Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 15 2018

Pet food: a roundup of recent stories

I maintain an active interest in pet food, even though my books on the topic came out a few years ago

Here are some recent items:

  1. Pet food is big business ($63 billion last year).  It brings people into supermarkets and boosts sales.  [OK.  You already knew this, no?]
  2. Evangers, a pet food maker occasionally in trouble over ingredient and food safety problems has been caught with horse meat in its products. It says it doesn’t use horse meat, even though it has a license to use it.  It blames its beef supplier.Private label pet food brands are selling well.   They are cheaper.  For the record: all complete-and-balanced pet foods are required to meet the same nutritional standards and to support dog and cat reproduction, growth, and development (they are like infant formula in that regard).
  3. Food safety issues for humans also mean food safety issues for pets. The CDC is warning people not to consume certain turkey products because of illnesses caused by Salmonella. “Evidence collected by federal officials investigating the illnesses has revealed the outbreak strain in samples from live turkeys and many kinds of raw turkey products, including pet food.”
  4. Raw pet food  continues to raise food safety risks: Rad Cat Raw Diet has been recalled due to Listeria contamination.   A case of human Salmonella illness has been linked to a Darwin’s raw pet food.
  5. And the FDA announces the recall of Nutrisca dry dog food with levels of vitamin D so excessive that they made dogs sick.
  6. Mars Veterinary, the biggest manufacturer of pet foods, is working on some new products made from—get this—lab-grown mouse meat.  No, I did not make this up; I got it from Business Insider.
  7. Wild Earth, Inc., a biotech pet food startup, sells treats made with lab-cultured protein from the koji fungus, Aspergillus oryzae.
  8. The humanification of pet food, says The Atlantic, is nearly complete.
  9. Whole Dog Journal asks this burning question: Should you feed ice cream to your dog? (The short answer is no, but this gives me a chance to praise Nancy Kerns’ admirably sensible advice about dog feeding, care, and training).

You can see why I love writing about pet food.

Nov 14 2018

Effects of ultraprocessing: fewer phenolics in corn flakes

In FoodNavigator, I read a report of a study finding that processing of corn into breakfast cereal flakes strips out phenolic compounds and tocopherols (vitamin E) associated with good health.

Just as processing of whole wheat into white flour removes the bran and germ, so does the processing of corn into corn flakes.

The germ and bran (hull) layers of grain seeds contain the vitamins and minerals—and the phenolics.  What’s left is the starch and protein (endosperm).

To replace these losses, manufacturers fortify corn flakes with 10% to 25% of the Daily Value for 12 vitamins and minerals.

This study is further evidence for the benefits of consuming relatively unprocessed foods.

Of particular interest to me is the authors’ disclosure statement:

This work was funded in part through gifts from the Kellogg Company and Dow AgroSciences.

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

This makes this study a highly unusual example of an industry-funded study with a result unfavorable to the sponsor’s interests.  The authors do not perceive Kellogg funding as a competing interest.  It is.  Kellogg (and maybe Dow) had a vested interest in the outcome of this study.

I would love to know whether these authors obtain further research grants from Kellogg and Dow.

Nov 13 2018

FDA’s conclusions about the E. coli outbreak caused by contaminated romaine lettuce

The outbreak caused by romaine lettuce contaminated with a toxic strain of E. coli (which I wrote about earlier), was especially serious:

  • 210 reported illnesses from 36 states
  • 96 hospitalizations
  • 27 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
  • 5 deaths

The FDA is continuing to produce comprehensive, thoughtful reports on such outbreaks and recently issued a report of its environmental investigations.

I’ve pulled out some key points from this report about how this outbreak happened and why such outbreaks are so difficult to investigate:

  • The traceback identified a total of 36 fields on 23 farms in the Yuma growing region as supplying romaine lettuce that was potentially contaminated and consumed during the outbreak.
  • Three of these samples were found to contain E. coli O157:H7 with the same rare genetic fingerprint (by whole genome sequencing) as that which made people sick. These three samples were collected in early June from a 3.5 mile stretch of an irrigation canal near Wellton in Yuma County that delivers water to farms in the local area.
  • FDA considers that the most likely way romaine lettuce became contaminated was from the use of water from this irrigation canal, since the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was found in the irrigation canal and in no other sampled locations.
  • A large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) is located adjacent to this stretch of the irrigation canal.

