Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

A worker distributes disinfection wipes at a farmers market at Richard Tucker Park in New York City on March 21, 2020. Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images

Not many restaurants will be able to survive coronavirus, and this is a personal, social and national tragedy.

I'm worried about farmers markets too.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

HighGradeRoots / iStock / Getty Images

Let's start the new year off with a look at what's happening with Cannabis, a food politics topic because of its edibles.

Read More Show Less
Beyond Meat

Plant-based meats are touted as the technological solution to the health and environmental problems caused by excessive meat-eating. Venture capital is flooding to what seems like a hot new market.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch

iStock

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its revised school meal rules, in words that would make George Orwell proud:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today [Nov. 29] provided local food service professionals the flexibility they need to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule ... reflects USDA's commitment, made in a May proclamation to work with program operators, school nutrition professionals, industry, and other stakeholders to develop forward-thinking strategies to ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical ... This action reflects a key initiative of USDA's Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to the President's Executive Order to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Mike Mozart / Flickr

A reporter asked:

I was wondering if you could share your thoughts with me about the new study finding phthalates in boxed Mac & Cheese. Should consumers be afraid of just Mac & Cheese, considering phthalates are ubiquitous and found in almost every food we consume? What are your recommendations?

Read More Show Less

Monsanto's corporate behavior has been so counterproductive that it has damaged the reputation of the entire food biotechnology industry (I document this in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

What to do?

Read More Show Less

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not doing enough to prevent weed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) says a new report from the EPA's Inspector General's Office, which draws in part on a report from the agbiotech company, Pioneer: Weed Management in the Era of Glyphosate Resistance.

Read More Show Less

With regret, I asked my site managers at Cre8d to block all future comments to my site, Food Politics.

The GMO trolls—people who post deliberately hostile comments—have defeated me.

Read More Show Less

Trending

I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film. The director refuses. He believes his film is fair and balanced. I do not.

I am often interviewed (see media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context. This film is one of those rare exceptions.

Read More Show Less

Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned pet owners not to feed specific lot numbers of Evanger's canned Hunk of Beef or Against the Grain Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy canned dog food because they might contain enough pentobarbital to sicken or kill their animals.

The FDA began investigating Evanger's Dog & Cat Food Company Inc. when it learned about five dogs in a single household that suffered acute neurological symptoms shortly after eating the product. One dog was euthanized after secondary complications and three others recovered after receiving veterinary care. One of the dogs treated remains on seizure medication and the fifth dog that ate the least amount of food recovered with time.

The stomach contents of the deceased dog and an open can of the product were tested by an FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network lab and unopened cans of the product from the pet owner and retailer that sold the products (from the same production lot), were tested by FDA's lab. All of the samples tested positive for pentobarbital.

Yikes indeed.

Pentobarbital is a drug used for euthanizing animals. Years ago, the remains of euthanized animals (sometimes pets) went to rendering plants and the resulting mess ended up in pet foods.

But when Mal Nesheim and I were researching our pet food book, Feed Your Pet Right, which came out in 2010, we searched for but could not find evidence that any pet food company was still doing that.

Everyone we asked, from veterinarians, to pet food makers, to government regulators told us that rendered, euthanized animals were no longer in pet foods, not least because the ingredients would have to be disclosed on the labels and no manufacturer wanted to do that.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it checked and the canned foods really do contain beef.

Since when are cattle treated with pentobarbital?

If they aren't, how did the drug get into the pet food?

Evanger's advertises its ingredients as "human grade." Oops.

Susan Thixton, who runs the blog, TruthAboutPetFood, snagged a screenshot of Evanger's website before they "edited" out the part about how their products are "made with completely human grade" ingredients. Here's her explanation:

The FDA must agree. It said:

In its recent press release announcing a limited product recall, Evanger's Dog & Cat Food Company, Inc. stated that the beef for its Hunk of Beef product came from a "USDA approved" supplier. However, the FDA reviewed a bill of lading from Evanger's supplier of "Inedible Hand Deboned Beef—For Pet Food Use Only. Not Fit For Human Consumption" and determined that the supplier's facility does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The meat products from this supplier do not bear the USDA inspection mark and would not be considered human grade.

For more information:

Trending

iStock

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have just issued advice to pregnant women about eating fish.

Fatty fish have long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which are good for health.

But some have methylmercury, which is toxic to the developing fetus.

And all have PCBs or other organic compounds that are unlikely to promote health.

The advice? Eat 2 to 3 servings of lower-mercury fish per week for a total of 8-12 ounces.

That's fine, but which fish are low in methylmercury?

For this, the agencies have created an reference chart that sorts 62 types of fish into three categories:

FDA

"Best Choices" (eat two to three servings a week)

"Good Choices" (eat one serving a week)

"Fish to Avoid"

Here's where things get tricky.

  • Choices to avoid include, among others, Bigeye Tuna and Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Good choices include Albacore and Yellowfin Tuna and Tilefish from the Atlantic Ocean.

Good luck telling the difference.

As I've written before (and also see this post and this one about fish politics), if you want to avoid methylmercury during pregnancy, it's best to avoid tuna. Consumer Reports advises pregnant women not to eat tuna at all.

Center for Science in the Public Interest said:

The best advice for pregnant or nursing women and parents of small children is to choose fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and sardines. They should avoid albacore tuna altogether and consume tuna labeled as "light tuna" very sparingly—no more than two ounces per week for women and one ounce per week for kids.

And are PCBs a non-issue? Could fish politics have anything to do with this?

Here are the documents:

Jennifer Falbe and other investigators from Kristin Madson's group at UC Berkeley have just produced an analysis of the effects of the Berkeley soda tax on consumption patterns.

Berkeley's soda tax passed in a landslide in November 2014.Berkeley vs. Big Soda

They surveyed people in low-income communities before and after the tax went into effect. The result: an overall 21 percent decline in reported soda consumption in low-income Berkeley neighborhoods versus a 4 percent increase in equivalent neighborhoods in Oakland and San Francisco.

The Los Angeles Times breaks out these figures:

In Oakland and San Francisco, which have not yet passed a tax, sales of regular sodas went up by 10 percent.

Other findings, as reported by Healthy Food America:

  • During one of the hottest summers on record, Berkeley residents reported drinking 63 percent more bottled water, while comparison cities saw increases of just 19 percent.
  • Only 2 percent of those surveyed reported crossing city lines to avoid the tax.
  • The biggest drops came in consumption of soda (26 percent) and sports drinks (36 percent).

Agricultural economist Parke Wilde at Tufts views this study as empirical evidence for the benefits of taxes. He writes on his U.S. Food Policy blog that it's time for his ag econ colleagues to take the benefits of taxes seriously:

There is a long tradition in my profession of doubting the potential impact of such taxes … Oklahoma State University economist Jayson Lusk, who also is president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), has blogged several times about soda taxes, agreeing with most of the Tamar Haspel column in the Washington Post and concluding stridently: "I'm sorry, but if my choice is between nothing and a policy that is paternalistic, regressive, will create economic distortions and deadweight loss, and is unlikely to have any significant effects on public health, I choose nothing" (emphasis added).

Wilde points out that Lusk has now modified those comments in a blog post.

All that said, I'm more than willing to accept the finding that the Berkeley city soda tax caused soda consumption to fall. The much more difficult question is: are Berkeley residents better off?

Yes, they are.

The Berkeley study is good news and a cheery start to the week. Have a good one.

Addition

Politico adds up the "piles of cash" being spent on the soda tax votes in San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda and analyzes the soda industry's framing of the tax as a "grocery tax."

Wednesday I explained why "butter is back" is not useful dietary advice, even when studies show that eating butter has little or no effect on disease risk (the total diet and calories are what matter). Now I can say the same thing about low-carbohydrate diets.

The debate about whether fat or carbohydrates is responsible for obesity has passionate advocates on both sides, although those for carbohydrates predominate in the press these days.

As explained by Julia Belluz of Vox,

The main scientific model behind the low-carb approach is the "carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis," which journalist Gary Taubes, Harvard professor David Ludwig and others have extensively promoted. It suggests that a diet heavy in carbohydrates (especially refined grains and sugars) leads to weight gain because of a specific mechanism: Carbs drive up insulin in the body, causing the body to hold on to fat and suppress calorie burn.

According to this hypothesis, to lose weight you reduce the amount of carb calories you eat and replace them with fat calories. This is supposed to drive down insulin levels, boost calorie burn and help fat melt away … instead of just cutting calories, you're supposed to change the kinds of calories in your diet to lose weight.

To his great credit, Gary Taubes was willing to put this hypothesis to the test. He organized the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) to fund studies that he must have hoped would demonstrate the benefits of low-carb diets.

To its great credit, NuSI recruited highly experienced and respected obesity investigators to design and conduct the studies.

The first of these studies has just been published. It fully discloses the role of NuSI.

Supported by the Nutrition Sciences Initiative … Nutrition Sciences Initiative (NuSI) convened the research team, helped formulate the hypothesis and provided partial funding. NuSI and its scientific advisors were given the opportunity to comment on the study design and the manuscript, but the investigators retained full editorial control.

In this case, because I am familiar with the work of some of the investigators, I'm inclined to take these statements at face value.

Here's what they did. They put 17 overweight or obese men in a metabolic ward and fed them a very low carbohydrate diet, so low that it would induce fat breakdown and ketosis. The calories were supposed to be sufficient to maintain weight, but were not. The men lost weight from water excretion and breakdown of body protein as well as of fat, as is typical of what happens during partial starvation. Energy expenditure did not increase to the level anticipated from the carbohydrate-insulin model.

The abstract concluded:

The isocaloric KD [ketogenic, very low carbohydrate diet] was not accompanied by increased body fat loss but was associated with relatively small increases in EE [energy expenditure] that were near the limits of detection [translation: barely detectable] with the use of state-of-the-art technology.

The discussion concluded:

Therefore, our data do not support the carbohydrate–insulin model predictions of physiologically relevant increases in EE or greater body fat loss in response to an isocaloric KD. However, it is possible that dietary carbohydrate restriction might result in decreased ad libitum energy intake—a prediction of the carbohydrate-insulin model that was not tested in the current study but deserves further investigation.

In other words, restricting carbohydrate does not increase body fat loss or energy expenditure but might help you eat fewer calories.

This result confirms some of the results of a previous study from the first NuSI author. That one, funded by NIH, concluded:

Whereas carbohydrate restriction led to sustained increases in fat oxidation and loss of 53 ± 6 g/day of body fat, fat oxidation was unchanged by fat restriction, leading to 89 ± 6 g/day of fat loss and was significantly greater than carbohydrate restriction (p = 0.002).

Taken together, these studies show that both low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets cause weight loss when calories are restricted, but low-fat diets cause greater losses in body fat content than do low-carbohydrate diets.

In my book with Malden Nesheim, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, we review a 1964 study that put obese patients in a metabolic ward and fed them low-calorie diets of widely varied composition. They lost weight at the same rate on diets ranging from 3 percent to 60 percent carbohydrate and from 13 percent to 83 percent fat. They titled the study Calories Do Count. The NuSI studies confirm the benefits of reducing calories from any source to lose weight.

Bottom line:

  • With regard to weight loss, calories count and the relative proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrate do not matter much (although low-carb diets may help with eating less).
  • With regard to health, the food sources of calories matter very much indeed and nearly everyone would be better off eating less sugar—at the very least because sugars provide calories, but no nutrients.