Archive for September, 2013

Food Identity Theft and Citizens for Health acting as your ‘reps’ at this week’s Natural Products Expo

Posted by -- September 27, 2013

This week, Food Identity Theft will be joining Citizens for Health as an exhibitor at the Natural Products Expo East 2013 in Baltimore — a “first” for FIT, which will be on hand to acquaint visitors and exhibitors with many of the issues we’ve explored in these blogs over the past couple of years, and an opportunity for Citizens for Health to get many additional signatures on its petition to require the that the labels of  products containing high fructose corn syrup accurately reflect the amount of fructose in that additive.

Those stopping by the booth will also be encouraged to play an active role in “Read Your Labels Day,” an annual event launched last April 11 to promote awareness of the actual ingredients in food, rather than the often misleading claims given prominent positions on the front of food packages.

The Citizens for Health petition, which has been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, seeks to have the agency require that the precise amounts of fructose in HFCS be disclosed on food packages. While the Corn Refiners Association has made claims that the ratio of fructose in HFCS is about the same as that in sugar, it has also acknowledged what independent researchers have uncovered: that the actual amounts of fructose involved can be significantly higher, and in some cases, as much as 90 percent. (Even if you won’t be in attendance at Expo East, you can sign and comment on the petition here.)

But mainly, what our participation means is that consumers will have an advocate representing them at a food-related event that relatively few have an opportunity to attend. In addition to being a watchdog over industry practices and reporting back to you, our role is also to uphold our rights to have standards of honesty, integrity and transparency adhered to in food production.  And nowhere is that more important than in the realm of “natural products,” which are widely — and sometimes erroneously — assumed to be safe and healthy to consume.

 Truvia settlement in the works

And while we’re on that subject, we thought an update might be in order on a case covered by this blog a couple months ago in which such standards appeared to have been compromised in a supposedly “healthy” product.

I’m referring to the class-action suit filed back in July in federal court in Hawaii alleging that the marketing of Cargill’s sweetener  Truvia  was“unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent…” and “likely to deceive” consumers into believing that this supposed “stevia” sweetener is natural when it is in fact “highly chemically processed.”

While the product is described on its packaging as “Nature’s perfect sweetness,” the truth about Truvia isn’t quite so pure and simple. As we reported at the time,  “(t)he fact that Truvia, and other stevia sweeteners commonly found at most supermarkets, are derived from a highly refined and chemically-processed sweet glycoside of the stevia leaf called Reb A, isn’t exactly a new revelation. But the current class-action reveals that Truvia is comprised of only ‘…a minute amount of the stevia-derived ingredient,’ the rest being synthetic erythriol that comes from corn starch converted ‘…to glucose through the biochemical process of enzymatic hydrolysis,’ further fermented with yeast.

After being hit with the lawsuit, a Cargill spokesperson was quoted in the website Food Navigator as saying the company planned to “aggressively” defend itself.  But it was apparently singing a somewhat different tune this week when it reportedly agreed to settle similar litigation filed a few months earlier in Minnesota — although without admitting to any wrongdoing.  And although the suit at issue was not technically a class action, the company also has reportedly agreed to recognize an affected class of consumers who purchased Truvia products and to set up a $5 million fund that will provide compensation to them in the form of cash refunds or vouchers.

As for that class action cased filed in Hawaii, that would supposedly be resolved as well by this proposed settlement, assuming it gets authorized by the court.  Cargill will also reportedly be making some alterations to Truvia’s label language to prevent any future misunderstanding of how it’s made, but plans to go on calling it “natural.”

Given Cargill’s settlement on the Truvia litigation, it should be especially interesting to see what the agribusiness giant does in regard to the claim brought against it and five other companies in June by a Buffalo, N.Y. attorney claiming a “direct, causal connection” between a 14-year-old girl’s diabetes and consumption of high fructose corn syrup.  We’ll keep you posted.

New bill focuses on fuzziness in food labeling rules

Posted by -- September 24, 2013

New legislation introduced last week in Congress is attempting to tame the wild, wild west of food labeling.

