Posted by Linda Bonvie -- May 16, 2013
Are you an ‘ex-Pepper’? If so, The Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group hopes to bring you back into the fold. In an effort to lure what it refers to as “consumers who have left the soft drink category” the company is working feverishly to blanket the country with a new lineup of products, consisting of some of its biggest brand names reformulated with a witches’ brew of synthetic sweeteners – a combination of high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and acesulfame potassium (what the company calls its “proprietary blend”). The selling point is that each supposedly contains no more than 10 calories per 12-ounce serving, which accounts for the special designation under which they’re being marketed –“TEN.”
Since HFCS is the second ingredient in the three “TENs” I looked at, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, 7Up and Dr. Pepper, I couldn’t help wondering what the fructose amount is in the HFCS being used. After all, Archer Daniels Midland, one of the biggest manufacturers of this test-tube sweetener, has run ads for a product called “Cornsweet 90” a HFCS blend containing 90 percent fructose that it has called “the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages…” And the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) itself has acknowledged in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration that this mega-fructose additive has been in use “with FDA knowledge for decades” (more on that in a minute). So I called the Dr. Pepper Snapple company press office with my question.
In the short conversation I had with company spokesperson Chris Barnes, I leaned more ‘ad speak’ than I could have in a Mad Men marathon. Terms like the “broader TEN platform,” “mouth feel,” “broader flavor system,” and my favorite, the “lapsed soft drink consumer” were dropped repeatedly in our talk. But when I got to my fructose question, Chris didn’t have an answer for me other than “I don’t know that we do share specific ingredient information beyond what’s on the label.” He did ask why I was interested and promised to follow up with the research and development department, but felt fairly sure the company wouldn’t divulge that information.
Although I didn’t get any further insight about fructose amounts from Barnes, he did tell me how “very excited” the company is so far with how “TEN” is “performing,” allowing folks who had concerns over taste and calories to now have the “benefit” of a soft drink once again.
A shocking acknowledgment
Now admittedly, the question of fructose amounts in HFCS is a touchy subject, something the CRA likes to gloss over by repeatedly asserting that the additive isn’t really high in fructose (one reason it had unsuccessfully sought to change its name to “corn sugar”) and telling consumers over and over that HFCS is “virtually the same” as real sugar, which is a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose.
But contrary to the big public relations blitz put out by the CRA claiming that “sugar is sugar,” 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 the mega-90 version. Such findings led Citizens for Health to file a petition with the Food and Drug Administration last September, which asked 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 it contains to be specified on product labels. (To sign and support that petition, click here).
The CRA response to the FDA about that petition was a shocking acknowledgment that, in violation of FDA regulations, HFCS-90 has been used in the food supply “with FDA knowledge for decades.” The letter, signed by CRA interim president J. Patrick Mohan, also refers to “fluctuations in fructose levels above 42 or 55%” in HFCS, that he apparently believes “would be expressly permitted” by the agency.
But despite Mohan’s apparent belief that all is fine and dandy regardless of what the actual fructose amount in an HFCS blend might be, the FDA has made it perfectly clear that HFCS 90 “contains a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose than…HFCS-55,” and that the agency doesn’t have enough information to “ensure that this product is safe.”
Numerous medical experts and extensive studies have linked excess fructose consumption to a wide variety of health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, liver and heart disease. And for the CRA, which spent many millions of dollars to tell consumers that HFCS really isn’t high in fructose at all, this statement is quite telling.
But for now, the matter of just how much fructose might be in those new Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group formulas remains a mystery. Which is something you might want to keep in mind before you reach for a “TEN” on your supermarket shelf in the belief that you can now have the “benefit” of drinking soda without having to worry about the consequences.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- May 14, 2013
Back in the 1980s, when HFCS was a fairly new food ingredient, it was being touted as “better use of an abundant homegrown crop” in a trade publication ad for Cargill headlined “How the newest ingredient in soda pop helps sweeten the pot for corn growers.” As the ad explained it, a $90 million expansion of the company’s facilities would, when completed, give it “a total capacity of 1.3 billion gallons of fructose a year … enough to fill a trainload that would stretch 154 miles.” Which is an awful lot of fructose – the very component that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has more recently tried to downplay in advertising claiming that HFCS is not really all that high in fructose after all.
But all that extra capacity has apparently been put to use, judging from the way HFCS has morphed way beyond “soda pop” into every conceivable food product that can be made. An example of just how much HFCS is being produced these days comes directly from the CRA itself, which noted in the most recent “Corn Annual” report that total shipments for HFCS for 2011 came to more than 19 billion pounds of the stuff.
Back when that ad ran, in 1982, USDA numbers for “deliveries” of HFCS only amounted to 26.6 pounds per person each year. But that number has been insidiously rising year after year as this test-tube sweetener has found its way into every kind of food, hitting the 60-pound-per-person mark in 1997 (interestingly, sugar intake has actually declined over the last century according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures).
