Schools and Food

Every day I get email updates from the Los Angeles Unified School District, where my two younger children are students.  These emails discuss distance education and celebrate the amazing teachers working to keep their students learning, but the emails are focused on food.  The amount of children who depend on the school system for at least two of their meals per day is staggering.  To attempt to address this need, the district, the second biggest school district in the country, opened 60 grab and go food centers for its students and their families.  Yesterday it provided 90,000 meals.

In Los Angeles, 80% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and in some areas the percentage is close to 90%.  The New York School system includes close to 114,000 homeless children.

Right now, we have to feed these kids, but this crisis has made stunningly clear the role of schools in our food system, the magnitude of which is far broader than school lunch and shows that arguments about the nutritional profile of school food are of immense and critical importance.

 

By 2030 50% of American adults will be obese, and 25% will be severely obese

by Diana R. H. Winters

If the predictions from a recent New England Journal of Medicine article (pay-walled, but 3 free articles a month available with account creation) come true, the implications–for our nation’s health, for our health care system, and for our economy–are vast.  The study shows that by 2030, almost half of American adults will be obese and a quarter will be severely obese.  The study authors were meticulous in their methods to increase the reliability of their projections.

The study found that there is great variation among states, with over 29 states projected to have higher than 50% obesity, and a large variation in the prevalence of obesity according to income.  Severe obesity will be much more common among low-income adults than higher income adults.

The study also notes that the health consequences of this magnitude of obesity in the population are enormous, and will likely increase socioeconomic disparities.

Although the researchers are light on policy suggestions, the authors do write that, “a range of sustained approaches to maintain a healthy weight over the life course, including policy and environmental interventions at the community level that address upstream social and cultural determinants of obesity, will probably be needed to prevent further weight gain across the BMI distribution.”

In the New York Times, Jane E. Brody notes in covering this study that the United States has done very little to address the food environment that has led to such a marked increase in obesity (since 1990, obesity in the United States has doubled).  Policy interventions such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, portion control, and partnering with restaurants and food manufacturers to reformulate food to be more healthy would be a start.

In fact, another article published today in the New York Times shows that multifaceted policy intervention can have a huge effect on consumption.  It is four years since Chile passed a series of sweeping laws to combat obesity including raising taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and “advertising restrictions on unhealthy foods, bold front-of-package warning labels and a ban on junk food in schools,” and there has been a marked drop in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.  That article cited a public health policy professor from Harvard University who said “the early results suggested that a raft of food policies, not just stand-alone measures like soda taxes, were needed to address a growing obesity crisis that is affecting nations rich and poor.”

As the study and these articles note, time is short.  The costs of obesity at this magnitude are enormous – on quality of life, on health care spending, on the economy, on socioeconomic disparities.  We need these policies, and we need them now.

 

 

Food Law Conference – March 2-3

by Diana R. H. Winters

I will be attending CLE International’s Annual Food Law Conference on March 2-3, 202, in San Francisco.  This is a terrific conference, which I highly recommend.

This is one of the few food law conferences where you can hear from both defense and plaintiff’s counsel, industry associations, and advocacy organizations.  I learned so much last year.   Michael T. Roberts, the Resnick Center‘s Executive Director, is a Co-Chair, and I am speaking on state law regulation on Tuesday, March 3.  The featured speaker is Laura Eichhorn Kurpad, Esq., Associate Chief Counsel US Food and Drug Administration, to give us views from the FDA.  You can find more info here: https://web.cvent.com/event/091ab345-25cd-4928-adf0-9212b7768bd5/summary?RefId=cle.com%20more%20info

Seriously, this conference is the cream of the crop!  Hope to see you there.

The FAO’s Food Fraud Conference

by Michael T. Roberts

I just returned from an exceptionally productive, four-day Food Fraud Workshop hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. Our participation in the workshop was the first project for the Resnick Center following its MOU with the FAO earlier this year.

In connection with the workshop, I have had the privilege of working with the FAO Legal Department in the drafting of a background paper on the regulation of food fraud. Given the Center’s publication of two white papers on food fraud, this experience is particularly rewarding.

The workshop had a number of interesting law and science presentations. I delivered a keynote presentation on the regulatory framework that governs food fraud both internationally and domestically. I was also happy to be joined by colleagues from various countries, including Dr. Sun Juanjuan from Renmin University School of Law in China, with whom the center collaborates with closely. Overall, the proceedings reinforced for me the important role of law and governance strategies in addressing food fraud. There is a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to being involved in this global effort.

Roberts.Rome2

The Honey Wars

If you’ve ever tried to buy a jar of manuka honey, you know the price is anything but sweet.  This is because of the honey’s purported health and aesthetic benefits, which have caused its price to skyrocket.  The New York Times recently published an article about a dispute between New Zealand and Australia regarding when honey can be branded “manuka,” and by whom.  Find this fascinating read here.

 

For Your Meatless Monday Reading Pleasure

by Diana R. H. Winters

Recently there has been a lot of interest in plant-based meat substitutes and their potential role in reducing global meat consumption and the environmental impact of meat production.

This week’s Economist discussed how plant-based meat can reshape the market, and its environmental potential.  The article, under the headline of “Fake Moos“, explains, however, that companies marketing plant-based meat substitutes must radically increase their reach to make much of a difference.

