Archive for October, 2011
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 27, 2011
As I have been reporting here at Food Identity Theft, the FDA docket for the petition submitted from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to change the identity of high fructose corn syrup to the sweet-sounding name “corn sugar” had been holding at 127 posted public submissions.
My question as to how many were actually submitted, had gone unanswered by the FDA for some time now. Finally, last Wednesday (after many nagging e-mails to my FDA contact) I was told that 3,398 comments had actually been received by the agency so far about this HFCS name game charade! Now we all know that the FDA works in mysterious ways, but after much hemming and hawing from my contact as to why more comments were not posted, suddenly this week the tally is over 190 and growing!
Some of the just-posted comments include:
High Fructose Corn Syrup is bad news regardless of it’s name. Please don’t bow down to the CRA to change the name to something sexier. Bad is bad. Thank you for listening.
The current name “high fructose corn syrup” did not become scary because of the name, but rather because it has earned a certain reputation. Changing the name would disguise an ingredient that consumers have the right to be aware of. Even further, calling it “corn sugar” would be distortion of the truth, as this is not a natural sugar product that comes from corn. Clearly, “high fructose corn syrup” is the most accurate depiction of the ingredient and consumers are familiar with the term – changing it so late in the game just to make it sound more “chic” would be unethical.
And this one from a self-described “health professional” associated with the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine:
If the FDA is really considering giving High Fructose Corn Syrup a name change then the catchy “Chemically Converted Corn Syrup” will certainly have my full support. PLEASE don’t “sugar-coat” what HFCS really is for the already confused general public. If you’re going to change the name, then tell people what it really is, so they have a better idea about the garbage they are unwittingly consuming.
ALL of the newly posted comments I have had a chance to look at so far are totally opposed to this corn sugar ‘cornswoggle’. Here are a few more of the new ones:
Changing the name seems like a deceitful act, and one that will encourage people to disrespect the FDA.
This is a ridiculous PR move that is so obviously deceptive.
I strongly request that your high fructose corn syrup not be renamed to “corn sugar”, or any such title giving the false impression to consumers that this is a naturally occurring or healthy product.
It is quite obvious from these comments that the public sees through this attempt to deliberately deceive us and is not being fooled. But let’s not lose our momentum here, because we have to remember that powerful interests are at work attempting to influence the FDA’s decision. So please submit your own comment to the FDA ASAP. In the meantime, I will continue to stay on top of the issue and request that the FDA allow all of our voices to be heard so that hopefully most, if not all, of the your messages will eventually get online.
Also of interest is a recent ruling by a California federal judge allowing the case brought by American sugar farmers against “Big Corn” to continue.
In response to this ruling, as reported by Fox News online, Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said the sugar farmers were “attempting to shut down free speech.”
Now we are not exactly sure what “free speech” Ms. Erickson is referring to, but if it has to do with the Corn Refiners Association calling HFCS “corn sugar” the FDA already has asked them to stop doing that.
Documents released by the Associated Press in September from the Food and Drug Administration to the CRA reveal that the FDA had asked the corn trade group to refrain from using “corn sugar” in place of high fructose corn syrup, and specifically to “…reexamine your websites and modify statements that use the term ‘corn sugar’ as a synonym for (high fructose corn syrup).”
Stay tuned for a new addition to our “culprits” section – when is the “NO MSG” label false and misleading? If you are one of the millions who have decided to cut monosodium glutamate out of your diet, you won’t want to miss this report.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 25, 2011
In a case of multiple food identity theft, I have found a product that is attempting to steal the identity of numerous foods such as oatmeal, milk, blueberries, fruit, spinach, cheese and carrot juice!
How could a solitary product engage in so much thievery, you may ask? Impossible as it may seem, this one item– a cookie no less — has managed to get my nomination for food identity thief of the month.
Without further ado, I present WhoNu? cookies, a line of refined, artificially flavored cookies which also contain hydrogenated oils (acknowledged by most everyone as a source of trans fats, a major contributor to heart disease) that claim they are as “nutrition rich” as oatmeal, milk, fruit and veggies. Who knew a cookie could be such a fake?
