Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 22 2022

Cell-based chicken substitute: The FDA says yes!

In big news for the cell-cultured meat industry, the FDA has done its version of approving production of cellular chicken.

Here, in inimitable FDA-speak, is the agency’s essentially tacit approval of UPSIDE Foods, Inc’s cultured chicken cell material:

Based on the data and information presented…we have no questions at this time about UPSIDE’s conclusion that foods comprised of or containing cultured chicken cell material resulting from the production process defined in CCC [Cell Culture Consultation] 000002 are as safe as comparable foods2 produced by other methods. Furthermore, at this time we have not identified any information indicating that the production process as described in CCC 000002 would be expected to result in food that bears or contains any substance or microorganism that would adulterate the food.

And here’s what The Guardian has to say about this breakthrough.

With Singapore currently the only country in which lab-grown meat products are legally sold to consumers, the US approval could open the floodgates to a new food market that backers say is more efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional livestock farming.

That’s the big news.

But there’s more:

Here are my questions:

  • How does this stuff taste?
  • Is it better than chicken?
  • Will anyone want to eat it?
  • If they do, can UPSIDE do this at scale?
  • What will this chicken substitute cost?
  • Is this really better for health and the environment?

I can’t wait to find out.

Tomorrow: What’s happening with plant-based meat alternatives.

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Nov 21 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: Unprocessed red meat is good for you

My theme for this week is meat, poultry, and their alternatives, starting today with this:

The study: Unprocessed red meat in the dietary treatment of obesity: a randomized controlled trial of beef supplementation during weight maintenance after successful weight lossFaidon Magkos, Sidse I Rasmussen, Mads F Hjorth, Sarah Asping, Maria I Rosenkrans, Anders M Sjödin, Arne V Astrup, Nina R W Geiker.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqac152, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqac152.  

Objectives: “We sought to investigate the effects of healthy diets that include small or large amounts of red meat on the maintenance of lost weight after successful weight loss….”

Conclusions: “Healthy diets consumed ad libitum that contain a little or a lot of unprocessed beef have similar effects on body weight, energy metabolism, and cardiovascular risk factors during the first 3 mo after clinically significant rapid weight loss.”

Funding: “The study was supported by The Beef Checkoff (a program of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, CO, USA) and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council (Copenhagen, Denmark). Lighter Life (Essex, UK) sponsored very-low-calorie diet products for the weight-loss phase of the study. The sponsors had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication.”
Conflicts of interest: NRWG has received funding from The Beef Checkoff program (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, CO, USA) and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council (Copenhagen, Denmark) to conduct additional studies relevant to the role of meat in the diet. AVA is a member of the scientific advisory board for Weight Watchers, USA…All other authors report no conflicts of interest.
Comment:  The beef industry is worried about all those dietary recommendations calling for less red meat, for reasons of human and planetary health.  The more studies it can produce that cast doubt on those linkages, the more doubt it can raise about the health impact of red meat.  This study contributes to that effort.

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Nov 18 2022

Weekend reading: Commercial Determinants of Health

From Oxford University Press:

I was happy to be asked to contribute to this book: 

My thanks to Eric Crosbie, who did the heavy lifting on the chapter and also co-authored two other chapters (on trade and investment and on teaching commercial determinants of health.

This book brings together multiple authors and perspectives on how corporations selling unhealthful commodities—tobacco, alcohol, and junk food, for example—act to protect sales and marketing, regardless of effects on individual and collective health.

Chapters cover the policies and politics, the ways commercial interessts have taken over culture, how companies influence science, research, and marketing, examples of such influence, analyses of the legal issues, and recommendations for countering corporate actions.

The chapters are so informative and so well referenced that it’s hard to select specific examples.  But here’s one from George Annas’ chapter on “Corporations as Irresponsible Artificial People.”

The public health goal is to make the social responsibility of corporations a reality rather than just a feel-good marketing slogan.  This will require transforming the corporation from an instrument designed and run to make money while indifferent to polluting the planet and destroying the health of humans to an entity whose money-making must be consistent with preserving the health of the planet and its inhabitants.  Central to this objecti8ve is to replace the currfent post-2008 system in which profits are kept by the owners of capital, and losses are socialized by being paid for by governments, most notably for corporations that are “too big to fail.”  Any sustainable system requires that both gains and losses are shared by corporations and governments.  Sharing gains and lossers will require a restructuring of corporate tax, including a minimum tax for all corporations, but domestic and multinational.

