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McDonald’s Is Cutting the Lengthy List of Ingredients That Go Into McNuggets

The chain is promoting the new version of the item as food that ‘parents can feel good about.’

Need further proof that changing course at a corporate behemoth like McDonald’s is akin to trying to turn an aircraft carrier on a dime? The mega fast-food chain announced that it is testing—“testing,” mind you—a “simpler recipe” for Chicken McNuggets in response to consumer demand for food made with more recognizable, easier-to-pronounce ingredients.

Oops, did I say “announced”? More like admitted. The news was first reported by Crain’s, and while a corporate spokesperson confirmed that McDonald’s began testing the new McNuggets at approximately 140 outposts in the Pacific Northwest in early March, she would not say whether the company plans to roll out the revamped nuggets nationwide. “We’re not making any announcement,” she said.

At first glance, the diminutive chicken tenders, seemingly designed for greedy little fingers, might seem the simplest of foods—but not to a nation of eaters who have grown ever more conscientious about what they’re eating and what they’re feeding their kids. The current formulation of Chicken McNuggets clocks in with more than 30 ingredients, including such get-out-your-chemistry-textbook tongue twisters as sodium acid pyrophosphate, thiamin mononitrate, and monocalcium phosphate. You should always take such a profusion of polysyllabic words, so often listed without explanation, with a grain of sodium chloride—aka table salt. Not being able to recognize an ingredient doesn’t make it bad for you.

McDonald’s has been slowly and unevenly trying to figure out how to position its drive-through grub in relation to a culinary zeitgeist that has consumers turning their back on food they perceive as unhealthy and unsustainable. The company’s bumbling efforts to get with the times have allowed chains like Panera (and, until recently, Chipotle) to grow wildly by emphasizing their commitment to supposedly healthier, fresher, more natural fare. Such smaller competitors have been seen as partly responsible for McDonald’s lackluster financial performance the past couple years.

Have the Golden Arches turned a corner? Last week the company reported a 35 percent increase in profits for the first quarter, exceeding analysts’ expectations and marking the third consecutive quarter of gains. Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s CEO, attributed the bonanza primarily to the company’s decision to make certain breakfast items available all day, as well as new promotional deals like “McPick 2,” according to The New York Times. But he also said the chain’s ballyhooed commitment to sourcing cage-free eggs—another “feel-good fast food” move—was responsible for bringing more Mickey D’s customers back into the fold.

He’s probably right, but you’ll pardon my eye rolling. Just as the cage-free-egg commitment can be argued to be a bit deceptive, as the changeover won’t be complete until at least 2025, so, too, does McDonald’s appear to be counting on consumer confusion in hawking its new Chicken McNuggets. As Crain’s reports, promotional material in the test markets highlights that the revamped nuggets don’t contain artificial colors or flavors—but neither does the current recipe.

While the McDonald’s corporate rep declined to provide Crain’s with the new recipe—so much for transparency—it’s highly doubtful that the McNuggets have been reformulated to improve their nutrition profile: A six-piece order of original Chicken McNuggets paired with ranch dipping sauce and a side of medium fries packs in 730 calories and a hefty 46 grams of fat.

  • Food
  • We Aren’t Winning the Fight Against Obesity

    New data show that increased public awareness and policy changes have not succeeded in lowering rates.

    The news in early 2014 was heartening, a rare bright spot in the steady, dismal drumbeat of statistics surrounding what seemed to be a nation increasingly on the losing side of the battle of the bulge. A headline in The New York Times proclaimed “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade,” with the article declaring that the numbers offered “the first clear evidence that America’s youngest children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic.”

    Not so fast.

    Results of an analysis published today in the journal Obesity paint a decidedly different—and more alarming—picture. As the team of scientists, led by public-health researchers from Duke University, conclude: “There is no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence in any age group, despite substantial clinical and policy efforts targeting the issue.”

