October Is Here with the Harvest!

This month has been a busy one at Friedman: Between starting classes and studying for midterms, the intrepid writers of The Sprout have been hard at work bringing you the latest news on nutrition, agriculture, fitness, and… horror?!

First up: What is the deal with milk? Is it a natural superfood or something to be avoided? Disha Gandhi gives a roundup of the scientific research on potential benefits and downfalls of the milk in your pumpkin spice latte. But if milk isn’t your thing, would you consider MuuFri, a vegan milk alternative designed to be just like the original? Kathleen Nay provides the scoop on MuuFri and why soon, vegans might be able to have milk with their cookies!

If you’re interested in policy, Hannah Packman and Ally Gallop have news from the local and federal level. Did you know there is an animal welfare ballot initiative in Massachusetts? Hannah argues that it’s a good thing, but it may not go far enough. Meanwhile, Ally took a close look at the contentious findings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. How much of the new guidelines will be based on the Committee’s scientific findings and how much will be influenced by politics and lobbying? Find out here.

Ashish Pokharel and Sarah McClung take on global nutrition. Ashish describes efforts to improve food security in light of the refugee crisis in the EU. Sarah addresses the potential for community based nutrition services in Pakistan.

Katherine Pett looks at very local nutrition; visiting an elementary school in Cambridge that’s teaching children to grow their own food! And Mireille Najjar and Micaela Young take skeptical looks at nutrition trends that never die. Mireille examines the “detox diet” while Micaela takes a magnifying glass to the supplement industry to answer the question: Do you really need that multivitamin?

October is the time for delicious food and terrifying movies and The Sprout is here to provide. First, Danielle Ngo, member of the Friedman Justice League, asks us to take a closer look at Friedman’s neighborhood, Chinatown. In addition to being an important cultural hub that we should participate in, she makes some recommendations for where to get food during study breaks! Brittany Hagan, chef-in-residence, shows us how to make our very own pretzels with cheese dip; the perfect accompaniment to a pumpkin beer. And Matt Moore provides the entertainment. He has created a master list of Agriculture, Food, and Environment (AFE)-based horror movies for your viewing pleasure.

As usual, Friedman students have plenty of ideas for how to get fit this fall. Julia Sementelli tells us all about the hottest workout that’s just hit Boston: SoulCycle. And Dr. Jaz, AKA Justin Zabinski, provides a killer “Double-Edged Sword” workout and playlist in time for Halloween.

Enjoy this issue of The Friedman Sprout. We wish you a great midterm season *cough* we mean October.

Matt & Katherine

In this issue:

Milk, What the Scientific Evidence Says

by Disha Gandhi

Disha had the opportunity to complete an internship with the National Dairy Council in Rosemont, IL. It was a wonderful experience and definitely opened her eyes about the dairy industry. Her project was to review the literature on milk and now she shares what she learned.

Moo Cows Make Milk — But Maybe Not For Much Longerfomu

by Kathleen Nay

Two bioengineers are developing milk, minus the cow. Good for animal welfare and agricultural sustainability. But will lab-produced milk catch on?

Massachusetts’ Animal Welfare Ballot Initiative

by Hannah Packman

A new animal welfare bill in Massachusetts would improve living conditions for laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant sows, but is it enough?


Commenting on Our Food Future: The Ensuing Policy War Behind the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Report

by Ally Gallop

28,643 comments. That’s how many were submitted during the 75-day public commentary period following the release of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) February 2015 report. And yet, when the 2010 report was released, only 2,186 comments were submitted. That’s over a one thousand percent increase! So why is it that five years later the public has become much more interested in the report that forms the basis for the dietary guidelines?

EU Refugee Crisis: The Food Security Dimension

by Ashish Pokharel

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.15.17 PMThe refugee crisis is taking a toll on the EU nations. Even after arriving at the shores of Greece or Italy, they continue to travel inland in miserable conditions, future uncertain. From an administrative point of view, the EU is struggling to deal with the arrivals and travels of thousands of refugees in a short period of time. Many individual nations seem to be struggling; some unwilling to take responsibility for refugee’s arrival and relocation.

Community Based Monitoring of Nutrition Services

by Sarah McClung

Sarah describes her experience helping to implement community based nutrition services in Islamabad, Pakistan. 

CitySprouts: Garden with a Mission

by Katherine Pett

photo 1 (2)We know the benefits of providing schools with computers, books, and gluesticks, but should schools come with gardens, too? Katherine Pett visited The Haggerty School in Cambridge, which partners with the nonprofit organization CitySprouts to see a school garden in action.