Addressing some of the most confusing and misused terms on food products, such as “natural,” “whole grain,” and “healthy,” the bill also calls for both an overhaul of the ingredient label and the addition of a standard front-of-package nutrition labeling system for processed foods that would include a calories- per-serving designation positioned right where you are most likely to see it.

Introduced by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the “Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013” would be the first big update in food labeling, according to DeLauro, since 1990, and in some cases, she said, since 1938.

Some of the labeling issues covered by the bill include:

Restricting use of the term “natural”
“Natural,” or “all natural ingredients” are probably the most commonly used misleading terms on food packages. The Food and Drug Administration says that natural is “difficult” to define, and that it “has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

The new bill takes that a big step further, proposing that a product may also not use the term “natural” if an ingredient “has undergone chemical changes, such as corn syrup (which would certainly include high fructose corn syrup), chemically modified starch, and cocoa processed with alkali” as examples.

Ingredient label formatting
This is a big issue over just how small the print on a food product package can be – or to be more precise, the words on the ingredient label. The proposed new legislation aims to make ingredient labels more easily readable through fixes such as upper and lower case characters (instead of all caps as they currently are), better contrast between the words and background colors, and bullet points between ingredients. This would enable shoppers who forgot to bring a magnifying glass to the store with them to know exactly what it is they are considering consuming.

Clarifying the whole-grain claim to fame
Like “natural,” the use of the hazy terms “whole grains,” or “made with whole grains,” are best taken with a ‘grain’ of salt.  We’ve been told that whole grains are good for us and we need to eat more of them, but how do we know how much are actually in a product? And just what does “made with whole grains” mean, anyway?

Many food products tout whole grains, when in fact their first ingredient is just “enriched flour.” And even if “whole” as in whole wheat four or whole oats is at the top of the list, it’s still an unknown what the exact percentage of whole grains the product contains. This new bill would cut through those often half-baked terms by requiring any food label that uses come-ons pertaining to whole grains to disclose exactly what percent of whole grains the product contains. Items that use the term “wheat” or “whole wheat” must likewise disclose the percentage of whole wheat that refers to.

‘Added sugars’ specifics
A much needed and long-awaited change to the nutrition facts label (NFL), this provision would require that side-panel information box to specify what added “sugars” – meaning sugars that are not naturally occurring – a food product contains.

The “sugars” designation on the NFL includes fructose, glucose, lactose and sucrose (cane or beet sugar), with no current information provided as to whether the “sugars” are naturally occurring or added. Plain milk, for example, contains 12 grams of  naturally-occurring “sugars,” and apple cider with no sweeteners added contains 30 grams. At the same time, an eight-ounce Pepsi that is made with high fructose corn syrup contains 28 grams.

Full caffeine disclosure
The new rules would do away with vague references to the amount of caffeine in a drink by requiring disclosure of actual caffeine amounts in products containing more than 10 milligrams.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), told Food Identity Theft in an email that he believes “the legislation is important because it would require the FDA to do many of the things that it has the authority to do, but hasn’t done.”

“Perhaps most importantly,” Jacobson added,  “the bill would require the FDA to institute a system of front-of-package symbols to convey the overall nutritional quality of foods.”

Certainly “front-of-package” labeling concepts are not a new idea. In fact, the marketplace has seen a wide variety of versions from grocery trade associations, supermarket chains, big box retailers and brands themselves – all while the FDA can’t seem to come up with any recommendations for new and easy-to-understand package nutrition labeling.

The bill would require a single, standard front-of package labeling system for all food products  required to have a nutrition facts label,  a proposal designed to “facilitate consumer selection of healthy products.”

The proposed legislation is certain to face numerous hurdles and objections. “The Grocery Manufacturers Association has already opposed the bill,” said Jacobson, “and the Republican House of Representatives certainly won’t rush it through.”

“But, in any case,” he added, “the bill certainly sends a signal to the FDA that it must do a better job of ensuring informative, honest labels.”

Former FDA official: HFCS consumption ‘destroying the youth of the U.S.’

