Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 21 2019

The FDA is taking on the supplement industry?

I thought the FDA had decided long ago that dietary supplements were untouchable, given the Courts’ interpretation of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994.  DSHEA essentially deregulated dietary supplements and blocked the FDA from doing much about them unless it could prove substantial harm.

Whenever the FDA tried to intervene, supplement companies took the agency to court on First Amendment grounds, and won most of the time.  So the FDA appeared to have given up.

But here we have FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announcing new steps to take back some oversight of this industry.

These steps include communicating to the public as soon as possible when there is a concern about a dietary supplement on the market, ensuring that our regulatory framework is flexible enough to adequately evaluate product safety while also promoting innovation, continuing to work closely with our industry partners, developing new enforcement strategies and continuing to engage in a public dialogue to get valuable feedback from dietary supplement stakeholders.

The FDA issued a press release to announce 12 warning letters and 5 online advisory letters to companies illegally selling more than 58 misbranded products claimed to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease.  The demographic change to an aging population:

has been accompanied by a growth in the number of marketers who prey on this population, pitching products that make unproven claims that they can prevent, treat, delay, or even cure Alzheimer’s disease.  These purported miracle cures are sold primarily on the Internet. They are often, though not always, falsely labeled as dietary supplements. Regardless of their form, these products fly in the face of true science. What these companies are selling is the false hope that there is an effective treatment or cure.

Commissioner Gottlieb also sent out a chain of Twitter announcements explaining what this is about.

Cheers to the FDA for this one.  And now get busy on the rest of the bad apples in this barrel.

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Feb 20 2019

What is a portion size? The British Nutrition Foundation’s answer

Lisa Young, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, has long argued that portion control is the key to maintaining healthy weight.

Now, the industry-funded (see list here) British Nutrition Foundation has issued a “handy” guide to appropriate portion sizes.

I put “handy” in quotes because the system is based on hand measurements.

The guide tells you how many servings you are supposed to have each day from each of the major food groups, and how to tell the serving size for a very long list of foods.

I find all of this hugely complicated, and don’t think you should need to learn what looks like a guide to sign language to know how to eat.

I’m especially suspicious because the Nutrition Foundation is an industry-sponsored group and it is very much in the interest of the food industry to have you take full responsibility for controlling your own food intake.  If you eat too much, it’s your fault for not learning this system.

How about food companies making and serving smaller portions?  Nope.  It’s up to you to take greater personal responsibility for what you eat.

Try this for yourself and see what I mean.

  • The guide is here.
  • The full list of portion sizes is here.
  • A one-page summary is here.
Feb 19 2019

The Corn Refiners Association responds

In response to my post of last week on Bud Light’s use of corn syrup as a means to attack competing beer companies, I received this note from John Bode, the president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association.

I met Mr. Bode years ago, when I was working in Washington DC and he was assistant secretary for agriculture under President Reagan, and we continue to correspond occasionally.

Dear Marion,

I realize you disagree with various policy positions the Corn Refiners Association has taken, but your characterization of CRA as promoting corn syrup and HFCS is out of date.  Since shortly after I joined the association five years ago, CRA policy has forbid promotion of increased consumption of corn sweeteners and other nutritive sweeteners.

As noted on our website and in comments we’ve made in comments regarding federal food regulations, we do not promote the increased consumption of sugars – “CRA recognizes that many Americans need to reduce their total intake of calories, including calories from sugars and sweeteners, thus CRA does not promote increased consumption of sugars or other caloric sources.” (see website)

I hope you find this information helpful.

As I discussed in my book, Unsavory Truth, I had some bad experiences with the CRA in its pre-Bode era.  Mr. Bode is trying to do better but it’s tough to represent sugars of any kind these days.  I appreciate his writing to me and granting permission to reproduce his note.

Feb 18 2019

Industry-sponsored research of the week: Cherries

In my book, Unsavory Truth, I mention that I often receive letters from food trade associations requesting research proposals aimed at proving the benefits of their products.

I point out that there is a big difference between calling for research to prove benefits, and open-ended basic research aimed at discovering what the actual effects might be.

Here is a delicious example from the Cherry Research Committee of the Cherry Marketing Institute:

All proposed research should be hypothesis-driven, and would strive to establish an association or to document a direct relationship between the consumption of tart cherry phytonutrients (when consumed as whole tart cherries or processed tart cherry products) and reduced risk, prevention, or improved treatment of a disease or condition of significant public interest. The study design should also examine a possible
cellular/molecular mechanism of the treatment effects.

