Pharyngula

A victim of lies

A few weeks ago in Bio-chem, we learned about fatty acids. We learned that any partially hydrogenated fats/oils are trans fats. If it’s under .5 grams per serving, food companies are privileged to round that number down and boast their food as “Zero Trans Fats.”

This hit home to me this morning. I was eating a General Mills cereal. While the box claimed to have zero trans fat, the ingredients list revealed a dirty secret: partially hydrogenated coconut oil. Nice move GM.

Dear FDA, grow a spine.

Comments

  1. #1 redstripe
    October 11, 2007

    So you propose rounding to the nearest hundredth? Thousandth?

  2. #2 Ryan Egesdahl
    October 11, 2007

    I think the point is that .5 =/= 0. Still, what would you propose for the new labeling? It’s all well and good to tell the FDA to grow a spine, but like any governmental organization in a democracy, you kinda have to tell them *how* to grow a spine.

  3. #3 Cappy
    October 11, 2007

    If it’s zero, you can say zero. Otherwise you can’t.

  4. #5 Bobryuu
    October 11, 2007

    Trans fats aren’t all bad. The newly formulated Crisco doesn’t make a frosting that will stick to a cake.

  5. #6 factician
    October 11, 2007

    If it’s zero, you can say zero.

    Meh, there’s no such thing as zero. There’s just limits of detection. Less than 1 ug/serving? Less than 1 ng/serving? What’s the lowest we can detect? What about if the cereal was in the same loading dock with something that has trans fats in it? Less than 1 pg/ serving? 1 fg/serving?

    I’m not saying that I think their current labelling process is ok (frankly, I don’t know enough about trans fats to say one way or another). I’m just saying that there’s no such thing as zero, there’s just limits of detection and significant digits.

  6. #7 FutureMD
    October 11, 2007

    Factician: The complaint here is that they are intentionally adding an ingredient that must have Trans fat in it and then advertising that they have no trans fat in their food.

  7. #8 Edd
    October 11, 2007

    Quite, what FutureMD said. If it’s such a small amount as to be practically zero, why list it as an ingredient?

  8. #9 Karen
    October 11, 2007

    I’d be happy to see a ‘nutritional content per package’ box added to the label. They must know exactly how much of what gets into each box, I don’t understand why I can’t know.

    As for zero, the only way these trans-fat things can get inside your food is for a manufacturer to put them there via a partially-hydrogenated ingredient. They don’t exist in nature, we have to make them. Zero ‘should’ only be able to be claimed by products that have not had any trans-fats to the product.

    Why not institute a policy requiring them to round UP instead? Oh, would that be unpopular? With whom, I wonder? Certainly not the person using the nutrition labels in an attempt to watch what they are actually eating…

  9. #10 temminicki
    October 11, 2007

    I think those who are arguing about rounding errors are missing the point. It is not where you draw the line it’s how. Mark points out that General Mills lists in it’s ingredients partially hydrogenated oil. The process of hydrogenating oils has the sole purpose of creating unsaturated fats (trans and cis). it is not like they just happened to get some trans fats on accident, they added them to the cereal on purpose and then used a technicality of the FDA rules to falsely state that there are no trans fats in the cereal.

  10. #11 Satoris
    October 11, 2007

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think ALL unsaturated fats resulting from partial hydrogenation are trans. At most, the remaining unsaturated fats will be a mixture of cis and trans. In fact, depending on the procedure, the trans levels might be very low. Don’t jump on the war path, just yet, young Mark Sb!! Have you checked the hydrogenation procedure used by the manufacturer yet? Many modern procedures involve complete hydrogenation followed by supplementation with plant oils (cis fats) to achieve the desired consistency. Of course, you could always opt for a breakfast that doesn’t contain such highly processed foods.

  11. #12 Colin
    October 11, 2007

    In response to #9, trans fats do occur naturally in some animal products. Milk fat will have 2-5% trans fat. This may be part of the reason the FDA (and Health Canada) have allowed the undeclared level. They don’t want people avoiding dairy products because of trace levels of TRANS fat.

