Archive for April, 2012

FDA requirements vague when it comes to ‘what’s in a name’

Posted by -- April 26, 2012

You'll find the honey in this cereal at the end of the ingredient list after cinnamon.

FoodIdentityTheft.com – April 26, 2012 – How much of something needs to be in a product before it can be used in the name?

Beekeeper Jim Fisher is one individual who has attempted to  answer that question himself – at least where honey is concerned.  Fisher believes that if you use that golden marketing word on a food package, there should be honey in the product – and not as the last ingredient, either.

The scores of products out there with “honey” in their names, but which actually contain little or none of the natural sweetener, are what prompted Fisher to create his “Wall of Shame” web site several years ago. Some foods – those containing no honey at all – ended up on the “worst” list (such as KC Masterpiece Honey Dijon Marinade,because, as Fisher puts it, “’high fructose corn syrup dijon’ just doesn’t somehow have the same ring to it”), while the  few that have significant amounts of honey are honored in his “Hall of Fame.”

But what are the rules about naming foods, and just how much honey or butter or fruit does it take to  make those words legitimate in a product name? Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees food packaging and claims, it seemed to be the most likely place to call for an answer.

But all the FDA would provide me with was a link to its “Food Labeling Guide” an 88- page document complete with answers to all your food labeling questions. But not that one. An hour-long search at the FDA site also turned up nothing.

So I decided the next step would be to call the FDA, tell them I was going to be making Linda’s honey butter cookies, and asking if I had to include any honey and butter in the recipe. Going back to Google to find a phone number, I noticed a search result for Food Label Consultants, a company in Mount Morris, New York that specializes in keeping its clients in compliance with the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, a voluminous list of rules that also establishes what you can and can’t say about food on a package.

What the FDA couldn’t seem to tell me, Food Label consultants President Steve Zoller could. In fact, Zoller, described as a “food industry veteran with over three decades of experience,” knew the answer right away.“If you use the word ‘honey’ it darn well better be in the food,” was how he put it.

But how much is required in a product before you can paste “honey” in big letters over the front of the box? “Not much — that’s not qualified anywhere,” Zoller replied, “There’s nothing in the Code that tells you that.”

That explains my Shop Rite brand Honey Oat Clusters, with the “honey” at the very end of the ingredient list, right after cinnamon. The cereal also comes in a box depicting a big honey jar and dipper, despite the fact that it actually contains more high fructose corn syrup than honey.

Some food products, Zoller said, have very specific legal descriptions of what they should be called, known as the “standard of identity.”

“Breads, enriched breads, milk, cheese, cocoa products, and a host of other things,” he noted, are “listed in the Code that require a minimum number of ingredients to be called by that name. But not all foods have this standard, which mostly applies to “basic’ things,” he told me.

And what about all those seemingly honey-less products on beekeeper Fisher’s “worst” list that contain not a drop of honey? According to Zoller, such deception would be in violation of the law, unless the product involved comes with a qualifying statement saying “artificially flavored” in type half the size of the word ‘honey.’ In that case “it wouldn’t have to contain any honey at all.”

But “in some areas the code is just not clear,”  Zoller added. “The code and the FDA are continually playing catch up with the industry.”

Class-action suit demands adherence to ‘honey honesty’ standards

Posted by -- April 24, 2012

FoodIdentityTheft.com – April 24, 2012 – While Vermont is known for being super-strict about what can be called “maple syrup,” Florida, along with a handful of other states, is equally demanding in regard to another popular natural sweetening agent.

The Sunshine State, Maryland and Wisconsin are among the states that now have honey “standards,” or laws about what can and can’t be called “honey.” And violating these standards can get you in a sticky legal mess.

In Florida, recent class-action lawsuits have been filed against some big retailers, including Target and Walgreen’s for allegedly selling honey without so much as a trace of pollen.

The Florida standard specifies that “you cannot remove pollen except what is unavoidable in removing debris,” claims J. Andrew Meyer, an attorney involved with the current litigation, “If you filter (honey) to such an extent that you take all the pollen out, that’s not unavoidable, and if you sell that as honey, you’re in violation of the Florida honey standards.”

