by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

Sep 30 2021

Recent food items of interest

Here is my latest collection of accounts of unusual or unexpected food items.  Ice creams are high on the list.

You are wondering what Clitoria ternatea looks like?  Good enough to eat, I guess.

Sep 6 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: full-fat dairy

The study: Impact of low-fat and full-fat dairy foods on fasting lipid profile and blood pressure: exploratory endpoints of a randomized controlled trial.  Kelsey A Schmidt, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqab131, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab131.  Published: 13 July 2021

Background: “Dietary guidelines traditionally recommend low-fat dairy because dairy’s high saturated fat content is thought to promote cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, emerging evidence indicates that dairy fat may not negatively impact CVD risk factors when consumed in foods with a complex matrix.”

Method: “Participants were then randomly assigned to 1 of 3 diets, either continuing the limited-dairy diet or switching to a diet containing 3.3 servings/d of either low-fat or full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese for 12 wk.”

Conclusions: “In men and women with metabolic syndrome, a diet rich in full-fat dairy had no effects on fasting lipid profile or blood pressure compared with diets limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy. Therefore, dairy fat, when consumed as part of complex whole foods, does not adversely impact these classic CVD risk factors.”

Funding: “National Dairy Council, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL),” and NIH and others.

Conflict of interest: “This study was initiated by the principal investigator (MK). The dairy-related funding organizations suggested changes to details of the study design prior to the conduct of the study, some of which were implemented. Otherwise, the funding organizations had no impact on the design or conduct of the trial or the analysis and interpretation of study data.”

Comment: Let’s give these investigators high marks for disclosing that the dairy funders influenced the design of the study, which, as we know from the data of Lisa Bero and her colleagues, is the place where biases caused by industry funding most typically show up.  Food companies that fund research are looking for benefits; they won’t risk study designs that might yield inconvenient results.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Aug 26 2021

Keeping up with plant-based substitutes: not easy

The marketplace for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes is booming, and attracting tons of venture capital.

It also is attracting controversy.

Here are some of the new products and those in the works.

And the latest business news.

Aug 24 2021

How much do cattle contribute to greenhouse gases?  It depends on who’s counting, and what.

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about a beef industry ad promoting the idea that eating beef promotes sustainability.  The ad claimed that beef contribute only 2% of greenhouse gases.  In rebuttal, I cited the widely quoted figure of 14.5%.

Two readers argued for a correction.

The first, Stephen Zwick, describes himself as a “regenetarianist,” a “huge soil nerd,” and independent of industry interests.  He sent lengthy and highly technical notes.  These, in my interpretation, boil down to:

He says:

Enteric methane is a distraction. Poor land management destroying soil sinks and reducing photosynthesis via desertification, deforestation and ocean acidification are also a huge problem. And yes, cattle and palm oil are part of the problem in tropical regions (see The Deforestation Process... )…Cattle is a very conspicuous driver, though it’s not really the primary driver. Human greed is…So, in other words, we need better regional and system data, and we can’t really make universal claims.

The second set of comments comes from Greg Miller, the chief science officer of the National Dairy Council.

While FAO estimates livestock emissions at 14.5% based on LCA [life cycle assessment], the emissions from transportation are only from the tailpipes (not LCA), so comparing apples and bananas – FAO did this, but later retracted because it is an inappropriate comparison, that now keeps getting repeated, thought you should know.

He cites this source on greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector:

And he cites this reference:  Recht, L. 2021 An Inclusive Transition to a Sustainable and Resilient Meat Sector, which talks about how to raise cattle sustainably.

How to make sense of this?

The percentage of greenhouse gases due to animal agriculture depends on who is doing the counting, and what factors and assumptions go into the estimations.  Low estimates predictably come from the beef and dairy industries (Stephen Zwick does not, which is why I am quoting him).  The Environmental Protection Agency also produces low estimates: 1.3% of total emissions for dairies.

In contrast, the Humane Society uses 18% (referring to carbon dioxide equivalents), as does Cowspiracy.

A new paper in Sustainability argues that the correct estimate is 16.5%.

It matters whether we are talking about carbon dioxide or methane.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 [methane] emissions” and notes that the growth in atmospheric methane is “largely driven by emissions from the fossil fuels and agriculture (dominated by livestock) sectors.”

I was interested to see yesterday’s Politico, which had a report about the current politics of methane emissions. (behind a paywall).  It notes:

While oil and gas production is the main reason methane emissions have boomed since 2007, agriculture (namely livestock operations) remains a massive source of the potent greenhouse gas, accounting for 40 percent of methane emissions worldwide. ..Senate Democrats plan to include a “methane polluter fee” in their $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would hit energy producers that vent or burn off excess methane and compressors used to pressurize and transport natural gas.

