by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coronavirus

Sep 15 2021

Midweek reading: The Meat Atlas

Take a look at this.

The authors write:

It is clear that many (especially young) people no longer want to accept the profit-driven damage caused by the meat industry and are increasingly interested in and committed to climate, sustainability, animal welfare and food sovereignty causes. We consider this an encouraging step for our future and want to use this Atlas to strengthen their commitment with information.

This Atlas is intended to support all those who seek climate justice and food sovereignty, and who want to protect nature. Revealing new data and facts, and providing links between various key issues, it is a crucial contribution to the work done by many to shed light on the problems arising from industrial meat production.

They aren’t kidding about data, facts, and issues.  The graphics alone are worth viewing.  Three examples.

Pesticide applications, global:

Diseases transmitted by animals to humans: A chronological list

Trends and investment in plant-based meat alternatives

And here’s what The Guardian highlights: meat and dairy firms emit more greenhouse gases than Germany, Britain, or France.

 

Aug 10 2021

Good COVID news: it’s not transmitted by food or packaging

I am indebted to Food Safety News for this item: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) has issued a statement:  COVID-19 is not a food safety issue (see my previous posts on this).

  • Food does not spread the virus.
  • Food packaging does not spread the virus.

Highlights of the FAO’s conclusions:

  • Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on inanimate surfaces; they can only multiply in humans and certain animals. Once in the environment, viruses degrade and becomes less infectious.
  • It is important to note that, although the detection of virus or viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) remnants on foods and food packaging provides evidence of previous contamination and is not disputed, there is no confirmation of SARS-CoV-2, or any other respiratory illness-causing virus, being transmitted by food or food packaging and causing illnesses in people who touch the contaminated food products or packaging.
  • The virus responsible for COVID-19 is susceptible to most commonly used disinfectants and sanitizing agents used in the food processing environment. Standard cleaning and sanitizing procedures…should therefore be effective at disinfecting the food processing environment.

Well, at least that, and what a relief.

That still leaves us with these preventive measures: vaccinate, mask up, and avoid unmasked crowds.

Mar 17 2021

Overweight is a major risk factor for Covid-19 hospitalization and death

I was struck by headlines last week stating that a CDC study found that 78% of people hospitalized with Covid-19 were overweight or obese.

78%?  That is an enormous percentage.

I looked up the study: Body “Mass Index and Risk for COVID-19–Related Hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit Admission, Invasive Mechanical Ventilation, and Death — United States, March–December 2020.”

Summary

What is already known about this topic?

Obesity increases the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness.

What is added by this report?

Among 148,494 U.S. adults with COVID-19, a nonlinear relationship was found between body mass index (BMI) and COVID-19 severity, with lowest risks at BMIs near the threshold between healthy weight and overweight in most instances, then increasing with higher BMI. Overweight and obesity were risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation. Obesity was a risk factor for hospitalization and death, particularly among adults aged <65 years.

What are the implications for public health practice?

These findings highlight clinical and public health implications of higher BMIs, including the need for intensive management of COVID-19–associated illness, continued vaccine prioritization and masking, and policies to support healthy behaviors.

The data supporting the headline are found in Table 1 in the paper.  This shows that overweight and obesity do indeed account for 78% of hospitalizations, but also close to that percentage for ICU visits and mechanical ventilation, but “only” 73% of deaths.

Overweight and obesity were especially risky for people under age 65, although they caused plenty of problems for people over age 65 too.

Why do they make Covid-19 worse?  The best guesses have to do with inflammation and mechanical pressure on lungs.

I found these figures shockingly high.

Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to reduce the risks for overweight and obesity?  Yes we should.

And what are those risks?

  • Poverty
  • Racial discrimination
  • Inadequate schools
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of adequate health care
  • Air pollution
  • And, of course, poor diets

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that to prevent its bad effects, we need vaccinations and masking for sure, but we also need to change society.

 

Feb 23 2021

Are frozen foods the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic?

I can’t believe we are even talking about this, but the FDA, USDA, and CDC have just issued a rare joint statement addressing it [my emphases throughout].

After more than a year since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to underscore that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19.

This, no doubt, is in response to statements from the World Health Organization team that visited Wuhan to determine the source of the virus causing Covid-19.  This team has not yet issued its report, but members of the team have talked to reporters.