The WhoNu? cookie claim to fame, despite its less than high-integrity ingredient list, is that the cookie has been pumped up, so to speak, with a bunch of added vitamins and minerals. Apparently the folks at Suncore products believe that gives them the right to show pictures of fruit, vegetables and milk on the package, both front and back.
At the WhoNu? Website, Suncore claims it took “years of research” (really, folks) to come up with this product and that “now delicious is nutritious too!” To me, one of the worst parts of this whole WhoNu? nutrition scam are what consumers are saying. Comments I found at the product’s Facebook page include; “These are healthy treats for your kids with packed nutrition…they are great!” and “Here’s a snack that tastes Great – and is actually GOOD FOR YOU!!”
People, there are plenty of cookies out there that contain real nutrition. Personally, I love cookies. I eat them, I bake them and I have seen numerous cookies in the store that are made with oatmeal, fruit and whole grains, stuff that is good for you.
The WhoNu? scam has not gone unnoticed. A blog posted by a New York law firm asks that anyone who has “been harmed by WhoNu? Cookies” contact it, further noting that, “Even if WhoNu? cookies are indeed ‘nutrition rich,’ they nevertheless cause a concern that consumers will believe that eating these cookies is a substitute for drinking milk, carrot juice or tomato juice, or eating spinach, blueberries, oatmeal, and cottage cheese. Indeed, it is likely that consumers will believe that if 3 cookies are healthy, then 6 cookies or 9 cookies must be even healthier.”
Recalling a ‘Robot’ that was ahead of its time
In other food identity theft news, The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit stating that General Mills made misleading comments to consumers concerning its Fruit Roll-Ups product. The complaint states that the product “…lacked significant amounts of real natural fruit, and had no dietary fiber.”
Also, a recent ruling by a California federal judge has allowed the case brought by American sugar farmers against “Big Corn” to go forward. The lawsuit states that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has engaged in false advertising. “As part of this effort the CRA has advertised that HFCS is ‘corn sugar,’ equated it with real sugar and called it natural – none of which is true,” the complaint states.
Last year the CRA submitted a petition asking the FDA to allow “corn sugar” to appear on food labels in place of HFCS. Not waiting for any response from the FDA, the CRA has gone ahead and engaged in a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to try and deceive folks and rebrand high fructose corn syrup so it becomes known as “corn sugar.”
There is still time to submit your comment to the FDA about this “corn sugar” name scam — and stay tuned for some interesting news about the comments sent into the agency about it.
All of this talk about food identity theft has put me in mind of my favorite TV shows as a kid, “Lost in Space.” It was a kitschy ’60s sci-fi drama revolving around the Robinson family and crew (including the first robot I had ever seen) attempting to return to Earth after a failed attempt to colonize a distant planet. On several occasions the Robinsons thought they had made it back to Earth, only to be tipped off by something not quite right about the planet they had landed on. On one episode I remember the family was positive they had made it home, only to be warned “danger, danger” when Robot sensed the food they were being offered was not real “earth-grown” food but a fake concoction made by aliens.
Robot, where are you today?
Items found in the supermarket yesterday that have removed or contain no HFCS and say so on the packaging:
Posted by admin -- October 20, 2011
By James J. Gormley
Authenticity is very important to most people….and most countries. But authenticity is an idea that our U.S. government doesn’t seem to fully embrace.
When it comes to “consumer protection,” the laws and regulations tend to favor corporations instead of consumers. That’s one reason why so many of us spend way too much time standing in grocery store aisles reading food package labels.
According to Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), “Falsely describing, advertising or presenting food is an offence, and there are a number of laws that help protect consumers against dishonest labeling and misdescription.”
The FSA also says: “Food authenticity is all about whether a food matches its description. If food is misdescribed, not only is the consumer being deceived, but it can also create unfair competition with the honest manufacturer or trader.”
