Archive for October, 2012

Corn Refiners Association ‘experts’: HFCS ‘misunderstood’

Posted by -- October 24, 2012

CRA 'spokesdoc' James Rippe, M.D. puts in a good word for HFCS

When National Public Radio (NPR) reported on the Food and Drug Administration’s ruling that high fructose corn syrup can’t be called “corn sugar” this past May, they commented that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), “much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character, (will) probably be baaack.”

As NPR guessed, the corn refiners weren’t about to give up the ship when it came to promoting HFCS. And despite the FDA’s official declaration that high fructose corn syrup is not sugar, they don’t seem to be about to stop equating their laboratory concoction with the real McCoy anytime soon.

To keep HFCS in the news in a positive way, the CRA appears to have called upon its stable of consulting experts, with James Rippe, M.D., author, Harvard Medical School grad and founder of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, emerging as the leader of the pack.

Recently Dr. Rippe has been really busy banging out pro-HFCS  “news,” most recently an article in Nutrition Journal and a commentary in the International Journal of Obesity that also has been written up in Food Navigator-USA under the headline; “Cardiologist: High fructose corn syrup is ‘one of the most misunderstood food ingredients’.” The primary purpose of such articles seems to be to debunk the idea that there is any real difference between HFCS and the real sugar it has replaced in so many products, or that the prevalence of HFCS in food and beverage products has anything to do with the current obesity epidemic.

“While the scientific debate is largely over, the public debate related to HFCS and obesity has, by no means, concluded,” Dr. Rippe writes in the International Journal of Obesity commentary. “There are literally thousands of postings on the internet related to putative links between HFCS and obesity as well as a variety of other metabolic abnormalities. Moreover, a number of manufacturers have yielded to adverse publicity and removed HFCS from their products and replaced it with sucrose despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the two sugars are metabolically equivalent.”

To assert that the “scientific debate is over” and imply that any controversy is merely Internet-generated rumor, is of course, is anything but accurate.  In fact, it sounds an awful like the premise of the CRA’s “Sweet Surprise” commercials that made all concerns about HFCS appear to be nothing but baseless rumors.  But then – talk about surprises –it turns out that the good doctor is actually identified with the “Sweet Surprise” campaign.

‘What we’re trying to do….’

Dr. Rippe’s ties to the Corn Refiners Association aren’t exactly hidden, and he does post on his web site for the Rippe Lifestyle Institute that his “partners” also include Pepsico and ConAgra Foods (saying that his institute’s research team “conducts multiple studies of mutual interest” with Pepsico). But an indicator of just how close he feels to his friends in Big Corn can be seen on a video interview he gave about HFCS. When asked about the CRA’s  “Sweet Surprise”website, Dr. Rippe replies, “And the reason we have that web site is…what we’re trying to do is encourage people to focus on the issues that really matter…”

Furthermore, a press release on the Rippe site for the Nutrition Journal article that claims “Our research debunks the vilification of high fructose corn syrup in the diet” calls (Rippe) “an advisor to the food and beverage industry including the Corn Refiners Association, which funded this research with an unrestricted educational grant.”

Other authors in the Obesity commentary include J. Foreyt  who is a member of the CRA’s scientific advisory panel and T.J. Angelopoulos, who, according to author and alternative physician Dr. Joseph Mercola, “got a $200,500 research grand from Rippe Health and Lifestyle Institute.”

And the “conflict of interest” section of the International Journal of Obesity commentary notes that “Dr Rippe and Rippe Lifestyle Institute received research grants and consulting fees from a variety of companies and organizations. Including ConAgra, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Weight Watchers and the Corn Refiners Association.” This led Dr. Mercola to ask in an piece about Rippe at whether the article was  “another Case of Industry-Funded Propaganda?” “There are actually clever forces at work behind the scenes that have carefully orchestrated this information to deceive you and the rest of the public,” Mercola added.

So the next time you hear “expert witnesses” brought in to tell you that any concerns you might have about HFCS are unfounded, you might want to consider whether they’re really offering an impartial scientific judgment – or speaking for a consortium that’s merely attempting to confuse the issue and “Rippe you off.”

Don’t be tricked by the disguises on those Halloween treats

Posted by -- October 20, 2012

It’s that time of year again when, unless you live in an isolated cabin in the woods, stocking up on “treats” that in most cases consist of packaged candy is practically obligatory. Now maybe you’re not particularly concerned about what’s in the goodies you hand out to your neighborhood goblins. But keeping in mind that your contributions can have an impact on how healthy a community you live in – not to mention the fact that you may well end up eating the leftovers yourself – we thought you might want to know the results of a casual survey we conducted of Halloween treats at a local supermarket, and where you might find one brand that appears to top them all when it comes to being health conscious.

