Archive for February, 2012

Five things the Corn Refiners want the food industry, and you, to believe

Posted by -- February 28, 2012

Two of the additives that more and more consumers are now attempting to avoid are also the ones most commonly found in a wide variety of processed foods – high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, and monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

Both of these unwelcome ingredients also have their own “trade associations,” groups comprised of member companies whose job it is to both promote and defend their use and do “damage control” by issuing press releases claiming that all is well whenever the media publicizes some study or report of adverse effects from their product.

The one representing  MSG is called “The Glutamate Association,” described as “…manufacturers, national marketers, and processed food users of glutamic acid and its salts, principally the flavor enhancer, monosodium glutamate (MSG),” and whose membership includes “many of the world’s largest food companies…”

For HFCS it’s the Corn Refiners Association (CRA). The CRA, based in Washington, D.C., is the national trade association that represents the ‘wet milling’ corn refining industry in the U.S. (Wet milling produces corn products such as animal feed, starch, and of course, high fructose corn syrup, whereas ‘dry milling’ produces products such as corn flakes, grits and meal.)

The CRA has been really busy for the past few years trying to promote and rebrand its ‘baby’, high fructose corn syrup, which has developed a really bad image problem. Sure you’ve seen the commercials and the cornfields and the folks who can’t remember why they don’t want to consume HFCS, but there’s another side to the CRA’s job. And that’s not to have any more food producers jump off the HFCS wagon and go back to using natural sugar as an ingredient.

To that end, the CRA has also produced ads, webcasts and ‘information’ campaigns designed to convince the food industry that consumers don’t really care if HFCS is in a product or not.

An example is a CRA webcast last December, ”The changing ingredient game: the business case for high fructose corn syrup,” sponsored by the trade publication Progressive Grocer, in which the goal was to provide manufactures with an “update” of  “the role HFCS can play in your future business decisions.” In other words, while the CRA is busy trying to convince consumers that HFCS is all perfectly natural and “fine in moderation” it’s also engaged in a campaign to sell food companies on the idea that those same consumers still love products sweetened with this laboratory concoction.

Here’s what the sales pitch consists of:

1. Consumers no longer care about ingredients.

In part one of the CRA presentation, “The new landscape ahead,” the group claims that “emphasis on ingredients” is so very “yesterday,” whereas today’s consumers only care about “total calories and nutrient groups.” For instance, it shows how the industry-created “Nutrition Keys” front of package labeling system idea (which appears to have been renamed “Fact up Front” some time ago)  is now switching the focus from ingredient labeling to nutrients and caloric content.

2. HFCS is “old news.”
Claiming that “the media tide has turned” and that HFCS is “not social media news” the CRA is trying get the food industry to believe that no one (aside from the CRA, of course) even cares enough to talk about it anymore. Well, I don’t know where the group gets the statistics it uses to support this allegation, but that’s not what I’m seeing. Take a trip around Facebook, especially Ivan Royster’s extremely popular “Ban of HFCS” page with over 210,000 “likes” and you’ll see an entirely different story.

3. Only “three percent” of consumers are deliberately avoiding HFCS.
According to another one of its statistical analysis studies – this one dating back to 2005 –  the “HFCS top-of-mind awareness” quota of consumers actually looking to avoid the test-tube sweetener is a mere three percent of the total, the conclusion being: “Net: few avoiding HFCS.” Really? Even if this ‘just believe it cause we say it’ claim were true seven years ago (which is itself a highly questionable presumption), it would have little relevance today, when consumers have become a lot savvier about the true nature of HFCS, and more determined than ever to eliminate it from their diet.

4. HFCS-free is a “very small consumer opportunity”
What that statement means is that despite more and more mega-companies reformulating and slapping “No HFCS” on their labels, the CRA has concluded, thanks to its magnificent statistical number crunching, that removing HFCS from a product won’t help sales one bit. So why bother going to all the trouble and expense involved? (As if large companies just make such changes in their products capriciously, without doing their own marketing research.)

5. HFCS is really “corn sugar”
Now if the CRA has a “happy place” dreaming about transforming HFCS into “corn sugar” is where it’s at. Hence its 2010 petition, filed with the Food and Drug Administration to have the  name “high fructose corn syrup” officially changed to “corn sugar.” So why,  if for the vast majority of shoppers, ‘HFCS-free’ is not an important purchase decision factor,” as the corn refiners claim, do they still want to get rid of the name. If it’s not a big deal to consumers, why go to all that bother?