This U.K. agency actually has a surveillance program devoted to food authenticity in which the agency carries out spot checks on foods to uncover and weed out adulteration and “misdescription.”
I don’t find the term “food authenticity” anywhere on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) labyrinthian website. And although I have not always been a fan of the U.K. FSA’s positions, I really do like their active, and meaningful, use of this concept and of this term for regulatory review and enforcement, and I think our FDA should consider adopting this term.
There is a message here for U.S. regulators in encouraging the FDA to expedite its decision to deny the petition from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to mislabel the ingredient high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “corn sugar.”
U.K. FSA. Understanding Food Labeling Rules. Available at: http://www.food.gov.uk/scotland/regsscotland/ull/ Last accessed: October 13, 2011.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 18, 2011
If it sometimes seems that the campaign to keep our food safe to eat is an uphill battle, imagine what it must have been like at the beginning of the last century.
The fact that we now have a set of legal standards regarding food safety, no matter how imperfect it might be, is due to the efforts of one man who was born 167 years ago today, Oct. 18. That man was Harvey Washington Wiley, known as the “father of the FDA,” a chemist who did not suffer food adulteration gladly.
It was Dr. Wiley who first put a stop to some of the more rampant abuses in U.S. food production. As chief of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Chemistry (which in 1930 evolved into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) for nearly 30 years, from 1883 to 1912, Wiley led the crusade that spurred Congress to legislate on behalf of America’s consumers, and through his knowledge, newsworthiness and persistence, maneuvered the Pure Food and Drug Act into becoming law in June of 1906. This landmark legislation marked the first time the federal government officially became the watchdog for the American consumer.
Wiley based many of his findings on experiments that were perhaps a bit more germane than today’s reliance on laboratory rats. His test animals were humans – Department of Agriculture volunteers who agreed to let Wiley monitor their consumption of a variety of additives over a five-year period. What Wiley concluded after carefully observing the reactions among those who became known as his “Poison Squad” was that many of the components of the American diet were downright dangerous. Possessing considerable skill as both writer and orator, Wiley was then able to use the results of his research as a springboard for political action by arousing public sentiment against the makers of adulterated food.
A law, of course, is only as good as its enforcement. Like so many other legislative victories, the passage of the Pure Food Law of 1906 was only a beginning. It wasn’t long before Wiley and its other supporters found themselves engaged in a uphill battle with those intent on weakening this particular law’s clout.
He chronicled this battle in 1930, by authoring The history of a crime against the food law; the amazing story of the national food and drugs law intended to protect the health of the people perverted to protect adulteration of foods and drugs.
I wonder what Wiley would think of today’s FDA and a marketplace filled with test-tube additives or altered forms of food that he probably could never have even imagined.
Some of Wiley’s earliest work involved honey adulteration and syrup mislabeling. And of the many food and drug items that have come out of the laboratory ‘after his time,’ I have a feeling one which would both intrigue and concern him would be high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a laboratory concoction conjured out of corn starch, and the sneaky and expensive $50 million campaign being run by the Corn Refiners Association to change its name and have the public think it’s “corn sugar.”
So in honor of Dr. Wiley’s birthday, take a few moments today and send your comments to the FDA about this name change scam for HFCS. We consumers are not “confused” at all by calling it HFCS. That’s what it’s been called since its invention, and that’s what it should stay named.
Let’s tell the FDA , as Dr. Wiley put it more than a century ago, that “the right of the consumer is the first thing to be considered.”
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 13, 2011
Yesterday my little neighbor Jonah announced that he had a “great” day at pre-school. “Why was it great?” I asked.
“I didn’t cry,” he replied.
I thought of Jonah and his “great” day while in the supermarket this morning, where I met a woman who was having anything but. Frustrated to the
point of tears after several pairs of glasses had proven useless to the task, she asked if I could be of help in reading some food labels — and in doing so sent me spinning into the the weird world of whole wheat and whole grains.
