Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 3 2016

Food Policy Action’s 2016 Congressional Scorecard

This year, only three Senators—Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Richard Durbin—got top scores from Food Policy Action for their votes on food and farm issues.  This is down from the 29 who earned perfect scores in 2015.

In the House, 79 representatives got perfect scores as opposed to 87 in 2015.

The annual Scorecard ranks lawmakers on whether they support legislation on issues such as GMO labeling, hunger, fisheries management, food waste, pesticides, the EPA’s waters of the U.S. rule, among others.

Image result for food policy scorecard map

It’s disappointing that fewer legislators are getting top scores, since one of the purposes of this activity is to hold them accountable and encourage more liberal voting on food and farm issues.

 

 

Nov 2 2016

Marijuana-infused edibles: No money in them? Really?

As decriminalization of marijuana use proceeds steadily, I am seeing more attention focused on cannabis-infused edibles.  These are now produced commercially by businesses that go well beyond brownies.

Pediatricians, as I’ve discussed previously, are worried about kids eating them.

These days:

  • Edibles account for half of cannabis sales.
  • Baked goods alone account for 10% of cannabis sales.
  • The total cannabis market is projected to reach $27 billion this year.

But in Colorado, where such things are legal, producers are complaining that the regulatory environment is so difficult that they can’t make a profit.

According to a report in the industry newsletter, Bakery and Snacks, the profit problem was the focus of an education session at a Las Vegas conference on “The Future of Wholesale Baking with Marijuana,” conducted by two producers of infused edibles, Sweet Grass Kitchen and Love’s Oven.  Their gripes:

  • “Regulations are killing the business.”
  • “The leftover cannabis after extraction…has to be destroyed by bakery employees on camera, and locked in a compost container and sent to a compost facility.”
  • “Licensed marijuana bakers have to pay around $16,000 per month to the State of Colorado and the City of Denver for product testing conducted by a verified third-party laboratory.”
  • The labeling requirements are onerous: “It’s very difficult to stamp a baked good like a chocolate chip cookie. We don’t make Oreos. This new law has forced us all to spend a lot of capital on new machines and capabilities that are way above what a non-infused bakery of our size would typically have.”

Startups are always hard.  But with half of $27 billion at stake, and more and more states considering legalizing the stuff, I can see why they are hanging in there.

While we are on the topic, a new paper in JAMA reviews statistics on marijuana use in the U.S. and reports 7000 new users a day, and rising.  It calls for better surveillance of how much is used, and how.

I will be watching the use and the business of edibles with much interest.

Nov 1 2016

GMO crops: not fulfilling promises (as predicted, alas)

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a front-page story titled “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops.”

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The Times illustrated the article with some interesting graphics.

This one shows European yields of non-GMO sugar beets increasing far more rapidly than those of GMO beets in the U.S.

Others compare use of chemical pesticides, first in France, where pesticide use is falling rapidly.

Then in the U.S. where insecticide and fungicide use is down a bit, but herbicide use is rising and will continue to rise as GMO crops become increasingly resistant to Roundup (glyphosate) herbicides.

The agbiotech industry has long maintained that genetic modification would increase yields and decrease pesticide use.  After 20 years, that hasn’t happened.

I wrote about all this in 2003 in my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety.  Half the book is about GMOs and its arguments hold up pretty well.

I said then and still maintain that until this industry fulfills its promises—and produces GMO crops sustainably—it will continue to have big problems with consumer acceptance.

The Times says this is the first article in an occasional series.  I look forward to seeing the next.

Oct 31 2016

Happy Halloween (or, as should be renamed, Candy Day)

Aren’t you happy that it’s that sweet, gooey time of year again?

Image result for halloween candy

As Julia Belluz of Vox points out

Candy and Halloween didn’t always go hand in hand.  It wasn’t until the 1950s that that candy industry started to push the stuff as a way to boost flagging fall sales.

 

The candy industry would love you to think:

Kids do love candy, as this marketing report tells us.  I’ll bet these favorites have everything to do with advertising budgets.

