Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 16 2022

WHO report on food marketing

The World Health Organization has just published “Food marketing exposure and power and their associations with food-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviours: a narrative review

This is an update of a review WHO published in 2009 on the extent, nature and effects of food marketing.

The update includes a review of studies from 2009 to 2020 of

  • Where food marketing occurs
  • How much there is,
  • Which brands and products are marketed
  • How they are marketed
  • How consumers react to food marketing

The report, which covers digital and social media,  concludes

Food marketing remains prevalent

  • It is especially prevalent where children are and what they watch on TV
  • It predominantly promotes “fast food”, sugar-sweetened beverages, and chocolate and confectionery
  • It uses a wide range of creative strategies  aimed at young audiences (celebrity/sports endorsements, promotional characters, games)
  • Its exposure is positively associated with habitual consumption of marketed foods or less healthy foods

The report confirms what advocates have been saying for years

  • Food marketing is pervasive
  • Food marketing is persuasive
  • Food marketing is bad for health

The bottom line: Food marketing, especially to children, must be stopped

Feb 15 2022

New York City Mayor Eric Adams

As a member of Mayor Eric Adams’ Food Policy Task Force, I was sent a press release last week announcing two new food initiatives in New York City, and asking me to comment on them.

Mayor Adams issued two executive orders.

  • Executive Order 8, Commitment to Health and Nutrition: Food Standards and Good Food Purchasing.  This sets standards for meals served by city agencies. It commits the city to Good Food Purchasing principles, which require transparency about how city agencies’ food procurements affect local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition.
  • Executive Order 9, Promotion of Healthy Foods in City Publications and Advertising on City Property.  This requires that all promotional materials put out by agencies and advertisements on city property regarding food — to the extent practicable — feature healthy food.

My comment

The best way to encourage healthy eating is to make the healthy choice the easy — and the preferred — choice,” said Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, Emerita. “Mayor Adams’ executive orders are a terrific step toward creating a food environment that makes it easier for New Yorkers to eat better and stay healthy.”

I think it’s great that the Mayor cares about nutrition and health and is willing to do what he can to create a healthier food environment.  Let’s hope his actions have a big effect.

  • The current version of the press release is here.
  • The video of the press conference is here.
Feb 14 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: fiber supplements

This study, produced by Tate & Lyle, was sent to me by a reader, but Tate & Lyle also sent me:

  • A press release: “Fibre fortification could lower risk of heart disease and diabetes for 7 in 10 UK adults.”
  • An infographic with the results of the study: “Benefits of Reformulating with Fibre.”

The press release worked. did a story with this headline: “Fibre fortification in everyday foods could lower risk of heart disease and diabetes”

A new study suggests that adding fibre to everyday foods – including baked foods, dairy products, soups, smoothies and dressings – would allow 50% more UK adults to reach their recommended daily consumption of fibre. This could in turn lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

I give high marks for stating right up front who paid for this study:

New research from ingredie3nt supplier Tate & Lyle, published in Cambridge University Press’ British Journal of Nutrition, found reformulating everyday foods with added fibre could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes for 72% of the UK adult population.

The study: Estimating the potential public health impact of fibre enrichment: a UK modelling study.  Kirstie Canene-Adams, Ieva Laurie, Kavita Karnik, et al.  Br J Nutr. 2022 Jan 7;1-7.   doi: 10.1017/S0007114521004827. Online ahead of print.

Conclusions: The fibre enrichment intervention showed a mean fibre intake of 19·9 g/d in the UK, signifying a 2·2 g/d increase from baseline. Modelling suggested that 5·9 % of subjects could achieve a weight reduction, 72·2 % a reduction in cardiovascular risk and 71·7 % a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes with fibre fortification (all Ps ≤ 0·05).

Conflict of Interest statement: Authors are employees of Tate & Lyle PLC (IL and KK) or Creme Global (BF, WG, SP) as indicated by our affiliations. KCA was employed by Tate & Lyle PLC at the time of research and writing the article and is now employed by Mars Wrigley. This work was funded by Tate & Lyle, London, UK which specialises in fibres and low-calorie sweetening ingredients used by food and drink producers worldwide. Creme Global is a company based in Dublin, Ireland which specialises in scientific modelling in the areas of food, nutrition and cosmetics.

Comment: Tate & Lyle collected data on what consumers currently eat and drink using the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey.  Investigators applied statistical models to determine how fiber-supplemented food would change consumers’ diet and health.

My translation: Tate & Lyle employees added fiber to foods, predicted that if people ate foods with added fiber they would take in more fiber (duh), and found just that.

Tate & Lyle makes fiber supplements.  Are Tate & Lyle fiber supplements as good for health as the fiber found naturally in food?  That, alas, is beyond the scope of a modeling study.


Hugh Joseph sent along this video from Tate & Lyle.  It’s about all the good things T&L ingredients do for Jane’s diet.  Oh dear.

Feb 11 2022

Weekend reading: Food is Medicine initiative

Corby Kummer sent me this ireport from the Food is Medicine Initiative (he is one of the authors).

This is an initiative of the Aspen Institute Food and Society Program, which aims to find practical solutions to food system challenges and inequities.

I’ve previously written about this program’s food worker safety guidelines.

Now, the Institute and its collaborators have come up with a Food is Medicine Research Action Plan.

The Plan begins with the premise that Food is Medicine interventions improve health and quality of life as well as curb health care costs.

Food is Medicine interventions:

  • Medically tailored meals
  • Medically tailored groceries
  • Produce prescriptions

The report provides the background—the health implications of food insecurity, key federal nutrition programs, the history (with a a handy timeline), the existing research basis, and case examples—for these interventions.

The Action Plan is an agenda for the kind and quality of research that needs to be done to link these and other interventions to reduction of food insecurity and improved health.

  • Researchers: this report has anything you need to write a grant to do research in this area
  • Advocates: this report has whatever you need to justify action.

Food is Medicine Resources

Feb 10 2022

GAO: USDA discriminates against minority, new, and military farmers

I love Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.  Some member of Congress requests them and GAO resaearchers then get to work.

I particularly like the way GAO understates what its reports are about.

Try this, for example: Oversight of Future Supplemental Assistance to Farmers Could Be Improved

This program gave $23 billion to farmers during the pandemic.

Of this, 95% went to “nonspecialty crops” (translation: feed for animals and fuel for cars, aka Big Ag).

And hardly any of the money went to minority, new, or military farmers.

Leah Douglas, now working for Reuters, did the math.

  • Collectively, socially disadvantaged, military, and beginning farmers got a combined $818 million across the two years,—3.6%
  • Socially disadvantaged farmers  got $435.7 million—1.9% (they comprise 6.7% of farmers)
  • Beginning farmers got $152.1 million—0.7% (they comprise 27% of farmers).
  • Military veterans got $240.5 million—1% (they comprise 11% of farmers).

Comment: The USDA has a long history of discrimination against these groups.   It needs to make up for that.

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Feb 9 2022

Big Meat, price-fixing, and rising prices: Lots going on

Four items about the Big Four meat companies that collectively control 85% of the beef market.

I.  Reuters reports that JBS, the Brazilian meat giant, has settled claims that it engaged in price fixing for—gasp—$52.5 million.

JBS, its U.S. affiliates, and the other three of the Big Meat companies—Cargill Inc, National Beef Packing Co and Tyson Foods—have been accused of conspiring to limit supply iin order to raise prices and boost profits.

In a statement, JBS said it did not admit liability but that settling was in its best interest. It also said it will defend against beef price-fixing claims by other plaintiffs.

The settlement still requires approval from the courts.

JBS settled one month after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a plan here for new rules to bolster competition and stop “exploitation” in the meat sector.

Comment: I’ve written about the President’s executive order on the meat industry here, his challenge to consolidation here, and his concern about lack of competition here.  $52.5 million sure looks like guilty as charged, no matter what JBS says.

II.  The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association issued a statement on the settlement.

The announcement that JBS USA has decided on a $52.5 million settlement over allegations of beef price fixing is deeply disturbing to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). NCBA was the first national organization to request a government investigation of beef markets in 2019. Now there are settlements occurring without Department of Justice (DOJ) having released findings or even providing cattle producers with an update on progress.

Comment: The NCBS is disturbed?  I’ll bet.

III.  The American Enterprise Institute has released three articles on food price inflation, meat prices and pork prices.

IV.  Tyson Foods, one of the other defendents in the price-fixing case, is #1 on Fortune’s World’s most admired companies list for food producction, and for the sixth straight year, no less.

Comment: You can’t make this stuff up.

Feb 8 2022

USDA issues interim rules on school nutrition standards

Remember the fight over setting standards for reimbursible meals and a la carte products offered to kids in schools?

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign set healthier standards for school foods.   Although you might think that serving healthy food to kids in schools would get lots of bipartisan support (who could possibly be against it), the standards got lots of pushback (too hard to implement, kids won’t like the food, too much food waste, too much nanny state).

Some aspects of the standards—less salt and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—survived, but “relaxed” during the Trump administration.  Recall USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s “Make School Meals Great Again”

That was then and this is now with pandemic-induced obesity rates rising among children, and supply chains making it hard for schools to feed kids in any way.

That has not stopped the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association, and the American Public Health Association from petitioning the USDA to put a limit on added sugars in school meals, to bring them into compliance with the Dietary Guidelines.  By law, the USDA must have school meals follow the guidelines, but this means rulemaking, and rulemaking takes time—lots of it.

USDA has now taken Step #1: transitional standards for milk, whole grains, and salt.

  • Milk: Schools and child care providers serving participants ages six and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk;
  • Whole Grains: At least 80% of the grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole grain-rich; and
  • Sodium: The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level in SY 2022-2023. For school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit in SY 2023-2024. This aligns with the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s recently released guidance that establishes voluntary sodium reduction targets for processed, packaged, and prepared foods in the U.S.

The next steps:

  • Stakeholder briefing today: 11:45am-12:30 pm ETRegister to attend here. 
  • USDA will start working on standards that bring the meals into full compliance with the Dietary Guidelines.

Call for Comments:  The USDA invites comments on these transitional standards and on the next steps.

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: Send comments to Tina Namian, Chief, School Programs Branch, Policy and Program Development Division—4th Floor, Food and Nutrition Service, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone: 703-305-2590.


Feb 7 2022

Conflicted study of the week: fake meat will save the planet

Larissa Zimberoff, the author of Technically Food (which I blurbed and reviewed), forwarded  this press release from the University of California Berkeley:  Global elimination of meat production could save the planet.  

A new study of the climate impacts of raising animals for food concludes that phasing out all animal agriculture has the potential to substantially alter the trajectory of global warming.  The work is a collaboration between Michael Eisen, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Patrick Brown, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Stanford University and the CEO of Impossible Foods Inc., a company that sells plant-based meat substitutes.

The study: Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this centuryMichael B. Eisen, Patrick O. Brown.   PLoS Climate. 2022;1(2). 

Method: The authors modeled the combined, long-term effects of emission reductions and biomass recovery that would be unlocked by a phaseout of animal agriculture.

Findings:  A phaseout of livestock production would provide half of the net emission reductions necessary to limit warming to 2°C

Conclusion: The magnitude and rapidity of these potential effects should place the reduction or elimination of animal agriculture at the forefront of strategies for averting disastrous climate change.

Funding:  There was no formal funding of this work. Michael Eisen is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute which funds all work in his lab. Patrick Brown is CEO of Impossible Foods, Inc.