Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 20 2018

Plant-based dairy and meat: latest developments

Here is the latest collection of industry articles on dairy alternatives and plant-based meats—all doing quite well these days.

Dairy Alternatives

DairyReporter.com has a Special Edition: The rise of these plant-based products.  

Many dairy companies, rather than ignoring the rise in plant-based alternatives to dairy products, are jumping on the bandwagon, either through developing their own vegan and vegetarian product range, or through acquisitions, such as Danone’s high-profile takeover of WhiteWave.  This special newsletter looks at some of the latest developments in the plant-based dairy alternatives space.

What about plant-based meat?

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Sep 19 2018

Soda company pouring rights contracts: exposed!

I first wrote about soda company pouring rights contracts in 2000.  I also discussed these contracts in Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).

These contracts are still a big issue, at least at the college level.

A site called MuckRock has just published an analysis of 38 pouring rights contracts, which it obtained through open-records requests from public universities.

Good for them!  The contracts make riveting reading.

Coke and Pepsi compete for these contracts and it is easy to understand why.  They provide for exclusive sales of the winning company’s products on school campuses.

The companies give the schools money, often in the millions.  In return, the schools are required to promote—heavily—the contracted products.

As MuckRock documents, the contracts demand lots of space and exposure for the products.  They turn colleges and universities into pushers of sugary beverages.  This, at a time when everyone would be healthier avoiding sugary drinks or consuming them in small amounts.

MuckRock posts the contracts so you can read them for yourself.

Is your college not listed?  MuchRock says:

Well, we want to expand our survey to your school, too. Help us out by sending us the name of a public college or university, and we’ll submit a request for its alliance in the Battle of the Colas.

This is great investigative reporting.  When I wrote my 2000 article, I based it on one contract leaked to me by a school food official appalled by this marketing technique.  At the time, Coke and Pepsi were contracting with junior high and elementary schools.  Fortunately, they have stopped doing that and are now concentrating on older kids.

That’s some progress, I guess.

Want to get pouring rights off of your campus?  Good luck with that.  This is a perfect example of money vs. public healh.  Guess which is more likely to win.

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Sep 18 2018

What should be done to repopulate and reinvigorate rural America?

I’m catching up on reading and just came across the USDA’s annual report, Rural America at a Glance, 2017.

Rural areas, says the USDA, face challenges:

  • Outmigration
  • Increased adult mortality (opioid use)
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty

What does USDA suggest as the solution?  Broadband.

I’m for insisting that media companies get broadband into rural areas right now. (I have plenty of personal experience with the broadband dead zone between Whitney Point and Ithaca in upstate New York), but that’s not enough.

How about doing something to promote smaller scale, less industrial farming that would bring people back into those areas, and give them meaningful work.

Rural America is turning into America’s Third World.  That’s not good for anyone.

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Sep 17 2018

Unsavory Truth: How I deal with conflicts of interest

Coming October 30:  My new book about food company sponsorship of nutrition research and its effects on public health.  

To introduce the book, which describes the consequences of conflicts of interest generated by food industry research funding, I will be doing a series of posts about it over the next few weeks.

I begin this series with a discussion of how I manage my own financial relationships with food, beverage, or supplement companies.

As a nutrition professor, even one who is retired, I cannot avoid contacts with food companies, nor do I necessarily want to.  I need to know what they are doing.

I go to meetings sponsored by food companies, read journals sponsored by food companies, read newsletters they send me, and get frequent gifts of books, research materials, product samples, and swag ranging from small (jump drives, squeeze toys) to enormous (would you believe a room-size punching bag that looks like a cola can?).

I give talks to and occasionally consult for food companies.  At issue is how to do this without being influenced to change what I write or say—or appear to be so influenced.

If I were wealthier, I would just pay my own expenses and be done with it.  As it is, I figured out a management policy for dealing with food company gifts and payments.

  • I accept reimbursements for travel, hotels, meals, and meeting registrations (otherwise I would not be able to go).
  • I do not accept honoraria, consulting fees, or any other personal payment.
  • Instead, I ask the company to make an equivalent donation to the NYU Library’s Food Studies collection (which is named after me) or to my department’s fund for student travel.  If the checks come to me directly, I endorse them over to NYU.  I report all such income appropriately on tax forms.

I am well aware that this policy is not perfect.  Small gifts, meals, and travel reimbursements are thoroughly established to influence physicians’ prescription practices, and I derive reputational benefit from donations to NYU.

But this policy makes me think carefully about conflicted situations and I try to make it work as well as I can.

My conflict of interest declaration on journal articles reads as follows:

Marion Nestle’s retirement and research funds from New York University support her research, manuscript preparation, and website at foodpolitics.com.  She earns royalties from books, and honoraria and travel from lectures, about matters relevant to this publication.