The processing of honey via “ultra-filtration,” a method of heating and filtering that removes all pollen, was first publicized last year by Food Safety News after it had tests performed on honey being sold in ten states at numerous retail outlets. What they found was that more than three-fourths of honey sold in the U.S. was so highly processed as to be totally devoid of pollen.

“I’m not saying whether pollen has any specific health benefits or not, That’s not the thrust of the lawsuit — we’re not putting pollen on trial,” Meyer maintains.“The important thing is that pollen is needed to identify the source of the honey; that’s one of its major benefits. Without pollen it’s very easy for Chinese honey to make it into the market.”

Pollen is a honey’s documentation or fingerprint, the only way to tell where it came from. And Chinese honey, which is cheap, often contaminated with drugs or pesticides or cut with low cost sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, was hit with a big import tariff in 2001 in an attempt to keep it from flooding the U.S. market. According to Food Safety News, to circumvent the ‘dumping’ tariff, Chinese honey is often shipped to other countries with altered documents and switched shipping drums and passed off as coming from a tariff-free origin. Without pollen, its origin would be impossible to trace.

FDA tells beekeepers: ‘buzz off’

In 2006 a citizen petition was filed with the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the American Beekeeping Federation and four other honey groups calling for a federal honey standard that would, among other things, set the pollen issue straight once and for all.

“The petition sat there and it sat there and it sat there because the FDA said they didn’t have any time to get to it,” said Mark Jensen, President of the American Honey Producers Association. “Around 2011 the FDA returned it to us and said, ‘sorry, we’re not going to take care of this,’ so as far as a federal standard goes it’s kind of in limbo right now,” Jensen added.

“There’s been a lot of effort in the past with the FDA,” said attorney Meyer, “but there’s no federal standard. Florida was the first state with a honey standard.”

“The important thing for consumers is they know what they are getting,” Meyer added. “If you see imitation cheese, it’s labeled as such. If honey has been altered, then consumers need to be educated so they can make a choice.”

And how to make that choice if you don’t live in a state that demands ‘honey honesty’? Meyer suggests buying from a farmers market or local supplier, rather then from a retail chain. “That’s the best way to know you’re getting the real deal,” he says.

Not to mention the best way to keep local beekeepers in business.

 

 

Consumer groups to FDA: The people have spoken – now make their verdict official

Posted by -- April 19, 2012

FoodIdentityTheft.com – April 19, 2012 – With consumer opposition to the proposed relabeling of high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar”  running at 100 to 1, four consumer groups have ramped up the pressure on the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reject what is being increasingly viewed by the public as an blatant attempt to misidentify an additive that more and more shoppers wish to avoid.

In a letter sent this week to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the National Consumers League (NCL), Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Shape Up America!, has once again asked the FDA to deny the 2010 petition from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA ) to have high fructose corn syrup renamed “corn sugar” on food labels.

“The main thing we wanted to bring attention to is the preponderance of opposition to the petition,” said Teresa Green, a food safety and nutritional fellow for the NCL.

The organizations involved have all previously gone on record as opposing the HFCS name switch in comments submitted last year. But with the petition still sitting at the FDA, the corn refiners have continued with their multimillion-dollar “sugar is sugar” advertising campaign, which the letter calls “a platform for marketing efforts that confuse the public about the nature of HFCS.”

The ads are also the subject of a pending lawsuit filed by sugar growers and refiners alleging that the CRA and its member companies conspired to “deceive the public” about HFCS.

The consumer groups also pointed out that there are 1,847 comments submitted by individuals opposing the name change that have been posted at the FDA docket, with an additional 3,000 or so sent to the agency but not yet put online.

“This means,” the letter noted, “that nearly 5,000 individual consumers have written FDA and oppose the CRA petition for a name change,” whereas “only about 40 individual consumers have submitted comments supporting the CRA position.” Those numbers show that opposition to the “corn sugar” name switch is running on “a ratio of 100 to 1” the NCL said in a press release sent out this week.