I know, not being experienced in this whole grain, whole wheat issue may sound funny to some, but when it comes to baked goods – bread, cookies, biscuits, I tend to make my own (baking bread in a machine these days is as easy as making instant potatoes – okay, that was the first example I could think of). So helping a fellow-explorer along in the game of “what is whole grain?” was an eye-opener – with or without glasses.
Finding bread and other bakery goods with “whole grains” sounds like a no-brainer, but due to highly confusing and false labeling, it’s a much like a maze. In 2002 the Whole Grains Council (WGC) was formed, described as a “nonprofit consumer advocacy group” which is devoted to that very issue.
Okay, we all know by now that whole grains are good for us and we need to eat more –in fact, “at least half our grains (should be) whole grains,” according to the WGC website. But what are they and what foods provide them? Here’s what the WGC advises:
“If the first ingredient listed contains the word ‘whole’ (such as ‘whole wheat flour’ or ‘whole oats’), it is likely – but not guaranteed – that the product is predominantly whole grain. If there are two grain ingredients and only the second ingredient listed is a whole grain, the product may contain as little as one percent or as much as 49 percent whole grain.” (in other words, it could be nearly ‘half whole’ or just a smidgen.)
“Whole grains,” the council notes, “include grains like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye – when these foods are eaten in their ‘whole’ form.” The world “whole” is the key here, and it’s also the area where food labels are most deceiving.
According to the WGC, when you see the words “enriched flour, bran and wheat germ (as well as the term ‘degerminated’ on corn meal) you are not seeing whole-grain foods. Terms such as “whole wheat, stoneground, brown rice and oats,” are whole-grain, containing all the nutrients of the grains used.
But here’s where it gets really tricky for the shopper. Some foods will be labeled “contains,” or “made with” whole grain, and some will use the term “wheat,” leading us to believe it’s “whole wheat” (which provides whole grain) when in fact the first ingredient is just “enriched flour.” (In parenthesis it may say “wheat flour” or say “unbleached enriched wheat flour” but that is not a whole grain.)
Take Wheat Thins® for example. To begin with, using the term “wheat” in the product name may lead us to think “whole wheat,” and in fact the frustrated shopper I was helping today was totally convinced that the prominent use of the term “wheat” meant just that. Now several Wheat Thins products do start off with “whole grain wheat flour,” but some do not, just using plain old “enriched flour” as the predominant ingredient, and adding some whole-grain flour down on the list which gives us no hint as to what percentage of whole grains are in the product. All we know for sure is that non-whole grain enriched flour is the first ingredient.
Another trick is to say just how much whole grain is in the product on the packaging. While that may be very helpful, it can also be very misleading. For example, our Wheat Thins package (made with enriched flour) says on the front “5g Whole Grain per serving.” Wow, 5g! That must be great because it’s in such big letters on the package front. Well, folks, 5 grams ain’t nothing. Look a bit closer on the Wheat Thins package and it says we should be eating at least 48g per day and 16g per serving, meaning that even three servings of these crackers wouldn’t tally to the per serving minimums we should be consuming.
Other whole wheat-weary products include Keebler Toasteds® which say “Harvest Wheat” on the package front and also are predominantly refined “enriched flour,” with “whole grain wheat flour” listed down under the soybean oil; Breton® crackers “baked with the goodness of wheat…” but that wheat “goodness” is again enriched flour, with the whole wheat flour not appearing till after the sesame seeds and before the sugar, and Wheatsworth® which are called “stone ground wheat crackers” but start out with guess what – “enriched flour.” The “stone ground whole wheat flour” doesn’t appear till after the soybean oil and defatted wheat germ on the ingredient list.
Short of baking your own bread and crackers, which isn’t such a bad idea, if you’re looking for whole wheat and whole grains, you need to check bakery product ingredient lists carefully. The WGC says on its site that “over 40% of Americans never eat whole grains at all.” After what I saw today I can readily understand why.
