Category Archives Scientific/Technical Items

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released a report on risks associated with consuming crickets. The report finds that crickets contain high microbial loads because the entire insect—"including their guts"—is eaten, but food-borne bacteria infections are rare, though they may occur during processing. Crickets can also be host to mycotoxin-producing fungi that cannot be controlled with heat processing, the researchers report. Heavy metal accumulation and allergenicity were determined to be medium hazards, while viral or parasitic infections were considered low-risk.

Nielsen has announced the results of a survey of U.K. consumers comparing opinions about sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) before and after the country's SSB tax took effect in April 2018, finding "minimal impact on consumer behaviour." The survey reportedly found that 62 percent of consumers "claim to have not changed their consumption behaviour in any way post-sugar tax, and only one fifth are checking sugar content on packages more frequently since the tax has come into effect." Further, 11 percent of consumers indicated that they would stop drinking SSBs before the tax took effect, but that number has dropped to one percent. "The number of people who said they would continue to buy sugary soft drinks also, surprisingly, grew post-tax, increasing from 31% in February to 44% in June," Nielsen's press release states.

Consumers Union has announced the results of a phone survey asking consumers how meat products created from cultured animal cells in a laboratory should be labeled. The survey purportedly found that 49 percent of respondents indicated that the products should be labeled as meat with an explanation of its production and 40 percent answered that the products should be labeled as "something other than meat," while five percent of respondents said that they should be labeled as meat without further explanation. The survey also reportedly found that "lab-grown meat" and "artificial or synthetic meat" were the most popular answers about what the products should be called, while "cultured meat," "clean meat" and "in vitro meat" were less popular.

Researchers at the University of Vermont have published the results of a study comparing consumer attitudes towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) before and after implementation of the state's labeling mandate. Jane Kolodinsky et al., "Mandatory labels can improve attitudes toward genetically engineered food," Science Advances, June 27, 2018. Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the study reported that opposition to GMO food in Vermont dropped by 19 percent after the label law took effect. "Our findings put to bed the idea that GMO labels will be seen as a warning label,” one researcher was quoted as saying in a press release. “What we’re seeing is that simple disclosures, like the ones implemented in Vermont, are not going to scare people away from these products.”

In an essay for Science, a researcher argues that current evidence suggests microplastic contamination is widespread on land and in freshwater and calls for additional research into the effects of microplastics on human health and agricultural practices. Science's sister publication Science Advances also published a study examining organic fertilizer's role in spreading microplastics in the environment. According to the essay, researchers have found microplastic contamination in freshwater animals, clams, fish and birds, but research is limited on similar contamination in terrestrial environments. "Soils may act as an important long-term sink for microplastics," the researcher asserts. "This has been demonstrated via the presence of plastic microfibers and fragments in sewage sludge that is widely applied on vast expanses of agricultural land. Other large-scale sources of microplastics in soils are the weathering and disintegration of protective plastic sheeting (plasticulture) over agricultural fields and the fragmentation of plastic litter and plastic items in landfills."

A study has reportedly found that Americans who consumed more restaurant, fast-food and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels up to 35 percent higher than those who ate out less frequently. Julia R. Varshavsky, et al., “Dietary sources of cumulative phthalate exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005-2014,” Environment International, March 29, 2018. The data was collected from more than 10,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. While the researchers reportedly found a significant association between eating out and higher phthalate levels across all age groups, teenagers apparently showed the highest association, with 55 percent. A previous study purportedly found that participants who ate the highest amount of fast food had phthalate levels as much as 40 percent higher than participants who rarely ate such foods.

Researchers have released a study concluding that rates of childhood obesity are rising rather than declining or stabilizing as previously reported. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers reportedly found that although the prevalence of obesity has increased across all childhood age groups since 1999, “significant increases in obesity and severe obesity” have appeared in children aged two to five and adolescent females aged 16 to 19. Asheley C. Skinner, et al., “Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children, 1999-2016,” Pediatrics, March 2018. The researchers reported that they observed “disconcerting” racial-ethnic differences in obesity rates, with African-Americans and Hispanics having a higher prevalence of obesity while Asian-American children had a lower prevalence in all age and sex categories. Specifically, the researchers noted “astounding” differences between Hispanic children and those of all other races, finding nearly half of all Hispanic youth overweight or obese. Researchers purportedly…

Using a "food impacts" database, researchers from Tulane University and the University of Michigan have reportedly found that high levels of beef and dairy consumption account for large portions of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions. Martin C. Heller, et al., “Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with production of individual self-selected US diets,” Environmental Research Letters, March 2018. The study reported that the distribution of greenhouse gas emissions by food group was “quite typical of Western dietary patterns, with the dominant impacts coming from meats and dairy.” Beef consumption accounted for 72 percent of the emissions difference between the highest-impact and lowest-impact groups. The researchers also discovered that beverages, primarily fruit and vegetable juices, had the third-largest impact in the analysis. A New York Times op-ed argued a similar point less than a week before the study's publication. Citing a paper by researchers from the Toulouse School of Economics on the practicality…

Preventive Medicine has issued a retraction of a 2012 study conducted by Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, that purported to find that children were more likely to eat vegetables if the foods were given "attractive" names. The journal made corrections to the article in early February 2018 but retracted it after one of the study’s funders identified an additional error in how its grant was cited. The study is reportedly the sixth of Wansink’s publications to be formally retracted. Cornell began a formal investigation into Wansink’s research practices in late 2017.

Researchers in France and Brazil have concluded that a 10 percent increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a "significant increase of greater than 10% in risks of overall and breast cancer." Thibault Fiolet, et al., "Consumption of ultra-processed food and cancer risks: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort," BMJ, February 14, 2018. The study, which involved surveying records of more than 100,000 participants, asserts that ultra-processed fats and sauces along with sugary products and drinks were associated with an increased risk of overall cancer, while ultra-processed sugary products were also associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. The researchers hypothesized that the findings were caused by the "generally poorer nutritional quality of diets rich in ultra-processed foods," the wide range of additives used, and heat-related processing and preparation that produce neoformed contaminants such as acrylamide.