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on "Big Food" and the trade-offs on yield versus nutrient quality

Posted by nkrieger on 06 Jul 2012 at 00:12 GMT

July 5, 2012

To the editor, PLoS Med:

It is encouraging to see your new series on “Big Food.” I would like to request that you have scholars with the requisite expertise also address the impact of agribusiness on the quality of the actual food grown itself. Sparked by new reading I am doing on long-term trends affecting people’s health and that of ecosystems, I have only recently become aware – as a public health professional who is an outsider to the nutrition and agriculture literature – of recent research documenting declines in nutrient content of fruits and vegetables due to trade-offs for yield and other characteristics relevant to “big food” production, not food quality [1-6]. The implication is that a “tomato” ≠ “tomato” ≠ “tomato” – and I believe public health and medical professionals would benefit from more informed discussion as to the actual changes in nutrient values and taste of food due to prioritizing profits over all else.


Nancy Krieger, PhD
Professor, Department of Society, Human Development and Health
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

1. Powell ALT, Nguyen CV, Hill T, Cheng LK, Figueroa-Balderas R, Aktas H, Ashrafi H, Pons C, Fernández-Muñoz, Vicente A, Lopez-Baltazar J, Barry CS, Liu Y, Chetelat R, Granell A, Van Deynze A, Giovannoni JJ, Bennett AB. Uniform ripening encodes a Golden 2-like transcription factor regulating tomato fruit chloroplast development. Science 2012; 336:1711-1715.
2. Davis DR, Epp MD, Riordan HD. Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 crops, 1950 to 1999. J Am Coll Nutr 2004; 23:669-682.
3. Davis DR. Declining fruit and vegetable nutrient composition: what is the evidence? Hort Science 2009; 44:15-19.
4. Fan M-S, Zhao F-J, Fairweather-Tait SJ, Poulton PR, Dunham SJ, McGrath SP. Evidence of decreasing mineral density in wheat grain over the last 160 years. J Trace Elements Med Biol 2008; 22:315-324.
5. Murphy KM, Reeves PG, Jones SS. Relationship between yield and mineral nutrient concentrations in historical and modern spring wheat cultivars. Euphytica 2008; 163:381-390.
6. White PJ, Broadley MR. Historical variation in the mineral composition of edible horticultural products. J Horticultural Sci Biotech 2005; 80:660-667.

No competing interests declared.