Archive for November, 2011

‘Natural’ not necessarily what nature intended

Posted by -- November 29, 2011

Oh boy, all natural! But what does it mean?

Back in September I wrote about food labeling confusion over the simple word “fresh.”

But there’s another popular term used on food packages and labels, and this one is apparently so difficult to define, so amazingly confusing that it has confounded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a very long time. The word is “natural.” Yes, natural, as in “all-natural ingredients” or “natural flavors.” While the FDA doesn’t like to talk about “natural,” food companies sure do. Probably the “natural” claim is one you will notice more than any other. But what does it mean?

It’s only natural, I suppose, that The FDA has resisted providing a clear answer to that question, given all the products that might be affected. In fact, the agency comes right out and says that natural is “difficult” to define, and specifically that “…the FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

With that non-definition, the FDA has kept open the floodgates of misleading food claims that use valuable packaging “real estate” to sell you products described as, well, “natural.”

Author and blogger Bruce Bradley, who spent over 15 years marketing for giants such as General Mills and Nabisco, and now blogs about food industry deception, cites numerous examples of bogus “natural” claims in his blog series “All Natural…Really?”

Bradley says, “There is no FDA definition of ‘Natural,’ and in that vacuum, processed food companies have filled the void with their own, self-serving interpretations.”

One of his examples is high fructose corn syrup.

“The truth is,” Bradley writes, “HFCS is anything but natural…the result of an extraordinarily intensive process involving a series of enzymatic and chemical reactions. In fact, as one pro-HFCS group states, ‘the corn undergoes so much processing, and the products of the processes are so removed from corn that there is no detectable corn DNA present in HFCS.’”

In an interesting analysis of one of the Corn Refiners Association’s (CRA) corn maze commercials for HFCS, Bradley notes the use of the term “sugar is sugar,” saying, “by the end of the ad, the CRA has pulled their sleight of hand and renamed HFCS ‘corn sugar.’”

“Corn sugar,” is the less-maligned name that the CRA has set their sights on as the new moniker for HFCS, petitioning the FDA to okay the switch last year.

Is “natural” that hard to define? The USDA apparently didn’t think so, and has ruled that poultry and meat can be labeled “natural” only if it is minimally processed without any coloring, flavorings, preservatives or additives. “Naturally raised” must mean no growth promoters, antibiotics, animal by-products or fish by-products.

If the USDA can say what “natural” is, why can’t the FDA?

That’s a question not only consumers are asking, but manufacturers as well. An article on an industry trade pub web site, foodnavigator-usa.com, says that “A coordinated industry-led effort to produce a working definition of the term ‘natural’ on food packaging would help firms navigate one of the most contentious areas of food marketing, according to one labeling expert.”

Consumer legal action challenging foods hyped as natural include the Kellogg’s-owned Kashi products, two class-action lawsuits against ConAgra for it Wesson cooking oil brand, Snapple, for its use of HFCS (currently removed from Snapple products), and most recently a California woman’s complaint against King Arthur Flour. A recent report by the Cornucopia Institute titled Cereal Crimes: How ‘natural’ claims deceive consumers… stated, “The term ‘natural’ in many instances, constitutes meaningless marketing hype promoted by corporate interests seeking to cash in on the consumer’s desire for food produced in a genuinely healthy and sustainable manner.”

With all the confusion surrounding the “natural” claim, it looks like there is one group that’s happy with the status quo. Surprise, surprise — it’s the Corn Refiners Association! In a 2006 letter to the FDA in response to a petition from the Sugar Association asking the agency to define the term “natural” for FDA-regulated foods, the CRA said; “FDA has clearly articulated…a reasonable and reliable policy for ‘natural’ claims…consistent with consumer expectations…

This is the same CRA that claims consumers are “confused” about HFCS, and therefor the name of this chemical concoction needs a change to “corn sugar.” (Give the FDA your opinion on this name-switch by clicking here).

Until such time in the distant future when the FDA decides to make a rule differentiating truly natural foods from those which are unnatural, your best bet is to keep on reading labels. If an ingredient doesn’t sound natural to you, it most likely isn’t.

 

Happy Thanksgiving from the gang at FoodIdentityTheft.com!

