Kraft the Latest to Respond to Consumer Desire for “Cleaner” Food

  Yesterday, Kraft Foods made headlines with an announcement that it will soon remove all artificial food dyes, flavors and preservatives from its iconic “blue box” macaroni and cheese.  Starting in 2016, the product will be colored natural ingredients like paprika, annatto and turmeric.

You may recall that in 2013, food bloggers Vani Hari (Food Babe) and Lisa Leake (100 Days of Real Foodpetitioned Kraft to remove synthetic yellow dyes from its “blue box” product, garnering over 365,000 signatures.  Nonetheless, the company seemed unwilling to budge at that time.

Yesterday’s move may have been a belated response to that petition, but it also clearly reflects a general societal trend away from highly processed foods that has sent many Kraft consumers toward all-natural competitive brands, such as Annie’s mac-n-cheese.  It also comes on the heels of a similar recent announcement by Nestlé that it will remove all artificial food dyes from its chocolate products by the end of 2015.  (A petition asking M&M Mars to do the same has been circulating since 2013 and currently has over 180,000 signatures.  You can sign it here.)

When I started The Lunch Tray in 2010, I was somewhat skeptical of claims by parents that artificial food dyes adversely affect their children’s behavior.  But over the last five years, I’ve changed my views.  Putting aside the numerous anecdotal reports out there, many from moms I know and trust, even the FDA’s own expert panel admitted in 2011 that some approved food dyes can aggravate pre-existing hyperactivity in kids.  (The agency did not, however, follow the European Union’s example and place warning labels on foods containing such dyes.)  In that regard, Kraft’s move is a clear victory for concerned parents.

More importantly, though, the company’s decision to voluntarily remove food dyes demonstrates what I’ve been saying for years now, which is that private market forces are going to reform our food supply far faster than government regulation ever could. Whether it’s McDonald’s voluntarily agreeing to serve only antibiotic-free chicken or Kraft voluntarily dropping dyes, we’re seeing the free market at work.  Consumers share a growing concern over what’s in their food and Big Food stalwarts like Campbell’s and Kraft know they’ll have to either catch up or take a hit to their bottom line.

That’s a victory for all of us.

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An Open Letter to FDA From 29 Organizations and Experts re: Dairy Products and Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

chocolatemilkIn late February, I alerted you to an FDA citizen petition which would allow the dairy industry to add non-nutritive sweeteners (such as aspartame) to milk and 17 other dairy products without the prominent front-label “nutrient content claims” currently required by FDA regulations — phrases like “reduced sugar” or “reduced calorie.”  I explained to you in detail why, as a consumer and as a public school parent, I’m deeply opposed to this plan.  Not only will it confuse consumers in the supermarket, it’s very likely to result in the increased consumption of potentially questionable artificial sweeteners by millions of American school children – without their parents’ knowledge.

As soon as I learned of the petition, I submitted my own personal letter of protest to the FDA but I really wanted to do something more.  So I asked some of my food policy colleagues if they’d be willing to sign an open letter to the FDA and, even before I’d drafted the letter, I was gratified to get the support of many leading food and health experts and organizations.  I received invaluable assistance from the Center for Science in the Public Interest in getting the letter circulated, and it has now been signed by 29 organizations and individuals, including: CSPI; the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation; the Environmental Working Group; Healthy, Child, Healthy World; The Healthy Schools Campaign; Chef Ann Cooper; Dr. Yoni Freedhoff and many more.

The full text of the letter, which was filed electronically with the FDA this morning, is reprinted below.  It’s my hope that it will persuade FDA to deny the dairy industry’s request, but your help is needed, too.  Between now and May 21st, please submit your own comment on FDA’s website and also take a second to sign an online petition protesting the dairy industry’s plan.

Thanks, all!

April 15, 2013

Margaret A. Hamburg, MD
Food & Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Re: Docket No. FDA-2009-P-0147

Dear Dr. Hamburg:

We, the undersigned, oppose the Citizen Petition (Docket No. FDA-2009-P-0147) filed by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) seeking to amend the standards of identity for milk and 17 other dairy products.  We urge you to deny that petition.  That petition, if granted, would allow the use of non-caloric sweeteners in these dairy products without any front-label nutrient content claim (such as “reduced sugar” or “reduced calorie”) presently required by FDA regulations.