The precise percentage contributed by animal agriculture?  I’m not sure it matters.  Everyone agrees that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than produced by any other food (as a result of burps, deforestation, feed production, manure, etc).

Raising cattle more sustainably and regeneratively is a really good idea.

That’s where policy needs to be directed.

Aug 9 2021

Industry-sponsored study of the week: Animal foods vs. plant-based substitutes

Thanks to Frank Lindner for sending this study.  He is a campaigner for foodwatch Nederland, which among other campaigns, runs Stop the sale of science for better transparency in science.

He says this Tweet made him curious:

He followed up and found the study: The place of animal products in a sustainable diet.  Authors: Stephen Peters, Jolande Valkenburg, Thom Huppertz, Luuk Blom, Lionel van Est. Norwegian Journal of Nutrition, Nr. 2 – June 2021.

The study begins with this premise:

Replacing animal-based foods with plant-based foods does not necessarily lower the diets [sic] carbon footprint.

Why?

In an average Dutch person’s diet, animal products are an important source of protein, minerals and vitamins…Animal products contribute significantly to the intake of important nutrients, such as high-quality protein, vitamins A, B2 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and (in the case of meat) heme iron. These nutrients are not naturally, or often, found in plant products. Omitting animal products from the diet therefore can have major consequences for nutrient intake.

Lindner wrote that “I read the article and my jaw fell wide open at the very end….”

Funding: The research has been sponsored by the Dutch Dairy Association.

Conflicts of interest: Dr. Peters is a employed by the Dutch Dairy Association as manager of dairy health and sustainability. Dr. Huppertz is employed by FrieslandCampina, The Netherlands and is a professor of Dairy Science at Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Victoria University, Australia and Editor-in-Chief of International Dairy Journal. Dr. Bloom and Dr. van Est are the founders of Nutrisoft. A (commercial) company that combines the knowledge of nutrition and ICT.

Comment: FrieslandCampina is a large dairy cooperative operating in 38 countries and employing nearly 24,000 people.   It sponsors research at Wageningen University.

Milk and dairy may be at the heart of what we do, but at FrieslandCampina, we make more than just cheese and yogurt. We also produce dairy nutrition for specific groups of consumers, such as toddlers or adults with specific requirements.

Lindner was surprised by the disclosures and said “At least they are open and honest about it (they don’t even bother to hide it).”  He should not be surprised.  Industry-funded studies almost always produce results favorable to the sponsors’ interests.  That is one reason why journals require authors to disclose financial relationships with sponsors.

Here, the interests are obvious.  It is very much in the economic interests of dairy companies to demonstrate the nutritional superiority of dairy products over plant-based alternatives.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

May 3 2021

Industry policy influence of the week: meat and dairy vs. climate change

Thanks to Sinead Boylan in Australia for alerting me to this paper about the influence of the meat and dairy industries on climate change policy.  The authors are Environmental Science colleagues at NYU.

The Study: The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers.  Oliver Lazarus & Sonali McDermid & Jennifer Jacquet.  Climatic Change (2021) 165:30.

Method: The authors examined the role of 35 of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies in actions related to preventing climate change. But in particular, it investigated “the transparency of emissions reporting, mitigation commitments, and influence on public opinion and politics of the 10 US meat and dairy companies.”

Its overall conclusion: “all 10 US companies have contributed to efforts to undermine climate-related policies.”

Through a questionnaire, it found (these are direct quotes):

  • All 10 US companies have contributed to research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change (Q11). Three companies—Tyson, Cargill, and Smithfield—have contributed directly to what Brulle (2014) called “climate change countermovement organizations” or organizations that have minimized the link between agriculture and climate change (Q13).
  • Four companies—Tyson, National Beef, Smithfield, and Hormel—have each made statements linking climate change regulation with potentially harming their profitability, either in an SEC form or in an annual report (Q17…).

