by Marion Nestle

Search results: journal nature

Jan 24 2020

Weekend reading: Nature Food

It’s pretty exciting when a major international science journal starts a satellite journal devoted to food issues.  Welcome to Nature Food.

Volume 1 Issue 1Silos and systems: The image of a corn processing plant with storage silos represents an early stage of the food supply chain and entry point to a complex, increasingly globalized food system with broad health, economic, social and environmental interactions. The journey from silo to system starts here.

Here’s what’s in Volume 1, Issue 1, January 2020:  

  • Editorial: From silos to systems.  The global food system needs a radical overhaul to sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050. Nature Food calls on scientists from the many disciplines of food to contribute their knowledge and experience to a collective dialogue on food system transformation.
  • Comment: Planet-proofing the global food system  Without a great food system transformation, the world will fail to deliver both on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. There are five grand challenges to be faced, by science and society, to effect that transformation.  Johan Rockström et al.
  • Comment: A national approach for transformation of the UK food system: Transformation of the food system at the national scale requires concerted action from government, business and civil society, based on sound evidence from the research community. A programme for transformation of the United Kingdom’s food system, for healthy people and a healthy environment, is described here.  Riaz Bhunnoo  & Guy M. Poppy.
  • Comment:  A future workforce of food-system analysts:  A programme developed across five UK universities aims to equip graduate professionals with the skills, tools and capabilities to better understand and manage food-system complexity for food security, for the environment and for enterprise.  John Ingram, et al.
  • Q&A:  Where there is political will, there is a way.  Tom Arnold has a wealth of experience in humanitarian and development approaches to combatting hunger. In his roles in food and agriculture, including with Scaling Up Nutrition and Task Force Rural Africa, he advocates for policy consistency and supportive relationships between civil society, business and government.  Anne Mullen.
  • News & Views: Uncertainties in global crop modelling.  A consistent global gridded multi-model assessment of wheat production under climate change points to large uncertainties arising from crop models, particularly in mid and high latitudes.  Ann-Kristin Koehler
  • News & Views:  The changing nature of our food systems.  The wealth of national food supply data, collected over decades by member states of the Food and Agriculture Organization, provides intriguing insights into regional transitions.  Roseline Remans
  • News & Views:  Running AMOC in the farming economy.  Climate tipping points, such as the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), could drive significant structural changes in agriculture, with profound consequences for global food security.  Tim G. Benton
  • News & Views:  From stinkweed to oilseed.  Up to now, creativity, ingenuity, time and more than a little luck have been essential for transforming a wild plant into a new food crop. Building on the understanding of gene function in Arabidopsis, the process of domestication can be rapidly accelerated.  Anne B. Britt
  • News & Views: Mind the (supply) gap.  The gap between global supply and demand of omega-3 fatty acids is twice previous estimates. Opportunities to narrow that gap include increasing use of fishery by-products and reducing food waste.  Brett D. Glencross
  • Perspective:  Nitrogen pollution policy beyond the farm.  This Perspective builds on the concept of full-chain nitrogen use efficiency to propose policy interventions and criteria that target major actors in the agri-food chain.  David R. Kanter et al.
  • Perspective:  The unmapped chemical complexity of our diet.  Advances such as machine learning may enable the full biochemical spectrum of food to be studied systematically. Uncovering the ‘dark matter’ of nutrition could open new avenues for a greater understanding of the composition of what we eat and how it relates to health and disease.  Albert-László Barabási et al.
  • Review Article:  The nexus between international trade, food systems, malnutrition and climate change.  Trade agreements can constrain or enable governments’ ability to implement food system-level actions aimed at improving nutrition and mitigating climate change. The technical and political aspects of trade agreements that interact with food systems are reviewed here, and the coherence between trade policy goals and public interest goals, such as nutrition and climate change, is discussed.  Sharon Friel et al
  • Brief Communication:  Systems approach to quantify the global omega-3 fatty acid cycle.  Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the human diet and for some aqua and animal feeds. This study reports a supply gap, and using quantitative systems analysis identifies targets for increasing efficiency in the global omega-3 cycle.  Helen A. Hamilton et al.
  • Article:  Multidimensional characterization of global food supply from 1961 to 2013.  Food systems are increasingly globalized and interdependent. Using food supply data from over 170 countries, Bentham et al. characterize global patterns of food supply change over five decades, highlighting the decline in the supply of animal source food and sugar in many Western countries, the increase in the supply of such foods in Asian countries and remarkably little change in food supply in the sub-Saharan Africa region.  James Bentham et al.
  • Article: Shifts in national land use and food production in Great Britain after a climate tipping point.  Collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) will impact agricultural land use and its economic value in Great Britain. Ritchie et al. model the impacts of smooth (conventional climate change) and abrupt (tipping point change) AMOC collapse on land use, arable farming and related economic outputs in Britain, as well as the economic feasibility of technological adaptations such as widespread irrigation. Paul D. L. Ritchie et al.
  • Article:  Identification and stacking of crucial traits required for the domestication of pennycress.  Thlaspi arvense (pennycress) has the potential to provide new sources of food and bioproducts when grown as a winter cover crop. Here, Chopra et al. demonstrate that multiple desirable traits can be stacked to rapidly domesticate pennycress. The resulting crop integrates into current crop rotations and produces seeds with improved nutritional qualities, easier harvesting and suitability for human consumption.  Ratan Chopra et al
  • Food for Thought:  The Londoner’s meal.  Globalization transforms societies, economies and cultures. As a subject, food allows us to draw unique narratives on these transformations . The history of pie and mash, also known as the ‘Londoner’s meal’, is such a story of globalization.  Ronald Ranta
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Sep 11 2013

