Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 11 2017

USDA’s fascinating food-and-agriculture charts

USDA researchers produce lots of data and sometimes summarize it all in handy charts.

Here are three examples:

  1.  Who makes money from food?  Food services—34.4 cents on every dollar.  Farmers?  8.6 cents on average.

 

2.  How sweet is the food supply?  Less than it was in 2000 but more than in 1990.  Most of this can be explained by the decline in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

3.  What happening with food assistance?  The peak in federal spending for all of the programs came a few years ago, but the amounts are now declining.    SNAP is the big one—about $75 billion last year.

Ag policy in snapshots.  More to come.

May 10 2017

Will we ever stop misusing animal antibiotics?

Politico ProAg reports that the International Poultry Council will soon issue a statement advising the poultry industry to:

  • Stop using antibiotics critical to human medicine to promote livestock growth and prevent disease,
  • Only use these drugs when prescribed by a veterinarian for treatment of disease,
  • Be transparent about the amount of antibiotics it uses and why.

The poultry industry routinely uses antibiotics in feed and water despite major efforts to stop this practice.

Government agencies concerned about increasing resistance to animal antibiotics have long wanted their use stopped or managed appropriately.

Trying to stop misuse of animal antibiotics has a long history.

The animal agriculture industry has fought all attempts to curtain antibiotic use.

The word has gotten through to the poultry industry.  Let’s hope this works.

May 9 2017

Good news for sustainable farmers?

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, my go-to source for keeping up with farm policy, says there is good news in the administration’s spending bill.

You have to take wins where you find them.

And now let’s see what this Congress does with the farm bill.

May 8 2017

The cost of poor food safety practices: $36 million in two years

Food Safety News, my go-to source for information about current and past episodes of foodborne illness, reports the price of insufficient corporate diligence: $36 million in recalls by Dole Foods.

Dole, a privately-held company is going public, which means it has to file lots of financial documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  For the past couple of years, these show:

2015: $10.8 million to recall bagged salads in which a sample tested positive for Salmonella.

2016: $25.5 million for a four-month shutdown of a salad processing plant found to be contaminated with Listeria, and manage a recall. Listeria at the plant was linked to four deaths and 33 cases of illness in the U.S. and Canada.  The company continued to ship salads from the facility after swab tests were positive for Listeria.

The SEC requires companies to list potential risks.  In its SEC filing, Dole said:

We are subject to the risk of product contamination and product liability claims…Even if a product liability claim is unsuccessful or it not fully pursued, the negative publicity surround any assertion that our products caused illnesses or injury could adversely affect our reputation with existing and potential customers and our corporate and brand image.  Moreover, claims and liabilities of this sort might not be covered by our insurance or by any rights of indemnity or contribution that we may have against others.

This is why diligent attention to preventive controls is essential for producing safe food.

Not using them kills people; it also is expensive.

May 5 2017

Weekend reading: What’s the Matter with Meat?

Katy Keiffer. What’s the Matter with Meat?  Reaktion Books, 2017.

 Image result for what's the matter with meat?

Katy has a terrific show on Heritage Radio that I’ve been on several times and I was happy to do a blurb for her new book:

Katy Keiffer has produced a thorough and well researched analysis of everything that’s wrong with industrial meat production.  Her book is worth reading for its focus on animal welfare, antibiotic resistance, and worker safety, but even more for its critique of the effects of animal feed production on international trade and land grabs.  This book is for everyone who cares about how meat-eating affects our planet.

May 4 2017

Widespread public support for SNAP changes

Voice of the People has the results of a survey finding that most respondents support:

  • Increased benefits for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) recipients [81%].
  • The idea that SNAP benefits should not be permitted to be used for candy and sodas [73-76%].
  • Providing incentives to encourage SNAP beneficiaries to eat more fruits and vegetables [90%].