    The study, which was based on data collected from a large, biannual federal health and nutrition survey, found that the prevalence of obesity among children ages two to 19 has, at best, hit a plateau during the past few years, but the trend lines do not appear to be reversing. More troubling yet, the rate of children with severe obesity—roughly defined as a body mass index of 40 or above—appears to have increased nearly every year since 1999.

    Addressing the numbers overall and what they seem to say about the crisis of childhood obesity in America, the study’s lead author, Asheley Cockrell Skinner, a researcher in the department of medicine at Duke, told Politico: “Maybe we’re seeing a leveling off, but we’re certainly not seeing a decline. If we assume that our goal out of policy is to reduce the prevalence [of childhood obesity], that’s a goal we’re not meeting.”

    Indeed, that would seem somewhat surprising, what with any number of highly publicized initiatives specifically targeted to stem the crisis—the most notable of which has arguably been first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and the commensurate revamping of federal policy to get schools to stop serving soda and other junk food to kids.

    But it would be a mistake, the researchers argue, to conclude that such programs have failed. The prevalence of childhood obesity may very well have been even higher in the absence of targeted interventions. Yet, in the face of numbers that show more than a third of American children are overweight and more than 26 percent are obese—numbers that have hardly budged over the past decade, according to the most recent analysis—the most logical takeaway would seem to be that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to combat the crisis.

    So what would a get-serious approach to fighting childhood obesity look like? For starters, how about adopting a national tax on sugar-sweetened beverages like the one implemented in Mexico? While the Supreme Court–sanctioned notion of “corporate free speech” makes it difficult to restrict junk food advertising in the U.S., surely we don’t need to subsidize it, right? We should eliminate the corporate tax write-off for ads that market unhealthy foods to kids. An analysis published last year by a team of leading public-health experts found both interventions were among the most cost-effective ways to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity while saving billions of dollars in health-care costs.

    No doubt trying to implement such measures would provoke the full fury of the soda and junk-food industries, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. Children who are overweight or obese at three to five years old, for example, are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults—meaning that if we don’t double down on our efforts to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, we could be dealing with the fallout for decades.  

  • Food
  • What’s for Breakfast? How About Some Monsanto Weed Killer?

    A study finds the world’s most widely used herbicide turning up in a bunch of morning favorites.

    Just how much of Monsanto’s most popular weed killer are you eating every morning for breakfast?

    In an unsettling report released Tuesday by the Alliance for Natural Health, the nonprofit advocacy group details the results of a study that shows a host of breakfast foods—from cereal to eggs to coffee creamer—contain residues of glyphosate, the chemical herbicide more commonly known by Monsanto’s trade name for it, Roundup. The report comes one year after the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization made headlines by classifying glyphosate, which has long been regarded by U.S. regulators as posing little risk to public health, as a probable human carcinogen.

    The ANH tested 24 store-bought breakfast items, including organic products, and found glyophosate residues in almost half of them. Given that glyphosate is the most widely used agrochemical on the market, sprayed on upwards of 90 percent of staple crops such as corn and soybeans, the findings might at first glance seem like a surprise that really comes as no surprise.

    But what’s alarming is that glyphosate residues were found on a bunch of products that either in and of themselves or based on their primary ingredients aren’t typically associated with heavy use of the herbicide. Conventionally grown wheat, for example, which would be used to make whole-wheat bread, isn’t a crop on which glyphosate is often heavily applied, and you’d certainly expect organic multigrain bagels to be free of the chemical. Yet both were shown to have traces of the herbicide. Furthermore, the ANH analysis found glyphosate in organic dairy-based coffee creamer and eggs—and the amount detected in cage-free organic eggs actually exceeded the federal government’s tolerance levels for the chemical. Overall, the results further underscore the out-of-control pervasiveness of glyphosate across the American farmscape.

