Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 22 2019

Weekend reading: Gandhi’s dietary aspirations

Nico Slate.  Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet: Eating with the World in Mind.  University of Washington Press, 2019.  

Image result for Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet: Eating with the World in Mind

Let’s start with my blurb:

Nico Slate’s fascinating account reveals Gandhi as an evidence-based, self-experimenting nutrition guru who tried one diet after another—vegan, raw, calorie restriction–in his quest for physical and spiritual health.  Above all, Slate explains Gandhi’s use of fasting as a political means to inspire India to achieve independence.

Gandhi, it seems, was a food faddist well ahead of his time.  The author says:

As his commitment to vegetarianism deepened, Gandhi grappled with whether he should also forgo eggs and milk.  Ultimately, he became convinced that he should become vegan, and renounced all animal products.  Living without eggs was relatively easy.  Doing without milk, by contrast, proved to be one of the greatest challenges of his life.  He experimented with almond milk, peanut milk, and other vegan alternatives.  In 1914, he vowed to abstain from all dairy products.  But after contracting a serious illness, he decided that his pledge did not include goat’s milk. [p. 47]

The book explains how Gandhi’s dietary choices were tightly linked to his politics.

The social potential of a raw diet led Gandhi to explore the cheapest source of sustenance for the poor: wild food…The greatest ethical challenge stemmed from the limitations of wild food as a remedy for poverty.  If the goal was to end hunger, changes in diet would be insufficient if they were not linked to changes in land ownership and the distribution of wealth—change that seemed as impossible as eating ginger nonviolently. [ p. 97]

And one more:

In a world marred by inequality, charity could only do so much.  Ultimately, Gandhi did not want to help the poor; he wanted to end poverty.  Over time, he developed a deeper understanding of the link between famine and imperialism.  “India suffers from starvation because there is dearth not of grain,” he explained, “but of purchasing power.”  The absence of purchasing power was, in turn, a direct result of the economic structures of British rule…Recognizing famine as a result of empire inspired Gandhi to demand India’s freedom. [p.127]

Mar 21 2019

Supplements for pets: NutraIngredients-USA.com

NutraIngredients-USA.com has collected articles on this topic into a Special Edition: Supplements for pets

The market for supplements for pets is valued at around $2.6 billion, according to the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).

Issues driving the market growth include an increasing market share of premium supplements positioned as natural and organic; the rise of obesity/weight management among the nation’s pets; and maintaining the health of older pets, which are living for longer.

In this special edition, we explore the key trends (including CBD!), opportunities, and a couple of brand success stories.

Malden Nesheim and I discuss pet supplements in our book, Feed Your Pet Right (which is actually an analysis of the pet food industry).  Just as with supplements for humans, little evidence exists to demonstrate that supplements do any good for pets.  But they make owners feel like they are doing something useful.  As for CBD for pets?  That may make owners feel better too.

Mar 20 2019

Another Romaine lettuce outbreak takes its toll

I occasionally write about disease outbreaks caused by food and am especially interested in those caused by romaine lettuce, because it’s so hard to trace back where it came from and how it got contaminated.

This post is about two outbreaks of toxic E. coli O157:H7 from Romaine lettuce.

Outbreak #1: This one pretty much ended in November 2018.  My post on it is here.  The CDC’s page on it  is here.

It was especially serious:

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

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler posted a slide show analyzing this outbreak on his website: “Thanks to FOIA, the CDC and FDA, the 2018 E. coli Romaine Outbreak becoming more Transparent.”  At least that.

Outbreak #2.  In February, the FDA published its “Investigation Summary: Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7.”

The FDA’s web page on this outbreak is here, and the CDC’s is here.

Bill Marler, whose firm represents victims of these outbreaks, posted annotated comments on the announcement.  He titled his post: “The FDA to Leafy Green Growers – “Please voluntarily stop poisoning your customers.”