While the dairy industry is already free to add non-caloric sweeteners to flavored milk, it claims (without any supporting evidence) that “use of the phrase ‘reduced calorie’ is not attractive to children and contributed to the overall decline in milk consumption.”  And in a public statement, IDFA indicated that this “petition was and continues to be a direct attempt to keep flavored milks in school cafeterias.”  Accordingly, it seems clear that if the petition is successful, there would be a dramatic increase in the volume of artificially sweetened flavored milk offered in U.S. schools, in packages that omit material information.

Industry Does Not Need Artificial Sweeteners to Keep Flavored Milk in Schools

IDFA and NMPF point to the current childhood obesity epidemic as a rationale for granting their request.  We, too, agree that overly sweetened beverages are a matter of concern.  However, the dairy industry has already demonstrated that it can effectively reduce sugar in its products without using artificial sweeteners.

In their 2009 citizen petition, IDFA and NMPF point to various state policies and proposed national guidelines restricting the number of calories and grams of sugar in flavored milk in school, and then conclude that, without the use of artificial sweeteners, flavored milk will be barred from school meal programs.  But in the intervening four years — which have included the passage of the landmark Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act — the landscape has changed significantly.  Many school districts have since worked with their suppliers to lower the sugar content in flavored milk, and many of these milks now contain around 130 calories and 22 grams of total sugar per serving (12 grams of which are naturally occurring).  Houston ISD, the nation’s seventh largest district, offers flavored milk with only 18 grams of sugar per serving.  These reductions in sugar are consistent with what the Institute of Medicine recommended in its 2007 report, “Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools.”  Moreover, the new national school lunch standards and the proposed national competitive food and beverage standards do not include sugar or calorie limits for fat-free flavored milk.  So while we applaud dairy industry efforts to develop lower-sugar products, these efforts demonstrate that there is no need to amend the current standard of identity for flavored milk in order to keep flavored milk in school.

Questions Regarding Artificial Sweeteners

We acknowledge that the artificial sweeteners intended to be used by the dairy industry in flavored milk have been approved by this agency.  That said, there have been legitimate questions raised about the safety of some of them – particularly aspartame and acesulfame-potassium –  and we are troubled by any plan to increase their availability in school cafeterias.  Children are our most vulnerable population and the dairy industry’s desire to increase flavored milk sales in schools is not a sufficient justification for increasing any potential risks to students’ long-term health.

The Proposed Labeling Changes Will Mislead Parents

Petitioners’ request, if granted, would leave parents uninformed about what their children are drinking at school.  Very few school districts offer full ingredient disclosures on their websites, but the majority of them use FDA nutrient content claims (“low-fat” milk, “fat-free” milk) to describe milk on their menus.  If artificially sweetened chocolate milk can still be called “chocolate milk,” without a qualifier such as “reduced sugar” or “reduced calorie,” parents will not know that the product contains an artificial sweetener unless they are in the cafeteria at the time of meal service and are able to read the ingredient label – an unlikely scenario.

A spokesman for the National Dairy Council, seeking to address this concern, indicated to a media outlet hat “school administrators would likely inform parents of the change by putting it on menus, websites and newsletters.”  There is no basis for that statement and the petition does not include any information about school-based communication mechanisms.  In addition, the use of menus, websites and newsletters would in all probability be unreliable and inconsistent across the 14,000 school districts and 100,000 schools throughout the country.  Current labeling laws, if left unchanged, would better ensure that parents know exactly what kind of flavored milk their children are consuming at school.

The Proposed Labeling Changes Will Mislead Other Consumers

IDFA and NMPF maintain that “updating the food standard of identify for ‘milk’ in this way would promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of milk consumers” because “consumers do not recognize milk or even flavored milk as a beverage that contains substantial amounts of sugar.”  Not only did the petitioners not offer any supporting evidence for this statement, one has only to taste flavored milk, as compared with regular milk, to understand that it is sugar-sweetened.

Without the front-label nutrient content claims currently required for artificially sweetened milk, consumers have no reason to check ingredient listings for what they already assume: that “milk” does not normally contain non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame or acesulfame-potassium.  Accordingly, if petitioners’ request is granted, a great many American consumers are likely to be unfairly confused or misled.

