Food Politics

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Updated: 8 hours 23 min ago

Happy Halloween, maybe

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 5:37am

The Union of Concerned Sciences has produced this infographic in celebration of Halloween.

It’s not Halloween parents should be worrying about.  It’s every day!

The UCS graphic is based on data from 2010-2011.  The 2011-2012 data are just in and show some improvement.  Teenage boys merely consume an average of 152 grams of sugars a day, down a bit from a year ago.

Men, overall, consume 135 grams on average, and women consume 120 grams.

This works out to about 20% of total calories, at least twice the amount recommended.

Boo!

The Environmental Working Group’s Scorecard on Processed Foods: A Revelation

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 9:40am

On Monday this week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) announced that it was releasing Food Scores: Rate Your Plate.

This is an astonishing interactive food database that rates 80,000 (!) supermarket foods on their nutritional value, ingredients as well as contaminants, and level of processing.

The database awards scores ranging from 1 (terrific) to 10 (really bad).

Feeling unimaginative this week, I typed in “Apples” and found 13 products, scored at from 1 to 6 points.  You can click on the product to get EWG’s breakdown of how and why each product is scored.

Some of the EWG findings are amazing and, in some cases, alarming:

  • 58% of the products scored contain added sugars.
  • 46% of the products contained “natural” or artificial flavors.

The average food in its database has:

  • 14 ingredients;
  • a 58 percent chance of containing added sugar (including a 22 percent chance of added corn syrup) and is 13 percent sugar by weight;
  • a 46 percent chance of containing artificial or natural “flavor” and a 14 percent chance of artificial coloring;
  • a serving size of 80 grams packing 121 calories;
  • 446 milligrams of salt per 100 grams. For some foods, that amounts to 30 percent of the daily salt intake recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and that’s in a single serving.

 Play around with the site.  You will learn plenty about what’s on those shelves.  EWG has performed a great public service in making this information accessible.

Here are the relevant documents:

And just for fun, here’s the USDA’s Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2011-2012 with its searchable version of foods, portions, and nutrients.

Yes, food is worth serious study.

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 5:55am

Yesterday, the New York Times Magazine carried this advertisement:

It’s from the University of California’s new Global Food Initiative: “Helping the world feed itself sufficiently and nutritionally—that’s the power of public.”

I’m proud to be a graduate of UC Berkeley, a public university that provided me with an education—from undergraduate through doctoral—that was, at the time, at a cost low enough so I could take advantage of it.

If Food Studies had existed when I was a student there, I would have enrolled in it immediately.  Instead, I had to wait until we could invent it at NYU in 1996.

But how wonderful that the UC system is using the Global Food Initiative to advertise the power of a public education.

And how wonderful that food education is respectable enough to be advertised in the New York Times.

Weekend reading: Congressman Tim Ryan’s Real Food Revolution

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 9:54am
Congressman Tim Ryan.  The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the Family Farm.  Hay House, 2014.

Congressman Tim Ryan (Dem-Ohio) describes himself on his Website as

a relentless advocate for working families in Ohio’s 13th District. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 and was sworn in on January 7, 2003. Successfully reelected five times, he is now serving in his sixth term…He is a champion of efforts to make college more affordable, revitalize America’s cities and improve the health and well-being of American families and children.

I did a blurb for his latest book and meant every word:

It’s wonderful that Congressman Tim Ryan cares about the way food affects the health of Americans.  I just wish more members of Congress cared about these issues too.

Food Policy Action rates Congress on food issues

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:55am

Food Policy Action announced the release of its second annual National Food Policy Scorecard last week, ranking members of the House and Senate on their votes on key food-related issues.

Food Policy Action is unique among food advocacy organizations in its explicit use of the political process.  Its goal is to

promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, protect and maintain sustainable fisheries, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.

How?  By holding legislators accountable for their foods on food and farming issues.  Hence: The Food Policy Scorecard.

I discussed the previous scorecard in December 2013.

On this round, Food Policy Action awarded scores of 100 to 71 members of Congress – 54 in the House of Representatives, 17 in the Senate.

It awarded scores of zero to 35 members.

The scores are given for votes on bills related to key food issues:

  • Hunger
  • Food aid
  • Food labeling
  • Farm subsidies
  • Sustainable farming

The website makes it easy to track your legislators’s votes.

I looked at Senators from New York.

  • Kirsten Gillbrand scores 85 (she lost points by voting against reducing federal insurance subsidies for rich farmers and against protecting states’ rights to require GMO labels)
  • Charles Schumer scores 100

This is a valuable tool for anyone who cares how politics works in America.  Let’s hope it encourages citizens to hold their representatives accountable and legislators to think twice before voting against consumer-friendly food and farming bills.