The letter also mentions HFCS 90, a super-high fructose sweetener that I wrote about a few weeks ago. HFCS 90 is a high fructose corn syrup formulation that is 90 percent fructose, extremely sweet, and pitched by a leading manufacturer as being “the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

CRA already asked to can the “corn sugar” ads

The CRA, in fact,  has been flooding the airwaves with its pitch for several years, trying to convince consumers that “sugar is sugar” and that there is essentially no difference between natural sugar and HFCS. But last October, a letter from the FDA released by the Associated Press revealed that the agency had noticed the Big Corn campaign as well, and wasn’t happy with it. The letter asked the CRA to stop using “corn sugar” as a synonym for HFCS and to “re-examine your websites and modify statements that use the term.” But that request seems to have been totally disregarded by the corn refiners, as the consumer groups complained in their own letter. “The FDA’s warning letter to the CRA,” it notes, “is a step in the right direction, but the term ‘corn sugar’ continues to appear on the CRA web site…(and) the term ‘corn sugar’ continues to appear in an extensive nationally televised advertising campaign…”

But while the CRA continues to refer to HFCS as a “sugar made from corn,” consumers aren’t so easily fooled, if the latest comments found at the FDA docket that talk about “ being fooled by the CRA” and “consumer deception” are any indication. One respondent, for instance, posted this observation: “consumer clarity????? How long has High Fructose Corn Syrup been on the market??? Don’t you think that consumers already have ‘clarity’ as to what this is. I’m no genius but you cannot fool the public like that.”

Or, as the letter from the consumer organizations put it, “Permitting HFCS to be called ‘corn sugar’ would allow manufacturers to conceal this ingredient from consumers…” adding, “Given the thousands of comments FDA has received opposing the pendency of the CRA petition, and the continued misleading use by CRA of the term ‘corn sugar’ in marketing, FDA should act decisively and deny the CRA petition.”

Keep those comments on this “corn sugar” scam coming!

As continued pressure is put on the FDA to deny the CRA petition that’s been lingering at the agency for some time now, it’s vital that consumer comments continue to come in. The delay means you still have a chance to speak your mind about this classic case of attempted food identity theft!

Click here to send your comments to the FDA. You can copy and paste some sample messages from this page, or compose one of your own.

And remember –“corn sugar” is actually dextrose, a long-recognized product that contains NO fructose. And “sugar,” one of the oldest natural sweeteners, can only be derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, not from a  laboratory-concocted sweetener. So please tell the FDA to reject this ridiculous attempt to conceal HFCS on packaging. You can say, “Food Identity Theft sent me!”

Six examples of products that don’t quite live up to their names

Posted by -- April 17, 2012

Food Identity Theft, April 17, 2012 — Food shopping would sure be a lot easier if what a product was called somehow matched what it actually contained. But “real” ingredients cost more, and thanks to loopholes and lax regulations in food labeling, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking we’re buying something we’re not.

The only way to really know what’s inside the package is to read the ingredient label. So bypass the pretty picture, flip the item over, and find out for yourself “what’s in a name” – a genuine product description or simply a marketing ploy, such as the ones that follow:

1. Snapple Apple: It’s really neat how “Snapple” rhymes with “apple,” but that’s about where the association with the crunchy fruit ends. Despite the pretty apple on the label, Snapple Apple contains not a hint of actual apples. How can this be, you ask? Well, “juice drinks,” as reported by The Consumerist, are not required to have the bottle contents match label pictures, or the name, for that matter. In fact, juice drinks can contain as little as 5 percent actual juice. Snapple Apple,  according to its label information, uses just 10 percent juice  – pear juice at that – along with “natural” flavors” to achieve its “appley” flavor. (Apparently, however, Snapple has perfected this ersatz-apple formula, as reviews on Amazon.com talk about it tasting like “taking a bite out of an actual juicy apple!” and more like “Fuji” apples than “regular apple juice.”)

Oh, and one more thing – if you’re looking for genuine juice from the named fruit, steer clear of anything called a “juice drink.”

2. Capri Sun Mountain Cooler mixed fruit: This is another glaring example of why you can’t select products based on the packaging. While the box announces it has “no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives” and shows an athletic figure biking out of a scene filled with delicious fruit, this particular “juice drink” is really little more than water and high fructose corn syrup (the first two ingredients) with a bit of apple juice concentrate thrown in to justify using the word “fruit.”

