by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Water

Oct 30 2015

Clean Water rules: Will Congress just say no?

Today’s Politico Morning Agriculture report has this brief note:

SENATE TO TAKE UP WOTUS FIX: The Clean Water Rule’s days could be numbered. The Senate could as early as next week take up a bill from Sen. John Barrasso to require the EPA to withdraw its Clean Water Rule and re-draft the measure with the help of states and other affected groups…The bill has the backing of 46 senators…Given that the House has already passed a similar measure, a “yea” vote from the Senate could signal a quick demise for the rule.

This sent me to try to understand what the Clean Water Rule is about and why so many groups want to get rid of it.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule defining the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) covered by its regulations. This, as far as I can tell, extends regulatory protection beyond large streams to the small streams that flow into them.

On its website devoted to this rule, the EPA says “The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.”

Maybe so, but I’m having a hard time understanding how the new rules would require agricultural producers to clean up the waste they discharge into local streams.

The agricultural implications are particularly contentious—think of the huge volumes of animal waste delivered to streams by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or of pesticides and herbicides running off from mega-farms.

But the EPA insists that there are no changes to the current rules that exempt agriculture from having to protect local water supplies.

Agricultural producers evidently do not believe this. They have done everything possible to block the rules and apparently will succeed in this effort.

The strength of the opposition—farm organizations, golf course groups, municipalities—suggests that somewhere in these rules must be restrictions on discharges into water supplies.    If so, the Clean Water rules deserve plenty of support.

I wish I could find a clear, straightforward explanation of what the WOTUS rules would do.  If the rules are overturned, which it looks like they will be, I’m wondering if this is because only lobbyists can understand the details and implications.

This document from the American Water Works Association has useful diagrams illustrating which streams are affected by the EPA’s rules.

Are any groups supporting the WOTUS rules?  If so, they are very quiet.


The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s position paper on the failings of the Clean Water Rule

May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

Sep 10 2014

Congress vs. EPA’s Clean Water Act

I’m trying to understand what’s going on with the bill the House passed on Tuesday to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing what it proposed to do last April: define its ability to protect bodies of water in the United States against agricultural pollution.

Specifically, the EPA proposes that under the Clean Water Act, it can enforce pollution controls over:

  • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams.
  • Other types of waters that have uncertain connections with downstream water (these will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis).

The Clean Water Act gives EPA the authority to set wastewater standards for industry, including agriculture.  The Act

  • Establishes the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges.
  • Grants EPA authority to implement pollution control programs.
  • Sets water quality standards for contaminants.
  • Makes it unlawful to discharge pollutants without a permit.

The Clean Water Act most definitely applies to agriculture:

According to the account in The Hill, the bill prohibits the EPA from establishing any regulations based on the proposals.

  • The EPA says the proposals do not expand the agency’s existing authority over US waters.
  • But Republicans, joined by some Democrats, say the proposals expand EPA jurisdiction over trivial bodies of water.

Trivial, of course, is a matter of perception.  Agricultural pollutants cause much damage to US waterways.  The proposals are aimed at containing some of the damage.

No wonder agribusiness wants to stop EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act’s provisions.

The White House says it will veto the bill.  Let’s see what happens in the Senate.


Jul 30 2014

Health claims for coconut water: water works really well

The big surprise in Michael Moss’s tough look at health claims on coconut water in today’s New York Times—worth looking at online for the terrific video—is this:

One Last Comparison

These days, coconut water’s big rival may be plain old water. How do they compare? Scientists are still wrestling with the question, and while their findings vary, water is starting to look just fine for most people. A 2012 study (funded by Vita Coco) in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that neither coconut water nor sports drinks were better than water in hydrating young men after hourlong workouts.

Really?  An industry-funded study that comes to a conclusion against the interest of the funder?

This requires a look at the original paper.

So a round of applause please for the authors who did this funded study, “Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men,” and nevertheless came to this conclusion:

Our data indicate that both coconut water (natural, concentrated and not from concentrate) and bottled water provide similar rehydrating effects as compared to a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink.  Moreover, none of the beverages impacted treadmill exercise performance differently during the rehydration period.

