Food Politics

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Updated: 9 hours 53 min ago

Weekend Reading: Forked! (It’s just out)

10 hours 13 min ago
Saru Jayaraman.  Forked: A New Standard for American Dining.  Oxford University Press, 2016.

I did a blurb for this one, for good reason.  Saru Jayaraman is doing important work on behalf of low-wage restaurant workers, most of them immigrants and women.  This book is her manifesto.

That restaurant workers can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour, and require taxpayer-supported food assistance to survive, is a national scandal.  Forked tells the stories of enlightened restaurant owners who treat and pay workers decently, with immediate returns in employee loyalty, better customer service—and profits.  This book should inspire all restaurant owners to take the “high road,” and all of us restaurant customers to demand that they do.

Read it and join the campaign for decent pay for restaurant workers, farm workers, and everyone else who is excluded from minimum-wage requirements.

Chipotle’s food safety woes

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 1:45pm

Conspiracy theorists cannot believe that Chipotle’s ongoing food safety problems—and its consequent legal woes—can be due to anything other than deliberate sabotage.  Much as I love conspiracy theories—and my favorite is to blame the Center for Consumer Freedom—I suspect the problems are related more to supply-chain issues and the need to establish a stronger internal culture of food safety.  This means getting every employee to follow food safety rules to the letter—but also in spirit.

The company has done the right thing by recruiting help from a top food-safety consulting firm.

In the meantime, here’s what’s happening to its stock prices.

Addition: Bill Marler suggests that Chipotle’s owners are in need of expert legal advice to defend themselves against criminal charges resulting from the food safety incidents.

 

 

 

Five more industry-sponsored marketing studies. The score 110:11.

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 1:01pm

Here are some recent additions to my ever-growing collection of industry-funded food and nutrition studies or commentaries with results favorable to the sponsor’s interests.  These bring the total since last March to 110 with favorable results versus 11 with those that must have disappointed the sponsor.

Reduced dietary intake of simple sugars alters perceived sweet taste intensity but not perceived pleasantness. Paul M Wise, Laura Nattress, Linda J Flammer, and Gary K Beauchamp. Am J Clin Nutr 2016; 103:50-60.  doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.112300

  • Conclusions: This experiment provides empirical evidence that changes in consumption of simple sugars influence perceived sweet taste intensity. More work is needed to determine whether sugar intake ultimately shifts preferences for sweet foods and beverages.
  • Supported by PepsiCo Inc. and Monell Chemical Senses Center institutional funds.
  • Comment: This study shows that if you eat less sugar, even low-sugar foods taste sweet.  Soft drink companies are under pressure to reduce sugar.  If these results are correct, soda companies ought to be able to get away with reducing their sugar content—at least if customers get used to consuming less sugar and accept drinks that are not so intensely sweet. 

Consuming yellow pea fiber reduces voluntary energy intake and body fat in overweight/obese adults in a 12-week randomized controlled trial.  Jennifer E. Lambertemail, Jill A. Parnellemail, Jasmine M. Tunnicliffe, Jay Han, Troy Sturzenegger, Raylene A. Reimer. Clinical Nutrition, Article in press published online January 11, 2016.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2015.12.016

  • Conclusions:  In the absence of other lifestyle changes, incorporating 15 g/day yellow pea fiber may yield small but significant metabolic benefits and aid in obesity management.
  • Funding: The study was funded by Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Alberta Innovates Health Solutions and Alberta Pulse Growers Commission.

Effect of flavored milk vs plain milk on total milk intake and nutrient provision in children.  Flavia Fayet-Moore. Nutrition Reviews Jan;74(1):1-17. doi: Here’10.1093/nutrit/nuv031. Epub 2015 Nov 3.

  • Conclusions: There is no association between flavored milk intake and weight status among normal-weight children, and some contradictory effects of flavored milk intake have been observed in subgroups of overweight children. Flavored milk is a palatable beverage choice that helps children to meet calcium targets.
  • Financial disclosures. The author received a research grant from Nestlé Australia Ltd to conduct.

Does milk consumption contribute to cardiometabolic health and overall diet quality?  Lamarche B, Givens I, Soedamah-Muthu S, Krauss RM, Jakobsen MU, Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Pan A, Després J-P, Canadian Journal of Cardiology (2016), doi: 10.1016/j.cjca.2015.12.033.