3. Grape-Nuts: Since Grape-Nuts has been around a very long time – introduced in 1898 by Charles W. Post – you might say that its disingenuous name is probably “grandfathered” in by this time, since the cereal contains neither grapes nor nuts. So what is it, then? The main ingredient in Grape-Nuts is whole grain wheat flour and barley which is baked into giant blocks that are ground into the familiar hard, gravel-like cereal. Exactly how Grape-Nuts got its name is still a mystery, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. “Maltose is the only sugar in Grape Nuts,” the article notes. “Mr. Post may have called it grape sugar, or thought Grape Nuts looked like grape seeds, or that grape seeds looked like nuts, or that malted barley tasted nutty. Nobody seems to know.”

4. Special K Strawberry Cereal Bars: With luscious strawberries pictured on the package and advertising copy claiming “these strawberry flavored cereal bars are made to satisfy with rice and whole grain wheat flakes, sweet strawberries, and oh-so-yummy icing,” you would think there would be at least a hint of actual strawberries inside. But no, what constitutes “strawberries” in these bars is actually made from cranberries, along with “natural strawberry flavor and other natural flavors.” Also laced with such additives as partially hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and BHT, this is not exactly one of “the secret weapons” (as the ad copy puts it) you need “when you’re on a mission to look and feel great.”

5. Hungry Jack Blueberry Wheat Pancake Mix: A super-antioxidant, blueberries are something that are increasingly in demand. Food manufacturers also love blueberries, and seem to slap the name all over products that don’t contain any. Of all the fake foods I’ve reported on, the lion’s share  appear to be ones with “blueberry” in the name  (with strawberries coming in a close second). This product is another example of a bogus blueberry food, with “artificial blueberry bits” comprised of corn flour, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors.  Of course to find that out, you need to read the ingredient list, rather than just being taken in by the appetizing-looking blueberry pancakes pictured on the front of the package.

6. Del Monte Seafood Cocktail Sauce made from California Vine-Ripened Tomatoes: This product, which actually uses reconstituted tomato concentrate, is not the “vine-ripened” vision it appears to be. Last April the National Consumers League sent a letter to the FDA saying that claims such as these are “false and misleading.” If you want to buy a sauce made from fresh tomatoes rather than processed tomato paste, look for “tomatoes” as the first ingredient, not tomato puree or water and tomato paste.

Remember, when it comes to a processed food product or beverage, the name, along with the packaging, descriptive copy and graphics, was most likely created  by an ad agency to entice you into buying that item. But the name and image given to a product no more tells you what it really contains than a person’s name and style of dress reveals his or her true character.

It might sound corny, but claims of ‘no HFCS’ hurt corn growers’ feelings

Posted by -- April 12, 2012

Some TruMoo with lunch served at a school participating in the National School Lunch Program. Photo Bob Nichols, USDA

While growing numbers of shoppers are quite happy to see “no high fructose corn syrup” on an increasing number of food product labels these days, there are some who are reportedly dismayed and disappointed over so many companies making a point of jumping off the high fructose corn syrup bandwagon and embracing natural sugar once again.

If you’re guessing these are folks who are involved in corn production, you’re right. It seems that label statements and commercials, particularly from two companies, that highlight the absence of this controversial sweetener are “offensive to the hundreds of thousands of U.S. consumers that grow corn,” according to S. Richard Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, a federation of state associations representing corn farmers in the U.S.

Especially “offensive” to Tolman and the farmers’ he represents is the advertising campaign from Dean Foods for its TruMoo brand chocolate milk.

“The TruMoo ad,” Tolman said, “the way it’s done, it singles out HFCS as if it’s a good thing that it’s not in there…so it’s the prominence of the ad, especially when they use HFCS in other products.”

In the TruMoo commercial, a mom shopping with her son is guided through her chocolate milk purchase by a mini milkman in white who says “it’s good for him, you betcha,” pointing out it contains vitamins A and D and no high fructose corn syrup “with just enough natural sugar for a wholesome, everyday treat.”

Sending emails to both Welch and Dean Foods (and posting them at the group’s web site) at the end of March, Tolman said “A growing number of our members have reached out to us expressing great concern and disappointment over the references to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in your advertising campaign… The innuendo and implications from your commercial are very negative for HFCS.”

