Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 23 2023

Holiday best wishes to all

Food Politics is offline until January 2 (if you want to catch up with it, go to

Enjoy the break. Enjoy the holidays.

May the new year bring you peace and joy (let’s hope).

Dec 22 2023

Weekend reading: International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems

Some of the most thoughtful writing about food and climate change comes from IPES  Food–The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

IPES Food recently published From Plate to Planet, a report on how local governments are trying to do something about preventing further climate change by “promoting healthy and sustainable diets, reducing food waste, shortening food chains, training organic farmers, and ensuring all residents can access healthy and sustainable food.”

The report receommends that national governmebts follow their example.

To that I say good luck.

The big triumph of COP-28 was the mention of fossil fuels in its final recommendations, not that anyone intends to do anything about them.

Preventing climate change is going to have to be a local effort.  IPES Food points the way.

Dec 21 2023

Bird flu causing big trouble

Avian influenza of the highly pathogenic kind (HPAI, H5N1) is now everywhere.

The CDC says bird flu, caused by avian influenza viruses,

naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Bird flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with  bird flu viruses have occurred.

The CDC also has much to say about the current status of H5N1: it has infected 72.5 million poultry so far this year.  These had to be destroyed.

One egg producer, Michael Foods, said it “lost” 4.2 million laying hens to HPAI.


According to Vox, 

The 2022-2023 spread of bird flu has been the most catastrophic on record in the US. In less than two years, it’s hit hundreds of poultry factory farms across nearly every state in the country, costing the federal government $757 million and counting to manage, and the poultry industry more than $1 billion in lost revenue and other costs (experts also fear that the disease could spark an outbreak in humans).

To help stamp out the disease’s spread, all of the more than 72 million chickens, turkeys, and other birds raised for meat and eggs on affected farms have been killed and disposed of, whether or not they actually had the virus, which can spread rapidly and has a very high mortality rate for poultry birds.

Vox explains the killing method (consider what killing millions of chickens entails): basically shutting down the ventilation.

This seems catastrophic, even though 72 million is just a small fraction of the 1.2 billion chicken alive at any time.

Surely, industrially crowded housing has something to do with the rapid spread of H5N1.  Another downside of industrial egg production.

Expect egg prices to rise.

Happy new year.

Dec 20 2023

Lead in baby food pouches: not a pretty story

A few weeks ago,  the FDA announced  volunary recalls of  3 brands of baby pouches containing apple sauce with cinnamon, because they contained excess lead.

Lead is poisonous to children’s nervous systems and brain development; there is no safe level of lead intake.










The FDA inspected the plant in Ecuador where cinnamon apple sauce is made; the amounts of lead were shockingly high.  Food Safety News reports:

The applesauce, sold in pouches packaged for children, has been found to have a lead content of 5110 parts per million (ppm) and 2270 ppm. The international Codex body is considering adopting a maximum level of 2.5 ppm for lead in bark spices, including cinnamon.

What is even more shocking about this situation is how the FDA found out about the lead—not by testing but because

…a developing investigation by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services [found] about four children with elevated blood lead levels, indicating potential acute lead toxicity.

The state investigation identified WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches as a potential shared source of exposure. As part of their investigation, the department of health and human services analyzed multiple lots of WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree, detecting extremely high concentrations of lead.

The FDA then announced it was investigating cinnamon as a source of the lead.

It traced the cinnamon to a supplier in Ecuador.

The FDA suspects that somewhere along the supply chain, someone deliberately added lead to the cinnamon to maintain its color and increase its weight.

This reminds me of the addition of Chinese melamine to pet food and infant formula in 2006 and 2007 (I wrote about the pet food scandal in Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine).

This also points to the need for strengthening the FDA.  It is not required to test products for lead and neither are manufacturers.

The FDA has proposed action levels for lead in foods, but these are neither final nor implemented.