So exactly how much HFCS do these various foods contain? Unless you’re privy to “proprietary” information, as it’s called in the industry, you really have no way of knowing. That’s also true of the actual fructose amount in whatever HFCS “blend” a manufacturer may be using. These unknown fructose concentrations are the subject of a current petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration by Citizens for Health, asking that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose amount above 55 percent, the highest amount the FDA allows. (Read more about the issue here, and sign and support the Citizens for Health petition here).
Finding HFCS in everything from prunes to pickles
What we do know for sure is that HFCS turns up in some very unexpected places, such as the products below.
Progresso Bread Crumbs (Plain): The package says the these bread crumbs will “inspire your passion for the art of cooking…” with “authentic Italian taste,” but you’d be hard pressed to find an “authentic” Italian dish that called for high fructose corn syrup.
Sunsweet Prunes: Referred to on the label as “the American Super Fruit,” there is no doubt that prunes are a healthy as well as a sweet-tasting natural product – and one you would least suspect would harbor an unnatural sweetener like HFCS.
French’s Flavor Infuser 10 Minute Marinade: High fructose corn syrup takes the honor of being the very first ingredient in this concoction, even before water and tomato paste.
Kraft Catalina Anything Dressing: With the claim that it’s “fat free” appearing on four places on the packaging, this product is apparently intended to be used on more than salad, as the name implies. It also has HFCS is listed as its second ingredient, right after tomato paste.
Kraft Miracle Whip: Kraft calls this popular dressing a “secret blend,” but if you read the label you’ll find that it includes HFCS.
Vlasic Bread & Butter Pickles: HFCS is the second ingredient, right after cucumbers – demonstrating how easy it is to make a sandwich with HFCS in every single ingredient and not even realize it!
Mott’s Original Applesauce: Here’s yet another supposedly good-for-you-food bearing a major brand name that’s been adulterated with this cheap and unnatural sweetener. Fortunately, organic unsweetened applesauce is easy to find and just about the same price.
Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Supreme Muffin Mix: How “supreme” could the muffins made from this mix be with HFCS in them?
Heinz 57 Sauce: While the label asserts it will “add zest to steak, chicken & pork,” a glance at the fine print says it will also add HFCS, which is the second ingredient in this sauce after tomato paste.
Campbell’s Healthy Request Vegetable Soup: Also masquerading as a “healthy” product while containing high fructose corn syrup is this new version of an old standard recipe, whose label claims that’s it’s “M’m! M’m! good…for your heart.” But a study, done at that University of California at Davis, found that adults who consumed HFCS for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, indicators of increased risk for heart disease. And in 2011, researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University concluded that high fructose consumption by teens can put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The upshot is that despite industry claims that high fructose corn syrup is fine “in moderation,” the fact that so many diverse types of popular food products have been spiked with it makes consuming “moderate” amounts highly unlikely – unless you’re in the habit of carefully scrutinizing the ingredients of every processed food you buy (or of purchasing organic products). Not to mention that there may well be even higher levels of fructose in many of those items than you’ve been led to believe.
You might even say there’s a whole trainload of it just waiting for you in the supermarket.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- May 9, 2013
Along with exposure to particularly pernicious pesticides and being fed a diet of high fructose corn syrup, which a new study shows lowers their ability to detoxify, our beleaguered bees may soon be facing yet another threat to their survival. On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted “unconditional registrations” for another pesticide that the agency itself calls “very highly toxic” to honeybees.
The green light given to Dow AgroSciences’ application for sulfoxaflor, which may now be used on almost every conceivable agricultural commodity, came as a new blow to beekeepers, as well as bad news to environmental and consumer watchdog groups around the country.
Sulfoxaflor is considered to be the next generation of neonicotinoids, those systemic pesticides widely used to treat crop seeds, and especially corn, that have just been banned in Europe for two years because of their suspected role in the bee blight known as “colony collapse disorder,” or CCD. And this newest chemical is being introduced with “many unanswered questions,” and great potential for “unreasonable adverse effects,” as far as bees are concerned, the Center for Food Safety said in its comments to the EPA docket earlier this year.
The EPA, for its part, has chosen to downplay the role of pesticides in CCD, putting them at the bottom of the list of probable causes in a recent report done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that cites such factors as mites, viruses, bacteria and poor nutrition as the likeliest explanations. But many authorities who have studied the problem are more apt to concur with those European experts who point the finger at pesticides as the chief culprit.
“We don’t know how bad this stuff (sulfoxaflor) is…the chemical companies get a free ride in this country,” Pennsylvania beekeeper David Hackenberg, co-chairman of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board told me.