Posted by -- November 24, 2011

We hope your holiday meal was free from fake foods, ersatz ingredients, and chemical concoctions you might not have planned to use, but that somehow found their way into your shopping cart due to misleading claims and fancy packaging.

Since our site launched this September, we’ve been buoyed by your support and interest in our Facebook page and excited to see how many folks are following Food Identity Theft at twitter.

Hopefully what you’ve learned so far has helped keep phony blueberry products, fake “fresh” tomato sauce and disingenuous “no” MSG” foods out of your kitchen.

Stay tuned throughout the holiday season and into the new year for more insight into the hazy and sometimes crazy world of food labeling. We will be featuring (and I will be blogging on) some new tales and cautions, including:

  • Holiday treats best left on the shelf, or how to pick fun foods for the holidays that are Santa-worthy.
  • The 2012 Label Reading Revolution, which we hope will help you make one of your resolutions in 2012 to pay more attention to food labeling. (We’ll help you navigate through the fine print.)
  • The Great Refrigerator Challenge; also known as, “how the heck did all this stuff I didn’t want get in my fridge?” Inspired by a true story.
  • The Whole Grain Claim to Fame, and why so many products that tout “whole grains” are misleading you.
  • More on “No MSG” ripoffs – or why you can’t rely on packaging claims If you’re trying to eliminate monosodium glutamate from your diet.
  • When the “zero trans fats” nutritional label doesn’t mean zero at all.

Thanks for your interest and support, — and get ready for the next phase of our journey into the elusive and sometimes bizarro world of foods that aren’t really what they appear to be!

‘Vegetable’ or not, school-lunch pizza still chemical-laden

Posted by -- November 22, 2011

Take a look at what a typical school lunch consists of... in Japan.

Back in October I told you about what happened when the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to prohibit high fructose corn syrup in some canned fruits and vegetables bound for the federal School Lunch Program. Corn growers and corn trade groups rallied to the cause and arranged a meeting with UDSA representatives, after which the agency did a turnabout and allowed corn sweeteners back on the menu.

But the corn folks aren’t the only ones to show  how effective industry can be when it comes to  keeping federally subsidized school lunches not only as sweet but generally unhealthy as they currently are.

Early last week, Congress voted against proposed new USDA guidelines, the purported purpose of which was to improve the nutritional quality of the fare kids are served under the program by calling for things like lower sodium and starch content and increased amounts and varieties of fruits and vegetables.  The proposal had raised the hackles of such industry lobbies as the National Potato Council and the American Frozen Food Institute,  as well as makers of frozen pizzas, French fries and other school-bound processed foods.

Among the policies that  won’t be subject to change is the ‘eighth of a cup of tomato paste counts as a vegetable rule.’ (Translation: a slice of pizza is the equivalent of a full serving of vegetables.) While the rule is nothing new, the resulting debate over  pizza being considered a vegetable has become fodder for commentators and comedians alike (e.g. Mark Russell’s comment,“no dessert until you finish your tomato paste”).

Helping to sink the new guidelines were objections raised by many farm-state legislators, including  most of the congressional delegation from Minnesota, home to big-time school pizza supplier, Schwan Food Co. In fact, the response from Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “mirrored and sometimes duplicated” what came from Schwan and other pizza interests in objecting to the new rule.

Also questioning the proposed changes was her Senate colleague and fellow Democrat, Al Franken, who wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack at the beginning of the month expressing concerns about their lack of specificity “Because this change could dramatically affect how food manufacturers produce certain products, such as pizza, and the way these products taste, I would ask that you clarify the scientific basis of this proposed change in tomato paste and puree crediting,” Franken noted.

Where the real lunchroom problem lurks

But perhaps what was really amiss with this supposedly well-intentioned plan, however, was the fact that it didn’t go nearly far enough in affecting “how food manufacturers produce certain products.”

To illustrate what I’m talking about, consider just a few of the ingredients in a Con-Agra pepperoni pizza described as a “traditional 4×6 school pizza”:

bleached wheat flour, sodium aluminum sulfate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, casein, milk protein concentrate, textured vegetable protein product, natural smoke flavor,  BHA, BHT,  sodium nitrite, propylene glycol (anticaking), and FD&C red #3.