Detox Diets: More Harm than Good?

by Mireille NajjarScreen Shot 2015-09-30 at 9.28.59 PM

From restoring energy to removing toxins, most detox diets claim to have some sort of beneficial
“cleansing” effect on the body. But are these liquid diets really that effective?

Dietary Supplements: Too Good to Be True?

by Micaela Young

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 9.37.44 PMHow can the multi-billion dollar supplement industry grow exponentially while its consumers become more and more unhealthy? More so than not, the name of the game is money and they will do, and say, anything to keep you hooked. Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore.


Gaining a Sense of Home in Chinatown

by Danielle Ngo

A little more than a year ago, I moved to Boston after a lifetime in California. I 20150926_135632moved here by myself, without knowing any friends or family or tangential acquaintances to speak of. I’m a dual-degree UEP/AFE student, and just completed my first year out of three over in Medford/Somerville. Now in my ‘first year’ at Friedman, I’m feeling déjà vu.

Soft Pretzels with Mustard Cheese Dip

pretzelsby Brittany Hagan

Every year as the Fall season begins to decorate New England with golden yellow and red leaves, everyone craves warm apple pie and pumpkin-spiced everything. I, on the other hand, can only think of soft, chewy pretzels dipped in warm, cheesy goodness to go along with my favorite Oktoberfest beers. Whether it’s game day, or the last of the season cookout, these pretzels with a mustard cheese dip are sure to be a favorite.

Load Your Queue with AFE-Related Horror Movies This October

by Matt Moore

lscl2I love horror movies. And it’s October, which means I am going to tell people what horror movies they should see. Coincidentally, from classics like The Birds to modern disasters like The Happening, topics related to Agriculture, Food, and Environment have served as a platform for scares and social commentary in horror cinema for decades. Here are seven movies to watch this month, in chronological order, that broach issues that are still contentious today, including GMOs, pesticides, climate change, and the American diet.

Find Your “Soul” with Boston’s Best Workout: SoulCycle

by Julia Sementelli

It was a cloudy afternoon in March when I attended my first class.  As I walked into the studio, I was greeted by three smiling staff members, a bright space, and booming music.  After strapping on my cycling shoes, and filling my water bottle, I stepped into the dark, candlelit room with inspiring quotes and words painted on its walls.  

Double-Edged Sword Circuit

File:Dragon Door Kettlebells in Three Sizes.jpg
by Justin Zabinski

Pumpkin season is here, which means pumpkin infused lattes, pies, cereals, muffins, and bread are being consumed by everyone and his or her mom. This means added calories need to be destroyed, and what better way to do it than with another circuit?

Milk: What the Scientific Evidence Says

by Disha Gandhi

This past summer, I had the opportunity to complete an internship with the National Dairy Council in Rosemont, IL. It was a wonderful experience and definitely opened my eyes about the dairy industry. My project was to review the literature on milk and now I am sharing what I learned with you.

The Decline of Milk

Milk consumption has been steadily declining in the US: in 1970 individuals drank about 0.96 cups/day while in 2013 consumption decreased to 0.61 cups/day. The advent of sugar sweetened beverages and energy drinks may be related to this decline. Essentially, beverages that are not as nutrient rich are replacing milk. Low fat milk contains protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and yet it continues to be stigmatized. It is my goal to de-stigmatize milk by addressing some health benefits and debunking common health-related myths.

A Misconception About Milk

One of the major misconceptions about milk is that it may contain antibiotics. Farmers care about their cows and want to keep them healthy.  Thus, antibiotics are used to fight infections when needed. When a cow is on an antibiotic treatment her milk is discarded. As an added precaution, milk is tested for antibiotic residues before it enters the processing plant and positive results require the entire tanker of milk to be discarded. If tainted milk somehow does make its way to the processing plant then the farmer who is responsible for this mistake is also financially responsible for all of the milk that was lost. This is a long-standing standard practice.

Does Milk Increase the Risk of Chronic Diseases?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) state, “moderate evidence indicates that intake of milk and milk products is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and lower blood pressure in adults.” The majority of the evidence pertains to studies assessing dairy as a whole (milk, cheese, and yogurt combined); therefore we cannot tease out the effect of milk alone. Furthermore, a very limited number of studies, including randomized controlled trials (RCTs), have examined the health outcomes associated with consuming only milk.