  • Conclusion: The evidence to date suggests a neutral effect of milk intake per se on several health-related outcomes. The possibility that milk intake is simply a marker of higher nutritional quality diets cannot be ruled out and needs to be further examined in future studies.
  • Authors’ disclosures (in supplementary online material): BL is Chair of Nutrition at Laval University, which Board of Directors include a representative from Provigo-Loblaws. BL has received funding from Agri-food and Agriculture Canada, the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC), Dairy Australia and Dairy Research Institute to study dairy and health. He serves as the Chair of the independent, peer-review Expert Scientific Advisory Council of DFC. BL has also received honoraria from DFC as invited speaker in various conferences. MUJ has received honoraria from the Global Dairy Platform to review the observational epidemiological evidence of associations between intake of trans fatty acids and risk of CHD and from the European Milk Forum as an invited speaker at symposia. IG is Chair of Food Chain Nutrition at the University of Reading. He has received funding from the UK Dairy Council, AHDB Dairy, the Barham Benevolent Trust and the UK Medical Research Council for studies on dairy and health. He has also received honoraria from the Dairy Council as an invited speaker at various conferences. He serves on various committees including being the Deputy Chair of the UK Food Standards Agency committee concerned with food chain related aspects of food safety. SSSM previously received unrestricted research grants from Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute and Dairy Australia for projects related to dairy effects on lipoproteins and mortality. RMK has received grant support from Dairy Management, Inc. Other authors have no disclosures related to the content of this paper.

Including “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts Panel: How Consumers Perceive the Proposed Change.  Idamarie Laquatra, Kris Sollid, Marianne Smith Edge, Jason Pelzel, John Turner.  Published Online: June 09, 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.04.017|

  • Conclusion: In this analysis, rather than improving consumer understanding about the amount of total sugars in a product, NFPs with “Added Sugars” declarations were misleading and the resulting misperception influenced purchase intent.
  • Statement of potential conflict of interest: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
  • Funding support: This research was commissioned and funded by the International Food Information Council Foundation and conducted by Turner Research Network of Atlanta, GA. More details about the International Food Information Council Foundation can be found at http://www.foodinsight.org/pages/faqs.
  • Comment: IFIC is funded by food and beverage companies (see SourceWatch).  The FDA is currently considering putting a line for Added Sugars on food labels.  Food companies, understandably, oppose this idea.

Where are we on GMO politics: an update

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 1:57pm

State GMO labeling bills: While Congress dithers, states are getting busy.  The Sunlight Foundation’s SCOUT database on state GMO legislative initiatives is searchable.  Examples:

Detente between producers of GMO and labeling advocates: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack held a meeting to attempt to forge some kind of accord between producers of GMO foods and advocates for GMO labels.  By all reports, it didn’t work.  Earlier, Vilsack tried to negotiate detente between GMO producers and producers of organic foods.  That didn’t work either.

GMO Salmon: The FDA says it will not allow imports of GMO salmon.  Since GMO salmon are produced in Canada and Panama, this action in effect bans GMO salmon from the US food supply.  The FDA is working on labeling guidelines and probably wants them out before allowing imports.

Monsanto’s conversation:  Monsanto’s interactive website invites you to be part of the conversation.  Aything you like.  Someone from Monsanto will respond.  This site is clearly keeping Monsanto’s PR staff on its toes. Here is just one example:

Michelle M: If you can sue a small farmer for GMO’s accidentally getting in their crop, can I sue you if they are found in my organic child’s body?

Monsanto: Hi, Michelle. The truth is, we don’t sue farmers when our seeds end up on their fields unintentionally. We never have, and we never will. Farmers are the heart of our business. That’s why we’ve made a commitment and policy related to this area of concern, and it’s available here on our website.

I wrote about the origins of the current politics of GMOs in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety.  The book first came out in 2003 and in an updated edition in 2010.  Not much has changed, alas.

Food-Navigator’s Special Edition: Food for kids!

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 2:41pm

I greatly enjoy Food-Navigator’s collections of articles on specific topics.  Here’s one on marketing foods to kids.

