by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: China

Jan 15 2019

Coca-Cola’s political influence in China: documented evidence

The BMJ (the new name for what was formerly the British Medical Journal) has just published a report by Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist and China specialist at Harvard, of how Coca-Cola, working through the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), got the Chinese government to focus its anti-obesity efforts on promoting physical activity rather than dietary changes.

Professor Greenhalgh documented industry influence on Chinese health policy through review of published work as well as interviews with key players in this drama.

A more thorough report of her investigation with details of her interviews was released at the same time by the Journal of Public Health Policy: “Soda industry influence on obesity science and policy in China.”  This report comes with extensive supplemental information about her methods and interview details (these explain why training in anthropology is useful for this kind of work and provides information not otherwise available).

For readers familiar with Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), this is a familiar story.

I tell the GEBN story in a chapter in my recently released book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

One surprise in writing that book was how often ILSI turns up in its pages.  ILSI positions itself as an independent “nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” but it was founded by Coca-Cola and is largely supported by food and beverage companies.  It works in many countries to promote food-industry interests.

Greenhalgh’s articles thoroughly expose how this organization accomplishes its objectives.  If you would like to know more about it, UCSF Food Industry Documents Library can help, as I learned about from this tweet.

Greenhalgh’s investigation has received extensive press coverage.

I was particularly interested in the account by Crossfit’s Derek Fields and Russ Greene, which provides further documentation of the close connections between Chinese health agencies, ILSI, and programs funded by Coca-Cola.

Dec 27 2018

Selling bakery products in China: Chocolate!

This is from one of those daily newsletters I get about what’s happening in the food industry.  This one covers baked goods, snacks, and candy.  And this particular collection of articles deals with chocolate as an instrument of international trade policy.

BakeryAndSnacks.com says:

Chocolate’s use in bakery is a booming business in China: Once perceived as an exotic delicacy – bought only as a luxury gift or an extravagant treat – the Chinese consumers’ taste for chocolate is growing and the ingredient is quickly cementing a niche for itself in bakery. Read more

I can’t help thinking about all those calories in chocolate-laden baked goods, and their effects on Chinese waistlines….

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Dec 21 2018

Weekend reading: Soy Milk

Jia-Chen Fu.  The Other Milk: Reinventing Soy in Republican China.  University of Washington Press, 2019.

Image result for The Other Milk: Reinventing Soy in Republican China

Here’s my blurb for this one:

The Other Milk tells a fascinating story—how nutrition science transformed the place of soybeans in the Chinese diet from humble components of traditional cuisine to instruments of physical and social development, only to be replaced by dairy foods as markers of modernity.  This book is a superb example of how cultural history, cuisine, science, and globalization intersect around one food–soybeans.

Here is a small taste: Fu, an assistant professor of Chinese at Emory University, explains that the use of soybeans in Chinese cuisine dates back to 500 B.C. or so, but she begins her analysis in the early 1900s with an account of Li Shizeng’s promotion of soy milk—in Paris, of all places.

Li’s soybean experiment in Paris proved short-lived, but his insistence that soybeans offered a key to a modern, industrial China did not fail to impress his compatriots.  Popular accounts celebrated the soybean’s many industrial and gastronomic uses and as late as 1920, highlighted Li’s foresight and ingenuity in promoting an indigenous product, doujiang (soybean milk), as both more nutritious and sanitary than cow’s milk, on the world stage.

If the soybean could signify modern, industrial development, could it also challenge perceptions of Chinese physical and nutritional precarity, of China as “the sick man of Asia”? When coupled with a newly emergent discursive concept of the Chinese diet as a thing scientists and social scientists could measure and adjust, the aspiration grew for soybeans to change not just Chinese history but Chinese bodies.

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Aug 9 2018

Global Meat News on the meat market in China

This is a collection of articles on the Chinese market for meat from the daily industry newsletter, Global Meat News.

Special Edition: Focus on China
China has been the highlight of the international meat market this year in terms of re-igniting unexpected relationships for trade access and its continuous clashes with the US market. With the Asian sector ramping up its global position, will we see China dominate the meat market in years to come?

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May 2 2018

China’s “outward” (foreign) investments in food and agriculture

USDA’s Economic Research Service has a new report on China’s investment in agriculture and farmland.

China’s outward agricultural investments are growing rapidly.

The purchases are everywhere: Indonesia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Jamaica, etc., but some is in the United States.

China owns Smithfield, for example (see previous post).

The report is worth a serious read.  If you aren’t up to that, take a look at the tables and figures.  I wanted to reproduce a lot more of them.

 

Apr 17 2018

China is eating more dairy foods. Is this good?

I will never understand the push to increase dairy consumption in China.

Many if not most Asian adults lack the enzyme that digests the lactose in milk.  Undigested lactose tends to pass unscathed to the large intestine where bacteria ferment it, producing gas and diarrhea.

So why dairy products?

More protein to promote growth, is what they say.

An article in DairyReporter quotes Mintel research as saying the Chinese are eating more cheese, yogurt, and added protein.

The rising demand for dairy in China, growing at 6% to 7% rate annually, is teetering on outpacing volume growth of the category (increasing by 3% to 4% every year) as the country shows great interest in dairy products, according to Mintel.

