Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 1 2022

Industry-funded research proposal of the week: Sweeteners

TODAY: KPFA book talk in Berkeley.  The Back Room, 1984 Bonita Avenue, 7:00 pm.  Ticketing info is here.

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Jim Krieger, who I will see in Seattle on Saturday, sent this one.

The study: Protocol for a multicentre, parallel, randomised, controlled trial on the effect of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers on health, obesity and safety in overweight adults and children: the SWEET project.  Louise Kjølbæk 1Yannis Manios 2 3Ellen E Blaak 4J Alfredo Martínez 5 6Edith J M Feskens 7Graham Finlayson 8Sabina S H Andersen 9Kyriakos Reppas 2Santiago Navas-Carretero 5 10Tanja C Adam 11Charo E Hodgkins 12Marta Del Álamo 13Tony Lam 14Hariklia Moshoyiannis 15Jason C G Halford 8 16Joanne A Harrold 16Anne Raben 9 17  BMJ Open.  2022 Oct 12;12(10):e061075.   doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-061075.

Purpose: “The aim of this randomised controlled trial (RCT) is to investigate whether prolonged consumption of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers (S&SEs) within a healthy diet will improve weight loss maintenance and obesity-related risk factors and affect safety markers compared with sugar.”

Competing interests: “AR has received honoraria from Unilever and the International Sweeteners Association. CEH’s research centre provides consultancy to, and has received travel funds to present research results from organisations supported by food and drink companies. JCGH and JH have received project funds from the American Beverage Association. TL works for a company, NetUnion sarl, which has no conflict of interest in the study outcome.”

Comment: This is the official announcement of the research and analysis methods for a new clinical trial.  Once the study gets going, it will take a year to get the results.  It looks like the trial will be comparing the effects of artificial sweeteners and sugar on body weight and other markers.  It is sponsored by a company that makes artificial sweeteners and a trade association for the makers and users of artificial sweeteners.  Want to take bets on what the results will look like?

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Oct 31 2022

Happy Halloween! [But see correction]

Trick or Treat?  You can’t make this stuff up.  CORRECTION: No you can’t.  It’s a fake.  Busted.

On the brighter side…

Happy Halloween!

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Oct 28 2022

Weekend viewing: The Mexican government’s healthy eating campaign

This is too good not to share.  I learned about it from this tweet from Simon Boquera at Mexico’s Public Health Institute.  It’s a bit over two minutes and aimed at kids.

Wish we had something like this!

 

Oct 27 2022

USDA aims to reduce Salmonella in poultry products: a good first step

The USDA is at long last giving some attention—a small but significant first step—to reducing Salmonella contamination of poultry products.

Salmonella is a big problem in poultry and eggs.  For decades, food safety advocates have called on the USDA to declare Salmonella an adulterant.  Adulterated food is illegal to sell.

The poultry industry has resisted, arguing that chicken gets cooked before it is eaten; cooking kills Salmonella.

It does, but you don’t want toxic forms of Salmonella in your kitchen where they can get into other foods.  For background all this, see my book, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety.

In a press release, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announces that it

is considering a regulatory framework for a new strategy to control Salmonella in poultry products and more effectively reduce foodborne Salmonella infections linked to these products…The most recent report from the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration estimates that over 23% of foodborne Salmonella illnesses are attributable to poultry consumption—almost
17% from chicken and over 6% from turkey.

The proposed Salmonalla framework has three components:

What FSIS is actually doing:

We will publish a proposed notice of determination to declare Salmonella an adulterant in NRTE [not ready to eat] breaded and stuffed chicken products in 2022, and we intend to publish additional proposed rules and policies implementing this strategy in 2023, with the goal of finalizing any rules by mid-2024.

The adulterant consideration only applies to breaded and stuffed chicken or turkey products that are likely to be microwaved but not necessarily thoroughly cooked.  It does not apply to plain, unbreaded and unstuffed poultry.

Consumer Reports finds lots of poultry to be contaminated with Salmonella.  Consumer Reports says Salmonella is “lethal but legal.”