While there is some evidence that the tide may now be turning on childhood obesity, 8.4% of US 2-5 year-olds; 17.7% of 6-11 year-olds and 20.5% of 12-19-year-olds are still obese, and many are lacking in essential nutrients from potassium, dietary fiber and calcium, to vitamin D. So how can the food industry respond to these concerns and develop more nutritious, but appealing snacks, meals and beverages for kids?

Addition, February 3: A reader reminds me that Food-Navigator published a guide to creating successful children’s brands a couple of months ago.

A food politics souvenir of Auckland

Sun, 01/31/2016 - 2:29pm

On my way to Australia, I stopped in Auckland.

The Auckland train station is clean and beautiful—and a perfect site for advertising Coca-Cola.

A short ferry ride lands you in vineyards.

Food thoughts to ponder early on a Monday morning in Sydney (Sunday afternoon in New York).

Weekend Reading: From Farm to Canal Street

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:00pm
Valerie Inbruce.  From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace.  Cornell University Press, 2015.

I live in downtown Manhattan, love to wander through the open-air food markets in Chinatown, and have always wondered how the extraordinarily fresh and exotic vegetables and fruits get there.  Who grows them, and where?

The answers: supply chains based on family connections (of course), in Florida, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Inbruce views the supply chains as an alternative to industrial food systems, one that provides vegetables of outstanding quality at low cost, while supporting small farmers.

Instructors of courses in food systems: this book belongs in your syllabus.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in who produces food for urban areas and how it gets into cities.

 

What does “natural” mean? One more time.

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 1:36pm

I’ve written repeatedly about the problem of “natural” on food labels, but the issue just doesn’t go away.  It won’t, until the FDA decides to rule on what it means.

Now Consumer Reports has done a survey of public understanding of the term.

The survey reveals that 62% of respondents want foods to be “natural.”   When they see the claim on a food package, they believe it has been verified independently.  Oops.

They also believe that “natural” means no artificial ingredients (correct, according to the FDA’s non-definition) or GMOs (incorrect).  The survey confirms the idea that many people think “natural” is the same as “organic,” which it is not.

Consumers, says Consumer Reports, are naturally confused.  And why wouldn’t we be, given the products labeled as “natural” (see the examples collected by Consumer Reports).

The FDA is currently collecting its own comments on this issue.  You can weigh in until May 15.  Please do. 

Two industry-funded studies with results that must have disappointed sponsors. The score: 105/11

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 2:07pm

Sharp-eyed readers have sent in two studies sponsored by food companies with results that will be difficult to use for marketing.  This brings the score since mid-March to 105 sponsored studies useful in marketing to 11 that are not.

Effects of Pomegranate Extract Supplementation on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Physical Function in Hemodialysis Patients. Wu Pei-Tzu, Fitschen Peter J., Kistler Brandon M., Jeong Jin Hee, Chung Hae Ryong, Aviram Michael, Phillips Shane A., Fernhall Bo, and Wilund Kenneth R.. Journal of Medicinal Food. September 2015, 18(9): 941-949. doi:10.1089/jmf.2014.0103.

  • Conclusions: Systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure were reduced by 24±13.7 and 10±5.3 mmHg, respectively, in POM (P<.05). However, the BP differences in POM were no longer significant after controlling for baseline BP…However, pomegranate supplementation had no effect on other markers of cardiovascular disease risk, inflammation and oxidative stress, or measures of physical function and muscle strength. While pomegranate extract supplementation may reduce BP and increase the antioxidant activity in HD patients, it does not improve other markers of cardiovascular risk, physical function, or muscle strength.
  • Funding: This work was supported by the POM Wonderful, LLC.

The association between dietary saturated fatty acids and ischemic heart disease depends on the type and source of fatty acid in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Netherlands cohort.  Jaike Praagman, Joline WJ Beulens, Marjan Alssema, Peter L Zock, Anne J Wanders, Ivonne Sluijs, and Yvonne T van der Schouw.  Am J Clin Nutr. First published ahead of print January 20, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122671

  • Conclusions: In this Dutch population, higher SFA intake was not associated with higher IHD risks. The lower IHD risk observed did not depend on the substituting macronutrient…Residual confounding by cholesterol-lowering therapy and trans fat or limited variation in SFA and PUFA intake may explain our findings.
  • Authors’ disclosures: JP is financially supported by a restricted research grant from Unilever Research and Development, Vlaardingen, Netherlands. MA, AJW, and PLZ are employees of Unilever Research and Development. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest related to this study.
  • Comment: Unilever sells low-saturated fat/high-polyunsaturated fat margarines (e.g., Flora, Becel) for reducing coronary risk.  If higher saturated fat intake does not increase heart disease risk (perhaps because the study subjects were on statins), these products are unnecessary.