Lest there be any ambiguity about what this means, their data clearly show that VitaCoco, a sports drink (not named but I’d bet on Gatorade), and coconut water from concentrate all rehydrated men who spent 60 minutes on a treadmill to the same extent.

In other words: for rehydration, water works just as well as coconut water or sports drinks.   No surprise, really.

VitaCoco must be disappointed, but it still has one thing going for it: coconut water tastes really good.

Jul 16 2014

Annals of kids marketing: herbal tea

I know I live on another planet, and my kids are long grown, but is there really a void in the market that has to be filled by a half-juice, half-herbal tea drink in a box for kids?

According to Food Navigator, the CEO of Drazil (lizard spelled backwards) Kids Tea thinks this product

pinpoint[s] a void in the kids’ beverage marketplace for a naturally healthy, reduced-sugar ready-to-drink beverage line as US consumers started falling out of love with 100% juice….There’s a huge need for healthy beverages that actually appeal to kids, so I thought, why not tea?…“I’ve studied how habits are formed when doing product development,” she said. “How do you get more adult tea drinkers? You get them to start drinking it regularly when they’re young. Tea is perfect because it’s relatively inexpensive to brew, so healthy—all those antioxidants, nutrients. Why not develop those habits young?”

OK.  The concept is adorable.

But is tea really loaded with antioxidants and nutrients?  Not like fruit juices.  This product is a juice drink that dilutes juice and its nutrients by half.   Yes, it also dilutes the fruit sugars by half but the boxes are 6.75 ounces and that much 100% juice is not unreasonable for school-age kids.

What ever happened to tap water?

This product is about marketing, and marketing to kids and hooking them early at that.

As I said, I live on another planet.

Sep 13 2013

Drink Up? The new Let’s Move! campaign

Michele Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation has taken on a new angle: Drink Up.  It issued a press release yesterday urging Americans to drink more water.

The “Drink Up: You Are What You Drink” website explains:

New Picture (13)

Let me be absolutely clear: I am totally in favor of encouraging kids to drink water.


  • Water deficiency is not a public health problem in the United States.  Childhood obesity is the problem.
  • Drinking water will only help to counter childhood obesity if it substitutes for sugary sodas.

  • Bottled water companies such as Dasani (owned by Coca-Cola) and Aquafina (PepsiCo), and their trade group The American Beverage Association (ABA), are the main supporters of this initiative.
  • This makes the message sounds like “drink bottled water,” without much attention to environmental implications.

The ABA’s congratulatory press release says:

Staying hydrated is important to staying in balance, and bottled water provides people with a convenient and popular choice. By supporting this new initiative, our industry is once again leading with meaningful ways to achieve a balanced lifestyle.”

Hydrated?  Not an issue for most people (exceptions—elite athletes, people at high altitude, the elderly).

Bottled water?  In places with decent municipal water supplies, tap water is a much better choice; it’s inexpensive, non-polluting, and generates political support for preserving the quality of municipal water supplies.  See, for example, what Food and Water Watch has to say about bottled water.

James Hamblin’s critical account  in The Atlantic indicates that the press conference must have been tough going.  Sam Kass, White House chef and executive director of Let’s Move! took the questions.

Another reporter: “Why aren’t we talking about obesity?”

Another reporter: Are we talking about replacing sugary drinks and sodas with water?”

Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, fielded that one. “It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive. Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

I consider Let’s Move! to be a public health campaign, and a very important one.

Hamblin concludes:

I know we’re just trying to “keep things positive,” but missing the opportunity to use this campaign’s massive platform to clearly talk down soda or do something otherwise more productive is lamentable. Public health campaigns of this magnitude don’t come around every day…Keeping things positive and making an important point are not mutually exclusive, you fools.

