Archive for January, 2014

FDA fiddles with Nutrition Facts Label while ignoring burning food issues

Posted by -- January 30, 2014

transfats

BY BILL BONVIE

It’s happening again: they’re fiddling while Rome burns.

In this case, the ones doing the fiddling are the folks in charge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — and what they’re fiddling with (in fact, have been fiddling with for the past decade, as it turns out) is the “Nutrition Facts Label” (NFL) — the “information” label that the agency requires on all processed food packaging.

And what’s burning in the meantime? That would be the entire country, whose consumers the FDA is responsible for protecting from adulterated food, but whose collective health is being gradually, well, consumed by a nearly uncontrolled firestorm of harmful and toxic ingredients.

You’re no doubt familiar with the NFL, which provides information like the number of calories and the amounts of sodium, potassium, protein, carbs, various fats, fiber and “sugars” (not to be confused with “sugar”) in a typical serving of whatever is in the package, along with vitamins A and C and the minerals calcium and iron – all derived from corporate databases.

Well, according to an Associated Press story published last week, the NFL is now up for review, with an eye to making it easier for consumers to read and understand, and more reflective of the knowledge about nutrition that has evolved over the two decades since the nutrition panel was first introduced on packaging.

“It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic,” is how Michael Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods (or “food czar,” as he’s often referred to), explained the rationale for this reevaluation, noting how both the “food environment” and “our dietary guidance” have changed in that time.

Indeed they have, but it’s sometimes hard to escape the impression that when it comes to changes of this sort, the FDA is way behind the curve.

Take the issue of trans fats, for example. For years, this artery-clogging additive, whose main purpose is to extend the shelf life of products, has been acknowledged by health experts to be a major cause of heart attacks. It wasn’t until late last year, however, that the FDA finally got around to proposing that partially hydrogenated oil, the primary source of added trans fats in our diet, be phased out.

But while trans fat was given its own NFL designation back in 2006, manufacturers are still being allowed to get away with listing a product as having “zero grams” of trans fat as a “nutrition fact” as long as it actually has less than 0.5 grams. Now, changing that to reflect the true amount of this killer additive (which is estimated to kill about 7,000 Americans a year) might actually be helpful to consumers – but until the new guidelines, which have been sent to the White House for review, are released by the FDA, we won’t know whether any such thing is on the agenda.

Grams, calories and portions on ‘critics’ choice’ list

And while the article mentions trans fat, eliminating this dangerously deceptive trans fat “loophole”  wasn’t among the revisions cited as being suggested by nutritionists and health experts or being considered by the FDA. Instead, what most seemed to concern Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is the  “roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with,” such as the panel’s use of grams to measure amounts, which he would like to see changed to teaspoons.

Then there’s the proposal (actually an “expected change”) that the number of calories be made more prominent, put forth by Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the country’s leading manufacturers of processed foods (and leading users of various undesirable additives). Still other suggestions involve better defining “portion” sizes, adding actual amounts of whole wheat and listing “sugars and syrups” separately that don’t occur naturally in foods, but are added during processing.

What, exactly, are “sugars?”

That last recommendation is another example of how the NFL has been – and continues to be — a source of confusion about a very important topic: in this case, the difference between “sugar” and “sugars.” While it may sound like splitting hairs, “sugar” is a specific substance, a granular one otherwise known as sucrose, which is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose, whereas “sugars” covers a lot of territory.  Some are natural and others – such as high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS – distinctly not. And there is a world of difference between them, insofar as how they affect human health and metabolism.

But as long as the FDA is up for suggestions, we’d like to weigh in with one of our own: how about adding an “Ingredient Facts Panel” that would not only list the names of various ingredients and additives, as labels currently do, but the amount of each a product contains (especially fructose, which HFCS often contains in higher amounts than acknowledged) and some of the “side effects” that studies at reputable universities and institutions have found they can produce.

Something like that might go far in helping curtail the epidemic levels that health problems like obesity and diabetes have reached in recent years – not to mention various types of cancer and the mushrooming of conditions such as autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children (which experts have linked to various food additives). Especially given that, according to  a U. S. Department of Agriculture study, a greater percentage of adults reported consulting the nutrition facts panel and “other claims” on food packages “always or most of the time” in 2009 and 2010 compared with two years earlier.

