Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 15 2019

Industry-funded studies: The Sugar Association’s view

You may think, as I do, that everyone would be better off eating less sugar, but that’s not how The Sugar Association sees it.  This trade association for sugar producers funds research to demonstrate that eating sugar is a good thing and not harmful.

Here’s what The Sugar Association says:

The Sugar Association is committed to transparent engagement with researchers, external partners and consumers to address knowledge gaps and support independent, peer-reviewed science. Recent literature suggests this framework, rooted in transparency and communication and reflected in our Operating Principles, leads to increased public confidence in industry-funded research,* a goal the organization is working to achieve.

The asterisk refers to Achieving a transparent, actionable framework for public-private partnerships for food and nutrition research, a consensus report written by, among others, representatives of the International Life Sciences Institute, a well known front group for the food industry, and other organizations with ties to food companies.

The Sugar Association lists some of its recent publications [you can’t make this stuff up]:

Nutrition Today Supplement: Sweet Taste Perception and Feeding Toddlers. March/April 2017 – Volume 52 [The Sugar Association funded the conference that resulted in this supplement, which it also funded].

Jul 12 2019

Weekend shopping: “Golden Sugar”

I’m indebted to Mimi Griffith for telling me about an article in Food Dive about a new product Domino must think you can’t live without: Golden Sugar.

It’s “Less Processed” !

And, “bakes and dissolves like white sugar.”  Of course it does.  It’s sugar.

OK, so it hasn’t gone through the last stage of refinement to white sugar and has a slight taste of molasses.  But it’s still sugar.

Less processed or not, Golden Sugar is sugar; it is not a health food.

Domino is taking advantage of current advice to avoid “ultra-processed” junk foods.  The company must believe that you will think this is healthier than white sugar.  Not a chance.

I”m curious to know:  Is Golden Sugar any different from the Turbinado sugar Domino currently sells?  Does Domino think you will relate this to Golden Rice, the poster child for GMO’s?  What was Domino’s marketing team thinking?

White, tan, or brown, sugar is sugar—50% glucose, 50% fructose, 4 calories per gram.

Most of us would be better off eating less of it, unprocessed or processed.

Jul 11 2019

A roundup of articles on the infant formula industry is another one of those industry newsletters I so enjoy reading.  This particular article is a roundup of articles on the infant formula industry.

Special Edition: Infant nutrition

The field of infant nutrition is a constantly evolving one, as new ingredients are constantly being added to provide greater benefits, and products are being developed to more closely approximate breast milk for those unable to breast feed. In this special edition, DairyReporter takes a look at some recent innovation in the infant nutrition space.

Breastfeeding, anyone?


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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