The Tolman email, sounding more like a letter from an attorney, went on to say, “…we find the negative focus on HFCS troubling and out of character. We ask that you cease the references to HFCS. There are many positive things about your products to focus upon without focusing on a perceived negative.”

While Welch’s didn’t appear to reply, Tolman did get a response from Dean Foods in regard to TruMoo, which was reformulated using natural sugar in August of 2011.

But that too, left Tolman “disappointed.”

While he had no “issue with (the company’s) statement that consumers have expressed their desire to purchase flavored milks with sugars rather than HFCS as the sweetener,” as “that certainly may be true,” it was his belief that part of the “misperception” that drives consumers to shun HFCS is being perpetuated in the TruMoo advertising.

Dean Foods, however, doesn’t see it as anything more than giving consumers what they want and then letting them know about it. The company also doesn’t have any intentions of changing its label to soothe the feelings of all those corn growers.

“TruMoo chocolate milk was reformulated to address what we viewed as a very strong preference among parents and schools for a chocolate milk that was lower in fat and calories and also contained sucrose (natural sugar) instead of high fructose corn syrup,” Liliana Esposito, VP of public affairs at Dean Foods told me.

Esposito said she “understands their need to serve their members,” adding, “we are just communicating about the positive attributes of our products. Consumers were desiring a product that is sweetened with sucrose, and that is what we provided, and we want to make sure consumers know that. This is how we communicate to them.”

But while farmers’, according to Tolman, are “very sensitive about people’s attitude about food,” he admitted that should HFCS disappear tomorrow, the economic effect on U.S. family farms that grow corn would not be of any great concern.  That’s because the corn that is actually used for this test-tube sweetener represents just a little blip in the market for their crop.

“It’s actually a fairly minor end use for farmers…under four percent in 2010,” he said, adding, “and I suspect in 2011 it was even less as the amount (of corn) going into HFCS is flat and declining.”

Is this what’s “next,” a witches’ brew of sweeteners?

Recently hitting the national market is Pepsi Next, advertised as “real cola taste” with “60 percent less sugar.” Starting off with high fructose corn syrup and finishing with aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose, Pepsi Next has managed to combine most, if not all, of the top controversial sweeteners into one beverage!

Meanwhile, it’s been reported that Pepsi Throwback, using natural sugar instead of HFCS, was upgraded to be a permanent part of the Pepsi lineup last year due to consumer demand.

While many Pepsi Next facebook “fans” are waxing nostalgic over the various Pepsi products of the past, others have been expressing their contempt for the odd combination of sweeteners. “What’s wrong with real sugar, come on Pepsi,” says one, while others are blasting the company for its “sneaky” use of aspartame.

“Only took one taste for me to realize it has artificial sweetener in it,” says another, adding the aspartame was a “petty attempt to trick me. Put ‘artificial’ in your ad, Pepsi.”

Curious about the possibility that Pepsi Next might contain HFCS 90 (high fructose corn syrup with 90 percent fructose, said to be the “ideal choice” for reduced calorie foods by a major manufacturer of HFCS), I called the PepsiCo press office, but have not yet  received a response. I’ll keep you posted.

Five big reasons to go organic

Posted by -- April 10, 2012

Linda Bonvie – FoodIdentityTheft.com, April 10, 2012
It wasn’t all that long ago that organic products were available only in natural-food stores or were limited to a few select items carried by a smattering of supermarkets. Within the past few years there has been a phenomenal upsurge in the marketing of all types of organic commodities, ranging from produce to dairy products to cookies to canned and processed foods. And lots of big-name food companies have jumped on the organic bandwagon.

With more news hitting the fan daily about nasty and gross things found in conventional foods, from arsenic in chicken to “pink slime” in ground beef to residues of pesticides that are considered endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can cause adverse developmental, reproductive and neurological effects), it’s pretty clear why more folks are going organic. If you haven’t yet started swapping out “conventional” products and produce for organic ones, here are five big reasons we think you should.