Also, if you have little monsters of your own, you might well want to have an idea of what’s in the items they collect, since ingredients are often not listed on Halloween-size packaging.

First of all, we were pleased to discover that the main dietary culprit still found in so many processed foods – the sweetener created in the laboratories of the corn refining industry’s “mad scientists” known as high fructose corn syrup – appears to be much less prevalent in today’s candy aisle selections than you might have imagined. In fact, it’s nowhere to be found  in the majority of the Halloween treats manufactured by the company that’s still the biggest name in chocolate-covered goodies – Hershey’s.

Apparently encouraged by recent findings that chocolate might actually be good for us, Hershey’s now seems to have gone on a health kick – one being promoted on the company’s web site in the form of a campaign called  “Moderation Nation,” sponsored by the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition in collaboration with the American Dietetic Association. And while the company site continues to insist that there’s nothing wrong with a little HFCS, and that it’s a “safe ingredient” for use in food and beverages, a scrutiny of the various Hershey candy products now stacked on store shelves reveals that only conventional corn syrup, rather than high fructose corn syrup, is being used  to sweeten them along with cane sugar.

But don’t let yourself be tricked into assuming the HFCS isn’t lurking there somewhere amid all those Hershey’s products – because it is, along with another really scary additive.

 The ‘trickiest treats’ of all

After having examined the ingredient lists of a couple dozen of the Halloween goodies in our supermarket survey, our picks for the two ‘trickiest treats ‘ of 2012 are:

  • Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème: these bars not only contain HFCS but partially hydrogenated oil, a major source of artery-clogging trans fat.
  • Nestle’s 100 Grand: while it isn’t the only HFCS-sweetened candy the company makes (the old standard Baby Ruth being another), what prompted us to select it for this dubious distinction is the fact that its “fun size” Halloween package makes a claim of having “still 30% less fat than the leading chocolate brand,” which might trick consumers into thinking it’s a “healthier” candy choice without bothering to look at the actual ingredients.

Not that there aren’t other spooky ingredients to be wary of in popular candy products, one example being artificial colors. Mars’ M&Ms are the biggest users of such food dyes with no less than 10 in a package. Russell Stover Candy Corn Chews also list three, and Skittles contain several as well as hydrogenated palm kernel oil.

Two other long familiar candy bars, 3 Musketeers and Milky Way, both made by Mars, feature hydrogenated palm kernel and/or palm oil, and a third, Snickers, contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil – none of which are exactly part of a “heart-healthy diet.”

Another questionable component of two old favorites, Hershey’s Mounds and Almond Joy, is hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient containing hidden MSG, with Almond Joy also listing hydrogenated vegetable oil as being among its ingredients. Then there’s the preservative TBHQ found in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which is related to butane and is suspected of causing hyperactivity in children, as well as asthma.

Also, in many of these products – Hershey’s in particular – you’ll find an ingredient called PGPR, which stands for polyglycerol polyricinoleate. First introduced in 2006, It’s apparently a cheaper replacement for cocoa butter, one of the very ingredients that now makes chocolate considered such a healthy treat.

Now for the good news: we did manage to find a treat sold in conventional stores with ingredients chosen so  conscientiously, it seems too good to be real – which may account for the name.

Unreal Candy is said to be the brainchild of  13-year-old Nicky Bronner, the son of founder Michael Bronner. Under the motto “proving candy can be unjunked,” Unreal makes five candy concoctions,  all sans such “junk” as HFCS, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors, All its ingredients are said to be “responsibly sourced,” with dairy coming from pasture-raised cows that are given no antibiotics or added hormones. You’ll find Unreal candies sold at a number of big-name stores, including BJ’s, CVS, Kroger, Staples and Target.

No one, of course, expects candy to be health food. But some of the treats stacked up in anticipation of Halloween are far less healthy than others – and the list of ingredients is your actual only guide to the contents of their “inner sanctum.”

The taste of things that aren’t really there is finally here

Posted by -- October 10, 2012

In the wondrous world of food technology, taste sensations need not be real to be big money makers. The industry, in fact, is all abuzz these days over imaginary flavors, ‘tongue-tampering’ ingredients’ that, like imaginary friends, really exist only in your mind.

As I reported in March, Senomyx, the biotechnology company headquartered in San Diego, is busy working on its “sweet taste modulations,” sweet enhancers,” “salt enhancers,” and “savory flavors,” with several reportedly ready for market. These chemicals have no taste of their own, but work by either activating or blocking taste receptors on the tongue.

Four of the Senomyx “savory flavors” recently received approval in the European Union (EU), the company stated Tuesday in a press release. According to Senomyx CEO Kent Snyder, they are ready for use in sauces, frozen foods, soups and snack foods.