Currently, a chicken processing facility is allowed to have salmonella in up to 9.8 percent of all whole birds it tests, 15.4 percent of all parts, and 25 percent of ground chicken. And producers that exceed these amounts are not prevented from selling the meat. If salmonella became an adulterant, even in some poultry products, it would help reduce the amount of contaminated meat that hits the market.

As might be expected, the National Chicken Council opposes the USDA’s proposed framework: “lacks data, research.”

the facts show that the Centers for Disease Control and FSIS’s own data demonstrate progress and clear reductions in Salmonella in U.S. chicken products.  “Increased consumer education about proper handling and cooking of raw meat must be part of any framework going forward…Proper handling and cooking of poultry is the last step, not the first, that will help eliminate any risk of foodborne illness. We’ll do our part to promote safety.”

In other words, the poultry industry wants you to be responsible for protecting yourself against Salmonella.  If only you would do a better job of handling and cooking raw chicken.  It does not want to have to reduce Salmonella in its flocks in the first place (something quite possible, by the way).

This is a good first step.  Let’s urge the USDA to go even further and declare Salmonella an adulterant on all poultry sold in supermarkets.

And maybe require poultry producers to do everything possible to prevent Salmonella geting into flocks in the first place.

This won’t be easy, according to a United Nations report from a recent expert meeting.

The expert consultation noted that no single control measure was sufficiently effective at reducing either the prevalence or the level of contamination of broilers and poultry meat with NT-Salmonella spp. Instead, it was emphasized that control strategies based on multiple intervention steps (multiple or multi-hurdle) would provide the greatest impact in controlling NT-Salmonella spp. in the broiler production chain.

The experts concluded that all of the following approaches were needed:

  • Biosecurity and management
  • Vaccination
  • Antimicrobial
  • Competitive exclusion/probiotics
  • Feed and water
  • Bacteriophage (bacterial viruses)
  • Processing and post-processing interventions

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Oct 26 2022

Fact-checking my memoir

I tend to refer to my new memoir—tongue in cheek, of course—as my first work of fiction because I know my memory is fickle.

But sometimes I get it right!

A friend who read Slow Cooked sent me a news release that turns out to fact-check this passage in my book.

“Perhaps by coincidence”?   Not at all.

The October 13 story is titled: “Stanford University apologizes for limiting Jewish student admissions during the 1950s.

The apology comes after a task force appointed by the university’s president in January completed an archive-based report that found that Stanford took actions to suppress its admission of Jewish students…The report focuses on a 1953 university memo by university administrators who expressed concern about the number of Jewish students being admitted to Stanford, as well as a drop in enrollment from two Southern California high schools known to have large Jewish populations: Beverly Hills High School and Fairfax High School (my empasis).

In 1953, I was a senior at Fairfax High School when I applied to Stanford.  At the time, perhaps 90% of Fairfax High students were Jewsih.

The Stanford report says:

As mentioned earlier, between 1949 and 1952 Stanford enrolled 67 students from Beverly Hills High School and 20 students from Fairfax. From 1952 to 1955 Stanford enrolled 13 students from Beverly Hills High School and 1 from Fairfax.  The Registrar’s records do not indicate any
other public schools that experienced such a sharp drop in student enrollments over that same six-year period or any other six-year period during the 1950s and 1960s.

That one student accepted from Fairfax High School between 1952 and 1955 was in my class and happened not to be Jewish.

Here’s the New York Times’ account of Stanford’s apology.

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Oct 25 2022

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Captured by Food Corporations

The advocacy group, U.S. Right to Know, sent out a press release to announce publication of an article in the British journal, Public Health Nutrition: The corporate capture of the nutrition profession in the USA: the case of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics [AND, formerly the American Dietetic Association] accepted millions of dollars from food, pharmaceutical and agribusiness companies, had policies to provide favors in return, and invested in ultra-processed food company stocks, according to a study published today in Public Health Nutrition…The study was produced by public health scholars and U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative public health group that obtained tens of thousands of pages of internal Academy documents through state public records requests.

I’ve been writing about corporate capture of AND (formerly the American Dietetic Association) for years (see below), but this study shocked even me, for two reasons.