All of which isn’t to say that there isn’t room for improvement in the so-called “nutrition facts” now provided, which Washington-based nutrition consultant Tracy Fox calls “messy.”  But it shouldn’t take 10 years to bring it about, while far more serious food issues remain not only unresolved, but apparently not even considered by the FDA.

For while the emperor Nero may have gotten a bad rap for “fiddling” while 70 percent of ancient Rome was consumed in a fire (he actually played a type of harp, and is said to have gone to extraordinary lengths to cope with the catastrophe), the FDA has indeed been fiddling for far too long in contemplating changes for a superficial label while allowing any number of harmful ingredients to destroy the health of countless individuals.

Case against ‘sugar-free soda’ (which includes both regular and diet) continues to mount

Posted by -- January 23, 2014

dietpepsi

BY BILL BONVIE

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know a little about how diet soda (whatever brand it might be) can be considered the opposite of ‘brain food’. Or, to be more specific, how the synthetic sweetener it almost always contains — aspartame —  is capable of literally exciting brain cells to death, especially when ingested by children or the elderly whose blood-brain barrier may not be fully functional.

Of course, you don’t hear much in the conventional media about the risk that prominent neuroscientists have long said aspartame poses to brain health. That’s because too many of the people reporting on such issues simply tend to accept at face value the ill-conceived notion that diet soda is preferable to so-called “sugary drinks” (a common misnomer they use in describing beverages containing no actual sugar, but rather the obesity-promoting artificial sweetener high fructose corn syrup, which I’ll return to in a moment).

But there have been occasional news reports that diet sodas aren’t really helping people to keep the weight off. Now, a new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University has come up with a reason for that —  yet another way that the stuff used to sweeten diet soda (which is still mainly aspartame) can ‘mess with your mind’.

According to the study’s lead author, Sara Bleich, a PhD. and associate professor with the school’s Department of Health Policy and Management, the “(a)vailable evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners, which are present in high doses in diet beverages, are associated with a greater activation of reward centers in the brain which alter the reward a person experiences from sweet tastes.”

“Another way of thinking about this,” Bleich told Rodale News, “is that for diet beverage drinkers, the brain’s sweet sensors may no longer provide a reliable gauge of energy consumption.”

This appears to be further proof that consuming either regular or diet soft drinks can subject you to a ‘double whammy’  — that is, help to make you both fat and stupid (to put it crudely).

That’s because, as noted earlier, if you’re not imbibing an aspartame-laced diet soda, you’re probably drinking one containing high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS  And according to studies done at Princeton University, Florida College of Medicine and Yale University, HFCS helps promote obesity three different ways.  (In fact, the Yale research also relates the problem to brain function by noting that fructose – especially in the form of HFCS — may contribute to weight gain and obesity because it has minimal effect on brain regions that control appetite.)

In addition, a 2012 University of California rat study found that “a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information,” in the words of its lead author.

When ‘tradition’ trumps science

Apparently, however, when the focus of such research is something as imprecise as “diet soda,” rather than a specific additive such as aspartame or HFCS, things can tend to become a bit muddled.

It’s bad enough that the use of the collective term  “artificial sweeteners” in the Johns Hopkins study deflects attention away from the  continued presence of aspartame as a major-league troublemaker in diet products. But what can really be a major source of confusion is when the researchers themselves fail to make a distinction between sugar and HFCS.

Consider, for example, this statement from the conclusion in the study’s abstract: “Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults and consume significantly more solid-food calories and a comparable total calories than overweight and obese adults who drink SSBs.” And what, exactly, are “SSBs”? Why, “sugar-sweetened beverages,” of course.

To try to determine once and for all why a drink sweetened with HFCS continues to be characterized as a “sugar-sweetened beverage” rather than a “sugar-free” one, I made a call to Professor Bleich and put the question directly to her — noting the fact that the Food and Drug Administration had specifically ruled last year that HFCS and sugar are two different things (in rejecting a Corn Refiners Association petition to change its name to “corn sugar.”)

“In the literature,” she replied, “It’s commonly referred to as SSBs — it is the standard definition.” And as to where that standard definition originated, she admitted she had no idea.

So there’s the answer — a “standard definition” from “the literature.” It’s a bit, I suppose, like “tradition” — whether or not it makes any sense, it’s how we’ve always done it and doesn’t have to change with the times.  And if it’s accepted by academics and researchers, how can you expect reporters and politicians to stop referring to “sugary drinks”?

