by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Alcohol

Apr 14 2021

Study: how wines taste depends on what you think they cost

Thanks to Habib Benzian for telling me about this study.

Price information influences the subjective experience of wine: A framed field experiment.  Christoph Patrick Werner, et al.  Food Quality and Preference; 2021;92:104223

Highlights

  • First study manipulating wine prices using a framed field experiment.
  • Blind intensity ratings differ for 3 wines of different price and expert rating.
  • Blind pleasantness ratings do not differ for the same three wines.
  • Pleasantness of the budget wine increased when presented with a fake higher price.

The study: The authors got 140 people to taste wines of three different price ranges with open, deceptive, or no price information, and rate them for taste.

The main result: When price information was accurate, participants’ ratings were parallel to cost.  When price information was missing or deceptive, pleasantness ratings did not differ.

Wine A is inexpensive; Wine B is more expensive and rated as medium quality; wine C is expensive and rated outstanding

Authors conclusions: .”Thus, pricing information differentially influences the consumer’s subjective experience of wine, with no effects on intensity of taste ratings and no effects on pleasantness ratings with correct or no price information, but increased pleasantness of low-price wine when provided with a deceptive higher price. Thus, in wine may lay the truth, but its subjective experience may also lie in the price.”

Feb 5 2021

Weekend reading: government incentives for alcoholic beverage companies

This report documents how government policies—in the U.S. and internationally—promote and protect makers of booze, wine, and beer, despite the demonstrably harmful effects of those products on health and society.

How do governments do this?

  • Development assistance
  • Tax breaks
  • Tax rebates
  • Marketing deductions
  • Production subsidies
  • Trade agreements

Why do they do this?  Lobbying and tax revenues.

If you want to understand why the USDA and HHS “found no evidence” for reducing the alcohol recommendation in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines, read this report.

Dec 18 2020

Weekend reading (well, studying): Wine Economics

Stefano Castriota (Translated from the Italian by Judith Turnbull).  Wine Economics.  MIT Press, 2020.  

Wine isn’t something that I pay a lot of attention to academically, so I had no idea there was a field of economics devoted to these products until MIT Press sent me this book.  It reviews the literature on lots of issues I’ve never thought about:

  • Why you pay more for some wines than others even when the cost of producction is the same.
  • The role of expertise: can they really tell the difference between one wine and another, and how does expertise affect price.
  • What market forces affect wine consumption.
  • The external costs of wine production and consumption.

This is a serious but well written review of the academic literature and a convenient way to dig into these topics all at once.  The book is full of charts, impenetrable (to me) economic diagrams, and figures.  Here’s one I copied (badly).  It’s per capita consumption of alcohol by type in the U.S. from 1934 (post-Prohibition) to 2014.  Wine is the dotted line at the bottom.  This is why this industry is pushing you to drink more wine.

The pushing is one reason why I am interested in the economic externalities of wine production and consumption.

Castriota is convinced by his reading of the literature that moderate wine consumption is associated with improved health.  I’d say the jury is still out on this one, but in any case positive health externalities depend on what’s meant by “moderate.”

But there are definitely other positive externalities: gorgeous countryside, land preservation, wine tourism, conviviality, cultural value.

The negative externalities of excessive alcohol consumption are well known: poor physical and mental health, accidents, violence, fetal damage.  These add up to enormous costs to society.  How much of that is due to wine consumption?  Hard to say.

This industry wants to sell more wine.  To do so, Castriota suggests:

  • Make wines of better quality.
  • Change the tax system to promote quality.
  • Clarify the classification system.
  • Support small wineries.
  • Keep prices competitive.
  • Promote wine culture among consumers.
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Nov 2 2020

Industry-funded study of the week: Alcohol

Even after writing Unsavory Truth: How the Food Industry Skews the Science of What We Eat I could hardly believe this particular example.

The Study: Exploring the Influence of Alcohol Industry Funding in Observational Studies on Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Health.   Moniek Vos, Annick P M van Soest, Tim van Wingerden, Marion L Janse, Rick M Dijk, Rutger J Brouwer, Iris de Koning, Edith J M Feskens, Aafje Sierksma.  Advances in Nutrition, Volume 11, Issue 5, September 2020, Pages 1384–1391.

Methods:  This is a meta-analysis of meta-analyses of studies examining the health effects of alcohol consumption that are used as the basis of international guidelines for alcohol consumption.

Results and conclusions: “only a small proportion of observational studies in meta-analyses …are funded by the alcohol industry. Based on this selection of observational studies the association between moderate alcohol consumption and different health outcomes does not seem to be related to funding source.

Funding: “The authors reported no funding received for this study.”