In other words, a stew of unhealthy ingredients that includes artery-clogging trans fat; chemical preservatives, artificial color, and several ingredients that are likely to be disguised sources of MSG.

Huffington Post blogger Kristin Wartman hit the nail on the head by  pointing out  that the “chemical concoction” made for school lunches by ConAgra  “isn’t even pizza, much less a vegetable.” She also makes an interesting point about why kids often seem to toss  better offerings while sucking up the chemical foods, which bears repeating:

“So, the real question is, why do children want pizza, potatoes and pasta while vehemently eschewing green vegetables, beans and whole grains? This hasn’t always been the case. Keep in mind that industrial food as it exists today has only been around for roughly 60 years. Much of what we take as the truth about what kinds of food kids love and hate is largely dictated by the food industry itself. The idea that kids won’t eat vegetables is a construct invented by the food industry and reinforced by well-meaning parents, school lunch programs and government officials.

Herein lies the brilliance of the food industry — not only has it created a myriad of products but it also created the idea that children want industrial food products above all else. While most Americans have bought into this notion, it’s simply not true. Children 100 years ago couldn’t have possibly eaten the industrial foods they are eating today. But listening to parents and children now, you’d be convinced that they will only eat industrial foods.”

I couldn’t agree more. In Chemical-Free Kids, a book I co-authored several years ago, we referred to the fast food culture as the “commercial body snatchers.” Producing a kid-appropriate lunch that kids actually are willing to eat shouldn’t be such a difficult task. But the fact is that kids who have gotten into the habit of consuming ersatz, oversalted, overflavored, oversweetened foods fairly regularly develop a taste for them.

Then again, one could hardly expect The USDA, a long-time defender of the agricultural status quo, to come up with a proposal that would really address the source of the unhealthy nature of the foods kids are ingesting, both inside and outside of the school lunchroom.

Some tips for a ‘real’ Thanksgiving dinner
With only two days to go before the first feast of the holiday season, be sure to read my Thanksgiving tips blog for easy, do-able suggestions to help keep your holiday meal from becoming a chemical feast.

Petition to sugar-coat HFCS hits sour note with Senate’s only farmer

Posted by -- November 17, 2011

The escalating number of objections to the proposal to rebrand high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “corn sugar” received by the Food and Drug Administration now includes one from the “only active farmer” currently serving in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg at the beginning of the month to go on record as opposing the proposed name switch. Tester pointed out that HFCS isn’t sugar, and that calling the ingredient by another name would “confuse consumers” and “adversely impact farmers.”

In his letter, the senator noted that, “Years ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in response to a request from the corn refiners, established through regulation the longstanding name for this product, ‘high fructose corn syrup’. It is the name by which consumers now identify HFCS as an ingredient in foods. Conversely, for hundreds of years ‘sugar’ has been known to the public as the product of sugar beets or sugar cane, technically ‘sucrose.’ ‘We are concerned that if FDA were to allow companies to change the name of HFCS to ‘corn sugar’ on food labels, it would confuse consumers and mislead them into thinking that their food contains a different ingredient.” The letter also recommended that the FDA should follow a “science-based process” to protect consumers.”

Tester has now joined several thousand other consumers and health professionals who have written to the FDA in opposition to the 2010 petition from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to rename HFCS.

As I have been reporting on here at Food Identity Theft, the FDA docket (which posts submitted comments and documents), for this CRA petition was stuck at 127 public submissions for the longest time.

Then, at the end of October, after sending numerous e-mails to my FDA contact, I was told there had been over 3,398 comments submitted. At that same time, the number of posted comments started rising. Currently, the FDA finally got around to posting 411 public submissions, the vast majority of which are flat out against the name change. The  following postings are typical of some of the latest online at the FDA:

“The tricky idea set forth by the corn refiners is a sham out to trick the American public into thinking HFCS is good, or just confusing the general population. The FDA needs to act in best interest of the people of the US, not the corporations of the US. The FDA needs to stand up and do their job and protect the people of the US…. “

“Studies show that despite the commercials sponsored by the corn industry, HFCS is not the same as sugar, and it should therefore not have the same name.”

To those who know what the CRA is attempting to do, it’s obvious that this is nothing more than a marketing scam, Many who don’t, however, would probably have no idea what the term“corn sugar” really means, even if they’re trying to avoid HFCS.