Among the FDA’s conclusions were these:

  • There are several ways that irrigation canal water may have come in contact with the implicated romaine lettuce including direct application to the crop and/or use of irrigation canal water to dilute crop protection chemicals applied to the lettuce crop, either through aerial or ground-based spray applications.
  • How and when the irrigation canal became contaminated with the outbreak strain is unknown. A large animal feeding operation is nearby but no obvious route for contamination from this facility to the irrigation canal was identified. Other explanations are possible although the EA team found no evidence to support them.

Among its recommendations were these:

  • assure that all agricultural water (water that directly contacts the harvestable portion of the crop) used by growers is safe and adequate for its intended use (including agricultural water used for application of crop protection chemicals);
  • assess and mitigate risks related to land uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural water or leafy greens crops directly (e.g. nearby cattle operations or dairy farms, manure or composting facility).

Contamination of leafy greens with toxic bacteria from animal waste has been a problem for years.

Growing vegetables near CAFO’s seems like a particularly bad idea.  CAFOs, which produce vast amounts of untreated animal waste should not be located near water sources.

Requiring CAFOs to treat animal waste, as human waste is required to be treated, is a necessary first step in producing safe food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s statement

Because leafy greens are a highly perishable commodity, the ability to traceback the route of a food product as it moves through the entire supply chain, or traceability, is critical to removing the product from commerce as quickly as possible, preventing additional consumer exposures, and properly focusing any recall actions. During the romaine investigation we found the typical traceback process to be particularly challenging because much of the finished lettuce product contained romaine that was sourced from multiple ranches As a result, our investigation involved collecting documentation from each point in the supply chain to verify the movement of product back to the Yuma area. Complicating this already large-scale investigation, the majority of the records collected in this investigation were either paper or handwritten.

 

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Nov 12 2018

Another industry-funded study for your amusement

As I discuss in my latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eatfood industry funding of nutrition research produces highly predictable results and, therefore, is not good for science, public health, or trust.

Industry-funded studies are easily recognizable by their titles.  When I see a title like this one, I immediately wonder why anyone would do a study to example this particular question.  And then I look to see who funded it.

Title: Corn Oil Lowers Plasma Cholesterol Compared with Coconut Oil in Adults with Above-Desirable Levels of Cholesterol in a Randomized Crossover TrialJ Nutr 2018 148(10):1556-63.

Conclusion: “When incorporated into the habitual diet, consumption of foods providing ∼54 g of corn oil/d produced a more favorable plasma lipid profile than did coconut oil in adults with elevated cholesterol.”

Sponsor: “Supported by ACH Food Companies, Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, IL,” and all of the authors either received research funding from ACH Food Companies, Inc., or are employees of that company.

Comment: So what is this about?  ACH is the maker of Mazola oil, which must be losing market share to coconut oil.

Which oil is better for you and does it really matter?

I sure would like some independent researchers to weigh in on this.

Nov 9 2018

Weekend reading: Farming While Black

Leah Penniman.  Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land  Chelsea Green, 2018.

This is the second copy of this book sent by the publisher.  The first was snapped up off my desk by a colleague who was desperate for this book, not even knowing it existed.

For good reason.

This book is way more than a how-to guide, although it does that part splendidly.  It thoroughly integrates farming basics with necessary elements of supportive community, grounded in Penniman’s experience with Soul Fire Farm near Albany, New York.

Every section emphasizes the importance of community.

  • On finding the right land: make sure it is geographically accessible to a community where you feel you can belong.
  • On mission statements: train and empower aspiring Black, Latinx and indigenous growers; advance healing justice.

Every section emphasizes resources for Black farmers—scholarships, training programs, university programs, food hubs—and the contributions of traditional African and modern African-American farmers to what we know about how best to conduct sustainable agriculture.