Moreover, IDFA and NMPF are also seeking to amend the standards of identity for an additional 17 dairy products.  Permitting products like artificially-sweetened sour cream and nonfat dry milk to be marketed without the required front-label nutrient content claims seems to have nothing to do with the petitioners’ purported concern for the health of school children.  Granting this wide-ranging request would further compound confusion in the marketplace and lead to more misleadingly labeled dairy products.

For the foregoing reasons, we respectfully request that the IDFA and NMPF petition be denied.


AllergyKids Foundation 

CA Center for Public Health Advocacy 

California Food Policy Advocates 

Center for Communications, Health & the Environment

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Defeat Diabetes Foundation

Earth Day Network

Environmental Working Group 

Farm Sanctuary

Healthy Child, Healthy World 

Healthy Schools Campaign

Jamie Oliver Food Foundation

Real Food For Kids 

Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior 

Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity 

Kate Adamick, Co-Founder, Cook for America®

Andy Bellatti, M.S., R.D., Creator & Co-Founder, Dietitians for Professional Integrity

Gracie Cavnar, Founder & CEO, Recipe for Success Foundation  

Ann Cooper, Founder, Food, Family, Farming Foundation

Karen Devitt and Lindsey Parsons, Co-Founders, Real Food For Kids – Montgomery 

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa, Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute 

Justin Gagnon, CEO, ChoiceLunch

Casey Hinds, Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition

Nancy Huehnergarth, Nutrition Advocate/Food Reformer and Founder, Nancy Huehnergarth Consulting 

Chery Kline, Clinical R.D., Dignity Health Hospital

Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego

Bettina Elias Siegel, J.D., School Food Activist, Writer – The Lunch Tray

Michele Simon, J.D., M.P.H., President, Eat Drink Politics 

Dana Woldow, School Food Activist and Founder, Parents, Educators & Activists Connection for Healthier School Food  (PEACHSF)[

[Editorial Update:  In my original post, I neglected to list another signer of the letter, Kate Adamick, Co-founder of Cook For America®.]

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Milk, Aspartame and the FDA: Why Front-Label Claims DO Matter and Why You Need to Act

chocolatemilkLate last month, I alerted you to an FDA citizen petition submitted by two dairy industry trade groups relating to dairy products and artificial sweeteners.  I told you how the dairy industry wants to change the “statements of identity” for milk and 17 other dairy products to allow non-nutritive sweeteners (such as aspartame) in these products without the prominent front-label “nutrient content claims” currently required by FDA regulations — phrases like “reduced sugar” or “reduced calorie.”

As you know, I am deeply troubled by this petition.

Not only did I submit a personal letter of protest to the FDA and encourage you to comment on FDA’s website and sign an online petition about it*, but I also gave up my entire Saturday last weekend to draft an open “sign-on” letter to oppose the dairy industry request.  That letter will be sent to FDA in the coming days bearing the signatures of numerous highly respected food activists, medical professionals, obesity experts and public health policy groups.  (Once it’s submitted to FDA, I’ll post the letter, with the complete list of signatories, here on The Lunch Tray.)

These leading experts all share my serious concern about the dairy petition and so it was with some surprise that I read a new blog post by a respected fellow food blogger, Spoonfed, who seems to downplay the issue on the theory that front labels mean little and, at any rate, consumers should just focus on back-label ingredient disclosures:

. . . let’s get real here. Front-of-package labels are marketing-speak, pure and simple. As rushed as we may be while grocery shopping, as preoccupied as we are with kids and life, there’s simply no way to know for sure what’s in your food unless you read the ingredients.

To be fair, Spoonfed’s post seems primarily concerned with correcting a common misconception in the media that but for the granting of this petition, the dairy industry can’t add non-nutritive sweeteners to milk at all.  That’s not the case; this is an issue of front-package labeling, something I explained clearly in my first post on the issue.   But to the extent that Sp0onfed is also saying that these front label claims don’t matter much, I want to tell you why that position is just plain wrong.