Because the fact is that, despite such soothing ‘sweet talk’ from the CRA to its customers in industry, in reality it is a big deal.  And that’s why they are so intent on having it masquerade as “corn sugar.”

Again consumers are seeing what’s going on here, and they are responding. With well over 4,000 public comments sent to the FDA about that petition, and over 1,800 posted online, it’s obvious consumers care very much what’s in their food.

You can still add your voice to the “corn sugar” issue by clicking here and giving your opinion to the FDA. Every consumer comment counts!

Linda Bonvie – FoodIdentitytheft.com

Is ‘zero trans fats’ just a rounded number?

Posted by -- February 23, 2012

You see it listed under the “Nutrition Facts” on processed foods all the time – Trans Fat 0g.  Which means the product involved contains zero artery-clogging trans fats, right?

Well, not necessarily.

According to the way the Food and Drug Administration rules are now written, a product may actually be a source of  trans fat and still be able to claim it has none – as long as the amount is under 0.5 grams per serving. Think of it as a loophole for trans fats to sneak into places which are supposedly free of them.

So let’s say that you eat three servings of different foods that contain only 0.4 grams of trans fats.  You would actually have consumed well over a gram, even though you might think you’ve eaten none (and be congratulating yourself for how heart-health-conscience you are).

Of course, there is a much more reliable way of ensuring that you keep this cumulative artery-and-heart hazard out of your diet. Simply do what we always advise, and check the actual ingredients.  If they list any kind of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, bingo! – there’s trans fat in the product, despite any “Nutrition Facts” claim to the contrary.

Take Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies, a kid breakfast favorite.  There’s the reassuring “Trans Fat 0g” on the side of the box. But look further down, and under ingredients, you’ll see “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed)” And that’s what tells you it’s in there after all.

Another example:  Pepperidge Farm Milano Double Chocolate “distinctive cookies.”  A premium brand, right? – and one that we might tend to think is better than others, especially when we see Trans Fat 0g inside its Nutrition Facts panel. But wait – at the bottom, we see that among the things it’s made from are “vegetable oils (palm and/or interesterified and hydrogenated soybean and/or hydrogenated cottonseed).”

Interesterification is a mixture of fully hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils that was found in early studies to actually depress levels of the “good cholesterol” HDL even more than trans fats, as well as raising blood glucose levels and depressing those of insulin, both of which raise the likelihood of diabetes.

The bottom line is: you need to read the bottom line, or lines, and not just the ones on top.  Because they’re the ones that tell you what’s really in what you’re planning on consuming — trans fat-wise, and in other ways as well.

HFCS – getting the boot in more and more products and places

It seems everywhere you look these days, more and more companies are kicking high fructose corn syrup out of  their products and replacing the test-tube sweetener with real sugar.

The list of HFCS-free products now includes Wegmans Food Markets store brand items, which according to a blog posted last week by the New York-based company, are being made “better” by virtue of increased whole grains, the removal of partially hydrogenated fats and, of course, the elimination of high fructose corn syrup.

Also giving the boot to HFCS are restaurants such as the one in Seattle’s famous Fairmont Hotel, where executive chef Gavin Stephenson said he removed all items that contain HFCS from his kitchen.

Chef Stephenson said that once the trans fats were removed, the kitchen staff decided to “get rid of other stuff that’s not good for you” in the approximately 400,000 meals served each year at the Fairmont.

And in a real ‘take that’ to the  Corn Refiners Association (CRA), with all its media buys to convince us that HFCS is “natural” and “just like sugar,” a recent article in the trade pub Food Products Design, “ finds HFCS on the list of food trends “that are no longer cool” for 2012, along with “nameless, faceless manufactured food.”  On the other hand, “food with sugar”  made the “Hot”  list along with “ancient grains.”

What’s in your kitchen?

If you’re one of the scores of folks who have decided to banish HFCS from your kitchen, be sure to weigh in and give your opinion to the FDA about the CRA petition to get the name of this chemical concoction changed to corn sugar” by clicking here. Every voice counts, so make sure to tell the agency what you think of this attempt by Big Corn to scam consumers.

