Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Apr 20 2015

Sugar politics: never a dull moment

Here are two more items on the endless disputes over sugar intake.

1.  The IOM’s 25% of calories from sugar “recommendation”

I was surprised to see the Institute of Medicine’s upper limit of sugar safety cited in a JAMA commentary on sugars and heart disease. The authors disagreed with the conclusions of a study by Yang et al. in JAMA Internal Medicine:

Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.

The authors of the commentary say:

The relationship between added sugar intake and CVD mortality remains unresolved. The study by Yang et al1 does not support implementation of health policies limiting sugar intake because a relatively small fraction of the total population ingests excessive amounts of sugar by the IOM criteria….Laws attempting to limit excess sugar intake have been passed and overturned on legal grounds. Aside from the legal questions, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support pursuit of policies limiting sugar intake.

They then go on to say:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation is that less than 25% of total kilocalories come from added sugar.

Oops.  The IOM made no such recommendation.

Instead, the IOM said 25% of calories was the upper limit of safe sugar intake for nutrient deficiencies.  The risk of nutrient deficiencies increases above that percentage.  That IOM report said nothing about the relationship of sugar quantity to risk of chronic diseases.

Most health authorities recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars as a means to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Most research shows that chronic disease risks increase with increasing sugar intake.

 2.  What is the FDA doing about “Added Sugars” on food labels?

According to all sources, the FDA is still working on what to do about Added Sugars on the new Nutrition Facts panel.  It is engaged in two studies of this question.

It says the added sugars study is complete and the data are being analyzed.  It says the format study is in the works.

The FDA was criticized for proposing added sugars on the label without having done the research first.  Apparently, the White House Office of Management and Budget took 9 months to approve the FDA’s proposal to do the sugar research.  The approval came after the FDA issued its label proposal.

The bottom line on sugar: Less is better.

Apr 17 2015

Weekend language instruction: Sauver la Planète

Thanks to Bernard Lavallée for sending me a copy of his book, Sauver la Planète une Bouchée à la Fois: Trucs et Conseils (Translation: Save the Planet One Bite at a Time : Tips and Advice), Les Éditions La Presse, 2015.

It’s a beautifully designed and illustrated book about food and food systems—with recipes—meant for French-speaking Canadians, but it’s lovely to have even if you can’t read French well (which I cannot).

Lavallée, who calls himself the “urban nutritionist,” blogs at http://nutritionnisteurbain.ca/ and tweets @b_lavallee

 

Apr 15 2015

Tax Day 2015: Protesting low wages and taxpayer subsidies of low-wage work

Today is the day your taxes are due (in case you hadn’t noticed) and I’ve been collecting items on how tax dollars are used to subsidize businesses that rely on low-wage workers.

1.  Fight for $15 is mobilizing fast-food and other low-wage workers to walk off their jobs today in what the group says is the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay.  It expects protests in “more than 100 cities, in 35 countries, on six continents, from Sao Paolo to Tokyo.”  USA Today has the story on it.

2.  The New York Times featured people who are working, but still need public assistance to get buy (and they qualify for it).

Yet these same people also are on public assistance — relying on food stamps, Medicaid or other stretches of the safety net to help cover basic expenses when their paychecks come up short.

And they are not alone. Nearly three-quarters of the people helped by programs geared to the poor are members of a family headed by a worker, according to a new study by the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California. As a result, taxpayers are providing not only support to the poor but also, in effect, a huge subsidy for employers of low-wage workers, from giants like McDonald’s and Walmart to mom-and-pop businesses.

3.  The Washington Post also covered this story, which comes from a report by  from the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Families in which at least one member is working now make up the vast majority of those enrolled in major public-assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps, according to a new study. It’s a “hidden cost” of low-wage work, researchers say, and it costs taxpayers about $153 billion a year.

4.  The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) just released a report, Picking up the NRA’s Tab: The Public Cost of Low Wages in the Restaurant Industry.

