Food Politics

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Weekend reading: The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 2:04am

Darra Goldstein, editor.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Full disclosure: I have two entries in this book, one with Daniel Bowman Simon.

  • Simon DB, Nestle M.  Soda lobbies.  In: Goldstein D.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015:681-682.
  • Nestle M.  Soda.  In: Goldstein D.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015:623-624.

With that out of the way, I can only think that the editors of this book, Darra Goldstein and Michael Krondl, must have had the best time pulling this together.

The encyclopedia starts with an elegant introduction by Sidney Mintz, author of Sweetness and Power, the one book that tops everyone’s list of must reads in food studies.

The remaining 800 pages or so are devoted to entries by 265 authors on matters as diverse or arcane as dulce de leche, nanbangashi (“southern barbarian sweets”), syllabub, and whoopie pie (look them up).  I especially like the Appendixes: lists of films featuring sugar and chocolate, songs about sugar and candy (often as a metaphor), and museums.

The illustrations are lavish, especially the two sets of gorgeous color inserts.  Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby, alas, is gone from the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, but it lives on here.  For that alone….

Due May 8: Comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 7:02am

You still have time to file comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report.

Here’s where and how.

I’ve just been sent the comments from

Yours don’t have to be lengthy, formal, or cover everything.

You just need to identify the issue, state your opinion, and indicate what you want the guidelines to do or say.

Your opinion counts.  Do it now!

Is the food movement winning?

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 10:54am

Brian Lehrer asked me a question this morning that is well worth pondering.

The gist: Are the recent actions taken by food companies an indication that consumers are having an effect at the expense of science—and at the expense of focusing on more important food issues such as too much sugar, obesity, and diabetes?

He cited these recent events:

  • Tyson’s says it will phase out human antibiotics in broiler production.
  • McDonald’s says it will source chicken that has not been treated with antibiotics.
  • PepsiCo says it is taking aspartame out of its diet sodas (it’s the #1 reason given for not drinking diet cola).
  • Chipotle says it will source GMO-free ingredients.
  • Nestlé says it is removing artificial colors from its chocolate candy.
  • Kraft says it is taking the yellow dyes out of its Mac n’ Cheese.

To all of them, I say it’s about time.

None of these is necessary in the food supply.

There are plenty of scientific questions about all of them, although some—antibiotics, for example—are more troubling than others.

If voting with your fork can achieve these results, they pave the way for taking on the much more difficult issues.

These are big steps forward.  They matter.

They should inspire other companies to do the same.

Chipotle goes GMO-free: a brief comment

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 6:55am

Chipotle’s announcement that it will only be sourcing GMO-free ingredients is eliciting much press (see the article in the New York Times, for example).

Here’s what I’m telling reporters:

No, this is not a safety issue.  GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick.

Yes, this is a matter of trust.  Chipotle customers are offended that GMO foods are not labeled and that they have no choice about whether to eat them.

The GM industry has fought labeling since 1994 when the FDA first approved GM foods for production.  Even then, there was plenty of evidence that the public wanted these foods labeled.  But the industry is still pouring million of dollars into fighting labeling initiatives.

This—and the rise in sales of organic foods—are a direct result of the industry’s own actions.

Food politics: the Lancet policy infographic

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 7:01am

As part of its series on obesity, the Lancet has produced this chart to illustrate why it is so important to create a food environment that makes healthy choices easy.  Nice!

Why we need regulation: education for SNAP participants?

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 8:06am

PoliticoPro Morning Agriculture reports on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s speech to the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC.

About changing the rules so that SNAP benefits could not be used to buy unhealthy foods, Vilsack said:

[recipients] may buy a little bit more soda, but they might buy less salty snacks than we do.  They might purchase a little more of this than we do, than non-SNAP families, but we purchase a lot more sugary stuff than they do in other categories, so it’s kind of a wash…It’s also extremely difficult to set up a system that distinguishes between various items.  You set that system up, what’s going to happen is that people won’t be able to buy apple juice, they won’t be able to buy orange juice… Our thinking is that a better way to approach this is to educate people so they make the right choice, they make the healthy choice [my emphasis].

Ah yes.  Education.  As an educator, I’m all for it, but let’s get real.

For this analysis, I am indebted to Daniel Bowman Simon, who does the math:

  • SNAP benefits =  $70 billion in 2014, for about 46 million participants.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $1504 per year in SNAP benefits.
  • The USDA provides Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grants for SNAP (see section 241)= $375 million.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $8 per year in nutrition education.
  • The USDA also provides double-value awards ($31 million) to help SNAP participants buy fruits and vegetables.
  • This adds an average of 66 cents per year for each SNAP participant to make healthy choices.