In the U.S., the company proudly announced at the beginning of this month that one of its sweetener enhancers, S9632, has been determined to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration “under the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”

I called Senomyx to get more information, as well as to inquire how this ingredient would appear on food labels, only to be told by a spokesperson in the corporate communications office that labeling details are “not up to Senomyx,” as they “don’t manufacture and don’t sell” the ingredient, but are only responsible for “discovery and development.”

She added that they have different types of agreements, including ones that stipulate exclusive use and arrangements with ingredient suppliers “that can sell to anyone.”

The spokesperson wouldn’t provide much more information regarding the reported GRAS status for ingredient S9632, saying only that “a process was put in place by the FDA” that was neither based on a “self determination” nor on a food additive petition submitted to the agency. “We don’t get into any of that discussion,” was how she explained it.

Coming soon: ‘HFCS Helper’

Another Senomyx ingredient, a taste modifier which is still being developed, will allow for a “meaningful reduction” of high fructose corn syrup, according to CEO Snyder, who was also quoted in a trade publication as saying, “…During the past year, we have identified enhancers that enabled up to a 33% HFCS reduction, while retaining the preferred sweetness profile and taste test.”

So even while the Corn Refiners Association is claiming that major food companies are once again embracing high fructose corn syrup, the scientists at Senomyx are busily engaged in developing a kind of ‘high fructose corn syrup helper’ that would cut the amount of it used in products. Or, as Snyder put it, “Reducing HFCS in these products…would be welcome by consumers and manufacturers.”

To get an idea of just how high tech such stuff really is, here is bit of an explanation of how it all works from “Building on work by scientists who have successfully cloned human taste receptors for sweet, bitter and umami tastes, Senomyx uses high-throughput biological screening techniques to evaluate millions of molecules to identify which substances bind to specific taste receptors.”

Back in the EU, however,  an explanatory memo issued by the European Commission to explain its list of “approved flavouring substances,” says that to be authorized a flavoring must not “mislead the consumer.” And that would seem to raise the question of whether there’s any real difference between misleading the consumer and misleading the consumer’s tongue.

Why it’s so important to let food companies know we oppose HFCS

Posted by -- October 5, 2012

Some readers of this blog may be wondering why it’s important to sign a petition such as the one we’ve posted to let the food industry know that consumers do care about whether their food contains high fructose corn syrup. Isn’t it enough for them to simply avoid it?

My answer to that would be: Do you want the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) speaking on your behalf? Because that in essence is what they’re doing by telling food manufacturers that 96 percent of consumers don’t care whether or not there’s HFCS in the products they make.

If you’re OK with that, then I’d say you don’t need to bother signing this petition. But I know I don’t want a bunch of lobbyists misrepresenting my views in this manner – and by so doing, encouraging the continuation of a practice that so many of us strongly oppose. Because should such a tactic succeed, it not only limits your freedom of choice as a consumer by making it necessary for you to cross many products off your list, but helps make the society you live in a less healthy one.

The Corn Refiners Association is a “trade association” whose job it is to promote, defend, and do “damage control” whenever the media publishes anything critical of its product. The CRA, based in Washington, D.C. Represents the ‘wet milling’ corn refining industry in the U.S. that makes corn products such as animal feed, starch, and of course, high fructose corn syrup.

The CRA worked hard trying to rebrand HFCS and have it officially called “corn sugar.” There were the corn field and punch party commercials on TV, newspaper and magazine ads, a multimillion dollar media spend. None of that worked. The Food & Drug Administration rejected its “corn sugar” petition at the end of May, telling CRA president Audrae Erickson that sugar is “a solid, dried, and crystallized food,” which is not exactly how one would describe HFCS.

If at first you don’t succeed, try another strategy

When all did not go well with both consumers, who sent in comments by the thousands to the FDA against the name switch, and the agency itself, the CRA switched gears and started courting food and beverage manufacturers as well as restaurants with the message that only four percent of customers give a hoot whether or not a product contains HFCS.

We know that’s not true. More and more consumers are checking labels, and HFCS is right at the top of the list of ingredients folks are eliminating from their diet. Food manufacturers have responded by removing this test-tube sweetener from many of their products as well, which is why it’s so important to not let the CRA misrepresent what we want (and don’t want).

Here are some of the comments left by individuals who have signed our petition. Please add your voice by clicking here.

I look for foods without high fructose corn syrup due to an allergy to corn and any of its products. Please remove it from our foods. Protect our children and us.

I avoid HFCS whenever I can and I resent that I have to protect myself from a substance that is unnecessary and harmful and that my tax dollars support this through corn subsidies. We are not allowing our citizens healthy lifestyle choices when we support something as unhealthy as this.

Every soft drink I look at contains HFCS. I don’t want this!