A whole new wrinkle: ‘food desert identity theft’

Posted by -- February 21, 2012

FoodIdentityTheft.com 

I guess I really must be  ‘out of the loop’,  because I’ve just discovered that I live smack in the middle of a “food desert.”

Living in a “food desert,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, means I have “low access to a supermarket or large grocery store” (defined as within one mile in a urban area or ten miles in a rural location, such as mine), which, according to the experts, results in poor food choices, lack of fresh fruits and vegetables and dinners comprised of of chips and soda from the corner convenience market.

Now, I won’t deny that such places do exist in America, What surprised me, however, was to find the location where I reside designated among them.

But there it was, right inside a “pink zone” of  fresh-food deprivation on the USDA’s Food Desert Locator, which provides an overview of  “high concentrations of people in “low income census tracts” who lack ready access to the requisite retail outlets. Now, I can’t speak for the rest of the places that are represented on this map, but this is something I have never personally considered a problem — especially since our “food desert” includes a chain supermarket that’s less than a mile from my house, not to mention an in-season weekend farmers market several blocks away.

While I don’t want to brag, I’ve always thought where I live in South Jersey to be a pretty special location.  Aside from the natural beauty of an area buffered by the Pinelands National Reserve (which helps recharge an aquifer holding some of the purest water in the U.S.) on one side, and some popular beach communities on the other, there is also no shortage of places to shop for food, including all the standard “big box” stores (although located a tad out of the 10-mile “desert” radius). So you can imagine how taken aback I was to see my location designated as being among those lacking in places to buy apples, oranges and fresh veggies.

The “food desert” designation and the images it conjures up of a barren landscape devoid of healthy dietary staples is also a big part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” (HFFI).

Enter Walmart with a plan to ‘reclaim’ food deserts…

Now, I’m all for any program that promotes “farmers markets, small retailers and corner stores” of the kind the HFFI talks about. But lately, the world’s biggest retailer has gotten into the act in a big way  – and has made reclaiming those “food deserts” a major part of its current and future development plans.

Last summer Mrs. Obama announced she was “joining forces” with “grocery giants,” including Walmart, to “stamp out food deserts” so “parents will have a fresh food retailer right in their community – a place that sells healthy food, at reasonable prices.” Left out of that equation, of course, is how many existing farmers markets, produce stands and co-ops may be driven out of business by Walmart’s subsequent pledge to bring “healthier” foods to “800,000 underserved Americans” by jumping on board a government-funded program to bring new stores to “more than 700 food deserts.”

So do those having the convenience of a Walmart in the immediate neighborhood eat more whole grains, fruits and veggies? From what I’ve seen while shopping at my nearby Walmart (which is precisely 10.6 miles away from my doorstep, according to Google maps), customers seem to be loading up on just as much junk food there as anywhere else. But, as it happens, Walmart plans not only to lead people out of the desert, but to a land of foods that are simply “Great for You.”

…and a new symbol to help guide folks out

At the beginning of the month, to considerable fanfare, Walmart introduced its new front-of-package icon to be applied to food products that conform to the mega-retailer’s standard of healthiness. It consists of  a white and green-outlined person-shaped symbol with outstretched arms, below which are the words “GREAT FOR YOU”  – a pretty broad assumption, considering that what may be “great for you” may not be particularly great for others.

Although a relative latecomer to the game, Walmart has now joined the “healthy foods” promotion movement, which already includes other grocery chains such as Safeway and Stop & Shop, as well as academia and the food industry itself. All have devised symbols, logos and numbers to promote certain food products as “healthier,” a claim that is often, shall we say, highly questionable.

For now, Walmart has reserved the label for its own “Great Value” products, mostly bagged salads, fruits, canned vegetables and fresh eggs (which were belatedly added  and reportedly almost didn’t make the “great” cut at all).  The company says other brands can participate at no licensing fee if their products meet the requirements of the program.

All this comes at a time when our federal leader in “nutrition,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is still groping for ways to make nutritional labeling easier to understand. But Walmart feels it has found the solution to helping “Walmart moms” as they’re referred to, while addressing “an issue many feel is too complicated or too hard to tackle…”

Walmart’s new icon system is part of the corporation’s “Healthier Food Initiative” program, which, you may have guessed by now, includes building more and more stores across the country to help do away with “food deserts” – presumably including the one I supposedly live in.