First of all, yes, we all should be avid back-label-readers.  But in reality, many consumers do make purchases in haste or out of habit.  And if consumers have never before seen aspartame in their trusted brands of dairy products without a front label tip-off like “reduced sugar,” it’s even less likely that they will use back label ingredient listings to confirm what they already believe, i.e., that aspartame and other non-nutritive sweeteners aren’t present.

Furthermore, while Spoonfed dismisses everything on the front label as “marketing speak,” I can tell you as a lawyer with food regulatory experience that companies often chafe under FDA-required front label disclosures.  If it weren’t for those regulations, you can be sure Kraft would gladly call its bright orange, plasticine slices “cheese” instead of the clunky “pasteurized processed cheese food.”  Indeed, the entire dairy petition is premised on the claim that “use of the phrase ‘reduced calorie’ is not attractive to children” — i.e., that the required language anything but helpful marketing for them.  Yet as much as producers would like to abandon some of those FDA front label requirements, they serve as a good tip-off to consumers about what they’re buying — not as a substitute for reading back labels, but as a useful adjunct, one visible on the store shelf even before the consumer picks up the product.

But none of that is the critical issue.  We should all be less concerned about supermarket shoppers being misled (though that’s a real problem) and far more worried about the 32 million public school children participating in the National School Lunch Program and the 12 million in the School Breakfast Program, all of whom are offered milk — usually including a flavored milk option — each and every school day, sometimes multiple times a day.   And the dairy industry has been quite candid in stating that this “petition was and continues to be a direct attempt to keep flavored milks in school cafeterias.”

In other words, if this petition is successful, you can be sure we will soon see a dramatic increase in the volume of artificially-sweetened flavored milk offered in U.S. schools.

As a public school parent, that has me very worried.  Why?  Not just because millions of kids will be guzzling increased quantities of aspartame or acesulfame-potassium, but because their parents are unlikely to know anything about it.  Very few school districts offer full ingredient disclosures on their websites, but the majority of them use existing FDA nutrient claims (“low-fat milk,” “fat-free milk”) to describe milk on their printed and online school meal menus.  Yet if artificially sweetened chocolate milk can still be called “chocolate milk,” without any qualifier, parents will know nothing of a very material change in product formulation.  (A spokesman for the National Dairy Council, seeking to allay this concern, indicated to NPR that “school administrators would likely inform parents of the change by putting it on menus, websites and newsletters.”  But why rely on such scattershot and unreliable methods of keeping parents informed, when current labeling laws, if left unchanged, would ensure that parents know exactly what kind of flavored milk their children are consuming at school?)

For me, the bottom line is this.  The dairy industry’s desire to increase its flavored milk sales in public schools is not a sufficient justification for taking potential risks with students’ long term health.   To the extent there are any questions regarding the safety of artificial sweeteners — particularly aspartame and acesulfame-potassium — then we need to act NOW to prevent the flooding of American schools with artificially-sweetened milk, the likely outcome if the dairy industry petition is granted.

Have I convinced you?  I really hope so.  Leave a comment with FDA here, and sign here*.

Thank you.

As mentioned in a prior post, I want you to sign the Sum of Us petition on this issue because it has good traction (over 100,000 signatures to date), but I don’t like its false implication that but for the granting of its request, the dairy industry could not use non-nutritive sweeteners in milk products.  That’s likely a case of carelessness and not an intent to mislead signers.

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Aspartame in Milk and Food Dyes: Two Food Petitions Catching Fire

No one knows better than I the tremendous potential power of an online petition to bring about needed changes in our food supply.  And now, just a day after the one-year anniversary of the launch of my “pink slime in school food” petition, it’s gratifying to report that two important new food petitions are catching fire.

Natural Food Dyes Overseas, Artificial Dyes Over Here

First, as you already know if you’re a follower of TLT’s Facebook page, Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food and Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, have just launched a petition asking Kraft to ditch two artificial yellow food dyes in its iconic mac n’ cheese product, dyes the company has already abandoned overseas in favor of natural food-based colorants.  This is an issue we’ve discussed in the past on The Lunch Tray and it has always bothered me a great deal — in fact, I even mentioned in one post that I hoped someone would start a petition about it!  It’s one thing for a company to protest that it can’t find a way to change its formula in favor of more healthful ingredients, but it’s quite another thing when the company has already amply demonstrated the ability to do so.

