by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)

Dec 24 2015

The FDA’s question for Christmas Eve: What is “natural?”

The FDA is extending the comment period for the meaning of “natural” on food labels until May 10, 2016.  This, it says, is

In direct response to requests from the public…Due to the complexity of this issue, the FDA is committed to providing the public with more time to submit comments. The FDA will thoroughly review all public comments and information submitted before determining its next steps.

The “complexity of this issue?”  Isn’t it obvious what “natural” means when applied to food—minimally processed with no junk added?

Not a chance.  “Natural” is too valuable a marketing term to forbid its use on highly processed foods.  To wit:

Here, as the agency explains, is what complicates the meaning of “natural”:

The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels.  We also note that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

Are foods containing genetically modified ingredients or HFCS “natural?”

The FDA says

It has long “considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic  (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.

However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

Specifically, the FDA asks for information and public comment on questions such as:

  • Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”
  • If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and
  • How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

If you want to weigh in on this, you now have until May 10 to do so.  Go to http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.

Here are the background documents:

May your holidays be happy, healthy, and natural, of course.

Apr 20 2015

Sugar politics: never a dull moment

Here are two more items on the endless disputes over sugar intake.

1.  The IOM’s 25% of calories from sugar “recommendation”

I was surprised to see the Institute of Medicine’s upper limit of sugar safety cited in a JAMA commentary on sugars and heart disease. The authors disagreed with the conclusions of a study by Yang et al. in JAMA Internal Medicine:

Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.

The authors of the commentary say:

The relationship between added sugar intake and CVD mortality remains unresolved. The study by Yang et al1 does not support implementation of health policies limiting sugar intake because a relatively small fraction of the total population ingests excessive amounts of sugar by the IOM criteria….Laws attempting to limit excess sugar intake have been passed and overturned on legal grounds. Aside from the legal questions, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support pursuit of policies limiting sugar intake.

They then go on to say:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation is that less than 25% of total kilocalories come from added sugar.

Oops.  The IOM made no such recommendation.

Instead, the IOM said 25% of calories was the upper limit of safe sugar intake for nutrient deficiencies.  The risk of nutrient deficiencies increases above that percentage.  That IOM report said nothing about the relationship of sugar quantity to risk of chronic diseases.

Most health authorities recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars as a means to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Most research shows that chronic disease risks increase with increasing sugar intake.

 2.  What is the FDA doing about “Added Sugars” on food labels?

According to all sources, the FDA is still working on what to do about Added Sugars on the new Nutrition Facts panel.  It is engaged in two studies of this question.

It says the added sugars study is complete and the data are being analyzed.  It says the format study is in the works.

The FDA was criticized for proposing added sugars on the label without having done the research first.  Apparently, the White House Office of Management and Budget took 9 months to approve the FDA’s proposal to do the sugar research.  The approval came after the FDA issued its label proposal.

The bottom line on sugar: Less is better.

Jun 19 2014

Corn Refiners to test the new food label

ProPolitico writes that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and five other industry groups have written the FDA that they intend to fund their own research on the FDA’s proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label.

The FDA already has a research project underway.

Why would the CRA—the trade association for the makers of high fructose corn syrup—want to bother with an expensive and complicated research project like this?

In an interview, John Bode, CRA president and CEO, told Politico:

The FDA has estimated that changes to the label could cost the industry $2.3 billion, but ‘we suspect that is a very conservative number.

OK.  So one purpose of the research will be to prove that the new food label will cost industry a lot more money than the FDA estimates.

Let me take a guess here and surmise that another purpose will be to prove that listing “added sugars” on food labels “misleads” the public.

This will be industry-funded research.  No matter how well it appears to be done, it is highly likely to produce the answers the CRA wants.

Otherwise, why do it?

If you are a betting person, this one looks like a sure thing.

FDA: finish up those studies and get the results out!

Addition, June 20:  Legal analysts, one a former attorney for CSPI who now works for a law firm representing industry clients, advise against putting “added sugars” on the label.  

 

Jun 4 2014

Guess who funded the contradictory fructose study?

Today, Michael Goran and his colleagues published an NIH-funded study demonstrating that the proportion of fructose in products made with high fructose corn syrup is often higher than 55%—as much as 60% to 67%.

This matters because of concerns that high intake of fructose might induce insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.

Today also, a different group of investigators published a study saying just the opposite.  Fructose in products, it says, is in close agreement with the amount expected.

Who funded this one?  The International Society of Beverage Technologists, whose executive board represents soda companies.