 

Food professionals’ relationships with food companies: a Q and A

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 6:43am

In the past few weeks, I’ve been sent several questions asking my opinion of food professionals’ relationships with food companies.   I thought I would deal with them at one time (all are edited for succinctness and clarity):

Q.  I am a food science student looking into career options in the food industry. I love food science and truly believe that processing food is a good idea that can positively impact the planet and its people.  I want to do something worthwhile,, but I still need to eat.  Can’t the food industry be changed from the inside? Can’t you advise good companies, people, or places where I could start my search? 

A.  I have met social entrepreneurs who strongly believe that businesses can be ethical, do good, and still make heaps of money.  Maybe so.  If you are going to try that route, I think it essential that the company be family or cooperatively owned, and not publicly traded.  You might take a look at food companies incorporated as Benefit Corporations. These are now authorized in about half the states to consider the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, when making decisions.  They are different from B corporations certifying companies that meet certain sustainability criteria.

Many companies work hard to reduce their environmental impact.  But the real question is what they are doing about health impact.  Are they going overboard on health claims?  Are they marketing to children?  These are questions I’d want to ask.  In your shoes, I’d start by looking at companies making products that you like, feel good about, and would be proud to be associated with.   And then take a closer look at how the companies operate.   Working for food companies is always a good learning experience, but if you really want to change the world, you might be better off with a nonprofit agency.

Q.  I’m a graduate student in nutrition and I would like to know what recommendations you may have for students to navigate conflicts of interest with food companies when beginning a career.  I intend to pursue an academic career but am concerned that my credibility as a scientist could be compromised by my participation in industry-funded publications and research. 

A.  It’s great that you are asking such questions. From the standpoint of ethics, that’s an important first step.  You should most definitely publish your research, no matter how it is funded.  Be sure to disclose potential sources of funding bias and conflicts of interest.  While you are doing your research, you can take special care to control for potential biases—conscious and unconscious—in your study design, conduct, and interpretation to ensure that they are not influenced by the funder.  In searching for jobs, you might consider those in academia, government, and NGOs that are less likely to require you to compromise principles.  Finding such jobs may not be easy, but you will be OK if you are always ethically transparent and as straightforward about biases as it is possible to be.

Q.  Do you believe that relationships between the food industry and nutrition professional organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and the Association for Nutritional Science (ASN) are problematic? Why?

A.  Sponsorship by food product makers puts nutrition professionals in conflict of interest.   Nutritionists ought to be advising clients and the public about what to eat to stay healthy and prevent chronic disease.  This necessarily means promoting consumption of some foods but discouraging consumption of others.  Nutritionists cannot speak truth to clients and protect corporate sponsorship at the same time.  If nothing else, food industry sponsorship gives the appearance of conflict of interest and makes AND and ASN appear as arms of food company marketers.  But it also affects—or appears to affect–AND ’s and ASN’s positions on key issues in nutrition and health.  Overall, financial relationships between these organizations and their food industry sponsors undermines the credibility of their positions on food issues.

Q.  What sort of changes do you think the Academy needs to make in order to make food industry relationships more beneficial to its members and the public overall?

A.  Nutrition and food professional organizations need to establish a firewall between corporate sponsorship and content or opinion.  This requires setting up rigorous guidelines for what food companies can and cannot expect from their donations.  They should not, for example, be permitted to sponsor content sessions at meetings, not least because opinions expressed at sponsored sessions rarely appear objective.  The organizations should have complete control over how and where corporate donations and company logos are used.

Q.  How can relationships between health professionals and the food industry be beneficial for public health overall?

A.  The role of health professionals is to give the best advice possible about diet and health.  The role of food companies is to provide profits to shareholders.  These goals are not the same and are only rarely compatible.  In my experience, people who want to work for food companies to change corporate culture from within do so from good motives, but soon discover that corporate imperatives take precedence over health goals. If health professional organizations want their advice to be taken seriously, they must establish and adhere to rules and guidelines designed expressly to protect their integrity.

Q.  I read your post on the revolving door,  It seems to me that your underlying premise is the notion that any company that makes food is indicted as part of the big evil food conspiracy. Surely, you can’t really believe that. 

A.  Of course I don’t. But food companies are not social service agencies.   Their job—their legal responsibility—is to continuously expand sales and distribute ever-increasing profits to shareholders.   If they can do this and promote health at the same time, more power to them.  But people would be healthier eating food, not food products.  In our present system, products are far more profitable and the focus on them is rarely works in the interest of public health.

Food and nutrition professionals need to make a living.  Unfortunately, jobs in industry pay better–and sometimes a lot better–than jobs in government or NGOs.  That’s the real dilemma that underlies all of these questions.