by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: PepsiCo

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.”

Aug 22 2013

Soda advertising: Bavaria

In the Munich subway, Marienplatz station, Coca-Cola ads feature bottles with common German (?) names on the labels, in this case Kevin, Tobias, and Sandra.

München-20130822-00049

At the entrance to the tour of the salt mine in Berchtesgaden (definitely worth the visit), Coke (foreground) and Pepsi (far background) sponsor separate outdoor cafes.

IMG-20130821-00043

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:

Jun 5 2013

Coke as a broker of peace and conflict

Coca-Cola as a peace broker

I don’t know what to make of Coca-Cola’s recent marketing strategies, as reported in the Washington  Post.   The ad,

“Small World Machines” starts with a relatively straightforward premise: India and Pakistan do not get along so well. It ends with the promise of peace: “Togetherness, humanity, this is what we all want, more and more exchange,” a woman, either Indian or Pakistani, narrates as the music swells. Sounds great. How do we get there? By buying Coke, of course.

The idea is to have two vending machines, one in Lahore and one in New Delhi, each with views of the other.  To buy a Coke, buyers have to cooperate.  Here are photos showing how it works.  And here’s how Coke explains it, with video and slides. 

As the Post explains, this may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

Sharing tasks and short-term, low-risk social interactions are classic conflict resolution tactics, including as a part of the civilian-to-civilian interactions sometimes termed “track two diplomacy.”  Indo-Pakistani tensions could use all the help they can get.

But the Post concludes with an update: 

Deputy foreign editor Karin Brulliard, a former Pakistan bureau chief, alerts me that, per the Wall Street Journal, Pepsi dominates the soda market there. Maybe that’s what’s been holding back peace?

This is not the first time that Coke markets its products as the key to world peace.  Those of you who are old enough might recall the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” video from 1990.

Coca-Cola as a conflict promoter

Who at Coke got the clever idea of producing personalized bottles with 150 popular names—in Israel, of all places?

Oops.  Forgot the 1.5 million Arabs who live there.

Alas, the campaign has caused a huge controversy in the Mideast.

Recall: All this is about selling Coke internationally.  Americans aren’t buying it so much anymore, so overseas it goes.

May 31 2013

Annals of public relations: the food industry vs. obesity

Yesterday was a blitz day for food industry public relations.

PR #1.  Coca-Cola placed a full-page ad in the New York Times: “Beating obesity will take all of us.”

Coke’s promises [with my comments]:

  • Offer low- or no-calorie drinks in every market [but focus advertising on the sugary ones].
  • Provide transparent nutrition information, listing calories on the front of all packages [but per serving, not total for the big ones]
  • Help get people moving [divert attention from the caloric effects of sodas]
  • Market responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world [I will believe it when I see it]

“Obesity won’t be solved overnight,” Coke says, but we know that when people come together around shared solutions, good things happen.” 

Like drinking less Coke? 

PR #2.  The food industry’s Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation issued a press release to say that its member companies have more than met their stated goal of reducing 1.5 trillion calories in the marketplace in the United States.   Indra Nooyi, HWCF Chair, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, said:

Our industry has an important role to play in helping people lead healthy lives and our actions are having a positive impact…We see continued opportunities to give consumers the choices they’re looking for and to work collaboratively with the public and non-profit sectors on initiatives that enable continued progress.

Really?  Where are the data?  On what basis does the group make this claim?  The press release says that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is doing a study but the results won’t be released until the fall.

Hence: Public relations.  As I noted in a previous post on this promise in 2010.

What are we to make of all this?  Is this a great step forward or a crass food industry publicity stunt?*  History suggests the latter possibility.  Food companies have gotten great press from announcing changes to their products without doing anything, and every promise helps stave off regulation.

Oops.  Forgot.  

Addition:  I forgot to post the accompanying report from the Hudson Institute about how low-calorie beverages are driving all the sales growth for soda companies, at least in the US.

Jan 25 2013

Soda industry exploits NAACP and Hispanic Federation in soda cap lawsuit

Who knew that Wednesday’s New York State Supreme Court hearing on the lawsuit filed against New York City’s cap on sodas larger than 16 ounces would turn out to be a debate about race relations?

Let’s be clear.  This lawsuit is about only one thing and one thing only: to protect the profits of Big Soda—mainly, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.  The lawsuit is funded by their trade association, the American Beverage Association (ABA), at what must be astronomical expense.

But to shift attention away from profit as a motive, the ABA enlisted two organizations of underrepresented groups—the NAACP and Hispanic Federation—to file an amicus brief on behalf of the soda companies.  The brief argues that the soda cap discriminates against citizens and small-business owners in African-American and Hispanic communities.  But it neglects to mention  that both “friends of the court” received funding from soda companies.

The financial arrangements between Big Soda and such groups demand further examination. Fortunately, we have Michael Grynbaum at the New York Times, who explains that:

The obesity rate for African-Americans in New York City is higher than the city average, and city health department officials say minority neighborhoods would be among the key beneficiaries of a rule that would limit the sale of super-size, calorie-laden beverages.

But the N.A.A.C.P. has close ties to big soft-drink companies, particularly Coca-Cola, whose longtime Atlanta law firm, King & Spalding, wrote the amicus brief filed by the civil rights group in support of a lawsuit aimed at blocking Mr. Bloomberg’s soda rules…Coca-Cola has also donated tens of thousands of dollars to a health education program, Project HELP, developed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The brief describes that program, but not the financial contributions of the beverage company. The brief was filed jointly with another organization, the Hispanic Federation, whose former president, Lillian Rodríguez López, recently took a job at Coca-Cola.

