Brian K. Obach. Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States. MIT Press, 2015.
Here’s my blurb:
Brian Obach has written an important book for everyone who produces, buys, or considers buying organically produced foods. This is a well-researched and utterly riveting history of the issues that unite and divide organic farmers and consumers, firmly grounded in the political context of classic social movements. If you want to advocate for healthier and more sustainable food systems, you must read this book.
As promised, I am posting examples of industry-sponsored research every time I collect five. These, like the others, produce results favorable to the sponsor’s interests.
I am happy to post examples of sponsored studies that do not favor the sponsor’s interests, and this first one comes closest. This Unilever-sponsored study found that consuming the product had no effect on blood flow in people with high blood cholesterol levels, although it did lower their levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol).
The effect of a low-fat spread with added plant sterols on vascular function markers: results of the Investigating Vascular Function Effects of Plant Sterols (INVEST) study. By Rouyanne T Ras, Dagmar Fuchs, Wieneke P Koppenol, Ursula Garczarek, Arno Greyling, Christian Keicher, Carole Verhoeven, Hakim Bouzamondo, Frank Wagner, and Elke A Trautwein. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101:733-741 doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.102053.
The next four are more typical:
Dairy proteins, dairy lipids, and postprandial lipemia in persons with abdominal obesity (DairyHealth): a 12-wk, randomized, parallel-controlled, double-blinded, diet intervention study. By Mette Bohl, Ann Bjørnshave, Kia V Rasmussen, Anne Grethe Schioldan, Bashar Amer, Mette K Larsen, Trine K Dalsgaard, Jens J Holst, Annkatrin Herrmann, Sadhbh O’Neill, Lorraine O’Driscoll, Lydia Afman, Erik Jensen, Merete M Christensen, Søren Gregersen, and Kjeld Hermansen. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101:870-878 doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.097923
Policy Statement: Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools. Council on School Health, Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics Volume 135, number 3, March 2015.
Maternal long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid [omega-3] supplementation in infancy increases length- and weight-for-age but not BMI to 6 years when controlling for effects of maternal smoking. L.M. Currie, E.A. Tolley, J.M. Thodosoff, E.H. Kerling, D.K. Sullivan, J. Colombo, and S.E. Carlson . Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j. plefa.2015.04.001
Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A randomized Clinical Trial. Cinta Valls-Pedret, MSc; Aleix Sala-Vila, DPharm, PhD; Mercè Serra-Mir, RD; et al. JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 11, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1668.
Let me comment on this last one, which may seem like pushing things, given that the study itself was funded by the agency for biomedical research of the Spanish government. I would have left it off this list had I not read an article about it in the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal interviewed Dr. Ros, the lead author:
The diminished decline in cognitive function likely stems from the abundance of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents found in the supplemental foods…He recommends that, to decrease age-related cognitive delay, people should add 5 tablespoons of olive oil as a well as a handful of nuts a day into their diet.
But the Journal also interviewed a clinical neuropsychologist who was not involved in the study:
The changes observed in cognition were very small and didn’t actually show that those diets improved cognition, they just showed less decline. Based on the research…people shouldn’t rush out to buy lots of olive oil and nuts.
My point here is that the sole purpose of this study was to prove the health benefits of olive oil and nuts. Yes, these are healthy foods, but so are many others. Like virtually all such studies, this one seems designed to produce the desired answer.
On his Weighty Matters blog, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff explains how biases play out in supposedly unbiased research journals, in this case, the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Dr. Freedhoff talks about the journal’s temporary withdrawal of a paper arguing that diet is more important than physical activity in weight loss on the grounds that the authors did not disclose conflicts of interest. In contrast, an editorial arguing the opposite, by authors who also did not disclose conflicts, went unchallenged and was not withdrawn.
Dr. Freedhoff asks: “Are these sorts of conflicts important to disclose?”
On the basis of today’s and many other examples, my answer is an unqualified yes.
Thanks to Courtney Scott, a doctoral student at University of North Carolina, for sending me this account of the fate of Britain’s salt reduction strategies, published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal).