We’ll have more to come on this issue. In the meantime, stay tuned for my food identity theft product of the month (it’s a doozy) and some fascinating facts about the “father” of the FDA (it’s always possible, after all, that you might find yourself on “Jeopardy” someday). And try not to let those misleading labels reduce you to tears.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 11, 2011
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to start by again reminding readers of this blog to be sure to take a few minutes and send the FDA your opinion on the high fructose corn syrup name change game. As I hope you know by now, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) submitted a petition last year asking the FDA to allow “Corn Sugar” to appear on food labels in place of HFCS. The CRA says we are “confused” by the name HFCS. In additional comments sent to the FDA this June, CRA president Audrae Erickson said, “The name ‘high fructose corn syrup’ elicits negative imagery, confuses consumers…and discourages consumption…”
Yes, HFCS does have a negative image. Millions of consumers are looking for it on labels, and not buying products containing HFCS. Big food companies have removed it from their products and are advertising the use of “real sugar.” Also correct is that the name HFCS “discourages consumption,” but that’s the point of a free market with truthful food labeling. People decide what they want to consume and what they want to avoid. You can’t just change the name of a food ingredient because folks don’t like it!
In a check today of the public submissions at the FDA website on this issue, there are still only 127 public submissions, the same number as when I looked in September. I am still waiting to hear from the FDA regarding how many more have come in since the last update, and when the next update will be, but have not received an answer yet.
While there, I noticed a submission to the docket from the CRA this July containing numerous supporting documents, one being the “Field Report High Fructose Corn Syrup Study,” which sounded kind of interesting. Thinking folks from the Corn Refiners Association hit the shopping malls, pad and pencil in hand, to ask our opinion on the matter, I took a look.
And the survey said…
Not quite as I had imagined, the CRA “field report” conducted by a company called Knowledge Networks for yet another company called the MSR Group, was your more typical type survey using phone calls (to both published and nonpublished numbers!) and mailed questionnaires. Described by Knowledge Networks as “a study examining different names for high fructose corn syrup…results of which will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration,” it examined “reactions to three names for high fructose corn syrup: corn sugar, corn sweetener and corn nectar.”
What I found most interesting in this particular study was the elimination of the “don’t know” option, that handy little circle to fill in with your pencil when you, uh, “don’t know.” But Knowledge Networks had an explanation for this little omission: that providing a “don’t know” option would allow some survey participants to use it as an easy way out, rather than “thinking of a valid response.”
Along with the rest of the supporting material from the CRA was a 97-page document analyzing and supporting the survey methods and results from “one of the most cited authors in marketing,” Dr. Jerry Wind. In fact, more than 90 of the pages are devoted to listing the credentials and accomplishments of Dr. Wind, which includes his many, many awards, his having obtained a Ph.D in Marketing, and having co-authored The Power of Impossible Thinking. But in the few pages that were left came these tidbits: The study is “based on consumers’ perceptions…and not on their knowledge” (see why the “don’t know” option was needed!); two of the products asked about (corn sweetener and corn nectar) were made up for the study purposes; and when folks in the study were given an actual definition of HFCS, over 30% said HFCS was the best name.
And talk about confusion: Dr. Wind, in describing the “rich set of findings” of the study said that all three of the “potential” names were thought to have “fewer calories” and less fructose “compared to high fructose corn syrup.”
As an old song put it, “Imagination is funny.”Especially when it’s the basis of a marketing survey submitted to the FDA.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 6, 2011
In the category of ‘you can’t make this stuff up,’ I stumbled across a posting by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) at its “Sweet Surprise” site. On a
page titled “School Nutrition” the CRA has created a “sample January middle school lunch menu” showing that without HFCS, the kids would have 67% less food to eat.
Not only would children on such a menu be deprived of chicken, rice, hamburgers and fish, it looks like some of the only things left to eat in a world without HFCS would be some hummus, fresh fruit, green beans and, interestingly, corn (which contains no fructose naturally – the fructose in HFCS is conjured up from corn starch using a complex process). But the CRA chart seems to confirm what many HFCS critics have been saying: that consuming HFCS in “moderation” is next to impossible.