I first spoke to Hackenberg this past January, right before the great honeybee transport began, bringing bees from around the country to California’s Central Valley to provide the necessary pollination to produce the state’s almond crop. At that time Hackenberg, the guy who was first to discover colony collapse disorder– the mysterious disappearance of bees from their hive – told me he predicted this year would be the worst (bee) loss that we’ve ever seen in the U.S., and he, and many others still believe that to be the case.
In spite of the fact the almond growers “probably got a fairly decent crop,” Hackenberg said “what we’re looking at are a lot of small, weak beehives. You’ve got bees that probably started out good, and as soon as they started to fly a lot of those older bees ‘forgot’ to come home,” he added.
Estimate of bee losses called understated
Despite an estimate of bee losses of 31 percent in the U.S. for the past winter season just released by the Bee Informed Partnership, “an extension project” comprised of agri-academics and other experts, Hackenberg believes the “real” number is much higher, in the range of 45 or even 50 percent. “I don’t know how they pull these numbers out of a hat,” he said, adding that one of the largest beekeepers in the country told him if they would survey the guys “who are really making a living (from beekeeping)…you would find those bee losses are probably hitting the 50 percent mark.”
Neonicotinoids can affect bees by moving up through a plant and producing contaminated pollen and nectar. In addition, the HFCS fed to them by many large-scale beekeeping operations has been shown in two recent studies to pose a further threat to the health of honeybees.
One study, just published by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana, found that bees consuming HFCS are more susceptible to pesticides, possibly because they are not receiving the protective compounds found in pollen that trigger the bee to ‘detox’. Lead study author May Berenbaum told the Los Angeles Times, “If you’re feeding them high-fructose corn syrup, then pathogens may be more dangerous and pesticides can be more toxic.”
And last June, as I previously reported, a study by Chensheng Lu, an associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health, found that bee colonies fed HFCS treated with one of the nicotine pesticides, imidacloprid, resulted in the collapse of almost every test hive, showing the same pattern consistent with the CCD observed by beekeepers.
“We’re starting out this year probably 300,000 hives short going into the summer,” Hackenberg said. For right now, at least, that means higher prices for consumers and a lack of bees for the hobbyist, as whatever bees there were for sale are “long gone.”
Hackenberg, along with several dozen other beekeepers are currently headed up to Maine to “start putting the bees in the blueberries.”
“It doesn’t matter what those bees are going to cost, (the farmer) is going to rent them,” he said, but added, “there is this thought that by the year 2018 we’re not going to have to worry about growing fruits and vegetables in this country because it’s going to cost too much to produce them.”
If that’s the prospect now facing beekeepers and growers alike, it may be time to consider whether our “crop protection” efforts are actually going to end up destroying everything they’re supposedly designed to protect.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- May 7, 2013
Reading a food package sounds like it should be pretty easy, doesn’t it? You simply pick it up and learn about the product that’s inside. But there’s a war going on in food labeling, a conflict between the words and images that call attention to the package and its actual contents, which manufacturers typically would rather you didn’t scrutinize. So they try their best to ‘sucker’ you in with containers that shout out, in Three Stooges fashion, “Hey, look over here!”
Of course when you shop for “real” food in the produce section or the farmers’ market, there is typically no packaging to read — the food sells itself, so to speak. But when you look at what’s inside most “food-like substances,” as author Michael Pollan calls them, you can see why such diversionary packaging is needed.
So what are some of the ways manufacturers entice us into buying products using misleading claims and pictures? Here are a few examples:
4C Totally Light Green Tea Mix
The hook: antioxidants and ‘green tea’ itself. Green tea has become a favorite of health-food enthusiasts due to some amazing ingredients called catechins and, in particular, EGCG, that appear to be some of the best things a body can consume to ward off numerous diseases and other ailments.
The truth: “antioxidants” is a broad term. The package says each serving contains 70mg of “antioxidants,” but it doesn’t specify what kind are in this drink, and whether they come from the EGCG that make green tea so desirable or merely from the vitamin C that has been added in the form of ascorbic acid. And since this product also contains an artificial sweetener, it can hardly be described as a health drink.
The take-away: The best information I’ve yet seen on this subject came from Men’s Health magazine, which had 14 green tea drinks analyzed for total catechin content and found that Honest Tea green tea with honey came in on top with 215 mg of catechins and 71 mg of the powerful antioxidant EGCG. To see the entire list (on which 4C is not included), click here.
Yoplait Greek Frozen Yogurt
The hook: Greek yogurt with “2X the protein of regular frozen yogurt.”
The truth: If you read my blog last week, you’re already aware that Greek yogurt is a very controversial item and frozen Greek yogurt even more so. It’s possible that frozen yogurt can contain live cultures (the reason we eat yogurt in the first place), but since frozen yogurt can possibly have acidifiers added in the manufacturing process and even undergo heat treatments, it doesn’t necessarily contain live and active cultures by the time you consume it.
