by Marion Nestle

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Apr 18 2014

CDC’s food safety report card: no happy news

The CDC has just issued its latest report on foodborne illness and food safety progress from 2006 to 2013.

It’s report has a couple of frowny faces—Campylobacter and Vibrio cases are up—and nothing else has changed.

Nothing to smile about.

Laboratory diagnoses of other foodborne microbial illnesses are also rising.

Figure: Changes in incidence of laboratory-confirmed bacterial infections, United States, 2013 compared with 2006-2008 (data are preliminary). Yersinia = 7% decrease, Vibrio = 32% increase, STEC Non-O157  = 8% increase, STEC O157 = 16% increase, Shigella = 14% decrease, Salmonella = 9% decrease, Listeria = 3% decrease, Campylobacter = 2% increase

The food industry needs to do a better job of producing safe food.

Let’s hope the new food safety rules go into effect soon and get followed.

Mar 13 2014

No, the FDA has not approved Sweetmyx: another reason to fix the GRAS regs

Yesterday, Emily Main of Rodale Press sent me this question:

Have you ever heard of this new “sweetness enhancer” that just got approved by the FDA? It’s called Sweetmyx and is made by a company called Senomyx, and is apparently licensed by Pepsi for exclusive use.  All I can really find out about it is that it enhances the sweet flavor of other sugars, so soda companies can use less sugar in their regular products…Do you have any insight about it?

Nope.  Never heard of it..  All I could find out was that Pepsi had an exclusive deal to use it, according to a Bloomberg report.

Sweetmyx, a new ingredient by Senomyx Inc. (SNMX), received approval for foods and beverages, clearing the way for PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) to use it to make lower-sugar beverages taste sweeter.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association’s expert panel has determined that Sweetmyx is generally recognized as safe as an ingredient, San Diego-based Senomyx said today in a statement. PepsiCo has the exclusive right to use the product, a so-called flavor modifier, in many nonalcoholic drinks under a 2010 agreement.

While I was trying to discover what Sweetmyx is, exactly, this notice came in from the FDA: 

On March 11, 2014, Senomyx, Inc. issued a public statement suggesting that its food ingredient Sweetmyx (also known as S617) was generally recognized as safe (GRAS). The statement appeared to suggest that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had made the GRAS determination. In fact, the agency had not made this determination nor had it been notified by Senomyx regarding a GRAS determination for this food ingredient. The company’s statement has been corrected and now notes that a third party organization made the determination.

A company can make an independent GRAS determination without notifying the FDA. However, the agency does have a voluntary GRAS notification program whereby a company can inform the FDA of the company’s determination. The FDA maintains an inventory of such GRAS Notices on its website, allowing the public to confirm whether FDA has filed and responded to a GRAS notice.

When making a GRAS self-determination, companies should not state or imply that the FDA has made a GRAS determination on their food ingredients.

For more information on the GRAS notification process, please see: Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

Recall from one of my previous posts the shocking gap in FDA regulatory authority over GRAS determinations.

  • Manufacturers get to decide whether food additives are safe or not.
  • Manufacturers get to decide whether to bother to tell the FDA the additives are in the food supply, and even if they do.
  • Manufacturers get to decide who sits on the panels that review the evidence for safety.

In the case of Sweetmyx, the company’s consultant says it’s safe so why bother to see if the FDA agrees.

My questions:

  • Pepsi: don’t you want FDA approval before putting this stuff in your drinks?
  • Chemists: what is Sweetmyx anyway?
  • FDA: don’t you think you ought to take a look at this thing?
  • Congress: how about insisting that the FDA establish a better system for dealing with food additives

Hey, I can dream.

Additions, March 14:

A reader reminds me that the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit to get the FDA to do a better job on GRAS determinations (more information is here).

Another reader points out that Coca-Cola also was flirting with Senomyx a few years ago but evidently gave up the idea.

And another notes that Senomyx’s financial report makes it clear that the company knows it has regulatory issues: “Senomyx may be asked to complete additional studies to evaluate and/or monitor the safety of new flavor ingredients in order to maintain applicable regulatory approvals and/or obtain regulatory approvals outside of the United States.”

Nov 28 2013

Happy Thanksgiving: three reports on hunger and politics

New York City’s Coalition Against Hunger has issued a new report on the city’s Superstorm of Hunger.

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Bread for the World’s offers its 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America

It comes with an Infographic summarizing the principal action points:

  • Create good jobs
  • Invest in people
  • Strengthen the safety net
  • Build strong partnerships

And Circa provides an illustrated, interactive (check the links!) account of an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation of how lobbyists and tax dollars affect the cost of your thanksgiving dinner.

The bottom line: Agribusiness spent $71 million on campaign contributions and $95 million on lobbying in 2012.  For example:

The National Turkey Federation — a member of an agricultural businesses coalition —has given $1.37 million in campaign contributions since 1989, focused mainly on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. The group has also spent $3.58 million on lobbying during that time, taking aim at laws for turkey exports and antibiotic rules.

Enjoy your dinner!

Oct 31 2013

Happy food politics Halloween

Thanks to Food and Water Watch for this tidbit.

How much candy do Americans buy—and presumably eat—for Halloween?

According to ConfectioneryNews.com, Halloween is the largest seasonal period for confectionery in the United States generating candy sales of nearly $2.4 billion just in the last two weeks of October.

Enjoy the holiday.