My community, however, may soon be able to toss aside the stigma of that label, thanks to plans for a Super Walmart to be located here (precisely 1.8 miles from my house). True, those plans were held up a bit, as some people really didn’t like the idea of such a superstore coming to town, especially with another Walmart a mere 10 miles up the road; even the local police chief went on record about traffic concerns.  And then there was the issue of  several endangered species being found at the proposed location, to say nothing of the local businesses that may soon be endangered as well.

But all those nebulous roadblocks, I feel quite sure, will end up being tossed aside in order to save us from the deprivations of living in a “food desert” –  even one that seems to be more like a case of “food desert identity theft.”

Linda Bonvie  FoodIdentityTheft.com

Five things you need to know about high fructose corn syrup

Posted by -- February 16, 2012

To Welch's "natural" means no HFCS

FoodIdentityTheft.com — Since Food Identity Theft went online last September, we’ve been reporting on the many ways food manufacturers try to deceive us with misleading words, ingredients and fancy packaging.  But of all the issues we’ve covered to date, by far the most deceptive, glaring example of the food industry attempting to scam the public is the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) plan to rebrand the unpopular high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) ingredient with the sweeter-sounding name “corn sugar.”

The CRA has been spending big bucks on a campaign to fill your head with misinformation and twisted facts, starting with the slippery way they’ve introduced the name “corn sugar” on the airwaves and Internet, hoping it will “catch on,” and the old, discredited moniker go down the memory hole.

But despite all the deceptive methods the CRA has employed (as well as the $50 million-plus it has spent) to get its message across, we still think consumers know when they are being deceived, and they don’t like it. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “…you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

1. HFCS is not “corn sugar”

Sorry, Charlie, but the name “corn sugar” has already been taken. This “new name” (and obvious alias) for a substance many consumers have put on their list of ingredients to avoid actually belongs to a totally different product recognized by the FDA – one that contains NO fructose. It is comprised of dextrose and is used in home brewing, baking, cooking and by those who are fructose intolerant.

(Will the “real” corn sugar please stand up?)

2. HFCS is not “natural”

Despite all the CRA’s pretty pictures of corn fresh from the field, HFCS is decidedly not a “natural” ingredient.

HFCS is rather a man-made, highly-processed laboratory-created concoction in which the glucose in corn syrup is fermented and processed to create a desired amount of the much-sweeter fructose. Manufacturing HFCS is highly complicated, although the result is typically cheaper than real sugar.

Karo corn syrup contains NO high fructose corn syrup!

3. HFCS is not conventional “corn syrup”

I have seen many examples of sloppy reporters using the word “corn syrup” when they are actually referring to HFCS.

The FDA recognizes corn syrup as its own separate ingredient, one derived from corn starch that is converted to varying amounts of glucose. Some corn syrup products you can buy in the supermarket may contain HFCS as an added ingredient; however, Karo corn syrup company wants to make sure consumers know that its corn syrup product doesn’t – by advertising No HFCS on its website and bottles.

4. HFCS is not sugar

Only sugar is sugar.  Real sugar is a natural food that only comes from sugar cane or sugar beets.

5. HFCS is probably higher in fructose than previously thought

One of the CRA’s favorite ploys is to claim that HFCS really isn’t “high” in fructose, and to say how similar it is to sugar (not true).

What was commonly believed to be the fructose content of HFCS in sodas and drinks was 55 percent, but a study featured last year in the journal Obesity by Dr. Michael Goran, found fructose levels in the Coke, Pepsi and Sprite that were analyzed as high as 65 percent. In fact, high fructose corn syrup looks like the perfect name for this laboratory-concocted sweetener!

There’s still time to help stop the scam

As long as the 2010 petition from the CRA to change the name of  HFCS to “corn sugar” remains open for comment, you still have a chance to speak your mind and make a difference. The CRA is taking advantage of the fact the FDA is dragging its feet on this petition by using it as an opportunity to keep the “conversation,” as they like to call it, going with more annoying commercials and web sites.

Make sure you take a moment to click here and convey your comments to the FDA. You can copy and paste some sample messages from this page, or compose one of your own.

