Thursday, July 8, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Photo Credit: Jeff Cronin
These drinks, all with illegal claims on the labels, were found in the FDA cafeteria.
July 7, 2010
Food Frauds on Sale at FDA Headquarters!
CSPI Says Federal Labeling Cops Should Raid Their Own Cafeteria
WASHINGTON - July 7 - On a recent visit to the sprawling new Food and Drug Administration headquarters in the White Oak area of Silver Spring, Md., a lawyer from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest stopped for a quick, healthy lunch. Hiding in plain sight in the FDA cafeteria—quite literally under the noses of the officials tasked with policing misleading labels—were at least three beverages with illegal claims on their labels. The contraband drinks included:
* Purity.Organic Functional Drinks Pomegranate Blueberry. Its label claims it has “Ginkgo Biloba to enhance your memory and keep you thinking straight,” but government-funded studies show ginkgo has no effect on memory and does not lower incidence of Alzheimer’s or dementia, either. Ginkgo may have been “grown by monks for millennia” as the web site claims, but it isn’t Generally Recognized as Safe (or GRAS) as a food additive, according to FDA. (Plus, this product has more added sugar than it has pomegranate or blueberry juice.)
* Crystal Light Immunity Berry Pomegranate. This bright purple beverage’s label pictures blueberries and a pomegranate, yet the drink has no juice of any kind. Natural flavoring accounts for less than 2 percent of the product, and only an unknown fraction of that comes from the named fruits. The color comes from Red 40 and Blue 1 and the artificial sweetness comes from sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Vitamins A, B, C and E are listed on the ingredients list, but there is no evidence to support the implication that this drink will ward off colds or diseases, which is what is implied by the use of the word “immunity.” CSPI urged the FDA to take enforcement action against this product in 2008. (Plus, the bottle CSPI found in the FDA cafeteria was long past its “Best before 26 December 2007” expiration date.)
* SoBe Lifewater B-Energy Black Cherry Dragonfruit. Again, this drink has no black cherry or dragonfruit juice, but it does have guarana and ginseng (neither considered GRAS by FDA although the food industry considers them safe) and added vitamins. Using the word “energy” in the name and claiming that its B vitamins “help your body unlock the energy in foods,” implies that the drink will make one feel more energetic. But while B vitamins do help to convert protein, fat, and carbohydrates into energy, they don’t provide an energy boost that can be felt by the body. The “all natural” claim is unjustified because Lifewater contains added citric acid. And those without magnifying glasses might miss the fact that the bottle (described improbably as 2.5 servings) will supply 62.5 milligrams of caffeine, more than what you’d find in a 12-ounce can of Coke.
“To be fair, the FDA under the Obama Administration has done more to crack down on deceptive food labeling in the last 12 months than the Bush FDA did in eight years,” said CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade. “But the fact that we were able to find so many labeling problems in the FDA’s own cafeteria neatly illustrates why the agency needs to issue industry-wide rules, not just send warning letters to individual companies.”
Last December, CSPI sent the FDA a 158-page report documenting more than 50 false or misleading claims, ingredient obfuscations, and other labeling shenanigans that it found in supermarkets. CSPI recommended that FDA establish a systematic regulatory framework to prohibit misleading health-related claims, and require that nutrition information be based on realistic serving sizes—something that the drinks CSPI found in the FDA cafeteria fail to do.
“Consumers who want to ensure that they’re getting enough vitamins and minerals should focus on eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables first,” Silverglade said. “No one should believe that the added vitamins, herbs or other ingredients in these flavored waters are going to ward off disease, improve memory, or make one more energetic. The FDA should frog-march these products into the food label penitentiary.”
Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Death by M&M: The Problem with Food Dyes
by Sarah Parsons June 30, 2010
Photo Credit: Elyse Dewey via flickr
Step away from the M&Ms. And the Froot Loops, Kraft salad dressings, and Manischewitz Matzo Balls. And, well, basically every other processed product containing artificial food dyes, too. A new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) highlights how synthetic food dyes contribute to medical conditions like cancers, allergic reactions, and hyperactivity. Bet those Fruit Roll-Ups don't seem so appetizing now, eh?
Every year, food manufacturers pump about 15 million pounds of synthetic food dyes into processed foods and beverages. CSPI's report, "Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks" (pdf), examined the potential health effects from consuming these artificial colors. Results of the study were truly frightening. Researchers found that the three most heavily used artificial food dyes — Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 — contain cancer-causing compounds. Dyes like Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 can cause serious allergic reactions in people, while other synthetic dyes are linked to hyperactivity in children.
What's worse is that use of synthetic food dyes is hardly on the decline. According to the CSPI report, since 1955, the country's seen a five-fold increase in the per capita consumption of food dyes. Which I guess makes sense, considering the bevvy of brightly colored sugary drinks, snacks, and processed foods that crop up on grocery store shelves every week. Take Action: http://food.change.org/blog/view/death_by_mm_the_problem_with_food_dyes#
Perhaps the most concerning portion of the report involves the food industry's use of the dye Red 3. In 1985, the FDA's acting commissioner said that Red 3 can induce cancer. And despite the fact that the FDA knew about this risk for, um, a quarter of a century, it's still perfectly legal for food manufacturers to use this dye in products. Every year, manufacturers put 200,000 pounds of the dye in treats like Betty Crocker's Fruit Roll-Ups and ConAgra's Kid Cuisine meals. Companies knowingly spend their marketing dollars hawking cancer-causing junk food to kids while the FDA stays mum. So much for living up to the agency's mission of watching out for consumer's safety.
Dyes aren't a vital ingredient in food products, either. They simply make goods more colorful. Skittles would still taste the same without their dyes, but then how could Mars, Inc. tempt consumers to "taste the rainbow"?