Oct 24 2013

Happy Food Day, 2013

October 24 is Food Day, which its organizer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), calls “a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies.”

Food Day aims to help people Eat Real. That means cutting back on sugar drinks, overly salted packaged foods, and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein. Food Day envisions shorter lines at fast-food drive-throughs—and bigger crowds at farmers markets.

Food Day is about taking personal responsibility for what you eat—what I like to call “voting with your fork.”

Join the Movement: The most important ingredient in Food Day is you! Use October 24 to start—or celebrate—eating a healthier diet and putting your family’s diet on track.

It is not, alas, about working to change policies that will make it easier for people to make healthier food choices.  For that, you must celebrate World Food Day on October 16 (and see post on that topic)—getting political and voting with your vote!

The food movement needs both (compromise on October 20?).

In honor of both, here’s this from Eat, Drink, Vote.

ClayBennett_Cartoon

 

 

 

Sep 27 2013

Whole grain chaos: FDA approves qualified health claim, sort of

In 2012, ConAgra petitioned the FDA to approve use of a health claim on labels and advertising for its whole grain products.  Here’s what ConAgra asked for:

Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include three servings (48 grams) of whole grains per day may reduce the risk of diabetes mellitus type 2.

or

Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that whole grains (three servings or 48 grams per day), as part of a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of diabetes mellitus type 2.

To say that the FDA was less than impressed with evidence supporting this claim is to understate the matter.  After a comprehensive review of the evidence, here’s what the FDA says ConAgra can use:

Whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, although the FDA has concluded that there is very limited scientific evidence for this claim.

or

Whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. FDA has concluded that there is very limited scientific evidence for this claim.

No, this is not a joke.

Congress insists that the FDA must approve health claims, whether supported by science or not.

According to FoodNavigator, ConAgra is happy about this decision.  The first thing anyone will read is “whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.”

As I keep saying, health claims are about marketing, not health.  And qualified health claims are the worst examples.  A plague on all of them!

Aug 7 2013

You think the FDA gets to approve all food additives as safe? Not a chance.

I was invited to write the editorial to accompany a study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine looking at the highly conflicted process used to decide whether food additives are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

Here’s the study.

Here’s my editorial.

I know this sounds completely crazy, but here’s what the study found:

  • Manufacturers get to decide whether food additives are safe or not.
  • Manufacturers get to decide whether to bother to tell the FDA the additives are in the food supply.

And if they do volunteer to inform the FDA (and many do),

  • Manufacturers get to decide who sits on the panels that review the evidence for safety.

In reading the study, it seemed to me that:

  • As long as not too many people roll over dead after eating foods with new additives, nobody will ever have a clue whether the additive is safe.
  • The regulatory gap has spawned an entire enterprise of GRAS consultants and GRAS consulting firms who are in the business—presumably lucrative—of providing the scientific documentation the FDA needs to determine additive safety.

Some of the consultants need to do a better job.  The FDA raises enough questions that about 15% (my estimate) of the requests would be denied.

The good news: If the FDA sees the safety documentation, it does its job.

But what happens to the rejected additives?  Or the ones that don’t get voluntarily sent to FDA?

Nobody really knows (think: caffeine in alcohol drinks–the FDA had no idea).

We need a better food safety system in this country and conflicts of interests in GRAS additive approvals are a good place to start.

Here’s what USA Today has to say about this (I’m quoted).

 

 

Jul 31 2013

Court turns down NYC 16-ounce soda cap; city will appeal

The  NY State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, has turned down the Bloomberg administration’s appeal (New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene).

The court’s decision in this case begins on page 22:

Like Supreme Court, we conclude that in promulgating this regulation the Board of Health failed to act within the bounds of its lawfully delegated authority. Accordingly, we declare the regulation to be invalid, as violative of the principle of separation of powers.

…we find particularly probative the regulation’s exemptions, which evince a compromise of social and economic concerns, as well as private interests. As indicated, the regulatory scheme is not an all encompassing regulation. It does not apply to all FSEs [food service establishments]. Nor does it apply to all sugary beverages. The Board of Health’s explanations for these exemptions do not convince us that the limitations are based solely on health-related concerns (pages 17, 18 of the decision).

OK.  So the city should have made the rule apply to all food service places and all sugary beverages.  Live and learn.

Mayor Bloomberg says the city will appeal:

Since New York City’s ground-breaking limit on the portion size of sugary beverages was prevented from going into effect on March 12th, more than 2,000 New Yorkers have died from the effects of diabetes. Also during that time, the American Medical Association determined that obesity is a disease and the New England Journal of Medicine released a study showing the deadly, and irreversible, health impacts of obesity and Type 2 diabetes – both of which are disproportionately linked to sugary drink consumption. Today’s decision is a temporary setback, and we plan to appeal this decision as we continue the fight against the obesity epidemic.”

The American Beverage Association is pleased.  It’s headline: “Hey New York – Your Beverage Is Still Your Choice!”

We are pleased that the lower court’s decision was upheld.  With this ruling behind us, we look forward to collaborating with city leaders on solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the people of New York City.

Even if the city loses the final appeal, the 16-ounce soda cap is the writing on the wall for soda companies.

Sales of full-sugar sodas have been falling for years and getting worse for both Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Cutting down on the portion sizes of sugary drinks is still a really good idea.

Here’s what the news media say about it:

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