Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 3 2019

Have backyard chickens? Wash your hands!

As readers of this blog should know by now, I’m a big fan of food safety lawyer Bill Marler, whose blog keeps me up to date on food safety matters.

He posted recently on a Salmonella outbreak caused by contact with backyard chickens.

The CDC keeps track of such things.  By its count,

A total of 279 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella have been reported from 41 states.

  • 40 (26%) people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported.
  • 70 (30%) people are children younger than 5 years.

The CDC’s advice:

I was interested in Marler’s account because I knew that he had backyard chickens at his place near Seattle.

Here’s what he says about that:

We have had hens in our backyard since just after the DeCoster egg debacle in 2010.  I clean the chicken house about twice a month and the shoes and clothes I wear are removed before going inside.  I wear a mask and gloves when I clean and either wash my hands well or take a shower.  I do not pick up the chickens unless they are ill, and I wash my hands after I do.  I wash the eggs and refrigerate then.  They tend to get used within the week.

I do my best to think about the possibility of cross-contamination with Salmonella and/or Campylobacter.  So far, so good.

Good advice.

 

Jul 2 2019

Coalitions, updated

In April, I posted a collection of coalitions of organizations working on issues in agriculture, food, and nutrition.  Since then, several coalition groups have asked to be included on the list.

Here is the updated coalition list.  These are organized alphabetically in two sections: United States and International.

Why did I put this list together?  In unity there is strength.

Contact each together, combine resources, work jointly on issues of common interest.  I can’t think of a better way to gain political power to achieve advocacy goals.

Enjoy!

Additions

Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Country: USA

www.midwestsawg.com

Mission: We will advocate for independent family farmers and businesses; promote environmental protection and restoration; encourage the humane treatment of animals; develop an equitable and just food system; and celebrate the consumption of local, sustainably raised foods.

Contact: Sherri Dugger, 317-371-2970, midwestsawg@gmail.com

 

Women, Food and Agriculture Network

Country: USA

www.wfan.org

Mission: To engage women in building an ecological and just food and agricultural system through individual and community power.

Contact: Sherri Dugger, 317-371-2970, sherri@wfan.org

 

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Jul 1 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: grains exonerated!

Perspective: Refined Grains and Health: Genuine Risk, or Guilt by Association? Glenn A Gaesser.  Adv Nutr. 2019 May 1;10(3):361-371.

Conclusion: This literature analysis illustrates a pitfall of attributing health risks to specific food groups based primarily on analysis of dietary patterns. With regard to refined grains, a large and consistent body of evidence from meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies suggests that the assumed health risks are largely a consequence of guilt by association with other foods within the Western dietary pattern, and not to refined grains per se.

Funding: Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a grant from the Wheat Foods Council and Grain Foods Foundation. Author disclosure: GAG is a member of the scientific advisory boards of the Grain Foods Foundation, the Wheat Foods Council, and Ardent Mills.

Comment:  The author set out to counter a recommendation of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that to improve dietary quality, it’s better to replace most refined grains with whole grains.  Refining whole grains removes the great majority of their vitamins, minerals, and fiber (fortified flour replaces some of the nutrients, but not all).  Furthermore, refined grains are the main ingredients in many ultra-processed junk foods that promote overeating calories and raise risks for chronic disease.  Wheat per se may not be the problem, but what about the foods made from it?  I keep thinking: “grain-based desserts,” the number one contributor to calories in the American diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines.

Why do studies like this?  So the Texas Wheat Association can issue this headline: “New study exonerates refined grains.”

Want details and references on these contentions?  I provide them at length in Unsavory Truth.

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.