Amen.  Everyone needs to understand that food corporations are not social service or public health agencies.  They are businesses stuck with responding to the shareholder value movement, which forces them to make profits their first and only priority.

This system needs to change.  This book provides the evidence.

Note: I discussed many of these same issues in Unsavorty Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.  

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Nov 17 2022

Hyping research: coffee

I always appreciate the Headline vs. Study sections of the Obesity and Energetics newsletter that arrives in my email once a week.

This one concerns coffee.  It amuses me that researchers are always trying to prove either that coffee is a superfood or that it is poison.

It’s neither, but never mind.  The research is fun to track.

Headline: Coffee Lowers Risk of Heart Problems and Early Death, Study Says, Especially Ground and Caffeinated.

Researchers found “significant reductions” in the risk for coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke for all three types of coffee. However, only ground and instant coffee with caffeine reduced the risk for an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia. Decaffeinated coffee did not lower that risk, according to the study published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Press-Release: Coffee Drinking Is Associated with Increased Longevity.

Study: Self-Reported Coffee Consumption in the UK Biobank… Again. Causation Not Established.

Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day is linked with a longer lifespan and lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with avoiding coffee, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the ESC.1 The findings applied to ground, instant and decaffeinated varieties.

Headline vs Study Déjà Vu: For More Coffee in the UK Biobank Headlines, See Headline vs Study from July 30, 2021.

And just for fun, here’s the Washington Post’s adorable interactive comparison of the relative benefits of coffee vs. tea.

My view?  Drink whichever you like, don’t worry, be happy, enjoy!

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Nov 16 2022

Food-industry front group: The International Food Information Council (IFIC)

The International Food Information Coouncil (IFIC) headlines its website:  “We promote science-based information on nutrition, food safety and agriculture.”

IFIC is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) education and consumer research organization that communicates evidence-based information on health, dietary patterns, ingredient safety and agricultural production. Our vision is a global environment where credible science drives food decisions.

I have long argued that any time you hear a food company or organization say it is “science-based,” you need to imagine a red warning flag flying into the air.  The term unfailingly means do not criticize food products unless you can prove conclusively that they do harm.  This, of course, is virtually impossible in populations that consume many different foods in meals from day to day.

IFIC lists health organization partners on its website.   Finding out who funds it is not so easy.

IFIC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Trustees, the majority of whom are independent, academic researchers. Our work is primarily supported by grants and contributions from the private sector. IFIC is non-partisan. IFIC does not represent any company, industry or product. IFIC does not lobby or serve as an advocacy organization.

Who in the private sector?  The FAQ takes you to the same health organization partners and to an uninformative 990 tax form.  Who funds IFIC?  According to SourceWatch, food companies used to provide the bulk of funding but I’ve been unable to find a list of current funders.

I’m curious about this because investigators associated with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins and US Right to Know have just published: “How independent is the international food information council from the food and beverage industry? A content analysis of internal industry documents.”

The study team reviewed emails and documents obtained via public records requests related to IFIC and the IFIC Foundation, with the purpose of describing how IFIC generates and disseminates nutrition information to policy stakeholders and the general public. Results from this content analysis suggest IFIC communicates nutrition information to broad audiences using a variety of tactics designed to shape preferences about the link between unhealthy foods and chronic disease outcomes, manufacture doubt about existing evidence linking certain foods to negative health outcomes, and influence key opinion leaders in academia and government positions to support limited public health interventions designed to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods.

IFIC, they charge, is a food industry front group (this has been known for a long time) Their observations of industry funding sources date to 2018.

I’ve always thought IFIC was the most reasonable of industry front groups, perhaps because of its now former long time president, Sylvia Rowe, who understood consumer concerns exceptionally well.

This paper documents IFIC’s strategies in promoting food industry interests.

Documents

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Nov 15 2022

What’s up with food systems at COP27?

COP27 is the term used to refer to the 27th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference) taking place last week and this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The New York Times has a COP27 explainer with a Q and A

This may be the 27th such conference, but it is the first to deal with the intersection of food production and consumption with climate change: how climate change affects agriculture and food systems and how agriculture and food systems affect climate change.

For the first time, several pavilions are devoted to food systems, this one specifically.

Food Tank is managing some of the programs at these pavilions.  Its president, Danielle Nierenberg, reports on them daily at this site

The official UN news site is here.

On November 12, agriculture was the theme of the day.   This is explained in a short video. 