A summary of this policy is posted on the About page on this site.

Sep 14 2018

Weekend reading: Food Justice Now!

Johsua Sbicca.  Food Justice Now!  Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle.  University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Image result for Food Justice Now! Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle

This book is about how to turn the “eat-better” food movement into a movement for social justice.  It directly addresses the complaint that the food movement has no real power.

Sbicca, a sociologist at Colorado State, bases his analysis on three case studies of food justice activism focused on creating reasonably paid work for former prisoners and low-wage workers, many of them of color or immigrants.

He tells the stories of three programs, Planting Justice in Oakland, California; the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project; and programs run by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

In writing this book, he investigates

the tensions between maintaining an “us” in the food movement and a “them” needed to keep the food system running.  This informs the prospects of a food politics that is capable of overcoming ethnoracial and citizenship boundaries…The ethnoracial and class makeup of food workers pushes labor organizers to challenge the race-to-the-bottom practices of food corporations.

He ends the book by calling for what is needed to create true food justice: land, labor, community development, health, self-determination, and environmental sustainability—exactly what is called for in food system reform.

This is an academic book but well worth reading for anyone who cares about building a movement with power to change food systems.

 

Sep 13 2018

Beer: sustainable, THC-infused, from BeverageDaily.com

BeverageDaily.com does a monthly special collection of industry-focused articles on beer.  This one spotlights sustainability, but includes a couple of items about—really!—cannabis-infused beer, as well as tea, coffee, and water.  As readers of this blog know, I am following the politics of cannabis edibles.  It’s now time to add drinks to the list, or what is known in the trade, apparently, as the “THC-infused beverage space.”

And here are even more of its articles about the beer industry.  Be sure to check the one about how to personalize yours with 3D printing.

 

Sep 12 2018

South Africa’s record-setting (not in a good way) Listeria outbreak: an update

In April, I wrote about the deadly outbreak of Listeria-contaminated processed meat (“polony”) in South Africa.  Back then, the country’s Health Department explained what it was doing to try to stop the outbreak.  It’s now pretty much over, and the Health Department has issued an updated report on it.

  • Cases reported: 1060
  • Deaths: 216

Listeria is deadly.  For this outbreak, the death rate is 27% (216 of 806 cases in which the outcome is known).

As is typical of foodborne disease outbreaks, most cases occurred long before the products were recalled.

 

Of those cases interviewed after the recall

38/65 (58%) of ill people or their proxy reported consuming polony prior to their illness onset; brands manufactured by Enterprise Foods were most commonly reported to have been consumed where brand of polony was known.

The health department is doing a lot to try to understand what happened here.  But it faces challenges:

There are challenges regarding the turn-around time of testing of environmental swabs from facility inspections. Challenges are arising on account of the volume of specimens received during the last three weeks, machine failure and in some cases, challenges regarding test result interpretation. Each challenge is being addressed through appropriate interventions.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler offers advice to the CEO of Tiger Brands, and to any other CEO of a company selling a product that makes people ill, beginning with an explanation of “why it’s always a bad idea to poison your customers.”

His advice:

  1. Know your regulators.
  2. Stop making the implicated product and recall the ones at risk.
  3. Launch your own investigation.
  4. Be transparent.
  5. Admit fault.
  6. Do not blame your customers.
  7. Reach out to customers who have been harmed.
  8. Teach what you have learned.

Marler has put money behind this advice.  Let’s hope the CEO takes him up on it.

Sep 11 2018

Why food companies should not have a role in formulating obesity policy

I was interested to read FoodNavigator-Asia’s account of food industry comments on what to do about obesity is Australia.

By all reports, two-thirds of Australian adults meet definitions of overweight or obesity, along with a quarter of all children.  A Senate committee is collecting ideas about what to do about this, including those from the food industry.

Food-Navigator-Asia has taken a look at some of the submitted comments, particularly in light of comments from medical groups encouraging social, environmental, regulatory and medical interventions, and arguing that food companies should be kept out of formulating policies due to their inherent conflicts of interest.

The article quotes three companies.

Coca-Cola Amatil says taxes would be counterproductive because it is already reducing the sugar in its products.

Fonterra (a dairy company) says obesity is not the problem; instead, underconsumption of dairy products is the problem.

Nestlé [no relation] blames consumers; it is trying to reduce salt and sugar in its products but the public isn’t buying them.  It also blames government, which it says should do a better job of educating the public about diet and health.

Obesity poses a formidable problem for food companies making junk foods.  They have stockholders to please.  They cannot be expected to voluntarily act in the interest of public health if doing so affects profits.

That is why food companies should have no role whatsoever in developing policies to prevent or treat obesity.

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