The New York Times quoted Tom Neltner, safety expert at the Environmental Defense Fund:

That the levels of lead in children’s blood tends to be the first line of detection for lead in food is “effectively using kids as canaries…What this shows is a breakdown in the agency, and an industry that needs to be fixed.”

By industry, I’m assuming he means baby food and I could not agree more.

Pouches may be convenient for parents, but they promote sweet tastes and don’t teach kids how to eat real foods.  One study concluded:

Squeeze pouch products available in Australia are nutritionally poor, high in sugars, not fortified with iron, and there is a clear risk of harm tothe health of infant and young children if these products are fed regularly. The marketing messages and labelling on squeeze pouches are misleading and do not support WHO or Australian NHMRC recommendations for breastfeeding or appropriate introduction of complementary foods and labelling of products. There is an urgent need for improved regulation of product composition, serving sizes and labelling to protect infants and young children aged 0–36 months and better inform parents.

That goes for U.S. products too.

Caveat emptor.

Dec 19 2023

Industry-funded study of the week: Quorn

[Note: If you saw this yesterday, ignore.  I made a scheduling error so this post got sent out with yesterday’s.  Apologies.]

A reader in Scotland,  Prof. Lindsay Jaacks, who I was fortunate to meet in Edinburgh last April,  tweeted (X’d?) this and tagged me on it::

A new study funded by @QuornFoods finds health benefits of substituting ‘Mycomeat’ for red & processed meat.
We need independent evidence far from the hands of industry if we are going to transform #FoodSystems.

I looked it up:

The study: Farsi, D.N., Gallegos, J.L., Finnigan, T.J.A. et al. The effects of substituting red and processed meat for mycoprotein on biomarkers of cardiovascular risk in healthy volunteers: an analysis of secondary endpoints from Mycomeat. Eur J Nutr 62, 3349–3359 (2023).

  • Purpose:  “Mycoprotein is a relatively novel food source produced from the biomass of Fusarium venenatum. It has previously been shown to improve CVD risk markers in intervention trials when it is compared against total meat. It has not hitherto been assessed specifically for benefits relative to red and processed meat.”
  • Methods:  “We leveraged samples from Mycomeat, an investigator-blind randomised crossover controlled trial in metabolically healthy male adults (n = 20), randomised to consume 240 g/day of red and processed meat for 14 days followed by mycoprotein, or vice versa. Blood biochemical indices were a priori defined secondary endpoints.”
  • Results:  “Mycoprotein consumption led to a 6.74% reduction in total cholesterol (P = 0.02) and 12.3% reduction in LDL cholesterol (P = 0.02) from baseline values…There was a small but significant reduction in waist circumference for mycoprotein relative to meat (− 0.95 ± 0.42 cm, P = 0.04). Following the mycoprotein diet, mean systolic (− 2.41 ± 1.89 mmHg, P = 0.23) and diastolic blood pressure (− 0.80 ± 1.23 mmHg, P = 0.43) were reduced from baseline.”  Urinary potassium was higher, but the study found no difference in triglycerides, urinary sodium, nitrite, or TMAO.
  • Conclusions: “These results confirm potential cardiovascular benefits when displacing red and processed meat with mycoprotein in the diet. Longer trials in higher risk study populations are needed to fully elucidate suggested benefits for blood pressure and body composition.”
  • Conflict of interest:  “This work was part funded by Marlow foods Ltd. TJAF is a consultant to Marlow Foods.”


Marlow Foods is the parent company of Quorn, mycelium-based products.  Quorn products have been around in the U.S. since 2002.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been dubious about these products ever since, arguing that Quorn induces allergic reactions and gastrointestinal distress and should be labeled as such.  It has also filed a class action lawsuit and engaged in other litigation.  CSPI refers to Quorn as “fungus” or “mold.”  Marlow, and other producers of mycelium-based meat substitutes prefer “mushroom.”  Marlow is doing what it can to counter criticism of the safety of theae products.

