Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 15 2018

Eating 14.5 pints of ice cream in 6 minutes is not enough to win an eating contest

It’s summer, it’s hot, and I enjoy ice cream, so I was riveted to learn the sad fate of Joey Chestnut who lost the Indiana State Fair’s World Ice Cream Eating Championship because he only consumed 14.5 pints (!) in six minutes (the winner consumed 15.5 pints in that time).

Chestnut, who took second place Sunday, is an 11-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion. He became well-known locally after dominating the 2014 St. Elmo Shrimps Eating Competition, downing 10.42 pounds of shrimp in eight minutes to set a then-world record. He won it again in 2016 by wolfing down 15 pounds of shrimp. And again in 2017, eating 10 pounds and 6 ounces.

The story in the Indy Star only describes the ice cream as vanilla and gives no information about what kind, so it’s difficult to estimate its calories.  A pint could run from about 400 to 1,000 calories, depending on the fat content, so we are talking here about 6,000 to 15,000 calories—in six minutes.

Meet Major League Eating, an organization that sponsors—and gives schedules for—national eating contests.

Somehow, I missed the ones in Wisconsin and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest in Coney Island last Sunday.   Big mistake.   That same Joey Chestnut was the winner, beating his previous records with 74 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

The mind boggles.

Thanks!

Aug 13 2018

Jury rules Roundup carcinogenic, Monsanto malicious: awards $289 million to plaintiff

The Guardian’s account of the verdict: Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man’s cancer

Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a huge victory in the landmark case on Friday, with the jury determining that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused his cancer and that the corporation failed to warn him of the health hazards from exposure. The jury further found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”…Johnson’s case was particularly significant because a judge allowed his team to present scientific arguments. The dispute centered on glyphosate, which is the world’s most widely used herbicide…During the lengthy trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys brought forward internal emails from Monsanto executives that they said demonstrated how the corporation repeatedly ignored experts’ warnings, sought favorable scientific analyses and helped to “ghostwrite” research that encouraged continued usage.

Here’s what this is about:

(1)  The carcinogenicity of Roundup (glyphosate)

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruled that glyphosate, the weed killer used with genetically modified crops, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  Glyphosate’s maker, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) did not like this decision and went to work casting doubt on the science.  As IARC explains and documents:

Following the classification of glyphosate in March 2015 as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A) by the IARC Monographs Programme, IARC has been the target of an unprecedented number of orchestrated actions by stakeholders seeking to undermine its credibility. In the interest of transparency, IARC has documented some of these instances, and our responses can be found on the Agency′s Governance website.

(2) What’s at stake for Monsanto

Glyphosate is used in incomprehensibly huge amounts.  The organic advocate, Charles Benbrook, published statistics on its use in 2016.  Monsanto’s published a rebuttal to Benbrook’s paper, but did not dispute his figures; instead, it argued only glyphosate is safe.  Benbrook’s data show that 250 million pounds of glyphosate were applied to US crops in 2014 (by another source, worldwide use was 825,804,000 kilograms, or more than 1.8 billion pounds that year).

(3) What’s at stake for the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s account explains:

Johnson was a groundskeeper and pest-control manager for Benicia schools from 2012 until May 2016. His job included spraying glyphosate, in the high-concentration brand called Ranger Pro, from 50-gallon drums 20 to 30 times a year for two to three hours a day.

He testified he wore protective clothing, including a sturdy jacket, goggles and a face mask, but said he couldn’t fully protect his face from wind-blown spray. And twice, he told the jury, he got drenched with the herbicide, once when a spray hose became detached from a truck that was hauling it, and another time when a backpack container he was carrying leaked.

After the first drenching in 2014, he said, he got rashes on his skin that did not respond to treatment. Welts and lesions soon appeared on his legs, arms, face and eyelids. His first cancer diagnoses came soon afterward.

(4)  The evidence for the jury’s decision

Through discovery during the trial, documents came to light exposing Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the science linking glyphosate to cancer.

U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has performed an extraordinary public service by posting the key documents in the case on its website.  There, you can find links to an astonishing number of federal court and discovery documents, exhibits, news reports, and commentary.

Also worth reading: Stacy Malkin’s Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists (July 12)

Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. An investigation in Le Monde details Monsanto’s effort “to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible” to save glyphosate.