Health risk of name change also stressed

In a recent survey conducted by the Sugar Association, half of the folks who were asked didn’t realize that a label showing “corn sugar” could contain HFCS. The survey also pointed out that such a name change could pose life-threatening risks to people with fructose intolerance and endanger those with fructose malabsorption.

That particular danger was emphasized in one of the comments I saw at the FDA docket:

“My daughter is fructose intolerant and cannot in any way, shape, or form have high fructose corn syrup. To change the labeling to corn sugar is misleading. There are thousands upon thousands of people against the use of high fructose corn syrup in foods. Why do you think so many manufacturers are now taking it OUT of their foods. If my daughter had not been diagnosed when she was she could have gone into organ failure and died. I am sick and tired of the Corn Growers Association thinking they can get away with telling half truths about high fructose corn syrup.”

Meanwhile, the Corn Refiners Association, not wanting to miss a media minute in which to deliver their “corn sugar” spiel, responded almost immediately, calling the report a “shopping mall survey” that is misleading consumers. Now, as it happens, the CRA did its own little survey a while back, which I reported on in an October blog. This particular “study” measured responses to both the “corn sugar” moniker and two other made-up names, and came to some interesting conclusions, one of which is that when the people being surveyed were given an actual definition of HFCS, over 30 percent said the best name for it is what it is called now – high fructose corn syrup!

Be sure to give the FDA your opinion on this HFCS name game by clicking here.

A Tale of Two Honeys

Posted by -- November 15, 2011

By James J. Gormley

According to tests conducted for Food Safety News, over 75 percent of the “honey” sold in U.S. grocery stores … isn’t.

Findings showed that the pollen is typically filtered out, this despite the fact that the food safety arms of the European Commission, the World Health Organization and other bodies have “ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.”

Ultra-filtration is a synthetic process which involves heating honey, sometimes watering it down, and then shooting it through filters using high pressure to remove the pollen.

According to Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association (AHPA) in an interview with Food Identity Theft:

“The honey that is ultra-filtered is often synthetically produced, put in huge vats and trans-shipped so that certain countries, like China, can avoid anti-dumping laws and tariffs, by shipping to another country as an intermediary, such as India. Without the pollen, you don’t know where it came from, so anything can be put on the label.”

Jensen told Food Safety News that it is “pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” via the trans-shipping practice known as “honey laundering.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not seen fit to establish an official standard of identity for honey, despite the fact that occasional inspections have uncovered Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol, a powerful veterinary antibiotic that can cause permanent bone marrow and liver damage in humans.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is one of more than 20 U.S. senators and members of Congress of both parties who have repeatedly asked the FDA to create a federal “pure honey” standard, but to date these requests have fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, the best bet for consumers is to seek out honey at health food stores, farmers markets, food co-ops and stores such as Trader Joe’s, one of the few stores which passed the testing with flying colors: its honey is actually honey!

Keep Thanksgiving Dinner from turning into a ‘Chemical Feast’

Posted by -- November 10, 2011

Fresh cranberries, sugar and water, cook up fast to make a delicious sauce.

It’s that time of year again when our minds are filled with visions of a bountiful Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and friends enjoying the first feast of the holidays.

Here at Food Identity Theft, we’d like to help you avoid turning your holiday celebration into a chemical feast.

First and foremost, our eyes need to focus on food labels, lest we end up filling our shopping carts with a mind-blowing medley of unnatural ingredients in everything from the soup to the pumpkin pie.

The problem is the short cuts we’re prone to take, encouraged by all those commercials. Many of the components of what we might consider a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal have labels that read like a rogue’s gallery of culinary culprits, starting with:

The Salad

How can a simple bowl of greens and veggies go south so quickly? Look no further than the dressing. Kraft Free Thousand Island Dressing is an example of chemical lab in bottle. For $4.89 you get High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, two preservatives, maltodextrin (an ingredient containing MSG) and natural flavor (which might include more MSG).

A much better choice is Annie’s Naturals Organic Thousand Island Dressing. It is made from real organic food ingredients: whole egg, onion, apple cider vinegar and tomato paste.

