by Marion Nestle

Archives

Aug 5 2022

Weekend reading: Farmed salmon

Douglas Frantz & Catherine Collins.  Salmon Wars: The Dark Underbelly of America’s Favorite Fish.  Henry Holt, 2022.  (355 pages)

Salmon Wars

I was asked to do a blurb for this one.  Here’s what I said:

Salmon Wars is a deep dive into the damage caused by current fish-farming methods to ocean environments, wild fish and their habitats, and to the farmed fish themselves.  It is also a dismal account of the failure of governments to stop such practices.  Salmon farming needs reform.  Until it does, read this book, and you will never eat farmed salmon again.

As for what to do about the hazards of salmon farming—lice, pollution, reduction of wild salmon, escape from pens, requirement for feeder fish and the depletion of those stocks, the authors have three suggestions:

(1) Know the risks and rewards of eating farmed salmon and insist on more transparency.

(2) Take responsibility for insisting on better ways of raising farmed salmon.

And (3)

The third step is for governments to stop putting a thumb on the scale when weighing economic interests versus the public wellbeing.  Governments should take responsibility for protecting the environment and public health.  They should adopt strict curbs on the use of chemicals by salmon farmers.  They should require notification of all relevant authorities of every escape or suspected escape, and those reports should be made public.  Food labels should be thorough, accurate, and reflect how the salmon was raised…There must be similar global efforts to protect the public health and the welfare of salmon.

This is a hard-hitting book and, as you might expect, it’s gotten some pushback.

Saving Seafood, a group that “conducts media and public relations outreach on behalf of the seafood industry,” says “New ‘Salmon Wars’ Book Is Full of Fictions. Here Are the Facts.”  Here are a couple of examples:

FICTION: Farmed salmon are crammed into cages.

FACT: Salmon occupy less than 4 percent of a typical marine cage. Farmers intentionally keep stocking densities low so fish have room to swim, grow, and mimic natural schooling patterns.

Farmers take great care to ensure the well-being of their salmon. Fish are vaccinated against several diseases, and pristine marine cage conditions are ensured with proper siting, regular fallowing (leaving sites unused), underwater cameras, and diver inspections.

FICTION: Farmed salmon are doused with pesticides and antibiotics.

FACT: Antibiotic use on salmon farms is far lower than that of any other agricultural animal producing industry in the world. In the rare instances when treatment is necessary, it is prescribed and overseen by licensed veterinarians under the oversight of government regulators.

In 2012 I visited a salmon farm above the Arctic Circle in Norway’s and wrote a post about it.

That one looked pretty good.  Now?  Others?  Who knows?

My recommendation: Visit one if you can.  Short of that, read this book.  Than decide what you think are the facts.

Tags: ,
Aug 4 2022

USDA on the job: feeding kids

I’ve been trying to keep up with USDA press releases, especially those related to food assistance for children.   Here are a few from the last couple of weeks.

Effective July 1, 2022, the reimbursement schools receive for each meal served will increase by approximately $0.68 per free/reduced-price lunch and $0.32 per free/reduced price breakfast. Other reimbursement rates, including rates for paid school meals and child care meals, are available online.

With this comes:

II.  USDA Awards over $70 Million in Grants, Increases Access to Local, Healthy Foods for Kids, Jul 25, 2022  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is awarding more than $10 million in Farm to School grants to 123 projects across the country…[these] will serve more than 3 million children at more than 5,000 schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia.

Grants by state are here.    Grant awardees with project descriptions are here.

III.  USDA Extends Flexibility that’s Helping Manufacturers, States get Formula to WIC Families Jul 28, 2022

Under this flexibility – which is now extended through the end of September – USDA is covering the added cost of non-contract formula to make it financially feasible for states to allow WIC participants to purchase alternate sizes, forms, or brands of infant formula.

This has to do with the infant formula shortage.  About half the infant formula in America is purchased by the WIC program, which usually contracts with one formula company to serve participants.  The USDA has relaxed restrictions on brands and imports to help deal with the shortages.  For example, it:

  • Provides a toolkit and guidance to WIC state agencies to assist with distributing imported formula.
  • Calls on states to take advantage of all available WIC flexibilities…Now, nearly all state agencies have applicable waivers in place.
  • Provides guidance to Child and Adult Care Food Program operators to help them navigate the shortage.
  • Provides an Infant Formula Shortage Response webpage

Cheers to USDA for taking action.  Action is what our kids deserve.