Really, these kinds of results are so predictable that all I have to do is see the results to guess who must have funded the study.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

 

May 2 2014

HFCS politics, continued. Endlessly.

Sometimes I have some sympathy for the makers of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  They get such bad publicity.

The most recent example occurred at the White House during the annual Easter Egg Roll, and involved the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), Michelle Obama.

Meet Marc Murphy, a chef, drizzling honey over a fruit salad:

MURPHY: “Honey is a great way to sweeten things, it is sort of a natural sweetener.”

FLOTUS: “Why is honey better than sugar?”

MURPHY: “Our bodies can deal with honey…The high-fructose corn syrup is a little harder to … I don’t think our bodies know what do with that yet.”

FLOTUS: “Did you hear that?  Our bodies don’t know what to do with high-fructose corn syrup. So we don’t need it.”

OK class.  It’s time for a lesson in basic carbohydrate biochemistry.

  • The sugars in honey are glucose and fructose.
  • The sugars in HFCS are glucose and fructose.
  • Table sugar is glucose and fructose stuck together, but quickly unstuck by enzymes.

The body knows perfectly well what to do with glucose and fructose, no matter where it comes from.

Now meet John Bode, the new president of The Corn Refiners Association:

We applaud First Lady Michelle Obama’s commendable work to educate the public about nutrition and healthy diets… It is most unfortunate that she was misinformed about how the body processes caloric sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup…Years of scientific research have shown that the body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup similar to table sugar and honey.

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you may recall that I have a little history with the Corn Refiners.

Bizarrely, I was caught up in their lawsuit with the Sugar Association.

And I was not particularly pleased to find several of my public comments about carbohydrate biochemistry displayed on the Corn Refiners website.  I did not want them used in support of the group’s ultimately unsuccessful proposal to change the name of HFCS to corn sugar.

I asked to have the quotes removed.  The response: “Your quotes are published and in the public domain.  If you don’t want us to use them, take us to court.”

I let that one go.

Enter John Bode, the Corn Refiners’ new president and CEO.  As it happens, I became acquainted with Mr. Bode in the late 1980s when he was Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and I was working in the Department of Health and Human Services (yes, the Reagan administration).

To my pleasant surprise, he recently wrote me “warm greetings, after many years.”  His note assured me that my request to have the quotes removed would be respected and that they would soon disappear.  And so they have, except for a couple in some archived press releases.

Score one for John Bode.

Mr. Bode has his work cut out for him.  He has to teach the world carbohydrate biochemistry, restore public acceptance of HFCS, defend against Sugar Association lawsuits, stop the Corn Refiners from being so litigious, and do some fence-mending, all at the same time.

And he must do all this in an era when everyone would be better off eating a lot less sugar of any kind, HFCS included.

 

 

Apr 8 2014

Evaporated cane juice: Sugar by any other name…

This question came in from Lourdes, a reader:

Would you please comment on these cases and the decisions regarding the issue [evaporated cane juice, apparently].

Happy to.

Evaporated cane juice is the food industry’s latest attempt to convince you that crystallizing sugar by this particular method will make you think it is:

  • Natural and healthy.
  • Better for you than table sugar.
  • Much better for you than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Maybe, but it’s still sugar.

Pushed by food companies to let “evaporated cane juice” be used on food labels, the FDA in 2009 issued one of those non-binding guidance documents it loves to do.

Over the past few years the term “evaporated cane juice” has started to appear as an ingredient on food labels, most commonly to declare the presence of sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup. However, FDA’s current policy is that sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be declared as “evaporated cane juice” because that term falsely suggests that the sweeteners are juice…. FDA considers such representations to be false and misleading…because they fail to reveal the basic nature of the food and its characterizing properties (i.e., that the ingredients are sugars or syrups) as required by 21 CFR 102.5.

The FDA opened the matter up to public comment last month.  In the meantime, evaporated cane juice is in the courts, where more and more food regulation seems to be taking place days except that judges are balking.

It’s a perfect Catch 22: The courts won’t rule until the FDA issues regulations.  The FDA won’t issue regulations while the matter is in the courts.

The bottom line?  As NPR puts it, “Sugar by any other name tastes just as sweet — and has just as many calories.”

To repeat: Evaporated cane juice is sugar.  Cane sugar is sugar.  All forms of sugar have calories, even when Kale flavored (thanks to Jill Richardson for sending this along).

