Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 10 2019

The latest in snack trends?

Here are a few examples of the latest trends in snack products in the U.S. and Europe, culled from articles in FoodNavigator.com.  The purpose of these products is to make money for their manufacturers, the more the better.

Lots of interest in insects and worms these days….

Yum (?)

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Jan 9 2019

Supplements to improve memory: if only

The Government Accountability Office has just published a report on memory supplements.

Available data indicate that memory supplements constitute a small segment of the overall dietary supplement market, but their sales nearly doubled in value from 2006 to 2015, increasing from $353 million to $643 million. Consumers searching to prevent or treat age-related memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease, have increasingly turned to dietary supplements for help.

What did the GAO do?

This report examines the extent to which selected memory supplements contained: (1) their stated ingredients at the quantities stated on their labels and specific adulterants, and (2) certain contaminants.

Uh oh.  Never mind whether memory supplements do any good (a dubious claim).  They don’t even contain what they claim to contain:

  • One product, marketed as Ginkgo biloba, did not contain that ingredient. Instead it contained an unknown substitute; as such the safety of the product is unknown.
  • The second product was marketed as a supplement that included Ginkgo biloba. It also contained an unknown substitute, instead of Ginkgo biloba.
  • The third product, marketed as a fish oil supplement, contained the stated ingredients.

Supplement products, you will recall, are essentially unregulated, by Congressional fiat (see the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994).

Since none of these supplements has been shown to improve memory, what’s in them only matters if it causes safety problems.  Fortunately, the study found contaminants to be a low levels.

When it comes to dietary supplements, caveat emptor.

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Jan 8 2019

Goodbye GMO, Hello Bioengineered: USDA publishes labeling rules

Trump’s USDA has issued final rules for labeling food products of biotechnology, commonly known to all of us as GMOs.

Since GMOs have taken on a pejorative—Frankenfood—connotation, the USDA wanted to fix that.  And did it ever.

It drops GMOs, and substitutes “Bioengineered.”

Its logo depicts food biotechnology as sun shining on agriculture.Image result for bioengineering logo usdaAnd the rules have a loophole big enough to exclude lots of products from having to carry this logo: those made with highly refined GMO sugars, starches and oils made from GMO soybeans and sugar beets.

If the products do not contain detectable levels of DNA, they are exempt.  Never mind that GMO/bioengineered is a production issue.

When Just Label It was advocating for informing the public about GMOs, this was hardly what it had in mind.

Count this as a win for the GMO industry.

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Jan 7 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Mediterranean diet plus dairy foods

Christopher Gardner, the Stanford scientist who studies the ways various dietary patterns affect body weight, sent me this study to add to my post-book collection (I wrote about such things in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, just out).

Soon after Dr. Gardner sent this to me, I read about this study in DairyReporter.com.  Its account had this headline: “Mediterranean diet with added dairy shown to improve heart health in Australia.”  It said nothing about funding source (it should have).

The study:

Title: A Mediterranean diet supplemented with dairy foods improves markers of cardiovascular risk: results from the MedDairy randomized controlled trial.  Alexandra T Wade, Courtney R Davis, Kathryn A Dyer, Jonathan M Hodgson, Richard J Woodman, and Karen J Murphy.  Am J Clin Nutr 2018;108:1166–1182.

Rationale: The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) “may not meet Western recommendations for calcium and dairy intake.”  Translation: Australians don’t eat enough dairy foods.

Objective: Determine the effect of a MedDiet supplemented with dairy foods (MedDairy) on blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Design:  The study compared the effects of consuming two different diets, (1) a MedDiet with 3–4 daily servings of dairy (MedDairy) versus (2) a lowfat control diet (LowFat).

Results: Participants on MedDairy reduced their blood pressure and other CVD risk factors.

Conclusion:  “The MedDiet supplemented with dairy may be appropriate for an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors in a population at risk of CVD.”

Funding: “Supported by a Dairy Australia Research Grant.”

Dr. Gardner’s comments: the study does not compare the MedDiet to MedDairy.  Instead, it compares MedDairy to LowFat—whatever people habitually eat, but restricted in fat.

In this study, compared to the LowFat group, the MedDairy group ate:

  •  More fat
  •  Less refined grain
  •  More legumes
  •  Less red meat
  •  More meat substitutes
  •  More nuts and seeds
  •  And, yes, more dairy (mostly yogurt)

Even so, the LowFat group lost more fat mass and gained more lean body mass than did the MedDairy group, but the authors do not mention that in the abstract and don’t make a big deal about it.

But they do say this in their discussion:

However, the use of an LF [LowFat] control diet may limit the generalizability of our results, as well as our capacity to evaluate the benefits of adding dairy to a traditional MedDiet.

Precisely.

Jan 4 2019

Weekend reading: A view of how to feed the world sustainably

The World Resources Institute has a new report on how to feed the world in a way that is sustainable.