Aug 3 2022

Ancient humans drank milk even when lactose intolerant

I’ve long been mystified by why the Chinese government promotes milk consumption so strongly and why Chinese grocery stores, like this one I saw in Beijing, devote so much space to selling dairy foods, when they can’t comfortably digest the lactose in milk.

Asian and many other populations stop making the enzyme that digests lactose sugar a few years after early childhood and become intolerant to that sugar.  So why continue to consume dairy products?

Nature has a new article shedding some light on the question of whether lactose tolerance is inducible.  Do people who eat dairy products develop tolerance?  Or is it just that people who can eat dairy do eat dairy?

  • Dairying, diseases and the evolution of lactase persistence in EuropeHere we provide detailed distributions of milk exploitation across Europe over the past 9,000 years using around 7,000 pottery fat residues from more than 550 archaeological sites. European milk use was widespread from the Neolithic period onwards but varied spatially and temporally in intensity…In the UK Biobank cohort of 500,000 contemporary Europeans, LP [lactose persistence] genotype was only weakly associated with milk consumption and did not show consistent associations with improved fitness or health indicators.

The authors propose:

  • Lactose intolerant people drank milk when it became available.
  • Under conditions of famine or exposure to diarrhea-inducing pathogens, consuming lactose made the diarrhea worse.
  • This acted as a selection pressure for continuing production of the lactase enzyme.
  • But population fluctuations, settlement density and wild animal exploitation are better explanations for the persistence of the enzyme than the extent of milk usage.

An editorial expands on these ideas.

  • The mystery of early milk consumption in Europe:  The authors propose instead two alternative evolutionary avenues to explain the rise in prevalence of alleles for LP, related to [1] shortages of food or [2] the consequences of increased exposure to disease-causing agents (in relation to animals, crops or from living in close proximity to others without proper sanitation). In either situation, or in a combination of both scenarios, an individual’s ability to diversify their diet away from crops and meat, which might be affected by shortages, and to take advantage of the hydration and calories afforded by dairy products, could be extremely beneficial.

Or you can listen to a podcast:

  • How humans adapted to digest lactose — after thousands of years of milk drinking:  Humans have been drinking milk for thousands of years, but it seems that they were doing so long before the ability to digest it became prevalent. Then, around 2,000 years ago, this ability became common in Europe, presenting a mystery to researchers — why then? Now, by analysing health data, ancient DNA and fats residues from thousands of ancient pots, scientists have worked out what caused this trait to suddenly spread throughout Europe.

And take a look at a Nature article from 2019:

  • Early Europeans bottle-fed babies with animal milk: Writing in Nature, Dunne et al. describe an analysis of spouted vessels found in ancient graves of infants in Germany that indicates that these artefacts contained animal milk. This evidence suggests that such vessels were used to feed animal milk to children, providing crucial insight into the diet of developing infants in prehistoric human populations.

The dairy industry says a little lactose is harmless to people who are lactose intolerant, and milk’s nutritional benefits outweigh its risks.  Early Europeans—and today’s Chinese—must think so too.

And sorry, but I can’t resist:

Q.  Why do cows have hooves?

A.  Because they lactose.

Aug 2 2022

USAID’s Framework for assessing the interaction between Covid-19 and nutritional health

I’m getting caught up on reports this week.  Here’s one from the US Agency for International Development:  COVID-19 and Nutrition Analytical Framework

The purpose of the Framework:

  • Allow policymakers and implementers to better track the interaction of the COVID-19 pandemic and nutrition
  • Provide a tool for planning policies, programs, and interventions
  • Help identify data gaps
  • Support a systems approach to addressing problems “caused, increased, or intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic”

The Framework:

What I like about this Framework is how it so clearly identifies the upstream system levels of intervention: food, health, social, education, and infrastructure.

It’s also interactive, but for that you have to go to its source and click on each section.

Aug 1 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: Peanuts

Thanks to Lisa Young and three other readers for sending along this one.

The press release: New Research Finds Consumption of Peanuts Supports Weight Loss, Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Glucose Levels

The Study: Petersen, K.S.; Murphy, J.; Whitbread, J.; Clifton, P.M.; Keogh, J.B. The Effect of a Peanut-Enriched Weight Loss Diet Compared to a Low-Fat Weight Loss Diet on Body Weight, Blood Pressure, and Glycemic Control: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients 2022, 14, 2986. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14142986.

