Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 9 2014

FoodNavigator-USA’s special edition on sodium reduction

I like the special editions of the business newsletter, FoodNavigator USA.  This especially big one collects its recent articles on sodium reduction—a big issue these days.   These give a good idea of how food companies are dealing with pressures to lower their salt content.

It’s expensive, risky, and difficult, but manufacturers have made huge progress on sodium reduction in recent years. But how much further can they go, and where is the return on investment if consumers are at best indifferent to their efforts, or at worst downright suspicious?

This special edition explores the challenges of sodium reduction, and asks whether it’s falling down the food policy agenda in the US, but also provides examples of creative solutions that can help manufacturers reduce it without compromising on taste or functionality.

Is sodium reduction falling down the food policy agenda?  Four years ago sodium was public enemy #1. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) was calling for the FDA to modify the GRAS status of salt and slash the daily value for sodium to 1,500mg, and the food industry was on high alert. Today, sugar is the new bogeyman, and while sodium intakes remain stubbornly high, the FDA has yet to issue voluntary guidelines. So is sodium reduction falling down the food policy agenda?

AHA education campaign pressures food manufacturers to reduce sodium: The American Heart Association says its recently launched consumer education campaign encouraging Americans to “break up with excess salt” seeks to “build an army of passionate and willing supporters” to pressure food manufacturers to reduce sodium in packaged foods.

Advanced technology eases sodium reduction efforts: Advances in technology can help firms more quickly and easily reduce sodium in breads and grain-based packaged foods – a previously repetitive and expensive trial and error process, according to Janice Johnson, food applications leader in salt at Cargill.

Will proposals to mandate potassium labeling on the Nutrition Facts panel give potassium-chloride based sodiumreplacers a shot in the arm?  Some food manufacturers still worry that using potassium chloride to replace salt in their recipes might compromise their clean label credentials. But the FDA’s recent proposal to include potassium as one of the nutrients that must be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel is helping to change that mindset, says NuTek Salt.

Sodium reduction: has all the low-hanging fruit been plucked?  Food manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reduce sodium, but surveys suggest many shoppers are, well, not that bothered. So where does this leave firms plugging sodium reduction solutions?

Reformulation by stealth: Just 2% of new launches in salty snacks make overt sodium reduction claims: The vast majority of sodium reduction activity in the US food industry is now being conducted by ‘stealth’ in order to avoid alienating shoppers, according to Tate & Lyle.

Industry to FDA: Think again before setting category-by-category sodium reduction targets.  Two leading food industry associations have urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not to set category-by-category limits for sodium amid rumors that the agency is planning to outline a new sodium reduction strategy this year.

Can seaweed become the ultimate salt replacer – and why hasn’t it yet?  Seaweed is well-researched, sustainable and effective, according to an expert. So what is stopping it from really taking off as a salt replacer?

Mandatory salt reduction could save more in healthcare costs: Study.  Mandatory salt reduction may save more in healthcare costs than the current voluntary system, say the authors of a study published in Value in Health.

Myth busting? High salt intake may not increase thirst:  It is commonly believed that consumption of salty foods increases thirst, and could be a reason for increased consumption of sugary soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. But just how true is this notion?

Are salt reduction efforts reflected in heart health?  Salt reduction efforts around the world are making progress – but how has lower salt consumption affected health?

Salt substitutes help reduce blood pressure.  Efforts to reduce consumer blood pressure and risk of hypertension by replacing normal salt with blends of potassium chloride, magnesium sulfate and less sodium chloride are working, but may be more effective in countries where the majority of salt comes from home cooking, according to a meta-analysis in the December American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

‘Quiet’ salt reduction is vital – but gourmet salt growth may stifle industry efforts.  Salt replacer use is growing but low salt claims are not, as food companies favour a ‘quiet’ approach – but growth in gourmet table salts may threaten salt reduction efforts.

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Dec 8 2014

Sugary drink advocacy, Mexican style

The creatively active Mexican advocacy group, El Poder del Consumidor, launched a new video take-off on Coca-Cola ads—“Haz feliz a alguien” (“Make someone happy”)—with a demonstration on Mexico City’s Zocalo in front of the National Cathedral.