Guess what? I’m a consumer who READS LABELS…I’m glad they’re on the products I buy because I want to know what I’m feeding myself and people I serve. One thing I DO NOT want to eat NOR serve is HFCS or “corn sugar/syrup” unless there is no other substitute available *and usually there is!

I EXPECT that accurate information is on the labels so I can make good decisions about the food I purchase. Otherwise, I’m going to buy only local, eco- consumer friendly fresh foods and STOP buying packaged foods from companies I don’t trust: like Tyson, Campbells, Kraft, ConAgra Foods to name a few AND help others know that healthier foods and food makers are are available. These companies put HFCS/corn syrup in so many of their foods that I often ignore their products as soon as I see the name.

We the People speak: We value our health. NO to high fructose corn syrup!

Teen obesity ‘intervention’ just more ‘sugary drinks’ confusion

Posted by -- October 2, 2012

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s misnamed “sugary drinks” campaign, planned to go into effect next March after approval by the city’s Board of Health in September, is not only based on a ‘supersized’ false premise, but appears to be part of a disturbing trend in promoting “diet” drinks to kids.

Bloomberg’s war on obesity, kicked off at the beginning of June at a press conference with Deputy Mayor for Heath Linda Gibbs, was decorated for photographers as they surrounded themselves with soft drinks and sugar cubes, despite the fact that likely every drink at the mayor’s press conference contained not a trace of sugar, but rather high fructose corn syrup.

The Bloomberg plan to ban the selling of caloric beverages (most likely HFCS-sweetened ones) over 16 ounces at concessions stands, delis, restaurants, and any other business with a food-service license, appears to be giving kids and adults a green light to guzzle aspartame-sweetened and other diet drinks which have been exempted from the city-wide ban.

A side effect of all the confusion and mistaken “sugary” hype is a reported rise in the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks. According to a study published this summer in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children are drinking more artificially sweetened beverages than ever, twice as much as ten years ago. Could part of that be because researchers are promoting, even delivering free of charge, diet drinks to kids?

A just-out study published September in the New England Journal of Medicine, described to be an “intervention” among overweight and obese adolescents to see if reduction of “sugar-sweetened” beverages would slow weight gain consisted in part of a “home delivery”  for a year of diet drinks to participant’s homes every two weeks. Other tactics in the “multicomponet intervention,” led by Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital, consisted of monthly “motivational” phone calls, three home visits, and written messages with instructions to drink the delivered beverages.

A bad choice vs. a worse one?

Nowhere, however, does the advisability of substituting one test-tube sweetener, such as aspartame, for another, HFCS, seem to enter into the picture. To read about this study, one would never know that aspartame is considered by some leading medical authorities to be an “excitotoxin” – that is, a substance that literally excites brain cells to death, especially in children whose blood-brain barriers are not fully developed, Its use in food was also opposed by a group of scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration after being linked to brain tumors in lab rats, and has been the subject of thousands of complaints since made to the FDA claiming adverse reactions, including seizures and blindness.

Adding to the confusion over the term “sugar-sweetened beverages” to describe those that contain HFCS is the fact that the researchers’ themselves don’t seem to know the difference. The Ludwig Journal article, for example, states that teens consuming “sugar-sweetened” drinks showed more weight gain than those given diet beverages. However if you look at the study they are citing, it’s clearly called Effect of drinking soda sweetened with aspartame or high-fructose corn syrup on food intake and body weight.

Ludwig’s study, which didn’t focus on physical activity or any other aspect of the kids’ diet, used a “control”  group of teens who didn’t receive the free diet drinks, but just two $50 supermarket gift cards. At the end of the year, the kids on diet beverages gained an average of  four fewer pounds for the year.

Oddly, Dr. Ludwig himself, in an Internet interview to promote his book, Ending the Food Fight, hints at a likely connection between the the obesity epidemic and the use of HFCS by noting that “obesity rates didn’t start rising until the 1970s in the United States…” – a time frame that corresponds to the substitution of HFCS for sugar in the American diet. Prior to that time, beverages (and other products) sweetened with actual sugar were commonly consumed, yet the obesity rate remained much lower than it is today in both children and adults.

Fortunately, not everyone involved in obesity research has lost sight of this important distinction. Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California, whose 2010 study found several popular HFCS-sodas contained over the legal limit of fructose, pointed out to Food Identity Theft that the these so-called sugary drinks “do not contain sugar – they are made with high fructose corn syrup. It is Goran’s contention that “we need to be careful not to take our eye off the real target,” which is a much bigger threat (of) obesity and chronic diseases from “the proliferation of high fructose corn syrup in our food supply.”

And, if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have key people in the medical community implying that it’s a much better idea to consume a neurotoxic substitute.