Remember, “corn sugar” is actually dextrose, a long-recognized product that contains NO fructose. And “sugar,” one of the oldest natural sweeteners, can only come from sugar cane or sugar beets. So please tell the FDA to reject this ridiculous attempt to conceal HFCS on packaging. You can say Food Identity Theft sent me!

 

Linda Bonvie — FoodIdentityTheft.com

Supermarket stevia: a natural sweetener or just another industry imitation?

Posted by -- February 14, 2012

Is this really stevia? "No," says the FDA.

The story of stevia – an unassuming herb native to Paraguay with an incredibly sweet, no-calorie green leaf – is an interesting one.

It’s part of that leaf, or what’s extracted from it, that has in the past few years become hot food news, or should I say ‘sweet’ news to some really big companies making some really big bucks out of the “stevia” name.

If you had never heard of stevia before you noticed  it in the supermarket alongside the other sweeteners, or saw an ad for Truvia, a stevia-based product, you wouldn’t know what a humongous deal it is to see it labeled as a “sweetener.” But is this supermarket stevia really a “natural” extract of a naturally sweet leaf, or does it simply represent another commercial food-science experiment with what once-upon-a-time was a real food?

Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni was “discovered” in Paraguay in the early 1900s, and many decades later  became a hit in Japan, where it was used widely as a sweetener. But not in the United States.

In fact, no sooner had stevia been introduced on the U.S. herbal scene in the 1980’s than the Food and Drug Administration just as quickly, launched an aggressive campaign to nip its emergence in the bud. A series of FDA-initiated actions against firms using stevia in their products (or buying it for that purpose) included embargoes, searches and seizures of warehouse and manufacturing facilities complete with bevies of armed federal marshals, and, to cap off the effort, a full-fledged “import alert” barring stevia shipments into the country.

A stevia plant

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), passed in 1994, finally allowed the herb to be imported into the U.S., but only if labeled as a “dietary supplement.” People used it as a no-cal sweetener, of course, but any hint by a manufacturer, seller or distributor that it could be used for that purpose could land them in a whole mess of trouble with the FDA. The agency went so far as to seize stevia supplements that were displayed adjacent to books containing recipes or graphics indicating it could be used in beverages (including one I co-authored), along with the offending books.

So imagine how surprising it was to those of us who knew the whole story to suddenly see stevia appear in the supermarket alongside sugar and artificial sweeteners. What happened? How could this herb with the secret sweetness the FDA had spent so long trying to suppress suddenly emerge as the newest, no-cal sweetener on the market?

Stevia, in fact, has always been a perfectly safe natural sweetener. You can even grow it in your garden. But are supermarket stevia products actually stevia? Not according to the FDA.

Truvia, for example, “comes from nature,” according to a claim on its package, which also describes how “dried stevia leaves are steeped in water, similar to making tea.” Various other brands make similar claims, some even incorporating “stevia” into the brand name.

But a page at the FDA website maintains that “these products are not stevia.” So what are they then?

Author and “food industry insider” Bruce Bradley says in his blog that Truvia, made by Cargill (also known as a manufacturer of high fructose corn syrup) has a patented a “40 + step process that includes the use of acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol,” to extract the sweetness from the stevia leaf.

“I don’t know about you,” says Bradley, “but when I make a cup of tea, I’ve never used any of those ingredients.”

Cargil’s Truvia also contains the ever-popular “natural flavors” to, “…bring out the best of our natural sweetness…” something Bradley refers to as “the processed food industry’s dirty little secret.”

And just how did these supermarket stevia sweeteners make it into the marketplace in the first place?

One of the first national stevia products to hit the shelf was PureVia, which submitted a notification to the FDA in May of 2008 saying it had “self” determined  its stevia product to be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS (something other companies had tried numerous times to do in the past with no luck). The FDA issued a “no objection” letter later that year.

So how could it be that PureVia succeeded in a mission that even a very well-respected herbal association couldn’t accomplish in the past? Maybe it’s the muscle behind the PureVia brand, which, as it turns out, was a joint effort launched by PepsiCo and another company owned by a spinoff of Monsanto, the makers of NutraSweet (the original brand name for aspartame).

That’s right. The aspartame people are now in the stevia business. Of course, its stevia operation has a really nice, “natural” name, The Whole Earth Sweetener Company. It is also owned by Merisant, a private company formed in 2000 out of the Monsanto tabletop sweetener lineup, which includes, of course, the Equal aspartame brand.