My interpretation

Let’s Move! staff have stated repeatedly that they must and will work with the food industry to make progress on childhood obesity.  I’m guessing this is the best they can do. Messages to “drink less soda” (or even “drink tap water”) will not go over well with Coke, Pepsi, and the ABA; sales of sugary sodas are already declining in this country.

I’m thinking that the White House must have cut a deal with the soda industry along the lines of “we won’t say one word about soda if you will help us promote water, which you bottle under lots of brands.”   A win-win.

Isn’t drinking water better than drinking soda?  Of course it is.

But this campaign could have clarified the issues a bit better.  Jeff Cronin, communications director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest circulated a poster created by Rudy Ruiz (of the communications firm Interlex) for a public health campaign in San Antonio:

New Picture (14)

Public health partnerships with food and beverage companies—especially soda companies—are fraught with peril.   Let’s hope this one conveys the unstated message like the one in San Antonio: My balance is less soda and more tap water.

Other resources

As always, Eddie Gehman Kohan writing at ObamaFoodorama provides a clear, detailed summary of the relevant details along with transcripts of Michele Obama’s remarks at the launch in Watertown, Wisconsin (site of a Pepsi bottling plant, among other things).

Amanda Chin has a good piece in the Huffington Post (I’m quoted).

Jul 31 2010

Food Matters column: water and sports drinks

My monthly Food Matters Q and A column in the San Francisco Chronicle appears this weekend:

Are 8 glasses of water a day really necessary?

Q: It’s such a hot summer and I’m sweating all the time, but I don’t feel thirsty. Do I have to force myself to drink eight glasses of water a day?

A: San Franciscans: Please, no complaints about summer fog. Where I live, it’s hot and humid, and staying hydrated takes work.

Everybody needs water to replace the amounts lost through breath, sweating and excretions. In comfortable temperatures, the amounts lost conveniently come out to about a quart of water for every thousand calories consumed. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, you need about 2 quarts of water.

But water equivalents – juice, coffee, tea, soda and anything else with water in it, including food – work just as well. Watermelon is called watermelon for a reason. It is mostly water and perfect for hot summer days.

Mostly, you don’t have to keep track of how much liquid you drink. Thirst takes care of it. If you need water, you feel thirsty and you get something to eat or drink. Problem solved.

But thirst doesn’t work very well at times when it is most needed – in very hot weather, at high altitudes or during heavy exercise. People in hot climates, mountain climbers and athletes have to force themselves to drink.

How can you tell when you need water? This is easy. Look at your urine. If you are dehydrated, your urine is bright yellow and smelly. If you are getting enough water, your urine is pale and practically odorless.

Except for these exceptions, hardly anyone needs to worry about how much water to drink. That “hardly anyone,” however, also includes children and the elderly, who tend not to regulate water balance very well. Beyond these exceptions – as you shivering San Franciscans can attest – thirst works well as a guide to how much to drink.

Q: A young woman I know got a nasty combination of altitude sickness and electrolyte imbalance when she was hiking in the Sierra Nevada. She sipped water constantly, ended up drinking too much, and got so sick from lack of salt that she had to be airlifted out. Are those Gatorade-like drinks that replenish electrolytes any better than plain water when you are hiking or exercising hard?

A: Those drinks might help, but your friend also must not have been eating much on that hike. Foods are excellent sources of electrolytes.

Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium and chloride that help balance blood acidity. They are lost in sweat, which is why sweat tastes salty. Our bodies have plenty of electrolytes. Salt, for example, is usually eaten in great excess. Normal sweat losses don’t matter much, unless we are vigorously exercising or sweating profusely.

But sweating is easy to miss at high altitudes because it evaporates so quickly. The higher the altitude, the easier it is to overlook fluid and electrolyte losses.

High altitude also disrupts normal appetite, so climbers don’t feel hungry or thirsty. Elite climbers know to pack lightweight foods and supplements made especially for that purpose, and to force themselves to eat and drink frequently.