One thing that you may not find in the literature, however — but can still be found in a lot of people’s memory banks (assuming they haven’t been altered by ingesting HFCS) — is the fact that way back when no one had ever heard of either high fructose corn syrup or aspartame and the standard sweetener found in soft drinks was actual sugar, there was no “obesity epidemic.”

Coincidence?

‘Double-dip standard’ makes choosing healthy condiments for Superbowl a tricky business

Posted by -- January 21, 2014

salsa

 

BY BILL BONVIE

How do you turn something as wholesome and beneficial as guacamole into a distinctly unhealthy — and unnatural — form of junk food?

Simple.  You add a couple of neurotoxic “flavor enhancers” like monosodium glutamate and whey protein concentrate, along with a couple of artificial colors (yellow #5 and blue #1), and turn it into a dip for countless football fans (or their long-suffering spouses) to share with their friends at Superbowl get-togethers around the country. Many, no doubt, will be under the impression that what they’re consuming is actually a “healthy” snack food.

At least, that’s what Herr’s — the family-owned Lancaster, Pa., company (think “Pennsylvania Dutch) whose website claims it “maintains a philosophy of “health through continued growth” — has done with its “Creamy Guacamole Flavored Dip.”

And that’s not to mention Herr’s French Onion Dip, which feature lovely pictures of assorted onions on the front of its label, but tells you on the back that it also contains monosodum glutamate along with whey protein concentrate and two other brain-cell-death-inducing”excitotoxins” — milk protein concentrate and autolyzed yeast — as well as the gut-wrenching, inflammation-inducing thickening agent carrageenan.  (But then, perhaps such atrocious additives represent the easiest way for the company to live up to its “live life with flavor” slogan. )

To be fair, we did find at least one apparently additive-free and seemingly healthier Herr’s product that folks can enjoy on ‘Super Dip and Salsa Sunday’ — a mild, fat-free “Chunky Salsa” with things like jalapeno peppers, fresh onions and dehydrated garlic.  (There are also some unspecified “natural flavors,” but none of those “flavor enhancers” found in the guacamole and French onion dips.)

Nor is Herr’s the only food company to maintain this “double-dip standard,” as a scan of a dozen or more dips and salsas haphazardly displayed at our local supermarket revealed.

Take Frito Lay, whose Tostitos® dips also run the gamut from relatively healthy to horrific, with no way to determine which is which except by reading what each actually contains.

Tostitos “Smooth & Cheesy Dip,” for example, features a triple whammy of excitotoxins consisting of  monosodium glutamate, whey protein concentrate and autolyzed yeast extract, with another questionable flavor enhancer, maltodextrin, thrown in for good measure. By contrast, the things that go into “Simply Tostitos” Pineapple Peach Salsa all sound perfectly natural and nutritious (with the possible exception of unspecified “natural flavor”).

Then there are the good, the bad and the ugly Utz condiments (sorry, but I couldn’t resist that).  In fact, you could well picture these as characters in a western movie, with a really, really bad hombre named Utz Salsa Conquesco, whose gang of desperados not only include a couple of infamous brain-cell killers — autolyzed yeast and  hydrolyzed soy protein — as well as a third suspected one, malt extract, but a notorious artery clogger, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (enough of it to cause a measurable trans fats reading on the “Nutrition Facts” label),  which the Food and Drug Administration considers so bad that it is now attempting to phase it out of the food supply.

On the other hand, there’s the Utz “good guy” — All-Natural Chunky Salsa, with a posse of  respectable ingredients you’d pretty much expect to find in salsa (“natural flavor” being the only one whose identity is a bit of a mystery).

Appearances — as well as brands — may be deceiving

The point is, you can’t always tell whether a dip or a salsa is healthy or harmful by the brand it goes under, it’s name, or how it appears. One might assume, for instance, that a product calling itself “All Natural  Desert Pepper Trading Company Chile Con Queso” would be the essence of, well, naturalness — especially when it claims to be “all natural” with “no preservatives.” So it might come as an unpleasant surprise to discover it actually contains two excitoxins — whey protein concentrate and yeast extract — as well as a third possible one, maltodextrin.  On the other hand, Chi-Chi’s Fiesta salsa, made by the food conglomerate Hormel,  might be apt to arouse your suspicions — but on examination, it appears to be pretty much unadulterated by additives.