  12. #13 Satoris
    October 11, 2007

    And yes, temminicki, the trans fats DO arise on accident as a consequence of the hydrogenation process. Hydrogenation of oils has the purpose of creating SATURATED oils, not unsaturated, but since the procedure originally was not allowed to go to completion so as to obtain the right consistency, some of the residual unsaturated cis acids were inadvertently converted to trans acids due to the palladium or platinum catalysts they used to use. It sounds paranoid to say they are intentionally poisoning people. Does anyone know more about the current methods to hydrogenate plant oils?

  13. #14 temminicki
    October 11, 2007

    Thanks Satoris. For some reason I have always had the brain fart of writing UNsaturated when I mean saturated, even on an organic chem test where it cost me a few points.

    The issue is still that they used a process that they know creates something that they then say is not in the food. It doesn’t matter how little they try to make they still did it. Any trans fats in the cereal did not get there on accident.

  14. #15 tacitus
    October 11, 2007

    The phrase to look out for on food packaging is “Zero Transfats per Serving“. If you see that, you can be pretty sure there are transfats in the product. When I first saw it on a box I immediately thought it was a very strange way to phrase a claim, and it raised a red flag.

    Products with no transfats usually say just that–“No Transfats” or “Transfat Free”.

    Really, it is very deceptive practice and it should not be allowed. Zero is an absolute, and people will read it as such, which is exactly why the manufacturers use it, and they are simply getting away with lying to the consumer.

  15. #16 Pablo
    October 11, 2007

    “Any trans fats in the cereal did not get there on accident”

    Not true in the least. As Colin points out above, trans fats occur naturally. It’s not to a large extent, but they are there.

    Statistics of large numbers catches up with you here. Given number of moles of fat in the body, statistically some are going to have trans acids in them (the exact amounts will be dictated by the Boltzman factors in the kinetics, but they are non-zero).

  16. #17 Mango
    October 11, 2007

    Colin makes a good point. I didn’t know that, but some googling convinces me its true that trans fatty acids are generated naturally in cows, goats, and sheep, and as a result dairy products contain them.

    So we have to think about whether the gov should require trans fat labelling on milk and yogurt.

  17. #18 Tracy P. Hamilton
    October 11, 2007

    An excellent illustration of what education is good for. I think I know which cereal it is – unfortunately my favorite but fortunately rarely on sale. Partially hydrogenated coconut oil is pretty rare, as coconut oil is mostly saturated fat already.

    The Wikipedia page on trans fat seems to be correct as far as I can tell, and I recommend it to the peanut gallery.

  18. #19 Colin
    October 11, 2007
  19. #20 caynazzo
    October 11, 2007

    In response to #12, isn’t it true that the trans fats found in nature, vaccenic acid, are metabolized into linoleic acid, which has health benefits? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to distinguish between manufactured and natural trans fats on package labels? A decidedly uncorporate thing to do for sure, and maybe it’ll just add to the great cognitive dissonance over dieting in America.

  20. #21 MartinC
    October 11, 2007

    So the evil plan of this nasty company was foiled due to them putting the ingredient list on the side of the packet?
    Surely its up to the customer to actually read this rather than just shoveling the stuff down their gullet and if they fail to do so is it really the company who is due the entire blame?

  21. #22 cm
    October 11, 2007

    Here’s a whole article from the Toledo Blade (what a great name for a newspaper) on this “less than 0.5” vs. “zero” controversy. Knowing how the average eater thinks and eats (“hey, zero trans fat, I can eat 20 of these and no trans fat! Whoo-hoo!”), I think the following point is an important one:

    Since the [FDA has] recommended that the amount of trans fat intake be ‘as low as possible,’ in other words, less than 1 percent of total calories or less than 2 grams per day, it’s not hard to see how the ‘fake-zero’ foods could create problems in an otherwise healthy diet,” he said. “Over the course of the day, if you have five servings of 0.4 gram trans fat products, this would put you at the daily intake limit … the FDA should require both the food and restaurant industries to label their products accurately so that consumers can make truly informed choices.”