After completing an exhaustive literature review on milk and its relation to various health outcomes for my internship at National Dairy Council, here is some of what I found:

Milk and Heart Disease

Overall milk consumption was not associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and was even shown to be protective. Additionally, a meta-analysis of 10 observational studies determined that subjects that drank milk in greater amounts compared to the subjects that drank much less was associated with a small reduction in heart disease, concluding that there is no evidence that milk consumption is harmful to cardiovascular health.

When interpreting these data it is important to note that observational studies show an association—not causation—and therefore we must look at RCTs to obtain more evidence. In a 2015 crossover RCT conducted on 27 post-menopausal women with abdominal obesity, results showed that consuming 2% milk 3 times a day for 6 weeks had no impact on LDL cholesterol levels and that changes in HDL cholesterol were similar to the control National Cholesterol Education Program diet (no milk or dairy). The authors concluded that in these at risk women, milk consumption had neither favorable nor adverse effects on a wide range of cardiac risk factors.

Milk and Type 2 Diabetes

Milk is a low glycemic index (GI) beverage meaning that blood glucose levels will be significantly lower than post consumption of a high glycemic food such as white bread (GI=100). However, in 2001, researchers in Sweden demonstrated that milk raised insulin levels as high as white bread. Additional studies have suggested that whey protein may be responsible for the insulinotropic effect of milk. This effect may provide a benefit to individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by helping to stabilize glucose levels in type 2 diabetics, although additional research is needed. While these mechanisms should be investigated further, a recent meta-analysis suggested that the dairy food group is inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes with milk having a null association.

Milk and Bone Health

Dr. Walter Willett’s 2014 observational study on milk consumption and hip fracture risk revealed that every additional cup of milk consumed during teenage years was associated with a 9% increased risk of hip fractures in men (40-75y). One of the limitations of this study was that participants had to recall their milk consumption from childhood and adolescence, which leads to inherent errors in reporting. Additionally, we cannot make recommendations based on a single study, so we have to examine more literature on this topic.

  • In 2003, data from NHANES 1988-1994 showed that non-Hispanic, white adult women who drank >1 serving milk per day during adolescence had greater bone mineral content (BMC) and density (BMD) compared to women who drank <1 serving milk per week. Again, these women were asked to recall their milk consumption levels during adolescence from memory.
  • An intervention trial conducted on 12-year-old girls found that those who were randomized into the milk group (2 servings/day of skim or 1% milk) had a significantly greater increase in BMD and BMC compared to the control group (usual diet).

Furthermore, the 2010 DGA concluded that moderate evidence shows that intake of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adults. Milk and milk products contribute many nutrients to the American diet, including calcium and vitamin D, which help build and maintain strong bones.

After reviewing the current scientific literature on milk and its impact on various health outcomes (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bone health, weight loss, blood pressure, and cognition), the overall results have shown that milk may have protective and/or neutral effects towards these health outcomes. However, more RCTs in a variety of populations are needed to obtain a better understanding of milk and its associated health outcomes. In the meantime, I am going to continue adding milk to my Indian masala chai and other desserts, and of course as part of a healthy diet. While I was not able to address every concern about milk and dairy, I hope this information has been helpful and provided you with newfound knowledge about milk.

Disha Gandhi is a second year MS Candidate in BMN. In her free time when she is not doing Nutrition related work, she is still thinking about food and trying out different restaurants around Boston. Please follow her on twitter @DishaG318.

Moo Cows Make Milk – But Maybe Not For Much Longer

Two bioengineers are developing milk, minus the cow. Good for animal welfare and agricultural sustainability. But will lab-produced milk catch on?

There’s something about milk.

Image courtesy of Muufri

Image courtesy of Muufri

There’s something about pouring a tall glass of it to go with a warm, gooey cookie straight from the oven. As a kid, I remember watching this commercial and getting the “muh-muh-muh moo cows muh-muh-muh make milk” jingle stuck in my head. I was told that drinking a glass every day would make me grow big and strong. As an adult, I like to watch it swirl in my morning coffee. Like many foods that evoke memories, milk has a comforting quality to it.

But there’s something else about milk, and that’s the ecological footprint it leaves behind. There is plenty of evidence documenting animal cruelty, and land and ecosystem destruction resulting from animal agriculture. Yet most people – even those who call themselves environmentalists – are reluctant to give up their favorite animal-derived foods for the good of the planet. Flavor and texture are powerfully persuasive, and most vegan substitutes just don’t cut it.

With this in mind, two bioengineers have teamed up to develop a new kind of milk that removes cows from the equation. It’s called Muufri (moo-free – get it?) and it’s the brainchild of Tufts University alum Ryan Pandya and Stonybrook University grad student Perumal Gandhi.