Pass the Rolls please

There is no excuse for bread or rolls with an ingredient label long enough to run down the entire side of the package. Bread basically consists of four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.  But take a look at the ever-popular Pillsbury Crescent Rolls and you’ll find hydrogenated oil, artificial flavor, TBHQ (a preservative) and “Yellow 5”. No wonder the Pillsbury Dough Boy is laughing at us.

Healthier alternatives are easy to find. Just about every supermarket has a bakery department where you can find rolls, breads and baked goods made with more wholesome and familiar ingredients.  Just be sure to read the label!

How about some Cranberry Sauce?

Homemade cranberry sauce is amazingly easy to make: fresh cranberries, sugar and water, cooked in a pot make a quick and delicious holiday dish.  Still, some of us prefer the canned variety. But if you buy Ocean Spray “Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce” ($2.49 at many stores) you will also be buying a whole lot of High Fructose Corn Syrup, with some additional corn syrup thrown in. Fresh cranberries sell for the same amount or less. Or, a can of Whole Foods 365 Organic Cranberry Sauce (50 cents cheaper in our location)  is made with organic sugar and lemon juice.

Oh boy, Stuffing!

We’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like stuffing. Sometimes it’s even more popular than the turkey itself. Stuffing can be a delicious side dish with an amazing array of variations. It basically consists of bread (or corn bread), herbs and seasonings. Variations can include celery, rice, eggs, fruits, even oysters.

So how is it possible that such a simple and delightful dish could morph into a chemical creation like Stove Top Stuffing Mix? Kraft should be credited for fitting so many noxious ingredients into one small box: processed flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, numerous preservatives, including BHA and BHT, and more ingredients containing MSG. This product is an insult to the turkey and to the whole idea of Thanksgiving as a “traditional” feast.

A bag of real stuffing mix can be found in most stores. For example, Baron’s Traditional Herb Stuffing Mix, while it’s not made from whole grain flour, does have normal food ingredients such as bread, onions, sage, rosemary and celery. There are also organic options at Whole Foods Markets or most natural food stores, or you can make your own. Many delicious and easy-to-make stuffing recipes can be found online.

Green Beans are good for you, right?

Absolutely. It’s what we do to them that turns green beans into the chemical-laden concoction known as “Green Bean Casserole.”

The problem with this popular side dish  is one of its main ingredients, cream of mushroom soup, which can be a hotbed of bad ingredients, including monosodium glutamate and numerous other ingredients that contain the culprit Manufactured Glutamic Acid (yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, and soy protein concentrate, to name a few).

But there are prepared mushroom soups with decent ingredients, for example Imagine Creamy Portabello Mushroom Soup. Or you can skip all the fuss and simply steam your green beans and top them with toasted almonds and butter. Simple is good.

Finally, the Turkey is done!

Ah, the turkey. The iconic Norman Rockwell painting comes to life as the featured player of our feast. But be on the lookout when shopping for your holiday bird and avoid anything labeled “Deep Basted,” or any similar description.  “Deep Basted” means the turkey was injected with numerous chemical flavor enhancers and other noxious substances.

What’s Thanksgiving without Pumpkin Pie?

It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but not all pies are created equal. If you’ve opted for a frozen pie, read those ingredients! The list typically goes downhill right after the first one — pumpkin. From there you can often find High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial flavors and colors–and hydrogenated oils in the crust.

The solution: either a bakery pie with good ingredients (which some, but not all bakeries use) or an old-fashioned homemade pie. Making a pumpkin pie is pretty simple; the stores are filled with canned pumpkin which should contain one ingredient only–pureed pumpkin. If you buy canned pumpkin pie mix (which also contains a sweetener and spices), be sure it doesn’t have High Fructose Corn Syrup and check for ingredients that actually belong in a pumpkin pie, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. For the crust you can buy a ready-made pie shell with decent ingredients, or use a graham-cracker crust ready to fill, a good one is from Arrowhead Mills.

We wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday dinner. Stay tuned for the scoop on holiday cookies and treats in an upcoming blog.

So how much fructose does HFCS contain? More than you thought, one study claims

Posted by -- November 8, 2011

The multi-million-dollar message from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) says that  “Contrary to its name, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not high in fructose,” which is why, they say, it needs a name change. But what does that actually mean?