    So how do the results of the ANH tests compare with the federal government’s own tests of the amount of glyphosate lingering in our food? Good question. In a classic case of the feds’ all-too-typical cart-before-the-horse approach to regulating agrochemicals, big chemical makers like Monsanto have been allowed to nearly flood the market with glyphosate for the past 20 years, yet it wasn’t until this past February that the Food and Drug Administration announced it would finally begin testing food sold in the U.S. for glyphosate residue. (Meanwhile, the level of acceptable residue, which is set by the Environmental Protection Agency, was relaxed a few years ago.)

    Thus, it’s hard to say how worried the average American should be about scarfing down his morning bowl of glyphosate-laced corn flakes or sipping his coffee spiked with glyphosate-laced creamer. The ANH freely acknowledges that the amounts of glyphosate found in the products it tested all fall well below the levels the federal government deems acceptable for each specific food, with the exception of those eggs. Yet whether those levels are stringent enough to protect public health is a topic of increasingly intense debate, especially in the wake of glyphosate’s designation as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. As the ANH report points out, the standards set by the EPA for glyphosate “have not been rigorously tested for all foods and all age groups. Nor have the effects of other [chemical] ingredients in glyphosate formulations been evaluated.” 

    “Evidence linking glyphosate with the increased incidence of a host of cancers is reason for immediate reevaluation by the EPA and FDA,” the authors added.

  • Food
  • Big Soda Wins in California: Beverage Tax Dies in Legislature

    Health advocates will likely have to wait until next year to try again.

    It appears the effort to pass a statewide two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages has died in California, at least for this year. As the Sacramento Bee reported on Wednesday, the bill’s demise occurred with the legislative equivalent of a whimper: Its sponsor in the state assembly pulled the bill before it could even come up for a vote in committee, owing to a lack of support among fellow lawmakers.

    It’s a sad, if not unsurprising, setback for public health advocates who have become increasingly vocal in pressing for a meaningful tax that might cut consumption of sugary drinks while at the same time raising money to fight a raging epidemic of obesity and its related ills. Because despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that nearly 38 percent of American adults are obese, and an overwhelming scientific consensus that the empty, excess calories in soda and other sugar-laden beverages are linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the population at large appears to remain stubbornly opposed to taxing soda. One survey found that fewer than 25 percent of Americans favor such a tax.

    RELATED:  National Soda Tax Would Save Half a Million Kids From Obesity—and Save Money Too

    Big soda’s tooth-and-nail fight against soda taxes and other efforts to rein in consumption has long drawn comparisons to the battle big tobacco waged a generation ago against similar regulations. But it’s funny how a chance encounter with a stack of old magazines could give a sort of Technicolor resonance to those comparisons.

    This past weekend as my husband and I were browsing in a used bookstore, we came upon a trove of TV Guides from the mid-1980s. To quote my grandmother: What a hoot! Yet even as we indulged in a kind of trippy time travel, sifting through the dusty pop culture vestiges of our analog youth—“How to Tell TV’s Good Music Videos from Bad Ones” and “NBC’s The Golden Girls: The Best New Comedy of the Season”—a dawning realization occurred: Holy crap, there are a lot of cigarette ads.

    Amid the flurry of full-color ads of happy smokers sailing yachts, playing in the snow, and racing motorcycles, plus one hunk seeming to rappel out of a helicopter onto a mountaintop—amid the promises of lower tar, more flavor, or a new “crush-proof” box—one ad stood out the most: a double-page, black-and-white, all-text ad from R.J. Reynolds that was headlined, “Passive smoking: An active controversy.”

    After several paragraphs trying to debunk the “sensational media coverage” of studies showing that secondhand smoke might be harmful even to nonsmokers, the tobacco giant concludes: “For today, many nonsmokers who once saw cigarette smoke merely as an annoyance now view it as a threat to their health. Their growing alarm is being translated into heightened social strife and unfair anti-smoker legislation. We believe these actions are unwarranted by the scientific facts—and that it is rhetoric, more than research, which makes passive smoking an active controversy.”

