Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Apr 4 2013

Stonyfield responds to yesterday’s post

My post yesterday about the increase in sugars in certain Stonyfield yogurts elicited this e-mail from Stonyfield’s Vice President for Communications and Social Media. I’m posting it here with her permission:

Hi Marion,

Alice Markowitz here…I read your blog post today–and wanted to give you an update on our yogurt and company.

Happy to say, that as Chairman of the Stonyfield Board, Gary [Hirshberg] is still wholeheartedly and irrepressibly involved with the company and our direction. Likewise, Stonyfield is actively engaged in the labeling issue, as we continually try to communicate the importance of knowing where your food comes from and how it’s produced.

I also wanted to clarify that we’ve shared the parent company Groupe Danone with Dannon since 2003, and we’ve always operated our company independently. That includes making our own decisions about the recipes we use for our yogurts.

In 2011, we replaced some of the sugar in our Smooth and Creamy style nonfat yogurts with organic stevia. Our fans didn’t like the switch, so we went back to using just organic sugar with our new Blends. So, while there’s more sugar in those yogurts now than when we used stevia, the amount is about the same as our pre-stevia recipe. In fact, the slight increase is due primarily to an increase in milk in the product, resulting in more protein, more milk sugar.   As with many of our products, Blends has a mix of naturally-occurring sugars from milk and fruit and some added sugars.

We are concerned about the amount of sugar in our yogurts. In fact, almost half of the sugar listed in the nutritional info is what’s found naturally in the milk and fruit – which is why you see different sugar amounts in different flavors. The sugar we do add is organic sugar used to create the flavors that our yogurt lovers prefer the most.

Ultimately though we offer the choice to the consumer, and offer 98 different organic products. If yogurt eaters prefer to restrict their sugar intake, we offer plain versions of our nonfat, lowfat, whole milk and Greek yogurt without any added sugar. Turns out we’re also the only company that offers a plain yogurt for babies (with naturally-occurring milk sugars only) so parents have a choice if they prefer no sugar.

Probably more info than you ever wanted but hope this clarifies things a bit.

All the best,

Alice

Apr 3 2013

Is Stonyfield yogurt upping its sugar?

Maybe it’s a coincidence but now that Gary Hirshberg has left Stonyfield to work on Just Label It!, its parent company, Dannon, is sweetening up its “Blends” yogurts.  

Or so writes a reader:

Yes it’s more sugar!  In the French Vanilla (6 oz cup), they added 10 g (from 17 – 27g)! 

In the Peach (also 6 oz cup) they added 6g (from 20 -26). 

It’s so bad that kids are fighting over it.  

We have noticed that they are eating less fruit because they want that sugar in the yogurts.

As I wrote of the competition between Dannon and Yoplait (owned by General Mills) in the yogurt chapter of What to Eat

The chief weapon in the yogurt battles is sugar.  Both brands are desserts.  Sugars constitute 55 percent of the 80 calories in Go-GURT, 67 percent of the 90 calories in Danimals Drinkable, and 68 of the 170 calories in Danimals XL.  Even in Stonyfield’s YoBaby organic yogurts…53% of the 120 calories come from added sugars.  Some of Stonyfield’s yogurts for older kids appear berry-flavored, but they have no fruit at all….

The book was published in 2006.  In this instance, I’m sorry that it’s holding up so well.

Apr 2 2013

Retailers and the GM salmon problem

A coalition of consumer, health, food safety and fishing groups behind the “Campaign for Genetically Engineered (GE)-Free Seafood” is recruiting grocery store chains to agree not to sell genetically engineered seafood even if the FDA allows it to be sold.  The campaign is aimed at the genetically modified AquaBounty salmon, which the FDA has had under consideration for ages, with no decision in sight.

The stores that have pledged not to sell GM salmon include Trader Joe’s (367 stores), Aldi (1,230 stores), Whole Foods (346 stores in U.S.), Marsh Supermarkets (93 stores in Indiana and Ohio), and PCC Natural Markets (9 stores in Washington State) and co-ops in Minnesota, New York, California, and Kansas.

This is a big deal because other GM seafood are in the research pipeline.  Large percentages of Americans say they oppose GM seafood and that the FDA should not allow it to be marketed.

And if the FDA does approve it, the agency is highly unlikely to require any special kind of labeling.

This reminds me of what happened to genetically modified tomato paste in the U.K.  Supermarket chains were selling the cans with labels clearly indicating that they were “produced from genetically modified tomatoes.”  The stores priced them favorably, and customers bought them — until Monsanto shipped unlabeled corn to Great Britain and caused a furor.

Retailers decided that they had plenty of tomato paste, didn’t need upset customers, and refused to continue selling the GM varieties.

Retailers call the shots in this situation.

I think much of the public distress over GM foods is because of lack of transparency.  Without labels, customers cannot exercise freedom of choice.

Just label it!

 

Apr 1 2013

Menu labeling: What’s new?

Today I’m doing a roundup of items about menu labels.  Remember them?

The President signed calorie labels into law when he signed the health care act more than three years ago.

The FDA has still not issued rules for them.

Where are they?

The Associated Press tried to find out.

It quotes FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg :

There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable…menu labeling has turned out to be one of the FDA’s most challenging issues.

Why?  The restaurant and food industries don’t like it.  They want exemptions for movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other businesses whose primary business is not to sell food.   And alcohol, of course.

