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

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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.