Well, the good news is that many of you clearly feel the same way.  In less than two full days, the petition (as of this writing) has garnered almost 50,000 signatures and is starting to get some media coverage.  Even if you’re not a consumer of this particular Kraft product (I’ve never bought a box), you can be sure that, if successful, this petition will get the attention of other multinational food corporations engaging in the same practices with respect to food dyes.  So please take a moment and sign here.

And for some encouraging news about the growing use of natural versus artificial food dyes worldwide, please take a look at TLT friend Robyn O’Brien’s latest column on that topic.

Aspartame and Milk Products, Including School Cafeteria Flavored Milk

The Lunch Tray was apparently one of the first outlets to report last month on a new dairy industry plan to add aspartame and other artificial sweeteners to milk and 17 other dairy products without the prominent front label disclosures (“reduced sugar,” “diet,” “reduced calorie,” etc.) presently required by the FDA.

milk dye montage
Aspartame in milk, questionable food dyes? No thanks!

This idea deeply troubles me as a consumer, as few of us expect to find artificial sweeteners in such products and are therefore less likely, without a front label cue, to search the ingredient listings for them.

But far more importantly, this plan upsets me as a parent of public school kids.  As I reported last week, over 430 million gallons of milk were distributed in American schools in2005-2006, and much of that milk is flavored.  The dairy industry apparently feels that the “reduced calorie” designation is a turn-off for kids and so far it hasn’t been particularly aggressive in marketing artificially flavored sweetened milk.  But if FDA grants the industry’s request to drop the front-label descriptor, it seems likely that aspartame-containing flavored milk will be in schools everywhere and without parental oversight (how many parents are in the lunch room to read the ingredient listing on their kid’s milk carton?).

Totally apart from questions about the safety of asparatame, there are legitimate reasons (outlined in my prior post) to be concerned about offering it on a widespread basis to American school children.  If you share that concern, please join almost 100,000 people who’ve already signed a petition launched by Sum of Us protesting the dairy industry’s request.  (In my opinion, this petition isn’t ideal:  the real issue here is not the use of aspartame in milk per se, something already permitted by law, but the lack of front labeling disclosure.  The petition fails to make this distinction but, still, it gets the point across to FDA and that’s what matters.)

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of these two petitions as warranted.  In the meantime, please also consider reposting these two petition links on your own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to spread the word.

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Is The Dairy Industry Using School Kids As a Trojan Horse to Change Artificial Sweetener Labeling Rules?

Food activist Nancy Huehnergarth tweeted this troubling Dairy Reporter item last Friday, which indicates that the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) are asking the Food & Drug Administration for permission to add aspartame and other artificial sweeteners to the flavored milk sold in U.S. schools without certain front-label disclosures. The trade groups cite the current childhood obesity crisis and the popularity of flavored milk among kids as justifications for their request.

chocolatemilkNow keep in mind that the milk industry always had the ability to add artificial sweeteners to dairy products, including flavored milks sold in schools. So what’s going on here?

Under current FDA regulations, dairy products containing artificial sweeteners (with a recent exception carved out for ice cream) must not only disclose those sweeteners in their ingredient listings but also bear prominent front label notices — such as “reduced calorie” or “reduced sugar” — as part of the products’ so-called statements of identity. Yet now the dairy industry is getting a hearing on its 2009 citizen’s petition (PDF linked here) asking FDA for permission to abandon those front label disclosures for artificially dairy sweetened products — and not just on flavored milk but also on seventeen other dairy products having nothing to do with schools, including whipping cream, sour cream, nonfat dry mik and more.

It may well be that American school children really are the motivation for the dairy industry petition. The school dairy market is a lucrative one (nearly 430 million gallons of milk were reportedly distributed in schools during the 2005-2006 school year) and IDFA has been remarkably candid in admitting that the labeling change, if successful, might stem the current decline in student milk consumption. And in support of its citizen’s petition, the industry’s main arguments, offered without a shred of supporting evidence, do focus on children. It argued that:

use of the phrase “reduced calorie” is not attractive to children . . . .

and also put forward the (silly and rather circular) contention that

Children and adolescents are the largest consumer of flavored milk, but as consumers, they are not inclined to recognize that the milk they drink contains added sugar. Milk flavored with non-nutritive sweetener, which has less sugar than other flavored milk, provides the same nutritional benefits as other flavored labeled “milk” but with fewer calories. Thus, milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as “milk” without further qualification so that consumers can more easily identify its overall nutritional value.