Despite finding that E. coli outbreaks spanning years likely came from the same are or farm and was most likely caused by the same factors enumerated above, the FDA only sets forth “recommendations” that growers of leafy greens assess their growing operations for compliance with applicable requirements of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule and GAPs, including (see my snide comments in bold).

I will just give one example of his comments:

FDA continues to recommend (suggest, plead, beg, whine) that leafy green growers, buyer/shippers, and retailers be able to trace product back to the specific source in real time and make information about the source, such as harvest date and standardized growing regions, readily available for consumers on either packaging, point of sale signs, or by other means.

Voluntary, alas, isn’t good enough.  The FDA needs authority to require, demand, insist on.  Now.

If you want to see what this is about, take a look at the documents:

  • FDA’s final guidance for leafy green growers is here.
  • FDA guidance documents for leafy green growers are posted here. There are lots of them.
  • FDA guidance documents for retailers selling leafy greens are posted here.

 

 

Mar 19 2019

Trump budget double-speak: USDA/ERS budget cuts

The Trump administration released more details on its proposed budget, in language straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.

Framed as “savings and reform,” the proposal is to move the USDA’s Economic Research Service out of Washington DC.   Although this proposal says the purpose is to bring the ERS closer to rural America, its real purpose is to put the ERS out of business.

Why do I say this?  Because this proposal comes with a $26 million budget cut.   I also hear rumors that ERS research staff are being offered retirement options.

ERS is the jewel in USDA’s crown, nothing less than a national treasure, not only worth preserving but worth extolling for its truly important contributions to society.

I’ve long said that ERS was the best kept secret in government.  Its researchers worked tirelessly to provide real data on America’s food production and what it means for health.

Here, for example, is its latest report on how the U.S. food dollar is spent.

The best thing I can say about this budget is that it is unlikely to pass.  Members of Congress have been trying to put a stop to this move.  Let’s hope they succeed.

This may be a small piece of what’s happening, but in my field it is essential.

Please tell your congressional representatives to restore ERS’s budget and keep it in Washington, DC.

How?

Addition

The Office of Management and Budget’s analysis

Share |
Tags: ,
Mar 18 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Eggs

Here’s another in my series of post-Unsavory Truth examples of studies whose funder can be predicted by their titles.

The consumption of 12 Eggs per week for 1 year does not alter fasting serum markers of cardiovascular disease in older adults with early macular degeneration Hassan Aljohia , Mindy Dopler-Nelson , Manuel Cifuentes , Thomas A. Wilson.  Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism 2019;15:35-41.

Hypothesis: Egg consumption is associated with reduced risk of macular degeneration, but because eggs are so high in cholesterol, they might increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Conclusion: “This study suggests that the consumption of 12 eggs per week for 1 year does not significantly alter fasting serum lipids, lipoprotein cholesterol, or other biomarkers of CVD in older adults diagnosed with early macular degeneration” [the hypothesis is shown to be false].

Funding: “The authors would also like to thank the American Egg Board, Egg Nutrition Center, Washington, DC (T.A.W.) and the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund Inc., New Bedford, MA (T.A.W.) for their funding support. The funding played no role in data collection, analyses, or interpretation.”

Comment: So the authors say, but industry influence is often unrecognized.    Independently funded studies sometimes come to quite different conclusions, as one in JAMA did last week.  Its conclusion: “Among US adults, higher consumption of dietary cholesterol or eggs was significantly associated with higher risk of incident CVD and all-cause mortality in a dose-response manner.”

Mar 15 2019

Weekend reading: The Grand Food Bargain

Kevin D. Walker.  The Grand Food Bargain and the Mindless Drive for More.  Island Press, 2019. 