While the big selling point on this product is that it has twice as much protein as conventional frozen yogurt, a closer look at the fine print reveals the statement that the “protein has been increased from 3.5g to 7g” per serving, but most likely not from “real” Greek yogurt, but from “milk protein concentrate,” or MPC. As noted last week, this is an undefined, unregulated ingredient that can come from animals other than cows and is the subject of a current legal action against Yoplait and its parent company General Mills for another one of its so-called “Greek” yogurt products.
The take-away: If you are eating yogurt for its health benefits, you’d best stick with a plain, organic variety and dress it up with your own fruit and flavorings.
True Lemon “Lemon for Your Water”
The hook: “100% natural,” “made from lemons.” Water additives are currently all the rage, and this one claims to provide an all-natural way to “flavor the day your way.”
The truth: While the box makes a big point about the product beginning “in the grove with fresh lemons selected for their superior taste,” the first ingredient is citric acid, which is almost always derived from corn, not lemons, made using a mold that feeds on corn syrup. The process of making citric acid from corn also produces manufactured glutamic acid (MSG) as well. The product also “contains soy,” which is hardly something you’d expect to find in a lemon grove.
The take-away: Most water flavorings contain some undesirable ingredients. If you want more than plain water, it’s not all that difficult to make your own flavored versions – eloquently known as “spa water” – as described here.
Hunt’s Tomatoes Sauce
The hook: “100% natural” (with depictions of fresh tomatoes) plus the supposed reliability of a long-established product from a big-name brand.
The truth: Tomato sauce should be one of the simplest of all products – made from ripe tomatoes – which is the impression that you might get when you see a brand like Hunt’s on the shelf. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case. This particular product, is made not from fresh tomatoes, but from “tomato puree” – meaning reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate, along with more citric acid, an ingredient called “tomato fiber,” and unspecified natural flavors. (It’s somewhat revealing that the product name appears to be simply “Hunt’s Sauce,” with the word “TOMATOES” stuck in in a tiny, practically invisible font.)
The take-away: While there are a lot of ‘not-so-great’ tomato sauce products out there, you can also find some really good, organic varieties. Watch out for “tomato puree” which is basically reconstituted tomato paste, and don’t let products with that ingredient fool you with pictures of fresh tomatoes, either.
So the answer to how to read a food package is quite simple: rather than focusing on the claims and graphics the manufacturer wants you to see, go right to the ingredient label. And if that appears to be a list of things that don’t sound like food, just put the item back on the shelf and find something made from real ingredients instead.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- May 2, 2013
While the big media “meat” of last year, pink slime, a filler in ground beef, got some extreme press exposure, there’s another additive present in meat – and chicken and pork and even farmed fish — that didn’t exactly ‘hit the fan’ as much as “mechanically separated beef scraps and connective tissue treated with ammonia hydroxide” did.
Maybe it was the name, or perhaps the disgusting graphics or celebrity chefs, that tipped the scale on the “slime” issue, but it certainly isn’t the only concern for those who eat meat.
The use of antibiotics in meat and poultry is not something industry likes to talk about, even to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency, which routinely tests for antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat, really doesn’t know too much else about what’s going on, according to former FDA Commissioner David Kessler.
Kessler commented in a recent New York Times op-ed piece that the “crisis of antibiotic resistance…(is) getting worse,” and apparently all the FDA knows about these drugs is that food animals are being administered antibiotics to the tune of 30 million pounds annually. “We don’t know much more except that,” Kessler said, “rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste.” In Kessler’s phrase, they’re a means of producing “cheaper meat.”
But there’s an additional avenue by which food animals take in antibiotics that Kessler didn’t mention in his Times piece, a “side effect” so to speak of the food they eat. It’s a practice that is not regulated, monitored or reported, according to two consumer-watchdog groups who recently filed a citizen petition with the FDA to try and have it curtailed.
The corn, car and meat connection
The petition, filed in March by The Center for Food Safety and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), seeks to halt the use of antibiotics in the making of what’s called “distillers grains,” the leftover corn mash and slurry from ethanol production that is sold for animal feed.
It seems that ethanol production, which involves yeast and fermentation, also breeds bacteria, something that lowers production levels. To try and control this, antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetracycline, are added. And tests performed by the FDA have shown these drugs remain in the ethanol ‘leftovers’ fed to cattle, chickens and pork at “significant” levels.
According to the groups’ petition, “FDA studies, industry-funded studies, and nonprofit organizations’ studies all confirm that distillers grains sold as animal feed contain antibiotics.” The petition further states that these antibiotic residues are “wholly illegal” under federal laws and “unnecessary” to produce the fuel additive.
