Category : Food Labeling

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Two Food Industry ‘Secrets’ of Getting Less for Your Money

For over two years now, ever since I posted a blog about misleading “fresh” tomato product labels, I have been receiving email from a variety of tomato supply companies in China. Apparently picking up my email address from some type of search hitting on any mention of “tomato sauce,” they all go pretty much like the last one I received:

Dear purchasing manager,

Have a nice day!

We are SHANDONG SAIKEER INDUSTRY CO., LTD., a specialized manufacturer of tomato sauce. Our products are well known in their good quality and competitive price.

If you want to cooperate with us, please contact me at any time.

Best regards, Bess,
Sales manager

All these emails got me wondering how much of the tomato products we buy in the U.S. come from China. The big producers I thought were Italy, and of course California, but, as it turns out, China is making significant headway in producing and exporting a vegetable that the Chinese themselves “shun,” according to an article on China’s booming tomato business in Slate.

But the real news I uncovered is not just another story about how many of our food products are now coming from China, but rather about what is currently troubling those Chinese tomato growers — a new food additive that has tomato producers everywhere seeing, well, red. But the real loser here, as always, is the consumer.

Giving the consumer less, and the manufacturer more – as in more money

My original “tomato” story was about false and misleading labels on tomato sauce products that call them “fresh,” when in fact they are made from reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate. But after learning about this new food additive, that claim sounds almost legit.

This new ingredient I’m referring to is the brainchild of Tate & Lyle, the agribusiness giant based in the UK, probably well-known by readers of this blog for another one of their products – high fructose corn syrup –  as well as its membership in the Corn Refiners Association.

As you’ve probably surmised, Tate & Lyle is really into corn, and at the beginning of this month, they issued a press release about a new and wonderful way to pump yet more corn-based ingredients into the food supply so as to dilute whatever the actual “food” is that a product is supposed to contain.

The additive in question is called PULPIZ Pulp Extender, described as  a “modified starch” that gives “exceptional pulp like texture…in formulations with low tomato paste content.”

PULPIZ will enable food manufacturers to replace up to “at least” 25 percent of the actual tomato paste  in a food product, something a company spokesman says will give them “the ability to do more with less…”

Now we’re not talking about the sprinkling of starch a cook might add to thicken a sauce, but a replacement of “at least” one quarter of the actual food product — a sort of Hamburger Helper for pasta sauce and other products.

Not only is this “extender” a new way to rip off unsuspecting consumers, but it also significantly reduces the nutritional value of the food to which it is added. Research has shown that tomatoes, which are high in antioxidants such as  lycopene, have even higher antioxidant levels when heated.

Geez, it’s not like we’re talking about truffles here — this is tomato paste! Just how much could it cost a company to make a product that contains 100 percent of it?

How about a fish “extender?”

While we’re on the topic of getting less than you think you’re getting, how about some STPP added to your seafood?

Tripolyphosphate, or STPP,  is used as a “soak” for raw fish and shellfish to keep it looking fresher longer, and as an added bonus, the longer fish is soaked in it, the more water it absorbs, and the more it weighs when you go to buy it. Another case of “less is more.”

Some of the more commonly STPP-soaked seafood, according to Food & Water Watch, includes “flaky” varieties, such as hake or sole, and shellfish, including scallops and shrimp.

Food & Water Watch suggests that you ask your fish market or store if they sell “dry” shellfish (“wet” meaning the product was STPP soaked), something they say you should also inquire about in restaurants. Not just because STPP jacks up the price, but because it’s also a registered pesticide and possible neurotoxin.

Bon Appetit!

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More Experts Weigh in on HFCS, Making Its ‘Rap Sheet’ Still Fatter

“Is high fructose corn syrup really that bad for you?” The answer, says Dr. Mark Hyman, is “yes.”

Hyman, best-selling author and chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, is yet another expert who is sounding the alarm about the dangers of consuming high fructose corn syrup, an additive that, Hyman says, “is driving most of the epidemic of heart disease, cancers, dementia and…diabetes.”

That’s a fairly impressive list of ailments – much more so than the warnings first sounded a few years ago about HFCS, which simply linked it to obesity. But that in itself was enough to put the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) on red alert, causing the makers of this laboratory sweetener to spend enough money on disinformation and an effort to have its name officially changed to “corn sugar” to have fed a small country for several years.