The Chinese Nutrition Society issued updated dietary guidelines for Chinese consumers in 2016, recommending that each adult should consume 300 grams (10.6 ounces) of dairy products per day – current consumption is 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

The dairy industry is thrilled:

There is still opportunity for growth of dairy consumption in China, especially from lower tier markets, as a result of consumers’ growing awareness of nutrition intake, increasing household income levels, and the accelerated urbanization process.

Exporters of dairy products to China are particularly thrilled:

Imported dairy products are still in high demand due to the some food safety concerns surrounding China’s domestic dairy products leading to a consumer perception that international dairy products are of higher quality.

Environmentalists are not so thrilled.

One consequence: the replacement of sheep by cows in New Zealand, which now has heavily polluted waterways.

Another: China’s dairy farms are huge, with herds of 50,000 to 100,000 cows.  Just think of what their waste does to the environment.

 

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Feb 24 2017

Weekend Reading: Food-Navigator–Asia’s Special Edition on Sugar Fads

It’s a quiet news day so let’s enjoy one of Food-Navigator’s occasional special editions in which it collects articles on a specific topic, in this case sugar marketing trends in the Asia-Pacific region:

Special Edition: Asia-Pacific’s sugar fads

From breakthroughs in ingredients to lively debate over ways to keep consumers healthy, Asia-Pacific has gained a new confidence in its approach to sugar and sweeteners. We explore this spirited segment in a new FoodNavigator-Asia special edition.

May 30 2013

Chinese buy Smithfield: What about food safety, the environment, community health, animal welfare, worker rights?

I first heard about the impending of Smithfield (the gigantic ham-and-pork company) to the Chinese company, Shuanghui International Holdings, from MeatPoultry.com:

The acquisition positions Smithfield to expand its offerings in China through Shuanghui’s distribution network. Shuanghui will acquire all of Smithfield’s outstanding shares for $34 per share in cash, which is a 31 percent premium…Smithfield’s stock price rose nearly 28 percent to $33.20…Smithfield’s common stock will no longer be publicly traded, and the company will become a wholly owned independent subsidiary of Shuanghui.

MeatPoultry.com also reported a statement from the CEO of Shuanghui: 

We are excited about this…Together, [Shuanghui and Smithfield Foods] can be a global leader in animal protein…We are No. 1 in China; Smithfield is No. 1 in the US…Chinese consumers like American pork. US farmers want foreign markets for their pork. This will be a win-win for both countries.

Not exactly, says a e-mailed news release from the Waterkeeper Alliance:

This deal with the Shuanghui – a company with a very recent history of producing tainted food – raises the specter that Americans will lose more control of their food supply, be exposed to tainted food and be left with even more devastated farming communities and drinking water supplies as a result of increased industrialized meat production.

The New York Times put this sale on the front page and Stephanie Strom has an even longer piece on it in the business section.   The Washington Post also had plenty to say.

Smithfield, you may recall, is a company famous for factory farms, pollution, and truly appalling labor practices documented, in among many other places, the movie, Food, Inc.

In 2009, I commented on a previous attempt by Smithfield to sell out to a Chinese company.

Let’s not be too xenophobic about China. China already owns vast amounts of American real estate, holds vast amounts of American debt, and produces vast amounts of the food we eat–globalization in all its glory. We can no longer survive without China so we better figure out quickly how to make this marriage work.

We also better figure out how to make our food production system more sustainable and less harmful to farm animals, the environment, farm workers, and consumers. I was a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which released its report last April. Our report fully documented how CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) are not nice to animals; pollute air, soil, and water; turn communities into garbage dumps; and promote transmission of nasty—and often antibiotic resistant–microbial diseases to farm workers, community residents, and everyone else.

One major finding of the Pew Commission was that laws protecting communities and the environment currently exist; they just aren’t enforced.  Too bad for anyone living near an industrial pig farm.

This deal stinks?

Additions, May 31: Reuters discusses the ractopamine issue, said to be key to understanding this deal.  The Chinese do not allow use of ractopamine as a growth promoter, but the U.S. does.  Once Smithfield started phasing out its use, the deal became possible.

Ractopamine is a beta-agonist. Initially developed to treat asthma in humans, ractopamine was found to be extremely effective at changing the metabolism of an animal, so that the animal would quickly and cost-effectively add sought-after muscle. The FDA approved the use of beta-agonists in pigs in 1999, for cattle in 2003 and for turkeys in 2008.

Helena Bottemiller writing on NBC News, also discusses this issue.

In March, Smithfield Inc., converted its Tar Heel, N.C. plant – the world’s largest pork processing facility – to slaughter only hogs that were raised without the use of ractopamine….the company’s product line will be 50 percent ractopamine-free as of June 1…Earlier this year, China and Russia demanded that all American meat exports be certified ractopamine-free. The U.S. government initially refused these certification demands, so Russia shut down its market to U.S. beef and pork in February. 

Addition, June 1: The New York Times writes that the Committee on Foreign Investment is about to undertake a national security review of the deal.  The big questions: Are Smithfield’s sales to the military secure?  Does it use special farming technology that could be transferred to China?  Will Shuanghui have the power to disrupt the U.S. food chain for pork?

Another addition, June 1: Apparently, Shuanghui has a history of findings of maggots, excessive bacteria and illegal additives.

Addition, June 4: Guess who owns half of Shuanghui, the company that wants to buy Smithfield: Goldman Sachs, among others.

Addition, June 5: The Wall Street Journal has this helpful graphic comparing the pork supply chains in China and the U.S. along with an excellent summary of the issues involved.

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