Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 21 2024

FDA unapproves tara flour as a food ingredient

Last week, the FDA essentially took tara flour out of the food supply.

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted on its website its determination that tara flour in human food does not meet the Generally Recognized As Safe (or GRAS) standard and is an unapproved food additive. The FDA’s assessment of the ingredient is detailed in a memo added to the agency’s public inventory.

The FDA explained what this is about.

In 2022, Daily Harvest used tara flour in a leek and lentil crumble product which was associated with roughly 400 adverse event reports. The firm took prompt action to voluntarily recall the product and conduct their own root cause analysis, during which they identified tara flour as a possible contributor to the illnesses. To date, the FDA has found no evidence that tara flour caused the outbreak; however, it did prompt the agency to evaluate the regulatory status of this food ingredient.

Daily Harvest makes frozen vegan meals for home delivery.  One of these meals contained tara flour.  Of 26,000 such meals sent out, 400 caused eaters to become desperately sick, some needing hospitalization, some needing surgery (I’ve met some of them).

In my posts, I speculated about why tara flour could cause such severe reactions.

Bill Marler, the food safety lawyer representing a great many of the victims, pushed the FDA to get tara flour out of the food supply before anyone else got sick.  His December 2023 letter reviews what is known about this situation to date.  The FDA paid attention!

Now, two years later, the FDA is doing what it can to prevent tara flour from getting into the food supply.  Good.

Here’s what I’ve had to say about this:

Here’s what Food Safety News has to say.  It notes more cases than are reported by the FDA, many of them represented by food-safety attorney Bill Marler.

Daily Harvest seems to have survived this tragedy, is still in business, and right on top of currents trends.  Its latest:

Daily Harvest’s January Jumpstart program features GLP-1-focused meal plans:  Daily Harvest’s debut of its GLP-1 Companion Food Collection as part of its quick-to-prep January Jumpstart plan includes “meals made with only real foods that are calorie-conscious while delivering ample vitamins and minerals,” Carolina Schneider, MS, RD, Daily Harvest’s nutrition advisor, told FoodNavigator-USA…. Read more

May 20 2024

Industry-sponsored study of the week: ashwagandha

I learned about this one from FoodNavigator-Europe.

Ashwagandha has ‘tremendous potential’ for promoting healthy aging: Review:  Ashwagandha could serve as a potent anti-aging ingredient by improving immune system function and acting as an antioxidant, according to a review published in Frontiers in Nutrition…. Read more

This is the kind of headline that makes me ask: “Who paid for this?”

FoodNavigator usually provides references, so I could easily look this one up.

The study: Current insights into transcriptional role(s) for the nutraceutical Withania somnifera in inflammation and aging.  Praful Saha, Saiprasad Ajgaonkar,  Dishant Maniar, Simran Sahare, , Dilip Mehta,  Sujit NairFront. Nutr., 03 May 2024. Volume 11 – 2024 |

Conclusions: “Management of aging is difficult due to its progressive and irreversible nature, as well as the comorbidities associated with aging. However, the quality of biological aging can be improvised by recent advancements including intervention with nutraceuticals that can modulate the transcriptional activity of different genes implicated in aging and age-related complications…Taken together, given the modulation of key RNA markers in aging and inflammation pathways, there is tremendous potential for harnessing the beneficial effects of Withania for achieving healthy aging.”

Funding: “The author(s) declare that no financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.”

Conflict of interest: “PS, SA, DMa, SS, DMe, and SN were employed by PhytoVeda Pvt. Ltd. and Viridis Biopharma Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India. The author(s) declared that they were an editorial board member of Frontiers, at the time of submission. This had no impact on the peer review process and the final decision.”

Comment:  I looked up Viridis BioPharma.

Viridis BioPharma is a marketing, manufacturing and research company that deals with active ingredients for the pharmaceutical, nutraceuticals, food and cosmetic industries, medicated dressings and formulations to treat wounds, burns and other novel clinically proven topical formulations.  What drives us is the desire to extend lifespans and, more than that, to extend health and wellbeing at every stage of life.

Employees of this and the other company developed this quite comprehensive review.  The authors state its purpose explicitly.

WS [Withania somnifera] is known for its versatility in treating a range of conditions, such as immunomodulation, rejuvenation, enhancement of cognitive function, inflammation, enhancing concentration, etc. However, a synthetic review exploring its potential role in ameliorating aging and aging-related disorders is currently lacking…This may facilitate the development of various preventive and therapeutic strategies employing WS as a nutraceutical for healthy aging.

Their funding statement is accurate; they weren’t paid particularly to write this article; they are just on salary generally.  And they are members of the editorial board of this journal.  Oh dear.

Here’s what the NIH says about ashwagandha.  It finds some evidence for use but concludes “most studies have been conducted as part of a traditional medical system, so the potential effects of ashwagandha when used as a dietary supplement outside of that approach remain unclear.”

