Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 16 2018

Weekend reading for kids: Eat This!

Andrea Curtis.  Eat This!  How Fast-Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (and how to fight back).  Red Deer Press, 2018.

This, amazingly, is a 36-page toolkit for fighting marketing to kids, with endorsements from Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver, among others.

As I read it, it’s a manual for teaching food literacy to kids—teaching them how to think critically about all the different ways food and beverage companies try to get kids to buy their products or pester their parents to do so.

The “fighting back” part takes up just two pages, but it suggests plenty of projects that kids can do:

Do taste tests of fast food and the same thing home made.  “Which one is more delicious, more expensive, more healthy?  Which creates the least amount of waste?”

Watch your favorite show…Mark down how many times you see product placement.”

“Quick: think of all the fast-food mascots you know by name…Who are the mascots aimed at?”

The illustrations are kid-friendly as is the text.  I’m guessing this could be used easily with kids from age 8 on.

 

Feb 15 2018

Congratulations Marler-Clark on 20 years of food safety advocacy

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler is celebrating 20 years of using the legal system to encourage companies to produce safe food by summarizing 25 of his most prominent cases.

These start with the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E. coli 0157:H7 disaster and end with the 2016 Genki Sushi Hepatitis A Outbreak.

These cases should be required reading for anyone concerned about the need to make sure that companies produce safe food.  They reveal in horrifying detail what it is like to be a victim of a food pathogen and the extraordinary damage caused by foodborne microbes.

These stories make the political deeply personal.

They remind us of why the Food Safety Modernization Act was such an important step forward and why it is so important to enforce it at every level.

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Feb 14 2018

Mars Inc says goodbye to ILSI, hello to science policy

Since it’s Valentine’s Day (have a happy one), we might as well talk about a candy company, in this case, Mars, Inc.

Image result for mars inc candies

Mars, Inc., one of the defectors from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (see yesterday’s post) has also withdrawn from membership in and support of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a group that claims to be independent  but in fact is funded by hundreds of food and beverage companies (hence: front group).

ILSI’s positions on food issues are decidedly pro-industry, and so are the results of its sponsored research.  Mars couldn’t take it anymore.

Mars told Politico Pro (this may be behind a paywall):

After careful consideration, Mars will end its relationship with the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) by the end of 2018, and is withdrawing from ILSI’s nutrition committees immediately,” the company said in a statement to POLITICO. “Increasingly, the presentation of certain studies by ILSI has been at odds with our position and principles. Mars has a long history of engaging in external research that is evidence-based and data-driven, particularly in the area of promoting public health. We wish to thank ILSI for its partnership.

Mars announces this departure as a component of its new research and engagement policy.

The policy applies to all of Mars’ partnerships with universities, governmental and non-governmental organizations, foundations, individuals, food companies, and trade associations (like ILSI).

Here is my summary of the policy’s long list of principles:

  • High scientific standards in all animal and human research
  • Full disclosure of funding and potential conflicts of interest
  • Appropriate standards of authorship
  • Funding not linked to achievement of a specific research outcome

This new policy adds to Mars’ existing policies on research:

Let’s give Mars, Inc. credit for recognizing that its funded research (especially its earlier research on chocolate and later research on CocoaVia flavanol supplements) appear conflicted, and for trying to do something about it.

Let’s hope the company succeeds in putting these principles into practice.

Feb 13 2018

Overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture: more data (still no action)

An article in The Guardian alerted me to a new report comparing antibiotic use in the UK to that in the US.  The Guardian explains the problem:

The contribution of farm antibiotic use to human resistance is widely recognised, including by the 2016 O’Neill AMR report, the World Health Organisation and the European Food Safety Authority.

The routine overuse of antibiotics in farm animals creates perfect conditions for the emergence of resistant bacteria, killing off susceptible bacteria while allowing stronger resistant bacteria to survive.

The report comes from the UK advocacy group, Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics.

The report finds that per ton of livestock, antibiotic:

  • Use in US pigs is about twice as high as use in UK pigs.
  • Use in US chickens is about 3 times as high as use in UK chickens.
  • Use in US turkeys is about 5 times as high as use in UK turkeys.
  • Use in US cattle is about 9-16 times as high as use in UK cattle.
  • Use in all food animals in the US is about 5 times as high as use in the UK.

The report includes a table of US sales of medically important antibiotics (kilograms active ingredient):This group has lots of other reports on specific aspects of antibiotic use, including one from October 2017 on farm antibiotic use in the U.S.

The FDA, which has an entire web page on animal antibiotics, has made valiant efforts over the years to control antibiotic use in farm animals, but these have not gotten very far.

The threat to the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans is real and affects all of us.  At least 20 organizations in the US are advocating for more responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals.

