Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 2 2023

Weekend reading: the loss of small dairy farms

I’m just getting to this report from Food and Water Watch: The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies: Dirty Dairy Racket

Food & Water Watch took a look at what’s happening to the U.S. dairy industry.  Its conclusions are not surprising if you have been following these trends.

  • Big dairies have driven out small.  Only about 30 percent of all U.S. milk is produced on family-scale farms.
  • Dairy is not profitable.  “Thanks to the gutting of federal supply management policy,” overproduction and increased production costs gave caysed milk prices to plummet.
  • Consolidation doesn’t help.  Three dairy coops control 83 percent of milk sales: DFA (Dairy Farmers of America), Land O’ Lakes, and California Dairies, Inc.).

Here’s one comparison: Dairy association CEP salaries as compared to dairy farmer income.

The next Farm Bill could help fix some of this by:

  • Restoring supply management
  • Stopping proliferation of factory dairy farms
  • Reforming the farm safety net
  • Setting fair prices
Jun 1 2023

Annals of marketing: the American Beverage Association

The American Beverage Association, which represents Big (and also Medium) Soda, is now advertising in Politico.

America’s leading beverage companies – The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo – are bringing consumers more choices with less sugar. From sparkling, flavored and bottled waters to zero sugar sodas, sports drinks, juices and teas, consumers have more options than ever. In fact, nearly 60% of beverages sold today have zero sugar. Americans are looking for more choices to support their efforts to find balance, and America’s beverage companies are delivering. Explore choices at

My translation: The ABA is saying: “We produce plenty of water and diet sodas.  If you insist on drinking full sugar sodas, it’s not our fault.  (Never mind that we sink fortunes into advertising our full-sugar drinks…).”
May 31 2023

The pushback on ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods—defined operationally as industrially produced foods formulated to be irresistably delicious that can’t be made in home kitchens (because you don’t have the machinery or the ingredients—are by now well established to be associated with weight gain and weight-related chronic diseases.

Evidence now suggests the association is causal.  Ultra-processed diets induce people to eat more calories without realizing it.

Alas for food companies.  Ultra-processed products are among their most profitable.

The British Nutrition Foundation to the rescue!

  • It has issued a position statement on ultra-processed foods.   It complains that:
  • The classification system omits foods the Foundation considers healthy.
  • It implies that expensive artisanal products are superior for health (advice to reduce UPF raises questions of equity).
  • The research is largely observational.
  • The food environment is a key driver of poor health.
  • Making products that are not ultra-processed may have unintended consequences.
  • Demonizing ultra-processed foods could foster feelings of guilt and stigma.
  • Messages to avoid UPF might discourage industry from reformulation.
  • Food processing plays a releant role in food system sustainability and food security.

When I read things like this, I have the usual question: Who paid for this?

The British Nutrition Foundation says:

BNF’s funding comes from: membership subscriptions; donations and project grants from food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; contracts with government departments; conferences, publications and training; overseas projects; funding from grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities.

If it lists its corporate sponsors, I can’t find it.

But PowerBase says:

The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) is the key food industry front group in the UK. The BNF promotes itself as a source of impartial information, but it does not always make its links with industry clear.

The BNF is hard at work on behalf of food companies who wish the entire UPF concept would just disappear.  See, for example, “How do we differentiate not demonise –Is there a role for healthier processed foods in an age of food insecurity? Proceedings of a roundtable event” published in the Nutrition Bulletin.  The themes that emerged from the conference:

  • problems with the use of definitions for UPF,
  • the lack of causal evidence and defined mechanisms linking processing per se with poor health outcomes,
  • advice that may result in consumer confusion.
  • misalignment of UPF foods with dietary guidelines
  • unintended consequences for vulnerable groups


OK, the food industry is fighting back.  I think it’s a losing battle.  The UPF concept has so much evidence backing up its usefulness.  But I will say one thing about the point about unintended consequences.   It’s OK for rich people to avoid UPF but OK for poor people to eat them?  I think the food industry is in trouble on this one.  It has gotten away with pushing junk food for way too long.  The British Nutrition Foundation would be much more crredible if it put public health first.