May 17 2024

Weekend reading: The Cato Institute on the Farm Bill

Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows, and here I am carefully reading the Cato Institute’s most interesting analysis of farm insurance:Farm Bill Sows Dysfunction for American Agriculture (thanks to Stephen Zwick for sending).

“Agriculture is a uniquely coddled industry with the USDA providing more than 150 different programs for the industry, 53,000 farm‐​related employees in the USDA, and 2,300 USDA agriculture offices across the country,” said Chris Edwards, the Kilts Family Chair in Fiscal Studies at the Cato Institute….Tax dollars cover about 60 percent of the insurance premiums that farmers pay, amounting to a record $11.6 billion in 2022, as noted in Figure 1. Total insured acreage has jumped from 206 million acres in 2000 to 493 million in 2022, increasing the taxpayer cost for premium subsidies sixfold in that time frame. The government also compensates the private insurance companies that participate in the program for their administrative costs, which are projected to be about $2 billion per year from 2024 through 2033.

The graphics are particularly instructive.

This one is an updated version of what happens to corn grown in the US—biofuel, animal feed, industrial use and hardly any for food.

This one shows which crops get taxpayers’ money.

The Cato Institute does not like this system, and neither do I.

  • It’s not about healthy food for people.
  • It’s not about preventing climate change.
  • It encourages growth of commodity crops in places where they should not be grown.
  • It encourages production and consumption of ultra-processed foods.
  • It’s corporate welfare.

This system needs an overhaul, big time.

Will we get that in the forthcoming farm bill?  It’s a self-perpetuating system, alas.

May 16 2024

Cannabis: a roundup

I haven’t said much about cannabis edibles for a while, but here’s some of what’s happening.

In the UK

In the US

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management’s list of dispensaries.

New York’s Housing Works Reports $24 Million in Sales. New York City‘s first legal adult-use dispensary, Housing Works Cannabis Co. logged $24 million in sales in its first year of business. That’s a significant portion of the $137 million in sales that the New York Cannabis Control Board reported for the entire state as of early December, according to its annual 2023 report.

New flavors, formats driving cannabis-infused food and beverage products: The Jones Soda brand has its sights on new products, including a new candy launch, as national efforts mount to reclassify marijuana.

Magnolia Bakery has weed edibles now. But you can’t buy them in New York: New York City’s iconic Magnolia Bakery, which is famous for its cupcakes and banana pudding and is often the first stop for legions of tourists, announced a new lineup of THC treats on Wednesday. However, none of them will be for sale at any of Magnolia’s eight locations in the city — or anywhere in New York state, for that matter….in New York, retailers selling THC products must be licensed by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management.


Cannabis-Related Disorders and Toxic Effects. N Engl J Med 2023; 389:2267-2275.  DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2212152: Heavy cannabis use has adverse effects on physical and mental health. Research is needed to better elucidate the pathophysiology of these effects and develop better treatments.

Congressional Research Service.  Farm Bill Primer: Selected Hemp Industry Issues: The 2018 farm bill further directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a framework to regulate hemp cultivation under federal law and facilitate commercial cultivation, processing, marketing, and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products. USDA published its final hemp regulations in 2021. Other 2018 farm bill provisions made hemp producers eligible for federal crop insurance and agricultural research programs. Congress may consider further amendments as it debates the next farm bill.

May 15 2024

Ozempic: a food marketing opportunity

I was thrilled to be invited to be on Oprah last week to discuss the influence of the food environment on obesity.  Alas, I was disinvited when the topic switched to fat shaming.

While recovering from the disappointment, I ran across this article in FoodDive: The Ozempic effect is real: Study zeroes in on GLP-1 users’ food needs.

A study found people taking anti-obesity medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Zepbound to be looking for:

  • Foods packed with protein
  • Smaller portions
  • Foods that help quell nausea
  • Foods that help reduce gastrointestinal side effects

The potential size of this market is impressive:

Manufacturers looking to create products that cater to this growing market segment – which according to recent research from Goldman Sachs could be as much as 15 million people, or 13% of the U.S. population, by 2030 – should focus on creating products that meet their new needs.

The research group used “its proprietary AI to generate food concepts that it had panel participants evaluate and several were appealing including:

  • Pre-portioned grilled chicken strips
  • 2-ounce portions of Greek yogurt in pouches
  • Electrolyte-enhanced fruit popsicles
  • Mini meal cups

Hey—this is a win-win.  First the food industry makes products that people can’t resist eating and make them gain weight.  Then the industry creates products that help them take drugs more easily.

A marketing opportunity for all

May 14 2024

The FDA’s new agricultural water rule

The headline caught my eye: FDA Publishes Landmark Final Rule to Enhance the Safety of Agricultural Water

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a final rule on agricultural water that represents an important step toward enhancing the safety of produce.

This addresses a big problem: contamination of agricultural land growing produce by bacteria in animal waste running off from CAFOs(onfined animal feeding operations), and dairy farms.

