Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 16 2019

The latest on CBD edibles: sales booming, but no science or regulation

I’m watching what’s happening with Cannabis edibles with much interest.  Sales are booming.  Regulators are stymied.  Regulation is virtually absent—nobody seems to know how—and science, alas, hardly exists.

BakeryandSnacks.com fills the information gap with an Editor’s Spotlight on CBD [cannabidiol]-Infused Snacks, from the business perspective, as always.

And I’ve collected a few more from other sources.

And here’s a free White Paper on Cannabis edibles—a cross-industry analysis.

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Aug 14 2019

The world’s most valuable food brands? In a nutshell.

One small table says it all.

For the record, I’m not related to the top ranked company.

Aug 12 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Unilever

A low-fat spread with added plant sterols and fish omega-3 fatty acids lowers serum triglyceride and LDL-cholesterol concentrations in individuals with modest hypercholesterolaemia and hypertriglyceridaemia.  Blom AM, et al.  European Journal of Nutrition.  2019;58(4):1615–1624.

Purpose: “to investigate the triglyceride (TG) and LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) lowering effects of a spread [i.e., margarine] with added plant sterols (PS) and fish oil as compared to a placebo spread.”

Conclusions: “Four-week consumption of the intervention spread led to significant and clinically relevant decreases in serum TG, LDL-C and other blood lipid concentrations.”

Funder: The study was funded by Unilever BCS Research and Development Vlaardingen, the Netherlands.

Conflicts of interest: of the authors, four are employed by Unilever.

Comment: Unilever makes margarines with plant sterols and fish oils.  You might buy them if they control blood lipid risk factors for heart disease.  This is in-house company research aimed at proving the benefits of a Unilever product, which is what so many other companies do.

But Unilever was one of the few Big Food companies that sponsored basic research (and maybe it still does?).  As I describe in my book, Unsavory Truth, Unilever was the sponsor of the basic research that demonstrated the harmful effects of trans-fat on disease risk.

Aug 9 2019

Annals of Marketing: A Sugary Cereal for Toddlers

Coming soon to a supermarket near you: Baby Shark cereal.

I am so out of it.  I never heard of the song, Baby Shark, before seeing this story about Kellogg’s new cereal—aimed at toddlers.

The song, I gather, is adored by babies, less so by their parents, but never mind: it is expected to sell lots of cereal.

I searched for a Nutrition Facts label online, but could not find one (the cereal won’t be available until mid-September, apparently.

I did see this at the bottom corner of the box:

One and one-third cup of this stuff provides 150 calories, 190 mg of sodium, and 15 grams of sugars.  Oh great, 40% of calories from sugars.

Another sugary cereal for kids, this one for little kids!

Do food companies market directly to children?  Yes, they do.

Aug 7 2019

Want Salmonella in your pet food?  Buy Answers brands.

Since writing two books about pet food in 2008 (Pet Food Politics) and 2010 (Feed Your Pet Right), I haven’t said much about this topic but am inspired to comment by this article in Food Safety News.

If you are a pet food maker, and the FDA finds Salmonella in your products and insists you recall them, what should you do?

A.  Recall the products immediately

B.  Apologize to your customers and promise this will never happen again

C.  Hire a food safety expert to review and revise your food safety procedures

D.  Train all employees to follow food safety procedures diligently

E.  Sue the FDA to allow you to continue selling Salmonella-contaminated pet food

The correct answer?  E, apparently.

Incredible as it may seem, Lystin LLC, the parent of Answers Pet Foods which sells raw meat and poultry, is suing the FDA on Constitutional grounds to allow it to sell foods contaminated with Salmonella. Why?

According to this company, people should be able to feed their pets whatever they like, especially because its brands already carry this warning:

WARNING: NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. THIS PRODUCT HAS NOT BEEN PASTEURIZED AND MAY CONTAIN HARMFUL BACTERIA.

You want to continue buying this pet food?  OK.  You were warned.

Personally, I’d find another brand more committed to the safety of dogs and their owners.

I can’t wait to see who wins this one.