  • AND holds stock in food companies making ultra-processed foods.

The documents show that the Academy and its foundation invested funds in ultra-processed food companies. The Academy’s investment portfolio in January 2015 included $244,036 in stock holdings in Nestle S.A. and $139,545 in PepsiCo. The Academy foundation’s investment portfolio in June 2013 included $209,472 in stock holdings in Nestle S.A and $125,682 in PepsiCo.

  • The list of food companies donating to AND is extraordinarily long; it goes on for pages.

The Academy accepted more than $15 million from corporate and organizational contributors in the years 2011 and 2013-2017. The Academy’s top contributors in 2011 and 2013-2017 were:

  • National Dairy Council $1,496,912
  • Conagra Inc. $1,414,058
  • Abbott Nutrition $1,246,389
  • Abbott Laboratories $824,110
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation: $801,261
  • PepsiCo Inc. $486,335
  • Coca-Cola Co. $477,577
  • Hershey Co. $368,032
  • General Mills Inc. $309,733
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality $296,495
  • Aramark Co. $293,051
  • Unilever Best Foods $276,791
  • Kellogg USA $273,272

The Academy’s response: Inaccuracies in U.S. Right to Know Article

The report is disjointed, mostly opinion, emails taken out of context, picking and choosing items based on words out of Board reports, etc.

The Academy lists facts

  • One of the authors has strong financial ties to CrossFit, a staunch opponent to RDN licensure.
  • Less than 9% (12 out of 149) of named scholarships, awards and named research grants were established through industry. The funds that are established have input into scholarship criteria, which are approved by the Foundation’s Board. An independent review committee then reviews applications and selects recipients.
  • Less than 2% (32 out of 2,812) of donors to the Academy’s Second Century were industry donors.

Additional Academy facts

  • Fact: The Academy is NOT influenced by sponsorship money
  • Fact: Less than 3% of the Academy’s and the Foundation’s investments are in food companies.
  • Fact: The Academy has never changed a position at the request of sponsors.
  • Fact: Less than 9% of Academy funding comes from sponsorship.
  • Fact: The Foundation’s Fellows program allows participants to serve as catalysts for change and advancement in emerging areas of need for the evolving nutrition and dietetics profession.
  • Fact: The Academy and Foundation have always been committed to accountability through transparency and fiduciary responsibility.

Comment

I have been writing about the Academy’s ties with food companies for years.  See, for example,

In my book, I document how food companies exert influence through sponsorship of research and professional societies.  Typically, recipients of industry funding do not recognize the influence of sponsorship and deny it, as we see here.

If AND wants to be taken seriously as an organization devoted to public health, it needs to set strong guidelines for conflicts of interest and adhere to them.  At the moment, this organization gives the appearance of a public relations arm of the food industry.

The same can be said of the American Society of Nutrition, but that’s another story.

Resources

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Oct 24 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: Pistachios

I haven’t posted anything about pistachio industry conflicts of interest since 2019 so it’s time for another one.

Here’s a press release sent to me by a reader, Matthew Kadey:

NEW STUDY REVEALS PISTACHIOS ARE AN ANTIOXIDANT POWERHOUSE…Antioxidant-rich foods are regularly encouraged as part of a healthy lifestyle, and research suggests that a diet high in antioxidants may even help to reduce the risk of death.1 While certain fruits and vegetables are often thought of as high-antioxidant foods, a new study conducted by Cornell University and published in the journal, Nutrients, produced surprising results2. Pistachios have a very high antioxidant capacity, among the highest when compared to values reported in research of many foods commonly known for their antioxidant capacity, such as blueberries, pomegranates, cherries, and beets.3,4,5  (I’ve posted the references at the end).

My first question, as always when I see a press release like this: Who paid for it?

The study: uan, Wang, Bisheng Zheng, Tong Li, and Rui Hai Liu. 2022. Quantification of Phytochemicals, Cellular Antioxidant Activities and Antiproliferative Activities of Raw and Roasted American Pistachios (Pistacia vera L). Nutrients 14, no. 15: 3002. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14153002

Conclusion:  It is shown that the roasting of pistachios could produce a series of beneficial phytochemical changes, leading to enhanced biological activity. Pistachios are a nutrient-dense food containing a unique profile of good-quality protein, fats, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, such as carotenoids and polyphenols, with cellular antioxidant activity. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 suggested including nuts as a health dietary pattern. Further research on antiproliferative activity and mechanisms of action of free-form extracts of roasted pistachios, and more biological activities related cellular antioxidant activity and oxidative stress, are worthy of further investigation.

 

Funding: This study was partially supported by Innovative Leading Talents Project of Guangzhou Development Zone and 111 Project: B17018, Cornell China Center, and American Pistachio Growers: 2021-09.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Comment: Roasted pistachios are healthy?  No surprise here.  Further research needed?  Also no surprise.  This is another example of an industry-funded study with unimpressive results but plenty of interpretation bias, along with the usual contention that industry funding does not induce conflicts of interest.  Alas, it does.

References to the press release paragraph

1 Jayedi A, Rashidy-Pour A, Parohan M, Zargar MS, Shab-Bidar S. Dietary Antioxidants, Circulating Antioxidant Concentrations, Total Antioxidant Capacity, and Risk of All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Observational Studies. Adv Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;9(6):701-716. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmy040. PMID: 30239557; PMCID: PMC6247336.
2 Yuan W, Zheng B, Li T, Liu RH. Quantification of Phytochemicals, Cellular Antioxidant Activities and Antiproliferative Activities of Raw and Roasted American Pistachios (Pistacia vera L.). Nutrients. 2022; 14(15):3002. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14153002
3 Wolfe KL, et al. Cellular Antioxidant Activity (CAA) Assay for Assessing Antioxidants, Foods, and Dietary Supplements. J Agric. Food Chem. 2007, 55, 8896–8907.
4 Song W, et al. Cellular Antioxidant Activity of Common Vegetables. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010, 58, 6621–6629. DOI:10.1021/jf9035832
5 Wolfe, K., Kang, X., He, X., Dong, M., Zhang, Q., and Liu, R.H. Cellular antioxidant activity of common fruits. J. Agric. Food Chem. 56 (18): 8418-8426, 2008.

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Oct 21 2022

Weekend thinking: holding food corporations accountable (or trying to)

The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) has released its latest Index report on the progress of the 11 largest U.S. food and beverage companies on their commitments to make, market and sell healthy food and drinks.

The report’s dismal conclusion:

While all companies have placed a greater focus on nutrition in their corporate strategies since the first index was released in 2018, their actual products have not become healthier, and they are not making sufficient efforts to safeguard children from the marketing of unhealthy products.

Collectively, these copanies have sales of about $170 billion annually and account for nearly 30% of all U.S. food and beverage sales.

The report’s overall findings (the Index is a composite on a scale of 10):

Specific findings:

  • Only 30% of their products meet criteria for “healthy,” 70% do not. This is only marginally better than in 2018 (see link to my post on this below).
  • Companies say they have a greater focus on nutrition and health, but are not doing much about it.
  • Only four companies are trying to improve the affordability of their healthier products.
  • Companies say they are trying to protect children from the harmful effects of marketing unhealthy products, but they are not doing much about it.

ATNI recommends that companies fix these problems and that the government “support such changes by introducing more effective and enforceable standards and legislation that prevent the marketing of unhealthy products and push companies to apply reformulation strategies on their products.

I like this recommendation, despite its being couched as “encourage,” rather than as a demand:

Companies are encouraged to actively support (and commit to not lobby against) public policy measures in the US to benefit public health and address obesity as enshrined in the National Strategy on food, hunger, nutrition, and health

Comment: Results liket these come as no surprise.  To repeat: food companies are not social service or public health agencies; they are businesses with stockholders who demand returns on investment as the first priority.

Expecting companies to change products to make them less attractive or to stop marketing to children means asking them to go against their business interests.

Until companies are rewarded for focusing on social values, public health, and environmental sustainability, ATNI’s evaluations are unlikely to have much of an impact on corporate behavior.

Documents

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