The November/December issue of Mother Jones magazine has an explosive new analysis of more than 1,500 pages of internal documents from the archives of now-defunct sugar companies that reveals that for 40 years, the sugar industry engaged in a massive PR campaign to sow doubt about studies linking sugar consumption to disease. After a growing body of independent research started implicating sugar as a significant cause of heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes and other diseases, the sugar industry responded by developing a PR scheme that included secretly funding scientists to perform studies exonerating sugar as a source of disease. The sugar industry also secretly created a front group, the Food and Nutrition Advisory Council, that they stocked with physicians and dentists who were willing to defend sugar’s purported place in a healthy diet. Sugar companies also worked to shift the conversation about diabetes away from sugar and boost the notion that dietary fats, especially saturated fats, were a bigger culprit in causing heart disease than sugar.
The big biotechnology firm Syngenta is facing criminal charges for covering up a U.S. study that showed cows died after eating the company’s genetically-modified (GM) corn. The charges came after a long struggle by Gottfried Gloeckner, a German dairy farmer and former supporter of genetically-modified crops, agreed to participate in authorized field tests of “Bt176,” a corn variety manufactured by Syngenta that was genetically-modified to express an insect toxin and a gene that made the corn resistant to glufosinate herbicides. Gloeckner allowed the GM corn to be grown on his farm from 1997 to 2002, and fed the resulting corn to his dairy herd. By 2000, Gloeckner was feeding his cows exclusively Bt176 corn. Shortly after, several of Gloeckner’s cows became sick. Five died and others had decreased milk yields. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros as partial compensation for his losses and veterinary costs. Gloeckner brought a civil suit against Syngenta over the loss, but Syngenta refused to admit its GM corn could be in any way related to the illnesses and deaths of Gloeckner’s cows. The court dismissed the civil case and Gloeckner received no further payments from Syngenta, leaving him thousands of Euros in debt. Gloeckner stopped using the GM feed in 2002, but continued to lose cows. In 2009, Gloeckner discovered Syngenta had commissioned a study in the U.S. of its GM feed in 1996. In that study, four cows died within two days of eating the GM feed, and the study was abruptly ended.
After people started avoiding high-fructose corn syrup in the foods they buy, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change the name “high fructose corn syrup” to a more wholesome-sounding name on nutrition labels: “corn sugar.” That was in 2010. Around the same time corn refiners started a widespread TV ad campaign to try and convince people there is no significant difference between their product and regular, granulated white sugar — a claim that prompted refiners of granulated sugar to file a lawsuit against the CRA accusing them of deceiving the public. Now comes more bad news for the corn guys: May 30, 2012, the FDA squashed CRA’s hopes for renaming its much-maligned product when the agency officially rejected their requested change. FDA told CRA that the agency defines sugar as a dried, crystallized solid — not a syrup. In a press release, the CRA said the “vast majority of American consumers are confused” about high-fructose corn syrup and claimed FDA denied its application on “narrow, technical grounds.” Changing names to escape a PR debacle is common. Two examples: Cigarette maker Philip Morris changed its name to “Altria” to relieve its food companies of the taint of tobacco, and the mercenary firm Blackwater changed its name to “Xe” after its agents engaged in the Nisour Square massacre in Iraq in 2007.
The average fast food restaurant meal today is over four times bigger than it was in the 1950s, according to a new website by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The site, MakingHealthEasier.org, encourages healthy behaviors to help head off chronic disease. CDC finds that portion creep has resulted in a “new abnormal” for food portions in American society. In the 1950s, the average fountain soda at a fast food restaurant was just 7 ounces. Today it’s 42 ounces. The average hamburger was 3.9 ounces, and today it’s 12 ounces. A portion of french fries in the 1950s was just 2.4 ounces and today it is 6.7 ounces. Since the early 1900s, the average size of a chocolate bar has increased by 1,233 percent. Since the 1960s, the weight of the average American woman has increased by 24.5 pounds and the average weight of a man has increased by 28 pounds. As portions have grown, so have obesity and diabetes, and the problems and medical expense they bring. In 1958, only about one percent of the country’s population had diabetes. By 2009, that number had risen 22 percent. In 2011, an estimated 25.6 million (11.3%) (pdf) of people age 20 and above were diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S., with an estimated 7 million more undiagnosed. Medical expenses for diabetics are over two times greater than people without diabetes.