If you want to try Quorn, be sure to check the ingredient list.  Here’s what’s in QUORN VEGAN MEATLESS SPICY CHIQIN PATTIES:

Mycoprotein (54%), Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamine), Canola Oil, Water, Wheat StarchWheat Gluten, Pea Protein, Potato Protein, Calcium Chloride, Calcium Acetate, Salt, Chilli Flakes, Parsley, Yeast Extract, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Pea Fiber, Yeast, Tomato Powder, Spices (Cayenne Pepper, White Pepper), Carrageenan, Sodium Alginate, Rice Flour, Spice Extracts (Black Pepper Extract, Cayenne Extract, Ginger Extract), Paprika Extract (Coloring), Natural Flavor, Sage, Sugar, Leavening (Ammonium Carbonate)., Contains Wheat.

Ultra-processed? absolutely [industrially extracted ingredients; not much real food except wheat; you can’t reproduce this in your home kitchen].

Delicious?  You decide.

Dec 18 2023

Should food companies—and the Gates Foundation—sponsor nutrition conferences? In India?

I saw this posted on X (the site formerl known as Twtter, which I still find to be a useful source of information I would not otherwise know about).

I also saw a post from Joes Spicer, head of Nutrition International, announcing its withdrawal of funding for the conference  because of the food industry sponsors.

And then Tim Schwab, whose book, “The Bill Gates Problem,” I cannot wait to get to, sent this:

In India last week, a minor furor erupted over the Nutrition Society of India’s annual conference being so brazenly sponsored by companies like Coca-Cola.  But Coke is only a “gold” sponsor.  The “platinum” sponsor? The Gates Foundation.

For two decades, Gates has partnered closely with corporate interests—from Coca-Cola to Pfizer—and presented them to the world as humanitarian partners. Because the foundation is such an admired and celebrated charitable body, Gates has had a powerful effect on normalizing, institutionalizing and legitimizing corporate partnerships and conflicts of interest throughout science and policy making.

Food and drug companies love to sponsor nutrition conferences.  What better way to convince influential professional researchers and teachers that your products are good for health and nothing should be said about restricting or regulating them.

The role of the Gates Foundation is much less obvious and much more important because of its money and interntional power.  Schwab’s book promises to address such matters.  I will have more to say about it when I’ve had a chance to read it.

In the meantime, nutriton societies oin the U.S. and India too would be more credible if they avoided taking food industry sponsorship.  If they take Gates Foundation money, it had best come with no strings and no implied endorsements.

If F0undatios were really altruistic, they would provide donations anonymously and not expect a quid pro quo.  When they expect a quid pro quo, it’s best to find out exactly what it is.

Dec 15 2023

Weekend reading: Food for the Future

John Brueggemann.  Food for the Future: Beautiful Stories from the Alternative Agro-Food Movement.  Lexington Books, 2023.

I did a blurb for this book:

Sociologist John Brueggemann examines the stories of people actively engaged in today’s small-scale food and farming movement toward healthier and more sustainable food systems.  Their commitment, passion, and pragmatism is so inspiring that we will all want to join or support this movement in every way we can.

This brief excerpt explains at a glance why these stories matter.

A central claim of this book, however, is that there is also a Beautiful Story.  Against this vast, execrable current, there is a dramatic countertrend, a trickle of clean, life-giving freshness that is rapidly gaining strength…This includes, most importantly, farms.  From the people I spoke to directly, others they mention, and secondary research, it seems clear to me that many farmers care deeply about the land, what they produce how they produce it, and its consequences for consumers.

I love food and through this research have come to revere those who make it available.  I find this movement to be stirring, both in terms of what it is doing for our food system, but more importantly for all the lessons it offers for how neighbors can live together.  I think this story is both credible and wondrous….We’ve got to have faith in each other.

Dec 14 2023

Insects as food: a roundup

I like following what’s happening with insect foods, and much is.  Here are some recent examples from the press but also from academic journals.