  22. #23 secularskeptic
    October 11, 2007

    Even when not dealing with trans fats, this marketing strategy is often employed. Ever seen a can of non-stick spray? It’s absolutely plastered with “zero fat,” “healthy lifestyle” and “no-fat cooking” recipes and encouragements to join the “no-fat revolution,” despite the fact that 100% of the can’s contents is fat. Once again, they make the serving size ridiculously low so that no matter what’s in it they can round down.

  23. #24 Gobaskof
    October 11, 2007

    Why not say TRACE instead of NIL, all English food packets do that for amounts that are smaller then 0.05 grams (yet still a measurable amount), but we normally round to the nearest tenth of a gram. (e.g. my Cheerios have 0.3 grams of of saturated fat.)
    In conclusion, I agree with mark:
    Dear FDA, grow a spine.

  24. #25 Willey
    October 11, 2007

    Wouldn’t it be more helpful to distinguish between manufactured and natural trans fats on package labels?

    Beat me to it.

    The FDA is such a joke.

    Also, this rounding problem only exists because companies can specify what is a serving size. Do four cookies contain over .5% trans fat? Ok, make the serving size 2 cookies.. which reminds me of a Brian Regan Joke…

    Everything looked pretty good, the fat content and everything. So I’m thinking, “I could, I could eat these.” I looked at the serving size… two cookies. Who the heck eats two cookies? I eat Fig Newtons by the sleeve. Two sleeves is a serving size. …

    Who’s coming up with the serving sizes? A serving size of ice cream is a half a cup. What- what is that? Is that like a joke some guy put on there? “Hey come here. Look what I put for the serving size. [Points] Did Charlie see it? Charlie come here. [Waves Charlie over] Look what I put for the serving size. I just did it as a joke, but it’s going out like that. I don’t know what I should do. It’s on all the trucks. …Just let it go, I guess.”

  25. #26 CRM-114
    October 11, 2007

    The FDA should be closed down, and we should make the employees give back the pay they stole.

  26. #27 WTFWJD
    October 11, 2007

    Buy whole cereal grains in bulk. Cook in an automatic rice cooker. Store in the fridge in breakfast sized containers. Your bowel will thank you, but you will do a lot of chewing.

  27. #28 Colin
    October 11, 2007

    #20, I believe you are correct.

    As far as the nutritional labeling goes, the regulatory bodies have to find a balance between simplification and consumer confusion.

    Personally, I think the claim “Zero Trans Fat” should not be allowed in this case.

    #25, most serving sizes are regulated. In Canada, a cookie serving (with or without coating or filling; graham wafers) is 30-40g.
    http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/labeti/guide/ch6e.shtml#tab6-3

  28. #29 David Marjanovi?
    October 11, 2007

    In response to #12, isn’t it true that the trans fats found in nature, vaccenic acid, are metabolized into linoleic acid, which has health benefits?

    Obviously, that depends on the length of the trans acid in question. Is vaccenic acid the same length as linoleic acid, and is it the only trans acid that occurs in milk?

    Buy whole cereal grains in bulk. Cook in an automatic rice cooker. Store in the fridge in breakfast sized containers. Your bowel will thank you, but you will do a lot of chewing.

    Nonsense. You’ll get constipation, and the lectins in the grains will prevent you from taking up vitamins and stuff. Grains are not fruit. They are not supposed to be eaten, respectively, leave them to the specialized granivores.

  29. #30 David Marjanovi?
    October 11, 2007

    In response to #12, isn’t it true that the trans fats found in nature, vaccenic acid, are metabolized into linoleic acid, which has health benefits?

    Obviously, that depends on the length of the trans acid in question. Is vaccenic acid the same length as linoleic acid, and is it the only trans acid that occurs in milk?

    Buy whole cereal grains in bulk. Cook in an automatic rice cooker. Store in the fridge in breakfast sized containers. Your bowel will thank you, but you will do a lot of chewing.

    Nonsense. You’ll get constipation, and the lectins in the grains will prevent you from taking up vitamins and stuff. Grains are not fruit. They are not supposed to be eaten, respectively, leave them to the specialized granivores.

  30. #31 caynazzo
    October 11, 2007

    Too right, #27.
    Slate recently published a revealing article on the foulness that is processed cereal. It reformed this cereal addict’s breakfast attitude.

