by Marion Nestle

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Sep 6 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: full-fat dairy

The study: Impact of low-fat and full-fat dairy foods on fasting lipid profile and blood pressure: exploratory endpoints of a randomized controlled trial.  Kelsey A Schmidt, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqab131, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab131.  Published: 13 July 2021

Background: “Dietary guidelines traditionally recommend low-fat dairy because dairy’s high saturated fat content is thought to promote cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, emerging evidence indicates that dairy fat may not negatively impact CVD risk factors when consumed in foods with a complex matrix.”

Method: “Participants were then randomly assigned to 1 of 3 diets, either continuing the limited-dairy diet or switching to a diet containing 3.3 servings/d of either low-fat or full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese for 12 wk.”

Conclusions: “In men and women with metabolic syndrome, a diet rich in full-fat dairy had no effects on fasting lipid profile or blood pressure compared with diets limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy. Therefore, dairy fat, when consumed as part of complex whole foods, does not adversely impact these classic CVD risk factors.”

Funding: “National Dairy Council, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL),” and NIH and others.

Conflict of interest: “This study was initiated by the principal investigator (MK). The dairy-related funding organizations suggested changes to details of the study design prior to the conduct of the study, some of which were implemented. Otherwise, the funding organizations had no impact on the design or conduct of the trial or the analysis and interpretation of study data.”

Comment: Let’s give these investigators high marks for disclosing that the dairy funders influenced the design of the study, which, as we know from the data of Lisa Bero and her colleagues, is the place where biases caused by industry funding most typically show up.  Food companies that fund research are looking for benefits; they won’t risk study designs that might yield inconvenient results.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Sep 3 2021

Weekend reading: food and climate change

I recently ran across this useful website: Climate Change Resources, with live links to each of these sections.

But it also has a general section on the impact of food production and consumption, with ideas about what to think about:

It also links to the World Resources Institute’s How to sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050, in 21 charts.

This, in turn comes from a WRI report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050.

We have plenty of work to do.  And here are plenty of ideas about where to start.

Sep 2 2021

Will almonds prevent skin wrinkles? The Almond Board wants you to think so.

I know I’ve already posted one of these this week, but this one is too good not to share.

Let’s start with the press coverage: Snack yourself young: Study investigates the effects of daily almond consumption on wrinkles

A study by American research found that eating almonds daily reduces wrinkle severity – along with improving skin pigmentation – in postmenopausal women.

The 2021 study – published in Nutrients and funded by the Almond Board of California – expands upon findings of a 2019 study​ that found there may be more than one reason to add almonds to a daily skin care routine.

And here’s the study in question: Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial on the Effects of Almonds on Facial Wrinkles and PigmentationAuthors: Sivamani RK, Rybak I, Carrington AE, Dhaliwal S, et al.  Nutrients. 2021; 13(3):785

This is not their first on this topic.  See: Prospective randomized controlled pilot study on the effects of almond consumption on skin lipids and wrinklesAuthor: Sivamani RK, Foolad N, Vaughn AR, Rybak I, et al   Phytother Res. 2019 Dec;33(12):3212-3217

Nor are these the first studies to link specific foods to wrinkle prevention.  I’ve written previously about a study on mangos and wrinkle prevention, sponsored—of course—by a mango trade association.

I wish companies and trade associations would stop doing studies of one food and some health outcome. Diets that contain reasonable proportions of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are demonstrably healthy.  Can any one food really make all that much difference?

The sellers of these foods would like you to think they are “superfoods.”  Alas, no such thing exists.  But it’s a great marketing strategy.

As for sponsored research in general?

For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests but that recipients of industry funding typically do not recognize its influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Sep 1 2021

Companies that fund research get the results they want: here’s how

I was of course interested to see this press release from Nature:

Health researchers report funder pressure to suppress results: Small study hints that interference from bodies funding research into public-health issues such as nutrition and exercise might be more common than realized.

It referred to a study published in PLoS One: ““He who pays the piper calls the tune”: Researcher experiences of funder suppression of health behaviour intervention trial findings.”

This was a small study, but its results confirm what has long been suspected.  Funders call the tune.  These results are entirely consistent with those from similar examinations of studies paid for by cigarette, chemical, and drug companies, as I discuss in my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 31 2021

Bad move: Danone drops organic dairy contracts in Northeast

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a correspondent who keeps me up to date on the dairy industry,  forwarded this bad-news article from the Vermont Digger: Danone, owner of Horizon Organic, to terminate contracts with Vermont farmers

The move represents the latest blow to an industry that has been struggling for years from rising production costs that have outpaced consumer prices. The number of dairy farms in Vermont has decreased by 37% in the past 10 years and by 69% in the past 24 years, according to a 2021 report from the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

Organic dairy farms decreased by 8% between 2010 and 2020. Vermont had a total of 181 organic dairy farms at the end of 2020, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

As the Real Organic Project explains it,

The Food and Agriculture Reporting Network’s FERN AgInsider had more information (behind a paywall)

The decision is just the latest squeeze on organic dairy producers, who face rising costs and pressures to consolidate…Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic, said it had sent non-renewal notices to 89 producers in the Northeast. “We … did not make this decision lightly. Growing transportation and operational challenges in the dairy industry, particularly in the Northeast, led to this difficult decision…We will be supporting new partners that better align with our manufacturing footprint.”