The report is based on the premise that 56% more food will be needed by 2050.  Given that premise, the unavailability of more land on which to grow food, and the need to mitigate greenhouse gases, the report recommends (among other things) increasing the efficiency of production and managing demand.

I’d like to see some careful evaluations of the basic premise of this report as well as its recommendations, which seem to place a large burden on individuals rather than governments or corporations.  The word “corporation” does not appear in the report; food companies come up only in the context of food waste (a non-controversial issue):

Jan 3 2019

FoodNavigator.com on what’s happening in the dairy industry

I think this collection of articles from FoodNavigator on the dairy industry is especially clear in revealing three notable trends: (1) the ongoing decline in milk consumption, (2) a more recent decline in yogurt consumption, and (3) an increase in production, availability, and marketing of dairy products high in fat.  Take a look:

 Special Edition: Dairy innovation

It’s been a challenging year for many dairy brands, with continued weakness in fluid milk and yogurt categories and growing competition from dairy-free alternatives. But there has been no shortage of innovation, spanning everything from ‘intentionally less sweet’ high protein yogurt launches to  whole milk and even ‘triple cream’ offerings as fat roars back in some parts of the category.

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Jan 2 2019

US votes no on action on global nutrition

I was fascinated to see this FoodNavigator account of the recent United Nations’ call for action on nutrition.

The lengthy new UN resolution on “a healthier world through better nutrition” begins with pages of preliminary comments before getting to bland admonitions that member states should improve nutrition, health conditions, and living standards; address hunger and malnutrition; and promote food security, food safety, and sustainable, resilient, and diverse food systems.

The resolution encourages member states to strengthen nutrition policies that promote breastfeeding and control the marketing of breast-milk substitutes.

It also promotes physical activity. It

Calls upon Member States to develop actions to promote physical activity in the entire population and for all ages, through the provision of safe public environments and recreational spaces, the promotion of sports, physical education programmes in schools and urban planning which encourages active transport.

What got FoodNavigator’s—and my—attention, however, was its encouragement of member nations to:

develop health- and nutrition-promoting environments, including through nutrition education in schools and other education institutions, as appropriate.

Nutrition education?  That’s it on improving the nutrition environment?

Nothing about curbs on food industry marketing practices, front-of-package food labels, soda or sugar taxes, or other policies established to be effective in improving nutritional health (see, for example, the policies listed on the World Health Organization’s database, or the NOURISHING database of The World Cancer Research Fund).

The UN’s own Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report on the value of education in improving the food environment.  Its author, Corinna Hawkes, makes it clear that education is useful, but is far more effective when it thoroughly involves policies to change the food environment.

nutrition education actions are more likely to yield positive results…when actions are implemented as part of large, multi-component interventions, rather than information provision or direct education alone. It is notable that governments have been taking an increasing number of actions involving multiple components, such as combining policies on nutrition labels with education campaigns, public awareness campaigns with food product reformulation, and school food standards with educational initiatives in schools.

The resolution says none of this.  Even so, it did not pass unanimously.  The vote:

  • Yes:       157 countries
  • No:           2 (Libya and the United States)
  • Abstain:    1 (Hungary)

And why did the United States vote no?  The US mission to the UN explains its position on the grounds—and I am not making this up—that the resolution:

  • Favors abortion:  “We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”
  • Promotes free trade in medicines: “This could lead to misinterpretation of international trade obligations in a manner which may negatively affect countries’ abilities to incentivise new drug development and expand access to medicines.”
  • Promotes migration: “we believe [the resolution represents]…an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign rights of States to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws and interests.”

To be clear: UN resolutions are non-binding.  The UN cannot tell member countries what to do.  All it can do is exert leadership and moral force.

When it comes to the food environment these days, we need all the moral force we can get.  We didn’t get it here.

Jan 1 2019

Where are we on Cannabis edibles (and drinkables)?

Let’s start the new year off with a look at what’s happening with Cannabis, a food politics topic because of its edibles.

First, the legal status

The word is that the market for Cannabis products—including edibles and drinkables—constitutes a the “21st century gold rush,” despite their illegal regulatory status in the U.S.

Illegal?  Here’s what the the FDA says:

12,  Can products that contain THC or cannabidiol (CBD) be sold as dietary supplements?

A.  No.

13,  Is it legal, in interstate commerce, to sell a food to which THC or CBD has been added?

A. No

As for the status of Cannabis in Canada, the details are here.  Cannabis became legal in October, with some amusing results, here.  And then, there’s the question of Cannabis-infused beer, of all things:

Cannabis-infused beer gets lots of attention, but craft brewers worried about the competition.

What about research on the effects of THC?

It’s been difficult to do it because of restrictions on illegal substances, but because the Farm Bill took hemp off the list, observers are hopeful that research possibilities will open up.

In the meantime, some research is ongoing.  For example: Cannabis increases appetite but whether it causes weight gain is still uncertain.

We will be hearing a lot more about this topic, I predict.  Stay tuned.

Happy new year, stoned or not.

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