Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 1 2019

The latest in lab-based meat: mouse treats for cats?

Ah the wonders of modern technology.

Cats like to catch and eat mice (that what cats do), but if you believe in mouse rights and are appalled at the idea of killing mice for food there is a solution to this problem in the works.

Meet Because Animals, a company devoted to feeding pets “safer and more nutritious foods without harming the environment and other animals.”

How?

Lab-grown, cell-cultured mouse cells made into meat for cat treats. 

These are not yet on the market—regulatory issues are involved—but stay tuned.

And no, you can’t make this stuff up.

 

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Apr 30 2019

Coalitions!

Early in March, I put out a call for information about agriculture, food, or nutrition coalitions working toward improving the food system in one way or another.

I did this because I think that if the thousands of organizations working on food issues are to gain real political power, they will need to unite around common goals.  Coalitions are a good way to begin.

So many responses came in that I recruited an NYU undergraduate student, Jennie Dockser, to put them in some kind of order, collect missing information, and try to make sense of them.

I did some editing of what she gave me, but here is a list of the coalitions I now know about.  Take a look.

Perhaps your organization can join?

Apr 29 2019

A personal memoir of sorts

I was pleased to be invited to contribute to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition’s “crystal ball” series:

The Crystal Ball Series is a collection of papers from prominent figures in the nutrition field. Through this collection the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition hopes to profile the paths of the eminent individuals [sic] nutrition journey; how they came to it and what have their contributions to nutrition science been. In addition, we ask them to share what they would like to see done now, where they see their area heading, the potential pitfalls, and over all what do they see in their crystal ball for the future of nutrition research.

Here’s my response, titled “A Food lover’s love of nutrition science, policy, and politics.”

Enjoy!

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Apr 26 2019

Weekend reading: two books about the effects of NAFTA

I was invited to review two books about NAFTA’s effects on foods systems for The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology:

  • Gerardo Otero’s The Neoliberal Diet: Healthy Profits, Unhealthy People
  • Alyshia Gálvez’s Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico (noted earlier on this site).

The journal titled the review “How neoliberalism ruins traditional diets and health.”  You can read it here.

Apr 25 2019

25 years of DSHEA: NutraIngredient-USA’s appraisal

NutraIngredients-USA.com has posted a set of articles celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), which effectively deregulated the supplement industry.  The articles that follow are from the perspective of that industry.

Personally, I’m not a fan of DSHEA, and view deregulation of dietary supplements as a mistake for the industry as well as for the public.  Strong regulation inspires trust.  Weak regulation encourages distrust of supplement products and the entire industry.  When I see a Supplement Facts label, I have no reason to trust that the label reflects the contents of the package.  Until supplements are subjected to the same level of regulation as food products, caveat emptor.

Special Edition: DSHEA at 25

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 created the framework for the modern supplement industry. In 1994, the industry was worth $4 bn. Now it is estimated to be worth over $40 bn.

In this special edition we will talk to some of the industry legends who helped to craft the law, we’ll learn about NPQAA, we’ll hear from the head of the FDA’s Office of Dietary Supplement Programs on the need to modernize the law, get the views of some of the industry association leaders, and look to the future.

 

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Apr 24 2019

Annals of marketing: Uber Eats’ contribution to U.S. diets

Oh great.  Just what we need.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Thanks to Elinor Blake for sending.

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Apr 23 2019

What’s up with cheese in China?

I was in Beijing last week, reading the English-language, government-issued China Daily in my hotel, and ran across this article about China’s “growing appetite for cheese,”

Cheese has never been part of traditional Chinese cuisines, and the Chinese still do not eat much.

Currently, annual per capita consumption of cheese in China is only 0.1 kilogram, far below 2.4 kg in Japan, 2.8 kg in South Korea, 15 kg in the United States and 18.6 kg in Europe where France, Germany and the Netherlands take the top three spots, according to the China Dairy Industry Association.

But there is a big push to encourage dairy consumption.  Chinese dietary guidelines advise adults to consume 300 grams of dairy a day.

The annual per capita consumption of dairy products in China has reached 36 kg now, much higher than the 6 kg recorded two decades ago, but the volume is still less than half that of Asia and less than a third of the world average.