Posted by -- September 19, 2013

When Dr. Dana Flavin was asked by Life Extension magazine several years ago to write an article about high fructose corn syrup, she approached the idea a bit skeptically. Corn syrup, after all, had been around for ages, so could HFCS be much different?  “I thought, that’s ridiculous,” she said, recalling how even her mother had used corn syrup to make cake icings,

But what Dr. Flavin, a former Food and Drug Administration toxicologist and physician subsequently learned about the “danger” and “toxicity” associated with high fructose corn syrup “flabbergasted” her.  “When I began to read about it, it was like removing the wool from my eyes,” she told Food Identity Theft in a phone interview from Germany.

Flavin is no stranger to interpreting scientific literature. The founding director of The Foundation for Collaborative Medicine and Research, based in Connecticut, she is now headquartered in Germany researching the “basic molecular pathology” of diseases as well as the pharmacology of both natural and synthetic substances to treat and reverse ailments. Along with those obligations, she’s an adviser to cancer institutes in Germany, where she is also a practicing physician, and currently collaborating with colleagues in Israel, the United States, Canada and England. Her conclusion on the numerous studies about HFCS are quite firm. For her there is no debate on how this ubiquitous sweetener is harming the health of people, especially the young.

“If we don’t get this out of the American diet we are going to end up with a country of lazy, obese, sick young people…this is exactly where it is moving,” she said, “this is a horrendous problem…its toxicity is overwhelming and it’s completely destroying the youth of the U.S.”

This “horrendous problem,” according to Flavin, is due to the unnatural, excessive amounts of fructose delivered by HFCS. “I never realized that this ratio of high fructose to glucose made (such) a tremendous difference in the body,” she said. “We know sugar is not healthy, ” she added,” but I can’t say it’s detrimental.” But “high fructose corn syrup has shown toxicity way beyond sugar in my opinion as a former FDA official.”

The toxic effects of HFCS, says Flavin, include the “shifting (of) the biochemistry of the body, creating toxic byproducts (which are) detrimental to mental and physical health.” HFCS consumption, according to Flavin, leads to high triglycerides, high cholesterol, damage to blood vessels, diabetes and obesity.

“They thought this was just going to be a substitute for sugar, but unfortunately this is not the case,” she said.

Higher fructose,  lower life expectancy

Although the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), the trade group representing the agribusiness behemoths that manufacturer HFCS, produced a long-running  PR campaign with the mantra that HFCS is “virtually the same” as real sugar (which is a 50/50 combination of bound glucose and fructose), and has repeatedly asserted that the additive isn’t really high in fructose, both scientific studies and the group’s own admissions show otherwise.

A growing body of evidence has come to light showing that HFCS is apparently being used by food and beverage manufacturers in highly fluctuating fructose amounts, including a mega-90 percent  version.

These findings led Citizens for Health to file a petition with the Food and Drug Administration asking the agency to take action against manufacturers using HFCS with fructose levels above 55 percent, the highest amount the FDA allows, and in the interim, to require the actual amount of fructose contained in an HFCS formulation to be specified on product labels. (To sign and support that petition, click here).

The CRA’s written response to the FDA regarding that petition was a shocking acknowledgment that, in violation of that agency’s regulations, HFCS-90 has been used in the food supply “with FDA knowledge for decades.” The letter, signed by the CRA’s then-interim president J. Patrick Mohan, also refers to “fluctuations in fructose levels above 42 or 55%” in HFCS that he apparently believed “would be expressly permitted” by the FDA.

The agency, however, has made it quite clear that it feels HFCS 90 “contains a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose than…HFCS-55,” and that the FDA doesn’t have enough information to “ensure that this product is safe.”

Flavin supports the Citizens for Health petition, noting that “from what I’ve seen in the science, when you increase the ratio of fructose, you are completely shifting your body’s recognition of (what you are consuming)” leading to increased hunger “even though you’ve eaten, because it shifts those hormones that regulate satiation.”

While HFCS consumption is highest in the U.S., Flavin said she is seeing it work its way into foods in Germany as well. In her view, the mass amounts of this unnatural sweetener currently in the American diet are responsible for “creating a new population (suffering from) obesity, hypertension, high triglycerides, liver toxicity and early death.”

“I wish this weren’t the case,” she added, “because I don’t want to be the one to blow the whistle on this but I have to. It’s my duty and I have no choice.”

