Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 13 2017

FDA approves “qualified health claim” for early introduction of peanuts

I was interested to see the FDA’s announcement that it “acknowledges” and will “exercise enforcement discretion” (translation: will not oppose) a qualified health claim linking the early introduction of peanuts into the diets of young children with severe eczema or egg allergies as a means to reduce their risk of peanut allergy.

Here’s the claim, which the FDA says manufacturers can use right away:

For most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age. FDA has determined, however, that the evidence supporting this claim is limited to one study. If your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.

The FDA’s decision is based on:

But why a qualified health claim?  Whenever you see one, you know that business interests are at stake.

In this case, the claim is in response to a petition filed by Assured Bites, Inc., maker of Hello Peanut products.  Check the astonishing prices of these products and you can see why this company wanted a health claim, and why it is already advertising it.

Really, you can do this at home.  We are talking here about starting high-risk kids out—under medical supervision—with a small taste of plain, ordinary peanut butter.

The FDA allows qualified health claims because industry wants them for marketing and pressures Congress to force the FDA to allow them.

What’s wrong with qualified health claims?  The qualifications get lost in the marketing.  Parents may think Hello Peanut works better than much less expensive alternatives.

 The FDA documents

Also see

Sep 12 2017

How Big Food does politics in Washington

Big Food trade associations got a meeting at the White House to argue that the deadlines for implementing the new Nutrition Facts panel and GMO labeling need to be synchronized (translation: delayed as long as possible).

Here’s who came to the meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget:

  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • National Confectioners Association
  • Food Marketing Institute
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • SNAC International

We know about the meeting because the White House released a record of it.

The current compliance dates:

  • July 26, 2018 for implementing the Nutrition Facts Panel
  • July 29, 2018 for when the USDA is supposed to release rules for GMO labels, presumably starting the process of public comment and years before implementation

The meeting participants provided two handouts:

A reality check: go to your local supermarket.  Lots of food producers are already using the new Nutrition Facts Panel.

This is a consumer-unfriendly request.

We don’t need more delays.

Sep 11 2017

Alumni Profile, Berkeley Molecular and Cell Biology

It’s been a long time since I got my doctorate in molecular biology at the University of California Berkeley, so I was especially pleased to be interviewed for the Molecular & Cell Biology newsletter, the MCB Transcript.

Alumni Profile: Spring 2017

By Kirsten Mickelwait
Marion Nestle
Marion Nestle, photo credit: Bill Hayes

Marion Nestle calls herself “a long-lapsed molecular biologist.” The renowned food writer originally set her sights on a career in bench science but switched to the classroom when she found postdoc work hours too much to balance while raising two small children. After a few years of teaching, “I was assigned a nutrition course and it was like falling in love,” she remembers. “I’ve never looked back.”

The years since then have been filled with innumerable achievements. Coauthoring the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. Creating the field of Food Studies at New York University. Writing the seminal Food Politics (2002) and seven subsequent books. Appearing in seven documentaries, including Supersize Me (2004) and Food, Inc. (2008). In 2011, Forbes magazine listed Nestle second among “the world’s seven most powerful foodies.”

“When we started Food Studies in 1996, everyone thought we were crazy — why would anyone want to study food?” she says. “Now most American universities, and many worldwide, have some kind of food program.”

Nestle received her BS from UC Berkeley, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1959, before pursuing her PhD (molecular biology) and MPH (public health nutrition), also from Cal. She was named Public Health Hero by the School of Public Health in 2011.

“As I look back, what I learned at Berkeley was how to think critically about science,” she says. “I can read and assess nutrition research quickly, then offer opinions based on what I know within a broad scientific context — and nobody messes with me about science. I may be criticized for my opinions, but never for their scientific foundations.”

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Sep 8 2017

Weekend reading: Reinventing the (Cheese) Wheel

Bronwen and Frances Percival.  Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese.  University of California Press, 2017.

 

 

In this book, the Percivals take a serious deep dive into the culinary history, sociology, politics, terroir, microbiology, and how-to of the making and eating of cheeses, raw and pasteurized.  Both kinds, when done right, can be delicious and safe.  This book should convince anyone that the making of wondrous cheeses is a science as well as an art.

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Sep 7 2017

TODAY! New York City school lunches FREE for ALL students

Wonderful news!

In a press release yesterday from New York City:

CHANCELLOR FARIÑA ANNOUNCES FREE SCHOOL LUNCH FOR ALL 

Starting tomorrow, lunch is free for every NYC public school student

NEW YORK — Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Leticia James today announced that lunch is now free for every student at every public school across New York City. Free School Lunch for All will provide over 200,000 more students with free lunch starting this school year. Last school year, 75% of students were eligible for free lunch and starting this school year, 100% of families will be eligible to receive free lunch.

New York City has sought all forms of funding for meal reimbursement and is now eligible to receive the highest reimbursement from the federal government through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This federal program allows school districts to provide meals free of charge to all enrolled students.

The press release has enthusiastic quotes from just about everyone who gets credit for this (and grateful thanks to all of you), but here’s the one from Jan Poppendieck who has been advocating for this for years:

“There is no more important step the City could have taken to promote the health, academic success, and wellbeing of our children. Free school lunch for all, without stigma or bureaucratic hassle, will not only secure access to healthy school meals for all NYC students, it will enhance the entire school dining experience. Now school lunch can truly become an integral part of the school day, a social center and a learning experience, integrated with the curriculum. The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute applauds the Mayor, the City Council, the Office of School Food and Nutrition Services, and all of the advocates in the Lunch For Learning Campaign who have worked so hard to bring us to this day,” said Jan Poppendieck, Senior Fellow, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and author, Free For All: Fixing School Food in America.

