Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Oct 19 2017

Childhood obesity: progress in the UK, not so much in the US

FoodNavigator reports that Public Health England is taking on—what a concept!—calories as a means to prevent childhood obesity.

It will be looking at ready-to-serve meals, pizzas, burgers, savory snacks, and sandwiches in an effort to help children cut back on the excess 200-300 calories a day they are currently consuming.

The UK is planning targeted reductions in sugars in processed foods.

The food industry doesn’t like this: bans on advertising sugary foods to kids are “choking the industry.”

I once attended a White House meeting at which I heard representatives of food companies insist that they could not stop marketing to children.  This was their line in the sand.  They had to keep marketing to children to stay in business.

As for the United States, the CDC has just published the latest data on obesity in adults and children.

The trend?  Upward.

Looks like marketing to kids works, and well.

Public health, anyone?

Oct 18 2017

Keeping up with food politics: new reports

Reports related to food politics flood in.  Here are a few from the last couple of weeks.

The Nation: Special Issue on The Future of Food: Setting the Table for the Next Generation

Global Alliance for the Future of Food: Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems.

Multiple channels across food systems threaten human health. The resulting health impacts are severe, but are rarely examined together, systematically. Each impact appears as discrete and unrelated to the next, but through a systems view their interrelationships, linkages, and complex associations are revealed. The health impacts of food systems disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our communities, and are compounded by climate change, poverty, inequality, poor sanitation, and the prevalent disconnect between food production and consumption. The true costs of these impacts are staggering…Over the coming months we will be tracking reactions and feedback to determine phase II of research for reviewing the positive health impacts of food systems, and begin to plan a global  convening focused on the food-health nexus.

IPES (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems): Too Big to Feed

Consolidation across the agri-food industry has made farmers ever more reliant on a handful of suppliers and buyers, further squeezing their incomes and eroding their ability to choose what to grow, how to grow it, and for whom….The rush to control plant genomics, chemical research, farm machinery and consumer information via Big Data is driving mega-mergers – and stands to exacerbate existing power imbalances, dependencies, and barriers to entry across the agri-food sector. Dominant firms have become too big to feed humanity sustainably, too big to operate on equitable terms with other food system actors, and too big to drive the types of innovation we need.

EUPHA (European Public Health Association): Healthy and Sustainable Diets for European Countries

A new research agenda for Europe in the field of sustainable food systems is needed. Recent experience has demonstrated that there are many separate, relevant domains of research (e.g. involving nutrition, food science, sustainability, agriculture, economics, social science as applied to farmers and farming communities, research into acceptability of food products to the public, and other research fields as well), but that researchers in these various areas rarely interact with each other. Accordingly, what is needed is a new European research infrastructure devoted to the multidisciplinary aspects of food research, “from field to fork”, as is often stated.

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Oct 17 2017

Glyphosate: a roundup (sorry, couldn’t resist)

I’ve been tracking recent reports and commentary about the herbicide glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup) used with genetically modified crops.  Glyphosate has been linked to cancer, a connection firmly denied by its maker, Monsanto.

Now, FERN (Food and Environment Reporting Network) and The Nation ask:  Did Monsanto ignore evidence linking its weed killer to cancer?

Monsanto also hired an outside consulting firm, the Intertek Group, to orchestrate a so-called “independent” review of glyphosate’s health effects to refute the IARC’s cancer assessment. A disclosure accompanying the review, which was published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, reported that Intertek was paid by Monsanto but claimed that “neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.” In fact, internal e-mails indicate that Heydens and other Monsanto employees reviewed and edited drafts before the report was published. “I have gone through the entire document and indicated what I think should stay, what can go, and in a couple spots I did a little editing,” wrote Heydens [William Heydens, Monsanto product-safety strategist] in a February 2016 e-mail to Ashley Roberts, senior vice president in Intertek’s food and nutrition division. Partridge [Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy] defended the review’s independence: “It did not amount to substantial contributions, editing [or] commenting—nothing substantive to alter the scientists’ conclusions.”

This is pretty much the same story told by the journalist Paul Thacker, a few months ago.

