Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 10 2019

One more time: the Economic Research Service tragedy

I was asked to do a more formal write-up of my blog posts on what’s happening with the Economic Research Service for World Nutrition, a publication of the World Public Health Nutrition Association.

My article is now published as “The Trump Administration’s destruction of the Economic Research Service: An American Tragedy (World Nutrition 2019;10(2):87-91).

It covers events through June 22, 2019.  Since then:


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Jul 9 2019

An exchange with Ray Goldberg about sponsorship and trust

Ray Goldberg, Harvard Business School Professor of Agribusiness, Emeritus, but still running a seminar that I have attended annually for about 25 years, often challenges me to think more constructively about how food businesses should respond to pressures from public health advocates. His 2018 book, Food Citizenship (for which I was interviewed and videotaped) illustrates some of the back-and-forth we have had over the years.

Recently, in response to my “industry-funded study of the week” posts, he sent me several thought-provoking questions, which I respond to here with his permission.

RG: How can the private sector support nutrition research without being accused of a conflict of interest?

MN: With great difficulty. Industry-sponsored research is inherently conflicted when research questions are designed for marketing purposes, which much—if not most—industry-sponsored research now is. Such research almost invariably produces results that favor the sponsor’s interests. As I explain in Unsavory Truth, I get letters all the time from trade associations requesting proposals for research projects to demonstrate the benefits of the products they represent. There is a big difference between designing a study to demonstrate benefits (a marketing question) and one asking an open-ended what-happens question (basic research). If companies want to fund basic research, they could contribute to a common pool administered by an independent third party such as the NIH. But food companies don’t want to take the risk of paying for research that might come out with inconvenient results. In my book, I suggest taxing food companies to create a research fund that would be administered independently. That’s the only way I can think of that would work.

RG: How does the consumer end up having confidence in the statements of those in the food system who really do have integrity and who really care about their customers and society and the environment? I trust the Wegmans because I know them personally. How does the Food System build back trust?

MN: It’s interesting that you mention Wegmans (I often shop in the one in Ithaca). It is a family-owned business, not publicly traded. I recall hearing Danny Wegman explain the advantage of family ownership at one of your seminars. It’s not that family members don’t want to make money; it’s that they don’t have to be greedy .  They can do things for their customers that publicly traded supermarkets cannot. As long as Wall Street expects food companies to make a profit and to grow their profits every 90 days, companies must respond by pushing their most highly profitable products every way they can, regardless of whether poor health is collateral damage. If companies want the public to trust them, they have to be trustworthy.  But investors don’t reward integrity; they reward profits.

RG: The food system needs people who care about the health of people, plants, animals and our environment but who is providing the leadership that you and others want in that system?

MN: If they want to sell products, large food product companies (Big Food) has to appeal to public demands for health and sustainability.  They are trying to move the Titanic as quickly as they can and still maintain the same profit margins. Big Ag is way behind. I’m seeing a worldwide consensus that we need food system approaches to solve world food problems.  These firmly link agricultural policy to health and environmental policy so as to address hunger, obesity, and climate change. at the same time.  A largely, but not necessarily exclusively, plant-based diet does that and it’s what all food policies should promote.  At the moment, American agriculture and dietary guidelines are outliers in ignoring those linkages. We badly need to catch up.  I see international leadership on this issue, but not here.  Is Harvard training food business leaders to address these needs?  You tell me where the American leadership is. I don’t see it coming from the top.  It has to be bottom up.  Fortunately, lots of young people are interested in food issues and the leadership is going to have to come from them.


Jul 8 2019

Industry-funded review of the week: Seafood!

Seafood intake and the development of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  Bjorn Liaset, Jannike Øyen, Hélène Jacques, Karsten Kristiansen and Lise Madsen. Nutrition Research Reviews (2019), 32, 146–167.

Conclusion: Evidence from intervention trials and animal studies suggests that frequent intake of lean seafood, as compared with intake of terrestrial meats, reduces energy intake by 4–9%, sufficient to prevent a positive energy balance and obesity. At equal energy intake, lean seafood reduces fasting and postprandial risk markers of insulin resistance, and improves insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant adults… More studies are needed to confirm the dietary effects on energy intake, obesity and insulin resistance.”

Funding: The present review was financially supported by The Norwegian Seafood Research Fund…The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Comment:  It is understandable that the Norwegian seafood industry would support research to promote seafood consumption.  Seafood is a demonstrably good source of animal protein but how good, how essential, and how environmentally sustainable are highly debatable.  To the authors’ credit, they acknowledge the debate when they admit that “more studies are needed….”  Industry-funded studies tend to put a positive spin on equivocal research, as this one does [I provide evidence for these views in Unsavory Truth].