    Thirty years—and a host of tobacco taxes—later, it can be hard to imagine just how entwined big tobacco and its products were with American culture. Furthermore, the industry was wildly successful at capitalizing on its ubiquitous presence and slick, ad-driven messages of fun, freedom, and harmless pleasure in order to convince the public to cast a skeptical eye on the warnings of a bunch of egghead doctors and to object to government efforts to curb smoking, for years—decades even—after the first studies began to link smoking to cancer and other diseases.

    No, that science never determined that smoking was the only cause of cancer, or even lung cancer, just as big soda has (correctly) pointed out that there’s no evidence drinking soda in and of itself is the sole cause of excessive weight gain or, say, type 2 diabetes. But as David Just, codirector of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics, put it bluntly late last year: “There are no good arguments for soda in your diet.” And that was after he’d released a study that seemed to support big soda’s claim that we can’t just pin the entire obesity epidemic on Coke and Pepsi.

    There’s little doubt that soda and other sugary beverages are at least partly to blame, however. As such, it only seems fair that they be taxed to help shoulder at least a fraction of the staggering health care costs associated with the epidemic of obesity-related disease, estimated at between $147 billion to $210 billion each year. California’s proposed soda tax would’ve been a step in the right direction. Let’s hope its supporters take heart and try again next year.

  • Food
  • Buyer Beware: The 12 Most Pesticide-Contaminated Fruits and Veggies

    The Environmental Working Group’s annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list helps chemical-wary shoppers navigate the produce aisle.

    With farmers market season upon us, anyone looking for extra incentive to get up early on Saturday to check out the organic offerings from local growers might want to take a gander at the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” the organization’s annual roundup of conventionally grown produce most likely to be contaminated with pesticides.

    That plural—pesticides—is no joke. Despite growing consumer demand for healthier, more sustainably grown food, many samples of the most contaminated produce tested positive for residues from not one but two or more chemical pesticides. A single sample of strawberries contained residues from a whopping 17 different pesticides.

    The EWG’s new list, released Tuesday, is based on tests conducted in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on close to 7,000 samples. While nearly three-quarters of those samples contained residue from at least one pesticide, the advocacy group crunched the numbers to once again come up with its list of the dozen different fruits and veggies that chemical-conscious consumers should be most wary of. So, without further ado...

    1. Strawberries
    2. Apples
    3. Nectarines
    4. Peaches
    5. Celery
    6. Grapes
    7. Cherries
    8. Spinach
    9. Tomatoes
    10. Sweet bell peppers
    11. Cherry tomatoes
    12. Cucumbers

    This year, the group awarded what might be called two dishonorable mentions as well, or what the EWG categorizes as “Dirty Dozen Plus.” Neither hot peppers nor leafy greens (including kale and collard greens) technically meets the group’s criteria for the “Dirty Dozen,” but both types of produce were shown to be frequently contaminated with pesticides that are considered to be particularly toxic.

    No doubt responding to past criticism that such lists are liable to scare shoppers to steer clear of the produce aisle altogether, the EWG takes pains to point out that the health benefits of consuming at least three recommended servings of vegetables per day and two of fruit far outweigh the risk of eating pesticide-laced produce. Nevertheless, federal regulations governing pesticide use remain much less stringent than what many independent experts believe would adequately protect public health—“tolerance” levels are set by the Environmental Protection Agency based on exposures that could cause injury in a worker-related incident—and do not protect against the health risks attributed to low-level pesticide exposures, such as cancer, hormone disruption, and neurological development problems in children. As the EWG put it: “Some liken pesticide tolerances to a 500 mph speed limit. If the rules of the road are so loose that it’s impossible to violate them, then nobody can feel safe.”

    In the absence of stronger federal safeguards against pesticide abuse, the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list and its companion “Clean Fifteen” list of relatively pesticide-free fruits and vegetables continues to provide shoppers with the kind of transparency and information with which to make the educated choices consumers increasingly want.