  31. #32 silence
    October 11, 2007

    The same thing happens with plumbing supplies — “Lead-Free” is defined by Congress as containing up to 8% lead.

  32. #33 caynazzo
    October 11, 2007

    Dave, what’s a “specialized granivore” and why don’t hunting and gatherering hominids belong to such a category? I’ve been including cooked whole grains (amaranth, rice, winter wheat, bulgar wheat, etc) for at least two thirds of my meals for years now and I have to say that I’m rather “regular”. Why it’s all part of a balanced diet to be sure.

  33. #34 gort
    October 11, 2007

    Tacitus @ 15,

    “The phrase to look out for on food packaging is “Zero Transfats per Serving”. If you see that, you can be pretty sure there are transfats in the product.”

    Exactly. Many long years ago, when I worked in R&D at a major food company, I saw “suggested serving sizes” adjusted to support marketing claims by taking advantage of number rounding.

  34. #35 caynazzo
    October 11, 2007

    #29, I believe vaccenic is a trans and linoleic is a Cis fatty acid. whereas the former has two extra hydrogens. And as far as I know, it’s the only one found in milk fat.

  35. #36 Alison
    October 11, 2007

    I read every label before I buy something. Even if it’s a product I’ve purchased before, it might have changed its formulation. We have LOW FAT!!! foods with more calories than the original version. There’s an “All-natural, low-carb” cereal brand sweetened with sucralose. We have Snapple, still labeled as “All natural” even though its first two ingredients are water and high fructose corn syrup. And only in the US can something with 1.5g fiber per serving be labeled “whole grain”. Even though most of what we eat in my house is slow food, I still think I spend more time reading labels than anyone I know. Everyone needs to learn to ignore the big splashy words on the package, and go straight to the small print.

  36. #37 Colin M
    October 11, 2007

    The FDA actually recognizes a semantic difference between “zero” and “no”. “Zero” means “rounds to zero”, while “no” ACTUALLY MEANS there isn’t any. Therefore, something with 0.5g fat, or 4 calories, can be marketed as “zero fat” or “zero calories”, but cannot be marketed as “no fat” or “no calories”. If you really want something with no trans fat, make sure the label says “no trans fat”. If an item says “zero trans fat”, it’s nearly a *guarantee* that it has some trans fat in it. (Food makers are well aware of the semantic difference, and make use of it to put misleading labels on their product, but most consumers aren’t aware.)

  37. #38 CalGeorge
    October 11, 2007

    Why, oh why, are you eating non-organic cereal produced by a giant corporation?!

    Shame on you, Mark!

    Our country is what YOU eat.

    Responsible shopper says it all:

    The General Mills family is responsible for popular cereals like Cheerios and Chex, as well as Betty Crocker, Hamburger Helper, and Cascadian Farms Organic. The company has done some great things for consumers, like committing to the use of whole grains in all of its cereals and investing $2 million to create 150 jobs in inner-city Minneapolis at Siyeza, Inc., a company where ownership stake opportunities are offered to employees. However, General Mills has not been forthcoming about its use of genetically engineered products and has fought proposed regulations requiring the labeling of GMO foods. Unfortunately, this leaves concerned consumers in the dark about whether their children are eating genetically modified wheat and corn derivatives.
    Bottom line: Focus on supporting organic producers by buying cereals made without GMOs. If you are a shareholder or if General Mills makes your cereals of choice, be pro-active about discouraging the company’s support of agroscience companies such as Monsanto and Cargill that supply genetically modified products.

    Go Green!

  38. #39 CortxVortx
    October 11, 2007

    Re: #26

    As a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, I just have to laugh. No FDA, and you’d have “alternative and complementary” medicines swamping the real deal. I’m sure Big Pharma would love to forego the expensive overhead of quality control laboratories.

    That’s where I work. I’m a QC chemist with a major pharma company, making sure that the active pharmaceutical ingredient is still within +2% of label claim, even after 3 years on the shelf. That the degradation products of the API are below 0.5% (or whatever is the specific limit for that product). That the tablet still dissolves completely in your intestines rather than in your stomach. Or, for a “sustained release” product, leaches the API at the prescribed rate.