Unlike many types of milk derived from plants such as soy, almond, or coconut, Muufri is developed directly from cow DNA. Pandya and Gandhi have determined that only about 20 different components actually constitute milk, and they’ve begun assembling it from those twenty essential ingredients. They started by inserting DNA sequences from cattle directly into yeast cells, and then grew the cultures in a controlled environment. Think of the sourdough starter your grandmother “feeds” until she’s ready to bake bread; making Muufri is a lot like that. It’s also the same basic process we use to manufacture insulin or brew beer.

While Muufri’s proteins come from yeast, its fats are derived from vegetable sources and tweaked to mimic the structure and flavor of fats found in real milk. Calcium, potassium, and sugars are added separately. The benefits of “building” milk in a lab? Besides omitting saturated fats, Pandya and Gandhi are trying out sugars other than lactose, which some 65% of humans have difficulty digesting.

Muufri milk hopes to make up for areas where plant-based alternatives fall short. While the market is full of nondairy alternatives, they still lack the functionality of many dairy products – yogurt’s creaminess, for example, or cheese’s ability to melt and stretch. Because it is chemically identical to milk, the eventual goal is that products developed from Muufri will have the same functional and textural properties of real dairy products that nearly all vegan alternatives lack. While Pandya is confident that unsaturated fat molecules can be manipulated to resemble the fatty acids found in milk, that’s a project for the future. The main priority now, he says, is developing animal-free milk in liquid form.

Does it sound like a frankenfood? Pandya told National Geographic last year that folks shouldn’t worry: “People who are anti-GMO who have legitimate concerns usually worry about supercrops taking over the natural world. We’ve essentially crippled the yeast, so if it does go out into the world, it’ll produce only milk proteins and die within hours.” Muufri comes on the heels of several other companies trying to develop meat, egg and dairy products without the use of animals, including Impossible Foods’ plant-based burger that “bleeds” the way a beef burger would. Pandya believes that their product represents the future of dairy. “If we want to fix an inefficient industry, we can’t replace [milk] with a similarly inefficient product.” Why rely on a whole cow – which requires enough food and resources to nourish horns, bones, muscle and more – when we can essentially reproduce the “udder” by itself?

Pandya and Gandhi hope to be able to market Muufri by late 2017. The sooner the better; with global population projected to rise to 9 billion over the next 35 years, Muufri and products like it could be a viable strategy for producing food more efficiently while cutting back on the enormous resources that animal agriculture requires.

Personally, I can’t wait to try it with my cup of morning coffee.

Kathleen Nay is a mostly-vegan first-year AFE/UEP student. She hopes that someday products like Muufri will allow her to have her cheese, and eat it too.

Massachusetts’ Animal Welfare Ballot Initiative

by Hannah Packman

A new animal welfare bill in Massachusetts would improve living conditions for laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant sows, but is it enough?

McDonald’s is the most recent in a series of large corporations to jump on the humane bandwagon when they pledged to eliminate caged eggs from their supply chain within the next ten years. Unlike Chipotle or Whole Foods, McDonald’s is not particularly renowned for its ethical practices, so their participation is indicative of a larger sea change in the American agricultural ethos.

For quite some time, post-agrarian American consumers were willingly ignorant about the origins of their food. We outsourced food production to farms and factories miles away, blissfully unaware of the consequences of doing so. But over the past few decades, U.S. citizens have expressed a growing interest in the larger impacts of the industrialized food system. Initially, much of the attention was selfishly motivated, with a bulk of the discourse centering on food borne illness and nutritional health. However, in more recent decades, the scope of focus has broadened to include more altruistic issues of environmental sustainability, human rights, and animal welfare.

While lawmakers have addressed many of these concerns via industry regulation and consumer protection, they have been loath to implement animal rights bills, largely due to the overwhelming influence of the livestock industry. But the precedent for inaction is gradually eroding. In 2008, California approved Proposition 2, or the Standards for Confining Farm Animals. The bill was fully enacted earlier this year, prohibiting the use of inhumane confinement methods, such as calf and pig crates and battery cages.

Other states are now following suit; Citizens for Farm Animal Protection (CFAP), a coalition comprised of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), among other organizations, introduced a new ballot initiative to improve the living conditions of livestock in Massachusetts by allowing them enough room to fully extend their limbs.  The mechanism of the ballot is twofold; it would ban the extreme confinement of veal calves, sows, and egg-laying hens in Massachusetts farms, as well as forbid the import and sale of eggs, veal and pork raised in such conditions.