But given that the dairy industry is also asking for changes with respect to seventeen other products, one wonders if it’s not using the appealing image of “school children drinking wholesome, lower calorie milk” as a Trojan horse to quietly overhaul the labeling of the entire dairy aisle.

Whatever the motivation for the petition, it’s hard for me to express how bad I think this idea is.

First of all, the front label “reduced calorie” or “reduced sugar” disclosures have always been prominent and useful tip-offs to purchasers that a product may contain artificial sweeteners or other artificial ingredients that many find questionable. To remove those designations from the labels of milk and seventeen other dairy products will leave many American consumers in the dark about what they’re actually buying. (Even I, an avid label-reader, have occasionally put into my shopping cart products like flavored water thinking they were entirely unsweetened, only to find later that they contained stevia, aspartame or one of the other non-nutritive additives I choose to avoid.)

Moreover, I’ve long objected to the notion that artificial sweeteners are some sort of a panacea with respect to childhood obesity. Putting aside concerns about the safety of these additives (and some experts are concerned), artificial sweeteners do nothing to wean children off the sugary food and beverage habit — and may even heighten a desire for sweet tastes given that artificial sweeteners are actually sweeter than sugar. Even more troubling, new Yale University research indicates that the regular consumption of artificial sweeteners may interfere with brain chemistry and the hormones regulating appetite and satiety, and may also pose in increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Do we really want these additives appearing more frequently in the milk offered in school cafeterias around the country, without adequate labeling?

I answer that question with a resounding NO. If you care to comment on the petition, as I certainly intend to, you may do so here.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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NYC Mayor Bloomberg Proposes Ban on Large-Sized Sugary Drinks

As I posted on TLT’s Facebook page last night, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making big headlines this morning with a proposed city ban on most sugary beverages sold in containers larger than 16 ounces.  The move would affect restaurants, ball parks, movie theaters, street vendors and other establishments regulated by the city’s health department.

Details here.  For my take, stay tuned.

In related news, FDA has rejected a request by the Corn Refiners Association to rename high fructose corn syrup the more innocuous-sounding “corn sugar.”  More on that development from Marion Nestle at Food Politics.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 3,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Nestlé Drops Artificial Ingredients in UK Candy – Why Not Here?

While the blog was dominated by LFTB last month, many interesting “kid and food” news items came and went without coverage here.  I won’t try to recapture most of these for you, but a few are important enough that I want to share them now, even if they’re a little dated.  Here are two such items:

Nestlé UK Drops All Artificial Food Additives – Why Not Here?

candy question mark
If they can do it in Europe, why not here?

Nestlé announced last month that it’s discontinuing in the UK the use of all artificial food additives —  preservatives, flavors and food dyes — from its entire confectionery line.

That’s great news, but what about here in the U.S.?

Well, I called Nestlé USA customer service this morning and was read a canned statement assuring me that all the artificial ingredients used by Nestlé in this country are “safe and FDA approved.” I was also told that “no changes of this kind are planned for the U.S. market at this time.”

How frustrating is this?  A huge conglomerate has demonstrated it can replace artificial ingredients with those derived from natural sources such as “carrot, hibiscus, radish, safflower and lemon.”  Yet Nestlé and others companies continue to sell our children candy with ingredients that were found by an FDA expert panel to be implicated in behavioral disorders in some children.  (Robyn McCord O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, once guest posted here on that exact question, a post well worth reading if you missed it the first time around.)

I’m all “petitioned” out, people, but if someone wants to get the ball rolling on a campaign to get Nestlé and other big candy companies to bring their all-natural EU formulations over to America, I’ll be the first to sign.

Chewing Gum, Titanium Dioxide and Possible Disease Risk in Children

On a related note, a recent study assessed the risks of titanium dioxide, a food additive used to make the hard white coating on chewing gum and other candies and therefore consumed by children more often than adults.  According to the study, titanium dioxide is “possibly carcinogenic” and has been implicated in Crohn’s disease and asthma.  It’s important to note that none of those links are conclusive, but still, why risk it?  I’ve told my kids (sometime gum-chewers) that from now on we’re buying gum in sticks rather than in “Chiclet” form.