The CRA campaign was orchestrated to try and make us all believe that HFCS is simply a form of sugar, a misconception helped along by both the media and politicians who have continued to refer to HFCS-sweetened beverages as “sugary drinks.”

But as many consumers know by now, there’s a world of difference between high fructose corn syrup and natural sugar. And recent research, along with opinions offered by experts such as Hyman, have been making the ‘rap sheet’ on HFCS fatter all the time.

What these authorities are specifically warning about are the higher, more damaging fructose amounts in HFCS, which, Hyman says, is “chemically altered and separated,” and “goes right into your liver turning on a factory of fat production called ‘lipogenesis’.” This leads to a “fatty liver,” which he calls the most common disease in America today, one that can result in pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Another well-known M.D., pediatric endocrinologist Robert H. Lustig, an expert in obesity, metabolism and disease, stated in a recent affidavit for a current lawsuit that type 2 diabetes, now the most common form that “accounts for 90 percent of cases of diabetes,” was “unheard of in children prior to 1980; the time when high-fructose corn syrup began to be incorporated into processed foods in America.”

Currently, Lustig says, there are estimated to be 40,000 kids in the U,S. who have the disease. One of them, an unnamed teenager in Buffalo, N.Y., and her mother, recently filed a lawsuit against Cargill and five other manufacturers of HFCS for products liability, failure to warn, gross negligence, reckless conduct and injuries, stating that the HFCS the girl has consumed over her lifetime was a “substantial factor” in her having developed the disease.

Lustig’s earlier affidavit in the case, further detailing the damaging nature of HFCS, along with all the side effects caused by the extra dose of fructose it contains, was another scathing report detailing just how bad this unnatural sweetener can be for the body. Conditions he linked to its use include insulin resistance, “leaky gut syndrome,” and blocking of the “leptin signal” that can lead to overeating.

Tilting the balance of ‘more damaging’ fructose

Dr. Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California, knows all too well about that extra, damaging jolt of fructose HFCS delivers.

Goran’s 2010 study, published in the journal Obesity, found fructose amounts in several HFCS-sweetened sodas, such as Coke, Pepsi and Sprite to be as high as 65 percent – almost 20 percent higher than if they actually contained the 55 percent fructose version of HFCS we’ve all been led to believe they do.

“Who would argue that fructose consumption now is higher than it was ten or twenty years ago?” Goran told Food Identity Theft, adding that he wasn’t talking about subtle variations from year to year, but rather “about a huge shift in the food supply that is increasing the amount of fructose that we’re exposed to.”

While Dr. Goran’s research should have provided the definitive “change (in) the conversation,” as the CRA likes to say, further research by Citizens for Health has turned up additional reasons why “high fructose corn syrup” is the perfect name for this laboratory-concocted additive.

Last year, Citizens for Health filed a petition with the FDA asking that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows), and also, in the interim, to provide accurate label information (you can read the petition here and sign it by clicking here). The petition asks that the FDA require the manufacturer of a product containing HFCS to state the fructose percentage in its formulation and have the label reflect that information, such as HFCS-55, or HFCS-90.

HFCS 90 is a version of the additive that is 90 percent fructose, described by one manufacturer and CRA-member company as “…the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.” This mega-fructose sweetener was also specifically omitted by the Food and Drug Administration from the HFCS GRAS (generally recognized as safe) regulation.

Could HFCS go the way of trans fats?

Last week, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oil will no longer be allowed a GRAS designation. What this means is that once given final approval, food manufacturers would eventually be required to remove most artery-clogging trans fat from the processed products Americans eat, or go through the lengthy, costly and time consuming process of submitting a food additive petition for partially hydrogenated oil.

Is it possible that HFCS could follow suit? Maybe. There are many similarities between the proliferation of HFCS and the trans fat saga, including a growing public awareness of its dangers and the decision by various food companies to jump on the NO HFCS bandwagon.

In the meantime, you need to check labels, reject foods that still contain this health-damaging additive, and to show the FDA just how concerned you are about its continued presence in the food supply be sure to sign the Citizens for Health petition.

As Dr. Hyman says, “if we took one thing out of our food supply that would make the biggest difference, it would be high fructose corn syrup.”

At Last, a Proposed New FDA Ban on a Decades Old Killer!

by Bill Bonvie

For some time now, we’ve been warning our readers here at Food Identity Theft not to be fooled by a “zero trans fat” claim made on the Nutrition Facts panel of many products that have partially hydrogenated oil listed among their ingredients.