Ask the corn refiners, and they probably will tell you how “similar” it is to cane or beet sugar, and that “…high fructose corn syrup has either 42% or 55% fructose.” But it’s not exactly that simple, or quite possibly even correct.

Enter Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. It should come as no surprise that Dr. Goran and his team at the CORC are interested in obesity and diabetes, and also “especially the effects of fructose.”

“The problem is,” Dr. Goran told me in an interview last week, “we don’t know how much fructose people are consuming because it’s just not in any of the nutrition databases. All the (nutrition) labels say is just ‘sugar’…and sugar is a very broad term.

“The only information we have is that industry says sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent of the sugar is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes,” he said. “So we decided we wanted to actually verify, measure the fructose content so we could get a better handle on how much fructose people were actually consuming every time they open a can of soda. We purchased the most popular drinks and we sent them off to an independent laboratory for analysis.”

The results of that analysis, published this past April in the journal Obesity, actually came as a “surprise” to Dr. Goran. Part of what the study found is that the HFCS used in several popular beverages are delivering a fructose ‘jolt’ much higher than commonly believed. Levels as high as 65 percent of the super-sweet fructose were found in the analyzed Coke, Pepsi and Sprite.

This is news, big news. The CRA, after all, has spent around 50-million dollars to convince the public that “sugar is sugar,” and that HFCS is just like cane or beet sugar, which is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.  Since, according to Dr. Goran, no one had ever done such a study before, I expected to find articles galore in response to it questioning the veracity of these “facts” from the CRA.

“It got a little bit of press, “ Dr. Goran noted. But he added, “it got a lot of attacks from the food and beverage industry who didn’t like the study and said it was flawed.”

One of the mentions Goran’s study received was from author and popular blogger Marion Nestle.

“I’ve been saying for ages that the sugar composition of HFCS is no different from that of table sugar…Oops,” she wrote in an October, 2010 blog at Food Politics, adding  “This study, if confirmed, means that this supposition may need some rethinking.”

“When she saw our paper she immediately blogged that this was a game changer,” said Goran. “Then she changed her blog, and she even got back to me and said I’ve done a bit of a U-turn with this. She took a much more middle-of-the-road stance. I thought, that’s weird.”

Another mention of Goran’s study came last October from The Public Health Advocacy Institute staff attorney Cara Wilking, who raised the possibility that the extra-high fructose levels in the soft drinks the study identified could constitute false and misleading food labeling, food adulteration and false and misleading advertising, being that HFCS is approved for a ratio of no more than 55 percent fructose for use in the food supply by the FDA.

Goran, who is currently conducting an expanded follow-up study (which will include infant formulas that contain HFCS), is not sold on the CRA’s concept that “sugar is sugar.”

“That’s what’s flawed,” he said. “What’s amazing to me is there are some very well-informed nutrition scientists who are saying ‘sugar is sugar’, I don’t understand that.”

Oh, and one other thing – according to Dr. Goran, the CRA proposed name change to “corn sugar” is flawed as well.

“One of my scientific mantras is to call it what it is,” he noted, and HFCS is a sweetener made from corn starch.”

*****

Be sure to give the FDA your opinion on this HFCS name game by clicking here.

A Sticky Problem

Posted by -- November 2, 2011

By James J. Gormley

Quick, take a guess: What’s the main thing missing from Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot and Fruit Gushers? Answer: fruit!

In an October 14 complaint from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed in a U.S. District Court in California, General Mills has been slapped with a proposed class action lawsuit for “misleading consumers about the nutritional and health qualities of its fruit snacks,” namely Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot and similar products.

Although the labels say these snacks are “fruit flavored,” “naturally flavored,” “a good source of vitamin C,” and low in calories, fat and gluten, according to the CSPI’s lawsuit, obscured on labels is the fact that the “so-called fruit snacks are mostly sugars (some from fruit concentrate and some from corn syrup), artificial additives and potentially harmful dyes.”

Some of the typical ingredients in these products are: partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil (trans fat anyone?); Red 40; Yellow 5; Yellow 6; Blue 1; and processed sweeteners. Not exactly whoesome nutrition.