    No, not even I, who write about this sort of thing for a living, buy all organic all the time. But I’ve long carried the EWG’s list around in my head, opting to spend a bit more, say, for strawberries that are organically grown (and thus pesticide-free) while settling for conventionally grown onions—number six on the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen”—so as not to break the bank. Although I do love those sweet yellow onions at my local farmers market.

  • Food
  • Why Aren’t We Riled Up About This Global Public Health Crisis?

    A World Health Organization report paints a grim picture of a growing health menace.

    Since the 1980s, its prevalence has steadily grown around the world, precipitating an international crisis in public health. With the right medical care, it can be managed and controlled. But despite the fact that, in many cases, it’s preventable, the disease nevertheless continues to frustrate efforts to slow—much less stop—its relentless spread.

    No, I’m not talking about a communicable disease like HIV/AIDS. What we’re talking about here is diabetes.

    If that buildup led to a sort of letdown (oh, diabetes—ho hum), that’s no doubt because the growing health threat lacks the headline-grabbing power of, say, the sort of outbreaks that trigger Hollywood-style images of a global pandemic—Ebola! Avian flu! Zika!

    But consider this: The worldwide death toll from diabetes in 2012 was 1.5 million. That’s roughly the same number of people who die from AIDS-related illnesses. When you take into account deaths attributable to high blood glucose, a condition sometimes called “pre-diabetic,” the numbers soar even higher, to 3.7 million.

    All in all, approximately 35 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS, while more than 10 times that—422 million people—have diabetes, a staggering 8.5 percent of the adult population.

    These stats come by way of the World Health Organization, which released its Global Report on Diabetes this week. The 88-page overview is filled with data points and recommendations, all delivered in polite, consensus-built prose. And while its authors point out that the most prevalent form of diabetes—type 2—can be prevented through healthy diet and exercise, their professional restraint can feel a bit maddening. What you start to want is someone to come out and shout: “Wake up, world! Millions of people don’t have to be dying from this disease!”

    Of course, it’s not the straitlaced folks at WHO, like any number of global public health organizations, whom we expect to issue a stirring rallying cry. But if not WHO—then who?

    Something’s not working. Nearly 90 percent of WHO member states report having a national diabetes policy, plan, or strategy, and more than 70 percent say they have a plan that’s “operational,” meaning it has funding and is being implemented. Yet, the number of diabetes cases continues to rise, not only in calorie-laden wealthier nations like the United States—where a study released last year found nearly half the adult population is diabetic or pre-diabetic—but even faster in low- and middle-income nations.

    Maybe it’s not more federal-level action plans we need, but a public that finally starts taking diabetes seriously.

  • Food
  • When Is Big Food Not Big Food? When It’s Funding Your Favorite New Snacks

    Major food companies are on the hunt for the next hot food start-ups.

    For young, hip New Yorkers who’ve cast off the vestiges of their suburban childhood, Tio Gazpacho would appear to be right up their alley. Not only is the drinkable chilled soup made using “only the best ingredients,” according to the product’s website—including vine-ripened tomatoes and Himalayan pink salt (“as opposed to table salt”)—but it ticks off any number of good-for-you/good-for-the-planet boxes that have become de rigueur for discerning millennials. The soup is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and free of chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, “and additives of any kind.”

    In short, Tio Gazpacho would seem to be about as far as you can get from, say, the canned Progresso soups your mom served for lunch when you were a kid.

    But how far is it, really?

    As Tio Gazpacho’s founder, Austin Allan, embarks on plans to expand beyond the New York area and add gazpacho flavors to his lineup, he’s got some big-time support from a big food giant: none other than General Mills, the company behind such center-aisle grocery brands as Hamburger Helper, Pillsbury, Old El Paso, and yes, Progresso.

    As USA Today reports, Allan’s funding came via 301 Inc., the business development and venture capital arm of General Mills. If seeing the words venture capital and General Mills in the same sentence surprises you, well, welcome to 2016.

    Whereas just a couple years ago, big food hardly seemed like the place to look for innovation beyond yet another overhyped hybrid flavor of Lay’s potato chips, today food giants like General Mills are increasingly searching out the next hot food start-up.  

    Headline-grabbing start-ups such as Hampton Creek, the company behind egg-free Just Mayo, have succeeded in wooing some of Silicon Valley’s biggest V.C. firms, and now what might be called “old food” companies, like General Mills and Campbell’s, want in on the action.

    All in all, food-related start-ups are raking in more than $2 billion a year in venture capital funding, according to Entrepreneur magazine. Getting an exact—or even not-so-exact—idea of how much V.C. money big food is pouring in is hard, given the industry’s penchant for secrecy. But, according to USA Today, General Mill’s V.C. arm led a $1.25 million funding round for Tio Gazpacho and a $3 million round for Rhythm Superfoods, which makes wholesome veggie snack chips. 

    Just this week, news leaked that former White House nutrition guru Sam Kass had signed on as a partner at Acre Venture Partners, a $125 million venture fund that is a backer of Juicero, the pricey must-have cold-press juice maker. Oh, and who’s behind Acre? None other than Campbell’s.

    Big food’s big V.C. splurge on up-and-coming brands that cater to consumers’ growing preference for foods they perceive as healthier and more sustainable isn’t a surprise. Giant food makers have been buying up “alternative” companies for a number of years to compensate for the sluggish sales growth of their core brands. General Mills now owns such organic staples as Annie’s, Cascadian Farms, Food Should Taste Good, Immaculate Baking, and Muir Glen.

    Should consumers who are willing to plunk down $8 for a bottle of chilled Tio Gazpacho at least know that a company like General Mills has a stake in the brand?

    Allan takes a more sanguine view. Speaking to USA Today about General Mills’ investment in his company, he said, “It helps them reach new consumers, and it helps them stay relevant. I see that they’re moving in the direction of where food is going, and we want to be a part of that. We want to help them on that journey.”

    Yet, in the next paragraph of the story, the newspaper reports that in addition to using the investment to fund sales and marketing, Allan plans “a less expensive line of soups that don’t rely on pricey organic tomatoes.” This could be a slippery slope that leads to Progresso.

  • Food
  • ‘Action Plan’ to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Doesn’t Take the Right Action

    President Obama’s advisory council essentially ignores antibiotic abuse on factory farms.

    The “action plan” released in draft form Thursday by President Obama’s blue-ribbon council to combat the growing scourge of antibiotic-resistant superbugs brings any number of absurd scenarios to mind: the dopey friend who rails about the dangers of global warming while clocking 80 down the interstate in his hulking SUV; the wacky sister who laments the abuses of the livestock industry as she scans a restaurant menu, only to order a double cheeseburger.

    As a strategy to get a couple laughs in a sitcom, this sort of blind-eye cluelessness is great. But when it comes to fending off what may go down as one of the most significant—and avoidable—public health crises of our time, not so much. That’s because the “action plan” from the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria essentially ignores the elephant in the living room—make that the one-ton cow.

    Despite widespread agreement among public health advocates that the rampant overuse of antibiotics in the livestock industry is the primary culprit behind the rising tide of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, the council’s plan contains virtually nothing to effectively address the issue.

    Indeed, 70 percent of medically important antibiotics used in America don’t go to treat sick people, or even to treat sick animals. They’re used by the livestock industry to promote growth and ward off illness in what are often overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.

    Daily doses of antibiotics mixed into the feed of farm animals has been indispensable to the rise of factory farms—and to the cultivation of a number of scary strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can move from animals to people. Adding to the alarm earlier this year were reports that, quicker than you can say “lickety split,” certain bacteria were passing along a gene capable of conferring resistance to the antibiotic colistin—long considered an antibiotic of last resort in modern medicine. Bacteria with the gene have now been identified in more than 20 countries, in farm animals as well as in people.

    RELATED:  U.S. Poultry May Be Going Antibiotic-Free but the Rest of the World's Is Not

    No less authority than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning about the danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria for years. The CDC estimates that 2 million Americans suffer antibiotic-resistant infections each year, resulting in 23,000 deaths.