With Monsanto-affiliated Merisant making a stevia product, the story of the sweet herb has almost come full circle. Just what prompted the FDA to intervene in the early marketing of stevia in the 1980s, officials of the agency either cannot or will not say, but industry insiders had reason to believe the FDA’s actions were triggered by a “trade complaint” filed by the makers of NutraSweet.

Stevia is a really amazing plant — even in its most basic “raw” state, it is incredibly sweet. It has also has been used for centuries, with scores of studies having indicated it’s completely safe when consumed as a sweetener.  And yes, there are “real” stevia products out there– natural extracts of the sweet stevia leaf. But I’m guessing you won’t find them in the supermarket.

 

Linda Bonvie, FoodIdentityTheft.com

When whole grain claims turn out to be half-baked

Posted by -- February 9, 2012

These are whole grains

In an apparent attempt to require a ‘grain’ of truth in labeling, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is reported to be filing a petition with the Food and Drug Administration this week to force the issue of more accurate whole grain claims on food labels.

Now while I don’t always side with CSPI, whose indiscriminate war on fats I have often considered fatuous and whose soft stance on artificial sweeteners I don’t regard as being “in the public interest,” this is one issue I can say I agree on.

According to the Whole Grains Council (and most authorities on nutrition these days), at least half our grains should be whole grains. That  may sounds easy enough to accomplish, and to read labels, we might even think that’s what we’re getting.  But the only real “rule” in this regard seems to be the one governing whole wheat bread, the legal definition of which says it must be 100 percent whole wheat. As for all those other “whole grain” claims – well, many may be half-baked, rather than the whole truth.

How to know when ‘whole grain’ means what it says

Where whole grains are concerned, it seems everyone in the food industry wants to be on the bandwagon, regardless of whether the golden grains are actually in their products or not. And that’s where vague definitions come into play, allowing manufacturers to play fast and loose with the facts that appear on their product labels.

So what exactly are “whole grains,” and where are they hiding?

Grains such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye can be whole grains, if — and this is the magic word here — they are in their “whole” form. So before your next trip down the aisles of confusion in the supermarket, you might want to consult the following whole grain “cheat sheet,” so you’re not the one being cheated:

Not whole grain: Enriched flour, bran, wheat germ, degerminated corn meal, wheat flour, unbleached enriched wheat flour, wheat bread;

Possibly whole grain: packages that state, “contains,” or “made with” whole grain. The trouble with that statement is it’s not apparent exactly how much whole grain is in the product. It could be half or just a dusting. Another disingenuous claim is “multigrain.” All that really means is the product is made with more than one type of grain, not necessary any whole grains.

Genuine whole grain: Products labeled “100 percent whole wheat,” wild rice, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, popcorn, and grains such as wheat, barley, amaranth and buckwheat that are listed as “whole.”

What about “stoneground”? Since there is no legal definition of that term, it’s a crap shoot.

Another trick of the trade is to make a big deal out of an insufficient amount of whole grains per serving. For example, a box of Wheat Thins says, “5g of Whole Grain per serving.” So how much are 5g? Well, in the world of whole grains, 5g ain’t nothing. The same package says we should be consuming at least 48g per day and 16g per serving. At that rate we would need to eat over three servings to get to the per serving minimum the package recommends.

So once again, – and I can’t emphasize this enough – reading the package claims will not guarantee you that you’re getting the real deal. The only way to have any idea of what you’re buying is to read the ingredient label.

HFCS name-game petition up against the wall

I’m pleased to report that the petition sent to the FDA by the Corn Refiners Association to dump the much maligned high fructose corn syrup name in favor of  the sweeter sounding “corn sugar” moniker is hitting a wall of public opposition.

While  the agency has been dragging its feet in both dealing with the petition and posting consumer comments, as of yesterday, there were over 1,700 comments appearing online, the vast majority of them highly indignant over this obvious attempt to conceal the identity of a bad actor.

As I noted in my blog at the beginning of the month, this isn’t the first time Big Corn has tried to steal the name “sugar” (see “Corn sugar, been there, done that, didn’t work). Back in the mid-’70’s, just as HFCS was trying to push “real” sugar out of the soda market, an attempt was made to have it called “corn sugar.”

