Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
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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Aug 11 2022

More FDA educational initiatives: Supplements this time

The FDA’s food operations are under siege over problems with infant formula, the Fresh Harvest recall, and all its other food safety and regulatory problems.

As you saw yesterday, it has plenty of time for educational initiatives.

This one is called “Supplement Your Knowledge.”  Its purpose is to help inform health care professionals, consumers, and educators about the hazards of dietary supplements.

How is the FDA helping with this?

The FDA is worried about harm from thousands of products that are largely unregulated, thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).  This act took the FDA out of the business of regulating supplements, allowed supplement manufacturers to claim pretty much anything they want about supplements (regardless of evidence), and left ghe matter of what’s actually in the bottles as a matter of faith.

More than half of American adults take supplements of one kind or another, despite lack of evidence that they do any good at all for reasonably healthy people.  Fortunately, most are harmless.

The FDA wants to encourage supplement users to report adverse effects from the ones that aren’t.

I’m guessing the AMA wants to discourage physicians from inappropriately suggesting supplements and encourage them to recognize adverse events when they see them.

Congress passed DSHEA.  It will take another act of Congress to  protect the public from supplements that contain what they shouldn’t, don’t contain what they should, and otherwise mislead the public about what they can do.

Related Information

Aug 10 2022

The FDA’s new pro GMO propaganda

You would think the beleaguered FDA would have better things to do.

It sent out a press release announcing new “Feed Your Mind” materials to increase public and professional understanding of GMOs, in partnershipwith USDA and EPA.

My first question: Who paid for this?

The answer:

Funding for the “Feed Your Mind” initiative was provided by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 to conduct “consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology derived food products and animal feed, including through publication and distribution of science-based educational information on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of such biotechnology, food products, and feed.”  More funds were provided through 2018 and 2019 Appropriations bills.

How’s that for effective lobbying by the food biotechnology industry!

Why do I think this is pro-GMO propaganda?

I started with the Discussion Guide for Health Educators.  It has just a few questions and answers.  For example:

Q.  Are GMO’s safe to eat?

A.  Yes…they are just as safe to eat as non-GMO foods.

Q.  Is here a link between GMOs and cancer?

A.  No.  GMO crops are not changed in ways that would increase the risk of cancer for humans or animals.

I don’t think these answers are necessarily wrong.  They just don’t tell the whole story.

These materials have nothing to say about:

  • Consolidation in the biotechnology industry
  • Corporate control of commodity agriculture
  • Glyphosate, the herbicide used with GMOs and considered carcinogenic by international health agencies and US courts
  • How GMO crops have taken over, driving out everyone else
  • How pesticides used on GMO crops contaminate organic production
  • The ways GMO companies harrass independent farmers by enforcing intellectual property rights
  • How the Farm Bill subsidizes GMO corn and soybeans, causing them to be overproduced and corn to be used for ethanol
  • Congress’s absurd Bioengineered labeling, widely ignored.
  • The consequent lack of transparency in the supermarket

No wonder so many people look for Non-GMO labels on food products.

Take a look at these materials and judge for yourself (I particularly recommend the video for consumers).  It and the rest are quite short.

For More Information

Aug 9 2022

My latest publication: Preventing Obesity

JAMA Internal Medicine has just published an editorial I wrote: Preventing Obesity—It Is Time for Multiple Policy Strategies

As it explains, it is a commentary on a research article by Joshua Petimar, et al, Assessment of Calories Purchased After Calorie Labeling of Prepared Foods in a Large Supermarket Chain  

Both papers are behind paywalls, but here are the key points of the supermarket article:

Question  Was calorie labeling of prepared foods in supermarkets associated with changes in calories purchased from prepared foods and potential packaged substitutes?

Findings  In this longitudinal study of 173 supermarkets followed from 2015 to 2017, calories purchased from prepared bakery items declined by 5.1% after labeling, and calories purchased from prepared deli items declined by 11.0% after labeling, adjusted for prelabeling trends and changes in control foods; no changes were observed among prepared entrées and sides. Calories purchased from similar packaged items did not increase after labeling.

Meaning  Calorie labeling of prepared supermarket foods was associated with overall small declines in calorie content of prepared foods without substitution to similar packaged foods.

I was really interested in this study because the “large supermarket chain” that supplied reams of data was so obviously Hannaford, which has long been ahead of the curve in trying to encourage customers to make healthier food choices.

In 2005, Hannaford initiated a Guiding Stars program that ranked–and still ranks–products by giving them zero to three stars depending on what they contain.

I wrote about the first-year evaluation of this program way back in 2006.  It did help customers to make better choices.

Now, all these years later, the FDA is contemplating doing some kind of front-of-package label.  As I said, Hannaford is way ahead.

But the point of my editorial is that single interventions rarely do better than what this study found.

I argue here for trying multiple strategies at once:

My interpretation of the current status of obesity prevention research is that any single policy intervention is unlikely to show anything but small improvements.

Pessimists will say such interventions are futile and should no longer be attempted.

Optimist that I am, I disagree.  We cannot expect single interventions to prevent population-basedweight gain ontheirown,but they might help some people—and might help even more people if combined simultaneously with other interventions.

….Widespread policy efforts to reduce intake of ultraprocessed foods through a combination of taxes, warning labels, marketing and portion-size restrictions, dietary guidelines, and media education campaigns, along with policies for subsidizing healthier foods and promoting greater physical activity, should be tried; they may produce meaningful effects.

Politically difficult? Of course. Politically impossible? I do not think so.

Unless we keep trying to intervene—and continue to examine the results of our attempts—we will be settling for the normalization of overweight and the personal and societal costs of its health consequences.

Here’s Ted Kyle’s commentary on my commentary on ConscienHealth.

Aug 8 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: A rare negative-results exception (Avocados, no less)

One of the points of my Monday “industry-funded study of the week” posts is that companies usually get the results they want.  Exceptions do exist.  Here’s one of those rare ones.

The study: Changes in Biomarkers of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) upon Access to Avocados in Hispanic/Latino Adults: Secondary Data Analysis of a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial.  Lorena S. Pacheco, Ryan D. Bradley, Cheryl A. M. Anderson and Matthew A. Allison.  Nutrients 202214(13), 2744; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14132744

Rationale: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common cause of abnormal liver functions tests and of increased increased risk for morbidity and mortality.  Monounsaturated fatty acids such as those in avocados havew been associated with improved NAFLD-related markers.

Hypothesis: “We hypothesized compared to low avocado intake, high avocado intake would have a beneficial effect on oxidative stress and hepatic health indicated by greater reductions in liver function tests and NAFLD fibrosis score.”

Results: “No statistically significant differences were observed between low and high avocado allotment groups” in anything measured.

Conclusion: “Varied intake of avocados resulted in no effects on biomarkers of NAFLD in healthy adults, free of severe chronic disease.”

Funding: “The parent research was funded by The Hass Avocado Board.”

Conflicts of interest: “The authors declare no potential conflict of interest. All authors report the grant from the Hass Avocado Board….The Hass Avocado Board funded the parent trial and provided all the trial’s avocados at no cost to study participants. The parent trial 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 authors say they have no conflicts of interest but I think they do; the Hass Avocado Board paid for a study of the effects of avocados on NAFLD markers.  Such payments are well established to predict results that favor the sponsor’s interests.

Nevertheless, the results came out contrary to those interests, and the authors were unambiguous in saying so.  In this case, the assertion that the sponsor had no role seems credible, even though it often is not.

High marks to the authors. 

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.

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