May 30 2023

Mexico’s terrific new dietary guidelines. Yes!

Mexico has issued new dietary guidelines.

  1. Breastfeed babies for the first 6 months and then continue until age 2 along with other nutritious foods.
  2.  Eat more vegetables and fruits.
  3. Eat beans.
  4. Choose whole grains.
  5. Eat less beef and processed meats.
  6. Avoid ultra-processed foods.
  7. Drink water.
  8. Avoid alcohol.
  9. Be physically active.
  10. Enjoy meals with family and friends.

I’m looking forward to reading a case study on how the public health institute got these through the political process.

If people follow these guidelines, these industries will be in trouble:

  • Infant formula
  • Beef
  • Processed meats
  • Ultra-processed foods
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Alcohol

People will be healthier!  These industries will also be in trouble.

  • Pharmaceutical drugs
  • Private medicine
  • Insurance companies? (you might think they would benefit, but they make so much money on illness—this one is complicated)

I hope the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines will find these inspiring.

May 29 2023

Industry-funded study of the week: kiwi fruit this time

Thanks to Bradley Flansbaum for sending this one from a journal not on my usual reading list: “In persons with constipation or IBS-C, kiwifruit vs. psyllium increased spontaneous bowel movements.”

I like the way this press release gets right to the point.

An industry-funded randomized trial assessed the effect of daily consumption of kiwifruit versus psyllium on GI function and comfort in 184 adults who were healthy, had functional constipation (FC), or met Rome III diagnostic criteria for constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C).

The study: Consumption of 2 Green Kiwifruits Daily Improves Constipation and Abdominal Comfort—Results of an International Multicenter Randomized Controlled TrialThe American Journal of Gastroenterology ():10.14309/ajg.0000000000002124, January 9, 2023. | DOI: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000002124.

Authors: Gearry, Richard MD, PhD; Fukudo, Shin MD, PhD; Barbara, Giovanni MD; Kuhn-Sherlock, Barbara PhD; Ansell, Juliet PhD; Blatchford, Paul PhD; Eady, Sarah MSc; Wallace, Alison PhD; Butts, Christine PhD; Cremon, Cesare MD; Barbaro, Maria Raffaella PhD; Pagano, Isabella MD; Okawa, Yohei PhD; Muratubaki, Tomohiko PhD; Okamoto, Tomoko PhD; Fuda, Mikiko MS; Endo, Yuka MD; Kano, Michiko MD, PhD; Kanazawa, Motoyori MD, PhD; Nakaya, Naoki PhD; Nakaya, Kumi PhD; Drummond, Lynley BTech (Hons)

Summary of the study

Methods: Participants included healthy controls (n = 63), patients with functional constipation (FC, n = 60), and patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C, n = 61) randomly assigned to consume 2 green kiwifruits or psyllium (7.5 g) per day for 4 weeks, followed by a 4-week washout, and then the other treatment for 4 weeks. The primary outcome was the number of complete spontaneous bowel movements (CSBM) per week.

Results: Consumption of green kiwifruit was associated with a clinically relevant increase of ≥ 1.5 CSBM per week (FC; 1.53, P < 0.0001, IBS-C; 1.73, P = 0.0003) and significantly improved measures of GI comfort (GI symptom rating scale total score) in constipated participants (FC, P < 0.0001; IBS-C, P < 0.0001).

Conclusion: This study provides original evidence that the consumption of a fresh whole fruit has demonstrated clinically relevant increases in CSBM and improved measures of GI comfort in constipated populations. Green kiwifruits are a suitable dietary treatment for relief of constipation and associated GI comfort.