Her book got everyone thinking about how much free lunches make sense.  And now it’s happening!  Congratulations to all!

Image result for poppendieck free for all

 

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Sep 6 2017

What’s up with meat substitutes?

I’ve never understood why people who do not want to eat meat for reasons of health, animal welfare, environmental protection, or religion want to eat meat substitutes when vegetarian and vegan diets can be delicious on their own.

Because one of my food rules is “never eat anything artificial,” meat substitutes are not on my food radar.

Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the intense interest of venture capitalist investors—and many eaters—in plant-based or lab-based concoctions that look and more-or-less taste like meat (I’ve tried as many of them as I can, but find them all too salty).

Global Meat News

The industry newsletter, GlobalMeatNews.com, is a great place to keep up with what’s happening with meat substitutes.  From it, I learn:

Impossible Burger

And then, there is the fuss over this lab-based substitute so realistic that it appears to “bleed.”  It has had some difficulty with the FDA over the safety of this ingredient.

Impossible Burger FOIA documents

On-line searchable database of synthetic biology derived ingredients, including Impossible Food’s “heme”.

–FOE website on the risks of synthetic biology to health and environment.

My opinion (for what it’s worth)

If people would rather eat these things than real meat, that’s fine for them.  I’m not concerned about the safety issues; the probability of this protein’s being unsafe seems small.  

  • Should we all be eating less meat?  Yes, for reasons of health and environment.
  • Will these products help us do that?  Maybe.
  • Will they make lots of money for investors?  It sure looks that way. 

I will be following this topic with great interest.  Stay tuned.

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Sep 5 2017

The PURE study warrants some skepticism

I love getting notes like this one from a reader:

Why aren’t you saying anything about the PURE study.  Doesn’t it prove that everything you’ve been saying about eating more fruits and vegetables and about saturated fat is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Admit it.

Not this time.  Whenever I hear the claim that “everything you thought about nutrition is wrong,” I know that skepticism is in order.  Science rarely works that way; it usually progresses incrementally.

What the PURE study is about: The PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) study was designed to examine, among other things, the effects of lifestyle behaviors on the health of about 135,000 people in 18 countries over up to 10 years.  Its results have just been published in Lancet journals.

What the headlines say: “Study challenges conventional wisdom on fats, fruits and vegetables.”

What the studies say:  Three papers report results: 

1,  Fruit, vegetable, and legumes vs. cardiovascular disease and death

Higher fruit, vegetable, and legume consumption was associated with a lower risk of non-cardiovascular, and total mortality. Benefits appear to be maximum for both non-cardiovascular mortality and total mortality at three to four servings per day (equivalent to 375–500 g/day).

2.  Fat and carbohydrate vs. cardiovascular disease and death

High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality, whereas saturated fat had an inverse association with stroke. Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.  [Note: the data do not distinguish types of carbohydrate.]

3.  Association of nutrients with blood lipids and blood pressure

Our data are at odds with current recommendations to reduce total fat and saturated fats. Reducing saturated fatty acid intake and replacing it with carbohydrate has an adverse effect on blood lipids. Substituting saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats might improve some risk markers, but might worsen others.

Why the need for skepticism:

I like the way James Hamblin explains the problem in The Atlantic:

The practically important findings were that the healthiest people in the world had diets that are full of fruits, beans, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in refined carbohydrates and sugar.

As a writer and a reader, though, this is very boring. If I pitched that to my editor, he would laugh at me. What is new here? Why is this interesting? You know what would be novel? You getting fired! Now get out there and find me a story, dammit!

Why did they do this study?  

I looked immediately to see who paid for it.  The list of funders is very long (it must have been extremely expensive).  The list begins:

The PURE Study is an investigator initiated study funded by the Population Health Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, support from CIHR’s Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR) through the Ontario SPOR Support Unit, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long­Term Care and through unrestricted grants from several pharmaceutical companies, with major contributions from AstraZeneca (Canada), Sanofi­Aventis (France and Canada), Boehringer Ingelheim (Germany and Canada), Servier, and GlaxoSmithkline, and additional contributions from Novartis and King Pharma and from various national or local organisations in participating countries [the funders that follow are mainly government and private research bodies along with a sugar trade association and more drug companies—the list takes up more than half a column].

Drug companies have a big interest in this topic, especially if dietary approaches to heart disease prevention aren’t proven.

What the PURE study really tells us: For this, I am going to quote from David Katz’s lengthy analysis:

On the basis of all of the details in these published papers, the conclusion, and attendant headlines, might have been: “very poor people with barely anything to eat get sick and die more often than affluent people with access to both ample diets, and hospitals.” One certainly understands why the media did NOT choose that! It is, however, true- and entirely consistent with the data.

Also, by way of reminder: the HIGHEST levels of both total fat, and saturated fat intake observed in the PURE data were still LOWER then prevailing levels in the U.S. and much of Europe, providing no basis whatsoever for headlines encouraging people already exceeding these levels to add yet more meat, butter, and cheese to their diets. Absolutely none.

My translation: This study confirms that the single most important risk factor for poor health is poverty.  The study results are consistent with the idea that largely plant-based diets are good for health.  No single study can settle the fat vs. carbohydrate debate because people eat complicated combinations of foods and diets containing those nutrients.  What we really need are well designed studies of dietary patterns—the ones done to date suggest that largely plant-based diets are associated with excellent health and longevity.  

Sep 4 2017

For your Labor Day barbecue…

Related image

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