Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 22 2017

Weekend reading: Carey Gilliam’s Whitewash

Carey Gilliam.  Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.  Island Press, 2017.

Image result for whitewash story weed killer

I did a blurb for this book (only the last sentence is on the back cover):

Whitewash, says Carey Gilliam, is what Monsanto, Monsanto-paid scientists, and the Monsanto-influenced EPA are trying to do for the herbicide glyphosate (“Roundup”)—make it  appear benign in the face of evidence that glyphosate may be carcinogenic,  strongly promotes weed resistance, and causes genetically modified crops to require even greater use of toxic chemicals.

Gilliam’s deep dive into this industry’s manipulation of science gives us even more reasons to advocate for organic and sustainable agricultural systems.

Sep 21 2017

Food Politics: Canada

I don’t write much about  Canadian food politics, but every now and then collect interesting items.

Bakery & Snacks interviewed the author:

BAS: Who do you really admire in the book?

Janis Thiessen: As a company, I admire Hawkins Cheezies for their rejection of capitalist imperatives like growth and expansion. As an individual, I admire Covered Bridge fryer operator Thomas Broad, who has overcome personal adversity and has pride and autonomy in his work.

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Sep 20 2017

Crop insurance: some thoughts

When I taught a course on the farm bill some years ago, students were stunned by how crop insurance works.  They wondered how they could break into that business.

Sixteen insurance companies write policies for farmers.  The federal government pays 62% of the premiums to the tune of about $8 billion per year.  Farmers pay 38%.

The lucky insurance companies make out like bandits under this system—an average rate of return of 24.8%.  The Government Accountability Office, no surprise, thinks this exceeds market rates and needs to be readjusted.

Farmers need crop insurance, no question.

But in the wake of Hurricane Irma, we learned that farmers who grow fruits, vegetables, and nuts—in USDA jargon, “specialty crops”—feel that they cannot afford it.

Historically, the program has covered corn, soybean, and other large-scale commodities—about 85% of such acres are covered.

But crop insurance now covers 73% of fruit and tree nut acreage but only 32% percent of vegetable crops, accounting for 8% of premiums.

According to a Risk Management report on specialty crops, insurance covers virtually all of Florida’s sugarcane, cotton, and citrus, but only about half of fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, and bell peppers, and none of fresh beans.

Obviously, plenty is wrong with the crop insurance program.  Will the 2018 farm bill do anything to fix it?

According to Politico Pro Agriculture, Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters that the he favors restructuring the program but that the crop insurance program should not promise farmers profitability.

What about profitability for the crop insurers?  The GAO recommends reducing this industry’s profits to market rates.  That should leave plenty of money to help specialty crop farmers.

Sep 19 2017

The NY Times’ blockbuster investigation: Big Food in Brazil

The article, which starts on the front page and continues to another two full pages and more, is headlined How Big Business got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.

It’s mostly about how Nestlé (no relation) recruits women in low-income countries to sell the company’s products from small mobile carts.

Here are a few quotes:

  • Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.
  • Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.  “We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.
  • Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, described to investors in 2014.  “Half of the world’s population has not had a coke in the last 30 days.  There’s 600 million teenagers who have not had a coke in the last week. So the opportunity for that is huge.”
  • “What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.  “It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.”
  • [From Felipe Barbosa, a  Nestlé supervisor:] “The essence of our program is to reach the poor,” Mr. Barbosa said. “What makes it work is the personal connection between the vendor and the customer.”
  • But of the 800 products that Nestlé says are available through its vendors, Mrs. da Silva says her customers are mostly interested in only about two dozen of them, virtually all sugar-sweetened items like Kit-Kats; Nestlé Greek Red Berry, a 3.5-ounce cup of yogurt with 17 grams of sugar; and Chandelle Pacoca, a peanut-flavored pudding in a container the same size as the yogurt that has 20 grams of sugar — nearly the entire World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit.

The article is worth the read.  Or see the 3-minute video for a quick summary.  It also comes with a nifty interactive map of world obesity.

Politico Pro Agriculture asked Nestlé for a comment (this may be behind a paywall):

A Nestlé spokesperson defended the company while acknowledging the deeper childhood obesity problems currently plaguing Brazil. “We are disappointed by the New York Times’ biased approach in this article, which we believe does not accurately reflect the breadth and reality of our product portfolio in the context of the public health issues impacting the people of Brazil,” the spokesperson said. “However, we do agree that the real and serious issues raised in the article should be discussed in a balanced and constructive way that focuses on practical solutions.”

Resources

Here’s the article en Español.

And here it is em Português.

Take a look at Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report on Carbonating the World, which covers much of the same territory for Coca-Cola.  In the meantime, subsequent articles in this series are promised for soft drinks and fast food.