1. Organic foods contain NO high fructose corn syrup!
Imagine the joy of shopping without having to scrutinize every label for the ubiquitous ingredient high fructose corn syrup. Like a blast from the past – by buying organic – this is one thing you won’t have to worry about. Conventional items,such as ketchup, mustard, salad dressings and bread, all typically contain this test-tube sweetener, organic varieties don’t. Case closed.

2. Organic farmers don’t raise chickens on a diet of caffeine and drugs
The idea of chicken being a “healthier” alternative to meat lost some of its credibility with two new studies out from researchers at Johns Hopkins and Arizona State University that looked at feather meal, a byproduct of the poultry industry used as animal feed and fertilizer, that turned up some nasty things being fed to chickens.

What researchers found suggests that chickens are fed over-the-counter drugs, such as Tylenol and Benadryl, caffeine, antibiotics, some of which have been banned, and arsenic. Keeve E. Nachman, co-author of the two reports is quoted as saying about the results, “It’s unbelievable what we found.”

If you want to take Tylenol and caffeine knowingly, and not as an unlabeled extra with a chicken dinner, choose organic poultry which is now widely available in most major supermarkets.

3. Organic fruits and vegetables contain an average of 30 percent more antioxidants
Finding it hard to get those five servings of fruits and vegetables in every day? Better start replanning your menu, as the recommendation’s been increased to nine servings! All the more reason to pick organic in the produce aisle or at your local farmers market.

Organically grown fruits and vegetables contain significantly more antioxidants per serving. This increased density means you’re getting a bigger bang for your buck – or snack. One reason for the higher nutritional quality of organic foods comes from lower yields. It seems that plants only have so much energy to keep them going. Chemical enhancements that force bigger and faster-growing crops sidetrack energy from other plant functions, essentially diverting them from generating the full potential of health-promoting compounds that come naturally.

4. Organic diets can make a big difference in a short time
To see how much of a difference switching your kids to an organic diet can make, look no further than a 2008 study of 23 children by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The kids studied, ranging in age from 3 to 11, all of whom had been raised exclusively on non-organic, conventional diets, were switched to an all-organic diet for just five days. The researchers found that swapping organic fresh fruits and vegetables for conventionally-grown ones reduced median concentrations of both malathion and chlorpyrifos, two nasty organophosphate pesticides (detected in urine), to non-detectable levels, or amounts close to being non-detectible. The researchers concluded that eating non-organic food was the major source of exposure that young children have to these pesticides.

5. Organic fruits and vegetables are safer to consume
Sure, everything we do has a risk factor. But its great when simple actions (such as wearing a seat belt) can substantially reduce a given risk for an activity, in this case eating. Some conventionally grown commodities are far more apt to contain toxic chemical residues than others.

The Organic Center has devised a “dietary risk index” or DRI to assess the health risk posed by a particular crop which takes into account both the residue levels of pesticides found, and how toxic each pesticide is considered to be. Below are some of their key findings.

Domestically grown fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide DRI:

  • Green beans (DRI 330)
  • Sweet bell peppers (DRI 132)
  • Celery (DRI 104)
  • Cucumbers (DRI 93)
  • Potatoes (DRI 74)
  • Cranberries (DRI 178)
  • Nectarines (DRI 97)

Those figures weren’t nearly as high as for imported produce; imported fruits found to have the highest residue levels came in at more than twice that of the domestically grown ones on the list.

Imported produce DRI numbers:

  • Sweet bell peppers (DRI 720)
  • Lettuce (DRI 326)
  • Cucumbers (DRI 317)
  • Tomatoes (DRI 142)
  • Grapes (DRI 282)
  • Nectarines (DRI 281)
  • Peaches (DRI 266)
  • Pears (DRI 221)

Aside from the health benefits of incorporating more organic food in your diet, organic agriculture helps preserve the integrity of groundwater, fosters sustainable farming practices and the preservation of nutrient-rich soil. But with all these benefits to society, what’s perhaps most important is the ability of organic farming to restore the nutritional value of crops to what it used to be back in the ‘good old days’ when grandma got a lot more in “food value” for her grocery money than today’s shoppers do.

When doing Internet research, steer clear of the “Spin Zone”

Posted by -- April 5, 2012

Back in the “old days”  — that is, the 20th Century up to the 1990s — doing research for an article meant lots of time spent interviewing people, either by phone or in person, or in the library, looking for facts, all the while hoping to hit on that great piece of information that tied everything together.