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Feb 12 2014

Sugar v. HFCS: How I got involved in this lawsuit

Eric Lipton of the New York Times, who wrote Monday’s revelation of how the National Restaurant Association funds front groups to fight a raise in the minimum wage, has just topped that story.

Today, he writes an enlightening account of the legal battles between sugar and HFCS trade associations over marketing issues, in which I seem to have played a part.  The story quotes me:

Marion Nestle, a New York University professor and nutrition expert named in several documents [scroll down to “Using Marion Nestle”] as someone whom corn industry executives sought to influence, said the role both industries played was unfortunate.

“It is a plague on both of their houses,” she said, adding that she felt manipulated by the corn refiners industry, which used her statements to defend its products. “It is a disgusting performance neither should be proud of.”

Mr. Lipton sent me two of the documents last night (letters from Audrae Erickson of the Corn Refiners Association to Larry Hobbs of the Institute of Beverage Technologists, and to J. Justin Wilson of Rick Berman’s public relations arm of the Center for Consumer Freedom).

Here’s my recollection of how I ended up in this lawsuit:

Yes, I argue that the science shows that sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contain the same sugars—glucose and fructose—and do much the same things in the body.  I think everyone would be better off eating a lot less of either.  I repeated this in many blog posts over the years.

Sometime in 2010, Christopher Speed, then director of food and nutrition sciences at Ogilvy Public Relations, asked if I would meet with his client, Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA).  I agreed, provided the CRA make a contribution to the NYU library’s food studies collection for cataloging expenses.  This turned out to be $1,500.  We met.

Shortly after that, my statements about the equivalence of sucrose and HFCS appeared on the Corn Refiners’ website.

I asked to have the comments removed.

Ms. Erickson’s response?  My comments were public and if I wanted them removed I could take the CRA to court.

That ended our correspondence.

From Mr. Lipton’s account I learned for the first time of the CRA’s involvement with the Center for Consumer Freedom (see previous blog posts).

This explains what had been a great mystery.  The Center for Consumer Freedom has not exactly been my great fan.  It features me under ActivistCash, and usually has rather unpleasant things to say about my work and opinions.

But with respect to my opinions about sucrose v. HFCS, its comments were quite complimentary.  I should have realized that CRA was paying the Center, via Berman, to do this.

I was also fascinated to learn:

  • The CRA spent $30 million since 2008 on public relations.
  • Of that, $10 million funded research by James Rippe to prove HFCS is no different from sucrose (something you would learn from any basic biochemistry textbook).
  • Mr. Rippe got a $41,000 monthly retainer from the CRA.

Clearly, I should have asked for a lot bigger donation to our library.

Thanks Eric Lipton, for terrific investigative reporting.  Please do more of these.

Addition, July 28, 2014: I’m cleaning up files and just came across the two excellent articles in the Washington Post on the “soft lobbying” war between The Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners, and on how “the sweetener wars got very, very sour.”  Sour, indeed.

Feb 13 2013

Petition to FDA: it’s time to put “added sugars” on food labels

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) held a press conference this morning to announce that 10 health departments, 20 health and consumer organizations, and 41 health professionals (including me) have signed a letter in support of its petition asking the FDA to:

  • Initiate a rule-making proceeding to ensure that the content of sucrose and HFCS in beverages is limited to safe levels consistent with authoritative recommendations. 
  • Revise the “Sugars” line on Nutrition Facts labels to address “added sugars.”
  • Set targets for lower levels of added sugars in other foods that provide significant amounts. 
  • Conduct a public education campaign to encourage consumers to consume less added sugars.
Why?  Check out CSPI’s infographic:  Sugar: Too Much of a Sweet Thing.
The petition also asks the FDA to work with the food industry to:
  • Limit the sale of oversized sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants
  • Limit the sale of oversized sugar-sweetened beverages from vending machines
  • Develop means to reduce the use of added sugars.

Our letter of support begins:

The undersigned scientists and organizations are concerned about Americans’ excess consumption of added sugars…Every edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (going back to 1980) has recommended reducing consumption of added sugars, but Americans are consuming more added sugars (including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and other caloric sweeteners) now than they did in 1980. And that high level of consumption…is contributing to serious health problems.

If the situation with trans fats was any indication, the food industry will reduce the sugars in its products if it has to disclose them.

This is not the first time that CSPI has tried to get added sugars labeled (see petition from 1999).  I’m hoping the letter of support will encourage the FDA to take action this time.

Maybe it will even put sugars on front-of-package labels, as the Institute of Medicine suggested in 2011.

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