So just why are there so many two-faced brands out there? Let’s just say that all these companies are hedging their bets — that is, being perfectly willing and able to improve the quality of their products and eliminate additives that might be hazardous to our health, but unwilling to abandon ill-founded and unhealthy formulas just as long as they continue to turn a healthy profit

It’s up to us, then, to show them the kinds of products we want by buying only those that have good ingredients, and shunning the ones that don’t — which involves a little “required reading” of labels on our part before purchasing a dip, a salsa or any other processed food.

What such consumer pressure can accomplish  (as well as  some good news on the food front)  may be reflected by the fact that none of the condiments we examined, including the really bad ones, listed high fructose corn syrup among their ingredients — although a few did contain sugar.  Perhaps some of the other awful additives we now have to keep an eye out for will sooner or later begin to vanish as well, once enough shoppers make it unprofitable for the food industry to keep using them.

In the meantime, the best advice we can offer to those making preparations for their Superbowl parties is to read labels and buy either organic or truly natural dips and salsa whenever possible (such as the Hot Salsa put out by Green Mountain Gringo, which features such ingredients as ripe tomatoes, fresh jalapeno pepper,, tomatillos and garlics, apple cider vinegar and sea salt, and no additives).

And one other thing —  if you’re a  guacamole lover, I’d strongly suggest you  make your own, just as we do.  Simply scoop out a couple of ripe avocados and mix them together with some sour cream, then season it with lemon juice, turmeric, pepper, garlic,and whatever other herbs and spices you enjoy. (And since Super Bowl is still a week and a half away, you can buy your avocados few days in advance so they’ll ripen right on time.)

It’s the healthiest and best-tasting dip you could possibly eat — with no monosodium glutamate needed. Ever.

Media hype Velveeta ‘shortage’ but ignore the real ‘inside story’

Posted by -- January 16, 2014

velvita1

 

BY BILL BONVIE

While we weren’t invited, we feel rather certain that somewhere, the staff of a public relations agency recently got together for a quiet little self-congratulatory victory celebration.

Quiet, that is, because in the PR industry, the equivalent of a grand slam is to get a contrived publicity story for a client’s product into major media under the guise of “news” — and to do so as quietly and imperceptibly as possible.

You might think of the process involved as being as smooth as velvet — or Velveeta processed “pasteurized recipe cheese product.”

It was only a week ago that the long familiar product made by Kraft was widely reported to be in perilously short supply — so much so that it was speculated there might not be enough to go around by Superbowl Sunday, the apex of snack-food consumption. And the shortage, we were assured, wasn’t staged.

“It’s not a cheesy gimmick.  There really is a shortage of Velveeta, and thanks to corporate streamlining and increased seasonal demand, you might not be able to get some kinds until after the Super Bowl,” claimed one such story on the NBC News Business site that was dated Jan. 9th.

The report went on to say that NBC News had received two memos last fall from “sources in the wholesale grocery industry” warning customers to expect “limited supplies of Velveeta in the coming months” due to production lines having been moved from one plant to another and causing the company to “run into production challenges.” One result, it noted, was that 16-ounce varieties might have “limited availability” until Feb. 23rd. (This information, incidentally, was provided with the provision that “sources not be named.”)

Well, perhaps.  But on Monday, we happened to be shopping in our local supermarket, and discovered a sizable display of Velveeta in both 16- and 32-ounce sizes.

Curious, I called the number provided on the Velveeta package and spoke with a helpful customer service rep named Vannette. who told me that “when you see the store shelves are fully stocked, it means we’ve taken care of the problem.”

velvita

A case of ‘cheese identity theft’?

That response was reassuring, to be sure.  But while I had Vannette on the phone, I took the opportunity to ask a few more questions — like whether Velveeta should be considered cheese. “We consider it a cheese,” she responded — even though it isn’t called that, but rather a “cheese product” (the Food and Drug Administration having reportedly instructed Kraft to refrain from using the term “cheese spread” to describe it back in 2002).

I also asked why it is that Velveeta, which comes wrapped in foil inside a cardboard box, can be stocked on an ordinary store shelf, while ‘real’ cheeses all need to be kept in a refrigerated case. After looking it up, she replied that it was because of the “stabilizers” in the product — and added that if it’s refrigerated in the store, it should probably be at home as well, since being “exposed to a different temperature could negatively impact the quality.”  (Once opened, the package notes, the contents should also be kept refrigerated.)

In fact, among the nearly two dozen ingredients included in Velveeta  are at least a couple — modified food starch and sodium alginate — that can be used as stabilizers.  There are also three “flavor enhancers” — milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate and maltodextrin — that are actually considered sources of free glutamic acid, or MSG, and that no self-respecting (if not as easily spreadable) bona fide cheese would contain.