People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.
Fast-food giant Burger King announced this week that it will no longer buy pork from pig producers that use gestation crates, and will now use only 100 percent cage-free eggs. Gestation crates are confinement cages that commercial pig farmers use that are so small that pigs cannot turn around inside them. Female pigs raised on factory farms spend almost their entire lives in these tiny crates. U.S. egg producers typically cram millions of chickens into cages that offer only about 67 square inches of space per bird — less space than a single sheet of paper — on which the birds spend their entire lives. Burger King’s policy changes came about in large part due to the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which has been tackling cruel practices in commercial agriculture, like the use of veal crates, battery cages and tail-docking of dairy cows. HSUS is forming state Agricultural Councils across the U.S. to promote humane food production practices on farms and ranches. The group’s goal is to move agriculture away from a system that treats living creatures as biological “machines,” keeping them confined in conditions that maximize efficiency but are extremely cruel and inhumane, to a more ethical, humane and sustainable system.
Two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is running ads on TV promoting tourism in the Gulf of Mexico. The ads say the seafood is great, the beaches are inviting and times have never been better down in the Gulf. But reports from people who live and fish in the Gulf aren’t so great. In fact, they’re scary. Fishermen report seeing wide-scale deformities in sea life, like shrimp without eyes, tumors on their heads, crabs with rotting shells and fish with sores on their bodies. One fisherman reported catching 400 pounds of eyeless shrimp. The harvest of brown shrimp has decreased by two thirds and the white shrimp have been wiped out. Gulf families report that their children, who were well prior to the BP spill, now chronically suffer from diffuse illnesses, like inflamed sinuses, upset stomachs, rashes and allergies. Fishermen complain of headaches, chronic cough, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhea, and bleeding from ears and nose — and they have no money to pay for medical care. Some are seeking enough money from BP to enable them to leave the Gulf coast for good.
Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a group that challenges corporate abuses, posted an open letter on its website asking hospitals that house McDonalds restaurants to end their contracts with the fast food chain to “stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health.” The letter points out that the rates at which children suffer from diet-related illnesses like diabetes are “staggering,” and the problem is related in part to the consumption of junk food. Locating McDonalds stores in hospitals is part of a marketing strategy, CAI says, that is aimed at imparting an aura of healthfulness to the food — a goal that is inconsistent with the goals of a health institution. “Health professionals are devoted to caring for sick children and adults and to preventing illness. But these efforts cannot compete with the profit-driven mechanisms by which McDonalds and the fast food industry operate their business, and the toll that McDonalds’ practices have had on children’s health,” the letter states. CAI’s petition to get McDonalds out of hospitals is here.
After weeks of silence, the Kroger Company — America’s biggest supermarket purveyor — announced in a short press release March 22 that it will no longer use “pink slime,” the ground beef filler that has caused an uproar among consumers. Critics of pink slime, including former USDA scientists, publicly contend that the ammonia-treated meat filler, made from low quality meat scraps previously used only in cooking oil and dog food, is less nutritious than pure ground beef, and a riskier product due to its higher potential for bacterial contamination. Kroger’s announcement followed similar announcements from smaller grocery chains like Safeway and Food Lion, which moved more quickly to address consumer concerns about the filler. Other grocery chains, like Whole Foods and Costco, told ABC News immediately that their products have never contained the additive. Kroger operates Ralph’s, Fred Meyer, Dillons, Food 4 Less and other stores, and King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado. Consumers were unaware that 70 percent of ground meat contained pink slime because USDA doesn’t require labeling to make consumers aware the additive is in their ground meat.