And this is no small amount of feed they’re talking about either. An IATP report from 2012 notes that the massive increase in ethanol production has also resulted in making more than 34 metric tons per year of distillers grains, most of which go to feed beef and dairy cattle.
But that’s something the people who raise those cattle may be unaware of, Elisabeth Holmes, staff attorney for The Center for Food Safety, told me in a phone interview. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to file the petition. The pharmaceutical manufacturers know and the ethanol manufacturers know, but we don’t know if a lot of the producers who are feeding this know that there’s antibiotic residue in it.”
“We really need to take extra sources (of antibiotics) into account,” said Holmes.
And what those “extra” sources might be is anyone’s guess. Since such uses are not regulated, the FDA doesn’t track them and drug makers aren’t required to disclose them, Holmes noted. What the FDA does know for sure, however, is that antibiotics are present in distillers grains. In 2008 and again in 2010 the agency analyzed samples of the feed for drug residues, finding positive results both times.
However, “they’ve done nothing since those studies,” said Holmes, “and they’ve done nothing in response to the petition we filed.” She added that there are “perfectly viable alternatives” to antibiotics that ethanol manufacturers can use, but “no legal requirement that they switch over” to them.
Holmes’ suggestion to those who eat meat is to choose sustainable or organic varieties “where antibiotic use is not allowed.”
In the meantime, as Kessler pointed out, “We need to know more about the use of antibiotics in the production of our meat and poultry. The results could be a matter of life and death.”
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- April 30, 2013
There’s no doubt that Greek yogurt is all the rage, helping fill up the massive yogurt section of the dairy aisle with even more confusing choices. But if it’s all “Greek” to you, you’re not alone. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t want to touch it and even the National Yogurt Association wants no part of an official definition of what “Greek” is.
In reality it should be quite simple. Yogurt, Greek or not, is simply milk cultured with certain types of bacteria, beneficial bacteria, that transforms the milk into one of the oldest “health foods” there is. People have been culturing, or fermenting foods for thousands of years.
Greek yogurt is simple as well, the difference being that the finished yogurt is strained to take out the liquid whey, making it quite thick and higher in protein. It’s hard to believe that Big Food could add so many more ingredients to such a basic recipe.
The rise of the Greek yogurt market in the U.S., called “nothing short of astronomical,” by The Wall Street Journal, first entered by Fage and a few years later by Chobani, was something that took the big yogurt leaders Dannon and Yoplait by surprise. They weren’t quite ready to go Greek — but not to worry, food technology had an answer for that.
John T. Allan, director of regulatory and international affairs for the National Yogurt Association told me that “there’s not really any rhyme or reason, because there is no FDA regulation that defines ‘Greek’, so I think the manufacturers out there are just kind of calling it what they want to call it.”
And making a traditional Greek yogurt requires special machinery – described by NPR as a “trade secret” when their reporter visited the Chobani plant. To make millions of pounds of this concentrated yogurt, you can’t exactly strain it through a cheesecloth.
While “Greek” yogurt is specially strained, Allan told me, “you have other products that achieve the same effect by adding protein to thicken it up…it’s the same product, it’s just how you get there.”
Those “other products” include milk protein concentrate (MPC), an additive that is currently the basis of a lawsuit filed against Yoplait USA and its parent company, General Mills, challenging its Yoplait Greek yogurt as being neither Greek nor meeting the FDA definition of yogurt.
The case of the undefined ‘mystery ingredient’
Arizona attorney Hart Robinovitch, who filed the 2012 action against General Mills, told me the case is still pending, after the judge “refused to rule on the merits of our lawsuit and told us to go to the FDA. And that’s what we did.”
Robinovitch’s case revolves around some twisted and confusing FDA regulations about what exactly can be in a product that is called “yogurt,” or more specifically the use of MPC in yogurt, which the attorney describes as a mystery ingredient that is not included in the yogurt “standard of Identity” (the FDA’s official specifications for what ingredients are allowed in certain food products).
“We don’t know what it (MPC) is,” Robinovitch contends, “as there has never been a definition if it. What is it, where is it coming from, what kind of animal is it coming from?”
According to the nonprofit group Food & Water Watch, just about all of the MPC used in the U.S. is imported and it’s “unclear if imported MPCs are the product of cow’s milk or if they come from animals like yak or water buffalo.” Whatever the case, it’s “largely unregulated,” the group’s web site notes.
Robinovitch said while he is aware of other products that are similar to yogurt with MPC in them, “they are not called ‘yogurt’,” any more than Kraft can “call Cheez Whiz ‘cheese’.”
Since Robinovitch’s case was filed, Yoplait has introduced a new version called “Greek 100,” this one without the MPC, but with some decidedly nontraditional Greek-type ingredients such as corn starch, along with an artificial sweetener and preservative.