The FDA rejected that try, and hopefully the agency will do the same with this one as well, and put this issue to rest once and for all. So please take a minute and add you opinion by clicking here. Your comments might just be the “tipping point” that will cause the agency to deposit this petition where it belongs – in the “round file.”

Comparing oranges and apples: the whole story about a prohibited pesticide

Posted by -- February 7, 2012

As you probably know by now, a  fungicide banned in the U.S. called carbendazim was found in imported orange juice. Discovered by Minute Maid – the orange juice giant owned by Coca Cola — the find was reported to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency swooped into action, writing letters to the Juice Products Association, testing orange juice and assuring us that the levels detected pose no hazard.

At the same time, the FDA declared current supplies of orange juice A-OK to drink, it also said orange juice arriving at the U.S. border  with any “measurable level” of the chemical  would not be allowed entry.

So what is it? The juice is safe if it’s in the store, but not if it hasn’t crossed the border? And what about the fact that residues of the banned chemical, also known as MBC, are allowed in other fruits that make up popular juices such as apples, cherries and grapes, and found to be perfectly fine by the FDA?

First, we need a little primer in what’s going on here, and to do that, we need to skip over to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a minute.

When it comes to pesticides in foods, the EPA can be thought of as the judge and the FDA as the cops. In other words, the EPA sets what are called “tolerances,” the legal limits of pesticides allowed as residues in food, while the FDA enforces that limit, with the authority to stop and recall foods that contain detectible residues above what the EPA has established. (Note that the word “safe” isn’t used here. A “tolerance” is basically what’s been determined at one point or another to be a level at which a chemical has “no effect.”)

Back to the orange juice: MBC, a nasty chemical that until several years ago was allowed to be used on Florida oranges, is currently on the banned list, considered “illegal” by virtue of there being no EPA tolerance set for it. So it makes sense that the FDA would stop all orange juice heading our way that contains it.

What doesn’t make sense is a sort of  FDA slight of hand that allows for MBC residues to be present in numerous commodities, even though the chemical itself has no food uses.

A case of ‘pesticide identity theft’?

How can this be, I hear you asking. Well MBC has a close relative called thiophanate methyl (TPM for short) that is allowed to be used on crops – quite a few, in fact. And after it’s used on strawberries, apples and blueberries, for example, it starts to degrade and turns into other chemicals, one of them being the banned MBC. In fact, when testing for residues of the permitted TPM, they look for, and measure it as … MBC.

In a attempt to show how safe our orange juice is, in fact, FDAimports.com, a private consulting firm founded by a former FDA employee, issued a press release with the headline: “FDA cracks down on Carbendazim (MBC) in OJ but ignores it it other foods…”

The moral of this appears to be that our news is creatively delivered to us. While headlines from papers all over the county and news anchors are talking about an “orange juice recall” and discussing whether it is warranted or not, what reporters aren’t telling us is that the same dangerous and banned chemical that caused the OJ scare is allowed on many other fruits used to make juice – with “permitted” residues at much higher levels than what caused all the to-do with the oranges.

Of course, such pesticides could be avoided by buying nothing except certified organic juices, but for a great many shoppers, that’s simply not an affordable option, since organic juices at best tend to be considerably more costly than their conventional counterparts.

For most consumers, a more practical solution would be for public pressure to force the regulators to abandon the double standard now being used in regard to MBC by prohibiting use of any other chemical that morphs into it as well – in effect, a form of  ‘pesticide identity theft’.

Telling us all about this, of course, should be the media’s job – but right now, rather than getting the whole story from them, all we’re hearing is what the FDA has to say about the chemical in oranges, while apples are given a pass. To say nothing of strawberries and blueberries.

Linda Bonvie, FoodIdentityTheft.com

Don’t make Super Bowl Sunday a bad food event

Posted by -- February 2, 2012

The Super Bowl is pretty much the close of the ‘excuse-to-eat-junk’ season that started with the “holidays.” I’ve even heard it referred to as “the biggest food ‘holiday’ that doesn’t feature a turkey.” So now that this big eating day is right around the bend, we at Food Identity Theft would like to help you avoid turning what should be a fun event into a bad-food day.