Nature, for example, reports:

The researchers largely discounted the controversial theory that the virus accidentally leaked from a laboratory, and suggested that SARS-CoV-2 probably first passed to people from an animal — already a leading hypothesis among researchers. But the team also offered two hypotheses promoted by the Chinese government and media: that the virus, or its most recent ancestor, might have come from an animal outside China, and that once it was circulating in people, it could have spread on frozen wildlife and other cold packaged goods….Dominic Dwyer, a medical virologist at New South Wales Health Pathology in Sydney, Australia, and a member of the WHO team, says there is some evidence that the coronavirus could have spread on contaminated fish and meat at Chinese markets, and more details will be included in the written report.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

Beijing has blamed frozen-food imports as one cause of a string of recent outbreaks, and it has introduced mandatory testing and disinfection of foreign goods, saying it found traces of the virus on packaging of products including American pork, Saudi shrimp and Brazilian beef.

This idea has had a profound effect on sales of frozen foods.

Everyone seems to agree that there are four key hypotheses to explain the origin of this particular Coronavirus: 

  • Direct animal vector
  • Intermediary animal vector
  • Laboratory accident
  • Frozen food products,

The team could not identify a specific animal vector, dismissed the idea of a laboratory accident, but left open the possibility of frozen food.

The frozen food idea was suggested by the Chinese.

Several top Chinese scientists have further suggested that the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease may have arrived in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan city, the location of the world‘s first known outbreak, via frozen food imports, or what’s referred to as cold-chain transmission.

The WHO team’s report is considered a public relations win for the Chinese.

The W.H.O. team opened the door to a theory embraced by Chinese officials, saying it was possible the virus might have spread to humans through shipments of frozen food, an idea that has gained little traction with scientists outside China.… The virus was circulating in Wuhan several weeks before it appeared at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where some of the earliest clusters were initially reported, the experts said. It most likely emerged in bats and spread to humans through another small mammal, though the experts said they have not been able to identify the species.

The team, as I mentioned, considered a laboratory origin unlikely.

The team called for further investigation into the possibility of “cold chain” transmission, referring to the transport and trade of frozen food.

US Federal agencies don’t believe this for a minute; hence, their joint statement.

So if frozen foods are not at fault, and no animal vector can be conclusively identified, that leaves us with the dismissed-out-of-hand laboratory origin.

So what’s up with that?  Wuhan, where the pandemic started, happens to be the site of a laboratory that works on Coronaviruses.  

Why does the origin of the pandemic matter?  

  • If we don’t know how this one happened, how can we take steps to prevent the next one?
  • And it matters a lot to the makers of frozen foods.
Jan 21 2021

Vitamin D and coronavirus: more on the ongoing saga

Vitamin D is such a hot topic for its purported role in preventing or treating coronavirus infections that I seem to have written about it four previous times.  These are here, here, here, and here.

Now, a group of 120 scientists has called on world governments to get their populations to increases vitamin D consumption to 2000 to 4000 units per day, five to ten times higher than current recommendations.  Their letter is here.

This is especially interesting because nutrition and health societies in the UK  advise quite the opposite: no change in the usual recommendation for vitamin D intake (400 units/day).  Their report says (my emphasis):

  • Do not offer a vitamin D supplement to people solely to prevent COVID-19, except as part of a clinical trial.
  • Do not offer a vitamin D supplement to people solely to treat COVID-19, except as part of a clinical trial.

I’m always interested to see what ConscienHealth has to say about such things.

The passion of the vitamin D fan club is striking. However, neither passion nor speculation should be a substitute for facts. Right now, the facts tell us that the reason to take a vitamin D supplement is to protect our muscles and bones. Any thought that it will help with COVID-19 is speculation, and taking too much would be quite unwise.

My sentiments precisely.

Jan 18 2021

Annals of nutritional epidemiology: Can cabbage mitigate the severity of Covid-19?

Why, you must be asking, am I even asking a question like this?

Because of this study, obviously, which I somehow missed when it came out in August (thanks to toxicologist Marc Stifelman for sending it to me).

The study: Cabbage and fermented vegetables: From death rate heterogeneity in countries to candidates for mitigation strategies of severe COVID‐19.  Bousquet U, et al.  Allergy.  2020 Aug 6;10.1111/all.14549. Online ahead of print.

The hypothesis:

CAUTION:  Correlation does not necessarily mean causation.  The diets—and other lifestyle characteristics—of people in Romania and Latvia differ from those in the UK and Italy in other ways besides diet; other differences might well account for these variations.

Personally, I love cabbage in any form.

But for prevention of bad outcomes from Covid-19, I’m counting on vaccination, not kimchi or sauerkraut.

