Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 10 2018

Call for nominations: 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (deadline Oct 6)

The USDA has issued a Call for Nominations for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

The independent advisory committee will review the scientific evidence to help inform the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The deadline to submit nominations for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is October 6, 2018, at 11:59 pm, Eastern Time.

Good luck with this. I don’t envy anyone serving on this committee.

The issues:

  • The late start. By law, the guidelines are supposed to be submitted in 2020. The committee will be under pressure to move quickly.
  • USDA’s dominance. The guidelines are supposed to be jointly produced by two agencies; the other is HHS. The absence of HHS from this announcement seems curious. USDA must be the lead this year and can be expected to allow politics to trump (pardon the expression) science.
  • Science politics. Questions—qualitative and quantitative—about fat v. carbohydrates are hotly debated and not easy to resolve.
  • Food industry influence. This is always a problem but this influence—on research and policy—is now under sharp scrutiny (my forthcoming book adds to the scrutiny, I hope).
  • Government interference. The committee writes an advisory report. Then USDA and HHS take over and do what they please with what the committee produces.  And we know, because USDA said so, that this administration intends to take a more active role in setting the agenda and in committee discussions.
  • Spotlight. Everything this committee does will be public and publicized on the front pages of newspapers and in social media.
  • Courage. It will take plenty.

Here’s what USDA says about factors to be considered in reviewing nominations:

  • Educational background – advanced degree in nutrition- or health-related field, including registered dietitians, nutrition scientists, physicians, and those with public health degrees
  • Professional experience – at least 10 years of experience as an academic, researcher, practitioner, or other health professional in a field related to one or more of the topics to be examined; consideration of leadership experience and participation on previous committees or panels
  • Demonstrated scientific expertise – expertise related to one or more of the topics to be examined by the committee as demonstrated by number and quality of peer-reviewed publications and presentations
  • Obligations under the Federal Advisory Committee Act – ensuring the Committee is balanced fairly in points of view and types of expertise
  • Requirements regarding a balanced membership – including, to the extent possible, individuals who are minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and representatives from different geographic areas and institutions

More information is available on DietaryGuidelines.gov:

Sep 7 2018

Weekend reading: Kosher and Halal market regulation

John Lever and Johan Fischer. Religion, Regulation, Consumption: Globalising Kosher and Halal Markets.  Manchester University Press, 2018.

Image result for religion, regulation, consumption

This book is a comparative study of how two countries—Denmark and Great Britain—regulate foods labeled Kosher or Halal.  I did a blurb for it:

Anyone curious about how kosher and halal work in today’s globalized, secularized market economies will want to read this comparative study of food practices in the UK and Denmark.

The big issues dealt with here is whether these dietary laws permit animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, and how the religious requirements relate to the demands of the secular communities in an increasingly globalized marketplace.

It is clear that kosher and halal markets have globalised and been subjected to new forms of regulation within the last two decades or so.  However, no matter how regulated these markets have become they are still fundamentally expressions of religion as taboos dating back thousands of years…kosher and halal fuel a whole range of debates among rabbis/imams and between religious organisations more broadly over what religion is or ought to be in the modern world…Comparing the UK and Denmark, we can say that Judaism/kosher and Islam/halal are less state regulated in the UK and that this allows for slaughter without stunning, for example  This situation has made the UK one of the largest markets for kosher/halal food in the world….As these processes expand and questions over what kosher is or ought to be intensify in a globalising context so greater numbers of Jews are becoming more Orthodox and strict in terms of their kashrut and shechita requirements [pp. 169-170].

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Sep 6 2018

Corporate profits v. public health: Campbell’s as a case in point

Campbell’s has just announced that it will divest its portfolio of healthier foods: Bolthouse Farms carrots, organics, salsa, hummus and dips, fresh soups.
Why? Activist shareholder pressure to make more money, faster.
These healthier-for-you products only generated $2.1 billion in sales last year, not nearly enough apparently.
While waiting for someone to buy them, or the entire company, the company’s new CEO plans to concentrate on “operational discipline,” which I assume is a euphemism for firing lots of people.
The CEO plans to focus on the money-making “core” products: Campbell Soups, Prego, V8, SpaghettiOs, Kettle Chips, Mlano, Goldfish and other such things.

As I keep saying, food corporations cannot be expected to be agents of public health as long as Wall Street investors call the shots.

Remember when Jeffrey Dunn’s Bolthouse aimed to make carrots “cool?”  And kids would eat them if they were marketed like junk food?

I guess this strategy didn’t work, alas.

Sep 5 2018

Trump’s NAFTA deal with Mexico: What about Canada?

The basic agreement does not say much about agriculture, but the Trade Representative has produced a separate fact sheet for agriculture.

The White House says:

The agreement specifically addresses agricultural biotechnology to keep up with 21st Century innovations. And we mutually pledge to work together with Mexico to reduce trade-distorting policies, increase transparency, and ensure non-discriminatory treatment in grading of agricultural products.  This is nothing short of a great victory for farmers and ranchers because…Mexico has historically been a great customer and partner.

And then comes the kicker:

We now hope that Canada will see the need to settle all of the outstanding issues between our two nations as well, and restore us to a true North American Free Trade Agreement.

According to Politico,

Trump warned that efforts to revamp the 24-year-old pact could result in two different agreements, and threatened Canada with tariffs on automobiles if Ottawa didn’t agree to negotiate “fairly.”

Mexico’s president must be worried about Canada.  In a phone call with Trump, he said:

It is our wish, Mr. President, that now Canada will also be able to be incorporated in all this.  And I assume that they going to carry out negotiations of the sensitive bilateral issues between Mexico — rather, between Canada and the United States.