“The purpose of our lawsuit is to make it easier for the consumer,” Robinovitch added. “If someone is choosing yogurt at the supermarket quickly, as most people do, they shouldn’t be deceived into buying what is really a cheaper product produced with an additive” as opposed to traditional Greek yogurt. “There is a large likelihood of deception there.”
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- April 25, 2013
Since the Cornucopia Institute came out with its report on carrageenan, “How a ‘natural’ food additive is making us sick,” consumer concern has grown over why a suspect food additive that is widely used, but basically unnecessary, is still in the food supply.
Carrageenan, a highly inflammatory agent, is derived from red seaweed and used as a thickening agent in loads of foods from infant formula to yogurt, meat products, pet food and ice cream, both conventional and organic. Leading the fight to have the additive banned is Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a “physician-scientist” at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has published 18 peer-reviewed papers on carrageenan, studying its effects for almost 20 years. Numerous studies have shown even small levels of “food grade” carrageenan used in food products are enough to cause inflammation in the human colon.
I first wrote about this ingredient at the end of March after blog readers suggested it be added to our Citizens for Health top additives to avoid. Since that blog appeared, Food Identity Theft readers have been asking about specific brands that don’t contain it, and particularly where to find carrageenan-free canned pet food – a question I myself had after going through dozens of brands of dog and cat food at our area Petsmart store. It appears that carrageenan is the most commonly used additive in high-price premium brands of pet food as well as cheaper ones.
I also had questions for food manufacturers that use the ingredient, and have made numerous attempts to get some answers from both Whole Foods Market (which, oddly enough, makes products with and without the additive) and the Blue Buffalo pet food company, whose products I had been feeding my dog and cat for years.
The Whole Foods media relations specialist at the company’s “global headquarters” answered my email right away, saying she would see what the “product folks” have to “share” about carrageenan, but that was about a month ago, and subsequent calls and emails have gone unanswered.
I didn’t even get that far with Blue Buffalo, leaving messages at both the corporate headquarters and the consumer information line, all which received no response. Since “Blue,” as the company likes to refer to itself, seemed to have no one to answer the phone at its Wilton, Connecticut offices, I plowed through the automated employee phone directory, leaving messages with each name I came up with. As the company makes what it calls its “true blue promise,” of “only the finest natural ingredients” I certainly thought someone there would want to comment, but that was apparently not the case.
One group that does want to talk about carrageenan, however, is the Seaweed Industry Association of the Phillippines (SIAP), which issued a recent press release both threatening to sue Dr. Tobacman and lamenting the fate of its “fisher folks” who are “now under threat of losing their livelihood” as a result of her findings.
SIAP Board Secretary Marcial Solante is quoted in the release as saying “they will challenge the ‘false claim’ scientifically” before the U.S. National Organics Standards Board, and that “we will sue her definitely but only after we will be presenting these scientific evidences to dispute her claimed (sic).”
I asked Dr. Tobacman for a comment on that statement and she told me in an email that “(s)eaweed farmers will need to diversify, so that they are not dependent on farming a product that activates innate immune responses in human cells.”
She added that “carrageenan has been used in scientific experiments for decades and is well-known to cause inflammation, yet continues to be used in a wide variety of food products” as well as in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products, such as room air deodorizers.
If you want to join the growing number of consumers who are avoiding this additive, which Dr. Tobacman claims “can lead to harmful biological effects in human cells and in animals exposed to (it)” the Cornucopia Institute has put together a shopping list of organic foods without carrageenan that can be found here. Pet owners who want to ditch this highly inflammatory ingredient from their best friends’ diets can also check out this page at the Natural Cat Care blog of “best” cat foods, all of which contain no carrageenan (most of the brands listed also make dog food, so check both the manufacturer’s web site and the product’s ingredient list.)’
It also gives you yet another opportunity to tell the food industry, “I’m fed up and I’m not going to eat it anymore” (nor, for that matter, is my dog or cat).
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- April 23, 2013
What do you do if you’re the great and powerful American Dairy Industry and you want to make a major change in U.S. Food and Drug Administration food-labeling regulations, only to have your proposal met with an uproar from consumers? Well, you can then try and soft-pedal the actual aim of your petition – with a little help from your friends at the FDA of course!
Last Monday the regulatory agency posted a page at its web site to address the “confusion” on the issue. This new ‘education’ page, headed “FDA wants your opinion on dairy-products labels,” attempts to explain what the petition is all about by including a lot of rhetoric from the dairy industry itself – for example, “reduced calorie” labeling is “unattractive to children,” and updating the milk standard “would promote honesty and fair dealing.” The page then asks the public to offer comments on such questions as whether the proposed change will create an “increased burden for consumers” who want to know what their milk might be sweetened with.
