by Marion Nestle

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May 17 2024

Weekend reading: The Cato Institute on the Farm Bill

Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows, and here I am carefully reading the Cato Institute’s most interesting analysis of farm insurance:Farm Bill Sows Dysfunction for American Agriculture (thanks to Stephen Zwick for sending).

“Agriculture is a uniquely coddled industry with the USDA providing more than 150 different programs for the industry, 53,000 farm‐​related employees in the USDA, and 2,300 USDA agriculture offices across the country,” said Chris Edwards, the Kilts Family Chair in Fiscal Studies at the Cato Institute….Tax dollars cover about 60 percent of the insurance premiums that farmers pay, amounting to a record $11.6 billion in 2022, as noted in Figure 1. Total insured acreage has jumped from 206 million acres in 2000 to 493 million in 2022, increasing the taxpayer cost for premium subsidies sixfold in that time frame. The government also compensates the private insurance companies that participate in the program for their administrative costs, which are projected to be about $2 billion per year from 2024 through 2033.

The graphics are particularly instructive.

This one is an updated version of what happens to corn grown in the US—biofuel, animal feed, industrial use and hardly any for food.

This one shows which crops get taxpayers’ money.

The Cato Institute does not like this system, and neither do I.

  • It’s not about healthy food for people.
  • It’s not about preventing climate change.
  • It encourages growth of commodity crops in places where they should not be grown.
  • It encourages production and consumption of ultra-processed foods.
  • It’s corporate welfare.

This system needs an overhaul, big time.

Will we get that in the forthcoming farm bill?  It’s a self-perpetuating system, alas.

May 16 2024

Canabis: a roundup

I haven’t said much about cannabis edibles for a while, but here’s some of what’s happening.

In the UK

In the US

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management’s list of dispensaries.

New York’s Housing Works Reports $24 Million in Sales. New York City‘s first legal adult-use dispensary, Housing Works Cannabis Co. logged $24 million in sales in its first year of business. That’s a significant portion of the $137 million in sales that the New York Cannabis Control Board reported for the entire state as of early December, according to its annual 2023 report.

New flavors, formats driving cannabis-infused food and beverage products: The Jones Soda brand has its sights on new products, including a new candy launch, as national efforts mount to reclassify marijuana.

Magnolia Bakery has weed edibles now. But you can’t buy them in New York: New York City’s iconic Magnolia Bakery, which is famous for its cupcakes and banana pudding and is often the first stop for legions of tourists, announced a new lineup of THC treats on Wednesday. However, none of them will be for sale at any of Magnolia’s eight locations in the city — or anywhere in New York state, for that matter….in New York, retailers selling THC products must be licensed by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management.

Research

Cannabis-Related Disorders and Toxic Effects. N Engl J Med 2023; 389:2267-2275.  DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2212152: Heavy cannabis use has adverse effects on physical and mental health. Research is needed to better elucidate the pathophysiology of these effects and develop better treatments.

Congressional Research Service.  Farm Bill Primer: Selected Hemp Industry Issues: The 2018 farm bill further directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a framework to regulate hemp cultivation under federal law and facilitate commercial cultivation, processing, marketing, and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products. USDA published its final hemp regulations in 2021. Other 2018 farm bill provisions made hemp producers eligible for federal crop insurance and agricultural research programs. Congress may consider further amendments as it debates the next farm bill.

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May 15 2024

Ozempic: a food marketing opportunity

I was thrilled to be invited to be on Oprah last week to discuss the influence of the food environment on obesity.  Alas, I was disinvited when the topic switched to fat shaming.

While recovering from the disappointment, I ran across this article in FoodDive: The Ozempic effect is real: Study zeroes in on GLP-1 users’ food needs.

A study found people taking anti-obesity medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Zepbound to be looking for:

  • Foods packed with protein
  • Smaller portions
  • Foods that help quell nausea
  • Foods that help reduce gastrointestinal side effects

The potential size of this market is impressive:

Manufacturers looking to create products that cater to this growing market segment – which according to recent research from Goldman Sachs could be as much as 15 million people, or 13% of the U.S. population, by 2030 – should focus on creating products that meet their new needs.

The research group used “its proprietary AI to generate food concepts that it had panel participants evaluate and several were appealing including:

  • Pre-portioned grilled chicken strips
  • 2-ounce portions of Greek yogurt in pouches
  • Electrolyte-enhanced fruit popsicles
  • Mini meal cups

Hey—this is a win-win.  First the food industry makes products that people can’t resist eating and make them gain weight.  Then the industry creates products that help them take drugs more easily.