Such additives fall under the category of “excitotoxins” because of their ability to excite certain brain cells to death while playing tricks on the taste buds, especially in kids and older people whose blood-brain barrier has been compromised. (Milk protein concentrate has also been described as a “mystery ingredient” in a lawsuit filed against General Mills over its Greek yogurt, and, according to the nonprofit group Food and Water Watch, is “largely unregulated, as we noted in a blog last April. In fact, its presence in Velveeta is reportedly why the FDA asked Kraft to please stop calling it cheese — or “cheese spread”).

Of course, the “inside story” of the risks and possible side effects of such additives rarely gets attention in the major media. But that’s understandable, given how much of their revenues are generated by food products — and how many of the “sources” behind the food-related stories that do cover may actually be nothing more than clandestine channels for PR firms.

But one thing is for certain: the kind of free exposure that a product gets every time an event or situation such as the supposed shortage of Velveeta makes the news (even allowing for the jibes it elicits on late-night TV)  can be worth tens of millions of dollars to the company involved.

Which is why we suspect that this particular story may have been cause for celebration among certain people in the PR business.  In which case, we can’t help wondering: might they have marked the occasion with wine and Velveeta?

If you’re not serving time, why serve yourself ‘prison food’?

Posted by -- January 14, 2014

chickenooze2

BY BILL BONVIE

“Chicken ooze” is back in the news.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Tyson Foods has announced the recall of 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken products — the poultry version of “pink slime” that we here at Food Identity Theft like to refer to as “chicken ooze” — suspected of being tainted with a bacterial strain called Salmonella Heidelberg.

But here’s the part that’s really worth noting: it seems that the contaminated chicken ooze, in this case, was actually prison food.  It was served to inmates at a Tennessee correctional facility, where seven subsequently came down with salmonella poisoning, for which two had to be hospitalized.

The recalled ooze, packaged in cases containing four 10-pound tubes labeled TYSON MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN, was reportedly only intended “for institutional use” and not available at retail outlets. So no need to worry that you might also have ingested some — that is, unless you currently are or have recently been incarcerated.

But this poultry-processing waste product — described as a “paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue” — is also an ingredient found in a wide variety of processed foods that can be purchased in your local supermarket.

As we reported in this blog last October, the products where mechanically separated poultry, or MSP, can be found include such standard items as  Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123′s (with the “good stuff inside) and Jumbo Spaghetti & Meatballs; Hormel Chili Turkey; Oscar Mayer Bologna; Pickle & Pimiento Loaf and  Classic Turkey Franks; Lunchables Uploaded; Libby’s Vienna Sausage; and Foster Farms Chicken Franks, Corn Dogs and Deli Meats.

Why ‘chicken ooze’ is a prison menu staple

In fact, mechanically separated poultry is considered to be a very high-risk material when it comes to contamination by salmonella and other food-borne pathogens — samples of which test positive for salmonella up to 90 percent of the time, according to an expert quoted in an industry publication.

It also has some other distinctly unappetizing attributes — for example,  it contains an unknown amount of bone marrow, is “allowed” to contain up to one percent “bone solids” (with processors permitted to maintain “voluntary” records of bone particle size), as well as “immature sex glands,” feather particles and hair, and levels of fluoride, a toxic substance, that could possibly have health implications in infants and young children and has also been linked to an increased risk of hip fractures in the elderly.

But then, “chicken ooze,” like pink slime, is a particularly cheap form of protein, selling for around 10 cents a pound. Which is why, no doubt, that it’s ordered in large quantities by prison systems, which are notorious for wanting to save money and aren’t apt to be all that concerned about serving the highest quality food to those serving out their sentences.

But this raises the question of why anyone not doing time for a crime should want to voluntarily ingest the inferior and “institutional” sort of junk food that’s routinely dished out to prisoners as part of their punishment.

So next time you read a product’s list of ingredients (something we hope you do by now), just ask yourself, “do these sound like the kinds of things I might be forced to eat if I were behind bars?” And unless your objective is to penalize yourself for something you feel guilty about, put it back on the shelf and find something less apt to be found on a prison mess hall menu (or perhaps shoved through a slot in a cell door).

As long as you’re free to make your own food choices, you should no more have to settle for food containing poultry waste products and other cheap and dicey additives than you should have to subsist on a diet of bread and water.

