by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labels

Feb 3 2016

Where are we on GMO politics: an update

State GMO labeling bills: While Congress dithers, states are getting busy.  The Sunlight Foundation’s SCOUT database on state GMO legislative initiatives is searchable.  Examples:

Detente between producers of GMO and labeling advocates: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack held a meeting to attempt to forge some kind of accord between producers of GMO foods and advocates for GMO labels.  By all reports, it didn’t work.  Earlier, Vilsack tried to negotiate detente between GMO producers and producers of organic foods.  That didn’t work either.

GMO Salmon: The FDA says it will not allow imports of GMO salmon.  Since GMO salmon are produced in Canada and Panama, this action in effect bans GMO salmon from the US food supply.  The FDA is working on labeling guidelines and probably wants them out before allowing imports.

Monsanto’s conversation:  Monsanto’s interactive website invites you to be part of the conversation.  Aything you like.  Someone from Monsanto will respond.  This site is clearly keeping Monsanto’s PR staff on its toes. Here is just one example:

Jan 29 2016

What does “natural” mean? One more time.

I’ve written repeatedly about the problem of “natural” on food labels, but the issue just doesn’t go away.  It won’t, until the FDA decides to rule on what it means.

Now Consumer Reports has done a survey of public understanding of the term.

The survey reveals that 62% of respondents want foods to be “natural.”   When they see the claim on a food package, they believe it has been verified independently.  Oops.

They also believe that “natural” means no artificial ingredients (correct, according to the FDA’s non-definition) or GMOs (incorrect).  The survey confirms the idea that many people think “natural” is the same as “organic,” which it is not.

Consumers, says Consumer Reports, are naturally confused.  And why wouldn’t we be, given the products labeled as “natural” (see the examples collected by Consumer Reports).

The FDA is currently collecting its own comments on this issue.  You can weigh in until May 15.  Please do. 

Nov 16 2015

FDA is taking comments on “natural”

I’m always indebted to Food-Navigator-USA for spot-on commentary on current food politics.  Here, for example, is Elaine Watson on the FDA’s amazing decision to take comments on the meaning of “natural” on food labels.

Having studiously avoided this food labeling minefield for years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has surprised many in the trade by seeking comments on the definition of a word that has launched a thousand class action lawsuits (well almost): ‘natural’.

Her piece is worth reading for its excellent reporting and interviews with industry stakeholders.

About “natural,” the FDA has said:

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

Now petitions have induced the FDA to seek comments, the first step in its standard rulemaking processes.

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.

“Appropriate” in this context translates as:  Should high fructose corn syrup be considered “natural?” (The FDA said yes in 2008).   How about GMOs? (the FDA’s position on GMOs is that they are not materially different from any other kind of food).

To file comments on these and other questions,

  • For electronic submissions, go to Regulations.gov and search for docket number FDA-2014-N-1207.
  • For submissions by mail, use the following address. Be sure to include docket number FDA-2014-N-1207 on each page of your written comments.  Division of Dockets Management, HFA-305, Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852
Sep 9 2015

Creative food packaging: An example from China

I thought we all needed a break from the debates over funding of science by the GMO industry and the organic industry.

How’s this for supermarket creativity!

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Maybe if the Soviets had used a Tomahawk instead of a sickle?

Thanks to Maya Joseph for sending me this photo sent to her by Lillian Chou in China.

Jul 24 2015

Good news: FDA proposes Daily Value for Added Sugars–10% of calories

The FDA announced this morning that it is proposing a Daily Value (the maximum) for Added Sugars on food labels—10% of calories.

Susan Mayne, FDA’s Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, explains the rationale: this is the percentage recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and practically every other health authority that has examined the evidence on sugars and health.

Ten percent of calories means 200 calories on a 2000 calorie daily diet, or 50 grams, or 12 teaspoons—the amount in one 16-ounce soda.

If you drink a 16-ounce soda, you have done your added sugars for the day.

If this seems abstemious, consider that 10% of calories is more generous than the amount recommended by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition:

It is recommended that the average population intake of free sugars should not exceed 5% of total dietary energy for age groups from 2 years upwards.

The World Health Organization’s recent report on sugars and health also views 10% as the absolute maximum:

  • In both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation).
  • WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (conditional recommendation).

The WHO report explains:

The recommendation to further limit free sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy intake, which is also supported by other recent analyses, is based on the recognition that the negative health effects of dental caries are cumulative, tracking from childhood to adulthood…No evidence for harm associated with reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 5% of total energy intake was identified.