    And the FDA sees to it that we do. Besides 21 CFR 210 and 211 to adhere to, the friendly folks from FDA drop by now and again to audit our production, lab, and records. Always a thrill.

    — CV

  39. #40 Chet
    October 11, 2007

    Unfortunately, this leaves concerned consumers in the dark about whether their children are eating genetically modified wheat and corn derivatives.

    All corn and wheat – indeed, all products of human agriculture – are genetically modified, by selective breeding.

    And no, waiting for certain mutations and then breeding to increase their frequency isn’t fundamentally different than recombinant genetic manipulation. The latter is simply faster. If you’re eating any product of human agriculture, you’re eating a product of “genetic modification.” And I wonder how someone could read a genetics blog and not have realized that, yet.

  40. #41 Leon
    October 11, 2007

    Statistics of large numbers catches up with you here. Given number of moles of fat in the body, statistically some are going to have trans acids in them (the exact amounts will be dictated by the Boltzman factors in the kinetics, but they are non-zero).

    The point isn’t that trans-fats made it in because they were in something that was added; it’s that they deliberately added trans-fats to the product (or it wouldn’t be in the ingredients list), and then labeled the product as having none.

  41. #42 Leon
    October 11, 2007

    Surely its up to the customer to actually read this rather than just shoveling the stuff down their gullet and if they fail to do so is it really the company who is due the entire blame?

    Reading the ingredients lists is well and good, and I try to do that, but you can’t practically do that all the time. Sometimes you have to go with what’s on the label and trust it to be reasonably accurate. If the company lists one thing in the fine print (the ingredients list) and says something else entirely in big letters on the front, then yes it is really they who’re at fault.

  42. #43 muhr
    October 11, 2007

    “isn’t it true that the trans fats found in nature, vaccenic acid, are metabolized into linoleic acid, which has health benefits?”

    Vaccenic acid can be metabolized into conjugated linoleic acid, which does have some health benefits.

  43. #44 Leon
    October 11, 2007

    BTW, I should mention, I experience the same thing recently with a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The label says No Trans Fats, but the ingredients list includes partially hydrogenated oils.

  44. #45 Frac
    October 11, 2007

    Have you noticed KFC’s new ads?
    “Zero grams of trans-fat per suggested serving!”

    Yes. Definitely slimy marketing spin there.

    Of course, nothing beats the (off-topic) Subway ad that bragged(?!):
    “Each bite more succulent than the next!”

  45. #46 CalGeorge
    October 11, 2007

    All corn and wheat – indeed, all products of human agriculture – are genetically modified, by selective breeding.

    Pitt News:

    A Pitt researcher found this summer that the most common herbicide in the world could be more fatal to frogs and tadpoles than previously thought.
    Rick Relyea, Pitt researcher and biology professor, discovered that Roundup – the second-best selling herbicide in the United States, No. 1 in the world – kills frogs and amphibians at lower concentrations than previously believed.

    I’d rather eat food that is not grown with the help of deadly chemicals.

  46. #47 Leon
    October 11, 2007

    So that’s what’s killing the frogs! Scientists have been trying to figure that out for years now. I don’t have a lot of hope for getting people to do without the stuff, though.

  47. #48 David Harmon
    October 11, 2007

    At least in the US, my experience is that serving sizes are pure fiction. Besides the rounding issues described above this is hell for calorie counters, leading to an interesting discovery:

    What I usually do with calories is to multiply the calories per “serving”, by the number of “servings” in the package, to get the number of calories in the package. (Admittedly, I live alone, so I can assume I’ll eventually eat the whole package.)

    Interestingly, I find that the calories in packages of (especially) snack foods tend to come out suspiciously even, especially after accounting for significant digits.

    Rummaging through my pantry for examples:

    Bag of “snack size” Kit Kat: Serving is 42g, 220 calories. Package is 305g, 1598->1600 calories.

    Little Debbie Swiss rolls: Serving is 61g, 270 calories, 6.0 servings/package for 1620->1600 calories.