Well, surprise, surprise! After decades of allowing a substance it now acknowledges has been killing thousands of people every year to be added to processed food products, and years of permitting consumers to be given phony assurances that they weren’t eating any of it, the Food and Drug Administration has finally decided enough is enough. That is to say, they’ve started a ‘process of  elimination’ in  motion (although perhaps slow motion would be more like it).

In what’s being hailed as a monumental decision on behalf of consumer protection, the agency has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oil (PHO)  no longer be given a “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) designation.  Once given final approval, this would eventually remove most artery-clogging trans fat from the processed food Americans eat.

While most products are currently labeled as containing zero grams of trans fat, that is often not actually the case, since those that contain half a gram (.05  grams) or less per serving were exempted from the labeling requirement. But such amounts, in actuality, can quickly add up to what the FDA admits is a “significant intake” of trans fat, an ingredient for which the Institute of Medicine has concluded there is no “safe level” that may be consumed.

That’s why we’ve been urging our readers to pay no attention whatsoever to the claim that a product contains zero grams of trans fat on its so-called Nutrition Facts label. But that warning could eventually become unnecessary should the FDA go ahead and implement its proposed new ruling, which it has posted in the Federal Register with a public comment period that ends on Jan. 7. Assuming that happens, “it could in effect, mean the end of artificial, industrially-produced trans fat in foods,” according to Dennis M. Keefe, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety.

Not that a change of this nature would occur overnight. Even if approved, the FDA would still be apt to give businesses ample opportunity to adjust to the new policy – or, to quote from the FDA ‘s consumer update, “the agency and food industry would have to figure out a way to phase out the use of PHOs over time.” But once fully implemented, it is estimated (and these figures come from another government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that it would prevent some 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart-disease related deaths annually.

Stop and think for a moment what that means.  We’re talking about more than twice the number of  deaths that occurred in the 9/11 attacks every year, resulting from a process with “no known health benefit,” whose purpose is merely to increase the shelf-life and “flavor stability” of packaged foods and baked goods.

A paradigm for the removal of other bad additives?

To be sure, this proposed reform has been a long time coming, those partially hydrogenated oils having reportedly been used since the 1940s in a wide variety of convenience foods, including margarine, which was once considered a “healthy” substitute for butter. But the tide really began to turn in 2002, when the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine reported a direct correlation between the intake of trans fat and increased levels of “bad cholesterol” (that is, low density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease). The following year, the FDA responded by issuing a ruling that trans fat content be listed on Nutrition Facts panels — but even that wasn’t fully implemented for another three years, and was seriously flawed by the .05 gram ‘ loophole’.

The time it took for even that compromise to materialize should serve as a kind of “reality check” for consumers to realize they can’t yet let their guard down when it comes to trans fats, and will have to keep checking ingredients listings for many months to come, even assuming the ruling is formally approved.

What the FDA’s action does show, however, is that it is possible for the agency to be pressured to return to its original mission and, in its plodding fashion, purge our food supply of additives that are hazardous to our health. For once researchers implicated trans fat in heart disease, a number of locales, including New York City and California, began to take action to ban it in restaurant food, and some restaurant chains responded by eliminating it on their own.  In the intervening years, food manufacturers also began to reduce trans fat content in products as well, which will make any adjustment to the proposed new rule much easier to facilitate.

Hopefully, then, the proposed elimination of added trans fats will not only go on to become policy. but will serve as a model of how other ill-advised additives now considered GRAS can follow suit.

Take high fructose corn syrup, for example.  Its saga is very similar to that of trans fat — for example, in the sneaky way it was approved for use in the American diet and introduced into countless processed foods, including many marketed to children. There are also distinct similarities to trans fat in the human health toll that has accompanied its widespread presence in food products and in the adverse publicity and negative studies that have recently caused it to be dropped as an ingredient from many of them. So maybe — just maybe — it will end up following the same trajectory.

It’s just a shame that, just like partially hydrogenated oil, it will continue to wreak such havoc on society until the day comes when it, too, is finally phased out.

Call It What You Want; It Still Answers to the Name ‘Pink Slime’

Remember “pink slime” — that appetizing meat product consisting of mechanically separated beef scraps that needs disinfection with a chemical agent to kill dangerous pathogens?