Jan 7 2021

What Covid-19 is doing to meatpacking workers and communities

A scientific report in Proceedings of the National Academies titled Livestock plants and COVID-19 transmission,” demonstrates the impact of Covid-19 on workers in meat and poultry processing plants.

Our study suggests that, among essential industries, livestock processing poses a particular public health risk extending far beyond meatpacking companies and their employees. We estimate livestock plants to be associated with 236,000 to 310,000 COVID-19 cases (6 to 8% of total) and 4,300 to 5,200 deaths (3 to 4% of total) as of July 21….This study shows that meat and poultry slaughter plants were in fact vectors of the disease…Researchers found that poultry plants showed a significant relationship with COVID-19 cases, with pork plants showing the strongest relationship. Beef plants showed the strongest relationship with deaths from the illness.

The USDA has done its own analysis: “The share of all COVID-19 cases in nonmetro [rural] areas has been growing since late March, increasing from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 15.6 percent on December 7.”

Among nonmetro counties, the highest COVID-19 case rates are found in farming-dependent and manufacturing-dependent counties. The high prevalence of COVID-19 in manufacturing-dependent counties is due partly to higher COVID-19 case rates in meatpacking-dependent counties (those in which 20 percent or more of employment is in the meatpacking industry), almost all of which are manufacturing-dependent counties.

But another USDA report, specifically about the meatpacking industry, looks to me as though it is hiding what is happening in those plants.  It includes a chart indicating no special increase in cases among meatpacking workers.  No surprise, if meatpacking plants are epicenters that spread the infection to the local community (but the report doesn’t say that).

What it does say is this:

The two-week moving average number of new daily cases rose in meatpacking-dependent counties through the remainder of April, reaching a peak of nearly 50 cases per 100,000 by the end of the month. This two-week moving average was more than 10 times the prevalence seen in other rural counties. Even though cases in meatpacking-dependent counties started to decline in the month of May, they remained significantly higher compared to other rural counties, falling to just under seven times the number of average daily cases by the end of May.​…Even though meatpacking-dependent counties are dealing with a second wave, the surge in rural new cases does not appear to be driven by new outbreaks in the meatpacking industry. Meatpacking-dependent counties have maintained an almost identical pattern to other rural counties for a fifth straight month.

Confused?  Me too.  This looks like a whitewash.

Is this one result of the USDA’s moving the Economic Research Service out of Washington DC to Kansas City, a move clearly meant to—successfully—decimate the agency?

Politico asks: can the ERS move be reversed?  Not easily, alas.

It’s a good thing independent scientists and investigators are keeping an eye on this situation.

Leah Douglas of the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) deserves much praise for tracking infections and deaths among farm and meatpacking workers.

Dec 24 2020

Using the pandemic as a business opportunity, European version

Food Safety News reports that the European Commission is getting increasingly upset about fraudulent claims that specific food and supplement products will boost immunity and help protect against Covid-19 or even cure it.

Alas, they will not.

The EC is worried about online advertisements.  Food Safety News reported more than 350 cases of such claims in June.  Now there are even more.

In the US, we mostly see this sort of thing—websites from the supplement industry telling you to take supplements.  Here  is what this one claims, with my comments in red.

Supplements can help you address nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies in your diet—but can they help you fight COVID-19? Not as far as anyone knows.

While there hasn’t been specifically-targeted research to determine which—if any—nutrients should be FDA-approved to ward off the virus, [Indeed] supplements are an ideal way to keep your body and your immune system functioning at optimal levels. No, they are not.  Food works much better.

As a result, many physicians and other health and wellness experts recommend beginning a simple supplement routine to ensure your body has the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.  Many others do not, and neither do I.…The supplements you take during the COVID-19 pandemic may not be specifically developed to ward off the coronavirus. Right.  So don’t expect them to work.

Still, research has shown that they all play an important role in boosting the immune system, preventing respiratory damage, strengthening the body against viral infections, reducing inflammation—or all of the above.  This is true, but largely in experimental studies likely to have been funded by the supplement industry.

Obviously, I am not a fan of supplements.  There just isn’t much evidence that they do anything useful for healthy people, and healthy people are the ones most likely to be taking them.

With respect to Covid-19, the best preventive strategy is avoidance (masks, distancing, etc).

The best immune-boosting strategy is to eat a healthy diet–largely (but not necessarily exclusively) plant-based, balanced in calories, and with minimal amounts of ultra-processed junk foods.

And let’s all hope the vaccination comes soon and works like a charm.

Happy holidays.