(5) What this means: Comment from USRTK’s Carey Gillam

Monsanto and its chemical industry allies have spent decades actively working to confuse and deceive consumers, farmers, regulators and lawmakers about the risks associated with glyphosate-based herbicides. As they’ve suppressed the risks, they’ve trumpeted the rewards and pushed use of this weed killer to historically high levels. The evidence that has come to light from Monsanto’s own internal documents, combined with data and documents from regulatory agencies, could not be more clear: It is time for public officials across the globe to act to protect public health and not corporate profits.

(6) What happens next?

Monsanto will appeal, of course; its owner, Bayer, continues to insist that glyphosate is safe.  Press accounts say that hundreds, if not thousands, of more such cases are in the pipeline, a situation similar to that faced by the tobacco industry before that industry gave up and settled.  Will Bayer do so as well?  I’m guessing not without a fight.

Aug 10 2018

Weekend reading: Cocoa

Kristy Leissle.  Cocoa.  Polity, 2018.

This book is flat-out about the politics of worldwide cocoa production: who holds power in the marketplace, sets prices, establishes the terms of trade, establishes and enforces standards of quality, and pays workers decently.

As for the sustainability of the cocoa industry, Leissle offers this definition:

sustainable cocoa is compensated well enough that farmers want to continue growing it as their primary employment, within a climatic environment that can support its commercial existence over the long term.  Compensation calculations must include the price paid for cocoa, but also how much it costs to grow—including costs of farming inputs; political social and economic costs associated with land ownership and crop sale; personal energy costs of farming; and opportunity costs of growing something else, such as food for subsistence.

She ends with this thought:

Though incomes for farmers and chocolate makers or company owners are unlike to equalize, we can still emphasize that all types of labor deserve attention and appropriate compensation….From there, the conversation begins.  For cocoa farmers to make a dignified living and for consumers to continue enjoying chocolate, sustainability must involve placing the highest possible value on cocoa at every step, from seed to taste bud.

If you wonder why food is worth talking about, Cocoa is an excellent illustration of how even something used to make candy connects to many of the most important social, economic, and political issues faced by today’s world.

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Aug 9 2018

Global Meat News on the meat market in China

This is a collection of articles on the Chinese market for meat from the daily industry newsletter, Global Meat News.

Special Edition: Focus on China
China has been the highlight of the international meat market this year in terms of re-igniting unexpected relationships for trade access and its continuous clashes with the US market. With the Asian sector ramping up its global position, will we see China dominate the meat market in years to come?

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Aug 8 2018

CDC’s latest stats on foodborne illness

The CDC has issued its counts for the extent and cause of illnesses and deaths caused by eating contaminated food for the years 2009-2015.

For starters, outbreaks of foodborne illness increased during this period.

The figure above is a bar chart showing by year the number of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States for 2009–2015 as reported to CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System.

From 2009–2015, the CDC reports:

  • 5,760 outbreaks (more than one person becoming ill from the same source)
  • 100,939 illnesses
  • 5,699 hospitalizations
  • 145 deaths

Every US state and territory reported at least one outbreak.

Multistate outbreaks were particularly serious.  They accounted for only 3% of all outbreaks, but were responsible for:

  • 11% of illnesses
  • 34% of hospitalizations
  • 54% of deaths.

What organisms caused the outbreaks?  Of the 2,953 outbreaks in which the cause could be pinned to one organism, the top two causes were:

  • Norovirus (1,130 outbreaks, accounting for 41% of the illnesses)
  • Salmonella (896, accounting for 35%)

ListeriaSalmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) accounted for 82% of all reported hospitalizations and 82% of the deaths.

What foods were associated with the outbreaks?  Of the 1,281 outbreaks in which the contaminated food could be identified, the top carriers were:

  • Fish (222 outbreaks),
  • Dairy (136)
  • Chicken (123)

Looking at illnesses, the most frequent associated foods were:

  • Chicken (3,114 illnesses)
  • Pork (2,670)
  • Seeded vegetables, meaning tomatoes and beans (2572)
  • Eggs (2470)
  • Fruits (2420)
  • Beef (1934)

What does all this mean?