So what’s behind the FDA’s transparent attempt to defend the petition against being ‘misunderstood’ by consumers? The answer can be found in the trade pub Food Business News, which quotes International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) spokesperson Peggy Armstrong as saying that the petition has “drawn some negative feedback due to misunderstanding” – an apparent reference to more than 33,0000 negative comments on the petitions filed at the site.
Now granted, there has been a good deal of confusion about the purpose of this petition, which attempts to change the “standard of identity” for milk (and certain other dairy products). But one thing is clear from the responses – the fact that many people don’t want either the FDA or the industry to “mess with our milk,” as one writer put it, and just intuitively don’t seem to like the idea of “aspartame” being connected with “milk” in the same sentence.
But while supposedly attempting to dispel whatever “confusion” may exist over the petition, neither the FDA nor the IDFA have bothered to inform us about what the really big story here is – one that I wrote about at the end of last month.
As I noted then, the most alarming consequence for parents should the FDA approve the petition — and what’s in it for the dairy industry — is that by changing the standard of identity for milk, in effect the FDA will now be granting permission for aspartame-sweetened flavored milk to be offered in the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program, which it is currently not.
Existing regulations mandate that these two federally supported nutrition programs must include meals that offer eight ounces of milk. And that milk must be the kind described in the milk “standard of identity.” By changing that standard, I was informed by Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs, it would mean that artificially sweetened milk would then “meet the definition” required to potentially be served up to more than 31 million kids a day.
The “confusion” alluded to by the FDA stemmed from many people’s mistaken belief that aspartame is not now allowed in milk, and would be under the proposed change, The fact is, however, that nothing currently stops manufacturers from adding aspartame to flavored milk to their heart’s content – just as long as the front label contains some additional words to “signal the presence of artificial sweeteners” such as “reduced calorie milk” or “no added sugar” or perhaps even “dairy beverage.” And that’s where the new identity standard would come in, both knocking out the restriction against allowing artificially sweetened milk in those school programs and eliminating the front label “signal” (although aspartame would still be listed on the ingredients label).
But even if you don’t understand all the technical aspects of what a “standard of identity” is or the basics of food labeling laws, the thought of every child who participates in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program being offered aspartame-sweetened milk on a daily basis should be enough of a reason to add your comments on this petition before the May 21 deadline. You can click here to go to the FDA site and tell them what you think.
Besides protecting kids from being served a neurotoxic chemical in their milk at school, it’s a chance for you to help “educate” both the FDA and the dairy industry in the kind of standards that consumers expect them to maintain.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- April 18, 2013
If you’ve been reading my blogs here at Food Identity Theft, you’ve no doubt heard about HFCS 90, a ‘super-high’ high fructose corn syrup formulation which, according to a leading manufacturer of this laboratory-created sweetener, Archer Daniels Midland, is the “ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”
My previous research indicated that both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) know about HFCS 90 and its food uses. Numerous studies, patents (including a method for using HFCS 90 to produce a reduced-calorie beverage that was assigned to PepsiCo) and journal articles refer to it and all the different foods that can be sweetened with it.
Of course, the position of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has been that the fructose content of HFCS is “virtually the same” as real sugar — saying on its web site that the sweetener “is actually NOT high in fructose.”
But now, the CRA itself has come out and admitted that HFCS containing such mega doses of fructose has been in use “with FDA knowledge for decades.”
Given that the fructose content of HFCS is a topic the CRA would prefer not to discuss, it’s unlikely the organization would ever have made such an acknowledgment if not for a petition filed with the FDA this past September by Citizens For Health. The petition requests that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose levels above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows) and in the interim, require that actual percentage of fructose it contains be specified on the label.
In responding to that petition, J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, not only states that HFCS 90 has been used for “decades,” but also claims the “FDA acknowledged this in 1996 when it issued the HFCS GRAS (generally recognized as safe) affirmation regulation.” What Mr. Mohan neglects to mention, however, is in what context the FDA “acknowledged” HFCS 90 use.
In fact, what the agency said was, “This product contains a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose than…HFCS-55. The HFCS-90 is not included in this rulemaking because the agency does not have adequate information to assess the safety of residual levels of the processing materials in the final product.” The FDA also noted that “additional data on the effects of fructose consumption that is not balanced with glucose consumption would be needed to ensure that this product is safe.”
Seeking further clarification, I asked the agency last year about HFCS 90, and was informed in an email from a spokesperson that HFCS 90 is a “nonstandardized food” and is “not high fructose corn syrup.”
‘Limited’ to what, exactly?
Mohan’s response also makes mention of “fluctuations in fructose levels above 42 or 55 %” in HFCS, which he apparently believes “would be expressly permitted” by regulatory officials.
Those so-called “fluctuations” were ‘discovered’ in 2010 by Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Goren, who regards higher fructose intake as a risk factor in health problems such as diabetes (as do other experts), analyzed samples of Coke, Pepsi and Sprite, and found that fructose levels in the HFCS used in these popular beverages went as high as 65 percent.