While our food supply is filled with other equally nauseating offerings (mechanically separated poultry, for one), last year it was slime’s turn to capture everyone’s rapt and revolted attention. Then, like the fickle consumers we are, interest in “boneless lean beef trimmings,” as it’s more politely referred to by industry, became as ‘yesterday’ as old Facebook status postings.

All of which makes it even more curious that the giant food processing company Cargill would make a proud announcement this week that it will be indicating the presence of its own version on package labels with the even more consumer-friendly name,“finely textured beef.”

From the looks of how the media handled it, however, Cargill seems to have inadvertently reignited pink slime’s notoriety.  Reports from Reuters to The Wall Street Journal to ABC and NBC all included big “pink slime” mentions, now attaching the Cargill name to the product, something the company managed to avoid for the most part the first time around.

Now for Beef Products Inc., the original target of intense media coverage over its version of the product, called “boneless lean beef trimmings,” the outcome of all that attention wasn’t so good – especially in regard to the ammonium hydroxide with which it was treated to kill contaminants such as E. coli.

That firm’s pink slime sales subsequently went into a steep decline, closing three of its plants last year due to the fallout. Cargill also saw a drop in slime sales of 80 percent, according to Reuters. But at last,  “that business is slowly recovering” – or so they claim.

Enter the marketing genius

Somewhere along the way, however, Cargill decided some “consumer research” might be in order, as in surveying more than 3,000 consumers “about ground beef and how it’s made.”

Here’s how I visualize it: some Really Bright Guy in the marketing department says, “Hey I’ve got a great idea! Let’s talk to 3,000 consumers and ask if they want pink slime, I mean finely textured beef, labeled on packages. Then we can issue a press release and get interviewed about it!”

Well, Really Bright Guy was right on the money. The media has been only to happy to accommodate by bringing Pink Slime out of retirement and putting it back in the spotlight.

In a prepared statement about the big news, Cargill Beef President John Keating is quoted as saying, “We’ve listened to the public, as well as our customers, and that is why today we are declaring our commitment to labeling finely textured beef.”

And here’s what that “commitment” will come down to:

According to Reuters, Cargill’s wholesale packaging will state “contains Finely Textured Beef,” on the box side. Whether the repackaged version for consumer sale (what you would find in the meat case) will be labeled is currently up to the individual retailer, however. But some time next summer, Cargill says, it will also add that statement to its meat packages that are sold directly to consumers.

But no matter what name it goes under, pink slime just seems to be the gift that keeps on giving red meat to the media.

Five Frightening Food Additives and How You Can Avoid Them

Forget the haunted hayrides, spooky houses and midnight ghost tours. Want to go somewhere really scary for Halloween? You’ve been there many, many times and while it  may seem all bright and cheery, some genuinely frightening invaders can be found lurking in its corridors — blobs, bugs and brain-eating laboratory creations, all trying to lure you to take them home.

Any guesses as to what I’m talking about?

It’s your local supermarket. And if you think I’m exaggerating, read on:

An Old Familiar Brand Tops Our ‘Bad Food Pyramid’

Over the last two years I’ve acquired quite a pile of really bad food items — products, in my opinion, that aren’t fit for human consumption. Of all these brand name snacks, cans, drinks and frozen items that have taken over my kitchen and cupboards, we’ve selected one brand that has surfaced at the top of the heap of bad foods.

How, you might ask, with so many to choose from did this product line get selected? I’ll get to that in a minute. But first I need some help in figuring out what to do with this non-consumable collection of poor nutrition “foods” with some downright scary additives.

I certainly couldn’t donate the pile to the local food bank. Giving away food that we’ve been telling folks not to eat to those in need seems just plain wrong. So what to do with it? Toss it? Sent it back to the manufacturer? Reader suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please send a note or post a suggestion at the Food Identity Theft Facebook page.

The ‘bad brand’ prize

There are a lot of bad ingredient-foods out there, but we thought a fair scoring system to pick one should be similar to that used in a beauty pageant, with our categories being;

  • the ‘beauty’ of its appeal to children;
  • a ‘talent’ for using bad ingredients across an entire product line, and
  • a product’s ‘personality’ — the various tricks and schticks it uses to appeal to consumers.

And the winner is…Chef Boyardee from ConAgra Foods

Chef Boyardee was in fact a real person and a very accomplished chef. At the age of 17 he landed a job at the plush Plaza Hotel in New York City and later went on to found one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Cleveland. Ettore “Hector” Boiardi has also been credited with the invention of “to go” restaurant foods. But this was back in the early 1920s, when high fructose corn syrup and the lineup of other synthetic ingredients that now comprise and compromise his namesake line were still many years away from being invented in laboratories somewhere.