 

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They sent along a translation of the video:

What would make you happy this Christmas?

That my dad were here with us.

PLAY SPORTS/EXERCISE (posted at the bottom of the screen to mimic Coke ads here)

That my mom could see her grandson.

PLAY SPORTS/EXERCISE

That my dad could play soccer with me.

PLAY SPORTS/EXERCISE

Make someone happy this Christmas.

50,000 people in Mexico are blind because of diabetes.

Someone’s limb is amputated every 7 minutes because of diabetes.

In Mexico, 66 people die each day from drinking sugary drinks.

Make someone happy.

Share this video and remove soda from your table.

Dec 3 2014

Annals of gifting: Boxing Wednesday, I guess

I arrived in my office this afternoon to find this astonishing gift.  It was delivered and assembled by Health Warrior, Incl, the maker of Chia bars.

It came with a lovely letter from Health Warrior’s CEO, Shane Emmett, who must somehow know that I am finishing up the manuscript of a food about food advocacy using the soda industry as an example.  The book is as yet untitled (“Soda Politics”?) but it is in the works with Oxford University Press for September 2015.

IMG-20141203-00241

This is the start of our department’s gym.  We do practice what we preach.  Come box with us, any time.

Thanks to Shane Emmett, ever so much (I think).

 

Dec 2 2014

Locally Grown: Hudson Valley Food & Farming

Tessa Edick.  Hudson Valley Food & Farming: Why Didn’t Anyone Ever Tell Me That? American Palate, 2014.

I live in New York City, where “locally grown” has a meaning all to itself, but the Hudson Valley is a big part of it and a well kept secret from many of us city folk.  Edick, who writes a “meet the farmer” column for upstate newspapers, makes it clear that when it comes to growing food, the Hudson Valley is special.  Her book introduces readers to its farmers, products, and programs, lavishly and gorgeously photographed.

Dec 1 2014

Second International Congress of Nutrition: little progress, ongoing frustration, alas

The Second International Conference on Nutrition took place in Rome a week ago.  It brought together a wide range of people from government, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and donors to consider how world leaders could join forces to end malnutrition in all its forms.

The First such conference took place 22 years ago.  I wrote a disheartening account of it at the time.  In reading it over (it is only two pages), I am struck by how little has changed.

The conference produced two documents of note:

Corinna Hawkes, now at the World Cancer Research Fund, reported on the meeting.

The documents were adopted in a matter of minutes at the commencement of the conference. And then they somehow disappeared…So, my conclusion on ICN2? It’s only going to make a real difference if it is seen as the initiation of a process rather than its conclusion—the start, not the end. And if this helps prevent malnutrition—in all its forms—then we can safely say it will indeed have made a difference.

ICN2 elicited a collection of documents, among them:

  • WHO Global Nutrition Targets 2025
  • WHO non-communicable disease targets.
  • IFPRI’s Global Nutrition Report: “Under existing assumptions, projections from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF show that the world is not on track to meet any of the six WHA nutrition targets. Globally, little progress is being made in decreasing rates for anemia, low birth weight, wasting in children under age five, and verweight in children under age five. Progress in increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates has been similarly lackluster.”
  • Public Interest Civil Society Organizations: Statement: “22 years after ICN1, this conference is taking place without properly evaluating progress or failures and without significant participation of civil society, in particular those most affected by hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. We deplore that ICN1 has sunk without trace and we do not want this to happen for ICN2…The conclusion of the ICN2 negotiations is a welcome step, in particular its focus on malnutrition in all its forms. However, we consider it inadequate to confront the scale of the global malnutrition challenge.”

This last statement concludes with a call to action:

22 years – an entire generation – have passed since the first ICN. It is unacceptable that millions of people continue suffer from and die of preventable causes of malnutrition in all its forms. This violence must stop immediately.

We call upon Member States to make clear and firm commitments at both national and international levels to ensure the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition and related rights. We will not watch idly as another 22 years pass by.

We stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We demand that Member States and the UN system live up to their obligations.

We hereby declare a worldwide People’s Decade of Action on Nutrition.

The time for action is now!

I’m for that.  May it succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Global Nutrition Report: Actions and Accountability to Accelerate the World’s Progress on Nutrition

From the point of view of the authors, the report itself is an intervention against malnutrition: it is designed to help reframe malnutrition as a global challenge, to raise ambitions about how quickly it can be reduced, and to reenergize actions to reduce it.

Almost all countries suffer from high levels of malnutrition.  Countries should make a common cause and exploit opportunities to learn from each other. It is clear that the low-income countries do not have a monopoly on malnutrition problems and that the high-income countries do not have a monopoly on nutrition solutions. Failure to intensify action and find solutions will cast a long shadow, bequeathing a painful legacy to the next generation. Our generation has the opportunity—and the ability—to banish those shadows. To do so, we must act strategically, effectively, in alliances, and at scale. And we need to be held to account.

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Nov 28 2014

Weekend reading: Vitamania!

Catherine Price.  Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection.  Penguin Press, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

Catherine Price gives us a journalist’s entertaining romp through the fascinating history of the discovery of vitamins, and their use and marketing as objects of health obsession.  Faith in vitamins, she advises, should be tempered by scientific uncertainty and dietary complexity, and the understanding that foods are better sources than pills.

This is the second excellent book I know of with that title.  This one came out in 1996.  It focused on supplements and their marketing.

Both have interesting things to say about why so many of us take vitamin supplements, regardless of the lack of evidence that they do us much good.

As I keep observing, there just isn’t much evidence that vitamin supplements make healthy people healthier.

Nov 27 2014

Happy Food Politics Thanksgiving

A holiday greeting for anyone cooking a Thanksgiving dinner (thanks to Lisa Young for passing along the URL for this video):

 

And, if you can figure out a way to make this big enough to read (I can’t, alas):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat well and enjoy the day!

Nov 25 2014

At long last menu labeling, and worth the wait!

The FDA released its long-awaited regulations on menu labeling at 12:01 this morning.

The big and most welcome news: the regulations apply across the board to

  • Meals from sit‐down restaurants
  • Foods purchased at drive‐through windows
  • Take‐out food, such as pizza
  • Foods, such as made‐to‐order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
  • Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
  • Muffins at a bakery or coffee shop
  • Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
  • A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store
  • Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
  • Certain alcoholic beverages

The only exceptions: foods from grocery stores or delis that require additional preparation such as deli meats, cheeses, or large deli salads.

Why is this big news?  As I’ve written previously in this space,

  • It’s been more than 4 years since Congress called for menu labels (in the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in 2010)
  • When the FDA first proposed the regs in April 2011, it excluded movie theaters and other places whose primary purpose is not to sell food.
  • It also excluded alcoholic beverages (these are regulated by the Treasury Department)
  • The pizza lobby (yes, there is such a thing–remember “pizza is a vegetable” in school lunches?) fought to be excluded.
  • The National Grocers Association and other retailers who sell prepared foods fought for exclusion.
  • Rumors were that the White House wanted weaker regulations.

Well here they are.

As for the response:

Center for Science in the Interest (CSPI), which has led the menu labeling efforts, is understandably pleased.  Congratulations!

The National Restaurant Association has pressed for national regulations to make the rules consistent across the country.  It says:

We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.

The New York Times reports that the The National Grocers Association said: “We are disappointed that the F.D.A.’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members”

Really?  Lots of people eat at grocery stores these days (think: Whole Foods).

The Washington Post reports that the Food Marketing Institute is also disappointed.

I’m not.  Calorie labeling is an excellent tool for public education.

The regs won’t go into effect for another year or two.

Watch the lobbying begin!

In the meantime, congratulations to the FDA for putting public health first.

 

 

 

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/calorie-counts-coming-to-a-restaurant-movie-theater-vending-machine-near-you/2014/11/24/e5bd25ae-7415-11e4-a5b2-e1217af6b33d_story.html

 

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