“When you talk about conflicts of interest, appearance is everything.”

Marion Nestle, food policy and nutrition expert (The Washington Post)

Don’t Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

Nutrition research has a reputation for being confusing — one day meat is good for you, the next it’s not. But surely hard science can solve these discrepancies?

Perhaps it could, if scientists got their biases out of the way. At least that’s the sentiment of conversations we tracked.

In September of 2019, a study that reviewed the available evidence on the health effects of meat concluded that most evidence against meat consumption is “weak” and/or “low-certainty” (read more in our previous coverage). However, the ensuing battle between the experts crossed over from questions about meat to questions about the reliability of nutrition research.

  • The Washington Post reported on January 7 that the original study amended its conflict of interest section to reflect funding from Agrilife Research, a subsidiary of Texas A&M.
  • On January 15, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article that exposed possible conflicts of interest from the nutrition researchers who criticized the study, including David Katz and Harvard University’s Walter Willett. Author Rita Rubin noted, “The difference is that their ties are primarily with companies and organizations that … are surrounded by an aura of health and wellness.”
  • Christine Laine, MD, MPH, editor-in-chief of Annals of Internal Medicine, told Rubin that critics attacked the journal for publishing the study: “We’ve published a lot on firearm industry prevention, the response from the NRA (National Rifle Association) was less vitriolic than the response from the True Health Initiative.”
  • Penn State University food science professor John Coupland mused, “Interesting story about how we think about science, evidence and bias in the context [of] epidemiology and meat.”
  • Nina Teicholz, whose impartiality Politico redressed back in 2015, tweeted: “So important for media to understand conflicts on all sides and also to branch out and not rely so exclusively on same sources.”

Plenty of Research to Digest

Influential voices in food and ag frequently debate what is “good” to eat. Sources ranging from The New York Times to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology weighed in on issues on other health and nutrition topics.

  • In a January 13 Washington Post article, author Scott Douglas questioned whether it was possible to speed up one’s metabolism. Douglas spoke with nutrition and obesity researcher Eric Ravussin, who clarified: “There is very little hope of changing your resting metabolic rate, because you’re fighting your biology.”
  • On January 8, Nutrition Coalition Executive Director Nina Teicholz told Brownfield Ag News that the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which U.S. News & World Report listed atop its “year’s best diets” assessment, were “not updated with the latest science.”
  • On January 7, University of Toronto found that whole milk may be healthier for children’s weight than low-fat milk. This finding may prove problematic as the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends “non-fat (skim) or low-fat milk and dairy products.”
  • The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a study that found “regular consumption of chili pepper is associated with a lower risk of total and CVD death.”

Hometown Heroes

Local trends can often gain traction on a broader scale. Today’s food trends, ingredient sourcing policies and local regulations have the potential to become national policy. Below are a few samples of interesting regional happenings from farm fields to cutting-edge foodservice.

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Addison touted Los Angeles as “America’s best and most interesting food city.”
  • Eater produced a feature on “The New Guard of New York Dining,” introducing “the chefs and restaurateurs defining the next generation of dining in the city.”
  • California’s much-disputed foie gras ban will stand. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear a challenge to California’s 2004 ban on the production and sale of foie gras, leaving in place a 2017 ruling upholding it.”
  • The New York Times recounted the effects on citizens’ health and well-being when West Virginia instituted stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients.
  • The Washington Post spoke with a South Carolina farmer who retold his experience of being arrested for illegal hemp cultivation and having his million-dollar crop bulldozed. The article calls his story “emblematic of the hurdles that farmers face in growing a crop legalized through the 2018 federal farm bill.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Wine Wanes

On January 13, The Wall Street Journal reported “America’s love affair with wine is waning,” in an article tracking millennials’ and baby boomers’ spending on alcoholic beverages. Author Saabira Chaudhuri attributed the drop in sales to millennials’ penchant for alternatives like hard seltzers and cocktails, baby boomers’ lower disposable income, and the overall attitude toward wellness in the country.


On January 13, Bloomberg reported that McDonald’s quest to make a chicken sandwich that can compete with more-popular fast-food options led the chain to include a controversial ingredient: monosodium glutamate (MSG). While MSG is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, an unhealthy reputation precedes the ingredient. Ajinomoto, a producer of the additive, recently launched #RedefineCRS: a campaign to raise awareness against the use of the phrase “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Food & Wine featured a packaging innovation on January 10 from Perdue: “foam insulation … made from water-soluble cornstarch, which can be composted or even disintegrated under running water and safely rinsed down a kitchen sink.” The packaging ships with any frozen product from Perdue’s new direct-to-consumer e-commerce website as a means to address sustainability issues.

One-Stop for Biotech

Shortly after President Trump released a statement on New Year’s Day commemorating National Biotech Month, The New Food Economy published an article criticizing the USDA, FDA and EPA’s new “Unified Website for Biotechnology Regulation … a gleaming, if rather simple, resource.” In contrast, “The morass of regulations that govern biotechnology in the United States is far from simple.”

Semper Cook It Through

To raise awareness about proper food safety and preparation, Food Safety News published a victim profile on Hunter Browning, a U.S. Marine recruit “dealing with the lifelong impact of food poisoning.” Browning contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) connected to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli from an undercooked burger served at training camp. He laments, “I would hope that no one would have to go through what I’ve been through. There were a lot of things that could have gone better, and I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Good Farmer Gone Bad

“With the FBI’s assistance, the USDA would go on to prove that Constant was a swindler on a grand scale: More than $140 million in fraudulent sales between 2010 and 2017 for grain that was likely worth half that.” On January 12, The Kansas City Star chronicled Missouri farmer Randy Constant’s exploits of the organic grain market.