Why the public still distrusts GMOs: Nature Biotechnology gives the reasons

Nature Biotechnology, a research journal for biotechnology academics, has the most enlightened explanation I’ve seen recently about why genetically modified (GM) foods don’t go over well with the public (I discussed suchN reasons in detail in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).Its editorial states that despite years of evidence for the safety of eating GM foods,

Consumers are concerned about the close (some might say cushy) relationships between regulators and companies. They are concerned about food safety data being difficult to obtain from regulatory agencies. The revolving door between agribusiness and regulatory agencies and the amounts spent on political lobbying also raise red flags. Even academics have fallen in the public’s esteem, especially if there’s a whiff of a company association or industry funding for research.

Of course, the public’s misgivings about GM food go beyond just the risk to health. Corporate control of the food supply, disenfranchisement of smallholder farmers, the potential adverse effects of GM varieties on indigenous flora and fauna, and the ‘contamination’ of crops grown on non-GM or organic farms all play into negative perceptions. And for better or worse, GM food is now inextricably linked in the public consciousness with Monsanto, which has seemingly vied with big tobacco as the poster child for corporate greed and evil.

What are industry and academic scientists to do about such attitudes?

 Changing them will require a concerted and long-term effort to develop GM foods that clearly provide convincing benefits to consumers—something that seed companies have conspicuously failed to do over the past decade.

Well, yes.  This was the situation in 2003 when I first wrote Safe Food, and nothing had changed by the second edition in 2010.  Or by now, apparently.

This industry still depends on Golden Rice to save its reputation.  Maybe it ought to start working on some of the other issues mentioned in this editorial.

 

Mar 15 2012

Nature reviews Why Calories Count

NATURE, March 14, 2012, Review
(Books in Brief review (scroll down to the second one)

Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics

Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim University of California Press 304 pp. $19.95 (2012)

Obesity has gone global — as has misinformation about nutrition and food. Nutrition scientists Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim unscramble the confusion with a serving of science.

They reveal how calories — those potent but ill-understood measures of heat energy — are really counted, why we need them, how we use them, how many we actually need and why it all sometimes goes so wrong.

From ‘secret’ calories to food politics, malnourishment and calorie restriction for health, this is a feast for the mind.
Dec 9 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: a live-forever dietary supplement

When I saw this ad in last Thursday’s New York Times, I immediately clipped it out.

What is this?

It is an ad for a dietary supplement, Telos95, with a classic structure/function claim (a type invented for dietary supplements of less-than-established efficacy): “telomere & DNA chromosome health support—-telomere lengthening and lowering cellular age in just 6 months.”

Telos95 is the only plant-based dietary supplement that aids in the chromosome stability during the process of cell replication.  It’s vital that normal cell replicative senescence takes place, so the cells divide in a healthy state and telomeres remain at the same length or lengthen, which biologically ensures a health centrosome matrix and repetitive nucleotide sequence at each end of the chromosome.

Got that?

What’s with telomeres?

All of this refers to work that got a Nobel Prize for Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak in 2009.  They showed that telomeres, caps on the end of chromosomes, protect chromosomes from degradation.  Shorter telomeres are associated with cell aging.

What got my attention in this ad was its report of a 2018 clinical trial finding that this supplement reduced cellular age by more than 7 years.

Really?  I had some immediate questions.

