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Happy 150th Birthday USDA

15 May

Happy 150th Birthday USDA

It was 150 years ago today – May 15, 1862 – that President Abraham Lincoln signed off on legislation creating the United States Department of Agriculture.

While you might think of the USDA as nothing more than a stamp on your certified beef cheeks – they are actually the agency responsible for your nutritional well-being. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) arm of the USDA is tasked with administration of our nation’s nutrition assistance and education programs.

In an era of bad news about obesity and expanding waist-lines, here’s a short list of the nutrition milestones and accomplishments that the USDA is responsible for:

To learn more about the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service nutrition assistance programs, visit their website here.

Just Label It Gathers Speed

2 Mar

Just Label It Gathers Speed

Americans love to talk about their rights. And judging from our obesity statistics, we also love food. So why is it that we still have a food regulation system that doesn’t give us the right to know what’s in our food?

If you want to know whether or not there are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in a food product you’re about to eat, you would think you just turn the package over and read about which ingredients are genetically engineered (GE). Think again.

Currently, the FDA does not mandate that food manufacturers disclose which ingredients in their foods are genetically engineered. Not a big deal you say? It is a big deal – according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service data, the majority of corn, soy and cotton grown in the US is from GE seeds.

But I don’t eat corn, soy or cotton. Yes you do – packaged and processed and restaurant foods are full of these ingredients, in the form of corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn used to feed the cow you eat, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, etc.

Up until now, the only way to be sure you were not eating GE ingredients was to buy organic. But a new campaign backed by the Center for Food Safety is hoping to change things at the FDA. Their campaign at JustLabelIt.org maintains that 93% of Americans want to know what is in their food, and their petition aims to make the FDA tell you what’s in what you’re about to eat, regardless of whether it’s organic or not.

The JustLabelIt campaign hopes to gather 1,000,000 signatures by the FDA comment period end date of March 27, 2012. And according to FoodNavigator – the campaign thus far has generated more comments than any other food petition in FDA history.

If you would like to have your voice heard in the labeling comment period, submit your comment by clicking here here.

Frito Lay Sued over Natural Chips Claim

31 Jan

Frito Lay Sued over Natural Chips Claim

A New York man has sued snackmaker Frito-Lay, claiming he was misled by the “Natural” and “made with all natural ingredients” claims on Frito Lay’s SunChips and Tostitos brand products.

In his proposed class-action lawsuit, the plaintiff maintains that he was duped into paying up to $0.10 more per ounce for a bag of the Natural chips.

The lawsuit is unlikely to have legs, as the word “natural” in food manufacturing translates literally to “nothing”. Natural is not a legally definable term, with the exception of meat, which, according to the USDA can only be labeled natural if it contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed.

The real beef behind the corn chips claim is and should be that the ingredients in Frito-Lay’s products are genetically modified. Which is not surprising, considering most corn in the US is genetically modified.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that they regularly consume genetically modified ingredients. If you have eaten a packaged, processed or fast food today – and unless you maintain a 100% organic foods diet -  you have certainly ingested GMOs.

The majority of all soybean, corn and cotton crops planted in the US are now genetically modified. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, in 2011:

  • 94% of US planted soybean is now genetically modified – ending up in your food supply as soybean oil
  • 73-75% of US planted cotton is now genetically modified – ending up in your food supply as cottonseed oil
  • 65-72% of US planted corn is now genetically modified – ending up in your food supply as high fructose corn syrup, animal feed for beef and corn oil

Theoretically, it is not far-fetched to claim genetically modified organisms are not natural. But with the very marked and rapid takeover of GM crops in the US, GMOs are unfortunately our new normal.

Quorn Evokes Quite the Backlash

5 Dec

Quorn Evokes Quite the Backlash

Quorn is the most controversial mycoprotein you’ve probably never heard of. The product is manufactured by Marlow Foods, a British company that started making the meat-alternative in 1985.

Quorn claims that its product is mushroom, or fungi, derived. Quorn’s website states that the product’s mycoprotein, “comes from Fusarium venenatum, which was originally discovered growing in a field in Buckinghamshire, England.”

The principal ingredient in all Quorn products is mycoprotein (“myco” is Greek for “fungi”). The mycoprotein comes from Fusarium venenatum, which was originally discovered growing in a field in Buckinghamshire, England. The product touts its low-fat and high-protein benefits.

In the US, the Center for Science in the Public Interest – a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition think tank and pressure group has led the charge opposing the product. CSPI says Quorn is a vat-grown fungus that promotes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other allergenic responses.

CSPI logged its first complaint against Quorn in 2002. CSPI maintains the Quorn adverse event reporting website www.quorncomplaints.com. Recently, CSPI has been back in the news with another letter to the FDA, urging it to revoke Quorn’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the US.

Quorn’s products do contain some fiber – usually about 2-3 grams per serving, in its items meat-alternative like Naked Chik’n Cutlet and Classic Quorn Burgers. But it’s not the fiber – rather the protein – that has been shown to be allergenic in some individuals.

Will Quorn get its GRAS status revoked? Despite the historically high profile nature of CSPI’s previous media pushes (see: CSPI sues Denny’s on behalf of customer who didn’t know the food was laden with salt), it probably won’t affect that many Americans. In most US markets, Quorn can only be had for a pretty penny at Whole Foods.

However, Quorn trivia buffs in the UK might recall the British McDonald’s vegetarian Quorn Burger that was available for a limited time at the outlet from 2003-2005.

Processed Fiber Wins in Court

7 Nov

Processed Fiber Wins in Court

Judge Richard Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, IL recently dismissed a case brought by an individual claiming that the fiber in foods like General Mills’ Fiber One™ and Kellogg’s Fiber Plus™ products should have to be labeled as processed fibers.

At the heart of the complaint was that these snack products, who often advertise “35% of daily fiber needs per bar” should have to disclose that the fiber is derived from inulin, as opposed to naturally occurring dietary sources of fiber.

The judge concluded that fiber food manufacturers are protected under federal law from not having to disclose that the fiber contained in their products comes from inulin and are not required to differentiate between functional and intact fibers.

While it doesn’t appear that inulin is indeed harmful – although it may cause GI disruption when consumed in high amounts – it does remain to be seen whether the health benefits of inulin and other functional fibers mirror those of naturally occurring, or intact fibers.