Four more examples of how you’ve been reading food labels all wrong

Posted by -- September 17, 2013

If you buy processed foods based on established names, pretty packaging or label advertising, chances are good you’ve been suckered into purchasing some badly misrepresented  items. We’ve selected four products from some big brands that are not the “whole grain,” “natural,” or healthy foods they appear to be.

Here’s an idea of what you’ve been missing if you fail to read the ingredients label before buying a product:

Gerber Graduates Cereal Bars

The hook: They consist of whole grains with no preservatives, and are “specially made for your child,” by a top manufacturer of baby food (which is actually a subsidiary of the mega consumer products conglomerate Nestle).

The truth: The whole grain claim on this product can best be taken with a grain of salt, as the first ingredient is just bleached and unbleached flour, which is decidedly not whole grain. There are some whole grain oats in here, but the actual amount isn’t provided; it could just a dusting. The ingredients kind of go downhill from the bleached flour, with the big unknown of “natural flavors” and not one, but two uses of high fructose corn syrup, one in the crust and one in the filling – where it is the first ingredient, no less!

The take-away: There are scores of organic toddler snacks on the market, including many made by Gerber, so obviously the company does know how to make foods with better ingredients.

Minute Maid Ruby Red Grapefruit

The hook: It’s put out by a leading juice manufacturer and depicts a delicious-looking red grapefruit on the packaging.

The truth: Despite the big “Ruby Red Grapefruit” on the top of the label, this is actually a “juice beverage,” meaning that it’s not all juice, in this case, much less, being only 30 percent red grapefruit juice. On top of that it contains HFCS and cochineal extra for coloring. While not spelled out on the label, cochineal, also called carmine, is a coloring that is extracted from the crushed bodies of small bugs. It is also the subject of a current petition sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest requesting Dannon yogurt remove this insect-derived coloring from its products. (Read more about cochineal in last week’s blog here.)

The take-away: While there is nothing more refreshing than ice-cold red grapefruit juice, this isn’t it, but rather a diluted, HFCS-sweetened and bug-colored beverage.

Nectresse  Monk Fruit Sweetener

The hook: It’s got zero calories and is all natural (the four most valued words in food marketing).

The truth: While monk fruit has a long history of use as a sweetener, including in traditional Chinese medicine, this product contains more corn-derived erythritol than monk fruit. A call to Nectresse (actually McNeil Nutritionals) didn’t shed any light on exactly how much monk fruit is in the product, but we can tell you erythritol is the first ingredient on the label, and that a recent lawsuit against the “all natural” Truvia stevia sweetener revealed that Truvia is almost entirely comprised of erythritol, with stevia, the lawsuit claims, being present in only “a minute amount.”

The take-away: Watch out for “natural” and zero-calorie sweeteners that are mostly comprised of a highly processed corn-derived ingredient apt to be made by the same companies that have brought us HFCS.

Mott’s Original Applesauce

The hook: What could be more natural than applesauce? With the jar lid stating “hand-picked goodness” several times and the label copy claiming that Mott’s has been dedicated since 1842 to helping families enjoy “delicious fruit goodness everyday,” you can’t go wrong, right?

The truth: Mott’s has manages to take a simple and pure product like applesauce and make it another sneaky place to find HFCS. And if you think consumers haven’t noticed, right on the Mott’s original applesauce page they allow folks to leave comments under the heading: “share what you love about Mott’s Original Applesauce.” Some of the “love” includes comments such as “get the HFCS out,” “HFCS in applesauce? Unnecessary and gross,” “I have no problem with sugar, I have a problem with the HFCS…a cheap, highly processed sugar alternative.”

The take-away: Organic applesauce is easy to find, inexpensive and quite delicious even without added sugar or honey.

As food shopping today gives new meaning to the expression “let the buyer beware” rather than focusing on label claims and cool graphics, go right to the ingredient label, the only way to know what you are really purchasing — and consuming.

Dannon resists consumer group’s efforts to get the ‘bugs’ out of its yogurt

Posted by -- September 12, 2013

If beetle juice isn’t your cup of tea – or cup of yogurt to be more exact – then here is yet another reason to become a more conscientious food-label reader.