What’s in the supplement? 

The ad doesn’t say anything other than “all natural food grade polyphenols.”  But I managed to find a Supplement Facts Label online.

Highly purified polyphenols extracted from grape and olive leaves?

These, by the way, cost about $100 for 30 capsules.

Whatever.

What’s the study? 

I was able to find it online: A randomized-controlled clinical study of Telos95® , a novel antioxidative dietary supplement, on the shortening of telomere length in healthy volunteers  

It’s in a journal I’ve never heard of previously: HealthMed, published in Bosnia and Herzogovina

The report of the study starts out rather peculiarly:

The objective of this study was to determine the deodorant effectiveness of a dietary supplement to halt the shortening of telomere length as measured through blood samples before and after product use.

Deodorant?  Maybe something is lost in translation here?

Who paid for the study?

The published paper doesn’t say.  It does, however, refer to a Sponsor responsible for the study’s protocols, safety evaluation of the products, and safety indemnification of Princeton Consumer Research Corp (PCR), the group that carried out the study.

PCR’s website, by the way, states that “PRINCETON CONSUMER RESEARCH IS NOT AFFILIATED IN ANY WAY TO PRINCETON UNIVERSITY”.  Whew.

PCR’s press release credits Certified Nutritionals as behind the study.

What is this all about?

The Daily Beast did an investigative report on something similar a couple of years ago.

Obviously, this is about selling a supplement made from rice at profits so great that Longevity by Nature can afford a full-page ad in the Times (these used to run in the $80,000 range, if not more).

It is also about the use of industry-sponsored research to sell products: the sponsored study –> press release –> huge advertisement –> increased product sales.

Will this product keep your telomeres from shortening?  If only.

Aug 27 2019

Corporations will focus on social values? Really?

The Business Roundtable’s Statement (and see B Corporation Statement below)

The Business Roundtable, an organization of corporations, issued a statement last week—in a two-page advertisement with all the signatures in the Wall Street Journal, no less—that got this New York Times headline: Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say.

What?  This is some kind of joke, right?

I’ve been arguing for years that the Shareholder Value Movement, which forced corporations to single-mindedly focus on maximizing profits at the expense of every other societal value—attention to the welfare of workers, farm animals, public health, environmental protection—is responsible for just about everything that is wrong with our food system.

Corporations are now saying that they are committing to change that?

The Business Roundtable’s press release says that it is redefining the purpose of corporations to promote an economy that serves all Americans—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.   Here is its website with all the commitment info.

Its statement, signed by nearly 200 corporations, commits them to [with my comments]:

  • Delivering value to our customers [they aren’t already doing this?].
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits [this would indeed be a groundbreaking improvement].
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers [they weren’t doing this either?].
  • Supporting the communities in which we work [another excellent idea].
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders [isn’t this what they’ve been doing to the detriment of everything else?]

This sounds good, but how do they plan to solve the central dilemma?  How do they intend to pay workers decent wages, improve the communities in which they operate, and stop damaging the environment—and still maximize benefits for shareholders?

No surprise, they don’t say.

Also, as the Times noted,

There was no mention at the Roundtable of curbing executive compensation, a lightning-rod topic when the highest-paid 100 chief executives make 254 times the salary of an employee receiving the median pay at their company. And hardly a week goes by without a major company getting drawn into a contentious political debate. As consumers and employees hold companies to higher ethical standards, big brands increasingly have to defend their positions on worker pay, guns, immigration, President Trump and more.

I looked for food corporations among the signers (sorry if I missed any):

  • Aramark
  • Bayer (it owns Monsanto)
  • Coca-Cola
  • Land O’Lakes
  • PepsiCo
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Walmart

This is a small list.  Where, for example, are Mars, Nestlé, and Unilever?

I see this as flat out public relations, a response to increasing public distrust of corporate America and demands for corporate accountability.

If the signers mean business, let’s see them deal with workers’ wages right away.

Otherwise, I’m not holding my breath

The B Corporation Statement

And here’s more.  Sunday’s New York Times carried this advertisement from Certified B Corporations “meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”

The ad is addressed to Business Rountable CEOs.

We are part of a community of Certified B Corporations who are walking the walk of stakeholder capitalism…We operate with a better model of corporate governance—benefit corporate governance—which gives us, and could give you, a way to combat short-termism and the freedom to make decisions to balance profit and purpose.

Among its food company signers are Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Danone North America, King Arthur Flour, Sir Kensington’s, Stonyfield Organic, and Stumptown Coffee (there are others, as well).

