Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
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:*

 

Feb 24 2017

Weekend Reading: Food-Navigator–Asia’s Special Edition on Sugar Fads

It’s a quiet news day so let’s enjoy one of Food-Navigator’s occasional special editions in which it collects articles on a specific topic, in this case sugar marketing trends in the Asia-Pacific region:

Special Edition: Asia-Pacific’s sugar fads

From breakthroughs in ingredients to lively debate over ways to keep consumers healthy, Asia-Pacific has gained a new confidence in its approach to sugar and sweeteners. We explore this spirited segment in a new FoodNavigator-Asia special edition.

Feb 23 2017

Plate of the Union launches farm bill initiative

The Environmental Working Group and Food Policy Action are trying to get a head start on the upcoming Farm Bill.  Their new initiative: Plate of the Union.

This has four objectives:

  • Stop taxpayer subsidies going to Big Ag polluters – instead, invest in healthier farms.
  • Protect and improve vital anti-hunger programs.
  • Increase federal investments in organic agriculture.
  • Expand federal programs to revitalize land and reduce food waste.

These are critically important goals.  Everyone who cares about food needs to understand the farm bill and what it does.

But how to achieve them?

I’d like to know the action plan.  Stay tuned.

 

Feb 22 2017

Taking sodas out of SNAP: the debate

I’m out of the country for a few weeks (México) and missed the House hearing on whether SNAP-eligible food items should continue to include sugary beverages.

From what I gather, most witnesses opposed any change in the program, with one from the American Enterprise Institute the lone holdout.

As I discussed in the chapter on SNAP in Soda PoliticsI continue to think that taking sugar-sweetened beverages out of the package is a no brainer.

  • They are sugars and water and have no nutritional value.
  • Tons of research links their consumption to a higher risk for obesity and its consequences.
  • SNAP recipients spend a lot of taxpayer money on them.
  • SNAP recipients may well have worse diets and higher proportions of chronic disease than equally poor people who do not get SNAP benefits.
  • Surveys say that SNAP recipients would not mind this change.
  • SNAP recipients can always buy sodas with their own cash.

I recognize that not everyone sees things this way.  I suspect that people opposed to this idea are worried that any change to SNAP will leave it vulnerable to cuts, and they could well be right.

Here are their arguments:

Politico provides some sound bites on the topic:

  • “Food surveillance violates the basic principles of this great country.” — Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.)
  • “What can we do to incentivize rather than punish?” — Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.)
  • “If you want to do a pilot program, I’m happy to co-sponsor one at the White House. I’m worried about our president’s eating habits.” — Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Ma.)

The state of Maine, however, has just renewed its request to USDA to remove sugar-sweetened beverages and candy from SNAP-eligible items.

Maine believes the purchase of sugar sweetened beverages and candy is detrimental to the health of the SNAP population, and is antithetical to the purpose of the SNAP program.

SNAP is supposed to be a nutrition program, no?  Nutrition is about a lot more than calories (and this from someone who wrote a book about calories).

Feb 21 2017

Yikes! Pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug) in Evanger’s pet food

Last week the FDA warned pet owners not to feed  specific lot numbers of Evanger’s canned Hunk of Beef or Against the Grain Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy canned dog food  because they might contain enough pentobarbital to sicken or kill their animals.

The FDA began investigating Evanger’s Dog & 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.

Yikes indeed.

Pentobarbital is a drug used for euthanizing animals.  Years ago, the remains of euthanized animals (sometimes pets) went to rendering plants and the resulting mess ended up in pet foods.

But when Mal Nesheim and I were researching our pet food book, Feed Your Pet Right, which came out in 2010, we searched for but could not find evidence that any pet food company was still doing that.

Everyone we asked, from veterinarians, to pet food makers, to government regulators told us that rendered, euthanized animals were no longer in pet foods, not least because the ingredients would have to be disclosed on the labels and no manufacturer wanted to do that.

The USDA says it checked and the canned foods really do contain beef.

Since when are cattle treated with pentobarbital?

If they aren’t, how did the drug get into the pet food?

Evanger’s advertises its ingredients as “human grade.”  Oops.

Susan Thixton, who runs the blog, TruthAboutPetFood, snagged a screenshot of Evanger’s website before they “edited” out the part about how their products are “made with completely human grade” ingredients.  Here’s her explanation:

The FDA must agree.  It says:

In its recent press release announcing a limited product recall, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, Inc. stated that the beef for its Hunk of Beef product came from a “USDA approved” supplier. However, the FDA reviewed a bill of lading from Evanger’s supplier of “Inedible Hand Deboned Beef – For Pet Food Use Only. Not Fit For Human Consumption” and determined that the supplier’s facility does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The meat products from this supplier do not bear the USDA inspection mark and would not be considered human grade.

For more information:

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