Politico commented (April 26):

The findings suggest there is a massive divide between the public and Congress on SNAP issues. There is currently no feasible discussion of raising SNAP benefits, and a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing on SNAP restrictions showcased that there is bipartisan opposition to the idea on the committee.

Documents

May 3 2017

Do sweet drinks have anything to do with dementia? 

Two studies suggest—but most definitely do not prove—that they might.

A press release from Boston University says that daily consumption of either sugary or artificially sweetened drinks affect the brain.

Data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) has shown that people who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit juices are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volumes and smaller hippocampal volumes–an area of the brain important for memory. Researchers also found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not consume diet soda.

The American Heart Association sent out its own press release on the stroke and dementia results. 

Framingham study participants who reported drinking one or more artificially sweetened beverage daily compared to less than one a week had almost three times the risk of developing either stroke or dementia.

The data are impressive.  This is the survival curve for dementia (the one for stroke looks much the same). Green = 0 drinks per week.  Red = 6 per week.  Blue = 7 or more per week.

Caveat: These are correlational studies showing an association between sweet drinks and loss of brain function.  They do not demonstrate that sweet drinks cause these problems—these could be due to some other dietary or behavioral factor.

As you might imagine, the studies got as lot of press attention.  One useful analysis comes from Business Insider:

First, both studies were done by some of the same researchers, including the lead scientist, Boston University neurologist Matthew Pase…For the sweet drinks and brain health research, the scientists drew from a large set of observational data taken from thousands of people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts who were initially recruited beginning back in the 1940s as part of a study designed to learn more about heart disease called the Framingham Heart Study…of all the people in the study, the percentage of those who did go on to develop stroke or dementia was small — about 3% for stroke and about 5% for dementia.

The Guardian asks “Should link between dementia and artificial sweeteners be taken with a pinch of salt?”  It discusses some of the methodological issues, of which there are many.

The bottom line?  While waiting for researchers to sort all this out, water is an excellent choice.

Sugary drinks study

Diet drinks study

 

May 2 2017

Breastfeeding policies are a barrier to trade? The U.S. trade office thinks so

Trade rules are not easy to understand because they are so remote from most people’s lives.  But Public Citizen is keeping an eye out on what’s happening in the trade world, and making its meaning clear.

It reports that the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has just released its latest National Trade Estimate.  This reviews our trading partners’ actions that we think constitute “significant trade barriers” and want to eliminate.

What might these be?

This may be hard to believe but high on the list are other countries’ policies to promote breastfeeding, of all things.

The Trump administration wants to get rid of these “technical trade barriers:”

  • Hong Kong draft code designed to “protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children.” This, according to USTR, could reduce sales of food products for infants and young children.
  • Indonesia: USTR wants to get rid of a draft regulation to ban advertising or promotion of milk products for children up to two years of age.
  • Malaysia: USTR doesn’t like its code restricting corporate marketing practices aimed at toddlers and young children.
  • Thailand: USTR wants to eliminate penalties for corporations that violate laws restricting the promotional, and marketing activities for modified milk for infants, follow-up formula for infants and young children, and supplemental foods for infants.

This is about protecting sales of infant formulas and weaning foods heavily marketing to mothers in developing countries as superior to breastfeeding, this despite vast amounts of evidence for the superiority of breastfeeding over any other method for promoting infant health.

Public Citizen’s Eyes on Trade reminds us:

For decades, infant formula manufacturers have been accused of aggressive marketing campaigns in developing countries to discourage breastfeeding and instead, to push new mothers into purchasing formula.  The famous boycott of Nestlé in the 1970s led to the development and adoption by nations worldwide of the UNICEF/World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (The Code) in 1981. The Code sets guidelines and restrictions on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and reaffirms governments’ sovereign rights to take the actions necessary to implement and monitor these guidelines.

To promote and protect the practice of breastfeeding, many countries have implemented policies that restrict corporate marketing strategies targeting mothers. These policies have led to increased breastfeeding in many countries even though greater progress is still needed.

These are the policies the USTR wants eliminated.

For shame.

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