This all seems odd to me.  Asian populations tend to be lactose intolerant, making dairy products difficult to digest.  But dairy foods are believed to promote faster growth and taller heights in children, which the government deems desirable.  Many people can handle dairy foods, especially yogurt and other fermented varieties.

I went to a large supermarket in an area where many foreign embassies are located and was impressed by the size of the dairy aisle.

But on an Untour Food Tour to Beijing’s lower income alleys (hutongs), I was taken to a tiny store devoted exclusively to dairy products.

Most of the products were milk or yogurt.  The cheese in both places was mostly slices, Kraft and the like.

But in an indoor farmers’ market, I visited Le Fromager de Pekin stall and did some tasting.  At the moment, French cheese makers (or American, for that matter) have nothing to fear from Chinese competition.   I will be interested to see how cheesemaking progresses.

In the meantime, I’m not the only one fascinated by the very thought of cheese in China.  DairyReporter.com notes:

Three decades after most consumers had tried their first cheese slice or milk shake, fortunes have changed dramatically for dairy in China.The country is now the world’s biggest importer of dairy products, with a younger, more mobile generation ravenous for cheeses from overseas. With a market value of US$12bn today, cheese sales are expected to grow by US$4bn over the next year, according to Mintel. In just two years the number of Chinese cheese-eaters has grown from 15% to 17% in 2017, with the market researcher anticipating further rises of 13% annually until 2021.

As for dairy use, the unanticipated consequences are already emerging, not least the environmental impact of the transition from sheep to dairy cows in New Zealand.

A massive rise in the country’s dairy herd over the last 20 years has had a devastating impact on the country’s freshwater quality, a key area being targeted by the government for improvement….groundwater failed standards at 59% of wells owing to the presence of E coli, and at 13% of the wells owing to nitrates. Some 57% of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk of or threatened with extinction…the main culprits for worsening freshwater quality were the intensive use of fertilisers, irrigation and cows.

And much of this is driven by China’s purchases of New Zealand’s dairy production.

Kiwi companies sold $4b worth of dairy products in China. Milk powder, butter and cheese mainly. The success of dairy companies Fonterra and A2 is largely underpinned by exports to China. Fonterra [a New Zealand company] accounts for 36 per cent of all dairy imports into China…11 per cent of China’s total dairy consumption was produced by Fonterra, and 26 per cent of Fonterra’s output was shipped to China.

It’s hard to believe that any of this is good for the health of people or the envirornment.

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Apr 22 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Coca-Cola again

Here is a summary of another funded study with results the funder must love.

Joint associations between weekday and weekend physical activity or sedentary time and childhood obesity.  Li N, and 19 additional authors for the ISCOLE Research Group. International Journal of Obesity (2019) 43:691–700.

Conclusions: Lower levels of MVPA [moderate to vigorous physical activity] or higher levels of sedentary time on either weekdays or weekend were associated with increased odds of obesity in 9–11 year old children in 12 countries.

Funding: The International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment (ISCOLE) was funded by The Coca-Cola Company… With the exception of requiring that the study be global in nature, the funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.

Comment: This is another paper from the ISCOLE study funded by Coca-Cola, that seems to be aimed at casting doubt on the idea that sugary beverages might promote weight gain.  Instead, these results suggest that physical activity is a more important factor.  Of course physical activity is important for health, but doesn’t expend nearly as many calories as is usually needed to compensate for soft drink intake.

I learned about this study from a Weighty Matters blog post by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who runs a weight management center in Ottawa.  In his view, the ISCOLE study ignores evidence that childhood obesity is a determinant of physical activity, “not the other way around.”

He also questions the “no influence” statement in the funding disclosure, on the basis of

emails between ISCOLE investigators and Coca-Cola that not surprisingly suggests that these relationships have the very real potential to influence the framing of results even if funders [are] not involved in study design.

As I discuss in Unsavory Truth, the influence of food-industry funders appears to occur at an unconscious level; investigators do not recognize the influence and typically deny it.

As I also discuss in that book, Coca-Cola generously funded the ISCOLE study some years ago.  It has since changed its policy on research funding.