The lead author on the article is Dr. Graham MacGregor, Britain’s leading advocate for diets lower in salt. It is about the derailing of Britain’s remarkable successful salt reduction strategy.
Under the auspices of Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), the salt reduction program initiated in the early 2000s—getting companies to slowly but steadily reduce the salt in their products—was working well.
Most impressive: salt intake, blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke declined in parallel with the decline in salt in the food supply.
But in 2010, Britain elected a more conservative government.
Andrew Lansley was appointed secretary of state for health, and he moved the responsibility for nutrition from the FSA to the Department of Health. This disrupted the salt reduction programme, making it unclear who would be responsible for the policy. In 2011 Lansley launched the responsibility deal, whereby he made the alcohol and food industries responsible for reducing alcohol consumption and improving nutrition, respectively. As a result, salt reduction lost momentum.
The key points of the article:
Most of the foods that industry currently provide are very high in salt, fat, and sugars and are therefore more likely to cause cardiovascular disease and predispose to cancer than healthier alternatives.
The UK’s salt reduction programme…led to a significant reduction in population salt intake, accompanied by reductions in blood pressure and cardiovascular mortality.
The programme has been set back by the coalition government’s decision to hand power back to the food industry as part of the responsibility deal.
An independent agency for nutrition with a transparent monitoring programme is urgently needed to improve the food that we eat.
As I’ve explained previously, most salt—80% or more—in American diets is already in processed and prepared foods when they are presented to us. That’s where the salt reduction has to come from. As the authors explain,
Members of the food industry have said that they are keen to reformulate their foods to make them healthier. All they require is to be on a “level playing field” with the other major companies, so that they can make their foods healthier in a structured, incremental way. They need to be assured that there are proper reporting mechanisms in place and that all of the companies are being monitored equally. Enforcement is required, and if it doesn’t work, regulation or legislation must be enacted.
The debates over salt may be the most contentious in the field of nutrition (as the Washington Post puts it), but the parallels between the British decline in salt intake and in salt-related disease are impressive.
On a population basis, eating less salt is healthier.
This is something you can’t easily do on your own. The food industry has to do it. And food companies don’t want to, for obvious reasons.
Hence: the need for regulation.
I am indebted to Pro Politico Morning Agriculture for this tidbit:
HOUSE AG COMMITTEE PRIES INTO DGAC COMMENT REVIEW: The chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee have requested that the USDA and HHS supply an accounting of how they intend to review the more than 29,000 public comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, as well as an accounting of the staff maneuvering that’s been required to review those thousands of comments in a timely manner.
In a letter sent by Reps. Michael Conaway and Collin Peterson, the committee has also requested more information on whether the departments will be able to deliver the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans document by the end of the year, as originally intended.
“Have you reconsidered that goal given the overwhelming number of comments that now need to be reviewed,” the letter states. “If not, do you intend to incorporate the review of the 29,000+ comments received into this work product, and how do you intend to complete that process?” You can read the full letter, which the lawmakers expect a response to by June 10, here: http://1.usa.gov/1EJcrSM
OK. Let’s review the process here.
Until 2005, the DGACs wrote the actual guidelines with minimal editing from the agencies. That was certainly how it worked in 1995 when I was on that committee.
We did the research and wrote guidelines based on that research. The agencies published them pretty much as we wrote them.
That changed in 2005 under the Bush II administration.
By now, nutrition advice has become so politicized that the public—from individual consumers to corporations—has a say in them.
Which method helps the public eat healthier diets?
I withholding judgment until I see how the agencies extract guidelines from the 650-page DGAC report and its 29,000 comments.
I’m guessing that after all this fuss, the guidelines will still basically say:
Good advice. Too bad that following it does not increase profits for the food industry.