ConAgra Foods, which purchased the brand in 2000, claims “his legacy of quality ingredients is in every bowl.” But seriously, ConAgra, are we to believe that Hector would have considered ingredients such as mechanically separated chicken, high fructose corn syrup, soy protein concentrate and yeast extract to be “quality” ones? I think not.

Some of the Chef Boyardee products that helped the brand win this dubious distinction are:

JUMBO Spaghetti & Meatballs:
Like all the rest of the Chef Boyardee lineup, the label says there is “good stuff inside.” In label-reading reality, however, you can find four sources of “hidden” MSG, as well as mechanically separated chicken and high fructose corn syrup. Another one of the selling points on the can is about the meatballs, which apparently are twice the size of the ones in the original product.

Of course, when you’re using mechanically separated chicken, which goes for approximately ten cents a pound, yeah, you can make those meatballs a lot bigger. If you missed the blog about this queasy ingredient that we dubbed “chicken ooze,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.”

Whole Grain Lasagna:
Aimed directly at parents looking for a quick and easy kid meal, this product makes a big point of being “whole grain,” with the “taste kids love!” The can also promises “no preservatives or MSG,” but again you’ll find free glutamic acid in the form of “yeast extract” and “textured vegetable protein.” (For a comprehensive overview of ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid, the chemical in monosodium glutamate that causes reactions, look here).

Then there’s the HFCS, which seems to be a favorite ingredient of ConAgra. Making a big marketing deal out of removing the laboratory sweetener/preservative from its Hunt’s Ketchup several years ago, it quietly slipped it back in last year. So is the HFCS used as a sweetener? A preservative? Only ConAgra or a food scientist would know for sure.

Mini dinosaurs with meatballs:
Obviously designed with kids in mind, this is another can containing chicken “ooze,” HFCS, and more hidden MSG.

While giant food processing company ConAgra makes numerous other products with questionable ingredients, many which have been called-out in previous Food Identity Theft blogs, it’s the Chef Boyardee line that takes the top prize in the bad food pyramid award.

Any ideas out there for what brand should be chosen runner-up?

Products Using “Carmine” – A Food Coloring Derived from Ground-Up Insects

Below are just a few recently released products that contain the insect-based food coloring known as “carmine.” There are thousands of others already on the market. Please check back here from time to time for updates to the list as we identify more products containing carmine — food coloring made from crushed whole cochineal beetles.

 

quik

Nestle Nesquik: Chocolate Cookie Sandwich (Strawberry)

alive

Nature’s Way: Alive Women’s 50+ Multivitamin/Multimineral

superdieter

Laci Le Beau: Super Dieters Fast Dissolve

mentos

Rainbow Mentos

fruitconcentrate

Healthy America: Triple Strength Natural Cranberry Fruit Concentrate

libidomax

Applied Nutrition: Libido Max for Women

prenatalmulti

CVS Pharmacy: DHA Prenatal Multivitamin

memoraid

Naturade: MemorAid with Omega 3 & Vitamin D

smoothie

Lucerne: Smoothie Dairy Beverage (Strawberry Banana)

twinlab

Twinlab: Ripped Fuel

werthers

Werther’s: Original Sugar Free Caramel Cinnamon Flavored Hard Candies

hotpockets

Hot Pockets: Snackers

parfait

Meijer: Strawberry Yogurt Parfait

candymix

Harry & David: Valentine Candy Mix

yoplait

Yoplait: Original Variety Pack

redvelvetcake

Betty Crocker: Red Velvet Cake Mix

omega3

Jamieson Natural Sources: Omega-3 Age Defence

 

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Lunch Box Wars: Consumer Advocates Want Dannon to More Clearly Label Bug-based Ingredients

