According to industry sources, the produce industry is thrilled with the version of the farm bill just passed by the House. Well, it does contain some support funds for fruit and vegetable growers, calls for country-of-origin labeling, and has some other useful provisions. But subsidies for corn, soybeans, and other agribusiness commodities? No way.
Q. Daniel from Ithaca writes: “I love whole grains as much as I love clear, honest labeling of foods. It is discouraging that even the WholeGrainsCouncil.org label on some foods is misleading. I just saw a loaf of Rubschlager Wheat Bread with the WGC symbol on it. It contains: Whole wheat, enriched wheat and 2 different sweeteners. I’m not sure how this is “whole”. What if foods with the Whole Grains Council or other proclamation that it is a “Whole Grain,” contained only Whole Grains with no “enriched flour” or added sugars?”
A. The companies would probably go out of business; they wouldn’t have a clue how to make bread without all that stuff. The Whole Grains Council is a trade association/public relations agency that uses nutrition messages about the health benefits of whole grains to promote the products of its 160 member companies. One of its goals is “To promote whole grains through a positive message about their benefits, rather than by criticizing refined grains.”
The Council takes advantage of a gap in regulations; the FDA has not defined the meaning of “whole grains” on food labels but, instead, has produced Guidance for Industry. Examples:
Question: Does the term “whole grain” mean the same as “100 percent whole grain”? If a product is labeled as “whole wheat bagel” or “whole wheat pizza,” how much whole wheat should it contain? Answer: FDA has not defined any claims concerning the grain content of foods…We recommend that products labeled with “100 percent whole grain” not contain grain ingredients other than those the agency considers to be whole grains….We note that wheat flour should not be labeled as a whole grain flour because wheat flour is a synonym of flour…However, whole wheat flour (§ 137.200) should be considered a whole grain flour because it contains all the parts of the grain, i.e., the bran, endosperm, and germ….
Question: What types of label statements about whole grains are currently permitted to be made on food products? Answer: Manufacturers can make factual statements about whole grains on the label of their products, such as “10 grams of whole grains,” “½ ounce of whole grains,” (21 CFR 101.13(i)(3)) and “100% whole grain oatmeal” (as percentage labeling under 21 CFR 102.5(b)), provided that the statements are not false or misleading under section 403(a) of the Act and do not imply a particular level of the ingredient, i.e., “high” or “excellent source.”
Translation: The Whole Grains Council is doing a bit of an end run around the FDA. Is this a public service? You decide. Check out the Bread chapter in What to Eat and enjoy whole grains!
Thanks Eric for posting an article from the July 27 Los Angeles Times under the Diet Drinks category, for lack of a better place to put it. I hope this posting fixes that problem. PepsiCo, it seems, will now label Aquafina bottled water with its origin–“public water source,” meaning tap water (Coke’s Dasani water, of course, also comes from public water supplies). Bottled water is so amazing to talk about that I devote an entire chapter of What to Eat to that topic. The L.A. Times piece covers the big issues: energy cost, corporate control of water, creation of massive amounts of plastic trash, and the one that I find most troubling–the undermining of confidence in public water supplies and public commitment to maintaining water supplies of high quality. The article quotes an investment analyst saying that Coke and Pepsi do not make a lot of profit on bottled water. I find that hard to believe. In any case, the message is clear. If you live in a place that still has a decent water supply, refill that bottle from the tap! If you want to weigh in on bottled water, do it here from now on.
On July 18 and again on July 21, the FDA announced a recall of canned chili and other foods, including pet foods, produced by Castleberry’s Food Company in Georgia because they made four people sick from botulism. Now the FDA and USDA have issued guidance to companies for proper handling of foods to prevent botulism, which can be fatal.
I don’t understand why people aren’t demonstrating in the streets for better oversight of food safety. Botulism used to be a big problem in low-acid canned foods until the FDA issued rules for dealing with them properly. If it’s still a problem, it’s either because companies are not following standard food safety procedures or because their systems failed and nobody noticed. We do not have a food safety system in this country that requires every food product made or imported into this country to be produced under standard food safety rules, monitored and enforced, from farm to table. I think we need them. Now. The endless “recalls” (in quotation marks because they are voluntary, unenforceable, and never able to get back more than a fraction of the products out there–they are still on shelves according to USA Today) may be endlessly boring but they ought to be inducing outrage–and lots of expressions of outrage to congressional representatives (easy to contact).
A reader posted this question: “Marion, I’ve really enjoyed your book and found it extremely eye-opening. My question is… should I be buying organic juice for my toddler who drinks lots of juice?”
Sure, why not? Even though science has not yet been able to demonstrate much harm to children from consumption of pesticides, why take a chance when you don’t have to. Children who typically eat organic fruits and vegetables have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies, as shown by studies. That seems desirable. If you can afford organics, they are always a good idea. But lots of juice? Juices are great in small amounts but their sugar calories add up quickly. Have you thought of trying fruit? And giving your toddler water to drink?
So the latest report from the Framingham Heart Study tells us that obesity travels in social networks. You are likely to be overweight if your friends are, and vice versa. Gina Kolata has a great account of the study in today’s New York Times, but the paper itself is worth reading for its gorgeous diagram of this particular social network. It is also noteworthy for its ability to expand your otherwise boring vocabulary. Did you know that homophily is the tendency for people to choose relationships with people who have similar attributes, and alter is a person connected to the ego who may influence the behavior of the ego? Not me. Never mind. Go see what The Onion has to say about this.