Many of the traditional components of a Super Bowl Sunday feast contain the absolute worst ingredients, but are super-easy to swap out for decent ones, starting with:

Chips

Here’s a rule of thumb: most “flavored” chips will harbor some really bad ingredients. Example; the ever popular Doritos Nacho Cheese, which contain not only undisguised monosodium glutamate, but  six sources of hidden MSG, as well as three artificial colors and two partially hydrogenated oils (the main source of  trans fat). The sales pitch for these unhealthy chips is equally bad: The DORITOS brand is constantly creating new ways to give you immersive and memorable experiences, to put you in control of the things you love most. If anyone can explain that line, please let me know.

A healthy swap is Garden of Eatin’ nacho cheese tortilla chips. Garden of Eatin’ also offers a full line of plain corn chips and good-ingredient taco shells.

Dips

Dips are another hotbed of bad ingredients. Frito Lay brand, which makes an extensive lineup of dips, and claims on its website that “it can’t get much better than Frito-Lay chips and dips!” is more than happy to sell you a variety of mislabeled “No MSG” and “natural” products. Tostitos Spicy Nacho Cheese dip, for example, which the company website claims has “No MSG,”  lists yeast extract and whey protein concentrate as ingredients. Both contain free glutamic acid (hidden MSG), as well as several artificial colors.

A much better choice is Newman’s Own Black Bean & Corn Salsa, containing real food ingredients. Or, make your own dip. (And no, I don’t mean with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup mix, either.) How about some home-made guacamole or salsa?

And remember – while there are numerous “organic” and “natural” dips on the market, you can’t necessarily trust a product just because it’s organic, and certainly not because its labeled “all-natural.” Always read the ingredient label, NOT just the “nutrition facts” or any other shelf-tag labeling or front-of -package claim. Only the ingredient list will tell you what’s really in a food product.

And whatever you do, don’t let any Velveeta “cheese” into your home!

Soda

If you’re among the multitudes of folks who just can’t do without soda on Super Bowl Sunday but are trying hard to avoid high fructose corn syrup, here’s where some quick label reading will really pay off. Pepsi now makes a “throwback” version without HFCS, And “Mexican” Coca-Cola, which is sweetened with sugar, if not available in your area, can be purchased from Amazon.com,  Or, for a gourmet treat, you might try some micro-brewed or specialty sodas that are also HFCS-free.

Corn Sugar – been there, done that, didn’t work

The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) seems to be going full-steam (and dollars) ahead in sending out its “corn sugar” and “sugar is sugar” messaging across the airwaves.

The original CRA $50-million campaign, begun around 2008 and referred to as a “full-fledged media assault” in a trade pub article the following year, is once again popping up all over the place. The campaign, from mega-agency DDB in Chicago, was described by CRA President Audrae Erickson (described in Advertising Age as a former USDA economist) as “…a nationwide multimedia and advertising campaign targeted principally at moms, given the role they play in buying food.”

Being a fan of the series Mad Men, I have often imagined Don Draper getting the corn account and dreaming up this whole “corn sugar” scheme in a smoky conference room. Looks like I was right – not about Don, but, as they say, “in real life.”

Turns out, agency guru Al Ries, a veteran of the Mad Men era, had the corn account back when HFCS was first making inroads into the sweetener market. His client back then wasn’t the CRA, but the giant Corn Products International (CPI).

As Ries tells the story, in the mid-70s, as CPI was “planning an assault” on the sweetener market with its new product, “55% high fructose corn syrup.”

“That name is going to cause you problems. Why don’t you call it ‘corn sugar’?” Ries recalls saying.

And they tried that. First with a series of advertisements showing sugar cane, a sugar beet and an ear of corn, with the headline “consider all three types of sugar.”

Then they took the sugar charade to the Food and Drug Administration, which is where the campaign ended. “You can’t call it sugar, we were firmly told”  by the FDA, Ries said.

Fast forward 35 plus years and here we are again. This time Big Corn is spending a lot more bucks to get “corn sugar” accepted, but one difference is this time you can help stop it. Send your comments on this corn sugar hoax to the FDA by clicking here. Your voice might just make the difference in having the FDA stop dragging its feet and reject the CRA name-change petition for HFCS once and for all.

And as a side benefit, it will also get rid of all those annoying ads.

Linda Bonvie –  FoodIdentityTheft.com