Monday, August 20, 2012

Big Trouble In Little China

Okay, I was thinking about the melamine-in-milk problem that cropped up in food from China a couple of years back, and the fake-honey problem we're currently unable to deal with, when I titled this post. But of course, China really learned everything from Big Food anyway.....
But, in an article dated 18 August 2012, Stephanie Strom is reporting in the New York Times that:
More than a dozen lawyers who took on the tobacco companies have filed 25 cases against industry players like ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Heinz, General Mills and Chobani that stock pantry shelves and refrigerators across America.
The suits, filed over the last four months, assert that food makers are misleading consumers and violating federal regulations by wrongly labeling products and ingredients. While there has been a barrage of litigation against the industry in recent years, the tobacco lawyers are moving particularly aggressively. They are asking a federal court in California to halt ConAgra’s sales of Pam cooking spray, Swiss Miss cocoa products and some Hunt’s canned tomatoes.
(As an aside, the article is in the business section, and so takes the view that this litigation is driven by a search for profits, not because Big Food has been fudging label requirements for decades. Morris Berman might agree, but seriously, when our governments, tasked with doing the right thing fail us, thankfully we still have the courts.)
The article continues:
In recent weeks, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has sued General Mills and McNeil Nutritionals over their claims on Nature Valley and Splenda Essentials products, and warned Welch’s it would sue unless the company changed the wording on its juice and fruit snacks. The Federal Trade Commission won settlements from companies like Dannon and Pom Wonderful for claims about their products’ health benefits. And PepsiCo and Coca-Cola face lawsuits over claims that their orange juice products are “100% natural.”
After reading Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice, Alissa Hamilton's exploration of the forgotten history of juicing oranges, it was only a matter of time until the labelling lawsuits started. There's almost nothing "natural" (at least how the average consumer would understand it) about orange juice.
And, personally, I don't think that just because an element or compound occurs somewhere in the natural world that we can put it in food and call it "natural." Particularly when, like corn, the original is simply treated as a chemical feedstock.
And, as Ms. Strom writes:
The new batch of litigation argues that food companies are violating specific rules about ingredients and labels. Mr. Barrett’s group, for example, has brought a case against Chobani, the Greek yogurt maker, for listing “evaporated cane juice,” as an ingredient in its pomegranate-flavored yogurt. The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly warned companies not to use the term because it is “false and misleading,” according to the suit.
Manufacturers are already flipping out about the move in California to force GMO ingredients to be labelled separately from non-GMO ingredients. We can only hope that these lawsuits don't take as long to change labelling requirements as it has for cigarettes to disappear.

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