Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 26 2019

The food industry’s view of healthy aging

NutraIngredients.com, a food industry newsletter published in the UK, has issued a collection of articles on healthy aging.  This should give you a good idea of where products targeted to the elderly are headed.

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Sep 25 2019

Agriculture support payments go higher and higher

As I’ve confessed many times, I have a hard time getting my head around how US farm policy works in practice.  Fortunately, we have Politico to help.

Politico Morning Agriculture, its not-to-be-missed daily newsletter, has a few gems on payments to agricultural producers under current farm policies.

Last ten years: farm payments have averaged $11.5 billion per year (the peak was $13.8 billion in 2018)

2019: payments are predicted to exceed $21 billion. How?

  • $14.5 billion in direct trade aid for 2019 production.
  • $11.5 billion in direct payments

Politico notes: These payments contradict “Trump’s claims that he’s turned the farm economy around.”

It also notes that federal payments are likely to account for 27 percent of farmer income this year.

Is this reasonable agricultural policy?  No.

Don’t we need a better and more sustainable system?  Yes.

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Sep 24 2019

New report predicts collapse of dairy and cattle industries by 2030

A group called RethinkX has produced an attention-getting report: “Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030.”

Its press release argues that new lab-based technology will thoroughly disrupt dairy and cattle farming.

By 2030, the dairy and cattle industries will have collapsed as animal-derived foods are replaced by modern equivalents that are higher quality and cost less than half as much to produce. The rest of the livestock industry will suffer a similar fate.

Furthermore, the new products will be “ever cheaper and superior – more nutritious, healthier, better tasting, more convenient, and more varied.”

The press release says that via a process of “death by a thousand cuts,”

different parts of the cow (meat, milk, collagen, and leather) and the markets they serve will be disrupted separately and concurrently by different technologies and business-model innovations that overlap, reinforce, and accelerate one another…The key to understanding the disruption of the cow is that PF [precision fermentation] only needs to disrupt 3.3% of the milk bottle – the key functional proteins – to bring about the collapse of the entire cow milk industry.

The report predicts that by 2030:

  • The number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50%.
  • Production volumes of the U.S. beef and dairy industries and their suppliers will be cut by more than half.
  • The market for ground beef by volume will have shrunk by 70%, the steak market by 30% and the dairy market by almost 90%.
  • The U.S. dairy and cattle industries will have collapsed, leaving only local specialty farms in operation.
  • The volume of crops needed to feed cattle inthe U.S. will fall by 50%…causing cattle feed production revenues, at current prices, to fall by more than 50%.
  • Half of the 1.2 million jobs in U.S. beef and dairy production (including supply chain), along with their associated industries, will be lost

Really?  Is the technology that good, approved, and acceptable?

It’s hard to take this seriously at this point, but the trends are worth watching.

I’m wondering what the cattle and dairy trade groups and lobbyists have to say about all this.

 

Sep 23 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Almonds

Title: Almond Consumption and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease:A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Lee-Bravatti MA, et al.  Adv Nutr. 2019;00:1–13

Method: The authors selected studies that had compared lab values of adults who consumed almonds with those who did not.  They found significant reductions in some—but not all—CVD risk factors among the almond eaters.  The almond eaters, for example, had lower total cholesterol levels and lost weight during the trials.

Conclusion: “Almond consumption may reduce the risk of CVD by improving blood lipids and by decreasing body weight and apoB [apolipoprotein B].”

Funding: “Supported by the Almond Board of California…The funder did not have a role in the study selection, quality assessment, data synthesis, or manuscript preparation.”

Author disclosures:  GR was a consultant for Porter Novelli; EJJ received funds from the Almond Board of California for a clinical trial at the time of the study. MAL-B, JW, EEA, and LK, no conflicts of interest.

Comment: I like nuts and am especially partial to marcona almonds, but I wish the almond industry would stop trying to prove that almonds can perform health miracles. I can easily see why substituting almonds for ultraprocessed junk foods would help reduce markers of CVD risk, calories, and weight: people who eat junk food consume more calories and are more likely to be obese.  This study set a standard of 42.5 grams of almonds a day, roughly 1.5 ounces  and 200 calories.  But are almonds superior to other nuts?  The Walnut Commission would argue otherwise, as would the Pecan Growers’ Association.  The Almond Board may say it has nothing to do with the study, but it doesn’t have to.  Its funding is sufficient to exert influence even if investigators don’t realize it, as I discuss in Unsavory Truth.

Sep 20 2019

Weekend reading: the state of obesity

Trust for America’s Health has just published its annual report on obesity, state by state.