Americans, on average, consume way more than 10% of calories from added sugars, so this recommendation means a sharp restriction.

It means consuming less of sugary products: sodas, baked goods, and all those packaged foods with added sugars.

The proposal is up for comment.

You can bet that there will be plenty.

Congratulations to the FDA for this one.  Let’s hope it sticks.

How to Comment

To comment on the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Label:

  1. Read the proposed changes.
  2. Starting Monday, July 27, 2015, go to Regulations.gov to submit comments.
Apr 22 2015

Vermont’s new GMO labeling regulations

Vermont has issued GMO labeling rules.  They seem straightforward.  Here are the ones that I think matter:

1.  Unpackaged GMO foods must post labels

  • Raw: “produced with genetic engineering.”
  • Processed: “produced with genetic engineering,” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.”

2.  Packaged GMO foods must be labeled by the manufacturer

  • Raw: “produced with genetic engineering”
  • Processed: “produced with genetic engineering,” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” (<75% GMO) or “may be produced with genetic engineering (if they aren’t sure).”

3.  If the food is GMO, it cannot be labeled “natural”

4.  The font can’t be any smaller that of Serving Size in the Nutrition Facts label

It’s hard for me to imagine why the biotechnology industry, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and so many food companies think that saying “may be produced with genetic engineering” means the end of civilization as we know it, so much so that they pour millions of dollars into fighting it.

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Now they are taking Vermont to court to try to block implementation of these rules.

Otherwise, the rules go into effect July 1, 2016.

That will be fun to see!

 

 

 

 

Nov 7 2014

Weekend reading: health food regulation

Jill Hobbs, Stavroula Malla, Eric Sogah, and May Yeung.  Regulating Health Foods: Policy Challenges and Consumer Conundrums.  EE Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014.

I did a blurb for this one:

Regulating Health Foods systematically organizes the widely disparate definitions, regulations, and policies used internationally to govern functional foods, supplements and nutraceuticals, and does so from the standpoint of the industry and its regulators.  Food scientists, regulators, and industry professionals will especially appreciate its detailed international perspective.

This is a book for policy wonks and students who want to find out how various countries regulate food labels, or who would llike to know such things as how Codex Alimentarius guidelines apply to health claims.  The authors, who work at Canadian Universities, have pulled together vast amounts of detailed information about label regulations by country, with commentary.  Here is an example:

Japan currently provides an interesting mix between a purely generic system and a purely product-specific one.  Although the system is decidedly more product-specific.  Standardized FOSHU [Food for Specific Health Uses] lowers the costs to individual firms seeking claims on ingredients with well-established ingredient-health effect relationships.  At the same time, there are potentially significant returns to investment for firms wishing to market a new product with health benefits.

Aug 27 2014

On two views of GMOs: Michael Specter vs. Vandana Shiva and Gary Hirshberg

Michael Specter’s article “Seeds of Doubt” in the current issue of The New Yorker  is a critical profile of  India’s Vandana Shiva and her active opposition to genetically modified foods.  At the end, it offers this somewhat temporizing statement:

Genetically modified crops will not solve the problem of the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. It would be far better if the world’s foods contained an adequate supply of vitamins. It would also help the people of many poverty-stricken countries if their governments were less corrupt. Working roads would do more to reduce nutritional deficits than any G.M.O. possibly could, and so would a more equitable distribution of the Earth’s dwindling supply of freshwater. No single crop or approach to farming can possibly feed the world. To prevent billions of people from living in hunger, we will need to use every one of them.

Despite this peace offering, his article elicited a firm rebuttal from Dr. Shiva. It also elicited a rebuttal from Gary Hirshberg, chair of Just Label It. If you want to get into the weeds of the GMO arguments, all three of these pieces are well worth reading.

They raise and debate the same arguments I discussed in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, first published in 2003 and out in a second edition in 2010. As I explain in the book, the gist of the arguments comes from two apparently irreconcilable views of GMO foods:

  1. The “science-based” position: If GMOs are safe (which they demonstrably are), there can be no rational reason to oppose them.
  2. The “societal value-based” position: Even if GMOs are safe (and this is debatable), there are still plenty of other reasons to oppose them.

Specter holds the first position.  Shiva and Hirshberg hold the second. Those who hold the “science-based” position would do well to take societal values more seriously.

Seed patents, monoculture, weed resistance, and other such concerns trouble people who care about food systems that promote health, protect the environment, and provide social justice.

Labeling, right from the start, would have acknowledged the importance of such values. Until GMO foods are labeled as such, the same arguments are likely to go on endlessly, with no reconciliation in sight.

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