Author disclosures: “MV, APMvS, TvW, MLJ, RMD, RJB, IdK, and AS were employed by the Dutch Beer Institute during the study and writing of the manuscript. This Institute is funded by Dutch Brewers, which is the trade organization of the 14 largest beer brewers in the Netherlands. EJMF reports no conflicts of interest.”

Comment: This one defies credulity: an industry-funded study—most authors work for the beer industry—of whether industry funding affects research outcome.

Guess what?  It didn’t find any effect.

For years, the alcohol industry has been working hard to convince regulators and the public that moderate drinking, especially of wine and beer, is not only harmless but actually improves health.  This study is an example of how this industry attempts to accomplish that goal.

For another egregious example, see this post.

Oct 1 2020

Food fight: ethanol this time

The Trump Administration has poured billions of dollars into supporting Midwest producers of industrial corn, but to date is not doing anything in particular to help producers of corn-based ethanol.  Because Americans are not traveling as much, demand for gasoline is down and so is demand for fuel ethanol (required by law to comprise 10% of automobile fuel).

The ethanol industry is unhappy about this situation, and is accusing the Trump Administration of reneging on its promises.

This secret list of promises, the vast majority of which have not been fulfilled, was first reported by Reuters today and offers powerful evidence of the Trump administration’s failure to support ethanol, despite his rhetoric. This secret list also highlights how Senator Ernst and Grassley have failed to follow through on their own promises to fight for Iowa farmers with this administration, despite their rhetoric. Just last week, Senator Ernst touted herself as a “tireless advocate” for the ethanol industry yet by never releasing the list of White House ethanol promises she has avoided having to call out the President for the full extent of his failures.

What’s all this about?  Money, of course.

But I don’t have much sympathy for ethanol producers.

I don’t think corn—a food mainly for animals but also for people—should be used as fuel for cars.

For one thing, it takes almost as much energy to produce a gallon of ethanol as it does to produce gasoline.  The best that can be said is this:

Energy is required to turn any raw feedstock into ethanol. Ethanol produced from corn demonstrates a positive energy balance, meaning that the process of producing ethanol fuel does not require more energy than the amount of energy contained in the fuel itself.

If you want details, see the USDA’s report on ethanol energy balance.

An astonishing 40% or so of US corn is grown to produce ethanol.

 

I’m not the only one who thinks growing food to fuel cars is ridiculous, or—more politely—needs rethinking.

As a crop, corn is highly productive, flexible and successful. It has been a pillar of American agriculture for decades, and there is no doubt that it will be a crucial part of American agriculture in the future. However, many are beginning to question corn as a system: how it dominates American agriculture compared with other farming systems; how in America it is used primarily for ethanol, animal feed and high-fructose corn syrup; how it consumes natural resources; and how it receives preferential treatment from our government.

Another reason, as the USDA puts it: “Strong demand for ethanol production has resulted in higher corn prices and has provided incentives for farmers to increase corn acreage.”

Neither of those is good for the health of people or the planet.

Growing corn for ethanol makes no sense to me.  It’s too bad that the companies that invested in ethanol plants are hurting, but hey: that’s how capitalism works

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Contact: info@ruralamerica2020.org

Iowa Farmers and Ag Leaders Demand that Senators Ernst and Grassley Release Secret List of Trump Ethanol Promises

 

Iowa Corn Farmer Doug Thompson: “Our Senators went to the White House, were made promises on ethanol that never came true, and then never said a word about it.”

Rural America 2020 Iowa Steering Committee writes letter to Ernst and Grassley; Group will be posting billboard advertisements and buying radio ads across Iowa calling for the release of the secret list of broken promises

(Des Moines, IA) –A group of Iowa farmers and ag leaders sent a letter to Iowa Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley today demanding that they make public a secret list of promises on federal ethanol policy that the Trump Administration made to them at the White House almost exactly one year ago.

This secret list of promises, the vast majority of which have not been fulfilled, was first reported by Reuters today and offers powerful evidence of the Trump administration’s failure to support ethanol, despite his rhetoric. This secret list also highlights how Senator Ernst and Grassley have failed to follow through on their own promises to fight for Iowa farmers with this administration, despite their rhetoric. Just last week, Senator Ernst touted herself as a “tireless advocate” for the ethanol industry yet by never releasing the list of White House ethanol promises she has avoided having to call out the President for the full extent of his failures.

“This is a betrayal on all sides,” said Iowa corn grower Doug Thompson, a member of the Rural America 2020 Iowa Steering Committee that sent the letter“Our Senators went to the White House, were made promises on ethanol that never came true, and then never said a word about it. It’s a colossal failure of execution and accountability and the only people who got hurt are the Iowa farmers who have lost billions of gallons in ethanol demand.