“The only information we have,” Goran told me in an interview, “is that industry says sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent of the sugar is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes,” he said. “So we decided we wanted to actually verify, measure the fructose content so we could get a better handle on how much fructose people were actually consuming every time they open a can of soda.”
In fact, consumers have been given the impression that HFCS is even lower in fructose than that. In a TV ad blitz sponsored by the CRA, they were told that HFCS and sugar are basically the same, having “virtually” equal amounts of fructose and glucose. (Natural sugar, or sucrose, contains a fixed amount of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose). One commercial – although it wasn’t produced by the CRA, but another group called “SweetScam.com” a site attacking critics of HFCS – even depicts HFCS as a psychiatric patient complaining to Dr. Ruth about having a name like “high fructose corn syrup” that was really “stupid…as I’m actually low in fructose” and being advised to change it to “corn sugar” (a recommendation that was flatly rejected by the FDA).
But Mohan, must have missed all those commercials, judging from his letter to the FDA, which also states that “…there is no evidence that consumers have been ‘told’” about the fructose content of HFCS, and that “(I)nformation of that specificity simply does not appear on product labels or in the advertising or marketing of HFCS-containing, end-user products.” And while his letter claims that HFCS 90 uses are “minor” and that the “FDA has been aware of these limited uses for decades,” he provides no hints as to which food products may actually contain it or any idea of what “minor” and “limited” actually mean in this context.
All of this leaves us with a question: how do we know the precise fructose content of food products containing HFCS? Is it 42 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 90 percent,or somewhere in between? And what, exactly, are those supposedly “limited” and “minor” items that the CRA now admits have contained the 90 percent fructose version of HFCS for all these years?
These are things every American consumer should have a right to know. And by signing and supporting this Citizens for Health Petition to have HFCS fructose amount labeled, you’ll be making a statement that secrecy is impermissible when it comes to what we’re ingesting – and how much.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- April 16, 2013
The world’s largest beverage company wants you to know that the excess calories you gain from guzzling its flagship product Coke are really your friends, ready to be spent on “extra happy activities” such as dog walking, laughing and dancing.
If that seems kind of bizarre, the fact is that its “I just want to be OK” commercial, which has been airing in prime time, is said to be one of the ways Coke is addressing “obesity head-on.”
By bringing a familiar “calories in, calories out” message to consumers (one Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson has been fond of conveying in her appearances over the last few years), the soft-drink giant has been doing its part to spread the word that that “…all calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola.,” but can be easily worked off through all kinds of recreational pastimes.
Of course, there are scores of consumers and health professionals who would call those calories in Coke, which come from high fructose corn syrup, distinctly ‘unhappy’ ones that may ‘count’ in ways we hadn’t counted on.
For example, health guru and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D. calls HFCS “a direct driver of obesity in kids,” and something he predicts is “going to turn out to be one of the very worst culprits in (our) diet.”
And Dr. Mark Hyman, bestselling author, practicing physician and chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, notes that the consumption of high fructose corn syrup, which went from zero to over 60 pounds per person per year, has coincided with “obesity rates (that) have more than tripled and diabetes incidence (increasing) more than sevenfold” – a correlation he believes “cannot be ignored.”
In fact, if you look at “delivery” data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it wasn’t until 1968 that HFCS first appeared as a little blip on the data chart, coming in at 0.1 pounds consumed per person annually. By 1978 we were sucking in 10.8 pounds per person per year, and it was all uphill (or downhill) from there, hitting an annual high in 2002 of 62.9 pounds of HFCS consumption per capita.
By contrast, our sugar intake has actually declined over the last 100 years, with folks in 1909 consuming over 73 pounds per person annually, rising to 101 pounds by 1969, only to drop almost 40 pounds per person by 2011 with the corresponding rise in HFCS use.
And if you’ve ever wondered how much actual HFCS might be in that soda, we’ve actually gone to the trouble of measuring out the amount of this test-tube sweetener that can be found in various ‘syrupy’ drinks (which, as we’re pointed out before, are not “sugary drinks” in spite of how many times you see them mistakenly described as such). The results are shown below.
The point is that while sugar may be sugar, it is not high fructose corn syrup (as was made clear last year by the Food and Drug Administration) – and just as a teaspoon of high fructose corn syrup is not the same thing as “a spoonful of sugar” (or a sugar cube), neither can the calories found in these two very different sweeteners be said to affect us the same way, in the opinion of many experts.
So while it may once have been fairly easy to “work (or play) off” the calories in a truly “sugary drink” and “be OK,” it may not be quite so simple with one whose caloric content comes from HFCS.
Perhaps someone ought to tell the folks who market Coke.