According to the New York TimesCanada is scrambling to get in on the deal.  Why?  Three-quarters of its exports go to the U.S., and automobile supply chains are at issue.

Also according to the New York Times, Congress calmed things down a bit and the White House is giving Canada more time to figure out how to handle all this.

According to Vox, here’s how that happened.

Trump argues that NAFTA has been bad for the United States.  That is unlikely.  It’s been much worse for Mexico (see, for example, Alyshia Gálvez’s Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico, out next month).

Thanks to The Hagstrom Report for providing these documents:

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Sep 4 2018

How did glyphosate get into Cheerios?

The Environmental Working Group recently released a report on the amounts of glyphosate (Roundup) in children’s breakfast cereals, particularly those made with oats and wheat.

Roundup, you may recall, has been judged a probable carcinogen by the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) and California courts.  It is used to kill weeds in fields growing crops genetically modified to resist Roundup.

But oats and wheat grown in the U.S. are not genetically modified.  The FDA’s list of genetically modified foods says nothing about oats and wheat, and the agency does not permit GMO versions to be marketed.

How could Cheerios and Quaker Oats be contaminated with glyphosate at amounts that exceed standards?

The explanation:

Increasingly, glyphosate is also sprayed just before harvest on wheat, barley, oats and beans that are not genetically engineered. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so that it can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally.

Really?  They spray glyphosate on oats just before harvest?  Yes, they do.

What this means is that more glyphosate gets into your food from the non-GMO wheat and oats sprayed just before harvest, then from GMO corn and soybeans sprayed earlier in their growth.

Whether eating glyphosate is bad for you or your kids is a matter of fierce debate.  As the New York Times explains, the safety of glyphosate is very much at issue:

In fact, it is central to a raging international debate about the chemical that has spawned thousands of lawsuits, allegations of faulty research supporting and opposing the chemical and a vigorous defense of the herbicide from Monsanto, the company that helped develop it 40 years ago and helped turn it into the most popular weedkiller in the world.

Scott Partridge, a vice president at Monsanto, said in an interview on Wednesday that hundreds of studies had validated the safety of glyphosate and that it doesn’t cause cancer. He called the Environmental Working Group an activist group.

“They have an agenda,” he said. “They are fear mongering. They distort science.”

The EWG states its advocacy position on its website:

The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action. We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

I do not view this report as distorting science.  If anything, it provides data that the industry is not collecting or does not want released.  This information is useful for making decisions about what to eat.

You don’t want your kids eating glyphosate while scientists are still in disagreement about the extent of its harm to human health?

  • Vote with your fork: Buy organic cereals; they have far less or no detectable glyphosate.
  • Vote with your vote: Call for policies to get these practices stopped.

Or you can consider a third option now in play: file a lawsuit.

Aug 31 2018

Halal meat: Global Meat News’ updates on the industry

Global Meat News is one of those industry newsletters I subscribe to.  This is a collection of its articles on halal meats—those from animals slaughtered and prepared according to Muslim dietary laws.

The market for halal meats is increasing worldwide.

Image result for growth in halal meats

Global Meat News’ Special Edition: Halal

Halal produce is continuing to grow in demand across the international meat market, with China, Russia and Mexico showing a recent surge of interest in certifications and exploring opportunities for export. Is it time for halal meat to win over its previous critics by embracing the 21st​ century?

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Aug 29 2018

The $12 billion trade mitigation promised to farmers: who gets how much?

Recall that to mitigate the damage to U.S. agriculture caused by our current tariff disputes, President Trump promised to give affected farmers $12 billion.

The USDA has now set up its Trade Mitigation Programs.  As seems invariably to be the case, these are not simple; they involve three separate programs:

  • The Food Purchase and Distribution Program
  • The Market Facilitation Program
  • The Agricultural Trade Promotion Program

Food Purchase and Distribution Program

The government (taxpayers) will purchase up to $1.2 billion in commodities and then distribute them to food assistance programs.

USDA issued a list.  Here are some selected examples, to which you must add three zeros (amounts are in $1000s):

Apples $93,400
Apricots $200
Beef $14,800
Blueberries $1,700
Hazelnuts $2,100
Kidney Beans $14,200
Pork $558,800
Potatoes $44,500
Strawberries $1,500

The big winner here is pork, hit badly by the trade disputes.

The Market Facilitation Program

This one gets a bigger slice—$4.7 billion.

Here, the big winner is soybeans — $3.6 of the $4.7 billion in payments.  Corn producers are lpretty much left out.  I can’t imagine tht they are pleased.

The Agricultural Trade Promotion Program

All I’ve seen about it is that USDA will spend $200 million on foreign market development.

What are we to make of this?

Whether trade groups are for or against this depends on how much of this pie they get.  Overall agricultural losses will be greater than $12 billion, so everyone loses, but some more than others.  The Environmental Working Group has filed a FOIA request for information about how USDA made these decisions.  Can’t wait to see what they get.

Only half of that has been distributed so far.

Let’s hope the lobbying is transparent so we can see who is doing what.

The Documents 

 

Aug 27 2018

Childhood poverty is increasing, alas

The proportion of U.S. children living in poverty, says the USDA, is higher than it was before the Great Recession of 2008 and seems to be increasing, particularly in rural areas and the South.

Overall, nearly 20%—one-fifth—of U.S. children were living in poverty, an increase of more than one million children since 2007.

The percentage for rural children is 23.5%.

More than half (56%) of all US counties have high rates of child poverty.

An astonishing 86% of rural counties in the South have high rates.

Mississippi has the highest prevalence of rural child poverty—82% of counties in that state have child poverty rates of 20% or more.

Poverty is not good for health.

We have a lot of work to do.

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