Does candy have a place in healthy diets?  Sure, but in very small and occasional amounts.

Good luck getting through tonight’s trick-or-treat.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Oct 28 2016

Weekend reading: Joy Santlofer’s Food City

Joy Santlofer.  Food City: Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York.  WW Norton, 2016 (publication date: November 1)

Image result for joy santlofer food city

I wrote the Foreword to this book:

When Jonathan Santlofer asked me to write a few words of introduction to Food City, written by his late wife, Joy, I felt sad but honored.  Joy, my friend and colleague at New York University, died unexpectedly in 2013, leaving this book—her life’s work—to be completed posthumously by  grieving family and friends.

Food City is a tribute to the memory of a wonderful person, but it is also a very good book, standing easily on its own as a welcome contribution to food history and to the field of food studies.  In her work at NYU, first as a master’s student and later on our faculty, Joy discovered evidence of New York City’s food manufacturing past and began writing about this largely unexplored topic.  She published her discoveries as short pieces that formed the basis of this book and also of her work as editor of the journal of the Culinary Historians of New York.

For those of us who use food to explore the most pressing social, environmental, and political issues through the lens of food—how we at NYU define food studies—Food City is exemplary.  In recounting the stories of the rise and fall of New York City’s bakeries, breweries, dairies, and meat-packing plants, and of its makers and sellers of flour, sugar, pasta, ice cream, chewing gum, and soda water, Joy Santlofer necessarily wrote about slavery, immigration, unions, child labor, wars, ethnic and racial discrimination and segregation, and the migration of populations to the suburbs and their eventual return.  How odd, she said, to think that factories spewing filth once occupied the sites of today’s luxury apartments.

Food City’s theme is the historical arc from artisanal food manufacture to the emergence and eventual disappearance of industrial manufacture to today’s newly artisanal production of beer, chocolate, and coffee.

Joy put her scholarly curiosity to good use.  She had a knack for finding just the right detail to bring history to life.  I had no idea that New York City housed 2,000 bakeries by 1900, or that one of them employed 700 horses to deliver bread door to door, nor did I know that through the 1930s, $14 a week was the standard wage for factory workers, a synagogue on Rivington Street was located over a still, and cattle had to be driven across the entire length of 44th Street to be slaughtered.  Such tidbits are so vivid that you even get a sense of what the City must have smelled like until well into the last century.

For several years, Joy had the office next to mine, and I was able to check with her often on the book’s progress.  I couldn’t wait for it to appear and at last we have it.  It’s heartbreaking that she did not live to see its publication, but Joy Santlofer leaves Food City as a generous gift to us all.    

–Marion Nestle, May 2016

Oct 27 2016

Resources for food advocates

Some new resources for food system advocates have just come my way.  Use and enjoy!

  • Food Tank and the James Beard Foundation have issued their third annual Good Food Guide, a searchable guide to 1,000 food nonprofit advocacy organizations.  You can download the guide here.
  • Healthy Food America offers a Sugar Overload Calculator.  This is a mini-game that kids (or adults) can play to guess the sugars in commonly consumed foods.  Most will surprise.  Some will be a big surprise.
  • Healthy Food America also has Maps of the Movement, illustrating where soda tax initiatives are underway in the United States.   Can’t wait to see how they do on November 8.
  • The World Cancer Research Fund International’s NOURISHING framework is a terrific introduction to policy approaches to promoting healthy diets and reducing obesity.
  • The Fund also has a useful graphic about the importance of policy approaches to obesity.  I ran across it on Twitter: 

capture

 

 

Oct 26 2016

Follow up on my WikiLeak: the Australia connection

Marcus Strom of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia did a follow up to my post, “I’ve been WikiLeaked!”

Recall that a Coca-Cola representative took notes at a talk I gave in Australia and passed them up the chain of command where they got hacked as collateral damage from the ones obtained from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.

The notes advised ongoing monitoring of my activities in Australia but also of research conducted by Dr. Lisa Bero, in whose group I was working for a couple of months early this year.

