by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Chemicals

Mar 16 2023

The politics of chocolate: a few items with comment

Mars convinces emerging market consumers to eat more chocolate, the Financial Times reports.

Mars has embarked on a drive to convince developing country consumers to eat more chocolate, claiming it is on track to double the value of its confetionery sales in emerging markets in teh five years to 2024….”The amount of chocolate that an Indian or Mexican consumes is 10 times or less than a European…So there is a gigantic opportunity take that low…per capita consumption closer to Europe.”

[In response to a question about the health effects of eating more chocolate] “To continue to be a super successful snacking company, we need to evolve our portfolio…and offer choices….If you go to India, you go to Mexico right now, you will see new offerings [from] us that are playing at the lower price point that didn’t exist [before].”

Lead and cadmium could be in your dark chocolate,says Consumer Reports.

CR tested a mix of brands, including smaller ones, such as Alter Eco and Mast, and more familiar ones, like Dove and Ghirardelli.

For 23 of the bars, eating just an ounce a day would put an adult over a level that public health authorities and CR’s experts say may be harmful for at least one of those heavy metals. Five of the bars were above those levels for both cadmium and lead. Read more about how CR tested dark chocolate (PDF).

NCA [National Confectioners Association] issues statement on Consumer Reports study into heavy metals in chocolate and cocoa.

Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries.  The…guidelines cited in the Consumer Reports study are not food safety standards…cadmium and lead are present in cocoa and chocolate due to soil and that bean cleaning during processing cocoa beans reduces lead and cadmium in chocolate products.

[and, of course] Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible.

Hershey debuts plant-based Reese’s and chocolate bar: The confections, which will hit shelves in March and April, are made with oats. This will be the first time the company offers permanent products in the category.

Comment

I don’t particularly like dark chocolate anyway.  Milk chocolate will have fewer heavy metals because it contains less cocoa and the Consumer Reports article is quite clear on which chocolates have fewer heavy metals.

But all of these items are about how to sell more chocolate which, alas, is not exactly a health food.  Do people in Mexico and India need more chocolate in their diets?  of course not, but chocolate companies “need” more sales regardless of health consequences.

This is about profits to shareholders, not public health.

And of course chocolate has a place in healthy diets—just not one that requires eating more of it.

Nov 9 2021

Plastics in the food system: a big problem, getting worse

Last week, I ran across three items related to plastics in our food system.  The big issues: waste, pollution, and harmful chemicals.

(1) Fortunately, Civil Eats has done all the work and produced this must-read compendium of articles.

Of all the issues we cover, one in particular has all of us at Civil Eats deeply concerned: the widespread overuse of plastic in food and agriculture. From the myth of recycling and the millions of tons of plastic in the oceans, to the abundance of “forever chemicals” and microplastics making their way into our food and our soil, plastics are contaminating the food chain, polluting the environment, and making us sick. And while there are important ways individuals can address the problem, they often feel like a drop in the bucket when compared to the ways industry is shaping the narrative, increasing the amount of plastic being produced, and stalling or opposing regulation.

First Look: The Future of Plastic-Free Grocery Shopping

The Follow-Up

The Check-In: A Conversation with the Peak Plastic Foundation

A Roadmap to Plastic-Free Grocery Shopping

What We’re Reading

(2) I also ran across this notice from Food Dive:  “Coca-Cola, Unilever among top plastic polluters, report says.”  This excellent summary refers to The #BrandAudit2021Report from the group, Break Free From Plastic.

The report points out that this is the fourth year in a row Coca-Cola is the #1 plastic polluter.  Here are the report’s top ten.

(3)  Phthlates.  In her Technically Food newsletter, Larissa Zimberoff talks about potentially harmful chemicals that leach into food from plastics, particularly plastic gloves.

The study found that pthalates (an industrial chemical) were found in food samples taken from chains including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Chipotle. These included DnBP, which has been linked to a heightened risk for asthma, and DEHP, which has been linked to an increased risk of reproductive problems. Other problems: disruption to the endocrine system (yes, that’s where diabetes comes from) and behavioral disorders in children…The main source of pthalates in food are the ubiquitous plastic gloves worn in food handling, but also in packaging and processing equipment. 

And a new study looks at phthlates in fast food.  Here’s what the Washington Post says about it:

new study out Tuesday reportsthat far too often, small amounts of industrial chemicals called phthalates (pronounced THA-lates), which are used to make plastics soft, have been found in samples of food from popular outlets including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Chipotle….The study found harmful chemicals in a majority of samples collected. Phthalates are linked to health problems, including disruption to the endocrine system, and fertility and reproductive problems, as well as increased risk for learning, attention and behavioral disorders in children.

Feb 12 2020

RIP Chlorpyrifos (well, almost)

Corteva Agroscience, the big agribiz company formed last year by merging much of Dow, DuPont and Pioneer, has apparently announced that it will cease producing chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos, according to the EPA, is “an organophosphate insecticide…used primarily to control foliage and soil-borne insect pests on a variety of food and feed crops.”  It is telling that the EPA’s definition fails to mention that this chemical has been linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children.