Defense proposed against ‘intentional adulteration’ of our food, but not the kind for ‘economic gain’

Posted by -- January 9, 2014

Cookies under a metallic locked cage

BY BILL BONVIE

Try to imagine some person or group engaging in “intentional adulteration of the food supply” that killed 7,000 Americans in a single year — more than twice the number that died in the 9/11 attacks. Would that qualify, do you suppose, as an act of domestic terrorism?

Actually, you don’t have to imagine that many deaths resulting from such “intentional adulteration,” because, according to a U.S. government agency, they’ve already occurred — not just once, but for a number of years — and continue to do so.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 7,000 individuals die annually from heart disease directly resulting from the addition of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), the major source of trans fats in our diet, which is why the Food and Drug Administration has finally gotten around to proposing that this insidious ingredient be phased out (rather than removed immediately).

Now, the FDA wants to take another step to protect the lives of consumers as well — a “food defense” measure called the “FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) Proposed Rule for Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration.”

The FDA itself is frank to acknowledge that “(i)ntentional adulteration of the food supply with intent to cause public health harm is unlikely to occur.” In the event that it did, however, it “could have catastrophic results including human illness and death, loss of public confidence in the safety of food, and significant adverse economic impacts, including trade disruption, all of which can lead to widespread public fear.”

And all of which might lead one to ask why the “intentional adulteration” of our food that has been causing such “catastrophic results” for years doesn’t seem to be part of this picture.

The answer, apparently, has to do with the type of intent implied in “intentional.” As the agency notes on the web page dedicated to this proposition, “FDA’s proposed rule on food defense would require domestic and foreign facilities to address vulnerable processes in their operations to prevent acts on the food supply intended to cause large-scale public harm.”

So there you have it. The rule wouldn’t seem to apply as long as no “large-scale public harm” was intended by the adulteration, even if it was done deliberately (as in continuing to add an ingredient to food that has long been known to clog arteries and put consumers at risk of a fatal heart attack).

What the proposed rule would do is require food-processing facilities to review their production systems to determine if they include “any of four types of activities that are most vulnerable to such forms of adulteration.”

One such activity, called “secondary ingredient handling,” is described as “the step where ingredients other than the primary ingredient of the food are handled before being combined with the primary ingredient.” In other words, the point at which the additives are actually added to the food.  But then, since the agency’s approach to this “unlikely” problem is one “that targets certain processes within a facility that are most likely to be vulnerable, rather than targeting specific foods or hazards,” no additives need apply.

Once that is completed, “focused mitigation strategies” would be implemented to reduce the risk of adulteration with the intent to cause harm, along with monitoring, corrective actions, verification, training and record-keeping. (If you want to know further details, you can read the proposed rule yourself here).

Distinguishing between different forms of ‘adulteration’

Should you opt to read the summary of the proposed rule, however, you might well be puzzled (as we were) by the description it offers of two other “acts of intentional adulteration” that apparently aren’t covered.

Such adulteration, it notes, “may take several forms, including those where the intention is to cause large-scale public health harm; acts of disgruntled employees, consumers, or competitors; and economically motivated adulteration.” Now here’s where things really get interesting (or bizarre, if you prefer): According to the summary, “(a)cts of disgruntled employees, consumers, or competitors are generally directed at attacking the reputation of the company and not at causing public health harm,” whereas  “(t)he primary purpose of economically motivated adulteration is to obtain economic gain, and not to impact public health, although public health harm may occur.”

Does this mean that if you’re either a “disgruntled employee” (which might also be considered a “whistle blower”) or a disgruntled consumer, anything you say that could be construed as an attack on a company’s reputation could be considered a form of “intentional adulteration” (presumably of food)?

Might we ourselves, for example, be engaging in such adulteration by criticizing companies for putting harmful additives in food to increase their “economic gain” (such as adding PHO to give products a longer shelf life even while shortening the lives of those who consume them)?

Of course, we see nothing wrong with the idea of protecting the food supply from deliberate sabotage, no matter how unlikely a prospect that’s considered by the FDA.  But we’d just like to again take this opportunity to remind our readers that ingredients capable of causing harm to consumers are being deliberately added to food products every day, for no other reason than “economic gain” — ingredients that will continue to include the partially hydrogenated oil that has been blamed for all those thousands of fatalities until such time as it can be removed from the food supply without incurring great expense and inconvenience to the industry.