The report’s key findings:

  • Nearly half of the families of full-service restaurant workers are enrolled in one or more public-assistance programs.
  • The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the full-service restaurant industry is $9,434,067,497 per year.
  • Tipped restaurant workers live in poverty at 2.5 times the rate of the overall workforce.
  • Restaurant workers as a whole experience poverty at a rate over twice that of the overall workforce – 20.9%.
  • Large full-service restaurant companies like Darden and DineEquity pay their workers so little that many of the employees of these companies rely on taxpayer-funded programs.
  • The taxpayer cost of a single Olive Garden is $196,970 annually.

ROC United is spearheading ‘One Fair Wage,’ a multi-state and national campaign to raise the lower, tipped minimum wage–currently $2.13 per hour–to 100% of the regular minimum wage.

Now, how about setting the minimum wage at $15 per hour….

Apr 14 2015

Sugar politics: the sagas never end

I’ve been collecting items on sugars.  Here are the first two.  Two more will come later this week.

1.  The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Nutrition has new guidance on sugars in schools.

Although access to junk foods remains an issue in schools, the Council blames the problem on students, parents, and staff.  It advises:

A positive emphasis on nutritional value, variety,appropriate portion, and encouragement for a steady improvement in quality will be a more effective approach for improving nutrition and health than simply advocating for the elimination of added sugars.

Really?  Evidence, please.

I ask because Kellogg could not be happier with this approach.  A little sugar, it says, may help kids eat more nutritious foods.

Surely it’s not a coincidence that one of the authors discloses receiving support from the National Dairy Council and the American Dairy Association, and the other receives support from the Nestle Nutrition Institute.

In any case, we aren’t talking about a little sugar in schools.  We are talking about candy, cupcakes, and drinks brought in for birthdays, treats, and after school celebrations.

2.  Sugar in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

This, you will of course recall, is the controversial multinational trade agreement currently under negotiation (see my previous post on this topic).

Japan wants to keep its tariff on sugar.

It now appears that the Japanese sugar industry gave a 1 million yen donation to a political group that supports Minister of Agriculture Koya Nishikawa, just before he became involved in the TPP talks in 2013.

As one commentator put it, considering Nishikawa’s central role in the TPP negotiations,

his receipt of a donation from an industry group brings his morals as a politician into question. Nishikawa stated that he returned the donation in light of his capacity as agricultural minister, but this is unlikely to resolve the situation…In March 2013, it was announced that the Japan Sugar Refiners’ Association would receive 1.3 billion yen in subsidies under a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ project.

At the very least, this situation looks like blatant conflict of interest.

Apr 13 2015

Write to Congress. File comments on the Dietary Guidelines.

Everyone I speak to in Washington, DC says the same thing: if you want policies to change in favor of healthy food systems, you must contact members of Congress and say what you think they should do.  If they get comments on issues, they listen.  If they don’t, nothing will change.

It’s not hard to send an e-mail or telephone your representatives.

Thanks to Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the invaluable Hagstrom Report, for producing instant guides and contact information to members of the Senate and House agriculture committees.

As for the contentious 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the comment period has been extended to May 8.  The agencies make it easy to file comments.  Do it here.

The comments don’t need to be long or complicated.  Just indicate identify yourself, state the topic you are concerned about, say what you’d like the guidelines to say, and if possible add a reference or two.

Do this and you will be encouraging the agencies to do the right thing.

If you don’t, who will?

Addition, April 14:  Here’s a video explanation of how to file comments on the dietary guidelines.

Apr 10 2015

Weekend reading and cooking: Afro-Vegan

Bryant Terry.  Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed. Ten Speed Press, 2015.

The fabulous Bryant Terry has produced a terrific book on an unexpected topic.  Who knew that classic African diaspora cooking—collards, grits, okra, and the like—could be just as delicious and just as culturally meaningful without including ingredients of animal origin.

In this book, he gives the also fabulous Jessica Harris “Permission to Speak,” which is what her Foreword is titled.  Bryant, she says, “amply and ably demonstrates that he knows that food and culture are inseparable and that history is always there on the plate.”

This is a serious work of culinary skill.  Bryant doesn’t make a big deal of his veganism.  He just shows how to cook traditional foods, really well.

Prediction: This book will win prizes.