As the home page puts it, “U.S. Obesity Rates Reach Historic Highs – Racial, Ethnic, Gender and Geographic Discrepancies Continue to Persist.”

The press release has an even more pointed headline: “U.S. Obesity Rates at Historic Highs – Nine States Reach Adult Obesity Rates of 35 Percent or More.”

The report highlights that obesity levels are closely tied to social and economic conditions and that individuals with lower incomes are more at risk. People of color, who are more likely to live in neighborhoods with few options for healthy foods and physical activity, and, are the target of widespread marketing of unhealthy foods, are at elevated risk.

What to do?

The report calls for sugary drink taxes, expanded SNAP and WIC Nutrition support programs and a built environment that encourages physical activity.

Buried in the report are suggestions for curbing food-industry marketing and other efforts to undermine public health initiatives.

  • Keep industry out of dietary guidelines.
  • Consider regulating food-industry marketing.
  • Stop industry from preempting state public health laws.
  • Reduce unhealthy food marketing to children.

Lots of good stuff here and well worth a read.

Sep 19 2019

Eating insects: everything you want to know and more

I can’t say that I am particularly interested in eating insects but I know there is a lot of interest in them as an alternative food source, and I was intrigued by a story about a new guide to labeling insect-based foods.

Since the link given for this publication does not seem to work, I went to the website of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF), an organization I am happy to know about.

IPIFF is “the voice of the insect sector in the European Union.”  It represents  52 small and medium-sized producers of insects for the European market.  Who knew?

Its mission:

to promote the wider use of insects as an alternative or new source of protein for human consumption and animal feed through continuous dialogue with the European institutions. Notably, IPIFF centres its activities around advocating for appropriate EU legislative frameworks to apply to insect production.

Its publications are here.

Want to know more about insects in human nutrition?  Try this:

Interesting, no?  I’m happy to know about this site.

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Sep 18 2019

In New York? See Super Size Me 2 and eat at Holy Chicken

I went to see Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me 2 (Holy Chicken) at New York City’s Cinema Village where it is playing only at 11:00 a.m. and 11 p.m.  You also can watch it online (more on its distribution later).   Disclosure: I was interviewed for this film a couple of years ago and appear in a short clip (so short that I am not mentioned in the credits).

I also went to the pop up restaurant, Holy Chicken, at 22 West 23rd Street.  It’s only open until Sunday.  If you would like to see it—and you should—go now.

From my food politics point of view, the film is a must-see.  It is a compelling, beautifully photographed, disturbing, cynical, utterly devastating account of industrial chicken production.

If for no other reason, go see it for its portrayal of the truly disgraceful tournament system that Big Chicken uses to play the farmers who actually raise the chickens.  The companies provide all inputs to the farmers, but pay them according to an easily manipulated formula that rewards some and punishes others.  This system externalizes all of the production risk to farmers, keeps them in debt, and punishes them for attempts at independence.

The restaurant illustrates the film’s major messages.

The servers wear the messages.  I snagged this tee shirt.

The walls are covered with messages.  This one is about what happens to farmers.

My favorite is the back of the tray liner, which comes with crayons for kids to color.

This is a movie that needs to be seen.  So why the limited distribution?  Spurlock confessed his MeToo behavior toward women.  In the aftermath, his distributors pulled out, he resigned from his company, and its release has been long delayed.  Complicated, no?

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Sep 17 2019

Natural Products Expo: all boxes checked

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore on Saturday and worth the trip it was.

Here is where to see—and taste—what’s happening in health foods: ultra-processed (drinks, crackers, puffs) and not (nut butters, smoked fish).

Impressions

This is a huge market: the exhibits took up three full floors of two buildings in the convention center.  I think I only managed to wander through about half of them.

The big news is hemp.  An entire section of one of the floors was devoted to CBD oils, pills, and balms, but hemp booths were also scattered throughout.  I didn’t see many edibles—just a few gummy bears.

The buzz words are “all boxes checked.”  I heard this many times.  My favorite example: hemp water (“hydrate your body to the fullest”).  Here’s its list:

  • All natural
  • No artificial flavors
  • No THC
  • No preservatives
  • Gluten free
  • Dairy free
  • Sugar free
  • Sodium free
  • Zero calories
  • Non-GMO
  • Vegan

Everyone wants to get into Whole Foods.  When I asked small producers where I could find their products, one after another said this.

Plant-based products are on the move.  I tried oat- and coconut-based ice creams (not bad, but still can’t compete with the 17% fat dairy versions, alas).