Water was yesterday’s theme.

I’ve been trying to follow the events from Nierenberg’s comments and from the occasional article in the New York Times, for example, here (what the fights are about), here (videos of speeches), and here (protest and hunger strikes).

The Food4Climate pavilion’s YouTube channel for live streams and videos is here.

The Rockefeller Foundation is involved in COP27.  It sponsors a food and agriculture pavilion.

The Foundation also has produced a film, Food 2050.  The trailer is here.

I’m particularly interested in this film because Rupa Marya, who is attending the conference, says I’m in it and sent me this screen shot (I’m not in the trailer).

Will anything good come out of this COP27?  I’m inspired by this speech from the head of the World Health Organization.  Bringing these issues to public attention might help.

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Nov 14 2022

Industry-funded study of this week: Maple water!

Hat tip to Matthew Kadey for this one.  It’s a great example of a study title that makes me want to know : Who paid for this?

  • The study: Randy L. Aldret, Michael McDermott, Stephanie Aldret, Greggory Davis and David Bellar. The Acute Effects of a Maple Water Drink on Exercise Responses, Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Overweight College Males. Journal of Food and Nutrition Research. 2022; 10(9):593-599. doi: 10.12691/jfnr-10-9-2
  • Rationale: “The purpose of this study was to examine the acute effect of maple water on exercise responses and biomarkers of post-exercise inflammation and muscle damage in an overweight male college population.”
  • Method: “The treatments for the study consisted of 12 fluid ounces (355ml) of pure MW (Drink Simple Maple Water, Drink Maple LLC) or an identical volume of distilled water flavored with maple extract to mimic the smell and taste.”
  • Conclusion: “Early outcomes indicate maple water has positive benefits for those that exercise in the areas of cardiovascular fitness and post exercise inflammation.”
  • Competing Interests: “The authors declare the following real or perceived conflicts of interest in the context of this study: financial conflict of interest, as this study was funded in part by grants from Drink Simple LLC (Grant #370261).”
  • Comment:  The comparison here is maple water versus plain water.  Maple water contains sugars and electrolytes (potassium, manganese, calcium); the water placebo does not.  The result seems predictable from the funder, as is the study design.

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Nov 11 2022

Weekend reading: Harold McGee’s Nose Dive has a great index!

I’ve been doing this blog for years, but have very little idea of whether anyone looks at it or whether it is at all useful.  But every now and then, I hear that it just might be.  Here is an example with a happy ending.

Harold McGee just sent me a copy of the new paperback edition of his book, Nose Dive, with a note saying “Thanks for the index.”

The book, as I explained in my first post about it in 2020, is a marvelous encyclopedia of everything known about the sense of smell and the smells of everything from from foods, of course, but also everything else that smells from soil to armpits to flowers.  I thought the book was amazing—right up there with his classic On Foods and Cooking.  Alas, I had one serious complaint about it.

But uh oh.  How I wish it had a better index. 

For a book like this, the index needs to be meticulously complete—list every bold face term every time it appears—so readers can find what we are looking for.  This one is surprisingly unhelpful.

I found this out because I forgot to write down the page number for the fatty acid excerpt shown above.  I searched the index for most of the key words that appear in the clip: fatty acids, short and branched; butyric; methylbutyric; hexanoic; cheesy; intersteller space. No luck.  I had to check through all of the fatty acid listings and finally found it under “fatty acids, and molecules in asteroids, 19.”   Oh.  Asteroids.  Silly me.

I also forgot to note the page for the CAFO quote.  CAFO is not indexed at all, even though it appears in bold on the previous page, and neither does its definition, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.

McGee refers frequently to “Hero Carbon,” the atom basic to odiferous molecules.  I couldn’t remember where he first used “Hero” and tried to look it up.  Not a chance.

This book deserves better, alas.

Penguin Press:  this needs a fix, big time.

I talked to McGee about the index problem.  Penguin had given him a limit on index entries.

He wrote me recently that when Penguin asked him to file any corrections for the paperback edition,

I sent them your review and told them I’d be willing to redo the index myself, stem to stern. After several weeks they agreed. It was exhausting. But the paperback came out last week, so now there’s a decent index available. Maybe I can put it online for hardover owners.  So: thanks again for taking the trouble to make the case!

Happy ending indeed.

Have anything like this you want complained about?  I’ll be glad to help.  Sometimes complaints get results.

And thanks Harold, for this truly remarkable book—and for making me think doing this blog is worthwhile.

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