August 26, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 3

Even with the FDA's early guidance on fructose, food manufacturers are able to use HFCS-90 in food products. The FDA says that it is legal for a food manufacturer to declare the ingredient as safe, without providing its research to the agency. Not only does the law not require that the FDA review independent GRAS determinations, it is up to the food company to decide how to list the ingredient on labels.

That is causing many consumers problems as sometimes it is difficult to understand what some ingredients on the food label mean. Now high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is only listed as fructose and not the percentage of fructose (45%, 55%, or 90%).

Melissa Grzybowski, a U.S. regulatory and nutrition specialist for the Food Consulting Company, says this gives companies “wiggle room” on the wording of their food labels. “It’s always about marketing with food companies,” Grzybowski says.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association did not address whether clean labeling is often more about marketing than making better food. “We don’t have much to offer on this point,” says Brian Kennedy, a GMA spokesman. Kennedy says that, in general, “GMA agrees with and supports federal laws requiring food labels to be truthful and non-misleading.”

In February 2015, CSPI and three other consumer advocacy organizations called on the FDA to overhaul the GRAS system, saying it violates the 1958 law that requires the FDA to determine ingredients are safe before they are added to the food we eat.

WebMD asked the FDA if they believe the GRAS process is working as well as it should. “The agency is concerned that some companies may be making independent GRAS determinations for substances that are not in fact GRAS,” says Megan McSeveney, an FDA press officer, in an email to WebMD.

“The FDA continues to encourage companies to notify us about food ingredients they have independently determined as GRAS so that we have the opportunity to discuss with them any questions we may have about the basis for these determinations,” she says. She also says the agency was working to finalize a regulation on the voluntary GRAS program by August 31, 2016.

However, consumer groups say that keeping the safety process voluntary doesn’t adequately protect the public. Jacobson points out that the FDA just took action on partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, formally revoking their GRAS status a full 10 years after they were required to be listed on food labels. “There we were talking about tens of thousands of deaths per year,” he says. “That’s major.”

Part 3 of 5 parts.

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