Their efforts deserve support.

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Feb 12 2018

Defections from GMA: the score increases

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m keeping score on companies dropping their membership in and substantial financial support of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the lobbying group for decidedly consumer-unfriendly food companies.

Add the top two are new to the list since my last post.

  • The Kraft Heinz Company
  • DowDuPont
  • Hershey
  • Cargill
  • Tyson
  • Unilever
  • Mars
  • Campbell Soup
  • Nestlé (my non-namesake)
  • Dean Foods

Kraft Heinz makes Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Tang, and Lunchables, among lots of other products.  It told Politico Morning Agriculture (this may be behind a paywall):

The Kraft Heinz Company will continue to focus this year on wins for the consumer including innovating new products, using simpler and more sustainable ingredients and providing more transparency about our offerings.  We appreciate GMA’s many contributions on behalf of the industry and our consumers.

Will the defections lead to a collapse of the GMA?  Or force it to reform?  Or let it continue to limp along?  Stay tuned.

Feb 9 2018

Weekend reading: Food industry influence on government health policies

This report from the UK Health Forum is a compendium of case studies about food industry influence on government food and nutrition policies in developing countries such as Mexico, Chile, Fiji, Brazil, and Guatemala, but also England, Canada, and others.

To pick just one example, that of Chile:

This case study examines the long-standing relationship between the food
industry and the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA) of the
University of Chile – the most prestigious food and nutrition-related institution
in the country. The types of collaboration include:

  • industry-funded research
  • scholarships and awards
  • membership of industry-funded or linked foundations
  • awarding of nutrient-specific certification of foods that are high in calories,
    sugar, saturated fats or salt
  • joint public health programmes
  • marketing in institutional publications and websites.

INTA plays a major role in food policy-making in Chile…The existence of
strong financial ties between INTA and the food and drinks industry represents
a conflict of interest, potentially compromising INTA’s independence in highly
relevant research and policy areas.

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Feb 8 2018

Annals of marketing: Meal replacements

A reader in South Africa, Effie Schultz, sends an item from NutraIngredients-USA about a new meal replacement product, Bear Squeeze, “packed with MCT [medium-chain triglyceride] oil, kale, pumpkin seed protein and probiotics.”  It is aimed at people on ketogenic (very low carbohydrate) diets.

The president of the company that makes this product, Max Baumann, says that he wants Bear Squeeze to be known as a “higher-end, cleaner Soylent.”

NutraIngredients says:

If there’s any indicator that a large group of consumers are stoked about a meal replacement powder formulated to meet the requirements of a ketogenic diet, let that be California-based Bear Squeeze’s performance on fundraising platform Indiegogo,​ ​where it raised 421% of its $25,000 goal, a good month before its fundraising deadline.

The brand also snagged the top prize​ at the new beverage showdown competition at BevNET Live last month, showing that Baumann has gotten the industry excited about his brand as well.

Why this product?  There is money—lots of it—to be made, apparently.

The impetus to start Bear Squeeze,…was seeing the success of meal replacement brands like Soylent, which recently moved from exclusively digital to brick-and-mortar. Soylent CEO Bryan Crowley said last month that sales performance in the offline channel “blew away expectations.”

I have to confess not getting this.  With plenty of healthy, delicious food around, and at a cost buyers of products like these can well afford, why would anyone want to substitute something that tastes pretty awful (I’ve tasted Soylent and doubt this can be much better) for fabulous food?  People who consume these products must not be foodies, alas.

Medium-chain triglycerides are easy-to-digest fats created and formulated for hospitalized patients with serious digestive difficulties.

I vote for food, glorious food, anytime.

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Feb 7 2018

Food industry lobbyists running the dietary guidelines?

This tweet certainly got my attention:

It referred to Alex Kotch’s article in the International Business Times about how White House lawyer Donald McGahn has granted a waiver of conflict of interest rules to allow Kailee Tkacz, a former lobbyist for the Snack Food Association and, more recently, for the Corn Refiners Association, to advise the USDA about the forthcoming 2020 dietary guidelines.

Ms. Tkacz also was food policy director for the Corn Refiners Association, which represents producers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

McGahn explained that this waiver would allow Ms. Tkacz “to advise the Secretary of Agriculture and other senior Department officials with respect to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process.”

He says “it is in the public interest to grant this limited waiver because of Ms. Tkacz’s expertise in the process by which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are issued every five years.”

The dietary guidelines historically have issued recommendations to consume less salt and sugar.  Snack foods are major sources of salt in U.S. diets.  Soft drinks sweetened with HFCS are major sources of sugars.

USDA is the lead agency for the 2020 guidelines.

Want to make some bets on what they will say about salt and sugar (a wild guess: the science isn’t firm enough to suggest eating less of either).

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