Main source: The Kroger Co., March 22, 2012
Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the manufacturer of pink slime, has started a new website, PinkSlimeIsAMyth.com, to battle the growing tide of anti-slime public sentiment. One of the pages of Beef Products’ new website attempts to discredit Kit Foshee, who formerly worked as Manager of BPI’s Quality Assurance Group. Foshee, who questioned the byproduct’s safety, has become an outspoken critic of pink slime — a position the company characterizes as “revenge.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is sticking to its story that “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (pink slime) is safe, but on March 15 the agency bowed to public pressure and issued a press release saying it will now “adjust procurement specifications” to give schools “additional options in procuring ground beef products.” Translation? USDA will now offer schools a choice whether or not to feed their students ground beef that contains pink slime. The change assumes that USDA will now distinguish beef containing the additive from beef that does not. Ground beef is currently not labeled as to whether it contains the additive or not since USDA considers the additive “beef.” Pink slime is a cheap meat filler made of rejected meat scraps that are heated, mixed, and treated with ammoniated gas to kill pathogenic bacteria like E Coli and salmonella.
A photo that has been published recently alongside articles on “pink slime” — the highly-processed, barely-beef byproduct ABC News revealed last week is commonly added to hamburger — is not actually “pink slime,” but another scary byproduct called “mechanically separated chicken,” reportedly used to make chicken nuggets. A March 5 article on Common Dreams titled “What’s on the School Cafeteria Menu? ‘Pink Slime,’ ” for example, mistakenly showed a photo of mechanically-separated chicken pink slime while discussing beef-based pink slime. Mind you, it’s an easy mistake to make. Mechanically-separated chicken more closely resembles a pink slime than even beef pink slime. In the oft-circulated photo of mechanically-separated chicken, a ribbon of bright pink, gelatinous mixture oozes out of a huge spigot looking like a giant, curling stream of strawberry flavor self-serve yogurt.
But it isn’t beef-based pink stuff, it’s chicken-based pink stuff.
People need to get their slime photos straight, so readers are clear on which super-gross food byproduct big agribusiness is attempting to feed us.
Former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist-turned whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein revealed a dirty little secret of the meat industry to ABC News: 70 percent of hamburger meat sold in grocery stores contains “pink slime,” a cheap and dangerous filler made of rejected beef trimmings that at one time were only used to make dog food and cooking oil. Pink slime is made from the least-desirable beef scraps, like connective tissue, tendons, and gristle. The scraps are ground up and simmered at low heat, then put in a centrifuge and spun to separate the fat from the meat. The resulting mixture is then sprayed with ammonia gas — ostensibly to to kill bacteria — then shaped into bricks, flash-frozen and shipped to grocers and meat packing companies where it is combined with ground beef. Understandably, the meat industry doesn’t like the name “pink slime.” It prefers to call the additive “lean, finely-textured ground beef.” Thanks to Joann Smith, USDA undersecretary under George W. Bush, pink slime doesn’t have to be labeled as a byproduct, either, and grocers don’t have to let consumers know it is in their meat. Smith made the decision to label the stuff “meat” against the urging of Zirnstein and another USDA scientist, Carl Custer, who call pink slime a “high risk product,” since the trimmings come from the most contaminated parts of many cows. In making her decision, Smith reportedly said that the mixture “is pink, therefore it’s meat.” While at USDA, Smith had ties to the beef industry. She was president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Association. ABC News found out that after Smith left the USDA in 1993, the manufacturers of pink slime, Beef Products, Inc., appointed her to its board of directors, where she has since made around $1.2 million over 17 years. After their report on pink slime, ABC News was inundated with questions from viewers about how to avoid the substance at grocery stores. The answer? Look for meat stamped “USDA Organic.” It is pure meat that contains no fillers. Everything else could contain pink slime since the law doesn’t require it to be revealed on the label.