“We are now less than two weeks away from Iowa voters beginning to vote.” Thompson also said. “Senators Ernst and Grassley owe it to all Iowa farmers and voters to immediately release the list of ethanol promises – that was made on White House letterhead – so that Iowans understand the full magnitude of Trump’s broken ethanol promises. It’s the only way we can hold them accountable going forward. Even if our Senators claim this was a preliminary list – which we have no indication it was – it should be made public so that Iowans can see the extent to which our home state Senators got rolled by Big Oil and the White House.”

Rural America 2020, which already has billboards up across Iowa decrying Trump’s broken ethanol promises, will be placing messages across the state demanding the release of the secret ethanol list. They will also be recording radio ads from Iowa farmers that call for release of the list.

A timeline of the events (and related reporting) around the White House meeting in which the list was shared is as follows:

August 9th, 2019 – Trump administration grants 31 waivers for oil refineries that help undercut demand for ethanol.

August 16th, 2019 – Senator Grassley says publicly that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)“screwed us” by providing 31 waivers to oil refiners.

August 23rd, 2019 – Senator Ernst says at a town hall meeting that the White House is putting together a document that will include all the help they will be providing on ethanol.

August 29th, 2019 – President Trump publicly promises corn farmers a “giant package” after angering them by providing the waivers.

September 12th, 2019 – White House convenes meeting with Senators Grassley and Ernst as well as Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Thune (R-SD), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Governor Kim Reynolds. They are presented with the list of promises.

September 12th, 2019 – President Trump meets with the CEOs of Valero Energy (Joe Gorder) and Marathon Petroleum (Gary Heminger) to discuss Big Oil’s concerns on the same day as the meeting with the Senators and Governor Reynolds.

September 17th, 2019 – Grassley admits to having seen a “13-point plan” from the White House but declines to say what was in it or anything about it.

September 18th, 2019 – Both Grassley and Reynolds say they were encouraged by the White House meeting but that they want to see “something in writing” despite having both seen the secret list of promises in writing at the meeting on September 12th. Ernst also repeatedly tweets that she wants to see a plan in writing despite having seen the White House plan.

One year later – Brian Jennings, chief executive officer of the American Coalition for Ethanol says that “so many ethanol promises, promises to do right by this industry have collected dust” and says that recent attempts by the White House to manufacture ethanol policy victories “should never have been given credibility.”

“Over a year after receiving a list of promises from the White House – a ‘13-point plan’ as Senator Grassley referred to it – neither Ernst nor Grassley – has released the plan so that Iowans can judge for themselves,” added Doug Thompson. “Has the President broken even more promises than we know? Have our Senators spent the last year getting conned by the President or are they all just conning Iowa farmers? We need to see this list immediately to find out.”

The full text of the letter from the Iowa Steering Committee is below. The letter was sent to Senators Ernst and Grassley who attended the meeting at the White House where the ethanol promises were made. The Iowa Steering Committee also cc’d the other Senators at the meeting and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds who also attended the meeting.

Dear Senators Ernst and Grassley:

On September 12th, 2019, the President promised you in writing that he would add 500 million gallons of ethanol and 500 million gallons of advanced biofuels to the 2020 supplemental blending rule. While this market access would have been a welcome buffer during turbulent times, it did not happen. He also promised to add 250 million gallons of biodiesel to the 2021 blending volumes, however, we are still waiting.  Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) are typically released in the summer to be finalized in November, but nothing has been presented to producers and the public for 2021. It is now harvesting season and the end of 2020 is around the corner, yet farmers and biofuel producers have little insight on how to plan for the 2021 planting season.

It is time for the President to make good on his promises to you, if he ever will. While he has had a year since releasing a list of promises, the few kept have come on the heels of outcry from rural voters. We believe that you must release his list of promises made if we are to see him keep any of them in the next 40 days, or after. Given his track record, we are concerned a Trump second term will include few promises to farmers at all, let alone broken ones.

Over the past three years, farmers and biofuel producers have lost our greatest export markets and faced devastating blows in the name of Big Oil handouts. Small refinery waivers skyrocketed under Trump, slashing four billion gallons of biofuels from the market. Staff at 150 biofuel plants in America lost hours or their jobs entirely. One billion bushels of corn – on top of already stored crops thanks to trade disputes – did not get blended into ethanol, driving commodity prices down even further.

