by Marion Nestle

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Aug 23 2022

USDA takes a baby step to making the chicken tournament system a bit more fair

USDA has finally proposed new rules to try to make the current poultry farming system a bit more fair to the people who actually raise the chickens.

Under the current system, the big poultry producers get the benefits while the chicken farmers take all the risks.  The companies supply the chicks; the farmers pay for the houses, equipment, and management—and take on immense debt to do so.

They are paid according to a tournament system.  Farmers who produce the most amount of chicken using the least amount of feed are paid the most; others get less.  But the farmers do not control the quality of the chicks they receive.  They also sell to only one buyer, a system with its own name, monopsony.

John Oliver did a synopsis of the tournaent system in 2015.

Hence the new rule: Transparency in Poultry Grower Contracting and Tournaments.  This does not get rid of the tournament system, unfortunately, but it does require poultry companies to disclose key information to growers about realistic outcomes before making important contracting decisions such as capital investments, and about key inputs.

The point is to enable growers to understand the terms of their contracts so as to have a better chance to compete.

Also see:

According to Politico, advocates for a fairer system are complaining that the largest poultry companies are pressuring farmers to oppose the USDA’s proposed rule and providing them with form letters to send in.

The USDA acknowledged these complaints when it announced an extension of the public comment period.

USDA is taking these steps to help ensure the integrity of the Federal rulemaking process and to ensure all parties have the opportunity to fully comment.

“There is fear throughout the meat and poultry industry as we saw earlier this year at two separate Congressional hearings where witnesses did not testify due to concerns of retaliation,” Vilsack said. “But it is still critical that we hear the full story, so we are highlighting the option for comments to be provided anonymously.”

Politico says that as of Aug. 18, the USDA had received at least 350 public comments.  According to its analysis, at least 200 of public comments support the rule, though some supporters have significant reservations and are imploring USDA to go further.

Aug 22 2022

Food industry partnerships with nutritionists: conflicted interests?

Today’s Dietitian  sent this e-mail blast to members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on behalf of the National Pork Board, one of its sponsors.

The National Pork Board is seeking to build strong and meaningful partnerships with the Registered Dietitian profession. When it comes to up-to-date nutrition information, cooking techniques, continuing education and future collaborations, Pork is getting ready to give you the resources you value most. But first, we want to hear from you!

We invite you to take this survey for a chance to win one of fifteen $100 Amazon gift cards!*

The survey should take less than 15 minutes to complete. Your responses are voluntary and confidential. Responses will not be identified by individual but will be compiled and analyzed in aggregate.

Fifteen winners will be chosen at random to receive a $100 Amazon gift card. To be eligible, respondents must share their email address at the end of the survey.

Please click here to take the survey by August 22, 2022* Giveaway is subject to Official Rules.

If you want to know how meat trade associations encourage dietitians to promote their products, here’s an example.

Thanks to Dr. Lisa Young for alerting me to this one.

Aug 19 2022

Weekend reading: GAO’s big picture on healthy eating

The Government Accountability Office has produced a “snapshot” on Healthy Eating: Government-wide solutions for promoting healthy diets, food safety, and food security.  It’s only two pages; take a look.

As of July 2022, many of our recommendations for developing strategies on healthy eating have not yet been addressed.

1. Strategy Needed to Address Diet-Related Chronic Health Conditions
Three diet-related chronic health conditions (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer) were among the 10 leading causes of death in 2018, according to CDC. Men, Black or African Americans, and people living in southern states had disproportionately higher mortality rates from diet related conditions. Dietary changes could have prevented some of these deaths.

Additionally, in 2018, about three in four adults in the U.S. had excess weight, which can be associated with poor diet and lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer.

The GAO recommends that the federal government establish leadership for strategies:

  • On diet-related efforts
  • Food-safety oversight
  • Nutrition assistance programs to respond to emergencies

Excellent suggestions.  If only they could be implemented.

Aug 18 2022

The Dietary Guidelines process: an analysis

For those of us who have observed the Dietary Guidelines since they first came out in 1980, everything about them is a source of endless fascination, if not exhausting.  They engender enormous fuss, but the basic dietary advice stays the same, year after year.  It just gets presented in ways that are increasingly lengthy and complicated.

