Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 31 2023

Impossible Foods picks a public fight with a reporter

When I saw this tweet from Tom Philpott, I knew immediately what it was about.

I had seen Deena Shanker’s investigative report in Bloomberg News, not least because I’m quoted in it: Fake Meat Was Supposed to Save the World. It Became Just  Another Fad.

The article’s subtitle: “Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods wanted to upend the world’s $1 trillion meat industry. But plant-based meat is turning out to be a flop.”

And then I saw this ad in the January 22 New York Times.

Anonymous Reddit writers saying things like “I suspect it’s coming form [sic] a news outlet paid money to write an article by people who make money from meat sales.”

A badge of honor for Deena Shanker indeed.  Clearly, she hit a nerve.

Meat alternatives still have their fans and I’m not ready to write off fake meat just yet.   But this ad makes me much less sympathetic to this particular Cause.

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Jan 30 2023

Industry-funded research: Vitamin D and Covid-19

I was interested to come across this paper: Conflict of Interests in the Scientific Production on Vitamin D and COVID-19: A Scoping Review.   Front Public Health. 2022 Jul 11;10:821740.   doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.821740. eCollection 2022.

Results and conclusions: 

  • Studies were funded by companies in the diagnostics, pharmaceutical and food sectors.
  • Conclusions favorable to vitamin D supplementation were more prevalent in papers where COI was identified (9/13, 69.2%) than among papers where COI was not found (4/16, 25.0%).
  • Omissions of disclosure of COI, funding source, and sponsor functions were observed.
  • The identification of possible corporate political activities in scientific papers about vitamin D published during the COVID-19 pandemic signals a need for greater transparency and guideline development on the prevention of COI in scientific production.

Comment:  Not many studies look at disclosure issues this closely.  This is a welcome addition to the genre.  It reminds me of this especially entertaining report: “COVID-19 and misinformation: how an infodemic fuelled the prominence of vitamin D.”  Papers on vitamin D and COVID-19, it seems, are not only influenced by corporate interests; they are also occasionally fraudulent, if viral.

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Jan 27 2023

Weekend reading: Lobbying

The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) published a report, Spotlight on Lobbying 2022 just in time for Christmas.  I am just getting to it.

ATNI has been commissioned to benchmark the world’s 25 largest F&B companies’ lobbying-related commitments, management systems, and disclosure against the Responsible Lobbying Framework (RLF). The RLF was developed to help organizations adopt corporate practices that ensure their lobbying activities are legitimate, transparent, consistent, and accountable, while providing the opportunity for other, more resource-constrained groups, to lobby in the public
interest.

Note that this report focuses on corporate promises and internal practices.  It does not evaluate what the companies are actually doing to influence nutrition policy.

The results?  No surprise, “current practice is far from the standard set in the RLF.”

Of course it is.  Why would companies want to stop lobbying when it is so effective in protecting their profits.

The report mentions the major issues:

  • Taxes on unhealthy foods
  • Marketing restrictions, particularly to children
  • Mandatory front-of-package labels
  • Food-based (rather than nutrient-based) dietary guidelines.

I hope its next lobbying report will document how these companies are fighting every one of these public health initiatives.

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Jan 26 2023

Today is National Peanut Brittle Day?

I received an emailed announcement alerting me to today’s big event: It’s National Peanut Brittle Day, “a day dedicated to honoring one of our favorite uniquely American treats.”

Who knew?

The press release continues with some not-so-sweet news:  peanut brittle is yet another victim of inflation.

The chart shows the cost of the raw ingredients in peanut brittle has increased by nearly 18% — from just under $0.38 per pound in early 2021 to nearly $0.46 cents today.


Other cost increases: transportation, energy, labor add up to “a recipe for expensive candy!”

A strange press release, but an interesting commentary on what’s happening with prices.

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Jan 25 2023

Vindicated! GAO issues report critical of USDA’s treatment of the Economic Research Service

One of the great tragedies of the Trump Administration was its attempt to thoroughly destroy the Economic Research Service by moving it out of Washington DC to Kansas City, Kansas.

I wrote about this repeatedly a few years ago (see links at end)) as did—and does–AgriPulse.

USDA should have planned better for staff attrition when it moved the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City,  in 2019, the Government Accountability Office says in a new report that notes the department “minimally involved employees, Congress, and other key stakeholders in relocating the agencies.”  The controversial moves during the Trump administration were vocally opposed by many employees and outside groups that said USDA had not adequately justified its decision.

The GAO has now documented exactly what critics predicted.