* * *

Now seems like a very good time to remind everyone of the awesome online Natural Candy Store, a great website for sweets without any questionable ingredients.


Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 2,800 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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True Colors: A Gorgeous Palette of Real Food Hues

After a week of talking quite a bit about synthetic food dyes (namely, the FDA’s decision not to require food dye warning labels, even though dyes exacerbate hyperactivity in some kids), I was happy to stumble on this story.

A New York City artist named Tattfoo Tan photographed the fresh produce he regularly buys at a local greenmarket and then used Photoshop’s eye-dropper to extract the colors from the photos.  These eighty-eight different fruit and vegetable colors make up what he calls the Nature Matching System.

copyright Tattfoo Tan

Beautiful, isn’t it?  And nothing like the garish colors that assault your eye when you visit a supermarket bakery these days:

Visit Good to read about how Tan’s work was installed as a public art piece in NYC, and get a free screensaver of the Nature Matching System on Tan’s website. I have it on my own laptop now!




FDA Punts on Food Dye Issue

As I reported here earlier, the Food and Drug Administration held a two-day hearing this week to address concerns that artificial food dyes can cause hyperactivity in some children.

An expert panel convened by the FDA had reported that while most children are unaffected by the dyes, children susceptible to hyperactivity can have worse symptoms after consuming them.  However, in move that will no doubt disappoint scientists and consumer advocates concerned about the issue, the FDA advisory committee voted 8 to 6 yesterday that there’s no need for foods containing artificial dyes to carry a warning label, let alone be banned.

Not surprisingly, the food industry hailed the FDA’s move.  As quoted in the New York Times, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement, “We agree with today’s F.D.A.’s advisory committee finding which determined that there is insufficient evidence of a causal link between artificial colors and hyperactivity in children.”

As Robyn McCord O’Brien outlined so well in her guest post here yesterday, American food manufacturers know how to color their foods with natural dyes and they already do so in European countries where regulation of these substances is stricter.  But of course, without regulatory pressure here, they’re may not want to do so voluntarily since natural dyes are more expensive, less shelf-stable and harder to come by when there are crop shortages.

On the other hand, as Melanie Warner of CBS’s BNET noted:

Perhaps the FDA is hoping that its hearings will generate enough public pressure to nudge food manufacturers to voluntarily start taking food dyes out of their products. The issue already landed on page one of the New York Times and on NBC Nightly News. Maybe for the FDA, that’s Mission Accomplished.



Food Dyes and Hyperactivity in Children: Some News, A Guest Blog Post and a Book Giveaway

For decades, some scientists and consumer advocates have believed there’s a possible link between the consumption of artificial food dyes and hyperactivity, at least in some children.  If that’s true, there’s serious cause for concern:  as recounted in a recent Washington Post op-ed on the subject, there’s been a five-fold increase in the per-capita production of food dyes over the past 50 years.

Finally, after a long history of affirming the safety of artificial dyes, the Food and Drug Administration has agreed to hold hearings on the subject, which begin today.   (You can read more about the hearings in today’s New York Times, here.)

Whatever you think of the validity of these concerns, one thing is clear. American manufacturers already know how to make colorful food products without reliance on petroleum-based dyes.  And how do we know this?  Because they’re already doing so in European countries where the regulation of food dyes is far stricter than in the United States.

A little later today I’ll share a guest blog post from Robyn McCord O’Brien on this subject, and I’ll also be giving away to Lunch Tray readers three free copies of Robyn’s thought-provoking book, The Unhealthy Truth.

Stay tuned!


Lunch Tray Friday Buffet: February 25, 2011

Last week I asked you to vote on whether or not I should continue with the Friday Buffet feature and the people have now spoken. At last count, 57% of you say keep it, while only 28% say ditch it.   So, as your humble blogging servant, I’m happy to dish it up for the foreseeable future.

This week’s theme (as it is most weeks) is Scary Foods You Need to Know About.

Wasn’t The Label Warning Enough?