The article begins: 

Coca-Cola has been exposed having a secret plan to monitor research at Sydney University that examines how private companies influence public health outcomes in areas such as obesity.

In a leaked internal email, a paid consultant to Coca-Cola South Pacific writes that a “key action” for the global soft-drinks manufacturer is to “monitor research project outcomes through CPC [Charles Perkins Centre] linked to Lisa Bero’s projects”.

Future monitoring should include planned research on “treatment and prevention of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease”, the email says.
Professor Bero, who works at the university’s Charles Perkins Centre, studies the integrity of industry-sponsored research and how it is used to influence public policy. While in the US, she worked to expose the influence of tobacco companies on health debates. Those methods are now being used to examine how companies like Coke seek to influence public health outcomes.

The reaction: See letters printed in response (you have to scroll way down to find them)

Roberto Mercadé, President of Coca-Cola South Pacific, wrote to object that Coke is not secretly monitoring academics; its monitoring is entirely public:

Readers of the article “Revealed: Coke’s plan to monitor academic” (Herald, October 22-23) may have been left with the impression that Coca-Cola South Pacific somehow engages in the “secret” monitoring of academics at the University of Sydney. Put simply, we don’t. We make no secret of the fact that we keep abreast of research in the health and wellbeing sector, as you would expect of any food or beverage company. The important work being done by the university on the integrity of industry-sponsored research is among the many fields important to us. Finally, in the article the word “monitor” was also used out of context and distorted to mean something other than what it is – our ongoing engagement with academics and experts in health and wellbeing.

Steve Harrison, Balmain

It’s no great surprise that Coca Cola is panicked by research into the cause of diabetes. The consumption of sugar and processed foods looks more and more like a major reason for diabetes, many cancers and other serious diseases. In turn, the company, the food industry and drug companies will all be in big financial trouble when the penny drops that a diet of fresh food is the basis for good health.

If a fraction of the money spent on seeking cures was used to educate people to cut processed food and sugar from their diet we would be a much healthier society. We went through a very similar process with Big Tobacco some years ago, although that was on a smaller scale.

In the words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Ivan Head, Camperdown

The score? Coke, Zero: Professor Bero, one.

Oct 25 2016

Comments wanted: FDA guidance on structure/function claims for infant formula. Deadline: November 8

The FDA wants to tighten up the rules for labels and advertising of “structure/function” claims on infant formulas.  It has proposed “guidance” and asks for comments on it.

This is a good proposal and needs all the support it can get.

Background

“Structure/function” claims were allowed by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.  These are pseudo health claims that are really about marketing, not health.  Example: this brand of infant formula “supports digestion.”

All infant formulas must meet FDA nutritional requirements and there is no meaningful difference in any of them.  Structure/function claims market one brand over another.  Worse, they make infant formulas seem better than breast milk and help to discourage women from breastfeeding.

In September, the FDA announced that it was proposing draft guidance for industry, entitled “Substantiation for Structure/Function Claims Made in Infant Formula Labels and Labeling.”  This says that the infant formula industry must actually produce evidence that the claims do what they say.  Formula makers must substantiate structure/function claims with “competent and reliable evidence,” preferably from clinical research.

Infant formula makers would much rather not bother.

This proposal deserves enthusiastic support.  If you agree with it, please write the FDA and say so.

ChangeLab Solutions has filed a position paper on this topic with the FDA—excellent background reading.

It also has developed a template letter, which you can adapt and send.

But even a shorter statement that you think structure/function claims should not be used to market infant formulas without real science behind them would help.

Here’s the quick one I sent in.  Feel free to copy.  But individual letters carry more weight.

How to do this?

  • Go to the FDA docket website: look for ID: FDA-2016-D-2241.
  • Go to the first of the two FDA documents listed there.
  • Click on “Comment Now!”
  • Fill in the Comment box by saying you are commenting on FDA-2016-D-2241.
  • Upload your letter
  • Following the instructions for the required items (the others are voluntary)

The FDA documents

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