Earlier this week, I was discussing nutrition with a friend. A member of the Special Forces concerned with optimal performance and endurance, he commented that, even with our technological advances, we’re largely ignorant about nutrition and the human body.
Our conversation reminded me of something I read back in 2014 in Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One:
“Nutrition matters for everybody, but you can’t major in it at Harvard! Most of the big studies were done 30 or 40 years ago. There’s plenty more to learn: We know more about the physics of faraway stars than we know about human nutrition.”
Nutrition research takes money and too often it comes from Big Food or Big Pharma. The approach to studying optimal performance, health and diet is inconsistent and messy at best.
Yesterday, for example, I blogged on the National Chicken Council’s (NCC) petition to the Food Safety and Inspection Service. They asked to drop “whole bird condemnation,” for the regulation requiring processors to discard chickens infected with avian leukosis/sarcoma virus (ALV).
Their petition cited studies in support of their claim, “Widespread industry efforts have effectively eradicated the clinical forms of the disease in commercial broiler flocks.”
Is that the complete truth?
Not according to Amanda Little, Vanderbilt University professor of journalism and scientific writer and author of The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Smarter, Hotter World. In this August 11 Bloomberg Opinion editorial, she writes:
Here’s what we know about Avian Leukosis: A small percentage of birds (less than 1%) are diagnosed with the virus each year, but it spreads quickly through flocks and tens of thousands of chickens are condemned annually due to exposure.
Considering that the USDA reports nearly 9 billion broiler chickens ended up on U.S. processing lines in 2017, “less than 1 percent” inspires little confidence.
What else does the petition ignore?
Commercial egg-laying hens (which aren’t processed for human consumption) transmit ALV to their eggs at an alarming rate.
Researchers at the Tulane University Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology tested 20 dozen eggs chosen at random from 20 New Orleans groceries for ALV. One of every 7 (14 percent) tested positive, causing the researchers to caution, “… it is therefore of great interest whether these agents also cause cancer in humans.”
Still, the NCC petition insisted:
“… FSIS and sister public health authorities have long recognized that avian leukosis does not pose a safety risk to humans.”
Amanda Little, however, disagrees. She cites findings from the UK’s Institute of Animal Health:
“There is some evidence that workers exposed to birds infected with the disease… have developed antibodies, indicating a transfer of the virus from animal to human.”
And in this Nutrition Facts video, Dr. Michael Greger sides with Tulane:
“… [T]his large study provides evidence that a human group with high exposure to poultry oncogenic cancer-causing viruses has increased risk of dying from several cancers.”
Was the NCC’s petition founded on cherry-picked studies? If they’re committed to guaranteeing the safety of poultry-processing employees and the poultry-consuming public, why not try to duplicate or expand on the Tulane and UK research?
Our food-safety system is broken. Industry-funded researchers and the government agencies relying on them can’t be trusted to provide accurate, unbiased public health information.
Fixing the problem may start with finding donors to fund studies free of industry influence, and encouraging students to pursue an education in nutrition and optimal health.
It’s a field rife with opportunity!