But even considering Americans' preoccupation with food's appearance, there still isn't a need to rely on artificial dyes. Manufacturers can easily use healthy, all-natural ingredients like pumpkin and carrot extract, strawberries, beet juice, paprika, red cabbage, and a grocery list of other items to color foods.
It's time that the FDA take consumers' health seriously and start regulating these harmful petrochemicals. Sign Change.org's petition that the FDA ban the use of Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.
TAKE ACTION: http://food.change.org/blog/view/death_by_mm_the_problem_with_food_dyes#
Published on Tuesday, July 6, 2010 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Dead Zone in Gulf Linked to Ethanol Production
by Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - While the BP oil spill has been labeled the worst environmental catastrophe in recent U.S. history, a biofuel is contributing to a Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" the size of New Jersey that scientists say could be every bit as harmful to the gulf.
[The Gulf of Mexico dead zone threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries that generate about $2.8 billion annually. (Credit: NOAA) ]The Gulf of Mexico dead zone threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries that generate about $2.8 billion annually. (Credit: NOAA)
Each year, nitrogen used to fertilize corn, about a third of which is made into ethanol, leaches from Midwest croplands into the Mississippi River and out into the gulf, where the fertilizer feeds giant algae blooms. As the algae dies, it settles to the ocean floor and decays, consuming oxygen and suffocating marine life.
Known as hypoxia, the oxygen depletion kills shrimp, crabs, worms and anything else that cannot escape. The dead zone has doubled since the 1980s and is expected this year to grow as large as 8,500 square miles and hug the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Texas.
As to which is worse, the oil spill or the hypoxia, "it's a really tough call," said Nathaniel Ostrom, a zoologist at Michigan State University. "There's no real answer to that question."
Some scientists fear the oil spill will worsen the dead zone, because when oil decomposes, it also consumes oxygen. New government estimates on Thursday indicated that the BP oil spill had gushed as much as 141 million gallons since an oil-rig explosion and well blowout on April 20 that killed 11 workers.
Corn is biggest culprit
The gulf dead zone is the second-largest in the world, after one in the Baltic Sea. Scientists say the biggest culprit is industrial-scale corn production. Corn growers are heavy users of both nitrogen and pesticides. Vast monocultures of corn and soybeans, both subsidized by the federal government, have displaced diversified farms and grasslands throughout the Mississippi Basin.
"The subsidies are driving farmers toward more corn," said Gene Turner, a zoologist at Louisiana State University. "More nitrate comes off corn fields than it does off of any other crop by far. And nitrogen is driving the formation of the dead zone."
The dead zone, he said, is "a symptom of the homogenization of the landscape. We just have a few crops on what used to have all kinds of different vegetation."
In 2007, Congress passed a renewable fuels standard that requires ethanol production to triple in the next 12 years. The Department of Agriculture has just rolled out a plan to meet that goal, including building ethanol refineries in every state. The Environmental Protection Agency will decide soon whether to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline blends from 10 percent to 15 percent.
A 2008 National Research Council report warned of a "considerable" increase in damage to the gulf if ethanol production is increased.
Pet cause of Congress
One of the authors of that report, agricultural economist Otto Doering at Purdue University, said that a 50 percent boost in the ethanol blend in gasoline will significantly raise corn prices, driving farmers to pull land out of conservation and pastureland and into corn production. They are also likely to add more nitrogen fertilizers to boost yields.
Corn ethanol has been heavily subsidized since the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s. Viewed by the corn industry as a lucrative market, ethanol is a perennial favorite in Congress.
Ethanol consumes two-thirds of all federal subsidies for renewable fuels, said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group, leaving solar, wind and the rest to fight over the remaining third. Corn ethanol cost taxpayers $17 billion from 2005 to 2009, his group estimates.
"This is another industry that's entirely a creature of the government, even more so than corn growing per se," Cook said. "The production of ethanol wouldn't happen at all without government subsidies and protection."
The National Corn Growers Association ran a media blitz in Washington last week to press for the renewal of the 51-cents-a-gallon tax credit for ethanol. With pictures of the BP oil spill looming in the background, the Corn Growers' video announces, "Ethanol: Now is the time."
Conservation plan hurt
The ethanol boom over the past decade has lured farmers to withdraw millions of acres from the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farms not to plant fragile land. Much of this land has been returned to native prairie grasses, at taxpayer expense. Millions more acres are up for renewal over the next few years.
"There's been a very large-scale conversion of these CRP lands to biofuel production," Ostrom said. Those soils have accumulated carbon from the atmosphere and stored it, becoming "a pretty significant sink for atmospheric CO2," he said. "If we suddenly start farming those soils, we basically release all of the carbon that's been sequestered for decades, and that may more than offset any carbon benefit of switching to biofuels."
To meet its goal of tripling ethanol production, Congress called for more cellulosic ethanol, which is made from wood, crop waste, perennial grasses such as switchgrass, and even native prairie grasses. Perennial grasses are considered far less damaging to the environment than corn because they require less fertilizer and their roots remain in the ground, helping to stabilize the soil and reduce runoff.
But commercial production of cellulosic ethanol remains a pipe dream. It would require large subsidies to dislodge corn ethanol.
There is no experience with commercial production of switchgrass. Purdue's Doering said it will require fertilizer and is likely to be planted on conservation lands and pasture instead of displacing corn.
Joan Nassauer, a professor at the University of Michigan who has studied how alternative agricultural policies could alleviate the dead zone, said cellulosic ethanol could work.
"It might be one of those win-wins, but it's not in production yet," she said. "What we've got now all over the Corn Belt is corn, and that's definitely not a win-win."
© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.