Of course, the amazing array of information that’s now a mere keystroke away on the Internet has done much to change all that. While a good story still requires interviews and footwork, most of what passes for “research” today, whether it involves getting the answer to a question or finding source material for a story or blog, is done online. And the fact that so many writers depend on Web resources has not gone unnoticed by big-money interests that hope to make their particular “facts” on an issue the first, and perhaps the only ones a researcher will look at.

I call this part of the Internet the Spin Zone, where PR flacks, well-endowed special-interest groups and lobbyists all do their part to get their message into your head. Now, these spin zone operators are not to be confused with authoritative groups or bloggers using their freedom of expression to disseminate valid information and honest opinions. Nor are they responsible for what are called “phishing” sites that masquerade as legitimate enterprises simply to steal information from you. The Spin Zone is rather a disreputable Internet neighborhood populated by high-tech con artists luring you into innocent-appearing sites that are actually fronts for powerful organizations that don’t want you to know who they are or what their agenda really is.

The biggest, baddest and most well-documented inhabitant of the Spin Zone is Richard Berman,  aka, “Dr. Evil,” president of the Washington,D.C.-based lobbying firm Berman & Company, Inc.

Berman has waged Internet war against many trusted and long-standing institutions, including labor unions, The Humane Society of the United States, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The number of so-called “charitable” groups he has organized, many under the banner of  “Center for Consumer Freedom” (CCF), is so vast, it’s hard to pick a favorite.

Some include the bizarre trans-fatfacts.com (which was taken down) that told us how trans-fats can “enhance immunity,” or mercuryfacts.org, which claims that “green groups” are putting “America’s poorest children at risk,” and that a “host of moneyed activist groups defy reason by dishonestly complaining that ‘mercury in fish’ is today’s version of ‘lead in paint.’” One of Berman’s more laughable reports, this one at the Consumer Freedom page, bears the headline: “marathon runner powered by fast food and willpower.”

One of  the Center for Consumer Freedom’s more extravagant efforts was a commercial bashing the Humane Society of the United States that ran during the 2012 Academy Awards telecast. It began with a flashing light and loud beeping and the copy “attention consumer protection alert!” The thirty-second spot, costing approximately $1.7 million, according to thinkprogress.org, was paid for by the CCF but financed — under the table — by the food industry.

‘Sweet talk’ to be wary of

The CCF web sites are slick, well-designed and dripping with industry-speak. One of the glossier ones is sweetscam.com, which welcomes you with a message claiming that “most of what you think you know about sweeteners is probably wrong. Some of this is a product of simple misunderstandings. The rest is a giant scam.”

Under the page entitled “Sweet secrets; find out who is scamming your sweets,” the CCF identifies these “mythmakers” as the Weston A. Price Foundation, Dr. Joseph Mercola and the “Naturopathy Movement,” (the core ideas behind naturopathy are “real” whole foods, and avoidance of toxic chemicals and drugs). Interestingly all three “mythmakers” are outspoken critics of high fructose corn syrup. In fact, much of the messaging at sweetsscam.com looks like it came straight out of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) advertising campaign.

One of the slicker areas of the site is the ad section, featuring videos and print ads said to be appearing all over the country, such as a print ad called “WTF.” short for “what the fructose,” that gives us pretty much the exact same message the CRA is spending mega-millions to propagate.  A slightly over-the-top commercial portrays an exchange between a “high fructose corn syrup” character in a corn-cob costume, who ‘s lying on a psychiatrist’s couch complaining he’s “misunderstood,” being asked by a Dr. Ruth impersonator if the problem is “sexual,” and replying that the problem is all in his “stupid” name, “high fructose corn syrup.”

“What do you feel like?” asks “Dr. Ruth.”

“I feel like ‘corn sugar,'” Mr. Corn replies.

“That’s a great name,” she says,  “you should call yourself that.”

While the CCF claims to file statements as a 501c nonprofit with the IRS that are available for “inspection,” it also says that many of the “companies and individuals” who finance these campaigns have asked to remain anonymous. What a surprise!

