by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Uncategorized

Jan 27 2021

More good news: USDA reverses increase in poultry line speeds

President Biden has blocked the Trump Administration’s allowance of increased speeds on poultry processing lines.

I first heard about this from an announcement from Food and Water Watch.

As described by The Counter, the Trump rule allowed facilities “to slaughter chickens at a rate of 175 birds per minute—equivalent to 3 birds a second—up from the industry standard of 140 birds per minute.”  

As the Washington Post describes, poultry processing plants with higher line speeds are more dangerous for workers.

The history of the rule changes over the past few years is given on the USDA website.

But line speeds are only one of the problems with poultry safety.  Salmonella is another.  The history of attempts to reduce Salmonella in poultry is summarized by Michael Taylor, former USDA official, at FoodSafetyNews.com: “Our poultry safety regulation isn’t working: It’s past time to fix it.”

This is why food safety groups have filed a petition

urging FSIS [USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service] to modernize its food safety standards by establishing enforceable standards targeting Salmonella types of greatest public health concern while reducing all Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry. We also ask that FSIS ensure the safety of the food supply chain from farm to fork by requiring slaughter establishments to adopt and implement effective supply chain programs, and by publishing finalized versions of its “DRAFT FSIS Compliance Guidance for Controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in Raw Poultry.”

Biden’s first 100 days seems like a terrific opportunity to make poultry production safer for workers and for people who eat the poultry produced in these plants.

 

 

 

Jan 26 2021

Some good news—and about time—for food assistance

I’ll start with a déjà vu, thanks to Daniel Bowman Simon, who reminds me that President John F. Kennedy’s first executive orderwas to expand food distribution programs that both helped farmers and fed the poor.

President Biden is taking steps in the same direction On January 22, the USDA announced:

  • P-EBT Benefit Increase: “the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the meals missed due to COVID-related school and childcare closures….USDA will increase the current daily benefit amount by approximately 15% to tackle the serious problem of child food insecurity during this school year when need is greatest.”  This is great but the big problem with this program has been delays.  Let’s hope those get fixed too.
  • SNAP Emergency Allotments to States: USDA wants to “allow states to provide extra SNAP benefits through Emergency Allotments to the lowest-income households.”  This is because the increases to SNAP authorized by Congress were set up in such a way that they did not go to the lowest-income households (37% of SNAP households) most in need.
  • Revising the Thrifty Food Plan Per 2018 Farm Bill:  This plan, the basis for determining SNAP benefits, is decades old, out of date, and unrealistic for SNAP households.  USDA needs to revise it.

In addition, Biden is calling for More Congressional Action:  

  • Extend the 15% SNAP benefit increase
  • Invest another $3 billion through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • Look for creative ways to support restaurants as a critical link in the food supply chain to help feed families in need
  • Provide U.S. Territories with $1 billion in additional nutrition assistance funding

OK.  This does not go far enough and who knows what this Congress will do.  But it’s a start, and a good one.

But that’s not all: Biden has appointed Stacy Dean as deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, the piece of USDA responsible for food assistance.  This puts her in charge of all this.

I consider this a superb appointment.  Nobody knows more about food assistance programs.  I learned this when I was editing a set of papers about SNAP for the American Journal of Public Health in 2019.  She and colleagues at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities wrote the basic article for the series.

So: our job now is to loudly and strongly support everything USDA is doing to improve and expand food assistance, and to encourage the agency to take even bigger steps.  Make sure Stacy gets all the support she needs to really do sometime to improve food security for the millions of American adults and children who need it badly. 

 

 

 

Jan 25 2021

Conflicts of interest in nutrition research: this week’s example

Selenium, antioxidants, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. David JA Jenkins, David Kitts, Edward L Giovannucci, Sandhya Sahye-Pudaruth, Melanie Paquette, Sonia Blanco Mejia, Darshna Patel, Meaghan Kavanagh, Tom Tsirakis, Cyril WC Kendall, Sathish C Pichika, and John L Sievenpiper.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 112, Issue 6, December 2020, Pages 1642–1652

Background: “Antioxidants have been promoted for cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk reduction and for the prevention of cancer. Our preliminary analysis suggested that only when selenium was present were antioxidant mixtures associated with reduced all-cause mortality.”

Results: No association of selenium alone or antioxidants was seen with CVD and all-cause mortality. However, a decreased risk with antioxidant mixtures was seen for CVD and all-cause mortality when selenium was part of the mix.

