by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: CSPI(Center for Science in the Public Interest)

May 18 2021

The FDA needs to take action on food dyes

Bettina Siegel’s Lunch Tray blog had an item recently about a new report on the effects of food dyes on children’s behavior (her blog is behind a Substack paywall, but well worth the subscription).

This report makes it time to talk about food dyes again.  For starters, they have only one purpose: to sell ultra-processed (junk) foods.  Research shows that brightly colored candy, snacks, and sodas are perceived as tasting better than the grey alternatives.  The food industry needs cosmetic food dyes.  We don’t, especially if they are harmful.

The 311-page peer-reviewed report, from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA), is a meta-analysis of animal studies and 27 human clinical trials dealing with the neurobehavioral effects of seven synthetic food dyes on children.

Its conclusion:

The scientific literature indicates that synthetic food dyes can impact neurobehavior in some children… current ADIs [FDA’s Acceptable Daily Intakes] may not provide adequate protection from neurobehavioral impacts in children. For some of the dyes… updated safe levels of exposure would be much lower.

The idea that synthetic food dyes are associated with adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children, but that children vary in their sensitivity to these dyes, is hardly new information.

In the mid-1970s, the physician Ben Feingold associated food dyes with hyperactivity in children and developed the Feingold Diet to improve kids’ behavior.

Much of the evidence for the “Feingold hypothesis” rested on anecdotal reports by parents,

Scientists’ attempts to study the effects of food dyes gave mixed results.  For example, as I wrote in a blog post on March 31, 2011, consider two studies published by Science magazine in 1980:

  • Researchers gave pills containing a mix of food additives to 40 children, 20 diagnosed as hyperactive and 20 not.  The children diagnosed with hyperactivity reacted to the food additive challenge but the other children did not (Science 1980;207:1485-87).  But this study used pills rather than foods, mixed additives, and used questionable methods for evaluating hyperactive behavior.
  • Researchers attempted to correct for such problems by using two drinks that looked and tasted the same—one contained seven food colors while the other did not.   The study was designed carefully such that neither the kids, parents, or observers knew what the kids were drinking.  The result:  Twenty of the 22 kids showed no reaction to the dyes.  One child reacted to the dyes every time (Science 1980;207:1487-89).

The interpretation?  Some kids may react to food dyes.

This gave the FDA an excuse to do nothing.  But then,

Today, the FDA says this about color additives in food:

FDA on color additives in food (2007):

So how safe are they? “Color additives are very safe when used properly…There is no such thing as absolute safety of any substance. In the case of a new color additive, FDA determines if there is ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm’ under the color additive’s proposed conditions of use.”

FDA on whether color additives are safe to eat (2018):

Yes, color additives are safe when they are used in accordance with with FDA regulations…our regulations specify:

  • the types of foods in which it can be used,
  • any maximum amounts allowed to be used, and
  • how the color additive should be identified on the food label.

FDA on whether color additives affect the behavior of children (2018)

The FDA has reviewed and will continue to examine the effects of color additives on children’s behavior. The totality of scientific evidence indicates that most children have no adverse effects when consuming foods containing color additives, but some evidence suggests that certain children may be sensitive to them…Parents who wish to limit the amount of color additives in their children’s diet may check the food ingredient list on labels. Parents should also discuss any concerns with their family physician.

Well good luck with that.  The FDA can and should do better.

The bottom line: Food dyes have no health benefits.  Kids don’t need to be eating ultra-processed foods anyway.  They will not be harmed by avoiding food dyes.

CSPI has produced a lengthy and comprehensive comment on the new report. 

Given all of this, it’s surely time for the FDA to take some action.

Mar 18 2020

Help save school nutrition standards. Deadline extended to April 22

Here’s something useful to do while waiting out the Coronavirus crisis: help preserve school nutrition standards.Dea

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has organized a call for action.

The USDA recently proposed changes that would weaken school nutrition. The latest proposal would allow students to choose pizza, French fries, and cookies regularly in place of a healthier school lunch. It would allow more French fries in place of carrots in school lunch, more fried hash browns in breakfast, and less fruit in some school breakfasts. These changes are on top of the 2018 school meal rollbacks that locked in unsafe levels of sodium and reduced whole grains.

Deadline for comments extended until April 22.