Coinciding with the loss of staff in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, ERS produced fewer key reports, and NIFA took longer to process grants…Two years after the relocation, the agencies’ workforce was composed mostly of new employees with less experience at ERS and NIFA than the prior workforce.

In addition, a decline in the number of employees in certain protected groups persisted. For example, the proportion of Black or African American staff at NIFA declined from 47 percent to 19 percent (see fig.).

The report says ERS has recovered.  I disagree.  As far as I can tell, ERS still produces basic reports on farming but is no longer producing the kind of hard-hitting critical analyses of food and farming issues that it used to.  I miss it.  A lot.

Some (not all) previous comments on the ERS move

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Jan 24 2023

Oh no not again. The 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines process begins

USDA announced the members of the new 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last week.

It also set up the places where you can:

Why my “oh no not again?”

I was on the Advisory Committee for the 1995 Guidelines, have followed them closely since 1980, and have written about them repeatedly in Food Politics but also more recently on this site.

  • Reason #1.  They don’t change enough from one edition to another to have to go through all this fuss.  The 1980 Guidelines said eat more vegetables and fruit; balance calories; and eat less saturated fat, salt, and sugar.  As did the current Guidelines.  Want to make a bet?  The new ones will too.
  • Reason #2:  The committee no longer gets to do much.  When I was on the committee, we chose the research questions, reviewed the research on them, and wrote the Dietary Guidelines.  We did it all.  This committee will only review the research.  The agencies have already chosen the research questions (as I explained previously).  The agencies will write the guidelines.
  • Reason #3: The Dietary Guidelines get longer, more complicated, and more obfuscating every year.  The original ones came as a 24-page small pamphlet.  They’ve been expanding ever since.  The most recent is 149 pages online.
  • Reason #4: What they say has to be a result of political compromise.  The last time USDA was in charge, Congress instructed the Secretary not to allow any discussion of diet and sustainability.  As if it didn’t matter.

Well, here we go again.  Let’s wish the committee the best of success.  Here’s its chance to say something about ultraprocessed foods (not mentioned in the current version), clarify the meat situation, insist on taking environmental issues and sustainability into consideration, and giving clear, unambiguous advice about diet and health.  Enjoy!

More Dietary Guidelines resources:

  • The history of the Dietary Guidelines is here.
  • Previous Editions of the Dietary Guidelines are here.
  • How they are developed is here.
  • Online historical documents related to the Guidelines are here.

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Jan 23 2023

Industry-funded studies of the week: Nuts, again and again

So many people send me these things that I can hardly keep up.  Let’s take a look at two this time.  Thanks to Hugh Joseph and Matthew Kirby for these:

I.  The impact of almonds and almond processing on gastrointestinal physiology, luminal microbiology, and gastrointestinal symptoms: a randomized controlled trial and mastication study   Alice C Creedon, Eirini Dimidi, Estella S Hung, Megan Rossi, Christopher Probert, Terri Grassby, Jesus Miguens-Blanco, Julian R Marchesi, S Mark Scott, Sarah E Berry, Kevin Whelan.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 116, Issue 6, December 2022, Pages 1790–1804, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqac265

  • Conclusions: “Almond consumption has limited impact on microbiota composition but increases butyrate in adults, suggesting positive alterations to microbiota functionality. Almonds can be incorporated into the diet to increase fiber consumption without gut symptoms.”
  • Funding: Supported by an Almond Board of California grant (to KW). The funders provided financial support, and the whole and ground almonds consumed by participants in the trial, but had no role in study design, conduct, analysis, interpretation, or decision to publish.
  • Author disclosures: ACC was funded by a PhD studentship funded by Almond Board of California. ED has received an education grant from Alpro, research funding from the British Dietetic Association, Almond Board of California, the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, and Nestec Ltd, and has served as a consultant for Puratos. MR and KW have received research funding from Almond Board of California, Danone, and International Dried Fruit and Nut Council, and are co-inventors of volatile organic compounds in the diagnosis and dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome. MR is also cofounder of Bio&Me, a gut health food brand. TG supervises PhD students partially funded by Mondelez and McCain Foods Ltd, and has previously received research funding from Almond Board of California. SEB has received grant funding from Almond Board of California, Malaysian Palm Oil Board, and ZOE Ltd, and receives consultancy and options from ZOE Ltd. All other authors report no conflicts of interest.
  • Comment: The Almond Board is doing its job, apparently.

