A call for a nutrition moonshot

A call for greater focus on nutrition research, what the Inflation Reduction Act means for food policy and more.


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Today, in Food Fix: 

– A call for a nutrition moonshot

– What the Inflation Reduction Act means for food policy

– Broad coalition reiterates call for deputy foods role with line authority at FDA

– USDA confident in legal standing for recent Salmonella move

– Pushing cell-ag to go open source


Task force leaders tout nutrition moonshot

A high-profile quintet of food leaders working to inform the upcoming White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health have identified six key areas where they see a need for big change if the U.S. wants to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases. Among them is a call for a major new focus on nutrition research, in what the leaders called a nutrition moonshot.

“We stand at the cusp of exciting discoveries around food and human health that will dramatically improve the way we view, prevent and treat diet-related diseases,” the group wrote in a piece published Monday in the journal Nature. It’s co-authored by Dariush Mozaffarian  of Tufts University; José Andrés of World Central Kitchen; Ertharin Cousin of Food Systems for the Future; William Frist of the Bipartisan Policy Center; and Dan Glickman of Tufts, BPC and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. 

The piece suggests a National Institute of Nutrition at NIH could be a good idea. (I wrote about this concept back in 2019 – click here for a refresher). It also calls for more of a focus on human health nutrition at USDA, which currently is much more heavily geared toward studying and supporting traditional production agriculture, as well as better coordination across the government. (I wrote about the lack of investment and coordination in nutrition research in a big piece here.)

FNV moonshot: These authors aren’t the only group using the term “moonshot,” by the way. The International Fresh Produce Association called for a “fruit and vegetable moonshot” in its recommendations to the White House.

When I recently caught up with Glickman (who served as agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration), he used the same language, telling me that he believes nutrition “needs a presidential push in the same way we have a cancer moonshot. We need a nutrition moonshot.”

Why this piece is particularly interesting: These leaders are the co-chairs of an outside task force that’s trying to inform the Biden administration’s conference on food, slated to be held in September (though a date has still not been set, much to the chagrin of everyone involved). 

A nutrition moonshot is one of those ideas that could very well gain real traction. It doesn’t spark opposition like many other nutrition priorities in some circles, like say the desire by some advocates to eventually restrict certain unhealthy foods from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Other ideas: The journal article outlines a bunch of other areas where focus is needed, including health care (for example, they float the possibility of produce prescriptions); federal nutrition programs (the group suggests stronger nutrition standards for school meals should be a priority); and public health education (such as instituting front-of-pack and warning labels on food), among others. 

Hot doc: The broader task force is expected to publicly release its sweeping report to the White House next week. 

Send me your docs! More to come on all of this soon. In the meantime, please keep sending me your recommendations to the White House – and thanks to those who have already sent theirs!


What the Inflation Reduction Act means for food policy

The Senate over the weekend passed the so-called Inflation Reduction Act – a back-from-the dead portion of the former Build Back Better package pushed by Democrats – with $20 billion carved out for climate-smart agriculture. 

The money will bolster a long list of USDA conservation programs and helps fund the department’s push toward testing whether changing certain farming practices can bring not only environmental benefits but also, eventually, premium prices for farmers. USDA calls this concept climate-smart commodities. Think organic certification, but for climate goals.

All of this might seem a little disconnected from processed food at the grocery store – but I assure you, it is not. Climate-smart marketing is already cropping up everywhere, from the dairy case to the cereal section, as brands try to appeal to younger consumers who care very much about climate change. So far, this push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across food supply chains is largely driven by consumer packaged goods brands and other companies that have made aggressive climate commitments. 

The big question, of course, is whether any of these corporate commitments can actually move the needle in terms of reducing emissions from farm to fork. The $20 billion investment in Democrats’ new spending package certainly helps foot part of the bill for changing on-farm practices. But as many folks noted on Twitter and elsewhere, none of this is simple. 

A critical take: This piece in The New Republic, for example, questions whether the legislation will do much to tackle the climate crisis. (Read this thread from one of the authors, too.)

Onward: The House is expected to come back into session later this week to pass the bill and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Content sidenote: I’m still deciding how much I want to cover straight-up ag policy. I realize that sounds a little silly, because agriculture and food policy are inextricably linked, but the truth is they are mostly very distinct worlds. And, for whatever reason, there are a handful of publications dedicated to ag policy but precious few covering food policy. (If anyone knows of one, let me know. I want to read it.) That said, this big push toward climate-smart commodities and climate-smart labeling/marketing is one area I will still track closely here.