    When President Obama created the advisory council in late 2014 to tackle the challenge of antibiotic resistance, it was hailed as an important, if long overdue, step in the right direction. Yet the draft action plan on which the council is voting this week has left public health advocates underwhelmed, to say the least. “Disappointing” and “fundamentally flawed” is how David Wallinga at the Natural Resources Defense Council describes the council’s work in a recent blog post.

    As Wallinga and others fighting for concrete action to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms point out, the council essentially continues to give the livestock industry a free pass to use medically important antibiotics willy-nilly. There are no targets—none—to reduce agricultural use of antibiotics, even as the council presses for reductions in the amount of antibiotics prescribed to people.

    Say what!?

    Moreover, the president’s handpicked team of experts seems all too willing to accept the Food and Drug Administration’s pie-in-the-sky assertions that its program to encourage drug makers to voluntarily stop selling any number of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is actually working. It’s been more than two years since the FDA launched its program. In that time, how many antibiotics have drug companies taken off the market for growth promotion in animals? Just one.

    And even if the FDA were to succeed in stamping out the use of antibiotics simply to bulk up cows and pigs, the livestock industry could still continue to ply animals with antibiotics: Farmers could say they were using the antibiotics not for growth promotion but to prevent disease.

    “The Netherlands phased out the use of antibiotics for growth-promotion in 2006, but antibiotic use continued to rise even after the ban took effect,” Wallinga writes by way of example. “Only after the government and industry launched a new, much more aggressive effort to reduce use of ALL antibiotics in feed—by setting a reduction target and banning use for disease prevention—did the country see significant reduction in antibiotic use.”

    How much? Almost 50 percent.  

    Unfortunately, when it comes to curbing the epidemic of antibiotic abuse on factory farms, the U.S. hasn’t even gotten to square one. More like square zero.

  • Food
  • Berkeley vs. Big Soda Shows Grassroots Democracy in Action

    A new chronicle of the successful soda-tax fight hopes to inspire a nationwide movement.

    Coke’s current slogan may be “Taste the Feeling,” but if you want a real feel-good pick-me-up today—without all that superfluous sugar—check out the recently launched website Berkeley vs. Big Soda, which recounts the 2014 campaign to pass a soda tax in the California city.

    It’s a genuine dose of can-do democracy in action, liable to inspire a bit of heart swell in even the most jaded political cynic. It’s timely too, as a number of other cities and states, from Philadelphia to California, consider levying their own soda taxes.

    The site chronicles the successful grassroots effort to pass the first municipal tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in the nation, complete with a bite-size 14-minute documentary that makes for a perfect workday distraction while you sip, well, hopefully something not chock-full of syrupy sweetener.

    Far from being just an exercise in pat-on-the-back self-promotion, Berkeley vs. Big Soda is on a mission to inspire other local citizens in places across the country to campaign for their own soda taxes and to provide organizers with a sort of blueprint on how to beat big soda’s powerful propaganda machine.

    “There are people who say, ‘Well, that’s Berkeley, and no one else can do it,’ ” Holly Scheider, outreach coordinator for the Berkeley Health Child Center, says in the documentary. “And I say, ‘That’s absolutely wrong—everyone can do it.’ ” Or, as Larry Tramutola, chief strategist for the pro-tax “Yes on D” campaign, puts it: “Once Goliath has been beaten, others think, ‘Maybe we can too.’ ” The ballot measure authorizing the soda tax passed with a stunning 75 percent of the vote.

    Even in a legendarily progressive enclave such as Berkeley, the effort to pass the one-cent-per-liter tax on sugary beverages seemed like a long shot at first. The soda industry had already beat back similar proposed taxes in some 30 communities across the country, and it would spend $2.3 million on efforts to defeat the Berkeley tax. Across the bay in San Francisco, a similar ballot measure put in front of voters the same year failed to pass.

