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

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January 7, 2014

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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.