Conclusion: Intake of 35 g of peanuts prior to two main meals per day, in the context of an energy-restricted diet, resulted in weight loss comparable to a traditional low-fat weight loss diet without preloads. Greater systolic blood pressure reductions were observed with peanut intake, which may lower cardiovascular disease risk.

Funding: This research was funded by The Peanut Institute…The funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.

Conflicts of Interest: J.B.K., P.M.C. and K.S.P. received a grant from The Peanut Institute to conduct this study. The funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.

Comment: The funder had no role?  That’s what they all say.  That may be true in this instance, but but much research demonstrates otherwise, and funders are unlikely to pay for studies that might give them unfavorable results.

The underlying purpose of this study was to demonstrate that if you are on a weight-loss diet, you can eat lots of peanuts and still lose weight: “70 g/d of peanuts may be included in an energy-restricted weight loss diet without attenuating weight loss over a 6-month period.”  Of course you can, if you stick to a low-calorie diet.

I’m all for eating nuts.  Substituting them for ultra-processed snack foods is a reasonable approach to dieting, but don’t expect to lose any more weight eating nuts than from any other source of calories.  This is a marketing study, aimed at encouraging you to eat more peanuts.

Jul 29 2022

Weekend reading: food and political parties

R.C. Harris.  Party Food: A Partisan History of Food & Farming in America.  Common Ground, 2021 (147 pages plus an index).

The author, a politics professor at Washington & Lee University, sent me a copy of her book, which I have now read.

I love the cover.

This is a book about the differing views of Farm Bill provisions among Democrats and Republicans.

Harris points out, correctly, that recent books about food policy in the United States, mine among them, say practically nothing about the role of the two political parties in deciding food issues.  Here, she corrects this omission.

She does so using a sports analogy–red and blue teams with one goal: to win.  A brief excerpt:

Setting the Stage: Farmers on Welfare in a Capitalist Society

The main problem in our story is that farm policy is really about giving farmers federal dollars to stay in business—and this idea tends to divide the red team from the blue team.  The history of modern farm policy in the United States is essentially the history of social welfare policy—a policy designed to prop up the incomes of farm families…As a nation of independent, hardworking, self-sufficient citizens and immigrants, America has always been more likely to embrace capitalism and less likely to expect government support than nations with a history of kinds, vassals, and peasants.  This means America is much more centrist and market-oriented in its economic policy, making welfare the exception rather than the rule. (p.53)

I get what she’s saying and her points are worth considering, but I wish she had used a word other than “farmers.”  The ones who get corporate welfare in America are not your small subsistence farmers or even those of medium size.

A more precise term here would be Big Agriculture.

The Farm Bill is welfare for the rich.  That’s why the red team is for it.

But her contention that the food movement needs to pay more attention to party politics demands attention.

Voting really matters to our players on the field.  In fact, we learned that partisan farm policy is really field policy—what will keep the team on the field.  And, interestingly enough, this has a lot to dow with what is in the fields and on the tables (and on the menus, and in the regrigerator, and for sale at the store or local farmers market) where the players are elected.  In other words, political teams want to be re-elected so they can keep making political plays.  (p. 131)

As I keep saying, if you want the food movement to have power, run for office.

Maybe it’s time for a third team?

Jul 28 2022

Front of pack labeling: Nutri-Score

Since I’ve figured out how to enbed videos, you might want to take a look at this one.

This one is about Nutri-Score, a front-of-package labeling system that started in France but is used in several European countries.  The system balances the healthful and unhealthful aspects of processed foods, and assigns a composite color-coded score, from A (very healthy) to E (oops), and from green to red.

Once you know how the system works, you can easily figure out which ultra-processed foods are best avoided.

The video is in French with English subtitles (but also comes in French without subtitles or with Spanish subtitles).

For more about Nutri-Score go here and here.
For what I’ve written previously about Nutri-Score, go here.

Jul 27 2022

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages: a how-to guide to legislation

We have Healthy Food America and the University of Washington, the UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health, and the Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law to thank for this guide to tax legislation that will promote health and racial equity.

The report:

  • Reviews tax laws proposed and achieved in the US
  • Summarizes the experience of advocates and policymakers
  • Examines approaches used in alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis taxes
  • Recommends how to draft legislation to promote equity

The full report: Investing Sweetened Beverage Tax Revenues to Advance Equity: Recommendations for Drafting Legislation

The brief report is here.

An infographic provides a quick overview.

Other supporting materials are available on the Healthy Food America website.

Want to give this a try?  Here’s how.