All posts tagged FDA

Natural – The “False Advertising Industry”’s Biggest Breakthrough

When it comes to claims on food products is Organic the “real natural”? That’s what Organic Voices, a non-profit organization largely composed of USDA Certified Organic food brands, wants you to believe and their latest communication effort is using humor to prove its point.

You need look no further than an issue of USA Today or The New York Times to know that natural product claims have entered the Top 10 Most Wanted list for the Food Movement, right up there with McDonald’s Happy Meals and sugar sweetened beverages. It’s a drastic change from just a decade ago, when the term was a meaningful badge of quality and healthfulness. Unfortunately for devoted natural foodies, the cache of “natural” caught on a bit too well and as a result has been adopted by a seemingly infinite number of products out to cash in on the term and exploit the lack of criteria provided by our regulatory bodies for how to responsibly use it.

It’s unlikely Organic is the fix for the majority of natural food products on the market today. A more likely answer is the adoption of new labels (i.e. Non-GMO Project Verified, Gluten-Free, Top 8 Allergen-Free) to fill-in the grey space created by natural claims and, ultimately, a continued responsibility of the consumer to read the fine print (and then verify it).

But, as “natural” gets its vigilante justice in a process that is, at times, painful to watch, at least we can take a break to laugh about it.

The Natural Effect

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Image by Organic Voices

It’s Time to Change Tack Navigating “Natural” Claims

Reading the news this morning, I came across an industry article about yet another class action suit over natural claims, this one against Whole Foods Market and their use of a leavening agent, sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), in some of their baked goods.

Honestly, my immediate reaction was to feel badly for Whole Foods. They are an organization who has consistently shown leadership on this topic. In the face of confusion from food manufacturers, lack of guidance from government and mountains of technical details, Whole Foods has done the hard work to set standards (and the bar) for the natural food industry for years. Their Unacceptable Ingredients List which dictates what is and is not allowed in foods sold on their store shelves has had an immeasurable benefit on shaping the natural products industry. (The fact that a list like this is even necessary should be a major indicator as to the state of food today.) Not to mention additional trailblazing efforts such as their 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system and their announcement last year regarding GMO labeling.

Unfortunately, whether or not you are doing the right thing doesn’t seem to be a consideration factor for getting pulled into a class action lawsuit. Prominence and the resulting amount of publicity and chances for a large settlement seem to be the only criteria to consider.

Having experienced firsthand the toll these suits take on a business in terms of hours worked, money spent and, most importantly, focus and energy taken away from making food better for people and planet, I really believe it’s time to change tack. Instead of working in isolation as brands and businesses, trying to get a handle on the quickly evolving natural and organic landscape behind closed doors while simultaneously hoping we aren’t the next ones to be made an example of in court, what if we pooled our resources and learnings on this issue? If my experience is any indication, we’ve all learned a lot and together should be able to connect the missing dots, solve the mysteries of modern food production once and for all and move the definition of natural forward in a productive, collaborative way. Waiting around for government to tell us what to do clearly isn’t wise, so let’s get together and get ourselves sorted so we can prove to our consumers that we really do know what’s going on and that we have their health and best interests at heart.

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Image by Counse

Whole Foods Market and Monsanto – Really, People?

Since the beginning of the year, Whole Foods Market has been dealing with a set of rumors all relating to a relationship with Monsanto. One rumor is that that they have been purchased by the multinational agriculture biotech company. Another is that the two companies are at least cavorting together to support the deregulation of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops such as alfalfa in the United States. My immediate reaction to these rumors is to laugh. I mean, really. Really? Would anyone who knows anything about these companies actually believe such nonsense?

But here’s the thing that really irritates me about these rumors…Whole Foods Market is STILL dealing with them, more than two months after publicly addressing and dismissing them on their blog and, more importantly, after making one of the most profound public commitments to addressing the GMO labeling issue a retailer has ever made.

I’ve seen this type of attack on a major brand play out multiple times in past years and it really bothers me. Despite what your feelings may be of large companies such as Whole Foods Market or even Wal-Mart, they have one thing that is undeniable – power to change the system. When, in 2006, Wal-Mart announced a commitment to sell more organic food, awareness and availability of organic expanded dramatically. Similarly, when Whole Foods Market announced this past March that beginning in 2018 they will require products in their stores to label if they contain GMO, they triggered a ripple effect in the food community that will result in more organic farmland, more organic food options and maybe even federal action on the issue of GMO labeling.

In reality, the people and groups behind the Whole Foods Market and Monsanto rumors are probably very small in number and do not impact the vast majority of those who care about natural and organic food options.  However, a small group, if organized, can demand a lot of time and attention from the company/brand to manage. What if, instead of forcing Whole Foods Market to spend time strategizing about how best to squelch nonsense rumors, they were given the opportunity to focus on the best ways to support healthy, sustainable food options for their consumers and our country?

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Image from Whole Foods Market Blog

Silk Opts out of “Natural”

7 silk opts out of soy imageThe claim “natural” has exploded over the last ten years on everything from potato chips to t-shirt fabric to mattress bedding.  So, it’s especially interesting that Silk, a leading manufacturer of soy and other non-dairy beverages, made a recent announcement that they have decided to remove this claim from their products.

The term “natural” is messy for sure.  Largely left open for interpretation due to a lack of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, what it means in terms of a standard is left up to the companies creating and marketing the products.  Responsibility ultimately falls to the consumer, to do their own research to determine which brands fit with their expectations for what a natural product should be.

Some of you may remember that back in early 2009, Silk received quite a bit of negative press for silently making a switch to non-organic soy beans for their soymilk.  It is a misstep they seem to have recovered from, but I have to assume the experience taught a valuable lesson on transparency and had a major influence on their decision to so publically detail this decision and the reasoning behind it.

Personally, I think it was a good move.  Although “natural” is a powerful term and one I am personally quite connected to, I am bothered by its lack of clarity and wish for claims that more clearly guide positive choices for consumers.

For now, “USDA Organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” are some of the best ways to credibly communicate clean food.  Until the FDA or a reputable non-governmental organization steps in to regulate the term, “natural” will continue to be vague.

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Thank you, Silk, for the use of your images.

Is it Okay to Add Aspartame to Milk? Let’s All Hope Not!

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 1.23.17 PMI was sad to see news last week that the milk industry has petitioned the FDA to approve the use of aspartame, an artificial, chemically-created sweetener also known as NutraSweet and Equal, as a way to create a lower-calorie milk. You can find the article here.

The natural products industry is under tremendous pressure to innovate and create new products, and the milk industry is by no means immune. Another likely factor at play in this news is our society’s continued desire for products that provide it all – great flavor, great nutrition, zero calories and, of course, cheap. An artificially-sweetened, low-calorie milk is such a great example of how just because something can technically be done it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do.

Milk is an American symbol of what is good and wholesome in our diets. As a mother, I’ve been told repeatedly to give milk to my children (not just for the calcium but also as a liquid-dense source of calories). It is an excellent addition to the diet for many of us due to the protein, calcium and vitamin D it provides. If you’re open to drinking raw milk, the benefits multiply exponentially.

It’s because milk is so wholesome and because so many of us rely on milk to keep ourselves and our families healthy, that adding an artificial sweetener to it is especially troubling. Like all natural things, milk was beautifully created with just the right amount of calories and sugar (lactose). If we need a low calorie drink, let’s all turn to a nice big glass of pure water and save our milk for a nicely (and naturally) packaged snack.

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Image by ShardsOfBlue