In an article at thinkprogress.org about the group’s Oscar show swipe at the Humane Society, Ian Millhiser, writes: “Berman’s latest effort is nothing less than an intimidation campaign designed to send a clear message to charities that if they work against a wealthy corporation’s interests, they will find themselves on the receiving end of a hit job led by deep-pocketed industries capable of throwing away more than a million dollars on a single ad.”  Or as Berman himself has been quoted as saying, his strategy is to “shoot the messenger.”

So how do we know when an Internet web site or commercial message is actually part of a clandestinely financed propaganda campaign? Well, if we see “Center for Consumer Freedom,” we know that some big organization is behind it. The only other thing we can do is exercise due diligence when researching things on the Web – and realize that sometimes what we see there might actually be the handiwork of Mr. Spin himself, Richard Berman.

The ‘secret formula’ for high fructose corn syrup that really lives up to the name

Posted by -- April 3, 2012

Of all the things you hear about high fructose corn syrup, especially from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), there’s a little something with a whole lot of fructose that doesn’t get much attention.

The CRA has spent big bucks on a campaign to try and convince us that high fructose corn syrup is the “same as sugar” since it contains either 42 or 55 percent fructose (called HFCS 42 and HFCS 55). Natural sugar, or sucrose, is comprised of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.

The main mantra from the CRA,  the one behind its attempt to have the high fructose corn syrup name on food products “officially” changed to “corn sugar,” is that HFCS really isn’t high in fructose after all, and naming it that when it was introduced back in the late 1960s was a really dumb idea they hope to correct in order to clear up consumer “confusion.”

But there’s another formulation, one that never enters into the picture being presented to consumers. It’s called HFCS 90, and it’s a high fructose corn syrup formulation that’s 90 percent fructose.

HFCS 90 isn’t new; it was developed in the 1970s, and you won’t read too much about it unless you know where to look. One of the most interesting references to HFCS 90 comes from a leading manufacturer of this unnatural, laboratory-created sweetener, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), which has a page on its corporate website about its trademarked version of the product called Cornsweet 90.®

“Cornsweet 90 ®,” it says, “containing about 90% fructose, is ADM’s sweetest high fructose corn syrup. Its high sweetness makes it the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

From my research, it’s quite apparent that both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration know about HFCS 90 and its food uses. Numerous studies, patents (including a method  for using HFCS 90 to produce a reduced-calorie beverage that was assigned to PepsiCo) and journal articles mention HFCS 90, and all the different foods that can be sweetened with it. So why don’t we consumers ever hear about it?

Fructose amounts a ‘proprietary’ matter

In 2010, Dr. Micheal Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, found that the fructose content of some HFCS-sweetened beverages he had analyzed came in as high as 65 percent fructose, almost 20 percent higher than if they were in fact made only with HFCS 55.

So what exactly is the fructose content of foods containing HFCS? Is it 42 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 90 percent,or somewhere in between? And what about those low-calorie and diet foods that ADM says its Cornsweet 90 ®  is “ideal” for?

In attempting to get an answer to that question, I contacted the manufacturer of some “lite” pancake syrup I found at the supermarket that listed HFCS among its ingredients.   But aside from being thanked for my “loyalty” to the brand, I was told that anything related to its HFCS content is “proprietary information.” So short of a paying for a laboratory study, it appears there is no easy way for a consumer to find out how much fructose a product made with HFCS really contains.

“The only information we have,” Dr. Goran told me when I spoke with him this past November about his 2010 study, “is that industry says that sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes. 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,” he said.

But with HFCS 90 out there and possibly being used in an unknown number of products, it looks like there could be a lot more than soda to be concerned about.

Even if you’ve cut soft drinks and similar HFCS-sweetened items out of your diet, it’s quite possible you could still be getting a “high fructose” jolt by consuming low-calorie and “reduced sugar” foods that contain this ‘secret formula’.

It certainly does seem to make the name “high frucutose corn syrup” sound more appropriate than ever.

Help stop the corn sugar hoax. Take a moment and click here to send your comments to the FDA over the 2010 CRA petition to try and change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar.” Tell the FDA to reject this attempt to conceal HFCS on food labels once and for all!