A marketing opportunity for all

May 14 2024

The FDA’s new agricultural water rule

The headline caught my eye: FDA Publishes Landmark Final Rule to Enhance the Safety of Agricultural Water

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a final rule on agricultural water that represents an important step toward enhancing the safety of produce.

This addresses a big problem: contamination of agricultural land growing produce by bacteria in animal waste running off from CAFOs(onfined animal feeding operations), and dairy farms.

As I read it, the new rule requires:

  • Annual evaluation of the water system, water use practices, crop characteristics, environmental conditions, potential impacts on water from adjacent and nearby land, and other relevant factors.
  • Testing pre-harvest agricultural water.
  • Implementation of mitigation measures needed, especially those “associated with adjacent and nearby land uses.”

In the usual way the FDA does these things, farms have roughly one or two years after the final rule is published to comply.

The agency says it “is committed to taking an “educate before and while we regulate” approach to supporting compliance.”

I’m not sure what this means, but this rule can’t be implemented soon enough.

Next: USDA has to do the same thing for water on CAFOs and dairy farms.

Resources

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May 13 2024

Food-industry press release of the week: peanuts

I received an e-mailed press release from The Peanut Institute: Peanuts and Peanut Butter Support Women’s Health.

When it comes to health, women face unique challenges that call for unique nutrition. In fact, research has found that women face a higher risk of dying from heart disease than men,1 and may be at risk for other conditions such as hypertension,2 certain cancers,3 and even Alzheimer’s disease.4  To help women protect their health, The Peanut Institute is sharing information on the benefits that regular consumption of peanuts and peanut butter delivers to females at every stage of life.

Here are excerpts from those stages.

  • Birth to 24 Months:  A child’s first two years are referred to as “B24” and are a critical time in the growth and development of the brain and body. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlights peanuts as “an important source of iron, zinc, protein, choline and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.”2
  • For youngsters and teens: On the subject of protein, at 7 grams per ounce, peanuts have more protein than any other nut.6. That’s especially important for girls who work out since protein helps muscles grow, recover and stay healthy.7 Plus, peanuts are satisfying and an easy, on-the-go snack that can be stowed in a backpack, locker or car.
  • For adults and seniors: The Journal of the American Heart Association found that following a plant-based diet with nuts, legumes, fruits and veggies can lower the risk of dying prematurely from multiple causes, including cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death worldwide.In addition, phytosterols, like those found in peanuts, may inhibit the growth of cancers that affect millions of women, including lung, stomach, ovarian, colon and breast cancers.9-12

I did not look to see whether the references were funded by the peanut industry, but there is plenty of precedent.  See, for example,

But there’s more.  A reader, Monica Baer, sent me another press release from the Peanut Institute: New Gut Microbiome Research Points to Positive Impact on Memory and Mood from Peanut Consumption

Research from the University of Barcelona on the gut microbiota has found that daily consumption of peanuts and peanut butter can produce compounds in the gut that help improve memory and reduce stress response, including anxiety and depression, in healthy young adults. Findings from the ARISTOTLE study were published online in the Journal of Functional Foods this September and shared by The Peanut Institute

I did look up this one: Isabella Parilli-Moser, Ricardo López-Solís, Inés Domínguez-López, Anna Vallverdú-Queralt, Sara Hurtado-Barroso, Rosa M Lamuela-Raventós, Consumption of peanut products enhances the production of microbial phenolic metabolites related with memory and stress response: Results from the ARISTOTLE trial, Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 108, 2023, 105746, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2023.105746.

Funding: This work was supported by funding from the Peanut Institute.

I like peanuts.  They are legumes and real foods.  But to attribute overall health and memory function to eating peanuts seems a bit far-fetched.  That’s why the Peanut Institute is funding research: to convince you peanuts are a superfood.  There is, of course, no such thing.  Superfood is a marketing term.  Should you eat peanuts?  Sure.  Why not?

May 10 2024

Weekend reading: pet food (oh why not)

I haven’t said anything about pet food in a while, in part because I’m waiting to see what the FDA is planning to do about it, if anything.  The FDA currently regulates pet food the same way it regulates feed for farm animals.  Pet food labels look like feed labels.  They do not have Nutrition Facts or Pet Food Facts labels, making their contents difficult to understand.  There is a push to improve that situation and I .wish it were stronger.

FDA regulation of pet food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food similar to that for other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low acid canned food regulations to ensure the pet food is free of viable microorganisms.

I don’t see much sign that is changing.  Members of Congress introduced the PURR [Pet Food Uniform Regulatory Reform] Act to give the FDA authority over the  labeling and ingredient review process for dog and cat foods, currently up to the states.

As explained by Pet Food Industry,

The Pet Food Institute (PFI) noted in a press statement that the proposed bill language solely impacts pet food label reviews and codifies ingredients and marketing claims in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication.