This requires a blunt translation: organic milk in the Northeast costs more so Danone is cutting its losses.

Organic dairies in Midwestern and Western states, particularly Texas, have enormous herds and are able to produce milk at lower cost.

It’s cheaper for Danone to buy milk from them and ship it east than it is to buy from smaller local dairies.  This is Big Organic Dairy in action, and it’s not pretty.

As an official of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance says:

Danone, the parent company of Horizon Organics, believes it has adequate supply in the Midwest and Western parts of the U.S. and can get the milk at a lower cost from larger operations.

Comment #1: the hypocrisy

Danone proudly proclaims its B Corp status.

Danone cites its B Corp ambition:

an expression of our long-time commitment to sustainable business and to Danone’s dual project of economic success and social progress.

Social progress, anyone?

Comment #2: weakness in the organic herd definition

At the moment, the definition is ambiguous and makes it easy for Big Dairy to accumulate large numbers of animals that may meet the definition of organic in letter, but hardly in spirit.

The Organic Trade Association (OTC) explains this issue

The USDA National Organic Program regulations include requirements for the transition of dairy animals (cows, goats, sheep) into organic milk production. Milk  sold or represented as organic must be from livestock that have been under continuous organic management for at least one year. This one-year transition period is allowed only when converting a conventional herd to organic. Once a distinct herd has been converted to organic production, all dairy animals must be under organic management from the last third of gestation.

But OTC says,

Due to a lack of specificity in the regulations, some USDA-accredited certifiers allow dairies to routinely bring non-organic animals into an organic operation, and transition them for one year, rather than raise their own replacement animals under organic management from the last third of gestation…This practice…is a violation of the organic standards and creates an economic disadvantage for organic farmers who raise their own organic replacement animals under organic management in accordance with the regulations.

The National Organic Coalition says:

the lack of consistent enforcement with regard to dairy pasture requirements as well as origin of livestock rules have contributed to the oversupply of organic milk in the market.  This has had a devastating effect on organic dairy prices to farmers, and left many organic farmers and those transitioning to organic with stranded investments because there are no buyers for their milk.

The USDA first proposed to tighten the rules in 2015:

The proposed rule would require that organic milk and milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation onward, with a limited exception for newly certified organic dairy producers.

Big Organic has taken advantage of these loopholes.

Danone is putting profit over social values.  It does not deserve its B Corp status.

Presumably, USDA’s National Organic Standards Board is dealing with this issue.  It needs to act quickly to protect small dairy farmers.

Nothing less than the integrity of the organic program is at stake.

If you want to help, write or call your elected representatives and ask them to get USDA to speed up rulemaking on this issue.

Aug 30 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: prunes, this time

My NYU colleague Mitchell Moss sent me this notice of new research: Eating just 5 prunes a day reduces risk of heart disease, inflammation.

That was worth tracking down and I soon found a press release from the California Prune Board: New study: Eating prunes daily improves risk factors for heart disease and inflammation

In a statement, the senior author says:

In this randomized, controlled study, researchers found that eating 50 grams of prunes (about 5-6 prunes) each day for just 6 months resulted in improved CVD risk biomarkers – including raising the body’s “good” cholesterol, known as HDL, and lowering the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. Eating prunes daily also promoted higher antioxidant capacity and lowered levels of the inflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha associated with CVD risk. Notably, body mass index and weight of the study participants were maintained during the trial despite adding prunes to the usual diet.

The study:  Dried Plum Consumption Improves Total Cholesterol and Antioxidant Capacity and Reduces Inflammation in Healthy Postmenopausal Women

Dietary intervention: “48 postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to consume 0, 50, or 100 g of dried plum each day.”

Results: “After 6 months of intervention, total cholesterol (TC) in the 100 g/day treatment group (P = .002) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the 50 g/day treatment group (P = .005) improved significantly compared to baseline.”

Conclusion: “…consumption of 50–100 g dried plums may improve CVD risk factors in healthy postmenopausal women by increasing total antioxidant capacity and antioxidant enzyme activity, lowering lipid peroxidation, and lowering IL-6.”

Authors’ statement: “The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.”