Indeed, the bill would have a negligible effect on Massachusetts farmers. Currently, no farmers within state boundaries employ gestation or veal crates, and only a single farm raises caged eggs. While the ballot’s ripple effect would be far more significant, as it requires compliance from every producer importing goods into the state, improved livestock practices will be necessary in the future in any case, due to increasing demand. According to Stephanie Harris, Massachusetts state director of HSUS, “ten states have already passed laws to phase out types of extreme confinement addressed in this proposal, and nearly 100 major food retailers—like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart—have voluntary policies to phase them out too.”

Although the Massachusetts initiative is still in early stages, the food service industry has already started to adjust sourcing procedures. As Harris notes, “the top four food service providers, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, and Delaware North, have all made public animal welfare commitments that are aligned with the rules set forth in the proposed ballot measure. These companies service some of the most prominent institutions in Massachusetts, including TD Garden Center, Fenway Park, MIT, UMass Boston, UMass Lowell, and Northeastern.”

The demand for ethically produced meat, eggs, and dairy has been so emphatic as to garner notice from the agricultural sector. United Egg Producers (UEP), which contributed $10 million to combat Proposition 2, has already announced that it will not resist the Massachusetts initiative. The cooperative recognizes the growing momentum of the animal advocacy movement, and acknowledges that battery cages will inevitably become obsolete in the near future.

The pork and veal industries have not been so accommodating; the National Pork Producers Council has publicly maligned the bill, suggesting it will drastically increase the costs of livestock production and thus the price of food. However, these concerns are exaggerated. A 2006 study determined that a cage-free egg costs approximately 2.4 cents more than a caged egg. Similar studies indicate that retiring gestation crates could potentially decrease production costs. As such, the expected financial impact on American consumers would likely be minimal.

Regardless of the monetary cost, the ballot initiative offers a number of benefits to both producers and consumers. For one, there’s the advantage of enhanced food safety. Researchers suggest that compared to their caged counterparts, cage-free eggs are significantly less likely to carry salmonella. These results are unsurprising; distressed animals are more susceptible to disease, a fact that is only exacerbated by close quarters and dusty air. And lower incidence of food-borne illness is not just advantageous for livestock and the general public – preventing pre-slaughter deaths bolsters yield and, in turn, total revenue for the farmer.

It is heartening that the American public is increasingly invested in the welfare of farm animals. Though the Massachusetts ballot initiative would be an important first step to ensure livestock adequate housing conditions, it is the bare minimum we can do. Billions of animals are cycled through the American livestock sector every year, the vast majority enduring unthinkably inhumane treatment for the duration of their lives. It is long overdue that our policy makers prioritize the wellbeing of these sentient creatures over the whims of industry. For millennia, we have depended on farm animals for food, fiber, and fertilizer; in return, we owe them, at the very least, a life worth living.

To get the initiative on the 2016 ballot, CFAP must collect 95,000 signatures from registered Massachusetts voters. If you’re interested in helping collect signatures, visit http://citizensforfarmanimals.ngpvanhost.com/volunteer

Hannah Packman is a second-year student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment program. When she isn’t busy filling her head with food-related facts, she enjoys filling her stomach with food-related objects.

Commenting on Our Food Future: The Ensuing Policy War Behind the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Report

by Ally Gallop, RDN, CDE

28,643 comments. That’s how many were submitted during the 75-day public commentary period following the release of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) February 2015 report. And yet, when the 2010 report was released, only 2,186 comments were submitted. That’s over a one thousand percent increase! So why is it that five years later the public has become much more interested in the report that forms the basis for the dietary guidelines?

The DGAC’s report and dietary guidelines: What are they and why do they matter?

Every five years the DGAC reviews the current scientific literature to inform potential updates to the dietary guidelines. Essentially, the two are buddies: A recommendation in the report may lead to a change in the guidelines. The guidelines aren’t solely for health professionals to use as education material for health promotion. Rather, they are major policy tools.

Foods sold, purchased, and served within federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the national School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are all decided by the dietary guidelines. They affect the financial future for many food companies, industries, and agricultural production. In 2015 alone, the total cost for SNAP was $74.1 billion. So if the federal government recommends less meat for Americans, then a smaller share of that SNAP budget will be pocketed by the meat industry.

The 2015 DGAC report debuted two controversial topics: the promotion of food system sustainability and the reduced intake of all meat—even lean meat.

What’s the beef with meat?