    As the documentary shows, that outsize spending included what you would expect, such as buying up billboards and blanketing public transit stops with “No on D” ads. But there were insidious tactics as well, such as paying some local residents $15 to $20 per hour to appear in public as “No on D” supporters, carrying signs and wearing T-shirts. As one pro-tax advocate from a Latino community organization pointed out, many of these hired shills were chosen because they were people of color, which would seem to align with one of big soda’s disingenuous talking points when it comes to soda taxes—namely, that such taxes disproportionally target low-income communities of color.

    The only reason that might be true is because the soda industry disproportionately targets those communities with its marketing, which leads to higher consumption rates of sugary beverages and, in turn, higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Whereas a third of all American children born between 2000 and 2011 are predicted to develop type 2 diabetes during their lifetime—a stat that’s shocking in and of itself—that rises even more alarmingly to one in two children for Latinos and African Americans.

    Another big part of big soda’s antitax campaign centered on what would be done with the revenue generated by the tax, with the industry claiming it would disappear into the city’s general fund. But Berkeley is proving antitax skeptics wrong on that front as well. Earlier this year, the Berkeley City Council approved $1.5 million for community-based efforts to battle soda consumption, with roughly half going to public school nutrition-education programs and the other half available as grants to community organizations.

    It’s a drop in the bucket compared with the estimated $1 million per day the soda industry spends on marketing just to teenagers and kids, but it’s a healthy step in the right direction.

  • Food
  • Think You're Living a Healthy Lifestyle? Chances Are, You're Not

    Shockingly few Americans meet the criteria for living healthy, according to new research.

    This should put just about every health ed teacher in the U.S. in tears. Ask anyone who can remember being even half awake during junior high health class what makes for a healthy lifestyle, and chances are you’d get some combination of the same four answers: eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, and maintain a healthy body weight. But just because we know how to live healthy doesn’t mean we’re doing it.

    Even if your stereotype of the average American is less CrossFit than Homer Simpson fit, less six-pack abs than, well, plain old six-pack, you may be shocked by how few of us maintain what medical science has long told us is a healthy lifestyle.

    Take a wild guess. Twenty percent? Ha! That would probably mean you’ve actually seen someone taking advantage of the fitness center at any hotel you’ve ever stayed at as you’re making a run to the snack machine, when chances are you haven’t.

    Ten percent? Still wildly off the mark.

    Related: The Diet of the 1980s May Be Why Americans Are So Fat Today

    Try 3 percent. And that’s rounding up. To be precise, a paltry 2.7 percent of Americans are living a healthy lifestyle.

    In a study published this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers looked at a broad swath of American adults who had participated in a massive health and nutrition survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and crunched the numbers to see just how many of us are living up to the admonishments of our former health ed teachers.

    All four factors—maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, abstaining from smoking, and keeping your weight in check—have been shown to reduce a person’s risk for heart disease, not to mention a variety of other ills. No surprise: Those participants who met all four healthy lifestyle criteria were shown to have lower blood pressure and lower levels of things like blood glucose and LDL cholesterol, or so-called bad cholesterol.

    Good luck finding those hale and hearty folks. You’re significantly more likely to run across Americans who meet none of the criteria, which researchers found to be more than 11 percent. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, with approximately 37 percent of Americans meeting at least two of the criteria.

    Participants were deemed to be eating healthy if they scored higher on the Health Eating Index developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and to be sufficiently active if they clocked at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Normal weight was defined as a body mass index of 5–20 percent for men and 8–30 percent for women.

    Of the four healthy lifestyle categories, the most Americans, 71 percent, were nonsmokers. But while a substantial number ranked as eating a healthy diet (almost 38 percent) and even more met the criteria for sufficient physical activity (more than 46 percent), less than 10 percent weighed in at a normal body weight.

    Beyond suggesting that health researchers may need to come up with a new definition of “normal,” that so many Americans appear to be eating right and exercising may suggest we also need new definitions of a healthy diet and the right amount of physical activity.

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