Funding: “This study was funded by the San Diego State University Grant Program, the California Dried Plum Board (No. 57114A; ClinicalTrials.gov, No. NCT02325895), and the Kasch-Boyer Endowed Scholarship in Exercise and Nutritional Sciences in San Diego State University.”

Comment:  Add prunes to the long list of fruit-and-vegetable trade associations trying to convince you that their particular product has unique health benefits.  Prune sellers have a particular difficulty with sales: prunes have long been equated with laxatives.  Hence: the Dried Plum Board.  Also hence: health benefits beyond the digestive tract.

Do prunes have more general health benefits?  Why not?  All fruits and vegetables have health benefits.  Is one better than another?  Maybe in some ways, but the best approach is to eat as wide a variety as possible.

Eat the fruits you like!

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests but that recipients of industry funding typically do not recognize its influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Aug 27 2021

Weekend reading: The demise of the Ogallala Aquifer

Lucas Bessire.  Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains.  Princeton University Press, 2021.

The website blurb for this book says it is “An intimate reckoning with aquifer depletion in America’s heartland.”

Yes, but it’s more than that.  It’s a deeply personal account of the author’s attempt to make sense of and come to terms with his family’s history on land on the plains of Western Kansas.  This land was once occupied—and not all that long ago—by Native American tribes since murdered or driven out by white settlers.  This same land was once watered by rivers from an ancient underground source, but now so depleted by irrigation that it—like the Indians—is threatened by extinction.

The author, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma, grapples with his family’s role in this depletion and his own complicity while coming to terms with his relationship with his long estranged father.  I read this book as a history of the great plains viewed through a personal and familial memoir that reads like a novel.

If you are even remotely interested in why farmers on the great plains are not doing more to preserve this essential water source, start here.  It’s revelatory.

…corporate profits are a key part of the aquifer depletion puzzle.  It should have come as no surprise.  The scale of industrial farming is staggering.  Southwest Kansas is home to some of the nation’s largest corporate feeders, beef- and poultry-packing plants, slaughterhouses, dairies, milk-drying plants and hog farms.  More than 2.5 million beef cattle live there in feedlots that handle tens of thousands of animals.  Just across the Oklahoma line, one company processes 5.6 million hogs per year in its plant…Multinational meat-packing companies operhoe slaughterhouses that process several thousand cattle each day.  All are billion-dollar businesses.  They drive farmers’ choices to produce corn, silage, sorghum, or alfalfa.  Their profits depend on aquifer depletion.  In other words, there is a multbillion-dollar corporate interest to prevent regulation and to pump the water until its gone [p. 78].

He documents goverment collusion with absentee corporate landowners who could care less about what happens to real farming communities.  Near his family’s home, “at least 60 percent of the farmland is owned by nonresidents’ [p. 80].

In the 1940s, the supply of water seemed endless and the opportunity to preserve the aquifer was lost.  “Faith in the abundance of these waters put an end to the more sustainable farming techniques tht were beginning to be adopted by the end of the 1930s, as well as the progressive policies that accompanied them.  One historic opening was lost with them” [p. 89]

Nobody talked about what settlers did to the Indians.

We confined the horrors of eradication [of the Indians] to a cartoonish lost world; one that we thought was entirely disconnected from our own.  We did not relate past events to the banal activities of irrigation farming or the way we grew up or the pumping of the subterranean aquifers.  Like the extermination of buffalo and the toxid fogs and the torturous confinement of defiant voices, these events were not openly discussed and their remnants were never tied to the present.  Cordoning them off from conversation meant that their significance was largely blocked from our memories, too [p. 130].

He struggles with these questions:

So where can a true reckoning with depletion begin and where does it end?  With a strategy to update management practices through more precise forms of modeling and expertise?  With the innovation of more-efficient irrigation technology and crop varieties that require more water?  With a sociology that details how agrarian capitalism drains water and wealth from the Plains to enrich investors elsewhere?  With a diagnosis of how this case illustrates White supremacy, toxic masculinity, or the sentiments and logics of settler colonialism?  With a chart of the ways aquifer losss combines with climate chage to make ours an era of planetary ends?  With an optimism that things aren’t really as bad as they seem? [p. 168].

Why care about the Ogallala Aquifer?  “…depletion comes back into focus as one of the wider movements that erode democracy, divide us from one another, and threaten to make exiles of us all” [p. 173].

Bessire points out that everyone knows what could be done, and right now, to reverse the depletion and conserve what remains.  “Examples of success can be found across the Ogallala region, whree farmers from Nebraska to Texas are organizing and leading related efforts to slow decline” [p. 174].

His book is a call for citizen action.  It would be good to take him up on it.

Aug 26 2021

Keeping up with plant-based substitutes: not easy

The marketplace for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes is booming, and attracting tons of venture capital.

It also is attracting controversy.

Here are some of the new products and those in the works.

And the latest business news.