Suggest a federal document to consider reductions in red meat consumption and expect a rebuttal. Slamming the DGAC, over 50 cattle, pork, and poultry organizations1 rallied together arguing against the downplaying of meat. They contend that red meat—especially lean meat—delivers protein and vital micronutrients. The report found that protein is a nutrient not of concern, since nearly 60% of Americans meet the recommendations. However, the report did flag iron as a nutrient with suboptimal intake. Advocates assert that animal products serve a dual dietary purpose: to help Americans maintain their protein intake and to fill the iron gaps.

Meat proponents felt cheated that lean meat was neither included nor differentiated from the red and processed varieties.  However, the DGAC mentions how lean meat could not be extracted from research studies to be independently and fairly assessed. For instance, studies within the systematic review provided multiple definitions for meat including “red meat, processed meat, and poultry.” Proponents argue that in light of clear evidence, why exclude lean meat?

The report correlated meat consumption with a myriad of health conditions. For obesity and type 2 diabetes, lower consumption of red and processed meats was beneficial. From a current public health perspective, 78.6 million Americans are obese, 20.9 million have type 2 diabetes, and 26.6 million have cardiovascular disease. Combined, these three diet-related diseases cost the health care system $500 billion annually. Thus, the DGAC should care about counseling against meat.

From an additional angle, supporters claimed meat to be a valuable source of protein for growing schoolchildren. Combined, the SBP and the NSLP provide more than 40 million meals to schoolchildren each day. These meals must abide by the dietary guidelines as well as having specified food portions. The USDA’s current NSLP requirements mandate that a meal must include 1.5 – 2 oz. of meat or meat alternate. To commenters, if meat is limited, then schoolchildren are malnourished. Yet the USDA clearly is open to meat alternates like beans and legumes. Protein would still be on the plate, and nutrition restored.

But is the fight for meat purely about nutrition? Organizations representing cattlemen and women were quick to defend their livelihood. They claim that without demand for meat, they will suffer economic losses. In response, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recently quantified the money made from NSLP’s inclusion of animal products. The PCRM detailed how:

“In 2013, the USDA paid more than $500 million to 62 meat and dairy producers for beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, dairy, eggs, and lamb that ended up in school meals. Six of those 62 companies received a combined $331 million.”

Where does sustainability fit in?

It doesn’t. Or at least this is what two current House and Senate appropriations bills are pushing for.

The House’s bill demands all revised or additional guidelines must be considered as Grade 1 Strong scientific evidence. The Senate’s bill wants all information included in the future guidelines to be “solely nutritional and dietary in nature.” Note: They want no mention of sustainability. Essentially, the two bills aim to restrict the scientists’ findings and drastically affect the report’s outcome.

“To retrospectively superimpose requirements on restrictions on the use of the report is somewhat troubling,” states DGAC member Dr. Alice Lichtenstein. “A rubric was used to grade the quality of the [systematic] reviews or individual studies. Moderate- and high-quality studies were included. The reason to do that is to avoid cherry-picking perspectives to what may align with a scientist’s own.” And yet it’s the cherry-picking of studies that both the bills and controversial investigative journalist Nina Teicholz have used in their arguments downplaying the report.

The bills spearheaded by Republicans have been accused of extreme bias. Between 2013 and 2014, the politicians backing the bills acquired $3 million from food-related donors. Those senators signing their names in support of the bills collected nearly half a million dollars solely from the beef and cattle industries.

Republicans and commenters alike argued how the inclusion of sustainability goes beyond the mandate of the DGAC. Their role, as outlined by the charter, instructs that the report “shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public… and shall be based on the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge current at the time of publication.” Yet the DGAC is looking out for the general public in their definition of sustainability:

“Access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food is an essential element of food security for the U.S. population. A sustainable diet ensures this access for both the current population and future generations” (part A, page 7, lines 253-255).

Meat proponents’ interpretation of this is that environmental concerns trump human nutrition. Many read the report’s finding that “a healthy diet pattern…lower in red and processed meat” translated into vegetarianism. However, the report emphasizes that no food or group need to be eliminated in the quest to promote health. Reading through thousands of public comments, this valuable point was missed.

The Committee’s response: Leave the report alone

In an unprecedented move, the DGAC submitted a letter to the Appropriations Committee eloquently defending their report. They declare that it’s not solely meat and sustainability that would be stripped from the report. Also removed would be diet-related health parameters, physical activity, preventive dietary interventions, population health strategies, food insecurity, and the health risks correlated with certain foods and additives. If the bills’ riders are passed, the DGAC acknowledges how “this would be seriously deleterious to addressing the Nation’s preventable health and nutrition problems.”