It’s tough to be a soda company these days, what will sales of both sugary and diet drinks falling steadily. Hence, this May 15 press release:
Alliance for a Healthier Generation and America’s Beverage Companies Start Work In Los Angeles Area Neighborhoods As Part of Community Initiative To Help Reduce Beverage Calories Consumed
(LOS ANGELES) –The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and America’s beverage companies announced today that work will begin in four Los Angeles area communities as part of a highly focused initiative to help reduce beverage calories consumed by 20 percent per person by 2025 in neighborhoods where there has been less interest in or access to lower-calorie and smaller-portion beverages.
…The beverage companies will utilize a range of marketplace activities in these neighborhoods in an effort to help people reduce their calories, such as making lower-calorie and smaller-portion beverages more available in stores, providing incentives for consumers to try these options and displaying new calorie awareness messages at points of sale. These activities will allow companies to test and learn in order to develop the best practices that can be implemented elsewhere.
Here’s what people in these neighborhoods will see:
The press release says nothing about:
Is this public relations or something meaningful? I’m skeptical but do try to stay open-minded about such things.
Let’s wait and see how this plays out.
Barry Estabrook. Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat. WW Norton, 2015.
I was happy to be asked to blurb this one. It’s a great read:
Estabrook tells two powerful stories here. The first is about the appalling ways in which Big Pig raises animals, pollutes the environment, and uses the political system to avoid and fight regulation. The second is about how skilled animal husbandry and respect for the intelligence of pigs produces calmer animals, more delicious meat, and a far more satisfying life for farmers and pigs alike. Pig Tales is beautifully written. It is also deeply touching.
Throughout my travels in Italy the last couple of weeks, I was constantly asked for an assessment of the Milan Food Expo.
My answer: it’s too early to tell. It’s only been open for two weeks and has lots more to do between now and the end of October.
In my posts on the Expo, I’ve talked about the logistics and a few of the pavilions.
But what about the overall content and take-home messages? Expos are trade fairs, but this one is about feeding the planet—adequately and sustainably.
The U.S. Pavilion carries out this theme:
Most countries created exhibits based on these themes. Many displayed vegetable gardens in raised beds or, in the case of the US pavilion, on a long, undulating wall.
It’s useful to start with the United Nations’ Zero Hunger Pavilion. Its gigantic ticker-tape display tells you the price of food commodities throughout the world in real time.
The scrolling messages in English and Italian:
Like most of the exhibits, this one states the problems and says what is needed to solve them. But it leaves it up to you to figure out how to set or obtain the new rules for agricultural governance.
My view from this brief visit: The very existence of Milan Food Expo 2025 is a strong statement that food issues are worthy of serious public attention, worldwide.
For that alone, it succeeds magnificently.
When the Milan Food Expo opened on May 1, there were plenty of protests, fires, store break-ins, and overturned cars.
The protesters have been angered by Expo’s reliance on volunteer workers, the involvement of corporations like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and a perception that much of the public money ploughed into the project has been lost to corruption.
Coca-Cola has a big presence at the Expo (see my post from last week) and in the city.
Coca-Cola sponsors Milan’s public bicycle program: BikeMi.
McDonald’s also has a large restaurant on the Decumano (the main street of the fair), but the huge golden arches are in the back where they are only visible to people from outside the fair..
The day after the protests, cleaners were washing away the last of the “No Expo” graffitti on Milan walls.
Despite the initial controversy, the Expo is attracting huge crowds and vast hordes of school children. Most pavilions are open, and some have long lines to get into.
Tomorrow: a preliminary assessment.
I especially enjoyed the pavilion of Coldiretti, an association of Italian farmers.
“No party” can—and is supposed to be—read two ways: no fun, or no political clout.
The pavilion houses a farmers’ market promoting the products of its members.
Coldiretti doesn’t have much use for GMOs, but for reasons we don’t often consider in the U.S.
In case you can’t read the photo:
What is good for the GMO multinational corporations is bad for Italy.
Because they cancel our extraordinary diversity.
Because they suffocate many to reward one.
Because the seeds of the earth belong to those who work it.
Because food certainties belong to “free research.”
Whatever you think of such views, I’m hoping the Milan Food Expo will get visitors thinking about these food issues and more.