 

Sep 18 2017

FDA wants comments on guidance for pre-DSHEA dietary ingredients

The FDA is taking comments about developing a list of dietary supplement ingredients in safe use before Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994.

It announced a public meeting for October 3 ton this issue.

The FDA also announced that it is accepting public comments on its draft guidance. on New Dietary Ingredients (NDIs).

Here are the FDA documents:

What this is about

A timeline may help:

  • 1994: Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act which essentially deregulated dietary supplements.
  • It did, however, require marketers of “New Dietary Ingredients (NDIs)” to submit a premarket notification to the FDA at least 75 days before introducing it—unless the ingredient had a history of safe use before that date.
  • 1997: FDA issues regulations for NDIs
  • 2011 (January): The Food Safety Modernization Act passes.  This required the FDA to clarify when an ingredient is considered NDI.
  • 2011 (July):  FDA publishes draft guidance
  • 2017 (September):  FDA issues draft guidance for comment

As the FDA explains, one purpose of this guidance is to improve compliance with the NDI notification requirement.

In 2012, FDA estimated that the number of dietary supplements on the market was 55,600 and that 5,560 new dietary supplement products come on the market each year. This is in contrast to the approximately 4,000 products that were on the market in 1994, when DSHEA was enacted.

As of December 2014, we had received and completed our evaluation of just over 750 NDI notifications since the first notification was received in 1995.

These figures, coupled with recent concern about the presence of undeclared active ingredients in products marketed as dietary supplements, highlight the importance of submitting NDI notifications as a preventive control to ensure that consumers are not exposed to unnecessary public health risks in the form of new ingredients with unknown safety profiles

The FDA also explains:

FDA’s guidance documents, including this guidance, do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities.  Instead, guidances describe our current thinking on a topic and should be viewed only as recommendations, unless specific regulatory or statutory requirements are cited.  The use of the word should in FDA guidances means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required.

How are we to interpret this?  

My take is that DSHEA is a public health disaster.  It allows supplement companies to use pretty much whatever ingredients they want and to continue doing so until there is substantial evidence for harm.

This must be an attempt by the FDA to exercise some kind of control over ingredients in supplements.  As such, the measure deserves support.

File comments by December 4; go to http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2017-N-4625 in the search box.

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Sep 15 2017

Weekend reading: Big Chicken

Maryn McKenna.  Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats.  National Geographic, 2017.

Image result for big chicken mckenna

I did a blurb for this terrific book, out on September 12:

If you think raising farm animals on antibiotics is nothing to worry about, Big Chicken will change your mind in a hurry.  McKenna, a compelling writer, tells a gripping story: how antibiotics helped transform chicken-raising from backyard to industrial.  Her account of the profit-driven politics that allowed widespread antibiotic resistance should be required reading for anyone who cares about food and health, and especially for congressional representatives who have consistently failed to take action on this critical issue.

 

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Sep 14 2017

FoodNavigator-USA’s Special Edition on Kids’ Food

Food Navigator is an industry newsletter useful for keeping up with food industry interests.  In Special Editions, it collects articles on specific topics, this on on food for kids.

Special Edition: Food for kids!

Almost a third of American children aged 10-17 are dealing with overweight or obesity, and many are lacking in essential nutrients from potassium, dietary fiber and calcium, to vitamin D. So how can the food industry respond to these concerns and develop more nutritious, but appealing snacks, meals and beverages for kids? We explore innovations targeting every life stage, from a new wave of baby food brands to Paleo meat sticks for tweens.

Sep 13 2017

FDA approves “qualified health claim” for early introduction of peanuts

I was interested to see the FDA’s announcement that it “acknowledges” and will “exercise enforcement discretion” (translation: will not oppose) a qualified health claim linking the early introduction of peanuts into the diets of young children with severe eczema or egg allergies as a means to reduce their risk of peanut allergy.

Here’s the claim, which the FDA says manufacturers can use right away:

For most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age. FDA has determined, however, that the evidence supporting this claim is limited to one study. If your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.

The FDA’s decision is based on:

But why a qualified health claim?  Whenever you see one, you know that business interests are at stake.

In this case, the claim is in response to a petition filed by Assured Bites, Inc., maker of Hello Peanut products.  Check the astonishing prices of these products and you can see why this company wanted a health claim, and why it is already advertising it.

Really, you can do this at home.  We are talking here about starting high-risk kids out—under medical supervision—with a small taste of plain, ordinary peanut butter.

The FDA allows qualified health claims because industry wants them for marketing and pressures Congress to force the FDA to allow them.

What’s wrong with qualified health claims?  The qualifications get lost in the marketing.  Parents may think Hello Peanut works better than much less expensive alternatives.

 The FDA documents

Also see

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