You know that pretty red hue swirling in your cup of Dannon “Fruit on the Bottom” strawberry, raspberry, cherry and boysenberry yogurt, or in some flavors of its Greek and Activia brand? Well, that doesn’t come from fruit, but rather from a coloring additive called carmine, which is derived from the dried and crushed bodies of cochineal insects – small, scaly bugs harvested off of cactus plants.

If you’re finished saying “eeww,” then read on, because there is more than the ick factor involved here.

While some folks just don’t like the idea of bugs in their food, a small number of consumers have actually experienced allergic reactions that range from swelling, hives and itchiness to full-blown anaphylactic shock. And that’s not to mention some of the other reasons consumers might not want to unknowingly ingest insects, such as being a vegetarian or keeping a Kosher diet.

Having previously taken aim at the unlabeled use of carmine in food products, the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is now going a step further by sponsoring an online petition at asking Dannon “to get insect-extract out of yogurt.” CSPI calls the practice “deceptive and gross,” and requests that Dannon use “more fruit” to color its product.

Although calls and an email to Dannon had not been answered at the time this blog was posted, the company told the online trade publication that “carmine is safe, we label it clearly, and people that want to avoid it can…” But that response takes an awful lot for granted, considering that most folks don’t even have a clue what carmine is, let alone if they may be allergic to it.

Dannon says it has “no plans” to change its labeling and is holding fast to the idea that listing “carmine” on the packaging is good enough. However, had it not been for CSPI’s previous efforts, this bug-derived coloring would likely have remained listed on ingredient labels merely as “color added.”

In 1998 CSPI petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to, at the very least, require labeling of cochineal extracts. In 2006, with its petition still pending, the consumer group asked the FDA to reconsider its

refusal to ban the additive outright in order to protect consumers with unknown allergies to the bug juice coloring, asking “why tolerate a food coloring that sends a couple hundred people to emergency rooms each year, yet its only purpose is cosmetic.”

Even though the FDA turned down the request to remove carmine from the food supply, in 2009, it ordered that the additive be named on a product’s ingredient label, a ruling that no longer permits this buggy ingredient to simply be hidden in foods. CSPI called the rule “useful progress” at the time, still maintaining that the FDA should “have exterminated these critter-based colorings altogether.”

Where protests precipitated change

While Dannon continues to state that they will not give up carmine colorings, another well-known company, Starbucks, made similar statements last year when a vegetarian barista learned what was coloring several of the cafe chain’s pink-hued items.  Starbucks cleared its menu of bugs in short order after customers began protesting and an online petition was started.

So what does Starbucks use now? It seems that similar red colorings can be obtained via a natural tomato-based lycopene extract, a transition it completed last summer. Other natural and plant-based alternatives are available to food companies, and in the European Union – which does require more stringent labeling – food companies are using those options.

Other food products that may contain cochineal extracts include drinks, candy, ice cream, cakes, pies – basically any food item with a reddish or pink hue to it.  So if you’d prefer to keep cochineal insects out of your diet — for whatever reason — better give the ingredient panel a careful scrutiny before you purchase that red-hued food. You won’t find any notices prominently displayed on product labels that there are pulverized insects inside.

Not yet, anyway.

Hexane extracted soy casts a ‘hex’ on nonorganic food makers

Posted by -- September 10, 2013

A selection of so-called "healthy" foods that use hexany-processed soy ingredients

The Food Identity Theft blog that appeared here at the end of August, Five snacks that use healthy hype to hide unhealthy ingredients, created quite a stir with Facebook readers, with many asking for additional information about hexane and soy, and most of all specific facts about the solvent and its use in CLIF BAR ingredients.

The short answer about CLIF BAR is yes, the nonorganic soy protein isolate used in CLIF, LUNA, MoJo and the BUILDER’s bars are, according to the company, hexane-extracted. So if that’s all you wanted to know, you can stop reading here. But there’s really much more to the story, including how the CLIF company justifies its use of hexane-processed soy. And with numerous so-called “healthy” snacks, vegetarian items, and even infant foods containing this “highly processed material that uses a dangerous toxic substance in its manufacture,” the issue goes way beyond the CLIF BAR question so many readers have asked.