AAFCO sets ingredient definitions, label standards and laboratory standards and everybody uses them.

I wish it would propose Pet Food Facts labeling.

The pet food marketing—news

  • U.S. pet owners spend over $2B on Valentine’s gifts for pets: February 14 iwas another chance for American pet parents to express their love to their companion animals…Today’s most popular gifts include heart-covered knitwear, scarves, tiaras, plush toys, cozy ‘human dog beds,’ and, of course, healthy treats.

Pet food ingredients—news

My book with Malden Nesheim, Feed Your Pet Right, has a lot to say about these issues.  It’s still useful for understanding what they are about.  It’s really not a manual for feeding pets (although we did include recipes).  It’s an analysis of the pet food industry, something I still think worth knowing about.

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May 9 2024

Industry-funded study of the week: mangos

Usually, I post something about research conflicts of intereest on Mondays, but am doing that today instead.

Three readers sent news about this study to me, so for that alone it’s worth sharing.

First, the press release:

Associations between mango eaters and moms-to-be: better diets and improved nutrient intakes: New NHANES analysis reveals meals including mangos associated with higher healthy eating index and better nutrition for healthy pregnancies.

Any time you see a headline like this, your first question should be: Who paid for this?

The study: Mango Consumption Was Associated with Higher Nutrient Intake and Diet Quality in Women of Childbearing Age and Older Adults.  Kristin Fulgoni and Victor L. Fulgoni III. Nutrients 202416(2), 303; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu16020303.

Conclusion: “This study suggests incorporating mango into the diet could increase select nutrient intake as well as diet quality in specific life stages of adult Americans.”

Funding: “This research was funded by the National Mango Board.”  [Bingo!]

Conflicts of interest: V.L.F.III and K.F. are employees of Nutrition Impact, LLC, a food and nutrition consulting firm which analyses NHANES data for numerous food and beverage companies and related entities. Nutrition Impact has a contract with the National Mango Board.

Comment: The National Mango Board contracted with the authors to produce this analysis. Its results are predictable.  Guess what: eating fruit increases intake of the nutrients contained in that fruit.  Eating fruit increases the quality of the diet.  I could have told them that.

I do love mangos, although they taste much better—like eating perfume—in their countries of origin.  I’m allergic to their skins and pits, however, and have to eat them carefully.  The Mango Board must think research results like this will increase sales.

Here’s how the Mango Board advertises this fruit:

Mangos pack a nutritional punch.

  • Each serving of mango is fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free.
  • Mangos contain over 20 different vitamins and minerals, helping to make them a superfood.

Superfood?  A marketing term.

May 8 2024

Uh oh. Bulk organic walnuts associated with toxic E. coli

I learned about this one from Bill Marler’s blog: This is Nuts – California and Washington E. coli Outbreak linked to Gibson Farms Walnuts 

This refers to the CDC announcement: E. coli outbreak linked to organic walnuts

The CDC issued a warning: CDC warns of E. coli outbreak linked to organic walnuts sold in bulk

The FDA has its own investigation: Outbreak Investigation of E. coli O157:H7: Bulk Organic Walnuts (April 2024): Do not eat, sell, or serve recalled organic walnuts sold in bulk bins at natural food and co-op retailers in multiple states. FDA’s investigation is ongoing.

The CDC points out:

  • Almost all sick people purchased organic walnuts from bulk bins in food co-ops or natural food stores in California and Washington.
  • FDA determined that Gibson Farms, Inc supplied these walnuts and Gibson Farms, Inc has recalled these products.: These walnuts have expiration dates between May 21, 2025, and June 7, 2025.
  • FDA has a list of stores that may have received these walnuts.

Comment:  All toxic E. coli outbreaks are troubling because the illnesses are so serious and all are preventable if producers were doing what they were supposed to be doing.  But walnuts?  My first question is how could walnuts, firmly encased in shells, get contaminated with animal fecal wastes, the usual source of this strain of E. coli.  This reminds me of the Odwalla juice E. coli problems; the company had harvested apples that had fallen on the ground. Did Gibson harvest walnuts off the ground?  Whatever it did, the company should have been following a food safety plan mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires prevention controls and testing to make sure things like this donn’t happen.

Are non-organic walnuts harvested any differently from organic walnuts.   Here’s what one producer says.

The nuts are removed from the tree using a mechanical shaker, a machine that grasps the trunk and shakes the whole tree. The nuts drop to the ground, are then swept into windrows and picked up with harvest machinery. This operation is completed quickly to reduce the time nuts remain on the ground.

Uh oh indeed.  I hope this incident causes some changes in this procedure.

In the meantime, Marler has more to do.