The book is firmly grounded in history.  I particularly appreciated the annotated timeline of the trauma inflicted on Black farmers induced by racism.  This history begins with slavery, but continues through police brutality, convict leasing, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, land theft, USDA discrimination, real estate redlining, and today’s mass incarceration and gaps in income, food access, and power.

Karen Washington wrote the Foreword:

We sat with pride as we went around the circle introducing ourselves, talking about our frustrations with not being represented at food and farming conferences.  I sat in awe as this young Black woman [Penniman] engaged us in conversation about race and power…this masterpiece of indigenous sovereignty [Farming While Black] sheds light on the richness of Black culture permeating throughout agriculture.

From Penniman’s chapter on keeping seeds:

Just 60 years ago, seeds were largely stewarded by small farmers and public-sector plant breeders.  Today, the proprietary seed market accounts for 82 percent of the seed supply globally, with Monsanto and DuPont owning the largest shares…Beyond simply preserving the genetic heritage of the seed it is also crucial to our survival that we preserve the stories of our seeds…our obligation is to keep the stories of the farmers who curated the seeds alive along with the plant itself.    It matters to know that roselle is from Senegal and tht the Geechee red pea is an essential ingredient in the Gullah dish known as Hoppin’ John.  In keeping the stories of our seeds alive, we keep the craft of our ancestors alive in our hearts.

Penniman offers suggestions for white readers who might want to help:

Adopting a listener’s framework is the first step for white people who want to form interracial alliances  Rather than trying to “outreach” to people of color and convince them to join your initiative, find out about existing community work that is led by people directly impacted by racism and see how you can engage.

This is an important book for everyone who cares about farming and agrarian values, regardless of color.

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Nov 8 2018

Progress, of sorts, on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines

Remember the Dietary Guidelines?  Those pesky things that have to be revised every five years by order of Congress?

This time, the USDA is firmly in charge of the joint process with HHS.

It says the updating process is well underway.

The call has gone out for nominations of advisory committee members.  This is now closed and USDA expects to appoint the committee within the next few months.

And now it has put the official charter for the process out for comment.

It also has issued a Q and A.

And provides a schedule for public engagement.

A few aspects of this especially interest me:

  • Nothing has been said about a new food guide (MyPlate is left over from the 2010 guidelines).
  • USDA’s close control.  It says this is mandated by Congress.
  • The level of scrutiny of the process will be exceptional, giving the fuss about the 2015 guidelines.
  • Expect the process to be highly politicized.

This committee will have its work cut out for it.  Much appreciation to the brave souls willing to take this on.

I can’t wait to see who they are.

Stay tuned.

Nov 7 2018

Trump’s “public charge” proposal: just say no

The Trump Administration’s “public charge” proposal is now open for public comment.

This ungenerous and unwelcoming idea is to use participation in benefits for the poor—food assistance programs among them—as a way to deny residency or citizenship to those coming to live or work here.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)…proposes to require all aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule.

Why is DHS doing this?  Ostensibly, because it

seeks to better ensure that applicants for admission to the United States and applicants for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident who are subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility are self-sufficient, i.e., do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their family, sponsor, and private organizations.

What programs constitute a public charge?

  • Any grant, contract, loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States; and
  • Any retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefit, or any other similar benefit for which payments or assistance are provided to an individual, household, or family eligibility unit by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States.

Brilliant move.  It kills two birds with one stone: it discourages immigration, and saves money (those tax cuts for the wealthy make this necessary).

As Jan Poppendieck explains, this proposal revises the promise of the Statue of Liberty to read “don’t give me your tired and your poor.”

The proposal is open for public comment until December 10.

I hope it gets lots.

Nov 6 2018

It’s Election Day: Vote!

Voting has everything to do with food politics.

To pick just one, light-hearted (we need this), example: Ben & Jerry’s new ice cream flavor: Resist.

What’s in it? “Chocolate ice cream with white and dark fudge chunks, pecans, walnuts, and fudge-covered almonds.”

I don’t even want to think about the calories.  Everything in moderation, of course.

Except voting.

Vote!

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