In 2009 The Cornucopia Institute issued a report, Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry, bringing to light what it called the “dirty little secret in the natural foods business” –  the widespread use of the toxic, air-polluting chemical hexane –  which is prohibited in organic food processing but “widespread in the ‘natural’ soy industry.”   The group followed up with another report about hexane and soy in 2010, issuing a nutrition bar and veggie burger shopping guide, and focusing on the significant advantages in buying 100 percent organic foods.

From gasoline to snack bars to baby formula

Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline refining. It is a neurotoxic, highly flammable, volatile chemical that is used in industrial glues and cleaning solutions. It can also be found in gasoline and numerous other consumer products, mostly adhesives, sealants and coatings, such as Krylon and Rust Oleum. But the most common use of hexane is as a solvent to extract the oils from nonorganic soy, canola and corn.

The Cornucopia Institute’s Behind the Bean report cites examples of just how dangerous hexane can be to workers and those transporting the chemical (such as the operator of a tanker truck who was injured when 4,500 gallons of hexane he was carrying burst into flames in 2001, the two workers killed in a 2003 explosion at a Iowa soybean processing plant and the 200 people killed and 600 people injured in a blast in Mexico in 1992). But one of the big questions many consumers have is: are there are any hexane residues remaining in all these nonorganic soy products?

The Cornucopia Institute had samples of hexane-extracted soy products sent to an independent laboratory for testing, finding that while there was less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of hexane in the oil, the soy meal tested at residues of 21 ppm, and the soy grits contained 14 ppm. The Food and Drug Administration, however, has set no residue level for hexane in foods, nor does it require that any at-risk food products be tested for hexane.

The group says in its report that “(t)he effects of consuming foods that contain hexane-extracted ingredients are not known,” also stating that  hexane “has been tested for its effects on workers” but not “for its effects on consumers as part of the human diet.”

But perhaps the most disturbing use of hexane-extracted ingredients is in the manufacture of infant formula, with The Cornucopia Institute noting that “nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane extracted.”

Food Identity Theft contacted Abbot Laboratories, makers of Similac, and Mead Johnson, which makes Enfamil, including the soy-based ProSobee brand, to see what they had to say about the hexane-processed ingredients used in their formulas.

The Abbot specialist read from a prepared statement saying that many edible oils that have a “long history of safe use throughout the world (are) produced using the hexane extraction method,” and that the soy protein used in the company’s formulations are extracted this way, with “our suppliers’ standard practice” being to remove traces of hexane, adding that Abbot products have “been safely fed to millions of babies…and they have grown and developed normally.”

Mead Johnson told us that they had no information about hexane and soy; however a member of its product information department called back the next day, not about the soy, but to tell us its fatty acid additives DHA and ARA, are “purified” with hexane and that the “suppliers’ standard practice” is to remove all “detectable” traces of the chemical (the DHA and ARA are produced from laboratory-grown algae and fungus).

Other companies we contacted included Lightlife foods and CLIF BAR. Lightlife’s response was an interesting one, something Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute described in an email as a good example of “wordsmithing their response.”

When asked if Lightlife uses hexane-extracted soy ingredients in its Smart Dogs Veggie Protein Links, we were told the company “does not use hexane or any other chemicals like it in the development or manufacturing of our product.” When asked who supplies the company with its soy protein isolate, we were told that may not be something they can reveal, but would “send the question along…”

Kastel’s response was that “if the ingredient list includes any ingredient made from soy and it does not state that it is either certified organic or expeller-pressed, it is likely that the soybeans were processed with hexane. Lightlife is owned by ConAgra and is not certified organic,” he pointed out, adding that the manner their response was worded  is a way to “get away with misleading consumers.”

And then there’s CLIF BAR, the subject of all that Facebook frenzy. A company spokesperson told us in a phone interview that the soy protein isolate it uses is “extracted using that solvent,” and that it gets a “guarantee from our suppliers that there is no detectable hexane left in the product.” She added that CLIF BAR has yet to find an alternative “that meets our quality and quantity standards,” but is continuing to look for one.

And how does a company that claims its core mission is to “restore our planet for future generations” comment on the environmental aspects of purchasing large amounts of hexane-processed soy?