Conclusion: The addition of selenium should be considered for supplements containing antioxidant mixtures if they are to be associated with CVD and all-cause mortality risk reduction.

Comment: The results are statistically significant, but not by much (RR: 0.90; 95% CI: 0.82, 0.98; P = 0.02); the Confidence Interval reaches 0.98, which is very close to 1.00, which would show no difference.  But that’s not the real reason for my interest in this one.  The real reason in this astounding conflicts-of-interest statement and the disclaimer that follows it.

Conflicts of interest

DJAJ has received research grants from Loblaw Companies Ltd, the Almond Board of California, Soy Nutrition Institute (SNI), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). He has received in-kind supplies for trials as a research support from the Almond Board of California, Walnut Council of California, American Peanut Council, Barilla, Unilever, Unico, Primo, Loblaw Companies, Quaker (Pepsico), Pristine Gourmet, Bunge Limited, Kellogg Canada, and WhiteWave Foods. He has been on the speakers’ panel, served on the scientific advisory board, and/or received travel support and/or honoraria from the Loblaw Companies Ltd, Diet Quality Photo Navigation (DQPN), Better Therapeutics (FareWell), Verywell, True Health Initiative (THI), Heali AI Corp, Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), Soy Nutrition Institure (SNI), Herbalife Nutrition Institute (HNI), Herbalife International, Pacific Health Laboratories, Nutritional Fundamentals for Health (NFH), the Soy Foods Association of North America, the Nutrition Foundation of Italy (NFI), the Toronto Knowledge Translation Group (St. Michael’s Hospital), the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, The Hospital for Sick Children, the Canadian Nutrition Society (CNS), and the American Society of Nutrition (ASN). He received an honorarium from the USDA to present the 2013 W. O. Atwater Memorial Lecture. He is a member of the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC). His wife, Alexandra L Jenkins, is a director and partner of INQUIS Clinical Research for the Food Industry; his 2 daughters, Wendy Jenkins and Amy Jenkins, have published a vegetarian book that promotes the use of the plant foods advocated here, The Portfolio Diet for Cardiovascular Risk Reduction; and his sister, Caroline Brydson, received funding through a grant from the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation to develop a cookbook for one of his studies. CWCK has received grants or research support from the Advanced Food Materials Network, Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC), Almond Board of California, American Peanut Council, Barilla, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canola Council of Canada, International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, International Tree Nut Council Research and Education Foundation, Loblaw Brands Ltd, Pulse Canada, and Unilever. He has received in-kind research support from the Almond Board of California, American Peanut Council, Barilla, California Walnut Commission, Kellogg Canada, Loblaw Companies, Quaker (PepsiCo), Primo, Unico, Unilever, and WhiteWave Foods/Danone. He has received travel support and/or honoraria from the American Peanut Council, Barilla, California Walnut Commission, Canola Council of Canada, General Mills, International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, International Pasta Organization, Loblaw Brands Ltd, Nutrition Foundation of Italy, Oldways Preservation Trust, Paramount Farms, Peanut Institute, Pulse Canada, Sun-Maid, Tate & Lyle, Unilever, and White Wave Foods/Danone. He has served on the scientific advisory board for the International Tree Nut Council, International Pasta Organization, McCormick Science Institute, and Oldways Preservation Trust. He is a member of the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC), is Executive Board Member of the Diabetes and Nutrition Study Group (DNSG) of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), is on the Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee for Nutrition Therapy of the EASD and a director of the Toronto 3D Knowledge Synthesis and Clinical Trials foundation. JLS has received research support from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Research Fund, Province of Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and Science, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Diabetes Canada, PSI Foundation, Banting and Best Diabetes Centre (BBDC), American Society for Nutrition (ASN), INC International Nut and Dried Fruit Council Foundation, National Dried Fruit Trade Association, The Tate and Lyle Nutritional Research Fund at the University of Toronto, The Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Disease in Type 2 Diabetes Fund at the University of Toronto (a fund established by the Alberta Pulse Growers), and the Nutrition Trialists Fund at the University of Toronto (a fund established by an inaugural donation from the Calorie Control Council). He has received in-kind food donations to support a randomized controlled trial from the Almond Board of California, California Walnut Commission, American Peanut Council, Barilla, Unilever, Upfield, Unico/Primo, Loblaw Companies, Quaker, Kellogg Canada, WhiteWave Foods, and Nutrartis. He has received travel support, speaker fees, and/or honoraria from Diabetes Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada, FoodMinds LLC, International Sweeteners Association, Nestlé, Pulse Canada, Canadian Society for Endocrinology and Metabolism (CSEM), GI Foundation, Abbott, Biofortis, ASN, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, INC Nutrition Research & Education Foundation, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Comité Européen des Fabricants de Sucre (CEFS), and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has or has had ad hoc consulting arrangements with Perkins Coie LLP, Tate & Lyle, Wirtschaftliche Vereinigung Zucker e.V., and Inquis Clinical Research. He is a member of the European Fruit Juice Association Scientific Expert Panel and Soy Nutrition Institute (SNI) Scientific Advisory Committee. He is on the Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committees of Diabetes Canada, European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS), and Obesity Canada. He serves or has served as an unpaid scientific advisor for the Food, Nutrition, and Safety Program (FNSP) and the Technical Committee on Carbohydrates of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) North America. He is a member of the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC), executive board member of the Diabetes and Nutrition Study Group (DNSG) of the EASD, and director of the Toronto 3D Knowledge Synthesis and Clinical Trials foundation. His wife is an employee of AB InBev. DK, ELG, SS-P, MP, SBM, DP, MK, TT, and SCP have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Disclaimer: The authors have no relevant conflicts of interest over the past 4 y. DJAJ has received funds for dietary studies from Loblaws, which, during the course of his funding, acquired Shopper’s Drugmart, which is a pharmaceutical company that also sells supplements.