Financial support: Zespri International Ltd. was the principal sponsor and reviewed, approved, and funded the study design. The New Zealand study center trial was jointly funded by a grant from the New Zealand government (Contract C11X1312) and the sponsor company, Zespri International Ltd. In Italy and Japan, Zespri International Ltd. was the sole funder for each study center trial. The funder did not contribute to the study design or data analysis.

Potential competing interests: J.A. and P.B. are employed by Zespri International who part-funded the study. R.G. and L.D. sit on the Science Advisory Board, have received travel and research grants from Zespri International. SF and GB have received research travel grants from Zespri International.

Comment:  Can you guess what Zespri International sells?  Go on.  Take a wild guess.  I’ll admit it.  I’d go for kiwi over psyllium every time.  But we are talking here about an average improvement of 1.5 bowel movements a week, which may or may not be clinically meaningful..  I do give the authors credit for claiming a benefit for “fresh whole fruit,” not specifically kiwifruit.  The study didn’t compare kiwi to other fruits (and why would it, given the kiwi fruit sponsor).  But overall, this is yet another study done for marketing far more than scientific purposes.

May 26 2023

Weekend viewing: New York City’s new “Eat plants” campaign

Welcome to New York City ‘s new “Eat A Whole Lot More Plants” campaign “to put scrumptious sprouts and piquant produce on New Yorkers’ menus.”

The Health Department launched a new campaign that urges New Yorkers to put plants on their plates and adopt a healthy balanced diet full of whole foods. Whole and minimally processed plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts are good for health as they are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and don’t come packaged with high amounts of sodium, added sugar, or unhealthy fats. The campaign titled “Eat A Whole Lot More Plants” highlights how eating a diet with lots of plants is one way to improve health and can help manage and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.

The campaign begins with video ads.

It includes  ideas to increase intake of tasty shrub grub, like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

It “builds on the Mayor’s commitment to improve the food environment and combat climate change throughout New York City. ”

The campaign includes:

I hope it also includes an evaluation.  Let’s try it and see if it works!

May 25 2023

Catching up on the latest plant-based options

There’s a lot of new product development going on in the plant-forward arena: chocolate, cheese, and anything else you can think of.

Which of these products will survive?  You get to decide that one.

May 24 2023

Annals of greenwashing: the Beef Checkoff

I could hardly believe this ad in the New York Times last Friday.

Cattle as a promoter of biodiversity?

My usual question: Who paid for this?

The only clue was the little checkmark and in tiny letters “Funded by beef farmers and ranchers.”

I did the thing with the QR code and went straight to, the website of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, organizations paid for by per-animal levies imposed by USDA-sponsored checkoff programs.

The beef checkoff

acts as a catalyst for change and is designed to stimulate beef sales and consumption through a combination of initiatives including consumer advertising, research, public relations and new-product development.

The ad says:

Almost a third of U.S. land is too rocky or dry to be used for growing food crops.  But cattle can graze on and regenerate that land, naturally protecting open space and conserving precious habitats and ecosystems.

Yes, they can, but participants in the Beef checkoff generally raise cattle in CAFOs (factory feedlots), the antithesis of grazing on and regenerating land.

The beef industry is under siege these days from people who care about health and the environment.

Instead of doing all it can to promote regenerative grazing, it uses public relations to deflect attention from how it really raises cattle.

Butterflies?  Not a chance.

CORRECTION:  Several readers have written to complain that I obviously know nothing about how cattle are raised.  “You idiot,” they say (or imply), “cattle are raised on grass until the last few months of their lives.”  Not only that, says one reader, but their grazing on grass produces ecological miracles (see, for example, this video.)  That, however, still leaves them with months of finishing off on grains in feedlots, somehow not mentioned in the Beef Checkoff ad.  It may be, as one reader tells me, that beef producers hate this system and hate paying for it with checkoff funds, but that’s how it works.  Advocacy, anyone?  In any case, I apologize for not including this iinformation n my original post.