Hints of the biotech industry’s media tactics have leaked from court cases filed against Monsanto alleging glyphosate causes cancer. Several filings reference internal Monsanto documents that describe the company’s social media strategy called “Let Nothing Go”—a program in which individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry rapidly respond to negative social media posts regarding Monsanto, GMOs, and agrichemicals.  Lawyers in one case told a judge that documents show Monsanto funnels money to the Genetic Literacy Project and the American Council on Science and Health in order to “shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”

Six countries in the Middle East vote for glyphosate as a carcinogen.

Oman’s Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that six Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman have banned the use of glyphosate herbicides since last year, after reviewing IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a ‘probable human carcinogen’.

Researchers at Cornell find that glyphosate kills healthy bacteria in soil.

“Beneficial Pseudomonas in the soil can help crops thrive. They can produce plant-stimulating hormones to promote plant growth and antifungals to defeat problematic fungi – such as Pythium and Fusarium – found in agricultural soil, but previous studies reported that the abundance of beneficial bacteria decreased when the herbicide glyphosate seeps underground,” said Ludmilla Aristilde, assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering. “Our study seeks to understand why this happens.”

And, the European Commission is considering voting on whether to renew approval of glyphosate at its October 25 meeting.

Comment: We use a lot of glyphosate in the U.S. (an understatement).   Hence: So much, that widespread weed resistance.

Maybe it’s time to start phasing it out—and soon?

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Oct 16 2017

Menus, San Francisco Style

Grant Street, Chinatown, October 11, 2017

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Oct 13 2017

Weekend reading: Politics of the Pantry

Emily E. LB. Twarog.  Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America.  Oxford University Press, 2017.

Image result for politics of the pantry

I did a blurb for this book:

Who knew that American housewives were up in arms throughout the last century about rising food prices and misleading package information.  Twarog traces the history of how these movements developed, their connections to unions and women’s auxiliaries, and how twentieth-century politics systematically destroyed them.  Her book has much to teach us about what’s needed to preserve—and strengthen–today’s food movements.

Oct 12 2017

Global Meat News Special Edition: Pork!

I subscribe to GlobalMeatNews.com to keep me up on the international meat business.  It has just published a collection of its articles—on pork.

Special Edition: Pork

Pork is the most eaten meat in world and maintaining the position is anything but easy. In this special newsletter, GlobalMeatNews explores the breakthroughs, scandals and market trends that continue to kept traders on their toes.

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Oct 11 2017

On my mind: The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals

When I give talks these days, I usually wear a pin—the O in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development GOals (SDGs).  These were authorized by the U.N. General Assembly in 2015 to be achieved by 2030.

Each goal has specific sub-goals.  These are listed here in interactive format.  Food comes up in several, but mainly in Goal 2 (End Hunger) and a bit in Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).  Here are the first three sub-goals for Goal 2:

The SDGs have sparked many organizations to take action.  The U.N. makes taking small actions easy for individuals by producing “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World“—things you can do from your couch, your home, or outside your home.

Here’s the U.N. report on how progress toward the goals looked in 2016.

I wish chronic disease prevention was more prominent in these goals, which would make food more prominent, but this is a start and well worth knowing about.

Oct 10 2017

FDA says love is not a food ingredient

Food regulation is no trivial matter.  Every word on a food label has a Federal Register notice and Code of Federal Regulation section behind it.

Consequently, I was amused to learn that the FDA was not amused when it found the word “love” in the ingredient list of granola from Nashoba Brook Bakery.  The FDA issued a warning letter with this presumably non-ironic statement:

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient “Love”. Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). “Love” is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.

From its website, the bakery looks like it makes great stuff, but its owners must not be familiar with FDA’s byzantine regulatory requirements.  The warning letter also chided the bakery for a long list of food safety violations, among them:

  • Approximately five flies in the ready-to-eat cooling area and processing area of the facility, all near or on food.
  • One approximately 1″ long crawling insect underneath exposed ready-to-eat foods in the pastry area, including focaccia breads, 7-Grain rolls, and brioche rolls.
  • The mixing employee was wearing a blue plastic bracelet while working with raw dough. The bracelet came into repeated contact with raw dough and dough varieties.
  • A production employee wore a nose ring and earrings while handling and shaping raw dough.

I hope the bakery gets its regulatory and food safety act together right away.

Personally, I like a little love in my granola.

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