I have a vested interest in all this.  I was a member of the 1995 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Critics of the 2015 guidelines got Congress to order a review of the process by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), which produced two reports.  The 2017 report recommended seven improvements to the process.  Congress then mandated an evaluation of how well USDA and HHS had implemented the recommendations.

NASEM has just published the first of what will be two evaluation reports: Evaluating the Process to Develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025: A Midcourse Report.  This one responds to the first of three questions and part of the second.

  • Question #1: How did the process used to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, compare to the seven recommendations included in the 2017 National Academies report?
  • Question #2: Did the criteria used to include scientific studies used to inform the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, ensure that the evidence base was current, rigorous, and generalizable or applicable to public health nutrition guidance?

My reading of this report is that the agencies and their advisory committee did a pretty good job of producing the 2020-2025 guidelines, given the tight time schedule, the lack of resources, and the fundamental difficulties of producing solid evidence for the effects of diet on disease risk.  The report’s conclusion (p. 106):

Finally, the committee identified many instances of partial implementation of the recommendations from the 2017 National Academies report. Some of these (e.g., recommendation 6) were minor concerns. Many other concerns that might, individually, seem minor represent a more substantial concern  when considered together. For example, the many seemingly small deviations from committee-identified practices for systematic reviews together reduce the quality and utility of this important element of the evidence used to develop the DGA. Moreover, the combined effect of recommendations for which there were substantial concerns with those that were not implemented at all represents a continuing risk to the integrity of the DGA process.

The report, by the way, is 295 pages.

Do we really need all this?  The guidelines stay pretty much the same from edition to edition: eat more fruits and vegetables (plant foods); don’t eat much salt, sugar, saturated fat; maintain healthy weight.  Or, as Michael Pollan famously put it, “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

The food industry has the biggest stake in dietary guidelines, which is why we have to go through all this.

As I like to put it, I’ve made a career of criticizing dietary guidelines, and I’m not the only one.  I’m ready to move on.  If only.

Aug 17 2022

USDA: Salmonella is an adulterant (a first step)

For years, food safety advocates have been petitioning USDA to declare Salmonella in poultry as an adulterant.  Chicken that is adulterated is not allowed to be sold.

This, of course, would be a problem because supermarket chicken can easily be contaminated with Salmonella, which is why USDA wants you to take responsibility for keeping your kitchen safe by handling and cooking it properly.

USDA has now addressed this problem—but only in breaded, stuffed raw chicken products.

Why these?

Since 1998, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been associated with up to 14 outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses. Products in this category are found in the freezer section and include some chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kiev products. These products appear cooked, but they are heat-treated only to set the batter or breading and the product contains raw poultry. Continual efforts to improve the product labeling have not been effective at reducing consumer illnesses.

OK.  It’s a step.

Q.  Why hasn’t the USDA acted sooner?  Why isn’t it doing more?

A.  Because the chicken industry does not want to have to be responsible for keeping chicken safe.  It would rather leave that responsibility to you.

You don’t believe me?  Here is the chicken industry’s response to the USDA’s action, as reported in Food Safety News: National Chicken Council objects to USDA plan to name Salmonella as adulterant in some chicken products

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) decision to declare Salmonella as an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products is not welcomed by the regulated industry. “NCC (National Chicken Council) is concerned about the precedent set by this abrupt shift in longstanding policy, made without supporting data, for a product category that has only been associated with one outbreak since 2015. It has the potential to shutter processing plants, cost jobs, and take safe food and convenient products off shelves,” according to a statement from the industry group.

Ahem.  Not quite.

The FSIS reported that since 1998, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been associated with up to 14 outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses.

Aug 16 2022

Sugar in school meals? Lots.

At the request of Congress, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has just released “Added Sugars in School Meals and Competitive Foods.”  The report itself is at this link.

The idea was to find out whether schools were meeting the 10% standard: meals and snacks were not to exceed 10% of calories from added sugars.

Note: the 10% is meant to be a ceiling, not a floor.

The report’s Key Findings

  • Practically all—92%—of school breakfasts had 10% or more of calories from added sugars.
  • The majority of schools—69%—served lunches with 10% percent or more calories from added sugars.
  • The main source of added sugars in school meals is flavored (e.g., chocolate) fat-free milk; this contributed 29% of the added sugars in breakfasts and 47% in lunches.
  • Of the 10 most popular a la carte food items available at breakfast, 6 exceeded the 10% maximum for added sugars.
  • Of the 10 most popular a la carte food items available at lunch, four exceeded the 10% maximum.