Thought for today:  How much nutrition education does $8.66 buy?

This is why regulation of the SNAP package is a better approach—once we get past congressional attempts to cut the program out of existance (an exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

Why we need regulation: education for SNAP participants

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 10:54am

PoliticoPro Morning Agriculture reports on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s speech to the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC.

About changing the rules so that SNAP benefits could not be used to buy unhealthy foods, Vilsack said:

[recipients] may buy a little bit more soda, but they might buy less salty snacks than we do.  They might purchase a little more of this than we do, than non-SNAP families, but we purchase a lot more sugary stuff than they do in other categories, so it’s kind of a wash…It’s also extremely difficult to set up a system that distinguishes between various items.  You set that system up, what’s going to happen is that people won’t be able to buy apple juice, they won’t be able to buy orange juice… Our thinking is that a better way to approach this is to educate people so they make the right choice, they make the healthy choice [my emphasis].

Ah yes.  Education.  As an educator, I’m all for it, but let’s get real.

For this analysis, I am indebted to Daniel Bowman Simon, who does the math:

  • SNAP benefits =  $70 billion in 2014, for about 46 million participants.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $1504 per year in SNAP benefits.
  • The USDA provides Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grants for SNAP (see section 241)= $375 million.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $8 per year in nutrition education.
  • The USDA also provides double-value awards ($31 million) to help SNAP participants buy fruits and vegetables.
  • This adds an average of 66 cents per year for each SNAP participant to make healthy choices.

Thought for today:  How much nutrition education does $8.66 buy?

This is why regulation of the SNAP package is a better approach—once we get past congressional attempts to cut the program out of existance (an exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

Vermont’s new GMO labeling regulations

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 8:53am

Vermont has issued GMO labeling rules.  They seem straightforward.  Here are the ones that I think matter:

1.  Unpackaged GMO foods must post labels

  • Raw: “produced with genetic engineering.”
  • Processed: “produced with genetic engineering,” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.”

2.  Packaged GMO foods must be labeled by the manufacturer

  • Raw: “produced with genetic engineering”
  • Processed: “produced with genetic engineering,” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” (<75% GMO) or “may be produced with genetic engineering (if they aren’t sure).”

3.  If the food is GMO, it cannot be labeled “natural”

4.  The font can’t be any smaller that of Serving Size in the Nutrition Facts label

It’s hard for me to imagine why the biotechnology industry, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and so many food companies think that saying “may be produced with genetic engineering” means the end of civilization as we know it, so much so that they pour millions of dollars into fighting it.

Now they are taking Vermont to court to try to block implementation of these rules.

Otherwise, the rules go into effect July 1, 2016.

That will be fun to see!

 

 

 

 

Sugar politics: never a dull moment

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 4:58am

Here are two more items on the endless disputes over sugar intake.

1.  The IOM’s 25% of calories from sugar “recommendation”

I was surprised to see the Institute of Medicine’s upper limit of sugar safety cited in a JAMA commentary on sugars and heart disease. The authors disagreed with the conclusions of a study by Yang et al. in JAMA Internal Medicine:

Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.

The authors of the commentary say:

The relationship between added sugar intake and CVD mortality remains unresolved. The study by Yang et al1 does not support implementation of health policies limiting sugar intake because a relatively small fraction of the total population ingests excessive amounts of sugar by the IOM criteria….Laws attempting to limit excess sugar intake have been passed and overturned on legal grounds. Aside from the legal questions, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support pursuit of policies limiting sugar intake.

They then go on to say:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation is that less than 25% of total kilocalories come from added sugar.

Oops.  The IOM made no such recommendation.

Instead, the IOM said 25% of calories was the upper limit of safe sugar intake for nutrient deficiencies.  The risk of nutrient deficiencies increases above that percentage.  That IOM report said nothing about the relationship of sugar quantity to risk of chronic diseases.

Most health authorities recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars as a means to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Most research shows that chronic disease risks increase with increasing sugar intake.

 2.  What is the FDA doing about “Added Sugars” on food labels?

According to all sources, the FDA is still working on what to do about Added Sugars on the new Nutrition Facts panel.  It is engaged in two studies of this question.

It says the added sugars study is complete and the data are being analyzed.  It says the format study is in the works.

The FDA was criticized for proposing added sugars on the label without having done the research first.  Apparently, the White House Office of Management and Budget took 9 months to approve the FDA’s proposal to do the sugar research.  The approval came after the FDA issued its label proposal.

The bottom line on sugar: Less is better.