Through researching OpenSecrets

  • Nine of the 10 companies have spent at least $600,000 on lobbying activities since 2000, with five of those companies spending over $14 million each…Tyson has spent the most on lobbying—$25 million—over the last two decades.
  • Cargill has spent $21.5 million; Smithfield Foods, $21 million; Dean Foods, $16 million; and Dairy Farmers of America, $14 million….
  • Combined, the companies have spent a total of $109 million on lobbying activities since 2000.
  • The other nine US-based companies [the tenth, Koch Foods, did not report] have spent a combined $26 million on political campaigns since 2000.
  • Dairy Farmers of America has spent the most, at $6.3 million since 2000. California Dairies has spent $5 million; Dean Foods, $4.3 million; Cargill, $4 million; and Tyson, $3.2 million.
  • Since 2000, Tyson has spent more on Republican candidates in every election cycle but one, and a similar pattern was observed for most of the companies examined here.
  • US meat and dairy companies act collectively…Together, six of these [trade] groups—the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the combined expenses of the American Farm Bureau Federation and its state groups—have spent nearly $200 million in lobbying since 2000, lobbying yearly on climate related issues like cap-and-trade, the Clean Air Act, and greenhouse gas regulations and reporting rules.
  • A recent sustainability report published by the US pork industry noted that “pork production contributes just 0.46% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere” (Pork Checkoff 2020).
  • In 2019, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association published a 21-part series, “Tough Questions About Beef Sustainability,” that, among other things, claims US beef production accounted for just 1.9% of total US emissions in 2014 (Beef Research 2019)

Their analysis also suggests: “the level of influence generally corresponded with emissions. Tyson, for example, is the largest emitter of the 10 US companies.  Tyson received the highest total influence score in response to our 20 questions at 15, tied with National Beef Packing Company, the fourth highest emitter.”

Overall: “In the case of the USA, our analysis provides evidence to suggest that the 10 largest meat and dairy companies have worked to frame the conversation, influence climate-related policies, and minimize the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

Comment: This issue matters because animal agriculture is estimated to contribute 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions.  This, and industry behavior around this issue, is a reason why sustainability needs to be part of Dietary Guidelines, and “eat less meat” is good dietary advice for people in industrialized economies.

Apr 8 2021

Plant-based: an attempt to keep up

Information pours out about plant-based meat and dairy substitutes.  Here are some recent items, pro and con:

Mar 3 2021

And now, Buttergate? 

I thought I already knew all the issues raised by palm fats, which I’ve written about previously, but also because I did a blurb for Jocelyn Zuckerman’s forthcoming Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World (New Press).  Nope.  Wrong.

Welcome to “Buttergate,” the latest palm fat scandal.

I thought I knew all the issues raised by palm fats, which I’ve written about previously, but also because I did a blurb for Jocelyn C. Zuckerman.  Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World (New Press) which is not yet out but coming soon.  How wrong I was.

Welcome to “Buttergate,” the latest palm fat scandal.

This begins with Canadians asking why, all of a sudden, is butter not getting soft at room temperature.

The answer: farmers are feeding cows palm oil, which is high in saturated (hard) fat

Why would they do this?  Because it increases production of milk fat.  And because it makes milk fat more highly saturated, butter gets harder.

The Canadian dairy industry is being asked to stop this practice because it breaches the dairy industry’s “ moral compact with Canadians.

Do dairy foods need to be harder at room temperature?  No.

Do dairy foods need to be higher in saturated fat?  No.

Is this yet another reason to be wary of palm fat?  Could be.

Are American farmers feeding palm oil to cows?  The U.S. dairy industry is strangely quiet on this question.  US journals report research on its use as cow feed.  And Dairy Farmers of Canada says American dairy farmers do this too.

I did a little investigating.  Here’s what Jamie Jonker, Vice President, Sustainability & Scientific Affairs, National Milk Producers Federation, says about the practices of the U.S. dairy industry:

  • Feeding byproducts from other parts of food production to dairy cattle, which recycles ingredients that may otherwise be thrown away, has been a staple of the U.S. dairy industry for decades. Palm oil byproducts fed to dairy cattle in small amounts has been among them.
  • The average daily consumption of palm oil per lactating cow in the U.S. is about 0.2 pounds (unpublished data). A lactating cow eats more than 50 pounds of feed (on a dry matter basis) so this is less than 0.4% of total diet.
  • There is not a legal limit feeding palm oil byproducts in the U.S., but from a practical standpoint there are dietary limits. Too high fat level in the diet will reduce overall feed consumed which will reduce overall nutrients to the cow decreasing productivity.
  • Diet does impact milk composition and dietary fat source can change milk fatty acid profile. There has not been a recent change in use of palm oil byproducts that would cause a discernible difference in butter ‘hardness’ at room temperature.
  • The palmitic acid portion of the weight of total fatty acids in butter is roughly 30 percent. That’s a decades-old industry standard that’s remained consistent throughout the pandemic. Palmitic acid is not just from the palm but can also be produced in other plants and organisms at low levels. For example, the amount in human breast milk averages 20 to 25%.

So for U.S. milk users, there doesn’t seem to be anything new here.  The butter I’ve been buying still softens at room temperature, but the ambient temperature has to be really hot to melt it.  Cow’s milk is a source of saturated fat.  Butter is concentrated cow’s milk fat.  Saturated fatty acids are solid at room temperature and that’s why butter is too.