Mind you, this says nothing about sweet snacks and candy used as rewards, treats, snacks, or celebrations in classrooms.

But if you want to know why nutritionists like me would like to see chocolate milk mostly kept out of schools, here’s why.

Aug 15 2022

Industry/government-funded study of the week: Jarlsberg is a health food!

Two readers, Cory Brooks and Yme Dolmans, sent me this gem.

They learned about it from a story in The Guardian: “Jarlsberg cheese may help stave off osteoporosis, small study suggests.”

The Guardian picked this up from the BMJ, which published the study and sent out a press release: “Small daily portion of Jarlsberg cheese may help to stave off bone thinning.”

A small (57 g) daily portion of Jarlsberg cheese may help to stave off bone thinning (osteopenia/osteoporosis) without boosting harmful low density cholesterol, suggest the results of a small comparative clinical trial, published in the open access journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.

The effects seem to be specific to this type of cheese, the findings indicate.

Jarlsberg is a mild and semi-soft, nutty flavoured cheese made from cow’s milk, with regular holes. It originates from Jarlsberg in eastern Norway.

Eat Jarlsberg cheese and prevent osteoporosis?  A miracle!

As with any other study claiming that a single food produces health miracles, my first question: Who paid for this?

The paper:  Effect on bone anabolic markers of daily cheese intake with and without vitamin K2: a randomised clinical trial.  

Conclusion.  The effect of daily Jarlsberg intake on increased s-osteocalcin level is not a general cheese effect. Jarlsberg contain vitamin K2 and DHNA which increases PINP, tOC, cOC and RO and decreases Ca++, Mg++ and HbA1c. These effects reflect increased bone anabolism and a possible reduced risk of adverse metabolic outcomes.

Funding:  Norwegian Research Council; project number 310059, TINE SA, and Meddoc Research Unit funded this project.

Contributors: TINE SA provided Jarlsberg and Camembert cheese, along with financial support, but did not play any role in the design, implementation, analysis, interpretation or manuscript writing.

Comment:  This study is the result of a private-public partnership between the Norwegian government and its dairy industry.  The Norwegian Research Council provides research funding for industry: “We promote competitiveness and growth in Norwegian trade and industry by providing financial support and advice for research and innovation projects.”

As for TINE SA, it  “is Norway’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products with 11,400 members (owners) and 9,000 cooperative farms.”

This situation is analogous to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s research partnerships with food trade associations; these also produce studies with results that the press loves to extol and funders can use for marketing.

The purpose of this study is to support a Norwegian industry by promoting sales of Jarlsberg.

Is it likely that eating a couple of ounces of Jarlsberg would have much of an effect on osteoporosis?

The operative word here is “may.”   This could also mean “may not.”

The bottom line:  If you like Jarlsberg cheese, enjoy!

Aug 12 2022

Weekend reading: why immigrants are essential to the meat and dairy industries

The Immigrant Council has issued this report.  It’s a useful introduction to the role of immigrants in animal agriculture and issues related to the entire system.

The Key Findings:

  • Even before the pandemic, the meat and dairy industries struggled to hire enough workers: The current national labor shortage has worsened the problem, and it’s causing meat and dairy prices to rise between 4.5 and 7.0 percent.
  • These price increases are due in part to higher wages employers must offer to attract workers: From 2019 to 2022, the median wage for meat and dairy industry workers* increased 33.7 percent. from $14.95 to $20.00 per hour. This far outpaces U.S. median wage which increased from $20.11 to $21.51 per hour, or 7.4 percent during the same period.
  • Transportation plays a vital role in the production and pricing of meat and dairy products: Since the start of the pandemic, advertised wages for meat and dairy truck drivers have increased nearly 40 percent due to high demand3. Already, one in four of the industries’ truck drivers are immigrants.
  • Foreign-born workers are essential to America’s food supply: As many workers —both U.S.- and foreign-born —reach retirement age and leave the workforce, the meat and dairy industries will be increasingly hard-pressed to find enough workers. While meat and dairy employers rely on the H-2A and H-2B visa programs to fill jobs with temporary foreign workers, these visa programs are seasonal and do not meet the needs of what are non-seasonal industries.

The report is full of nicely illustrated facts and figures.

Lots of interesting material here.  It’s worth a look.

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