As I read it, the new rule requires:

  • Annual evaluation of the water system, water use practices, crop characteristics, environmental conditions, potential impacts on water from adjacent and nearby land, and other relevant factors.
  • Testing pre-harvest agricultural water.
  • Implementation of mitigation measures needed, especially those “associated with adjacent and nearby land uses.”

In the usual way the FDA does these things, farms have roughly one or two years after the final rule is published to comply.

The agency says it “is committed to taking an “educate before and while we regulate” approach to supporting compliance.”

I’m not sure what this means, but this rule can’t be implemented soon enough.

Next: USDA has to do the same thing for water on CAFOs and dairy farms.


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May 13 2024

Food-industry press release of the week: peanuts

I received an e-mailed press release from The Peanut Institute: Peanuts and Peanut Butter Support Women’s Health.

When it comes to health, women face unique challenges that call for unique nutrition. In fact, research has found that women face a higher risk of dying from heart disease than men,1 and may be at risk for other conditions such as hypertension,2 certain cancers,3 and even Alzheimer’s disease.4  To help women protect their health, The Peanut Institute is sharing information on the benefits that regular consumption of peanuts and peanut butter delivers to females at every stage of life.

Here are excerpts from those stages.

  • Birth to 24 Months:  A child’s first two years are referred to as “B24” and are a critical time in the growth and development of the brain and body. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlights peanuts as “an important source of iron, zinc, protein, choline and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.”2
  • For youngsters and teens: On the subject of protein, at 7 grams per ounce, peanuts have more protein than any other nut.6. That’s especially important for girls who work out since protein helps muscles grow, recover and stay healthy.7 Plus, peanuts are satisfying and an easy, on-the-go snack that can be stowed in a backpack, locker or car.
  • For adults and seniors: The Journal of the American Heart Association found that following a plant-based diet with nuts, legumes, fruits and veggies can lower the risk of dying prematurely from multiple causes, including cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death worldwide.In addition, phytosterols, like those found in peanuts, may inhibit the growth of cancers that affect millions of women, including lung, stomach, ovarian, colon and breast cancers.9-12

I did not look to see whether the references were funded by the peanut industry, but there is plenty of precedent.  See, for example,

But there’s more.  A reader, Monica Baer, sent me another press release from the Peanut Institute: New Gut Microbiome Research Points to Positive Impact on Memory and Mood from Peanut Consumption

Research from the University of Barcelona on the gut microbiota has found that daily consumption of peanuts and peanut butter can produce compounds in the gut that help improve memory and reduce stress response, including anxiety and depression, in healthy young adults. Findings from the ARISTOTLE study were published online in the Journal of Functional Foods this September and shared by The Peanut Institute

I did look up this one: Isabella Parilli-Moser, Ricardo López-Solís, Inés Domínguez-López, Anna Vallverdú-Queralt, Sara Hurtado-Barroso, Rosa M Lamuela-Raventós, Consumption of peanut products enhances the production of microbial phenolic metabolites related with memory and stress response: Results from the ARISTOTLE trial, Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 108, 2023, 105746,

Funding: This work was supported by funding from the Peanut Institute.

I like peanuts.  They are legumes and real foods.  But to attribute overall health and memory function to eating peanuts seems a bit far-fetched.  That’s why the Peanut Institute is funding research: to convince you peanuts are a superfood.  There is, of course, no such thing.  Superfood is a marketing term.  Should you eat peanuts?  Sure.  Why not?

May 10 2024

Weekend reading: pet food (oh why not)

I haven’t said anything about pet food in a while, in part because I’m waiting to see what the FDA is planning to do about it, if anything.  The FDA currently regulates pet food the same way it regulates feed for farm animals.  Pet food labels look like feed labels.  They do not have Nutrition Facts or Pet Food Facts labels, making their contents difficult to understand.  There is a push to improve that situation and I .wish it were stronger.

FDA regulation of pet food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food similar to that for other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low acid canned food regulations to ensure the pet food is free of viable microorganisms.

I don’t see much sign that is changing.  Members of Congress introduced the PURR [Pet Food Uniform Regulatory Reform] Act to give the FDA authority over the  labeling and ingredient review process for dog and cat foods, currently up to the states.

As explained by Pet Food Industry,

The Pet Food Institute (PFI) noted in a press statement that the proposed bill language solely impacts pet food label reviews and codifies ingredients and marketing claims in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication.

AAFCO sets ingredient definitions, label standards and laboratory standards and everybody uses them.

I wish it would propose Pet Food Facts labeling.

The pet food marketing—news

  • U.S. pet owners spend over $2B on Valentine’s gifts for pets: February 14 iwas another chance for American pet parents to express their love to their companion animals…Today’s most popular gifts include heart-covered knitwear, scarves, tiaras, plush toys, cozy ‘human dog beds,’ and, of course, healthy treats.

Pet food ingredients—news

My book with Malden Nesheim, Feed Your Pet Right, has a lot to say about these issues.  It’s still useful for understanding what they are about.  It’s really not a manual for feeding pets (although we did include recipes).  It’s an analysis of the pet food industry, something I still think worth knowing about.