Celebration food, Australia Day style

Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:36pm

Here in Australia, yesterday was Australia Day (somewhat equivalent to the American Fourth of July) although many prefer to call it Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning and to make it an occasion for protest.  Hence: the fuss over the what Google Australia posted as the day’s Google Doodle.

Newcomer that I am, I celebrated with some Glebe Street gelato:

Can’t read the sign?

“Celebrate Australia Day with Vegemite Gelato on toast!”

Yum.

Milk marketing, Australian style

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:47pm

I’m in residence at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney for a bit and am getting the chance to learn the Australian version of food politics.

I like milk with my coffee.  Here’s all they had at a local corner store.

 

The banner on the label says that it “NATURALLY contains A2 protein.*”

A2 protein?  What’s that?

The label, alas, is not much help.

*Dairy Farmers milk naturally contains A2 protein as well as A1 protein.  Of those proteins, our tests to date confirm that 50-7-% is A2.

So?  Should we care?  YES, according to the A2 Milk Company:

The two main types of milk proteins are the casein and the whey proteins. These make up to 80% and 20% of the protein content of cows’ milk respectively. Other proteins present at low levels in milk include antibodies and iron carrying proteins.

Beta-casein makes up about one third of the total protein content in milk. All cows make beta-casein but it is the type of beta-casein that matters. There are two types of beta-casein: A1 and A2. They differ by only one amino acid. Such small differences in the amino acid composition of proteins can result in the different protein forms having different properties.

According to a press account,

For nearly 20 years, there have been claims that the A2 beta-casein protein is easier to digest than A1, but it’s been dismissed as unscientific.  This pilot study at Curtin University…found subjects on an A2 milk diet reported less bloating abdominal pain, and firmer stools, by staying off A1 beta-casein.

But this milk contains both A1 and A2 proteins.

In any case, guess who funded this research!

Comparative effects of A1 versus A2 beta-casein on gastrointestinal measures: a blinded randomised cross-over pilot study.  Ho S, Woodford K, Kukuljan S, Pal S.  Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;68(9):994-1000. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.127. Epub 2014 Jul 2.

  • Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest differences in gastrointestinal responses in some adult humans consuming milk containing beta-casein of either the A1 or the A2 beta-casein type, but require confirmation in a larger study of participants with perceived intolerance to ordinary A1 beta-casein-containing milk.
  • Funding: This study was supported by a grant from A2 Dairy Products Australia, who also supplied the milk.  A2 Dairy Products Australia had no role in the data analysis of this study.

The label has more to say:

Of course, it’s made here in New South Wales and it’s Permeate Free—so it’s less processed and simply delicious.

Permeate Free?   What’s that?  A local website explains:

Permeate is simply a collective term for the natural lactose, vitamin and mineral components which are separated from fresh milk by a process called ultrafiltration. Because milk is a natural food (and tastes different from cow to cow) filtering the permeate out (before putting it back in) allows processors to regulate their milk so they can control the taste, protein and fat content.

Apparently, Australian labeling authorities allow this process to qualify as “natural?”

The label lists these ingredients: Skim milk, milk, milk solids [the source of the extra A2 proteins and the Permeate?].

Next time, I’ll look for a product with precisely one ingredient: milk.

Weekend Reading: Ingredients

Fri, 01/22/2016 - 1:12pm
Dwight Eschliman, Text by Steve Ettlinger.  Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products.  Regan Arts, 2015.

The photographer and writer went through the grocery store and jotted down every food ingredient they could find—from Acesulfame potassium to xanthan gum.  Dwight Eschliman acquired samples of each ingredient in its pure form, arranged them in piles, and took photographs.  Steve Ettlinger provided their Code of Federal Regulations numbers, chemical structures, and brief descriptions of how they are used. The photographs are gorgeous.  Even though all the ingredients look like piles of salt, their textures and colors are sufficiently different to make this book weirdly fascinating.