In today’s New York Times, David Yaffe-Bellany discusses how this may happen in “The New Makers of Plant-Based Meat?  Big Meat Companies.”  This article explains that Tyson, Smithfield, Purdue, and other meat producers are moving into the meat-substitute space.  The oddest product being introduced?  A “blended” product introduced by Purdue and Tyson, which combines meat and vegetable protein.  Weird.

And last week, Tad Friend at The New Yorker profiled Impossible Burger, and its founder’s ambition to “wipe out all animal agriculture and deep-sea fishing by 2035.”

Why the sudden fascination with bleeding vegetable protein?  Perhaps it rings a hopeful note after last month’s bleak climate news, providing a way forward for individual action.  But first, we have to stop flying these burgers across the Atlantic…..

Once again, scientists say not to give children juice

by Diana R. H. Winters

In my house, I frown on recreational juice drinking by my children.  My kids get juice on their birthdays, sometimes.

I am happy to say that a panel of scientists has issued new nutritional guidelines for children supporting my draconian approach.  Kids under five should drink milk and water, and every once in a while, a half of a cup of 100% fruit juice.

And although I am delighted to have these recommendations to hand to my poor kids when they ask for juice, I do wish this wasn’t news, because as coverage of this study explains, “[r]ecommendations to limit juice are not new.”

Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says, “When we talk about empty calories that are consumed through beverages and the number of calories people get from sugar-sweetened drinks, we’re not just talking about soda . . . Juice is another source of calories that nutritionally aren’t terrific.”

 

ACLU sues Arkansas for “meat” labeling law

by Diana R. H. Winters

The ACLU, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Good Food Institute are suing Arkansas on behalf of The Tofurky Company to challenge a new law that restricts producers of plant-based food products from using words like “meat,” “burger,” or “sausage” to label these items.  The complaint argues that the law restricts commercial speech, and thereby violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and the dormant Commerce Clause.  The law “creates consumer confusion where none existed before in order to impeded competition.”

The stated purpose of the Arkansas law is to “protect consumers from being misled or confused by false or misleading labeling of agricultural products that are edible by humans.”  Tofurky’s complaint states that there is actually no evidence that consumers are confused about plant-based meats, nor does the Arkansas law point to any such evidence.  Moreover, existing laws, both federal (FDCA, FMIA, PPIA, and FTCA) and state, prohibit misbranding and deceptive marketing.

The lawsuit asks for a declaration that the Arkansas law is unconstitutional and an injunction against its implementation.

Along with questions about state power, this case raises questions regarding the “reasonable” consumer.  Does a consumer buying a veggie burger think that burger contains meat?  Or that Tofurky deli slices made with “slow-smoked tender plant-based non-gmo ingredients,” are meat?  In most circumstances, the answer is no.  Consumers of plant-based meat products actively seek these items.  If we expect consumers to know that a “crunchberry” isn’t a real berry, and to have the wherewithal to check the nutrition facts label for the sugar content in a product labeled “healthy,” surely we can trust a consumer to understand that a veggie burger contains no animal meat.

An Ongoing Regulatory Failure – Antibiotics in Animal Feed

by Diana R. H. Winters

A few weeks back, the New York Times published an article about continuing publicity campaigns by drugmakers to sell antibiotics to farmers for use in healthy animals.  In “Warning of ‘Pig Zero’: One Drugmaker’s Push to Sell More Antibiotics,” Danny Hakim and Matt Richtel discuss the recent (and not-so-recent) regulatory attempts to curtail antibiotic use in animal feed and show how one drugmaker has worked to maneuver around these obstacles to continue selling massive amounts of antibiotics to farmers.

Particularly striking in this article is the explanation of how antibiotic overuse affects human health:

“The connection of overuse of antibiotics in livestock to human health takes two         paths: As bacteria develop defenses against drugs widely used in animals, those defense mechanisms can spread to other bacteria that infect humans; and, resistant germs are transmitted from livestock to humans — through undercooked meat, farm-animal feces seeping into waterways, waste lagoons that overflow after natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, or when farm workers and others come into contact with animals.”

And how this connection is misconstrued by pharmaceutical companies:

“Mr. Simmons of Elanco has long played down livestock’s role in spreading resistant microbes to humans.

‘The most serious pathogens are not related to antibiotics used in food animals,’ he said. ‘Of the 18 major antibiotic-resistant threats that the C.D.C. tracks, only two, campylobacter and nontyphoidal salmonella, are associated with animals.’

But such oft-repeated statements, made even in Elanco’s securities filings, refer only to food-borne strains like antibiotic-resistant salmonella that can be found in raw chicken, for example, while ignoring the myriad ways pathogens can be transferred.”

Also striking is the discussion of research linking the rise in C.Diff. infections, as well as in E. coli and MRSA infections, and the use of antibiotics in livestock:

“There is a growing body of research establishing links between Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, in livestock and humans, viewed by the C.D.C. as an urgent threat. Broad-spectrum antibiotics in livestock provide “a survival advantage to antibiotic-resistant C. difficile strains,” according to a 2018 study by Australian researchers. Similar studies exist for E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA — the C.D.C. even lists different animals like cows, goats, sheep and deer that can pass E. coli to humans.”

Disturbing on many levels, the article highlights how federal attempts to regulate antibiotics, while laudable, have fallen short.

 

See our prior post on a previous N.Y. Times article on this issue here.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