And they didn’t stop there. A week after the release of the British Medical Journal’s controversial article questioning if the guidelines are scientific, as well as a retraction to false statements made within that article, the DGAC submitted a lengthy rapid response expanding on the critique’s falsehood. “Those commenting on the report have not been held to the same [scientific] standards that the committee has,” says Dr. Lichtenstein.

So now what?

Congress needs to make its decision regarding the outcome of the two bills. The Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on October 7, 2015 to discuss the guidelines with USDA Secretary Vilsak and Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell. Eventually, the newest version of the guidelines will be penned by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

For Dr. Lichtenstein, involvement in this year’s committee has been rather novel. “It has been an interesting experience because social media has played a larger role than any other time. All with the unique twist that Congress has gotten involved.”

Unfortunately, the report and the ensuing guidelines have blatantly become more about political and financial power than the protection of America’s health. A health that truly is the committee mandate’s main focus amongst this media debacle.

Note: Be sure to attend the Friedman Seminar on Wednesday, October 14 at 12:15pm featuring Tufts’ professors Miriam Nelson (DGAC committee member) and Tim Griffin (DGAC consultant) as they delve further into the dietary guidelines and sustainability.

1 Commenters per the dietary guidelines website had the option of maintaining anonymity or stating their name and/or an affiliated organization. There are likely more organizations commenting against the findings on meat that requested anonymity status.

Ally Gallop, RD, CDE is a second-year nutrition communication and behavior change student focusing in U.S. food and nutrition policy. Her favorite plant-centered snack involves dipping pear slices into peanut butter.

EU Refugee Crisis: The Food Security Dimension

by Ashish Pokharel


The refugee crisis is taking a toll on the EU nations. Thousands of people are fleeing Syria and Iraq to escape war, hunger, and poverty. In search for a better future, people (including women, children, and seniors) are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and many people drown before they reach shore. But even after arriving at the shores of Greece or Italy, they continue to travel inland in miserable conditions, future uncertain. From an administrative point of view, the EU is struggling to deal with the arrivals and travels of thousands of refugees in a short period of time. Many individual nations seem to be struggling; some unwilling to take responsibility for refugee’s arrival and relocation.


Source: ZEpaminondas/IRC

This crisis is multifaceted, with immigration policies, economic issues, loss of lives, and conflict/resolution in Syria and Iraq all complicating the matter. It is fair to say that the politics of migration have been thoroughly covered by the media, but other issues like provision for food, safe drinking water, healthcare, and sanitation have been vastly overlooked. Classical humanitarian crisis intervention suggests that the provision of food, safe drinking water, basic health facilities, and sanitary living conditions are a necessary part of any immediate response, yet there are no official data on how these services are provided to the travelling refugees.

Food Support Mechanisms

In refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributes family food rations consisting of staple items, including rice, wheat, pasta, lentils, canned food, sugar, salt, cooking oil, and wheat flour. However, there is minimal information on how much food is provided to refugees travelling across Europe. WFP’s website states that it is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of about 6 million displaced people in Syria and neighboring countries. It states that due to underfunded food operations, WFP has been forced to reduce the level of assistance it provides to the refugees in that setting.

WFP’s statements apply to the displaced refugees in Jordan and Lebanon – they are not representative for the refugees migrating to Europe. However, it is safe to assume that if one of the most prominent bodies of the UN is struggling to feed refugees in camps, the situation cannot be better for refugees who are leaving those camps and travelling to Europe. To exacerbate this situation, funding for food to the refugee camps has dried up. Nikolaj Nielsen from Euobserver. com writes that every member state of the EU, except the Netherlands, has slashed the contributions to the WFP in 2015. He adds, “The lack of food and deplorable conditions at the camps is, in part, compelling many to take the journey to the EU.”

The UN system does not seem to have a major presence in Europe, and it looks like the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism has been the most active EU mechanism in this crisis. The mechanism was set up to enable coordinated assistance from the participating states to victims of natural and man-made disasters in Europe and elsewhere. At present, the CPM provides materials – food, beds, hygiene items, and mattresses – at the request of an EU country. Recently, Serbia and Hungary have activated this mechanism.

Other INGOs, such as the Red Cross and International Rescue Committee, have been helping to provide housing, food, and basic healthcare services. Despite these efforts, it is evident that governments are overwhelmed with the huge number of refugees coming across their borders. Croatia had over 44,000 people enter in a single week. Officials from the Croatian Red Cross stated that food distribution was becoming more challenging with the mounting refugee pressure, and that efforts had to be supported by the police in fear of a riot.