“Our supplier uses a closed system,” she explained, “so none of the hexane gets released into the environment. … They reuse it … and there is no human contact with the substance.”  But while she would not reveal the name of that soy processing company that has managed to contain all of its hexane, perhaps they ought to disclose it to Perdue AgriBusiness which is currently embroiled in a heated debate with residents in rural Lancaster County, Pa., where Perdue hopes to build a hexane-processing soybean plant. The plant design, said to use the “latest hexane recovery technology,” and which would reportedly recycle 99.9 percent of the chemical, is still expected to  release a minimum of 220 tons of hexane into the environment annually.

The Cornucopia Institute advises that avoiding soy protein products “bathed in hexane” can be achieved by simply buying only USDA-certified organic products. It also publishes two guides grading both veggie burgers and nutrition bars.

There are “alternatives” for the companies that use hexane-processed soy,  Kastel maintained, “but (it) would probably cut into their bottom line.”

Update: Big Corn cites discredited argument in seeking dismissal of HFCS case

Posted by -- September 5, 2013

Last week, three of the defendants in a groundbreaking case against the manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup filed an “expected” motion to dismiss, making claims that sounds an awful lot like the “sugar is sugar” commercials put out by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) that flooded the airwaves for several years.

In June, Buffalo, N.Y. attorney J. Michael Hayes filed a civil action against six manufacturers of HFCS for products liability, failure to warn, gross negligence, reckless conduct and injuries on behalf of a Buffalo-area woman and her teenage daughter who has type-2 diabetes.

Hayes said in a phone interview Wednesday that while the motion was fully anticipated, he’s “not real impressed with it. They claim that we cannot prove that HFCS caused her diabetes because there are so many different known causes of diabetes.

“Our response to that is that we don’t need to prove that HFCS was the sole cause of the girl’s diabetes, only that it was a significant factor.”

And as far as obesity is concerned, Hayes said “there are a lot of obese people who have diabetes (but) there is no scientific proof that shows that obesity causes diabetes. What you have is correlation, not causation.”

Referring to to the motion to dismiss as “scientifically lax,” Hayes noted that the defendants claim “HFCS is very similar to sugar, with the motion stating that ‘the sweetener is a blend of roughly equal parts fructose and glucose that is similar to sucrose.’” In attempting to show similarity, he contended, “they are admitting therefore that it’s different. I think that’s either a weak argument or a concession.”

One distinct difference is the fact that the amount of fructose in HFCS is typically higher than sugar, and in some cases, as high as 90 percent.  That revelation is what has spurred Citizens for Health to petition the Food and Drug Administration to require that products containing HFCS have the actual amount of fructose specified on the label, since high fructose consumption is associated with a wide variety of health problems. (To sign the Citizens for Health petition, go here, to read it, go here).

Yet, the CRA’s mantra, that HFCS and real sugar are akin to twins separated at birth, is one it has continued to push even though numerous scientific studies have shown distinct differences between the test-tube sweetener and real sugar, or sucrose. And despite the Food and Drug Administration’s decisive thumbs down last year to the corn refiners’ attempt to have HFCS officially renamed “corn sugar,” they also can’t seem to give up on their name claim to “sugar,” continuing to refer to HFCS as “simply a form of sugar made from corn” on the CRA Sweet Surprise website.

Hayes interest in pursuing a case against HFCS developed from what he describes as having “filtered” out of a health and nutrition conference he attended with his wife, a nurse and nutrition counselor, last year. He told us in an initial interview in June that the industry’s argument that HFCS is the same as sugar “is not true…it has a different metabolic effect,” adding “if you make HFCS and you know it’s going to be consumed and you know it has the potential to cause illness and disease, then you have to place a warning on (products containing) it.”

On Wednesday, he cited a type of defense used by pharmaceutical companies when they are sued for adverse effects from an FDA-approved drug: that individuals can’t receive the drug unless it is prescribed by a ‘knowing’ individual, a physician. “Here we’ve got a food additive, and the motivation to use it is not because you’ve got an illness, but because of the television commercials on Saturday mornings – that’s what the kids want,” Hayes maintained, pointing out that “there is no learned intermediary” involved.

“I wouldn’t have taken the case unless I though it was good and solid,” he added. “I only get paid if I win, although this is also in some degree to help society.”