There’s a candy out there with the name “Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge.”  AND the candy itself is bright blue.  AND the label looks like this:

So when I heard the product had been recalled by the FDA due to high lead content, I almost didn’t tell you on the theory that most people would know better than to buy it in the first place.  But then a friend of mine posted on Facebook that his little daughter had been offered some Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge at a birthday party just last week.  So in case this frightening confectionery is more mainstream than I thought, here’s the recall info.

You Mean It’s Not Just Caramelized Sugar?

Am I the only one who, when seeing “caramel color” on a food or beverage label, gets a mental image of a pot of sugar and water cooking on a stove until until the sugar browns?  That’s apparently what the food industry would like you to think, but it turns out “caramel color” can be a chemical food additive produced using ammonium compounds, which, according to Food Navigator, results “in the formation of small amounts of 2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and/or 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI).” The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition with the FDA last week, citing research that links caramel color (in very high doses) to lung, liver, and thyroid cancer and leukemia.  The jury is still out on caramel color, but be sure to check the labels of products like soy sauce and cola if you want to avoid this additive.

Waiter, There’s a Bodily Fluid In My Dessert

Thanks (I think) to my friend Donna Gershenwald for alerting me to this last story.  A restaurant in London is selling gourmet vanilla ice cream made from  . . . human breast milk.  Called “Baby Gaga,” the dessert is going for $23 a pop, but it’s unclear from media reports whether there are any takers.  I should mention that this isn’t the first culinary foray into breast milk products — recently a New York City chef began serving cheese he cooked up using his wife’s breast milk.  I’m a big supporter (and prior practitioner) of breast feeding, and I get the inconsistency in blithely consuming milk intended for calves while being utterly grossed out by milk meant intended for my own species.  Nonetheless, utterly grossed out I shall remain.

Have a great weekend, everyone!  More Lunch Tray on Monday . . .



Food Industry Announces New Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, two major food industry trade groups, announce today that they will soon begin implementing a new program called “Nutrition Keys,” which will put nutrition information on the front of product packages.

Here’s an example of what the new labeling will look like:

While this might sound like a good idea on its face, the New York Times and other media outlets provide the somewhat troubling history behind this development.  Initially, food manufacturers were working cooperatively with the FDA and the White House to develop a new labeling system — until the talks broke down.

The administration had wanted labels to conform to an Institute of Medicine report last year recommending that labels only disclose nutrients consumers should avoid, like sodium and fat, but not list “positive” nutrients like calcium and vitamins which might (a) confuse consumers into thinking unhealthy products were actually good for them and (b) encourage manufacturers to unnecessarily fortify their foods simply to create a better front label profile.

The industry refused to go along with the latter requirement and the Nutrition Keys program allows manufacturers to display up to two “nutrients to encourage” out of a possible eight nutrients — potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron and protein.  According to former FDA commissioner David Kessler, “What the industry is proposing can make something look healthier than it really is.”

The Nutrition Keys program will be backed by a $50 million advertising campaign this fall.  Meanwhile, the FDA continues to work on its own voluntary front-of-label guidelines, which it will most likely release later this year, meaning that food manufacturers may again change their front labels down the road.

For a scathing critique of the Nutrition Keys format, check out Fooducate’s post here.

More on Food Dyes and Kids’ Behavior

You may remember that we talked here last month about the possible link between food dyes and attention and behavior problems in children (“FDA to Hold Hearings on Possible Link Between Food Dyes and Kids’ Behavior“).  In that post I told you that, in response to a 2008 petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the FDA will hold an advisory committee meeting in March to dig deeper into the issue.

What I did not do, however, was provide information for interested parents on safe alternatives to petroleum-based food dyes.  So if you’re a regular birthday cake baker or cookie-decorator, you’ll want to read Christina Le Beau’s latest post over at Spoonfed entitled “The Color of  Trouble.”  She provides a good summary of the issue, replete with links to other bloggers’ thoughts on the subject (including old TLT friends Dr. SuRu and Jenna Pepper at Food with Kid Appeal), as well as information on natural food dyes.  Be sure to also check out the comments of her readers who have their own good ideas on safe food coloring methods.

And of course I’ll keep you abreast of developments at the FDA as they occur.