And here’s an example of cherry-benefit research in action:

Title: Effects of Tart Cherry Juice on Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Older Adults.  Chai SCDavis KZhang ZZha LKirschner KF.  Nutrients. 2019 Jan 22;11(2). 

Conclusion: “The present study suggests that the ability of tart cherry juice to reduce systolic BP [blood pressure] and LDL cholesterol [the bad kind], in part, may be due to its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Larger and longer follow-up studies are needed to confirm these findings.”

Grant support: Cherry Research Committee of the Cherry Marketing Institute

Comment:  As the press release explains:

Montmorency tart cherry juice helped lower systolic blood pressure and LDL or “bad” cholesterol in older adults by reducing certain biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in older adults, according to a new study published in Nutrients. Larger and longer follow-up studies are needed to confirm these findings.

I posted another cherry-funded study early in December.

I love cherries.  They are delicious, but this is marketing research, not basic science.

…Thanks to Casey Palmer for sending all this.

Feb 15 2019

Weekend reading: A common food policy for the European Union

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) has put together a thoughtful, detailed blueprint for creating a food policy that unites and integrates agriculture and health policies.  This report is a model for what we should and can do in the United States.

What is this about?

A Common Food Policy is needed to put an end to conflicting objectives and costly inefficiencies. The policies affecting food systems in Europe – agriculture, trade, food safety, environment, development, research, education, fiscal and social policies, market regulation, competition, and many others – have developed in an ad hoc fashion over many years. As a result, objectives and policy tools have multiplied in confusing and inefficient ways. Gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions between policies are the rule, not the exception. Ambitious anti-obesity strategies coexist with agri-trade policies that make junk food cheap and abundant…

Its point?

A Common Food Policy would put an end to these costly inefficiencies by changing the way that policies are made: it would be designed to bring different policies into coherence, establish common objectives, and avoid trade-offs and hidden costs (or ‘externalities’). In other words, it would bring major benefits to people and the planet, and would ultimately pay for itself.

Documents

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Feb 14 2019

Some hopeful news on the chemicals-in-food front

Three items for a happy Valentine’s day

I.  Food animal producers are using fewer antibiotics

According to a report from the FDA, U.S. sales of antibiotic drugs decreased:

  • By 33% from 2016 through 2017.
  • By 43% from 2015 (the year of peak sales) through 2017.
  • By 28% from 2009 (the first year of reported sales) through 2017.

Of antibiotic drugs sold, these estimated percentages were intended for use in these animals

  • 42% for cattle
  • 36% for pigs
  • 12% for turkeys
  • 5% for chickens
  • 5% for other species or unknown

These percentages of these antibiotic drugs were intended for use in cattle

  • 80% of cephalosporins
  • 72% of sulfas
  • 48% of aminoglycocides
  • 44% of tetracyclines

These were intended for use in swine

  • 84% of lincosamides
  • 40% of macrolides

These were intended for use in turkey

61% of penicillins

II.  The Farm Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts have produced this framework for judicious use of antibiotics.

III.  USDA tests for pesticide residues mostly find low levels

USDA has issued its annual summary report on the results of its pesticide sampling of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables.

The good news: Half the samples tested had no detectable residues.

But try and get your head around this:

Three samples of kale (2 from California and 1 imported from Mexico) contained residues of 17 pesticides.

Excuse me, but 17 different pesticides to grow kale?

OK, “none of the residues found on the kale samples exceeded the established tolerances,” but still.

Could be worse, but could be a lot better.

Organics, anyone?

Feb 13 2019

Another casualty of trade disputes: Cheese

The Wall Street Journal reports this mind-boggling statistic:  Cheese producers have put 1.4 billion pounds in cold storage in the hope that the market will improve and prices will rise.

Compared to other countries, Americans do not eat much cheese—35 pounds or so per capita per year.

That may be a lot less that the amount consumed in Denmark and other cheese-loving countries, but watch out for the calories: pound of cheese is 1100-1800 calories or more, depending on type.

Feb 12 2019

Resolution for a Green New Deal to reduce climate change

If we don’t have goals, we will never come close to attaining them.

The fabulous new Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the esteemed Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have issued a non-binding resolution urging Congress to enact and implement a ten-year plan to control and reverse climate change.

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan that demands profound changes in many sectors of society, including agriculture.  With respect to agriculture, it calls for:

Why does this matter?  Here, for example, is a graph of world temperatures over the last century, with 2018 being the fourth hottest ever.

The Resolution may seem like a pipe dream in today’s political climate, but the issues it addresses are urgent.  Its recommendations set an agenda, one deserving of serious advocacy.