Jul 5 2019

Enjoy the weekend: Beverage Daily’s Beer Supplement

Beer is a hot topic these days, so hot that the industry newsletter Beverage Daily collects its articles on the topic into MONTHLY BEER SPECIALS.  I’ve picked these from the June and July Specials.  The big issues: craft, low or no alcohol, cannabis, and sustainability.


Low and no-alcohol 



Jul 4 2019

Happy (VERY happy, apparently) July 4

I don’t know what to say.  It’s a whole new world of food politics out there.  Happy Fourth!  Enjoy!

What does this have to do with food politics?

  • The FDA has not approved the use of cannabis and Cannabis derivatives in food products, at least for interstate commerce.
  • Given this situation, New York City has banned sales of food products containing CBD.
  • The FDA is taking comments on what it should do about Cannabis rules until July 16.  File there here.

The FDA, litigation and maybe Congress will eventually clear up the confusion about what is and is not legal.  In the meantime, you are on your own….

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Jul 3 2019

Have backyard chickens? Wash your hands!

As readers of this blog should know by now, I’m a big fan of food safety lawyer Bill Marler, whose blog keeps me up to date on food safety matters.

He posted recently on a Salmonella outbreak caused by contact with backyard chickens.

The CDC keeps track of such things.  By its count,

A total of 279 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella have been reported from 41 states.

  • 40 (26%) people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported.
  • 70 (30%) people are children younger than 5 years.

The CDC’s advice:

I was interested in Marler’s account because I knew that he had backyard chickens at his place near Seattle.

Here’s what he says about that:

We have had hens in our backyard since just after the DeCoster egg debacle in 2010.  I clean the chicken house about twice a month and the shoes and clothes I wear are removed before going inside.  I wear a mask and gloves when I clean and either wash my hands well or take a shower.  I do not pick up the chickens unless they are ill, and I wash my hands after I do.  I wash the eggs and refrigerate then.  They tend to get used within the week.

I do my best to think about the possibility of cross-contamination with Salmonella and/or Campylobacter.  So far, so good.

Good advice.


Jul 2 2019

Coalitions, updated

In April, I posted a collection of coalitions of organizations working on issues in agriculture, food, and nutrition.  Since then, several coalition groups have asked to be included on the list.

Here is the updated coalition list.  These are organized alphabetically in two sections: United States and International.

Why did I put this list together?  In unity there is strength.

Contact each together, combine resources, work jointly on issues of common interest.  I can’t think of a better way to gain political power to achieve advocacy goals.



Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Country: USA

Mission: We will advocate for independent family farmers and businesses; promote environmental protection and restoration; encourage the humane treatment of animals; develop an equitable and just food system; and celebrate the consumption of local, sustainably raised foods.

Contact: Sherri Dugger, 317-371-2970,


Women, Food and Agriculture Network

Country: USA

Mission: To engage women in building an ecological and just food and agricultural system through individual and community power.

Contact: Sherri Dugger, 317-371-2970,


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Jul 1 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: grains exonerated!

Perspective: Refined Grains and Health: Genuine Risk, or Guilt by Association? Glenn A Gaesser.  Adv Nutr. 2019 May 1;10(3):361-371.

Conclusion: This literature analysis illustrates a pitfall of attributing health risks to specific food groups based primarily on analysis of dietary patterns. With regard to refined grains, a large and consistent body of evidence from meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies suggests that the assumed health risks are largely a consequence of guilt by association with other foods within the Western dietary pattern, and not to refined grains per se.

Funding: Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a grant from the Wheat Foods Council and Grain Foods Foundation. Author disclosure: GAG is a member of the scientific advisory boards of the Grain Foods Foundation, the Wheat Foods Council, and Ardent Mills.

Comment:  The author set out to counter a recommendation of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that to improve dietary quality, it’s better to replace most refined grains with whole grains.  Refining whole grains removes the great majority of their vitamins, minerals, and fiber (fortified flour replaces some of the nutrients, but not all).  Furthermore, refined grains are the main ingredients in many ultra-processed junk foods that promote overeating calories and raise risks for chronic disease.  Wheat per se may not be the problem, but what about the foods made from it?  I keep thinking: “grain-based desserts,” the number one contributor to calories in the American diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines.

Why do studies like this?  So the Texas Wheat Association can issue this headline: “New study exonerates refined grains.”

Want details and references on these contentions?  I provide them at length in Unsavory Truth.