Foodborne illnesses remain a serious public health problem, not least because it is so difficult to trace illnesses back to a specific source.  The contaminated food could only be identified in about one-fifth of total outbreaks.

Although foods of animal origin were leading carriers of illness, plant foods are also at risk.

All of these illnesses are preventable.  We have laws requiring food producers and handlers to follow food safety procedures.  When they do, the risk of foodborne illness is greatly diminished.

These procedures were designed originally to prevent astronauts from getting sick in outer space under conditions of zero gravity (you don’t even want to think about the consequences of foodborne illness in a space capsule).

If the methods worse in outer space, they ought to work on earth—but only if they are designed and used appropriately.

These data argue for stronger food safety regulation.

Aug 7 2018

Mars Wrigley says you are not eating enough candy. It wants to fix that.

Candy makers, like all food producers, want to sell more of their products.  From the standpoint of Mars Wrigley Confectionary, you need to eat more candy.

By some accounts, the US doesn’t even rank in the top ten countries in per capita candy consumption.  The Census Bureau says the average American—does this mean you?—consumes 22 pounds of candy per year.

Candy sales come in peaks.

Mars—now Mars Wrigley—wants to fix that.

Its research shows that you find the candy aisle difficult to manage.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery surveyed 1,000 Americans last year to understand how Millennials and Baby Boomers experience treats as well as the role of social media in treating.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery has begun working with retailers to put these recommendations into action. The company has created a framework that unlocks the power of confectionery at the point of purchase — online and in-stores.

Its Path to Purchase strategy advises retailers to:

  • Display candy in high-traffic areas
  • Promote key moments with candy brands
  • Maximize promotional space
  • Transition to stand-up pouches (these encourage sales)
  • Use micro-gifts to encourage customers to “shop, ship and secretly gift ‘boo’ packages and build their own ‘boo’ bundles.’”

At the same time,

Mars Wrigley Confectionery knows through its research that consumers view candy as a treat and continue to enjoy it as part of a balanced lifestyle, especially Millennials. In response, it’s important retailers provide consumers with a range of formats, calories and price options to drive sales.

A few examples include:

  • More options for share sizes and resealable packaging.
  • 100-calorie bars and packs, such as those available for SkittlesDoveTwix and Snickers.
  • Low calories gum choices such as ExtraJuicy Fruit and gum.

You are not supposed to notice any of this.  Mars wants you to buy more candy.  You are a lot better off buying less.

If you find yourself buying more candy, take a close look at how and where it is displayed.

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Aug 6 2018

What’s in dietary supplements? NutraIngredients on transparency

NutraIngredients is another one of those industry newsletters I read every day.  Here is its collection of articles—a special edition—on supplements.  In the United States, supplement ingredients and labels are governed by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which effectively deregulated the products leaving the public to take the products on trust, sometimes justifiably, but sometimes not.

Special Edition: Transparency in Dietary Supplements

Issues concerning adulteration, identity and others swirl around the dietary supplement industry.  In this special edition, NutraIngredients-USA looks at the opportunities for proactively dealing with these questions in an effort to boost transparency and retain consumers’ trust.

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Aug 3 2018

Weekend reading: I Am Not a Tractor!

Susan L. Marquis.  I Am Not a Tractor!  How Florida Farmworkers Took on the Fast Food Giants and Won.  ILR Press, 2017.

Susan Marquis is the Dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and an unlikely person to be writing this book.  Her background is in military defense, which she describes as “guns and bombs” (her previous book was Unconventional Warfare: Rebuilding US Special Operations Forces).

As she explains, it was inspired by Barry Estabrook’s article in Gourmet about the harsh treatment of tomato pickers in Florida, later incorporated into his superb book, Tomatoland.  Estabrook blurbs her book (“detailed, academically rigorous, and impossible to put down”).  I agree.

The book tells the story of how the Coalition of Immokalee Workers fought for higher pay and, after much struggle, got it.  Here’s how to find out what it took to get retailers like Walmart and Ahold to agree to pay one cent more per pound—and what a difference that made.

Marquis’ take home lessons:

  • Real change has to come from the workers’ themselves (it can’t be led or forced from the outside)
  • To change systems, you need to understand them
  • To gain allies, you must have a cohesive, consistent, compelling story
  • Leaders must have courage, objectivity, creativity, and persistence
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