Soda companies have a long history of targeting their marketing efforts to Blacks and Hispanics, as shown in at least one book (and described in one of its reviews).

Last fall, the East Bay Express exposed how the soda industry exploited race issues and used them to divide and conquer in defeating the Measure N soda tax initiative in Richmond, California.

The No on Measure N workers’ paychecks were signed by political consultant Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners (BMWL), which had been hired by the American Beverage Association….By the time that Big Soda had arrived, the issue of race was already a factor in the campaign. Some opponents of the tax had alleged that it was racist, arguing that it would unfairly harm low-income residents in the city. And the No on Measure N campaign…nurtured that sentiment. Indeed, there is evidence that the beverage association helped keep race at the forefront of the campaign as part of a strategy that exploited Richmond’s existing tensions.

…the beverage industry discovered a winning formula in Richmond last year that it might be able to replicate elsewhere…And if that were to happen, it could drive a wedge through traditional Democratic constituencies in many communities, with blacks and Latinos opposing their longtime political allies — progressives and environmentalists — just like they did in Richmond.

Is a cap on soda sizes discriminatory?  Quite the contrary.

Public health measures like this are about removing health disparities and giving everyone equal access to good nutrition and health.  This makes public health—and initiatives like the soda cap—democratic, inclusive, and anything but elitist.

But I can’t think of anything more elitist, less inclusive, and more undemocratic than suing New York City over the soda cap.

In funding this suit, the soda industry has made it clear that it will go to any lengths at any cost to protect its profitability—even to the point of dragging along with it the very groups that would most benefit from the initiative.

If the American Beverage Association and its corporate members really cared about Black and Hispanic groups, it would stop target marketing,  stop marketing to children, and stop pretending that sugar-sweetened beverages are an important part of active, healthy lifestyles.  It certainly would stop wasting these groups’ time and credibility on anti-public health lawsuits.

Jan 18 2013

Should sugar-sweetened beverages be regulated? NEJM readers vote yes.

As part of an interactive case study and point-counterpoint on regulation of sugar-sweetened beverages, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) conducted a poll of its U.S. and international readers.  The poll elicited responses from 1290 readers from 75 countries.

Overall, 68% of respondents favored government regulation.

High as this percentage is, the average is much lower than percentages from most countries as a result of one outlier—the United States.

Only 58% of U.S. voters in the poll favored regulation.  Everywhere else in the world, the percent in favor averaged 84%.

These results reminded me of change-in-sales figures from a few years ago:

Americans have reduced soft drink consumption, causing soda companies to focus their marketing efforts overseas.  Trends like these explain Coca-Cola’s new obesity ad campaign and Pepsi’s $50 million deal with Beyoncé. 

In America these days, 58% is an impressive majority.  NEJM readers are likely to be physicians, scientists, and health and health policy professionals. I suspect we will be hearing more about this idea.  Stay tuned for this one too.

Dec 20 2012

Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal: Implications for Let’s Move!

In response to my post a couple of days ago about Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal, a reader asks:

How do you think the White House should respond to this deal.? Beyoncé’s song is featured on White House website and a Let’s Move! t-shirt she designed is given to kids at official events.  Will kids make the connection?  Can all that dancing overcome the effects of eating too much?

Let me deal with these one at a time.  First, the problem this poses to Let’s Move!  People concerned about the role of sugary sodas in childhood obesity are appalled by Beyoncé’s deal with Pepsi, so much so that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has organized a campaign to call on her to reconsider.   Unless she does reconsider and withdraws from the deal, her continued involvement with Let’s Move! raises exactly the questions you ask.

Beyoncé has just put Let’s Move! in a painfully awkward conflict of interest.  On the one hand, Let’s Move! promotes healthy diet and activity patterns to reverse childhood obesity.  On the other, its celebrity spokesperson is now going to be pushing Pepsi.  Beyoncé’s image will now appear on Pepsi cans—I hope not wearing her Let’s Move! tee shirt.

What the Beyoncé deal points out is the hazard of partnerships and alliances between public health groups and food companies.

In April 2011, the Washington Post reported that “A White House spokesman said that the first lady and her team weren’t involved in the making of the clip but that Beyonce is “a great example of how people can get involved with ‘Let’s Move!’ and bring this message to more and more young people.”

But now this.  The White House has long maintained that food and beverage companies are not going away and that it is obliged to work with them.  Maybe, but on whose terms?  I see Beyoncé’s $50 million partnership with Pepsi as a slap in the face to Let’s Move!  It puts Let’s Move! in the position of promoting Pepsi or asking Beyoncé to withdraw from having anything to do with it.

As for how kids are going to figure this out:  All kids know is that Beyoncé is a gorgeous mega-star, one who is able to perform vigorous dance moves in astonishingly high heels, and that Pepsi helps her do so or at least doesn’t hurt.  Beyoncé is especially a role-model for African-American kids.  Pepsi targets its marketing to African-American kids.  This looks like a serious conflict of interest.

On the balance between diet and activity: How I wish that physical activity alone could reverse obesity.  Physical activity is terrific for health (I’m not sure about those stiletto heels) but it’s rarely enough to reverse obesity on its own.  To lose weight—and, these days, to maintain healthy weight—kids absolutely must eat less and eat better.

Beyoncé has done Michelle Obama no favor by getting involved with Pepsi.  This is a mess, and not one that can be gracefully fixed.

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