 

Apr 9 2015

Consumer advocates petition FTC to keep junk food advertising out of YouTube for Kids

A coalition of children’s and consumer advocacy groups (see list below) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charging that Google’s new YouTube Kids app violates restrictions on marketing junk foods to kids.

The coalition’s letter to the FTC details the charges.  YouTube Kids, it says:

  • Intermixes advertising and programming in ways that deceive young children.
  • Features “branded channels” for McDonald’s, Barbie, Fisher-Price, and other companies.
  • Distributes “user-generated” segments that feature toys, candy, and other products without disclosing the business relationships.

The Washington Post gives some examples:

On the American Greetings’ Strawberry Shortcake channel, for instance, a 37-second video features the red-haired doll describing the company’s “Food Fair” app, where characters pick ingredients for recipes. At the end, a banner appears showing the app can be downloaded on iTunes. McDonald’s has a 7-minute video dispelling myths about the contents of Chicken McNuggets. On another video, a deep-voiced announcer warns, “All vegetarians, foodies and gastronauts, kindly avert your eyes,” with a slow-cam close up of a juicy Big Mac. “You can’t get juiciness like this from soy or quinoa.”

Here’s the Coalition list: the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Corporate Accountability International, and Public Citizen.

This will be fun to watch.  Stay tuned.

Apr 8 2015

The latest supplement scandal: hidden amphetamine-like drugs

Today’s New York Times has a front-page story about how the FDA knew that certain weight-loss supplements contained unlabeled amphetamine-like substances but did nothing about it, perhaps because its head supplement official came from the industry (and has since returned to it).

Let’s start with the science.

In 2014, Pieter Cohen and his colleagues noted that several athletes had been disqualified from competition after tests found evidence of a methamphetamine analog (N,α-diethyl-phenylethylamine) in their urine.  The athletes said that the chemical must have come from their workout supplements.  Cohen et al. tested the supplements and identified the analog as one with entirely untested stimulant, addictive, or other adverse effects in humans.  They recommended its immediate removal from all dietary supplements.

Earlier that year, the FDA reported that 9 of 21 supplements containing Acacia rigidula to test positive for varying amounts of another methamphetamine analog, β-Methylphenethylamine (BMPEA).   The FDA investigators said this compound could be misidentified as amphetamine during certain kinds of analyses, but did not identify the products found to contain BMPEA.

Cohen et al. then did their own tests of the kinds of supplements the FDA had tested.  

The stimulant was present at quantities such that consumers following recommended maximum daily servings could consume a maximum of 93.7 mg of BMPEA per day. Consumers of Acacia rigidula supplements may be exposed to pharmacological dosages of an amphetamine isomer that lacks evidence of safety in humans. The FDA should immediately warn consumers about BMPEA and take aggressive enforcement action to eliminate BMPEA in dietary supplements.

The New York Times explains the context:

The controversy comes at a time when the supplement industry is under increased scrutiny. Last week, 14 state attorneys general, led by Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, called on Congress to provide the F.D.A. with more power to regulate supplements. Mr. Schneiderman’s office in February accused four major retailers of selling contaminated herbal supplements, and one of the companies, GNC, has agreed to extensive new testing and quality control procedures for its store-brand herbal products.

This brings us to the politics.

The supplement industry, of course, is doing everything it can to oppose and stop Schneiderman’s work.

Recall that Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994, essentially deregulating the industry.  The act allowed absurd health claims for supplements and essentially removed much of the FDA’s authority to regulate these products.

The result was an increase in sales despite remarkably little evidence for efficacy.

As for conflicts of interest at FDA:

  • Daniel Fabricant, the head of the FDA’s dietary supplement division at the time this was happening, came to the agency from the Natural Products Association, “Over 75 years of serving the natural products industry.” He has since left the FDA and now heads the NPA.
  • The NPA spent nearly $1.5 million on lobbying in 2013 and 2014.
  • The current head of the FDA’s dietary supplement division, Cara Welch, also came to FDA from the NPA.

Since DSHEA, the dietary supplement industry has gotten a pass.  Suggestions:

  • Congress should rescind DSHEA and give the FDA the authority to regulate supplements as it does food.
  • The FDA should appoint officials who are independent of the industries they are supposed to regulate.
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