I did a blurb for this one:

A former USDA insider’s account of what our Grand Food Bargain—a system focused on ever-increasing production of cheap food—actually costs Americans in poor health, environmental degradation, and loss of agrarian values and community.  Walker’s views are well worth reading for his insights into how our food system needs to be transformed

Some snippets:

  • Early farm bills, sold to the public by promising more food with less uncertainty, were designed to stabilize food prices and increase farm income.  Eight decades later, new farm bills are still being enacted despite average farm income long ago surpassing non-farm income and continuing food surplus.  Each new bill is an increasingly costly grab bag of subsidies and protections, which invariably attracts more interest groups and lobbying.  Other than loose connections to agriculture, no coherent policy direction exists (p. 91).
  • Narrow [scientific and technical] expertise alone, for example, does not address the connections among rising rates of obesity, exhaustion of fossil waters, escalating nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, noxious weeds immune to legacy pesticides, growing antibiotic resistance—all the result of how the modern food system operates and how society now lives (p. 114).
  • As sophisticated financial strategies are grafted onto the modern food system, more mergers and acquisitions by ever-larger multinational companies follow.  Food is no longer valued for its ability to sustain life, but only for its ability to generate profits.  Whether higher returns come from squeezing farmers under contract to grow pigs or poultry, creating a monopoly on seeds that can be doused with chemicals, or selling food laden with cheap calories makes no difference (p. 141).

Walker’s remedy?  Let food be our teacher.  It’s worth reading what he means by this.

Mar 14 2019

Do artificial sweeteners do any good?

A study by European investigators concluded that artificial (non-sugar) sweeteners [NSS] had no particular benefits for health.

Most health outcomes did not seem to have differences between the NSS exposed and unexposed groups. Of the few studies identified for each outcome, most had few participants, were of short duration, and their methodological and reporting quality was limited; therefore, confidence in the reported results is limited.

However, the accompanying editorial by Vasanti Malik concludes:

Based on existing evidence including long term cohort studies with repeated measurements and high quality trials with caloric comparators, use of NSS as a replacement for free sugars (particularly in sugar sweetened beverages) could be a helpful strategy to reduce cardiometabolic risk among heavy consumers, with the ultimate goal of switching to water or other healthy drinks.

On this basis, the Calorie Control Council, the trade group that represents the makers of artificial sweeteners issued a statement rebutting the study:

In alignment with the conclusions made by Dr. Malik, the Calorie Control Council agrees that the highest quality science supports that LNCS [low- and no-calorie sweeteners] can be consumed as part of a balanced diet and can assist with the reduction of cardiometabolic risk through the management of body weight and reduced caloric intake.

Given the proven safety and benefits of LNCS, consumers should continue to be confident in including these ingredients as part of a healthy diet.

Note the conditional “could” and “can.”  Artificial sweeteners might help, but you can’t count on them for miracles.

Mar 13 2019

FDA and USDA agree on how to regulate cell-based (“fake”?) meat

Last week, the USDA and FDA ended their turf battle and announced a joint framework for jointly regulating cell-based meat products.

Congress instructed them to do this in a statement related to the Appropriations Act:

Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner of Food and Drugs shall enter into a formal agreement delineating the responsibilities of the two agencies for the regulation of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry. Such agreement shall be made public on the USDA and FDA websites within one day of the completion of the agreement.

These products, not yet on the market, are made from animal cells grown in tissue culture; no animals are killed in the process.

What to call these emerging products is a matter of some debate.  Proponents call them such things as in vitro, lab-based, vat-grown, or clean.

The meat industry wants them called artificial, synthetic, or fake.  It publishes a flier called “Fake Meat Facts.”

The proposed plan calls for the FDA to regulate the collection of animal cells, cell banks, and cell growth—the processes.  USDA will oversee production, as it does for live animals and poultry.

Much must be at stake.  The agencies’ framework is proactive; the products are not expected to be marketed for several years.

The meat industry is relieved that USDA is in charge.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said, “The formal agreement announced today solidifies USDA’s lead oversight role in the production and labeling of lab-grown fake meat products.”

“This is what NCBA has been asking for, and it is what consumers deserve,” Houston said.

The market for these products is expected to be huge, but questions remain:

We will be hearing a lot more about these products as they head to market.

Share |
Tags: , ,