Linda Bonvie

EPA’s new ‘bee protection’ warning for pesticides seen as lame labeling effort

Posted by -- September 3, 2013

New pesticide labels for bee-toxic chemicals designed to “better protect” pollinators,  announced  by the Environmental Protection Agency last month, just “don’t cut it” according to environmentalists.

The EPA’s new action, prohibiting use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides when bees are present, does “little to address the problem of bee declines,” said Paul Towers, organizing director of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) on the group’s website.

The new labels contain a colorful “bee advisory box” with information on how to avoid direct exposure and spray drift, even admitting that the most common method in which these chemicals are used – as seed treatments –  can “kill bees” it stops there, leading Towers to call them “practically unenforceable.”

The new labels “fail to acknowledge the unique properties of systemic, persistent neonicotinoid pesticides..,” Towers declared, adding that the EPA’s efforts “will only make matters worse by giving a false sense of acceptability for the use of these bee-harming products.”

Honeybees collecting corn pollen

As Food Identity Theft reported earlier this year, the plight of the honeybees known as colony collapse disorder, or CCD, in which honeybees abandon their hive and queen, was first recognized around 2006 and coincides with the registration of neonicotinoid pesticides and extra high-dose corn seed treatments that began around 2004.

Another way bees may be consuming the pesticides could come from the high fructose corn syrup fed to them by beekeepers. Practically all corn – with the exception of organic – comes from seed treated with neonicotinoids.

According to the EPA, corn seed treatment is the single biggest use for these chemicals, and being that corn is the most widely grown crop in North America, this is no small use. Because these pesticides act in the plant systemically, they stay active as a plant grows, causing contamination of the pollen and nectar, and potentially any products made from seed-treated crops. Giving further credence to the HFCS-bee-decline connection, a study last year published in the Bulletin of Insectology showed that bee colonies fed HFCS treated with one of the nicotine pesticides resulted in collapse of almost every test hive, reflecting the same pattern as that seen by beekeepers.

Who will win, Bayer or the bees?

While the EPA is working on its label revisions and graphics, the European Union has gone one giant step further by banning three of the neonicotinoids for two years — but not without resistance from two agricultural giants that manufacturer the chemicals.

Both Switzerland-based Syngenta and Bayer CropScience of Germany have initiated legal action challenging the EU ban, claiming it is “unjustified” and “goes beyond the existing regulatory framework.”

A report released at the beginning of this year by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) appears to have been the tipping point leading to the EU ban, finding that the three chemicals pose an “acute risk” to honeybees with possible exposure from pollen, nectar, dust from the pesticides and leaf sap.

But at the same time the EU was preparing to institute the neonicotinoid ban, the EPA granted “unconditional registrations” for sulfoxaflor, another systemic pesticide considered to be the next generation of neonicotinoids.

With this year having seen more massive bee declines, even Congress has stepped in, with Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) recently introducing “The Save America’s Pollinators Act,” which, like the EU restrictions, would ban certain uses of neonicotinoids.

Not in your backyard – or is it?

If all this wasn’t bad enough news for our beleaguered bees, a new study released last month has found that 54 percent of the sampled “bee friendly” nursery plants sold at big-box retailers for backyard gardens contain the same neonicotinoid pesticides banned in the EU.

The study, Gardeners Beware, by Friends of the Earth, a federation of grassroots environmental groups, has already resulted in a petition signed by over 175,000 people asking the stores to stop selling pre-treated neonicotinoid plants as well as the chemicals for consumer use.

Lisa Archer, director of the Food and Technology Program at Friends of the Earth said in a press release that the study “is the first to show that so called ‘bee-friendly’ garden plants contain pesticides that can poison bees, with no warning to gardeners.”

The group recommends that home gardeners use untreated seeds or only buy organic plants. “We must take immediate action to address this crisis,” said Archer.  “Europe has banned bee-harming pesticides, retailers in the UK are refusing to sell them, and stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s have a moral obligation to make the same commitment here in the U.S.”

All of which boils down to one inescapable truth: without bees, we will also be without many of the essential crops we’ve always taken for granted – making our survival largely dependent on theirs.