What’s Next?

Clearly, the funding for food programs and food distribution need to be improved. On September 23, EU leaders pledged 1 billion Euros to UN agencies, including WFP and UNHCR, to support Syrian refugees in the Middle East. This strategy aims to reduce hunger and deprivation in refugee camps and consequently discourage Syrian refugees from taking a risky journey to Europe. However, it is still unclear what kind of immediate food assistance will be provided to those who are already living in European countries. One hopes that governments or charitable agencies will provide food and other essential services to them.

Many argue that relocating and assisting refugees is a moral imperative that should be done out of compassion. On the other hand, some believe that the influx of refugees puts stress on the recovering economy and tax payers’ money. The ramifications are felt in the United States as well. This year, the U.S. raised its annual refugee cap from 70,000 to 85,000 to accommodate Syrian refugees, and this number will rise again to 100,000 in 2017. With immigration shaping up to be a key issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the current refugee crisis might get more attention in the presidential debates. No matter how the situation evolves, it can be said with certainty that this crisis will influence the EU’s policies and approach to humanitarian crisis in future, hopefully for the better.


Source: EUobserver

Ashish Pokharel is a second year FPAN student at The Friedman School.

Community Based Monitoring of Nutrition Services

by Sarah McClung

Sarah describes her experience helping to implement community based nutrition services in Islamabad, Pakistan.  

Most of us are familiar with CMAM – Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition. Despite some criticism related to sustainability and cost, CMAM is generally considered international best practice for dealing with wasting. CMAM would be categorized as a “supply-side” intervention meaning that services and assistance are provided by a health facility to the end user, in this case, an individual at risk of acute malnutrition. Alternatively, a “demand-side” intervention would originate from the end user. Most health-related interventions would be categorized as supply-side, think medicine, mobile medical units, doctors, community health workers, etc., but what might demand side action look like?

I spent the last three months in Islamabad, Pakistan working on the DFID-funded Empowerment, Voice & Accountability for Better Health and Nutrition (EVA-BHN) project which was designed to be the demand-side project supporting the broader Provincial Health and Nutrition Program (PHNP). EVA-BHN draws from many governance and voice and accountability principles for an approach developed to increase demand for quality health and nutrition services. Where does one begin in an effort to generate demand? Good question. EVA-BHN began by analyzing a community’s capability to utilize health and nutrition services, their opportunity to utilize those services and their motivation to utilize those services and has tailored project activities focuses primarily on motivation. One of the main activities to influence motivation is community based monitoring (CBM) of public health and nutrition services.

The theory behind CBM is that by engaging citizens in the monitoring process they develop a better understanding of their rights and who to hold accountable for service delivery. EVA-BHN uses a checklists to collect different types of information – one checklist collects information on the Basic Health Unit’s (BHU – Pakistan most basic healthcare facility) infrastructure, staff, and stock, another guides administrators through exit interviews for information on the experience of patients, and the third is at the household level and collects information from those living around the community BHU. “It is not only about the data they [citizens] collect,” says Annette Fisher, Technical Project Manager of EVA-BHN, “but their involvement in the monitoring process.”

The questions on the checklist are based on the Essential Health Service Package (EHSP), a guide developed by each province laying out the most basic services public health facilities are required to provide. Some health issues are more appreciated than others, the need for skilled birth attendants and adequate facilities for delivery for example is clearly understood by both citizens and government. For nutrition the situation is a bit complicated – EHSPs in Pakistan do contain guidelines for nutrition services however the capacity of BHUs across the country to supply them is limited. Furthermore, the adequacy of the nutrition guidelines in the EHSPs is debatable and citizen’s knowledge of nutrition is limited, effecting their motivation to demand quality service. Nevertheless, the CBM checklists create an opportunity for raising awareness of the importance of nutrition. If a community member volunteers to collect data through a CBM checklist he or she would receive training and would understand the significance of each question. The administrator would then impart knowledge onto the checklist participant, for example, a volunteer might ask a patient in an exit interview if their mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) was measured – screening for acute malnutrition. Regardless of the individual’s answer the message that such screening is important is reinforced for both parties.

EVA-BHN is only just beginning its second year but the staff are optimistic about the CBM tool. The project team feel as though if the CBM checklists are the only legacy the EVA-BHN project leaves in KP and Punjab, they will have made a positive impact and attitude that can be applied in other sectors.

Sarah McClung is a first-year FPAN student who enjoys running to trap music and forcing vegetables on friends and family. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers