Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 28 2019

Weekend reading: FoodNavigator’s special edition on sweeteners

The industry newsletter, FoodNavigator.com, which I follow for its thorough coverage of this industry, has collected a set of its articles on sweeteners in a “special edition.”

Reminder: We love sweet foods.  Sugars have calories and encourage us to eat more of sweet foods.  Food companies wish they had a reasonable alternative to sugars that tasted as good and didn’t cause health problems.

Good luck with that!  In the meantime…

Special Edition: Sweeteners and sugar reduction

Food and beverage manufacturers have a far wider range of sweetening options than ever before, from coconut sugar and date syrup to allulose, monk fruit and new stevia blends. We explore the latest market developments, formulation challenges, and consumer research.

Jun 27 2019

Selling baked goods—in China

BakeryandSnacks.com, an industry newsletter I subscribe to, occasionally collects its articles into special editions.  This one is on selling baked goods in China.  The effects of these trends on public health?  One can only guess.

Special Edition: China market report

Chinese appetites for bakery products continues to grow unheeded, despite a market saturated with Asian brands and the continued interest in European offerings.

Following Bakery China 2019 (May 6-9) held in Shanghai, BakeryandSnacks examines the world’s fastest growing sector, using information gleaned from the coalface [translation: real working conditions] and brand data from market researchers.

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Jun 26 2019

Letter to a young food studies scholar

As a former member of the editorial board of GastronomicaI was invited by its new editorial collective to contribute to a compilation of letters to young people entering the still new field of food studies.

Here is my contribution:

Welcome to the world of food studies, a field we at NYU adopted in 1996.  That date may well be before you were born, but we view our programs as still young, hungry, ambitious, and striving to find their place in the world, just as you must be.  We designed them to respond to demands for deeper and more complex analyses of the role of food in culture and society, and of how food systems operate, in practice as well as in theory.  We hoped we would attract students who wanted to learn about—but also to act on–what our society needs to do to solve major food-system problems: food insecurity, chronic disease, and climate change.  And here you are, ready, we hope, to take them on.

Without question, they need taking on.  Food insecurity—lack of access to a reliable daily supply of adequate food—affects roughly fifteen percent of Americans and nearly a billion people worldwide.  At the same time, about two billion people consume so much food that they become overweight and at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other leading causes of premature death and disability.  Furthermore, the way we typically produce and consume food depletes soil and water resources, pollutes streams, and generates unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gases–thereby affecting everyone on the planet.  The urgent need to solve these problems is the obvious response to the challenge, “why study food?”

I’m guessing you will hear this question often.  We certainly do.  To address it, we also point out that sales of food exceed a trillion dollars annually in the United States, that everyone eats, and that food is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Food matters–physiologically, economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally.

How to deal with all this?  Study hard.  Learn everything you can about everything you can.  Be curious.  Follow leads.  Dig deeply.  But never lose sight of the pleasure.  Delight in what you are learning about food and what it means, but also use what you learn to take even deeper pleasure in food itself.

–Marion Nestle, Emerita Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University

Jun 25 2019

FDA approves qualified health claim for omega-3s

I love the FDA’s qualified health claims for food products because they are so patently ridiculous.

These are health claims so poorly supported by science that the FDA insists on a disclaimer.

What’s their point?  Companies can use them for marketing and put the disclaimer in tiny print.

The latest is the FDA’s response to a petition from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, which asked the FDA to approve these health claims:

  • EPA and DHA help lower blood pressure in the general population.
  • EPA and DHA reduce BP, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease).
  • EPA and DHA reduce the risk of CHD.
  • Research shows that EPA and DHA may be beneficial for moderating BP, a risk factor for CHD.
  • Convincing scientific evidence indicates that EPA and DHA help lower blood pressure in the general population, with comparable reductions to those achieved with other diet and lifestyle interventions.

Not a chance.

The FDA did its own review of the literature and quite sensibly concluded that evidence supporting such claims is too weak to take seriously.

Instead, the FDA said that

In light of the above considerations, FDA intends to consider the exercise of its enforcement discretion for the following qualified health claims [with my emphasis in red]:

  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may help lower blood pressure in the general population and reduce the risk of hypertension. However, FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. One serving of [name of the food or dietary supplement] provides [ ] gram(s) of EPA and DHA.
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease). However, FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. One serving of [name of the food or dietary supplement] provides [ ] gram(s) of EPA and DHA.
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood pressure. However, FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. One serving of [name of the food or dietary supplement] provides [ ] gram(s) of EPA and DHA.
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by reducing the risk of hypertension. However, FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. One serving of [name of the food or dietary supplement] provides [ ] gram(s) of EPA and DHA.
  • Research shows that consuming EPA and DHA combined may be beneficial for moderating blood pressure, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease). However, FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. One serving of [name of the food or dietary supplement] provides [ ] gram(s) of EPA and DHA.

In order to use these claims, the products would have to contain at least 0.8 g EPA and DHA (combined total).

Absurd as all this may seem, the approval of qualified claims is considered a win for the omega 3 industry.

Why does the FDA allow such claims?  Because Congress said it had to permit claims even if evidence was insufficient to back them up [but see below].

Sigh.