I read this as a challenge: if the Business Rountable CEOs are serious about ensuring as B Corporations do, that “the purpose of capitalism is to work for everyone and for the long term,” why don’t they start by becoming B Corporations?

Until they do, the Business Roundtable statement is smoke and mirrors, to distract us from the damage the corporations are doing to our society and to our democratic institutions.

Aug 16 2019

The latest on CBD edibles: sales booming, but no science or regulation

I’m watching what’s happening with Cannabis edibles with much interest.  Sales are booming.  Regulators are stymied.  Regulation is virtually absent—nobody seems to know how—and science, alas, hardly exists.

BakeryandSnacks.com fills the information gap with an Editor’s Spotlight on CBD [cannabidiol]-Infused Snacks, from the business perspective, as always.

And I’ve collected a few more from other sources.

And here’s a free White Paper on Cannabis edibles—a cross-industry analysis.

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Aug 5 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: “probiotic” weight-loss supplement

I spotted some tweets about this study from Washington Post writer Tamar Haspel, who has a sharp eye for this sort of thing.  Her first tweet said:

Her second tweet explained the problem:

So of course I had to look up the study.  It’s not one I would ordinarily have noticed because its title does not use the word “probiotic,” which typically refers to the live bacteria (in yogurt, for example).  The evidence for benefits of probiotics is iffy, so this study raises lots of questions.

Let’s take a look at it:

The Study:  Supplementation with Akkermansia muciniphila in overweight and obese human volunteers: a proof-of-concept exploratory study. Depommier C, et al.  Nature Medicine (2019

Conclusion: I’ve left out the statistics to make this easier to read:  “Compared to placebo, pasteurized A. muciniphila improved insulin sensitivity…, and reduced insulinemia…and plasma total cholesterol…. Pasteurized A. muciniphila supplementation slightly decreased body weight…compared to the placebo group, and fat mass…and hip circumference…compared to baseline….In conclusion, this proof-of-concept study…shows that the intervention was safe and well tolerated and that supplementation with A. muciniphila improves several metabolic parameters.”

Competing interests:  Five of the authors “are inventors of patent applications…filed with [patent offices in at least 12 countries]…dealing with the use of A. muciniphila and its components in the context of obesity and related disorders.” Two of the authors are cofounders of A-Mansia Biotech S.A., a Belgian company that sells A. muciniphila supplements, presumably as weight-loss supplements.

Comment: As Haspel points out, the subjects in this study were given either (a) live bacteria, (b) Pasteurized (and, therefore, mostly dead) bacteria, or (c) a placebo.  The Pasteurized ones were associated with metabolic benefits and weight loss.  Pasteurization is what gets done to milk to kill most—not all—of the living bacteria it contains.  In this study, Pasteurized bacteria had the same effect on the microbiome as the unpasteurized.  The point of the study was to show that the Pasteurized supplement would induce weight loss; the observed loss, however, was not statistically significant.   Nature Medicine‘s editors should know better.  So should the New York Times’ editors.  Haspel points out that the New York Times account of the study accepted its conclusion uncritically, headlining it “A Probiotic for Obesity?”  At least the headline included a question mark.  The article did not mention the authors’ patents or conflicts of interest; it should have.

Bottom line: If you want to keep your microbiome healthy, eat a healthy diet.

Jul 31 2019

Junk food encourages overeating: the evidence piles up

I was fascinated to see this article about how offering kids greater amounts and varieties of snack foods encourages them to eat more and, therefore, take in more calories.  Snack variety has a greater effect than just larger package sizes (1).

This article immediately reminded me of the infamous cafeteria diet studies of the late 1980s.  The investigators fed rats all kinds of junk foods and compared the calories they ate to those eaten by control rats allowed only rat chow.  The cafeteria-fed rats ate more (2).

This, of course, is what Kevin Hall and his colleagues found when adults were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of ultraprocessed junk foods (3).

The message is clear: junk food encourages overeating; overeating means taking in more calories; more calories means more weight.  Eating a lot of junk food is a sufficient explanation for obesity.

References

  1.  Kerr JA, et al. Child and adult snack food intake in response to manipulated pre-packaged snack item quantity/variety and snack box size: a population-based randomized trial. International Journal of Obesity (2019).
  2. Prats E, et al.  Energy intake of rats fed a cafeteria diet.  Physiol Behav. 1989 Feb;45(2):263-72.
  3. Hall K, et al.  Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake .  Cell Metabolism 2019; 30:67–77.