CochinealLos Angeles, CA, September 17, 2013—Taken aback by Dannon’s blasé attitude about using an allergenic, bug-based extract and not just berries to color their yogurt, one of the nation’s most powerful natural health watchdog groups is pressuring the yogurt giant—and hundreds of other food companies—to come clean with consumers.
Citizens for Health, the consumer advocacy group best known for keeping dietary supplements legal and for protecting the integrity of organic labeling, wants Dannon and other food companies who use the insect-based dye carmine, also known as cochineal extract, in their products to more clearly label them or switch to plant-based alternatives.
“When consumers asked Starbucks to stop using bugs in their Frappacinos last year, the company responded with sensitivity and complied within 48 hours without any further prompting,” says Jim Turner, president of Citizens for Health and former food policy advisor for Ralph Nader. “It’s mindboggling that Dannon would so off-handedly dismiss the very same consumer request. They’re just crying out to be challenged.”
Citizens for Health has partnered with a national fitness guru to help get their message out. Michelle Dozois, creator of several multi-million-selling fitness DVDs, is using her influence in the health and fitness community to educate consumers further.
“Michelle is a leader in the health and fitness community, but also a mom who believes that her kids deserve better than bugs,” Turner says. “She can talk mom to mom.”
Dozois is asking people to sign a petition posted on the Take Action website:

The petition was organized by the scientist-led advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest that first put Dannon in the spotlight this summer. “Our two groups work closely together,” Turner says, “and truth in labeling is an important shared value.”
“I’m not opposed to people eating insects if that’s what they want to do,” says Dozois, “I just don’t want to be tricked into putting bug-based extracts into my kids’ lunch boxes. I want Dannon and other food companies to clearly label bugs!”
Dozois is available for interview upon request.
# # #
Media Contact: Chris Kelley, 406-333-9999, chris@polestarcom.com

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Read Your Labels: Are Recent Nutritional Snapshots Helping – or Confusing?

Yet Another Company Jumps Into the Business of Helping Consumers Make “Healthy” Food Choices

Courtesy of
FoodIdentityTheft Blogger and CFH Contributor

July 11, 2013

“Everybody wants to get into the act,” a catchphrase made famous back in the day by show business legend Jimmy Durante, seems to have found a new meaning.  Apparently, everybody now wants to get into the act of helping the busy food shopper quickly determine what items are the “healthiest” ones to grab off the supermarket shelf.

But isn’t this a good thing? After all, supermarket shopping can be an annoying, tedious chore that isn’t exactly top on most people’s list of fun things to do. But if you plan on eating the food taken home from such an expedition, it helps to know what’s in it. And the only real way to acquire such knowledge is to read the ingredient label — something all of these health-conscious ‘helpful Hannahs’ seem to be steering you away from by calling your attention to superficial and often misleading criteria instead.

The latest player in this  game of mock health marketing appears to be the technology and data company Vestcom out of Little Rock, Ark. Vestcom, which specializes in “shelf-edge solutions,” consisting of messaging and pricing information tags posted on store shelves, has now entered the nutrition advice arena with “healthyAisles,” which it describes as “nutrition info your customers can trust.”

The healthyAisles tag makes the same kinds of nebulous claims as do all those other quick nutrition guides. It’s angle is to choose from a list of  35 “health and wellness” attributes such as “heart healthy” or “low sodium” to describe each product without offering much more in the way of information as to what these processed foods actually contain. The system has already been sold to enough retailers to now appear in over 5,000 stores, according to the trade pub FoodNavigator.com.

Just why another such ersatz health-and-nutrition merchandising system is needed isn’t readily apparent. But Vestcom is holding firm to the concept that healthyAisles is “fact based,”  “effective,” and a “national strategic partner with the Unite States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate,” although it doesn’t exactly specify what that “strategic” partnership consists of. Perhaps the company’s competitive edge is its appeal to older shoppers seeking a nostalgic connection to a time when buying food was considered strictly a woman’s job, as evidenced by its tag line: “Give her the nutrition advice she seeks, precisely when and where she needs it.”

Other consumer-confusing in-store “information” programs include:

  • Safeway’s “SimpleNutrition” program
    SimpleNutrition is comprised of 22 “benefit messages” under “two groups of messages” that are supposed to meet “lifestyle, dietary” and “specific nutrition or ingredient criteria.” Could anything be simpler than that?
  • Publix Markets’ “Nutrition Facts” tags
    Apparently not bothered that “nutrition facts” is the exact same term the government requires for processed food packaging information panels, Publix, a Southern supermarket institution, now features its own “Nutrition Facts” program that asks, “Who has time to analyze food labels? Luckily, when you shop with us, you don’t have to.”
  • Stop & Shop’s Healthy Ideas
    The creative naming of these programs is pretty much the biggest difference between them. Stop & Shop, for example, wants us to have “a simple way to know it’s healthy”: all you have to do is look for the Healthy Ideas shelf tag! Healthy Ideas tags are also on nearly all the fruits and vegetables in the produce department. Duh.
  • NuVal Scoring System
    This “nutrition made easy” program was purportedly “developed independently by a team of nutrition and medical experts.” NuVal is another shelf-tag system that rates the “nutritiousness” of foods by scoring them from 1 to 100 using a patent-pending algorithm. But despite all the hoopla from NuVal, and its partner company Topco Associates, LLC, the system is a bizarrely flawed idea that rates sugar-free jelly higher than eggs.
  • Guiding Stars
    Described as  “Nutritious choices made simple,” Guiding Stars appears to be another variation on the theme, It uses a rating system featuring one to three big yellow stars — perhaps to appeal to those those who can’t count to the higher NuVal numbers.
  • Supervalu Nutrition iQ
    Called “The better-for-you food finder” (which, by the way, is a pending trademark), nutrition iQ is a “shelf tag navigation program” that uses color coded tags below products to show which ones make the “healthy” grade. As Heidi Diller, Albertsons’ registered dietitian, explains in a Youtube video, “reading labels is important, but that takes time. If only there was an easier way to shop healthy. Let our science guide you..(to) better-for-you shopping.” Unfortunately nutrition iQ omits more facts than it offers.
  • Facts Up Front from the Grocery Manufacturers Association
    Soon to be the focus of a big-bucks advertising campaign, Facts up Front features some tiny blue boxes that will provide data on calories and three nutrients – but nothing, of course, about a product’s ingredients.
  • Walmart’s “Great for You”
    This front-of-package icon is designed to appear on food products that conform to the mega-retailer’s standard of healthiness.

There are also a number of nutrition advice programs that have ‘bit the dust’, including:

  • Smartspot, Pepsico’s self-serving “more nutritious” designations on its own brands, which was launched in 2004 and canned in 2010;
  • Sensible Solutions, a similar idea from the marketing gurus at Kraft, which made its debut in 2005 and was“put on hold” in 2009;
  • Smart Choices, a promotion designed and paid for by the food industry that got bad press when its ‘better-for-you’ icon started appearing on Kellogg’s Froot Loops packages. It came and went in 2009.

So there you have it, eight ways the food industry is helping us to shop.

If only it were that easy.

Organic Consumers Association Supports Crackdown on Radioactive Food

Early last month Citizens for Health, along with the other coalition members of Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network (FFAN), filed a petition with the FDA to drastically reduce the amount of radioactive cesium permitted in food, from a ridiculous 1200 Bq/kg to 5 Bq/kg (see why here, read why here). The Bq (Becquerel) is a measure of radioactivity. The FDA is now accepting comments on our petition and every person’s voice counts, so leave a comment in support here!

We thought you would appreciate the chance to review comments in support of this petition recently submitted by the Organic Consumers Association:

“The Organic Consumers Association supports the Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network’s petition requesting the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to promulgate regulations to protect U.S. consumers from Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 contamination.

No food should have more than 5 Bq/kg of Cesium 134/137. All food should be tested for and labeled with its Cesium 134/137 contamination.

The damaged Fukushima units continue to leak 10 million becquerels of Cesium 134 and 137 per hour into the environment with no sign of stopping. Unfortunately, Cesium bioaccumulates and biomagnifies over time. Since Cesium 134 has a hazardous life of about 10-20 years ad Cesium 137 has a hazardous life of about 300-600 years, the threat of contamination in our food supply is a long-term issue that deserves immediate attention.

We are alarmed at the lack of testing currently in place to meet the present-and-growing threat of Cesium 134 and 137 contamination in our food supply. The time is past-due for a comprehensive response to radiation present in our food supply from the Fukushima disaster.

Various products in the U.S. food supply have Cesium 134 and 137 contamination, including pistachios, oranges from California, grapefruits from Florida, prunes from California, and almonds from California.

The California coastline itself is now in danger of radiation contamination. Scientists at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station found levels of Cesium 134 and 137 from the Fukushima disaster in bluefin tuna caught off the California coast in Feb. 2013.

FDA should promulgate a binding U.S. threshold of 5 Bq/kg of Cesium 134-137 contamination, but there is no safe dose. Consumers should have the information they need to manage their own Cesium 134/137 intake. The FDA should require the testing and labeling of Cesium 134/137 in food.”