And rumors continue that the White House Office of Management and Budget is holding them up.

Will menu labels work?

They certainly work for me.

And it looks like they might work for other people too, especially if accompanied by traffic-light labels indicating calorie levels.  Or so says a recent study from Oklahoma State.

Calorie counts most influenced purchases when accompanied by a green light label for foods with less than 400 calories, a yellow label for foods with between 401 and 800 calories, and a red label on those with more than 800 calories.

Are the posted calorie amounts accurate?

With just a few exceptions, they are close enough not to worry about, says Consumer Reports.

Come on, FDA, get the rules out so everybody can have as much fun with these as I do.

Mar 29 2013

The Coke “chairs” ad: Stand up for Coke!

I’m indebted to Yoni Freedhoff for posting Coca-Cola’s latest anti-obesity initiative, this one in Spain.

Will Chairs conquer the world?  Not if you stand up for Coke!

“What if we stand up?” is the message.  OK, this is not an absurd idea, in theory.  As Mal Nesheim and I review in our book Why Calories Count, plenty of evidence supports the health benefits of standing and fidgeting, rather than sitting.  

But this ad comes from Coca-Cola, as part of its “4 commitments to fight overweight and sedentary lifestyle” campaign.

Why would Coke do this?  As BrandChannel says, “to get out ahead of the negative “sugary drinks” PR wave.”  It notes that Coke just signed a new bottling agreement in Spain, where it also launched “Happiness” ATMs as part of its global “ Open Happiness” campaign.

But in “Chairs,” gone is Coke’s role in promoting health. Sure, it’s meant to be funny but the substituted message is about how it’s the consumer’s fault for sitting down so much. Coke is implying that its a third, disintereted party and that consumers should take it up with their chairs (which, really, is another way of saying consumers should take it up with themselves). 

The ad follows others run in the U.S. and in the U.K.

What I love best about the Spanish ad is that it could have come right out of The Onion.   Its writers argued that the ferocious opposition to Mayor Bloomberg’s 16-ounce soda plan proves that Americans are willing to stand up for their beliefs.

Dr. Freedhoff points out another irony: Coca-Cola is in the business of selling chairs (who knew?).

Collectibles!

Mar 28 2013

Yes, dogs can eat carbohydrates, and here’s why

When Mal Nesheim and I were writing our book about the pet food industry, Feed Your Pet Right, we were constantly challenged to defend our contention that dogs can eat pretty much anything, including commercial food products made with grains.

Our reasoning: dogs are not wolves.  They evolved to take full advantage of the leftovers from human food consumption.

Now a study published in Nature Magazine, “The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet,” explains how this happened. 

The investigators sequenced the entire genomes of dogs and wolves.  They identified 3.8 million genetic variants, and used them to identify 36 genomic regions that appeared related to dog domestication.  Many of these gene regions appear to be associated with the behavioral changes needed to domesticate wolves.  

Ten of the genes turned out to have roles in starch digestion; three of these genes promote digestion.

The investigators identified mutations in key wolf genes that allowed this to happen.  The study provides evidence that dogs “thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves.”  

This, they say, constitutes a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs.

In conclusion, we have presented evidence that dog domestication was accompanied by selection at three genes with key roles in starch digestion: AMY2BMGAM and SGLT1. Our results show that adaptations that allowed the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in early dog domestication…In light of previous results describing the timing and location of dog domestication, our findings may suggest that the development of agriculture catalysed the domestication of dogs.

 If your dog is domesticated, it will love those carbs just as you do.  But keep it away from the pizza and cookies.  We seem to have co-evolved to put on the pounds together too.

Mar 27 2013

How to make people think foods are healthy: greenwash!

Green labels are all that it takes to make consumers think that foods are healthier, says a new study (see full reference below):

You don’t believe this?

Decide for yourself: Which candy bar is healthier?

This clever study found that green labels increase perceived healthfulness, especially among consumers who place high importance on healthy eating.

Read it and weep: Jonathon P. Schuldt (2013): Does Green Mean Healthy? Nutrition Label Color Affects Perceptions of Healthfulness, Health Communication, DOI:10.1080/10410236.2012.725270.

Mar 26 2013

More on energy drinks

You have to love the marketing geniuses at Monster Energy Drink.

As I suggested in a previous post, it and similar products have become the new frontier for food advocacy, largely because of linkages, as yet unproven, between their high caffeine content and the deaths of several young people.

Now, Suffolk County has passed legislation that blocks companies from giving free samples and coupons to minors and selling the drinks in county parks.

In 2010, Suffolk Country introduced a previous version of the bill that proposed to ban sales of energy drinks to anyone 19 or younger.

How is Monster Energy responding to such assaults?

Clever: change its labels from Supplement Facts to Nutrition Facts.

Why would it do this?

As explained in the New York Times, Monster Beverage “will no longer be required to tell federal regulators about reports potentially linking its products to deaths and injuries” [doing so is required for supplements, but not foods].

A spokesman for Monster, Michael Sitrick, said the company had decided to market its products as beverages for several reasons. One was to stop what he described as “misguided criticism” that the company was selling its energy drinks as dietary supplements because of the belief that such products were more lightly regulated than beverages [Misguided? They are more lightly regulated].

Another consideration, he said, was that consumers can use government-subsidized food stamps to buy beverages [EBT-card benefits cannot be spent on supplements].

Let’s see if other places follow Suffolk County’s lead.

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