Correction: A Twitter correspondent, Ilene Heller (@foodcop819), reminds me that the courts, not Congress, forced the FDA to allow qualified health claims on First Amendment grounds.  In 1990, Congress forced the FDA to allow health claims in general as part of the nutrition labeling act.  In 1994, Congress passed the dietary supplement act that essentially deregulated these products and allowed “structure/function” claims for them.  Food companies wanted to use them too.  Whenever the FDA objected that science didn’t support the claims, supplement companies took the FDA to court.  In 2003, the FDA gave up: We have lost 8 of 10 First Amendment decisions, and doing business the way we were doing it was unsustainable” (New York Times, July 6, 2003).  The so-called qualified health claims are the absurd result.

Jun 24 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Nestlé’s latest

Estimation of Total Usual Dietary Intakes of Pregnant Women in the United States.  Regan L. Bailey, Susan G. Pac, Victor L. Fulgoni III, et al.  JAMA Network Open. 2019;2(6):e195967. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.5967 June 21, 2019

Question  How do the usual dietary intakes of pregnant US women compare with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes for nutritional adequacy and excess?

Conclusions and Relevance.  This study suggests that a significant number of pregnant women are not meeting recommendations for vitamins D, C, A, B6, K, and E, as well as folate, choline, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc even with the use of dietary supplements.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Bailey reported serving as a consultant to Nutrition Impact LLC, Nestle/Gerber, RTI International, and the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Dr Fulgoni, as Senior Vice President of Nutrition Impact LLC, reported performing consulting and database analyses for various food and beverage companies and related entities. Ms Pac and Dr Reidy reported being employees of Nestle Nutrition. No other disclosures were reported.

Funding/Support: This research was funded by Nestle Nutrition. Nestle Nutrition and Nutrition Impact had a financial agreement for completion of the statistical analysis. Drs Bailey and Catalano received an honorarium for the time contributed to manuscript development.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: Nestle Nutrition had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Comment: It’s Nestlé, not Nestle, the company, not me.  Nestlé is the largest food and beverage company in the world, selling $94 billion worth of products in 2018.  This study is part of the company’s plan to focus on personalized nutrition—functional food products targeted to the personal nutritional needs of individuals.

We continue to invest in long-term innovation projects with the potential for high returns. Examples include infant and maternal nutrition, healthy aging, personalized nutrition, and understanding the microbiome.

It is in Nestlé’s corporate interests to demonstrate that pregnant women are deficient in essential nutrients as a basis for creating nutrient-supplemented products targeted to this group.  Are U.S. pregnant women really deficient in 13 nutrients as reported here?  This study’s conclusions are based on comparison of self-reported dietary intake to average daily nutrient intakes.  They are not based on laboratory or observed measurements of clinical signs of deficiency. To me, this looks like a typical industry-funded study with results favorable to the sponsor’s marketing interests, as I discuss in my book, Unsavory Truth.

Jun 21 2019

Weekend reading: plant-based and cell-cultured meat alternatives

I can hardly keep up with what’s happening with plant-based and cultured-meat products.  Here’s my latest collection from various newsletters and other sources.  Take a look at the ones that interest you.  This is a quick way to get a broad picture of where this industry is headed and how these products are viewed.

Bottom line: meat alternatives are big business.

Jun 20 2019

Kombucha: A collection of industry articles

FoodNavigator-USA.com, an industry newsletter, has a collection of articles about Kombucha, a drink that Wikipedia defines as:

A fermented, slightly alcoholic, lightly effervescentsweetened black or green tea drink commonly intended as a functional beverage for its supposed health benefits. Sometimes the beverage is called kombucha tea to distinguish it from the culture of bacteria and yeast.  Juice, spices, or other flavorings are often added to enhance the taste of the beverage. The exact origins of kombucha are not known…Kombucha is produced by fermenting sugared tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) commonly called a “mother” or “mushroom”…The living bacteria are said to be probiotic, one of the reasons for the drink’s popularity.

Slightly alcoholic?  No wonder it is so popular.

It’s obviously a major seller.  Here is the dedicated Kombucha display at the Wegmans upstate in Ithaca, New York.

The makers of kombucha want to sell more of it.  Here’s what they think the market issues are these days:

And here’s a later addition:

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Jun 19 2019

PepsiCo’s $4 billion investment in Mexico

I was interested to see what BakeryandSnacks.com had to say about PepsiCo’s investment in Mexico.

This company, which makes ultra-processed drinks and snacks, plans to invest $4 billion in Mexico over the next two years.

The $4 billion will be spent on “four strategic areas:”

  • Improved supply chains for potatoes, corn, and sugar, purchased from small, medium and large producers ($1 billion).
  • Improved nutrient profile of PepsiCo products (the total is unspecified but $13 million will go to reducing saturated fats).
  • Reduced CO2 emissions and increased renewable energy (amount unspecified).
  • Strengthened development programs focused on water, recycling, nutrition and the empowerment of women (> $7 million).

This is on top of the $5 billion Pepsi invested in Mexico in 2014 for “product innovation, brand consolidation, infrastructure, sourcing, and community outreach.”

Pepsi has a big operation in Mexico.  It claims the new investment will add 3000 jobs to the 80,000 it already employs there.

What is this about?  In 2017, Mexico’s $3.6 billion in sales represented nearly 6% of PepsiCo’s total global net revenues of $63.5 billion.

I’ll bet Pepsi sees plenty of room for growth.  I do too, but also in the prevalence of obesity and related chronic disease.

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