Comment: Here’s one reason why I am not a fan of dietary supplements.  Most independently funded studies show no significant benefit when they are given to healthy people.  The industry needs studies like these for marketing purposes.  I’m not, but if you are worried about selenium, try food.

Jan 22 2021

Weekend Reading: What’s Missing from Medicine

Saray Stancic.  What’s Missing From Medicine: Six Lifestyle Changes to Overcome Chronic Illness.  Hierophant Publishing, 2021.

I don’t usually recommend books about topics other than food politics, but this one has dietary changes at its core and although I have never met the author, I greatly admire her and her work.

I first heard about Dr. Stancic, who has a practice in New Jersey, when I was invited to watch a documentary film about her, Code Blue.   I was interested to see it because I was told I appeared in it, which I did for about 10 seconds.  I don’t remember meeting her or filming it (I tend not to remember such things), but the film is impressive and well worth seeing.

It tells her personal story of how she was able to get control of her formerly debilitating multiple sclerosis with a plant-based diet and exercise—good advice for everyone.  The film goes beyond the personal and talks about why she never understood the importance of diet: lack of nutrition education in medical schools, media confusion, inadequate government policies, and the overwhelming influence of drug, food, and beverage companies.   The film moves quickly and I thought it was much better than most documentaries of this type.

What made it work for me is Stancic, who comes across as committed, but sane and likable.  I would send anyone who has MS to see her in a shot.  She’s my kind of doctor—one who listens to patients and works with them.  The film’s message leans toward veganism, but without ideology and pushed only softly even by the strongest proponents she interviewed.

The book makes the same points.  It’s great strength is that it makes lifestyle changes seem possible for anyone.

Here’s what drove her to healthier eating:

My physicians warned me that it was irresponsble to wean myself off of the ten to twelve medications I was taking daily (and that were making my life unbearable) and solely manage my MS with an “unproven lifestyle change” [i.e., diet]…I adoped a whole foods, plant-based diet becasue the overwhelming body of scientific literature pointed to those foods as the best diet for optimal health for all people.  At that point, I knew I could not face a lifetime of living as I was—with a huge pillbox, cane, diapers, and the other physical and psychological burdens of MS [p. 36].

Her advice about how to eat more plant foods is sensible and easy to follow.  I particularly like her lack of dogmatism.  In a section on common food myths, she has two about meat:

Myth 1: We need to eat meat and dairy to be healthy.  FALSE [p. 57].

Myth 2. Eating animal products of any kind is bad for your health.  FALSE [p. 59]

Most of the book is about other changes that  can help everyone cope with chronic disease: movement, stress management, sleep, avoiding substances, human connections.  All of these messages are aimed at giving us the power to control our own health, and to make doing so seem entirely possible.

I found the book inspiring.  Her wish for us:

May we eat well, relish physical and mental challenges, enjoy restorative sleep, and connect deeply with others [p. xxxiii].

This is good advice for all of us these days.