As the Washington Post explains,

Corteva Agriscience, the nation’s largest producer of chlorpyrifos, said the decision was driven by financial considerations, not safety concerns. “It’s a tough decision forW us to make, but we don’t feel like it’s viable going forward,” Susanne Wasson, Corteva’s president of crop protection, said in an interview. “It was a business decision.”  The announcement came the same day that California, a leading agricultural state, made it illegal to sell chlorphyrifos. It is one of a growing number of states that have moved to block the pesticide from the market.

This is big news. 

Last year, in an action considered a victory for the chemical industry, the EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos.

The New York Times explained

The Trump administration took a major step to weaken the regulation of toxic chemicals on Thursday when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would not ban a widely used pesticide that its own experts have linked to serious health problems in children.  The decision by Andrew R. Wheeler, the E.P.A. administrator, represents a victory for the chemical industry and for farmers who have lobbied to continue using the substance, chlorpyrifos, arguing it is necessary to protect crops.

The EPA’s decision reversed one made by the Obama administration, which banned chlorpyrifos in 2015 on the basis of the EPA’s own studies linking the chemical to impaired brain development in children.

Advocates for banning chlorpyrifos are not breaking out the champagne.  They say they still have work to do.  Other makers are still producing it.

Still, this has to be a win for the advocacy groups that have long been working hard to get rid of chlorpyrifos.

They deserve our congratulations and enthusiastic support.

Jul 17 2019

Externalized costs of Big Ag: The Wall Street Journal explains

High marks to the The Wall Street Journal for its story about the externalized costs of agricultural runoff into the Mississippi River.

The article is interactive.  Take a look.

It traces how agriculture pollutes 2300 miles of the Mississippi river from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. through a “”journey downriver [that] reveals how the agricultural industry is contributing to one of the nation’s biggest ecological disasters.”

Every summer, nutrients from the Mississippi pour into the Gulf, fueling algae blooms that starve the water of oxygen and kill sea life. Heavy rainfall throughout the Mississippi River watershed this spring led to record-high river flows, boosting nitrate and phosphorus loads. As a result, scientists predict this year’s “dead zone” will total 7,829 square miles, an area roughly the size of Massachusetts, and close to the record set in 2017.

The pollution starts in Minnesota, and you can see where it comes from.

Along the way, nitrates accumulate in the water.  Iowa alone releases hundreds of thousands of tons of nitrates into the Mississippi every year.

The externalized costs?

  • For communities along the way, it’s loss of potable water, construction of plants to remove nitrates from the water, dependence of bottled water, and higher water costs overall.
  • For the Gulf of Mexico, it’s a enormous dead zone that prevents fishing and recreation.

Do the polluters pay?  No.  Taxpayers do.  That’s why the costs are called “externalized.”

No wonder Big Ag opposes environmental regulations.

 

Feb 14 2019

Some hopeful news on the chemicals-in-food front

Three items for a happy Valentine’s day

I.  Food animal producers are using fewer antibiotics

According to a report from the FDA, U.S. sales of antibiotic drugs decreased:

  • By 33% from 2016 through 2017.
  • By 43% from 2015 (the year of peak sales) through 2017.
  • By 28% from 2009 (the first year of reported sales) through 2017.

Of antibiotic drugs sold, these estimated percentages were intended for use in these animals

  • 42% for cattle
  • 36% for pigs
  • 12% for turkeys
  • 5% for chickens
  • 5% for other species or unknown

These percentages of these antibiotic drugs were intended for use in cattle

  • 80% of cephalosporins
  • 72% of sulfas
  • 48% of aminoglycocides
  • 44% of tetracyclines

These were intended for use in swine

  • 84% of lincosamides
  • 40% of macrolides

These were intended for use in turkey

61% of penicillins

II.  The Farm Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts have produced this framework for judicious use of antibiotics.

III.  USDA tests for pesticide residues mostly find low levels

USDA has issued its annual summary report on the results of its pesticide sampling of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables.

The good news: Half the samples tested had no detectable residues.

But try and get your head around this:

Three samples of kale (2 from California and 1 imported from Mexico) contained residues of 17 pesticides.

Excuse me, but 17 different pesticides to grow kale?

OK, “none of the residues found on the kale samples exceeded the established tolerances,” but still.

Could be worse, but could be a lot better.

Organics, anyone?

Jan 29 2019

My latest honor: “Crankster!”

I don’t usually pay attention to what the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH) says or does, mainly because it is a long-standing front group for the food and chemical industries, and it predictably supports the interests of those industries over public health (see US Right to Know’s analysis).

But then I read this from the Center on Media and Democracy: Corporate Front Group, American Council on Science and Health, Smears List of Its Enemies as “Deniers for Hire.”

Smeared by the site are scientists Tyrone Hayes, Stephanie Seneff, and Gilles-Éric Séralini; New York Times reporter Danny Hakim and columnist Mark Bittman; well-known food and science writer Michael Pollan; nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle; public interest groups like U.S. Right to Know, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, the Environmental Working Group, and Union of Concerned Scientists; past and present CMD staff, and many other individuals ACSH does not like.

Clearly, I’m in good company.  But what, exactly, have I—a “Crankster,” apparently—done to deserve this honor?  It seems that I:

What can I say?  Read my work and decide for yourself if such concerns are justified.