Health England (PHE), has been hard at work for several years.

In 2014, it issued a report announcing plans for initiatives to reduce overall sugar intake: Sugar Reduction: Responding to the Challenge.

In 2015, its report provided evidence for why eating less sugar is necesssary: Sugar Reduction: The Evidence for Action.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has concluded that the recommended average population maximum intake of sugar should be halved: it should not exceed 5% of total dietary energy. SACN also recommended that consumption of sugar sweetened drinks should be minimized by both adults and children. By meeting these recommendations within 10 years we would not only improve an individual’s quality of life but could save the NHS, based on a conservative assessment, around £500 m every year.

In 2016, a different agency of the UK government issued a plan for action to reduce childhood obesity. Among other recommendations, the plan called for taxes on soft drinks, but it also challenged the food and beverage industries to reduce sugars in products aimed at children by at least 20% by 2020, including a 5% reduction in the first year.  It said companies could do this by reducing sugar levels in products, reducing portion size, or shifting purchases to lower sugar alternatives.

In 2017, Public Health England set targets: Sugar Reduction: Achieving the 20%.

The role for Public Health England (PHE) is to advise government on setting the sugar reduction guidelines per 100 g of product and the calorie or portion size guidelines for specific single serving products. PHE is committed to publishing the category-specific guidelines for the nine initial categories of food in March 2017 and this report fulfills that commitment.

The guidelines are quite precise:

The good news: everyone has to do this so it will be an across-the-board reduction.

The not-so-good news: the reports say not one word about enforcement.

Public Health England plans follow-up reports.  Stay tuned.

Mar 31 2017

Weekend Reading: Fast Food Kids

Amy L. Best.  Fast Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines, and Social Ties.  New York University Press, 2017.

This is an academic sociologist’s account of what and how kids eat in school, and why.  Amy Best, a professor at George Mason University, spent several years quietly observing kids eating at McDonald’s and Chipotle, and in cafeterias in a low- and high-income high school.  She also did countless interviews.

The result is a reality-based analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of school lunch programs, and how school cafeterias are used by kids as public spaces defined, as Best puts it, by racial segregation and educational and income inequalities.  She also has plenty to say about attempts to reform school meals, the role of “hypervigilant” parents, and the draw of fast food.

Of school food, she says:

Unlike family food, school food holds little if any sacred value; nor does it contain the allure of commercial foods…What is clear is that for some kids, school lunch will continue to be regarded with indifference (and in some cases open contempt).  That is the case because the food is school food.  In principle, kids find the relationship to public school objectionable, not the food itself (even though some school food really does warrant genuine complaint).  Boredom with food is also about boredom with school.

She argues for introducing critical food literacy into the school curriculum, meaning critical thinking about current food system issues.  This sounds to me like what Alice Waters has been trying to do–and is doing–through her Edible Schoolyard projects, and also like the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy.  Both call for issues related to school lunch to be part of the school’s educational mission.  Best does not mention either effort in her book, an unfortunate omission in an otherwise thoughtful account of a complicated and important topic.

Mar 30 2017

Global Meat News Special Edition on Food Safety

Special Edition: Food Safety

Food safety is an issue every meat business takes considerable careover as the financial costs of a recall, not to mention the reputational risk, can be devastating. In this special newsletter, GlobalMeatNews takes a look at the latest recalls, changes to food safety regulation and other key developments across the supply chain.

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