We’d also like to remind you that the only way you can know whether the products you buy contain such harmful substances is to read the list of actual ingredients and know which ones to beware of.

That’s your best form of “food defense.” Even if our saying so might somehow be interpreted as another form of “intentional adulteration.”

Keep those petitions and comments coming: your pressure on the food industry is getting results

Posted by -- January 7, 2014

RYLD image 150 3X5

BY BILL BONVIE

As we embark on another new year, there’s encouraging news to report in the “war” (if that’s how we may refer to it) on bad food ingredients that we as bloggers and you as conscientious consumers have been helping to wage.

According to a recent story by the Associated Press, our collective efforts — which include yours — may actually have started turning the tide of battle in favor of food that actually helps elevate health instead of undermining it.

“As Americans pay closer attention to what they eat, food and beverage companies are learning that unfamiliar ingredients can invite criticism from online petitions and bloggers,” notes the article by AP writer Candice Choi.  “The risk of damaging publicity has proven serious enough that some manufacturers have reformulated top-selling products to remove mysterious, unpronounceable components that could draw suspicion.”

As the article goes on to demonstrate, however, the ingredients involved aren’t really all that “mysterious” — they’re rather specific additives that consumers have decided they don’t want in food products after learning more about them.  Examples cited include Pepsico’s removal of brominated vegetable oil from Gatorade after a Mississippi teenager launched an online petition against it, Starbucks’ dispensing with  a red dye containing crushed bugs from products following another online petition, and Kraft’s decision to eliminate artificial dyes from its macaroni and cheese as “a nod to the feedback it’s hearing from parents.”

But “even if recipe changes aren’t in direct response to petitions or blogs, executives understand that ingredients can become a liability once they fall out of favor with the public,” the writer points out.  A case in point: the steady decline in companies adding the laboratory sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to their products, due to its having gained “a negative image in recent years.”  As a result, the use of HFCS in packaged foods and drinks has fallen 18 percent over the past decade, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

The story attributes such developments to the ability of people to go online “to share their concerns with thousands of like-minded individuals.”   As one consumer put it, “We’ve taught our kids to look at the labels, to look at the ingredients.”

Here at Food Identity Theft, that’s exactly the point we’ve tried to underscore since we started reporting on these issues over two years ago — the importance of looking at labels in order to know exactly what ingredients processed foods contain before you buy them, and knowing a little about how specific ones can affect your family’s health.

To that end, we’ve provided our readers with essential information about such ingredients drawn from studies performed by reputable scientists and prestigious universities and published in peer-reviewed journals. We’ve also attempted to promote awareness of campaigns and propaganda designed not to inform, but rather to hoodwink consumers into believing that there’s nothing wrong with such substances because the Food and Drug Administration allows them to be used (until it decides not to, as is currently taking place with partially hydrogenated oil) or because paid “experts” with close ties to manufacturers say they’re OK, and that decidedly unnatural things are really “natural.”

We also are gearing up for the second annual “Read Your Labels Day,” on April 11. While more people are starting to routinely check ingredient labels on processed foods, the majority of us still don’t. Reading the actual ingredient label (not to be confused with the “Nutrition Facts” label) is one of the most important things you can do to learn about a food item you may be buying. It’s not perfect, it’s not even always totally understandable, and it’s not always in the biggest type size, but it should be required reading before consuming anything! I’m sure most food companies would prefer it if they didn’t have to list all the chemical concoctions they come up with. But luckily for us, they do.

Were also part of the petition scene, with Citizens for Health filing one with the FDA in 2012 asking that the agency take action against food and beverage manufactures using HFCS in amounts above 55 percent fructose — the highest level the FDA allows — and also, in the interim, provide consumers with label information declaring just how much fructose a HFCS blend contains. The petition is important and current. And even if you make a point to avoid HFCS as much as possible, you can still show your support by signing it here. (You can read about the petition here).

Of course, we’re not the only ones participating in this effort .There are many organizations and individuals who have contributed their energies and knowledge to this profoundly important campaign aimed at restoring the wholesomeness and integrity of our food supply. But the key to its success lies with you, the consumer. You’re the one out there on the “front lines,” so to speak, directly influencing the course of events by letting food companies know precisely what kind of products you want — and what kinds of things you’re no longer willing to swallow, either literally or figuratively.

As Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who covers the packaged food and beverage industry, notes in the Associated Press article, you’re no longer simply refusing to buy products you don’t like, but “actually agitating for change”

And you know something?  It’s working.