More cheery regulatory news. To the consternation of food companies, the European Food Safety Authority has turned down 8 of 9 petitions for approval of health claims on food labels, largely because of lack of evidence. For a while, at least, Europeans won’t be confronted with food packages promising them that they will lose weight if they eat dairy foods. FDA take notice!
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According to Food Chemical News (I am hoping this link works), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has just rejected 7 or 8 health claims proposed by food companies for marketing purposes. It looks like EFSA–what a concept–is trying to hold health claims to some reasonable level of scientific substantiation. It turned down petitions from a company wanting to advertise a soy and flaxweed product as “induces bone formation and increases bone mineral density,” and the National Dairy Council of Ireland which proposed that three dairy servings a day promoted healthy weight during childhood and adolescence. Although it agreed that Unilever could claim that plant sterols lowered blood cholesterol,” it took out the words “significantly” and “is proven.” Food Chemical News says these decisions sent “shockwaves through the food industry.” I’ll bet.
I’m in Copenhagen this week at the Nordic Nutrition meetings and did my usual tourist thing. I went to supermarkets to check out the products and the health claims. What a disappointment. Denmark doesn’t allow health claims, or at least not many. In Denmark, food is just food. I couldn’t find a mention of vitamins (the Danes don’t permit vitamin or mineral fortification except for iodine in salt), omega-3’s, antioxidants, or cholesterol-lowering, and the breakfast cereal aisle was scanty and only a few packages had cartoons. But this peaceful situation will not last much longer. The E.U. rules are coming and with them will come health claims and all the marketing hype and confusion that inevitably accompany them. Too bad.
As I explain in What to Eat, USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) can’t figure out what to do about certifying fish as organic. Organics are about production methods. Wild fish eat whatever, wherever, and their production is uncontrolled. Farm fish are fed whatever. According to Food Chemical News (June 2), the NOSB held hearings on the use of fish meal and fish oil in organic aquaculture last month and postponed a decision until fall. The issue: is it OK for farmed salmon to “eat meal and oil derived from carcasses, viscera and trimmings from processed wild caught fish certified as ‘organic’ by foreign suppliers,” when there are no U.S. standards for such certification. I’d say no. How about you?
As far as I can tell, health claims are completely out of control and food companies can say practically anything they want to about the health benefits of their products or ingredients. Not so, says a lawyer who steers food companies “to the bucks, not the courts.” His ten rules suggest the need for honesty and integrity (what a concept!). My favorite: “Just because others do it, doesn’t mean it’s OK.” Now, if we could just get Congress to agree that health claims ought to have some real science behind them….
Applause for our representatives who have written the FDA to something better about qualified health claims (to read the actual claim, scroll down to the end of the text, just above the signature). These, in case you have forgotten, are claims that companies can put on food product labels as long as the claim is accompanied by a disclaimer. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but here’s the one for corn oil: “Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim (my emphasis). To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.” Maybe the letter will induce the FDA to review this policy?
Readers of the New York Times have lots to say about last week’s methylmercury-in-sushi article. One point is that Blue Fin tuna, the largest and therefore the most contaminated kind, are hugely overfished and disappearing from the oceans. This is another reason not to eat this fish (vote with your fork) but also a reason to call for a moratorium on catching this fish (vote with your vote).
So yesterday’s New York Times report on methylmercury in sushi tuna–a shocker because the most expensive tuna has the most of this toxin (of course it does; it’s bigger and accumulates more)–is now experiencing the expected backlash. Sushi eaters don’t seem to care much, and the tuna industry is fighting back through its public relations agency, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). What is a tuna lover to do? If you aren’t pregnant, about to become pregnant, or a very young child (if you are, you should avoid big predatory fish like king mackeral, swordfish, tilefish, shark, and albacore tuna) the FDA and EPA say up to 6 ounces a week is OK. That leaves plenty of room for spending a fortune on sushi.
Here’s what Newsweek has to say about the CCF complaints. It’s great to see a news magazine blow the whistle on that group. Every word CCF says is paid for, and some tuna association pays it to say that methylmercury is not a problem.