Thanks to Trump’s broken promises, rising input costs, and dwindling receipts farmers have been forced to live on government-aid bailouts of $12 billion, $16 billion, and most recently $14 billion. Farmers do not want cash bailouts. Our sales drive our communities and job creation. Our quality of life and long-term viability rely on sales, manufacturing and economic incentives – not government checks. We want export markets, a level playing field and the certainty that comes with planning. Unfortunately, this administration has failed the bare minimum – to carry out a plan.

As reported, the President’s written promises to you were guarantees to streamline compliance for E15, act to support expansion of E85, resolve trade disputes, and address E10 and E15 labeling. To date these promises have not been upheld, and year-round E15 is only sold at 2,000 of 152,000 U.S. retail stations. As the president continues to break his promises, we have little faith 2021 will meet the expressed guarantee of 15 billion gallons.

It is time you make his promises public. Doing so prior to an election is the only way to hold him accountable. After the election, as we have seen, the President is far more inclined to side with Big Oil. Now is the time to demand these promises be made public and that they be fulfilled. Biofuel producers and farmers in your home state are depending on it.

Sincerely,

Doug Thompson, Kanawha, Iowa
John Judge, Albia, Iowa
Chris Henning, Cooper, Iowa
Tom Grau, Newell, Iowa
Aaron Lehman, Polk City, Iowa
Marcella and William Frevert, Emmetsburg, Iowa
Tom Furlong, Letts, Iowa

CC:

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse
U.S. Senator Deb Fischer
U.S. Senator John Thune
U.S. Senator Mike Rounds
Governor Kim Reynolds

 

 

 

 

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Jul 16 2020

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee releases report

The report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is now available in online preprint.

It sets a record at 835 pages.

Its conclusions are highly consistent with those of previous Dietary Guidelines.

It recommends eating more of these foods:

Common characteristics of dietary patterns associated with positive health outcomes include higher intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low- or nonfat dairy, lean meat and poultry, seafood, nuts, and unsaturated vegetable oils.

It recommends eating less of these foods:

The Committee found that negative (detrimental) health outcomes were associated with dietary patterns characterized by higher intake of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains.

It retained the recommendation: Eat less red and processed meats

It retained the recommendation to eat less saturated fat (replace with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated)

Thus, the Committee recommends that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat intake be as low as possible within a healthy dietary pattern, and that saturated fat intake be limited to less than of 10 percent of total energy intake, as recommended by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This recommendation applies to adults and children ages 2 years and older.

It tightened up restrictions on alcoholic beverages from 2 drinks a day for men to 1 drink:

The Committee concluded that no evidence exists to relax current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations, and there is evidence to tighten them for men such that recommended limits for both men and women who drink would be 1 drink per day on days when alcohol is consumed.

It tightened up restrictions on added sugars, from 10% of calories to 6%:

After considering the scientific evidence for the potential health impacts of added sugars intake, along with findings from model-based estimations of energy available in the dietary pattern after meeting nutrient requirements, the Committee suggests that less than 6 percent of energy from added sugars is more consistent with a dietary pattern that is nutritionally adequate while avoiding excess energy intake from added sugars than is a pattern with less than 10 percent energy from added sugars.

What’s missing?

  • Salt: The report says remarkably little about sodium beyond that it is overconsumed and people should “reduce sodium intake.”  It’s possible that I missed it, but I could not find suggestions for quantitative limits.
  • Ultraprocessed: The word does not appear in the report except in the references.  A large body of evidence supports an association of ultraprocessed foods to poor health.  If the committee considered this evidence, it did not spell it out explicitly.
  • Sustainability: This was off the table from the beginning but this committee recommends that it be considered next time in the context of a food systems approach to the Dietary Guidelines (p.771).

Comment

This is an impressive, solid, conservative review of the existing science highly consistent with previous Dietary Guidelines but with mostly stronger recommendations.

This committee was up against:

  • A tight time frame
  • A first-time mandate to review literature on infancy, pregnancy, and lactation in addition to that for adults
  • A first-time process in which the agencies set the research agenda, not the committee
  • The Coronavirus pandemic

At the outset, I was concerned that the committee members might be heavily biased in favor of food industry interests.  If they were, such biases do not show up in the final report.  I think this committee deserves much praise for producing a report of this quality under these circumstances.

Want to weigh in on it? 

The agencies are taking public comments until August 13.  On August 11, there will be an online public meeting for even more comments.

What’s next?

This report is advisory, only.  USDA and HHS must boil this down to the actual 2020 Dietary Guidelines.  Whereas the committee process was transparent, the boiling down process is highly secretive, or was in 2015.  It will be interesting to see what the agencies do, especially given the heavy lobbying by proponents of meat, saturated fat, and low-carbohydrate diets.