But some of that HFCS would have been eliminated from school lunches under April specifications for the School Lunch Program issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requiring that some canned fruits and vegetables contain only sugar-sweetened syrups. The mandate, in effect, prohibited corn-based sweeteners such as HFCS in these items. (The USDA purchases foods (commodities) in bulk for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which participating schools can purchase with state funds. The NSLP allows schoolchildren to receive low- or no-cost midday meals).
USDA does a turnabout on HFCS and some school lunch foods
In response to an inquiry I made with the USDA, however, a spokesman for that agency told me just today that the agency is revising its commodity specifications this month to include the allowance of “light” HFCS in certain canned fruits and vegetables. The agency’s apparent change of heart came after representatives of the corn industry voiced their concerns to agency officials.
Corn growers and corn trade associations were alarmed by the April ‘sugar only’ specification, with the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) sending folks to meet with USDA officials and issuing a news letter saying that the USDA is “(banning) the use of high fructose corn syrup in the nation’s school lunch program.”
According to an ICGA spokeswoman, the group was asking the USDA to “reconsider” its decision, and apparently the agency did just that.
A USDA spokesman told me today that it was “brought to our attention” that HFCS is commercially available in “extra light” syrups, and that a new commodity specification would be issued this month removing the ‘sugar only’ requirement. He was unable to say if issuing a second specification for these items in the same year was unusual or not.
The “official” USDA School Lunch Program has been around since 1946.
HFCS officially out of these locations
Numerous food-related companies have taken the lead in removing HFCS from products, restaurants and stores You won’t find any HFCS at Whole Foods Markets, Starbucks and Jason’s Deli, to name just a few. See more on our “Good Guys” page.
I will give the Iowa Corn Growers Association credit, however, for NOT referring to HFCS as “corn sugar,” a misleading and false moniker that the Corn Refiners Association is trying to work into our vocabulary.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 4, 2011
In its latest attempt to “clear up confusion” the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has again let us know just how much confusion they are causing.
Found today on the home page of the CRA’s cornsugar.com website is this statement:
“The term ‘corn sugar’ today is an FDA approved alternate label name for dextrose, a corn-based sweetener that contains no fructose. When we use the phrase ‘corn sugar,’ we are using it to describe high fructose corn syrup as a form of sugar made from corn.”
Let’s look at what they are saying; When anyone else (including the FDA) uses the term “corn sugar” they are referring to dextrose (also called glucose), a product that contains NO fructose. But when the CRA says “corn sugar” they mean HFCS, a different product entirely, one that HAS fructose. Sorry, CRA, I think you guys need to go back to the drawing board on that one.
The CRA’s message, while appearing to be baffling, is no doubt a carefully constructed statement analyzed by many within the organization – possibly in response to the Associated Press releasing documents from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the trade group to refrain from using “corn sugar” in place of high fructose corn syrup.
Last month, the AP released a July letter from the FDA to the Corn Refiners Association revealing that the agency had asked the CRA to “…reexamine your websites and modify statements that use the term ‘corn sugar’ as a synonym for (high fructose corn syrup).”
The story also quoted an email from Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association to the AP saying,”We do not believe that anyone could be confused or believe that the statements regarding `corn sugar’ on the websites refer to anything other than high fructose corn syrup.”
As the CRA is not technically “selling” a product, but is an industry trade group, it appears to believe the FDA does not have enforcement control over its activities, however, some legal authorities think that the FDA, or more likely the Federal Trade Commission, probably has authority to prohibit misleading statements on the CRA site. The FDA can, and has, gone after companies that manufacture food products for misbranding, and according to the AP story “….the FDA may launch enforcement action against food companies listing high fructose corn syrup as ‘corn sugar’.”
As hard as the Corn Refiners Association might might try, there’s just no way it can manage to sugar coat the confusion and contradictions inherent in its attempts to turn High Fructose Corn Syrup into something it’s not.
Items found in the supermarket yesterday that have removed or contain no HFCS and say so on the packaging: