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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lying To The Public
Institutionalized By FDA

A sample nutrition facts label, with instructions from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.

Besides the multitude of criminal and civil laws in this country, the federal government alone (we’re not talking state or local) has hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of “regulations”, governing every bit of minutia (small details) that they can dream up. Remember, these federal agencies have been around for a long time, so they’ve had a long time to dream. All of these endless federal regulations are updated and codified annually in the Federal Register, which is such a mammoth task, that various portions, depending on Title number, are updated at various times of the year.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the most powerful federal agencies in our government. They have been known to brag they control the food we eat (Food Industry), and the drugs and medical devices we buy (Pharmaceutical Industry) amounting to 25% of consumer spending in this country. Yes, they are working closely every day with executives from companies in these mighty industries, hopefully to our benefit (?), to make sure they follow the regulations, the rules.

One of the rules in the Federal Register that food product manufacturers have to follow has to do with the little black and white panel on the side of most products in the grocery or convenience store, entitled “Nutrition Facts” (above is a colorful version, prepared by the FDA for educational purposes). This is exhibit one, as this is the scene of the crime. This is where the FDA is allowing the Food Industry to deceive the American public by implying the healthfulness of unhealthy products and oftentimes by telling us bold-faced lies. The way we discovered these misrepresentations has to do with the reporting in the Nutrition Facts panel on transfats, and noticing how this information often contradicts the information of “partially hydrogenated oils” in “Ingredients” on the same package. Anyone who knows anything about transfat knows that partially hydrogenated oils are transfats. They are one and the same.

For the purpose of clarity in making our argument, we’re going to concentrate our discussions on transfats. And, at last, in transfat we’ve found a subject that isn’t controversial. We haven’t come across one company website, not one paid or rogue scientist or doctor who claims that transfat is good for you in any amount. Most, if not all, scientists and doctors agree that transfat is very unhealthy, in fact, deadly, and should be completely avoided. We’ll talk about that later, but first, back to the argument.

The Nutrition Facts panel on the macaroni and cheese product at the top of this post is not an example of lying about transfat. It boldly tells the consumer that they are about to consume 3 grams of transfat per serving, and if they eat both servings in the box at once, they’ll be eating 6 grams, almost a quarter ounce of this dangerous substance. (Note that the FDA outrageously calls transfat a “nutrient” in the above diagram.)

But there are hundreds of products in every store where the Nutrition Facts panel contradicts the Ingredients. Let’s take the popular product, powdered Coffee-creamer, for a glaring example. The Nutrition Facts panel on the cylindrical package proclaims zero transfat, specifically “0 grams” of transfat, and yet the Ingredients (high up in the Ingredients, which are listed in descending order) lists partially hydrogenated oil. How can this be? How can the Ingredients panel list an item (high up in Ingredients), and the Nutrition Facts panel assert it’s not there, not even a trace? By looking at the Nutrition Facts panel, people might be deceived into thinking that Coffee-creamer is healthier than 1% Milk, because it has zero fat and zero transfat, whereas milk contains fat. But it says, partially hydrogenated oil in Coffee-creamer’s Ingredients, and that is transfat. Coffee-creamer wouldn’t be the creamy milk substitute it is without deadly transfat. It turns out the manufacturer, who printed the Nutrition Facts panel is lying to the public, but they’ve done so in full compliance with FDA regulations.

The FDA not only allows the manufacturers to lie about transfats, but mandates that if there is less than a half gram of transfat per serving, they can say “0 grams”, and then some manufacturers blazon across the package with the claim, “ZERO TRANSFATS”, even though this claim is a bold-faced lie, and is meant to deceive the American public. As Wikipedia puts it, ”Amounts less than 0.5 g are rounded to 0 g. For example, if a product contains 0.45 g of transfat per serving, and the package contains 18 servings, the label would show 0 g of trans fat, even though the product actually contains a total of 8.1 g of transfat.” By looking around any store, it becomes obvious that most manufacturers must try to keep the amount of partially hydrogenated oils per serving below the threshold of .5 grams, so they will be able to mislead the public with all the zeros, (I love the Wikipedia author’s use of .45 grams, because that’s my guess for many products that claim zero. By the way, this FDA rule for allowing food manufacturers to claim zero if the amount per serving is less than .5 grams applies to saturated fats and other fats as well, and there is a threshold of 2 milligrams of cholesterol for claiming zero, so transfat isn’t the only area where the labeling isn’t telling the truth.)

There are hundreds of products, other than coffee whiteners, that contain transfat and say so (“partially hydrogenated oil”) right on the labels in the Ingredients. But the Nutrition Facts panels on the same packages list, “transfat – 0 grams”. These products include margarine, vegetable shortening, ice cream, puddings, ready-made cakes and pies, cake and pie mixes, bread, cookies, biscuits, crackers, muffins, pastries, pizza, potato chips, candy, and lots of other processed foods.

And so, Nutrition Facts are not fact, and this disgraceful dishonesty from the Food Industry, as mandated by the FDA, one of the most powerful agencies in the U.S. government, casts doubt on the whole system.

In 1966, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act was signed into law requiring all consumer products in interstate commerce to be “honestly and informatively labeled”, and the FDA was to provide enforcement. But food labeling back then was largely voluntary and very rudimentary, in typewriter fonts, entitled “Food Information Per Serving”.  
Pursuant to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), signed into law by G. H. W. Bush in 1990, the FDA mandated that all packaged foods have a “Nutrition Facts” label (example at the top of this post) on the information panel to the right of the main display panel beginning May 8, 1994, and appearing on all products in 1995. The only major change to the original design was the addition of a line for transfats (without a percentage of Daily Value (DV) listed, since there is no DV for transfats), based on a final rule by the FDA published July 11, 2003, and effective January 1, 2006, in response to a petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. At this time, after years of many studies, it was universally accepted that transfats were extremely hazardous to our health.

But years later, it is still being widely used by food manufacturers with the blessing of the FDA. The manufacturers “like using transfat in their foods because they’re easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time. Transfats give foods a desirable taste and texture”, with a longer shelf-life, and transfats are more resistant to the high temperatures used in large scale food processing. The FDA allows it presumably based on a concept called Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). On another issue (poison from contact with packaging materials) the FDA publishes in the Federal Register:

 “A tolerance for an added poisonous or deleterious substance in any food may be established when the following criteria are met:
(1) The substance cannot be avoided by good manufacturing practice.
(2) The tolerance established is sufficient for the protection of the public health, taking into account the extent to which the presence of the substance cannot be avoided and the other ways in which the consumer may be affected by the same or related poisonous or deleterious substances.
(3) No technological or other changes are foreseeable in the near future that might affect the appropriateness of the tolerance established. Examples of changes that might affect the appropriateness of the tolerance include anticipated improvements in good manufacturing practice that would change the extent to which use of the substance is unavoidable and anticipated studies expected to provide significant new toxicological or use data.”

So, despite this gobbledygook and the fact that transfat is really not “unavoidable”, this must also be the FDA’s stance on transfat’s current widespread usage in our food supply, but to make matters worse, as mentioned earlier, they allow the labels to read zero, as long as they keep the amount per serving size, as established by the FDA, below a half a gram. Good Manufacturing Practice is more respected by the FDA than our health and the health of our children.

You may never have heard about Codex Alimentarius, (Latin for Food Code) a commission with over 170 member countries set up in 1963 by two agencies of the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, whose purpose it is to “harmonize” food standards throughout the world, and to protect “the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in the food trade”. At first this seems rather positive and benign, but in practice (for one example, Germany has fully adopted the Codex system), it has a very sinister side, and is the greatest worldwide threat to our access to natural health products. Codex is closely associated with the USDA and the FDA, and seems to mirror the FDA in its support of Big Agribusiness and Big Pharma (and Big Medicine), at the expense of small and medium sized businesses, in that the hurdles it presents for approval of any product that claims to have health benefits will simply be too expensive unless they have extremely deep pockets. Any claim of healthful benefits of a food product could be challenged by the FDA or Codex worldwide and trying to defend against these challenges could lead to bankruptcy. In 2009, General Mills actually received a notice from the FDA that Cheerio’s was being considered a new drug because of its claim to lower cholesterol,(and that they would have to go through the whole process of getting a new drug approved, or face taking it off the market), but General Mills is huge and healthy enough to withstand this. A smaller company might not. Also, just like the FDA, Codex “mandates acceptable levels of everything from pesticides to chemical additives, GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms-like Monsanto’s wheat) to heavy metal contaminants.”

We do not subscribe to a globalized food code or the Codified Federal Regulations (CFR’s) of the FDA. We prefer to be “locavores” (to eat foods grown locally and to support our local farmers) and to have free and unlimited access to alternative herbs and medicines. That is the only way we can protect our interests in the safety of our and our children’s food supply and health. We don’t trust these commissions and agencies that support the interests of big business and the globalization of the food and drug trade.

 "If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." Thomas Jefferson (1762-1821), Third President of the USA, author of the Declaration of Independence.

But, with all good intentions, our First Lady, Michelle Obama, in her campaign against obesity, has focused attention on better nutrition. In answer to this, food industry leaders opened up an office in Washington and launched the “Smart Choices” program in August, 2009 to identify and highlight foods that meet certain nutritional standards as “healthy” foods with a green seal on package fronts. But, after they laughably gave their approval to print their seal on Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Sugar Pops cereals and on Cracker Jack’s, the FDA quietly chose to put an end to the “Smart Choices” program in October of the same year, just a little over two months after it began. And the manufacturers were allowed to phase out their packaging. Let me add that the nutritional standards, the serving sizes, all the criteria in that program were consistent with FDA regulations.

Next, in January, 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, again in response to Mrs. Obama’s campaign to fight obesity, came up with a new labeling system, still in use, for additional FOP (front of Package) nutritional information, with the same Nutrition Facts and Ingredients on the side panel. They print 4 to 6 “Nutrition Keys” (in the shape of Band-Aids, I call it “the Band-Aid approach”) to highlight some nutritional information. As part of this voluntary program, they include 4 keys for “calories”, “saturated fat”, “sodium”, and “sugars” (including high fructose corn syrup), the items identified in a recent report by the federal Institute of Medicine as most responsible for the plague of obesity in America. They are also allowed to use up to 2 additional keys for other “nutrients” they’d like to highlight, for examples, fiber and calcium, but that is optional. Let me add, though, that this information is consistent with the Nutrition Facts panel with all the misleading distortions also included. Let me assure you, you’ll never see a ”Nutrition Key” printed on the front of a package for transfats, unless, of course, they are allowed by FDA rules to print zero grams, even if the Ingredients clearly contain it.

The transfat used as shortening in the manufacture of processed foods is man-made, and is a solid at room temperature, whereas unsaturated vegetable fat is a liquid, and is referred to as an “oil”. All fat molecules are chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms, known as “hydrocarbons”. In a colossal manufacturing process, they take vegetable unsaturated fatty oil and “partially hydrogenate” it, adding hydrogen atoms, which become part of the molecules on transverse sides, hence the word transfat. At one time, transfat and margarine were thought to be healthier fats than saturated fats like butter or lard. Now we know that transfat is deadly, and many believe that saturated fat is even healthier than vegetable unsaturated fat. They cite examples in France, Japan, etc. where the diet is higher in saturated fats, yet there is less obesity and cardiovascular disease.

But there’s no dispute that transfat is bad for you. Doctors, scientists, nutritionists, and experts of every persuasion, even politicians, agree on this subject. Transfat lowers your good cholesterol (HDL), which serves as a cleaner of arteries, and it raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) that causes arterial deposits and plaque formations on the walls of your arteries and veins, eventually clogging them, causing cardiovascular problems leading to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke.  If you can afford a heart procedure, the doctors can do a procedure to drill out the arteries in your heart and put in stents to hold them open, but they can’t drill out the blood vessels throughout your entire body. (Transfats have also been found to be associated with Type II Diabetes.)

We are not organic scientists, but in our research we’ve heard that our bodies mistake transfat for saturated fat, essential to the construction of the walls of our cells (an adult human has 60 to 90 trillion cells). When transfat molecules are used in the construction of our cell walls, which must breathe, absorb water and nutrients, and expel waste (in order to stay alive), this causes the cells to be misshapen and weak and more susceptible to infection. In the US, thanks to fast food and processed food, the cell walls in some Americans contain as much as 20% transfats.

As early as July 10, 2002, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences reported that manufactured transfat is an ingredient that has no safe level for human consumption. In the words of the report, transfats has an "upper intake level of zero." The bottom line is that we should avoid eating transfats altogether, and certainly as much as possible.

But, how can the American public avoid something it is led to believe doesn’t exist in a food product? If the FDA and the Food Industry lie to us with the “claim” of zero grams of transfat in a product, that is not a “white lie”. That is as serious a crime as perjury in a legal proceeding. People should be faced with jail time for misleading and lying to the American public, especially about something so serious that it has been indisputably proven to jeopardize American lives, (homicide).

Although we believe that the FDA should protect us from this hazardous substance and remove it 100% from our food supply by making it illegal, at very least, the criteria should be changed for labeling of transfats (and saturated fat, and monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat, and cholesterol).

We suggest that even if there is a trace of transfat, which exists in most processed foods, the minimum number listed in Nutrition Facts should be .1 grams (unless they prefer going to hundredths of a gram).
If the amount is not really zero, the food manufacturers should not be allowed to say zero.

The FDA will never be able to afford enough inspectors and enough laboratories to make this or any labeling program accountable. They are currently visiting every food manufacturing plant as infrequently as once every 10 years, (the FDA’s goal pursuant to The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed by President Obama on January 4, 2011 is to reduce this number to every 3 years for high risk and every 5 years for low risk manufacturing plants), and there is rarely any thorough inspection, making this mandatory labeling program largely voluntary. The FDA is depending on the food manufacturers’ integrity and their records, which could easily be skewed. About all an inspector can do is to see whether it looks like they’re keeping good records and adhering to procedures. And because processed food ingredient mixtures are not necessarily always perfectly blended and exactly uniform, all numbers in Nutrition Facts for processed foods should be suspect. 

(Even Canola Oil, which on the label is made to appear much healthier than butter or any oil that contains saturated fat, is known to contain transfat. The industry says as little as .2%, but a study of samples at the University of Florida at Gainesville came up with as much as 4.6% transfat. Canola Oil, “Canadian Oil”, which is produced from rapeseeds, was not used in human foods until 1986, and is now used in a myriad of products, and is a whole other subject that we won’t tackle in this article.)

If the ingredients of a product include the words “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil”, or “vegetable oil” (without saying which vegetable, it might be canola oil), don’t buy that product, and don’t feed it to yourselves or your children. If the government won’t do it for us, it’s our job to protect our health and the health of our children.

Finally, if food labeling in Nutrition Facts is to be believed and relied on by the American public, it must be 100% honest. It should never use the number, zero, if even a trace exists.  The FDA is an agency of our federal government that we support with our taxes. It is there to protect the consumer, and not just serve the Food Industry.

As usual, we encourage you to do your own research, and to draw your own conclusions. If you agree with our position on the subject of food labeling, let’s try to get the word out. Share this message with anyone who will listen.

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