Jun 17 2020

The effects of Covid-19 on the alcohol industry

I know this is a burning question:

Has coronavirus changed how much alcohol Americans are drinking?  New research looks at what impact stay-at-home orders and conditions during the COVID-19 crisis have had on American alcohol consumption.

The survey, which included 1,000 American adults and was carried out by APCO Insight, showed 35% of Americans are drinking about the same despite stay-at-home orders and 28% are drinking less. This includes 11% who say they have stopped drinking entirely.

Not being able to go out and bars and restaurants being closed are the top two reasons for drinking less, with 38% and 33% of respondents citing these factors respectively.

This last is bad news for the alcohol industry, which expects beverage alcohol to take five years to rebound from the coronavirus.

Total global alcohol consumption, boosted by increases in beer and RTD [ready to drink] products, grew by +0.1% in volume and +3.6% in value in 2019. But the near complete shutdown of bars and restaurants across the world for several months this year has set the category back dramatically.  While there has been an uptick in liquor retail and ecommerce, this has not been enough to offset the losses in the on-trade….this will lead to double-digit declines in 2020, which will take until 2024 to recover to 2019 pre-Covid-19 levels. In the US and UK, this is likely to take even longer.

Will there be fewer auto accidents, less domestic violence, and reductions in other alcohol-related problems?  The data should be coming in soon.

Addition, June 21

Several readers wrote to complain that I did not give enough information about these articles.  In particular, David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, said there is a lot as yet unknown about alcohol consumption right now,

But the source I would not go to is responsibility.org – they are a wholly owned unit of the Distilled Spirits Council of the Untied States (DISCUS), one of the leading alcohol industry trade groups…from the coverage of it in your blog and the link to the story on it in BeverageDaily.com, there are some obvious problems with their findings:

First, it looks like they asked people “do you drink responsibly?” as opposed to objective measures. There are much better ways to measure drinking behavior and I would not expect reliable findings from such a vague question.

Second, even their survey finds that prevalence of drinking has increased – up from 71% in the past month last year to 79% in the past month in the same period this year.

Finally, the article on this in BeverageDaily.com, to the author’s credit, asks and reports on how the survey figures match up with sales figures. The answer is they don’t. Off-premise sales are generally about 75% of sales volume. IRI reports that retail alcohol sales in the US “remain elevated” through 13 May, when they were up 34.2% compared to the same period last year. Only frozen foods have performed comparably. Nielsen figures say the same thing – total alcohol sales up 16% during the overall lockdown period compared with 2019. Spirits has been the biggest winner (up 27.4%), which suggests that people are maximizing purchases for alcohol content.

On-premise sales per outlet are down 68%. If you do the math between the two sectors, this adds up to about an 8.5% increase in sales overall. Add to this that people are most likely buying more for cheaper (more 24-packs of beer and boxed wine, according to Nielsen, in addition to spirits, the category with the highest alcohol content, seeing the largest sustained increase), and it starts to give a more accurate picture than DISCUS’s survey.

We won’t know for sure what has happened until the more accurate public health surveys come back from the field. However, as of early April, 18 of 22 police departments asked by NBC News about domestic violence calls indicated they were up substantially – a canary in the coal mine?

I am grateful to professor Jernigan for taking the trouble to write and even more for providing this information.  The alcohol industry has a long history of manipulating research in its own interests.  It’s always good to remember that this industry’s purpose is to sell as much booze as possible to as many people as it can, while public health efforts are aimed precisely at the opposite.

Populations with the lowest overall intake of alcohol on a population basis, are those that also have low levels of alcohol-induced social problems: car and other accidents, domestic and other violence, and problems with work, intimacy, and mental and physical health.

 

Apr 29 2020

Coronavirus and ethanol: fuel and booze

Coronavirus affects everything in the food system.  Here’s what it’s doing to ethanol and alcoholic beverages.

Fuel ethanol

Q.  What does fuel ethanol have to do with food politics?

A.  About 40% of America’s corn crop is used for ethanol for cars, as a result of the fuel standards law requiring ethanol to be blended into gasoline.

Comment: Growing corn for ethanol seems absurd to me, particularly because the energy gain is so low—about 2% according to the USDA.

With that said, Covid-19 is unquestionably bad for the fuel ethanol business.

Booze

Alcoholic beverage companies that donate to Coronavirus causes are seeing huge increases in sales—as much as a tripling.

But beer has a problem.  It—and sodas and seltzers—need carbon dioxide gas to make them bubbly.  Ethanol plants collect this gas as a byproduct.  If they shut down or reduce output, the gas supply goes down.  Expect shortages.

If Covid-19 does any good at all, it is to illustrate the interconnections and contradictions of our often bizarre food system.