Drinks advertised as electrolyte supplements do indeed contain electrolytes. Gatorade Orange Sports Drink, for example, contains water as the first ingredient, followed by sugars (sucrose syrup, high-fructose corn syrup), flavors and three sources of electrolytes – salt (sodium chloride), sodium citrate and monopotassium phosphate – along with color additives and thickeners.

If you are an athlete working out for an hour or more, Gatorade might replenish your sodium, potassium and chloride more quickly than food can, but not by much. An 8-ounce Gatorade serving provides just 1 percent of the daily value for potassium (30 milligrams) and 5 percent of the daily value for sodium (110 milligrams).

Gatorade is a sweetened drink supplemented with a few salts, but with less sugar and fewer calories than a regular soft drink. On the basis of electrolytes, PepsiCo, its parent company, markets Gatorade as a better choice than any other drink, including water. Nothing, says PepsiCo, rehydrates, replenishes and refuels athletes better. According to Advertising Age, the company backs up that contention with a hefty advertising budget – $118 million in 2009.

Studies do show that replenishing electrolytes is a good thing to do at high altitude or during any other extreme activity. But hikers can do this with food or supplements without having to carry additive-laden sugary drinks in a backpack.

An average carrot, for example, provides 230 milligrams of potassium and 50 milligrams of sodium. Many other vegetables have similar electrolyte profiles. Nobody wants to carry heavy foods up a mountain, which is why sports shops sell dehydrated foods and special supplements for high-altitude climbers.

It’s a good idea to drink water at high altitude, but also to eat plenty of good food at regular intervals.

Marion Nestle is the author of “Food Politics,” “Safe Food,” “What to Eat” and “Pet Food Politics,” and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail her at, and read her previous columns at

This article appeared on page K – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Apr 9 2010

Corporate social responsibility: real or oxymoron?

Food corporations are pushing corporate social responsibility (CSR) as hard as they can.  This seems like an oxymoron to me, but here’s what they say:

CSR #1: Nestlé (no relation) says it is creating shared value by “optimizing water use and productivity, Italy.”

In the Piacenza and Parma region of Italy, in recent years, water has become scarcer, especially during the summer. Nestlé Italia decided to engage more closely with its tomato suppliers, to secure its supply of tomatoes and significantly reduce the amount of fresh water used for irrigation.

The three-year project with Consorzio Interregionale Ortofrutticoli, a cooperative of tomato farmers, aims to maximise tomato production and optimise irrigation in 10 pilot farms with differing soil conditions, by using solar-powered CropSense Soil Moisture Monitoring technology. Data at root level is collected daily and used to provide the exact amount of water needed to optimise crop revenue and water use.

Data collection will continue into 2011, and additional farmers are already keen to join the project based on the initial results: yields have nearly doubled, the tomato quality (sugar content) increased by 15% and the water used to produce one tonne of tomatoes fell by 45%.

Watch Nestlé’s film: Optimising water use and productivity, Italy

Read more in Nestlé’s report, Creating Shared Value

Anti-CSR: For an antidote, try Corporate Accountability International’s campaign called “Think Outside the Bottle,” and watch the video of Annie Leonard’s Story of Bottled Water.

CSR #2: FoodNavigator has a new collection of commentaries on CSR:

Food industry well-respected for CSR efforts

The food industry is one of the most well-respected industries in terms of social responsibility, according to a new survey from research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland… Read

Top line responsibility messages from manufacturers

Corporate responsibility is now accepted as a major part of doing business, even when the economic climate is less than ideal. rounds up the main messages of some of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies… Read

The ethical approach to research

Science is fundamental to the food industry, from supporting claims in the health and wellness sphere to tasting panels to evaluate a new product, but scientists can never forget the ethical implications of their experiments… Read

Unilever comes out top in corporate responsibility rating

A new ranking of major food and beverage companies by their corporate social responsibility is published today, with Unilever, Nestle and Danone occupying the top three spots… Read

Developing a sustainable food industry: The what, why and how

Developing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy offers huge scope for innovation and revenue-building – but there is no one-size-fits-all approach, according to a US supply chain management professor… Read

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