Jan 21 2021

Vitamin D and coronavirus: more on the ongoing saga

Vitamin D is such a hot topic for its purported role in preventing or treating coronavirus infections that I seem to have written about it four previous times.  These are here, here, here, and here.

Now, a group of 120 scientists has called on world governments to get their populations to increases vitamin D consumption to 2000 to 4000 units per day, five to ten times higher than current recommendations.  Their letter is here.

This is especially interesting because nutrition and health societies in the UK  advise quite the opposite: no change in the usual recommendation for vitamin D intake (400 units/day).  Their report says (my emphasis):

  • Do not offer a vitamin D supplement to people solely to prevent COVID-19, except as part of a clinical trial.
  • Do not offer a vitamin D supplement to people solely to treat COVID-19, except as part of a clinical trial.

I’m always interested to see what ConscienHealth has to say about such things.

The passion of the vitamin D fan club is striking. However, neither passion nor speculation should be a substitute for facts. Right now, the facts tell us that the reason to take a vitamin D supplement is to protect our muscles and bones. Any thought that it will help with COVID-19 is speculation, and taking too much would be quite unwise.

My sentiments precisely.

Jan 20 2021

The Gates Foundation: Philanthropy or Power Grabbing?

Is it good for any society to have people as rich as Bill and Melinda Gates?  Fairness is one thing, but the hazards of that much power are quite another.

The latest concern comes from the realization that the Gates’s own more American farmland than anyone else—242,000 acres.

According to the Realtors’ Land Institute’s The Land Report,

In 1994, the Gateses hired the former Putnam Investments bond-fund manager to diversify the couple’s portfolio away from the Microsoft co-founder’s 45 percent stake in the technology giant while maintaining comparable or better returns. According to a 2014 profile of Larson in the Wall Street Journal, these investments include a substantial stake in AutoNation, hospitality interests such as the Charles Hotel in Cambridge and the Four Seasons in San Francisco, and “at least 100,000 acres of farmland in California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and other states … .” According to the Land Report 100 Research Team, that figure is currently more than twice that amount, which means Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, has an alter ego: Farmer Bill, the guy who owns more farmland than anyone else in America.

Forbes’ account of this highlights that the largest holdings are in Louisiana (69,071 acres), Arkansas (47,927 acres) and Nebraska (20,588 acres).

According to AgFunder News’ discussion of these observations,

Agrifood is one area where the couple have sought to put their substantial wealth to work. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated almost $20 million to the International Rice Research Institute between 2007 and 2010, in part to support its development of fortified rice varieties. It has also invested at least $100 million into the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which aims to enhance smallholder productivity using science and technology.

The Gates’ have also invested in agrifoodtech startups, either through their private foundation or via other investment vehicles, including crop protection companies AgBiome and Enko Chem, dairy data platform Stellapps, food waste reduction player Apeel Sciences, biotech startup Gingko Bioworks, and ‘lab-grown’ meat maker Memphis Meats.

Other concerns have been raised about Gates’ holdings and philanthropy—“philanthrocapitalism.”

These raise important questions that deserve serious considerations.

Jan 19 2021

Q: How are US farmers doing? A: Depends on how big they are.

The USDA’s now-crippled Economic Research Service has published some reports on farm income.

This is Big Ag, of course.  As the Heritage Foundation enjoys pointing out:

Another reason why Big Ag is doing so well is the amount of money poured into it by the Trump administration.  Recall this Wall Street Journal chart from a previous post.

Oh for an agricultural policy that supports growing food for people, not feed for animals or fuel for cars.

Biden administration: get busy!

Jan 18 2021

Annals of nutritional epidemiology: Can cabbage mitigate the severity of Covid-19?

Why, you must be asking, am I even asking a question like this?

Because of this study, obviously, which I somehow missed when it came out in August (thanks to toxicologist Marc Stifelman for sending it to me).

The study: Cabbage and fermented vegetables: From death rate heterogeneity in countries to candidates for mitigation strategies of severe COVID‐19.  Bousquet U, et al.  Allergy.  2020 Aug 6;10.1111/all.14549. Online ahead of print.

The hypothesis:

CAUTION:  Correlation does not necessarily mean causation.  The diets—and other lifestyle characteristics—of people in Romania and Latvia differ from those in the UK and Italy in other ways besides diet; other differences might well account for these variations.

Personally, I love cabbage in any form.

But for prevention of bad outcomes from Covid-19, I’m counting on vaccination, not kimchi or sauerkraut.