II. Almond intake alters the acute plasma dihydroxy-octadecenoic acid (DiHOME) response to eccentric exercise.   David C. Nieman1* Ashraf M. Omar2 Colin D. Kay3,  Deepak M. Kasote3,  Camila A. Sakaguchi1,  Ankhbayar Lkhagva2,  Mehari Muuz Weldemariam2 and  Qibin Zhang. Front. Nutr., 09 January 2023. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.1042719

  • Conclusions:These data support some positive effects of almond intake in improving mood state, retaining strength, decreasing muscle damage, increasing the generation of gut-derived phenolic metabolites, and altering the plasma oxylipin DiHOME response to unaccustomed eccentric exercise in untrained adults. The elevated post-exercise plasma levels of 12,13-DiHOME with almond intake support positive metabolic outcomes for adults engaging in unaccustomed eccentric exercise bouts.”
  • Funding:This work was supported by Almond Board of California, Modesto, CA. The funder had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, the preparation of the manuscript, or in the decision to submit the article for publication.”
  • Conflict of Interest: “The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.”
  • Comment:  I disagree.  The fact that the Almond Board funded the study if nothing else gives the appearance of conflicted interests, especially because studies so clearly document the influence of funding whether recognized by recipients or not.

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Jan 20 2023

Weekend reading: The Fulton Fish Market

Jonathan Rees.  The Fulton Fish Market: A History. Columbia University Press, 2022.

I really wanted to read this book and was appy to do a blurb for it.

Rees’s history of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market is an elegy for a place that reached peak vibrancy in the 1920s, only to decline steadily as a result of overfishing, developers, the Mafia, unions, politics, refrigeration, real estate prices, and, eventually, more developers.  Rees’s thoughtful analysis of these themes has much to tell us about the clash between the natural and built worlds in American cities over the last couple of centuries.

Rees is a history professor at Colorado State-Pueblo, a food historian.  I’ve long wanted to understand the changes I’ve witnessed at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport and the reasons for moving the fish market to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx, a mile from the nearest subway station.

I remember my first visit—at 4:00 am on a cold winter’s day—to the fish market in the mid-1990s.  It was lit up like a stadium, crowded with people, tables covered with fish, and hand-trucks for moving them.  I thought it looked like a move set on which the director has just shouted, “Action.”  We had to move quickly to avoid being hit.

My guide was the chef-owner of a Chelsea fish restaurant who pulled thousands of dollars in cash out of his pockett o pay for the fish he was selecting carefully for the next few days.  His purchases went to a van that would take them to his restaurant within the next hour or so.

We went for coffee at a nearby café and were out of there by 6:00 a.m.

I picked four excerpts from Rees’ book that help explain the history of this place:

(1) Two developments very close to the Fulton Fish Market spurred the transformation of the entire neighborhood into something new by the end of the twentieth century and beyond: the founding of the South Street Seaport Museum in 1967 and the development of the neighborhood by the Rouse Corporation, a Baltimore firm best known for its successful revitalization of the Faneuil Hall area in Boston… More development increased rents. Businesses which made more money than dealing in wholesale fish then bought up properties that the dealers had moved into earlier in the century, thereby changing the character of the neighborhood. The city and the state never deemed the actual fish market worthy of protection. As a result, every new project that made the neighborhood more desirable made it harder for the fish market to stay a fish market.

(2) From a longterm perspective, the geographical advantage of the Fulton Fish Market disappeared when fish stopped arriving there by water….When they arrived in New York by train or truck it no longer mattered where in New York City the fish market happened to be. In fact, with the arrival of modern refrigeration and freezing, you could have moved the largest fish market in America to Connecticut, or South Carolina for that matter….

(3) The original Fulton Fish Market was obviously a market in the sense that it was a place to buy and sell fish, but the longterm historical significance of the place derives more from the other sense of the word “market,” namely the abstract idea that there is a set of dedicated buyers for the good that gets sold there. The wholesalers who ran the Fulton Fish Market expanded the scope of the abstract market in order to keep their physical market going…Nobody really cared about the public good as long as they were all still making money…the actions of the wholesalers who operated there spurred the general indifference of the wholesale fish industry to the problem of overfishing, despite the obvious cost of this behavior to the overall amount of fish in the sea.

(4) In ancient Greece, the marketplace was the center of daily life. The body politic congregated there to interact, make collective decisions and conduct commerce. Fulton Market bore some resemblance to this situation during its early history, but its operations became less public as it evolved into a wholesale market….Today, without a subway stop anywhere near it, average New Yorkers would have difficulty getting to any of the city’s wholesale markets in the South Bronx. Moreover, because of improvements in refrigeration and transportation, wholesale markets aren’t even necessary for restaurants or groceries to operate in the city anymore… These days, it is very easy to forget that Manhattan is an island.

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