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Aug 6 2019

The true purpose of moving the ERS out of DC: “Drain the Swamp”

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

The Washington Examiner reports on a speech given by Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff and current budget head, on why the administration chose to move the Economic Research Service from Washington DC to Kansas City:, causing 70 to 80 percent of its researchers to resign:

What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time…It’s really, really hard to drain the swamp, but we’re working at it…Guess what happened? More than half the people quit. Now, it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker. I know that because a lot of them work for me, and I’ve tried. You can’t do it.  By simply saying to people, ‘You know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move you out to the real part of the country,’ and they quit.  What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time…even that was difficult to do.

From my standpoint, the destruction of the ERS—now a done deal—is nothing less than an American tragedy.

The ERS was an apolitical research organization, producing carefully done and highly vetted studies on all aspects of USDA’s food programs—agricultural supports, GMOs, pesticides, crop insurance, conservation, trade, food insecurity, food assistance programs, dietary guidelines.

Sometimes their studies produced inconvenient results.  Sometimes truth is inconvenient.

I’ve always viewed the ERS as a national treasure.  I used to think it was Washington’s best kept secret.

Somehow, somebody in this administration found out about it.   It was a tiny agency and must have looked easy to get rid of.

A tragedy indeed.

Some of my previous posts on this topic.  I wish they had done some good.

And this just in:

USDA’s inspector general says the department may well have violated laws by moving ERS without congressional permission.

 

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Aug 5 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: “probiotic” weight-loss supplement

I spotted some tweets about this study from Washington Post writer Tamar Haspel, who has a sharp eye for this sort of thing.  Her first tweet said:

Her second tweet explained the problem:

So of course I had to look up the study.  It’s not one I would ordinarily have noticed because its title does not use the word “probiotic,” which typically refers to the live bacteria (in yogurt, for example).  The evidence for benefits of probiotics is iffy, so this study raises lots of questions.

Let’s take a look at it:

The Study:  Supplementation with Akkermansia muciniphila in overweight and obese human volunteers: a proof-of-concept exploratory study. Depommier C, et al.  Nature Medicine (2019

Conclusion: I’ve left out the statistics to make this easier to read:  “Compared to placebo, pasteurized A. muciniphila improved insulin sensitivity…, and reduced insulinemia…and plasma total cholesterol…. Pasteurized A. muciniphila supplementation slightly decreased body weight…compared to the placebo group, and fat mass…and hip circumference…compared to baseline….In conclusion, this proof-of-concept study…shows that the intervention was safe and well tolerated and that supplementation with A. muciniphila improves several metabolic parameters.”

Competing interests:  Five of the authors “are inventors of patent applications…filed with [patent offices in at least 12 countries]…dealing with the use of A. muciniphila and its components in the context of obesity and related disorders.” Two of the authors are cofounders of A-Mansia Biotech S.A., a Belgian company that sells A. muciniphila supplements, presumably as weight-loss supplements.

Comment: As Haspel points out, the subjects in this study were given either (a) live bacteria, (b) Pasteurized (and, therefore, mostly dead) bacteria, or (c) a placebo.  The Pasteurized ones were associated with metabolic benefits and weight loss.  Pasteurization is what gets done to milk to kill most—not all—of the living bacteria it contains.  In this study, Pasteurized bacteria had the same effect on the microbiome as the unpasteurized.  The point of the study was to show that the Pasteurized supplement would induce weight loss; the observed loss, however, was not statistically significant.   Nature Medicine‘s editors should know better.  So should the New York Times’ editors.  Haspel points out that the New York Times account of the study accepted its conclusion uncritically, headlining it “A Probiotic for Obesity?”  At least the headline included a question mark.  The article did not mention the authors’ patents or conflicts of interest; it should have.

Bottom line: If you want to keep your microbiome healthy, eat a healthy diet.

Aug 2 2019

Weekend reading: A Sustainable Food Future

I’m always interested in recommendations for how we are to solve world food problems—population increase, environmental degradation, climate change—in the immediate future.

Here is one approach from a group of highly official agencies from the United Nations in collaboration with the World Bank.

The report’s five areas of recommendation:

1. Reduce growth in demand for food and other agricultural products
2. Increase food production without expanding agricultural land
3. Protect and restore natural ecosystems and limit agricultural land-shifting
4. Increase fish supply
5. Reduce GHG [Greenhouse gas] emissions from agricultural production

The report is 564 pages.  There is a lot in it.  The one question it does not answer: Where is the political will to make any of this happen?  It mentions political will five times, for example, “Success would depend primarily on political will” (page 406).

How to get political will?  That needs to be the subject of another report, apparently.