Here is what you can do to help:

  • Submit a comment to the docket here.  If your organization needs  model (here is one).
  • Get your social networks to generate individual comments. You can use CSPI’s online alert for this
  • Sign a group letter by Friday, March 20. (download the letter here.)
  • Spread the word through social media. CSPI provides some model Tweets:
    • @SecretarySonny @USDA announced plans to allow kids to choose pizza, French fries, and cookies regularly in place of a healthier school lunch—jeopardizing progress on school nutrition and could decrease meal participation, school revenue, and exacerbate stigma. http://bit.ly/protectschoolmeals
    • @USDA’s own data shows nutritional quality of school meals significantly increased, participation highest when meals are healthiest, and food waste has not increased. Yet @SecretarySonny announced plans to make school meals less healthy. http://bit.ly/protectschoolmeals
    • Hold the fries please: under @SecretarySonny @USDA’s plans, kids could get an additional eight cups of French fries over the week. Schools could serve potatoes every day for breakfast in place of fruit and more potatoes at lunch in place of carrots, cucumbers, and other veggies. http://bit.ly/protectschoolmeals
    • Breakfast in the classroom just got less healthy. Under @SecretarySonny @USDA’s plans, kids would have decreased access to whole fruit and could get more juice instead. Kids already drink plenty of juice and do not consume enough whole fruit. http://bit.ly/protectschoolmeals
    • Cakes, cookies, and donuts for little kids? Join us in stopping @SecretarySonny @USDA to allow grain-based desserts into child care and afterschool programs. http://bit.ly/protectschoolmeals
  • CSPI also provides a model Facebook post:
    • The Trump Administration announced plans to roll back school nutrition. They’d allow students to choose pizza, French fries, and cookies regularly in place of a healthier school lunch. They would also allow more French fries in place of carrots in school lunch, more fried hash browns in breakfast, and less fruit in some school breakfasts. Tell the Trump administration: stop harming kids’ health. Please join us and our public health partners in urging the administration not to weaken nutrition for school children. http://bit.ly/protectschoolmeals
May 10 2018

FDA delays Nutrition Facts revisions 1.5 years

On May 4, the FDA gave food companies a gift when it announced a 1.5-year extension of compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts label.

We are taking this action because, after careful consideration, we have determined that additional time would help ensure that all manufacturers covered by the final rules have guidance from FDA to address, for example, certain technical questions we received after publication of the final rules, and that they have sufficient time to complete and print updated Nutrition Facts labels for their products before they are expected to be in compliance with the final rules.

On its website, the FDA now says:

The FDA extended the compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label final rule and the Serving Size final rule, from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would receive an extra year to comply – until January 1, 2021.

CSPI, understandably, is miffed:

The reality is that the labels are already on more than 29,000 products on grocery shelves, and more appear weekly.  So today’s announcement should be a call to action for companies to provide consumers the information they want now, rather than waiting for the legal deadline.

Oct 24 2017

Celebration of Michael Jacobson

I’m going to be at the National Press Club in Washington DC tonight for the gala event celebrating the retirement of Michael Jacobson from 45 years as president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

I first met him in 1978 when he and his director of nutrition, Bonnie Liebman (dressed as Bonnie Broccoli), came to a conference I was keynoting on nutrition and health at the University of California San Francisco.  He’s been an inspiration to me ever since, not least for having been at it so long.

I love these photos of Bonnie and Mike in the 1970s and more recently (Source: Dan Charles in The Salt).

 

An inspiration indeed!  Congratulations to Mike and best wishes for a busy retirement.

Jan 5 2017

Coca-Cola and ABA sued over misleading science

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sent out a press release yesterday to announce a lawsuit filed on behalf of the nonprofit Praxis Project.

The complaint says Coca-Cola and its trade association, the American Beverage Association (ABA), mislead the public when they trash the science linking sugary drinks to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the like.

It cites the August 2015 account in the New York Times of Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network, which aimed to shift attention from poor diets as a cause of obesity to lack of physical exercise.  Coca-Cola spent $120 million on research from 2010 to 2015 that could cast doubt on evidence linking health risks to sugary drinks.

It also cites quotations from officials of Coca-Cola and the ABA and researchers they fund “making false and deceptive statements about sugar-sweetened drinks.”  For example:

  • Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, Katie Bayne, claims that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.
  • “Simply put, it is wrong to say beverages cause disease,” the ABA stated in another release.
  • One of the scientists funded by Coca-Cola, Dr. Steven Blair, stated that “there is really virtually no compelling evidence” that sugar drinks are linked to the obesity epidemic.

The complaint also charges that Coca-Cola paid dietitians to promote sugary drinks; it quotes one dietitian who suggested that an eight-ounce soda could be a healthy snack, like “packs of almonds.”

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit fares.  Stay tuned.

Jun 9 2016

CSPI and Public Citizen sue the FDA over absurd delays in regulating the safety of—oysters!

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has sued the FDA for ignoring its 2012 petition to prevent illnesses and deaths caused by eating raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico contaminated with toxic Vibrio vulnificus.