In fact, Red 40 and Yellow 5 are made from petroleum and pose a whole range of unlabelled health risks, according to CSPI, including hyperactictivity and allergic reactions, in addition to being potentially carcinogenic. The British government and the European Union have already established regulations virtually eliminating the use of dyes such as these, not so the U.S. government.

“General Mills is basically dressing up a very cheap candy as if it were fruit and charging a premium for it,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner.

The complaint also says that the labeling of these products violates different state laws, including Minnesota’s Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and several California laws covering “misleading and deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices.

Any surprise that this is the same company that markets two of the unarguably least healthy kids’ cereals, Reese’s Puffs and Lucky Charms?

For General Mills’ part, it was quoted in Marketing Daily with this response to word of a suit, in part: “We stand behind our products — and we stand behind the accuracy of the labeling of those products.” Fortunately, CSPI and Citizens for Health are standing behind truth, accuracy and the health of our nation’s children.

And this is certainly not the first fake fruit story on which we have reported, to be sure; click here to read Linda Bonvie’s September 22nd post, entitled “If you are goingto make fake food, call it what it is”!

FDA deploys its criminal division to probe another ‘syrupy’ case of food identity theft

Posted by -- November 1, 2011

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been asked by the Corn Refiners Association to give its approval to food identity theft in the case of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),  the alleged identity theft of another type of syrup has become the basis of an FDA criminal probe.  The agency’s office of Criminal Investigation recently helped in the indictment of a Rhode Island man by a Vermont federal grand jury for selling “pure” maple syrup that contained not a trace of the sweet tree sap. The story doesn’t stop there. Hot off the heels of the indictment, a bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York would make selling fake maple syrup a felony that could land you up to five years in jail. The proposed bill, called M.A.P.L.E. – The Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement Act – also has the backing of Vermont’s two U.S. senators  Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, as well as Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins. Up to now, selling phony maple products posing as real ones has been considered merely a misdemeanor.

In related fake-maple news, Vermont, the state that produces the most maple syrup, took McDonald’s to task for its new fruit & maple oatmeal offering this past January, which – surprise, surprise — contains no real maple syrup. Violating the state’s law regarding the labeling of maple products, the case had an interesting conclusion; last February customers at McDonald’s locations in Vermont got the option of requesting 100 percent maple syrup or real sugar when they order the oatmeal item. Apparently no such luck if you visit a McDonald’s in another state. Of course, you can always BYOB of real maple syrup.

Keep the suggestions coming in!

The past few weeks, I’ve received lots of e-mail with great suggestions on new issues to address here at Food Identity Theft. In the coming months we will be targeting additional misleading and mislabeled food items, some of them from reader suggestions, so keep talking to us about what you notice in the supermarket that makes you think “food identity theft.”

On the “corn sugar” scam front, the FDA  posted more citizen comments last week from consumers outraged over the petition filed last year by the Corn Refiners Association to rebrand high fructose corn syrup with the name “corn sugar.”

As I reported last Thursday, consumer comments at the online FDA docket were holding at 127 for the longest time. Then, after much back and forth with my agency contact about consumer submissions (which last week totaled 3,398, he claimed), the online numbers started rising. A check today shows a total of 298 public submissions posted so far.

I’m still mining through the newly posted comments, and have yet to see one that is in favor of the sweeter-sounding name change. Here are some examples:

Please do not change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup. People are learning to buy food without HFCS, which is a good thing.

I am a consumer, and I have rights. I have to the right to know what is in my food, and I should be able to trust the labels that I read. Do not try to sneak high fructose corn syrup past me! I am boycotting all things corn until I know my food is safe from HFCS or Corn Sugar or whatever you want to call it. I know how to read labels and I am teaching my friends and family how to read them.

It would be good to think that re-naming HFCS to “corn sugar” would fool no one, but alas, it will, and that’s the intent of the Corn Refiners Assn. It’s pure spin, to put an innocent-sounding term to an unnatural substance…Because the public is finally becoming educated to the adverse effects of HFCS, the official response will be to christen it with a euphemism? If a move like that — outright intent to deceive — is not criminal, it should be. It’s driven by the profit motive, not human health. Please disallow this deceptive practice.

We hope you add your voice to the issue (if you haven’t already) to help convince the FDA to take this attempt at food identity theft as seriously as that involving maple syrup.