USDA confident in legal standing for recent Salmonella move

The recent USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service announcement to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products might have been met with a head scratch from consumers (“Wait, why is this currently allowed?”). But if you’ve been following this Salmonella saga, there’s another question that comes to mind: Will the industry or some other interest sue USDA over this?

Food Fix recently talked to Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, about the move and what’s next. She was ready for the lawsuit question:

“We do not put forward any proposal without our lawyers believing that we have strong support in the law,” Eskin said. “Will we get sued? I won’t be surprised if we get sued. But we’re going to do everything we can to have as ironclad a justification for what we’re doing here as we can.”

The bigger picture: Setting the lawsuit question aside, the move represents a shift toward a harder line against Salmonella at USDA. “The question of ‘what does this mean for the larger group of raw poultry products out there?’ We’re still working through that,” Eskin said. 

The bottom line: Eskin, a longtime food safety advocate, emphasized USDA was making the move to benefit consumers. “It is an attempt to really step up and do a better job of ensuring that products that make consumers sick cannot be sold,” she said.

What’s next: FSIS announced it plans to release a proposed framework for “a new comprehensive strategy to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributable to poultry” in October and then host a public meeting to discuss the proposal in November.


Broad coalition reiterates call for deputy foods role with line authority at FDA

A really broad group of industry, environmental, consumer and state interests has just written to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf expressing concern that a big review of the agency’s foods program conducted by the closely aligned Reagan-Udall Foundation (see here for more) doesn’t include any discussion of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

“This broad and diverse coalition in support of reforming FDA’s food program includes entities that do not always align on issues,” reads the letter, signed by names like the Environmental Defense Fund, the American Frozen Food Institute and the Association of Food and Drug Officials. 

“However, we agree that the FDA should identify a food safety expert to serve as Deputy Commissioner to lead a unified foods program, with direct line authority over all major program components, including the Office of Food Policy and Emergency Response, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and relevant parts of the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and Office of Regulatory Affairs, and that this action be completed with urgency.”

Translation: Leaving CVM out of the review is making those on the outside nervous that there won’t be a move to consolidate leadership on the foods side, as this unusually broad coalition has been urging.

“We want and need an FDA food program that is structured, governed and funded for success, and we stand ready to assist the agency to meet these goals,” they added.

Throwback: If any of this is confusing for you, I’d refer back to the deep-dive I wrote on FDA’s food dysfunction to get smart on where these groups are coming from.


Pushing cell-ag to go open-source

New Harvest and CULT Food Science recently launched Open Cellular Agriculture, an initiative that aims to get the burgeoning field of cell ag to embrace an open-source ethos. This is not the M.O. of the sector now, which is dominated by venture-backed startups tightly guarding their intellectual property.

“If cellular agriculture is a city, it is one without public infrastructure,” Isha Datar, executive director of New Harvest, recently wrote. “There are privately owned ‘houses’ popping up everywhere, but the roads, bridges, sewers, and public squares – all of which are crucial to a thriving ecosystem – are yet to be built. What is the likelihood of success for this emerging community without this critical infrastructure? Cellular agriculture must build up its open infrastructure to succeed.”

First up: The initiative has already outlined its first project: the development of a cell bank. The goal is to create “a complete and open cell banking system for the field of cultured meat” with cell lines that are available to others in both research and commercial production, the group said. 


What I’m reading

Whole Foods Co-Founder Is Building Chain of Cafes, Wellness Centers (Bloomberg). Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey is planning to build a chain of plant-based restaurants and wellness centers after he retires from the Amazon-owned grocer next month. Healthy America LLC has raised about $31 million from investors so far, per Bloomberg’s Matt Day.

Food prices fell sharply in July — but the respite may not last (CNBC). Food prices dropped in July, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, but experts are worried the trend may not last as the deal with Russia to get Ukrainian grain out of the country is on shaky ground.

Amazon sees opening in baby formula industry shake-up (Politico). Online retail giant Amazon recently began lobbying the federal government on infant formula issues amid the ongoing shortage, according to its most recent lobbying disclosures, per Politico’s Meredith Lee and Marcia Brown.


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