The lawsuit, filed jointly with Public Citizen, asks the FDA to set standards to make sure these bacteria are “nondetectable in oysters and other molluscan shellfish sold for raw consumption.”

The FDA is supposed to respond to the complaint by July 25.

This issue goes back a long way.  I wrote about it in 2011 in the context of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Food Safety: FDA Needs to Reassess Its Approach to Reducing an Illness Caused by Eating Raw Oysters.

Vibrio vulnificus bacteria are considered “flesh-eating;” they kill half the 30 or so people who eat contaminated raw oysters.   Treating the raw oysters before allowing them to be sold kills the bacteria.  California requires this and nobody eating California oysters gets sick from Vibrio.  As I wrote in 2011:

In 2001, the oyster industry trade association, the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), promised the FDA that this industry would substantially reduce Vibrio infections in oysters within seven years through a program of voluntary self-regulation and education aimed at high-risk groups. If this program failed to reduce the infection rate, the ISSC agreed that the FDA could require oysters to be treated after harvesting to kill pathogenic Vibrio.

So what happened?  Late in 2009, the FDA said it would issue rules, but backed off under pressure from the oyster industry and friendly state officials.

Despite years of warnings and promises that it obviously has no intention of meeting, the Gulf oyster industry has been able to stave off FDA regulations for 15 years at the cost of about 15 preventable deaths a year.

CSPI and Public Citizen are trying the legal route.  I hope it works.

Jun 24 2015

Let’s stop Congress from interfering with the dietary guidelines, please

Politico Morning Agriculture reports today on an unprecedented move by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).  The committee sent a letter to members of Congress to protest legislative interference with its scientific process.

Recall: The DGAC’s research report alarmed meat producers when it said that sustainability needed to be considered in developing dietary guidelines.

Of course sustainability should be considered in developing dietary guidelines.  Agricultural policy needs to be linked to health policy, and it’s high time we did so.

But industry protests and letters from Congress induced USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to assure Congress that the 2015 guidelines will focus only on nutrition.

That was not enough.  Industry groups induced the House of Representatives to put this rider in the 2016 Agricultural Appropriations bill:

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, revised pursuant to section 301 of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (7 20 U.S.C. 5341), unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:

(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans shall be based on

(A) scientific evidence that has been rated ‘‘Grade I: Strong’’ by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and

(B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake.

Politics in action!

As I told Politico Morning Agriculture, I’ve never heard of a DGAC writing directly to Congress.  But I understand its frustration.  The committee was asked by USDA and HHS to review and consider the science of diet and health and did so. It reported what its members believe the science says. Some segments of the food industry don’t like the science so they are using the political system to fight back. The idea that some members of Congress would go along with this is shameful.

CSPI has organized a letter-writing campaign to defeat the rider and provides these tools:

Let’s keep Congress out of the dietary guidelines process.  The process may not be perfect but scientific committees do the best they can to advice the public about dietary practices that are best for health—and, at long last, the environment.

Political interference with this process is not in the best interest of public health, and should be strongly discouraged.  If you agree with this view, CSPI makes it easy for you to say so.  Sign on now.

Update, June 25: Politico Morning Agriculture reports today that the Senate bill reads: “None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.”

Apr 28 2014

Act now: support USDA’s wellness policies for schools

Now is the time to tell USDA you support its proposed guidelines for nutrition education, physical activity, and junk food marketing in schools:

The bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandated that the USDA set guidelines for what needed to be included in local school wellness policies in areas such as setting goals for nutrition education and physical activity, informing parents about content of the policy and implementation, and periodically assessing progress and sharing updates as appropriate. As part of local school wellness policies, the proposed guidelines would ensure that foods and beverages marketed to children in schools are consistent with the recently-released Smart Snacks in School standards. Ensuring that unhealthy food is not marketed to children is one of the First Lady’s top priorities; that is why it is so important for schools to reinforce the importance of healthy choices and eliminate marketing of unhealthy products.

Here are two easy ways to make sure USDA follows through on the guidelines:

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a website set up for quick letters:

While many schools have adopted policies over the past few years to support healthy eating and physical activity, implementation has not been uniformly strong. USDA’s proposed updates will strengthen implementation, help parents be better informed about the policies, and provide schools with more tools and resources.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) asks for signatures on a letter urging the USDA to ban all advertising in schools:

The USDA is urging schools only to limit junk food marketing. By attempting to set a ceiling that prohibits advertising for unhealthy foods, the USDA may set a floor that opens the floodgates for many other types of marketing in schools, setting a dangerous precedent that goes far beyond food.

Now is the time….