    Ovaltine mix: Serving: 21g, 80 C. Can: 340g, 1295->1300 C.

    store-brand drink mix: Serving 17g, 60 C. Jar 538g, 1899->1900 C.

    store-brand mac&cheese, before prep: Serving 70g, 250 C, Package 170g, 607->600C (“about 2.5” servings/package)

    Tostito corn chips: Serving: 28g, 140C. Package: 383g, 1910->1900C

    Triscuits: Serving (6 crackers) 28g, 120C. Package 368g. 1577->1600C

    Cheezit Party mix: Serving 30g, 120C. Package 368g, 1472->1500C

    Notice how certain numbers keep recurring? Maybe it’s just that the companies are themselves computing the C/serving from the C/package or C/100g. Maybe I’m just looking at standard sizes of generic “foodmass”. I do note that the last time I did a bunch at once like this was a few years ago, and back then I was getting mostly multiples of 250 and 500. The difference may reflect the “phyletic size decrease” of the packages, often from 16 to 13 ounces.

  48. #49 Ha
    October 11, 2007

    Mr. Antimony,

    I would have figured the FDA’s unwillingness to regulate the booming ripoffXXXXXXsupplement market (unless a minor league pitcher dies using one, at which point they might do something) would have given you a good idea that the FDA didn’t have a spine.

  49. #50 Chet
    October 11, 2007

    I’d rather eat food that is not grown with the help of deadly chemicals.

    Then your priorities are working against your goals. The whole point of GM crops is to reduce the need to use expensive pesticides by having the plant express natural pest toxins.

    Nearly every pesticide in use is a modified or purified version of a natural plant toxin. Plants evolved their own pest defenses long before we started exploiting them, and organic foods take advantage of that.

    But here’s the thing. In conventional agriculture, cultivars are chosen for yield, taste, nutrition etc., and then pesticides are sprayed onto them, where they usually adhere to the surface of the produce until it is washed. Whereas in organic farming, since growers are restricted to a plant’s natural defenses, they have to choose cultivars bred to express more of those natural toxins – throughout the plant.

    Natural plant toxins aren’t much less dangerous than synthetic ones. And I’d rather have my pesticides on the surface of my produce, where they can be washed off or discarded with a peel or skin, rather than expressed throughout the entire plant as with organic cultivars.

    Recent studies have indicated that much organic produce has a greater concentration of toxins, due in part to the reliance on crop cultivars with much, much higher levels of natural pesticides that are expressed throughout the plant. And none of this is even getting into the number of people who die as a result of pathogen infections from unsterilized, unpasteurized “natural” food products.

    Personally, not only would I like to minimize my exposure to pesticides, I’d like my food to be produced in a sustainable, responsible way; I’d like my food not to be infected with E. coli; I’d like my food to be produced with as little land use as possible, to minimize things like rain forests being burned for farmland; and I’d like my food to represent the most nutrition for my dollar.

    Why would I buy organic when I’d be paying twice or even three times as much for food that works against every single one of those goals?

  50. #51 Prof. Bleen
    October 11, 2007

    Look at a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low. A 1-g packet contains 36 mg (3.6%) saccharin plus no more than 36 mg each of cream of tartar and calcium silicate. That leaves no less than 892 mg of the final ingredient: nutritive dextrose, a.k.a. sugar! Hence, a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low contains at least 3.6 0.892 = 3.2 kcal, but because the “serving” (= 1 g total) contains less than 1 g carbohydrate, the manufacturer can claim that it contains “0 g carbohydrates,” legally equivalent to 0 kcal. Now that’s rounding down with a vengeance.

    I believe that there is a legal distinction between “0 g fat” and “fat-free,” in which the latter really means no fat, but I can’t say for sure.

  51. #52 Barn Owl
    October 11, 2007

    #47-

    Rummaging through my pantry for examples:
    Bag of “snack size” Kit Kat: Serving is 42g, 220 calories. Package is 305g, 1598->1600 calories.
    Little Debbie Swiss rolls: Serving is 61g, 270 calories, 6.0 servings/package for 1620->1600 calories.
    Ovaltine mix: Serving: 21g, 80 C. Can: 340g, 1295->1300 C.
    store-brand drink mix: Serving 17g, 60 C. Jar 538g, 1899->1900 C.
    store-brand mac&cheese, before prep: Serving 70g, 250 C, Package 170g, 607->600C (“about 2.5” servings/package)
    Tostito corn chips: Serving: 28g, 140C. Package: 383g, 1910->1900C
    Triscuits: Serving (6 crackers) 28g, 120C. Package 368g. 1577->1600C
    Cheezit Party mix: Serving 30g, 120C. Package 368g, 1472->1500C

    For anyone who doesn’t care for (over)processed foods, the old vegetarian standby Laurel’s Kitchen (the “New” version is over 20 years old) has tables in the back that allow you to calculate calories for dishes that you prepare from scratch, and for various fruits and vegetables. It’s a little more work, but at least you have more control over what enters your GI tract (and ultimately, your other organs).

    Of course, you’ll have to find another book for the meat products….

  52. #53 Corey
    October 11, 2007

    Let me put a work in for the FDA… (am I not supposed to do that here?)

    One, the FDA is regulated by Congress and does not have unlimited powers. Two, they’re what stand between you and corporations putting anti-freeze in cough syrup (killed a bunch of folks 60 or so years ago).

  53. #54 tikistitch
    October 11, 2007

    But PZ, haven’t you heard? Fat is *so* over! I read it in the New York Times!! Let’s all go obsess over a different macronutrient this week. I know, Vitamin K!

  54. #55 Caledonian
    October 11, 2007

    Surely its up to the customer to actually read this rather than just shoveling the stuff down their gullet and if they fail to do so is it really the company who is due the entire blame?

    No, no, MartinC! Corporations are bad, and people are good, so if people are being harmed it’s obviously the corporations who are responsible.

  55. #56 roystgnr
    October 11, 2007

    All corn and wheat – indeed, all products of human agriculture – are genetically modified, by selective breeding.

    Products labelled as containing teosinte may actually contain genetically modified teosinte if purchased within the past 7000 years, the warning states.

    In a related story, accusations continue to fly over the accidental inclusion of genetically modified genetically modified teosinte into a shipment of regular genetically modified teosinte.

  56. #57 AlanWCan
    October 11, 2007

    At this point, can I just suggest you all go out and find a copy of How to get Ahead in Advertising to watch. It will clear a lot of this up.

    Let me try and clarify some of this for you. Best Company Supermarkets are not interested in selling wholesome foods. They are not worried about the nation’s health. What is concerning them, is that the nation appears to be getting worried about its health, and that is what’s worrying Best Co., because Best Co. wants to go on selling them what it always has, i.e. white breads, baked beans, canned foods, and that suppurating, fat squirting little heart attack traditionally known as the British sausage. So, how can we help them with that? Clearly, we are looking for a label. We need a label brimming with health, and everything from a nosh pot to a white sliced will wear one with pride. And although I’m aware of the difficulties of coming to terms with this, it must be appreciated from the beginning, that even the nosh pot must be low in something, and if it isn’t, it must be high in something else, and that is its health-giving ingredient we will sell. Which brings me to my final question: who are we trying to sell this to? Answer: we are trying to sell this to the archetypal average housewife, she who fills her basket. What you have here is a twenty-two year old pretty girl. What you need is taut slob, something on foot deodorisers in a brassiere.

  57. #58 Ichthyic
    October 12, 2007

    Still, what would you propose for the new labeling?

    I’m sure someone has already said the obvious, but how ’bout:

    < 0.5g trans fats or heck, even spell it out: less than 0.5g trans fats and save 0 for things that actually do have 0 trans fats (or whatever ingredient one wishes to speak of) in them? otherwise, why not let food producers drop the whole "product processed in a plant that processes peanuts"? for those who argue 0 is just fine as a substitute for < .05, you might as well ignore all the people who are extremely allergic to peanut products because there is less than 0.5g of them in the product itself, right?

  58. #59 Eric Paulsen
    October 12, 2007

    I don’t think that this issue is about detection of a given substance to the Nth percent, it’s about misrepresenting facts using the time honored practice of redefinition – aka advertising. Zero is not .5% it is 0% or any number so low as to be undetectable with current techniques. If a company knows that there is .5% yttrium-90 in every hotdog it sells it is a lie to say there is none just because technically they can hide behind the FDAs skirts.

    And it is reckless and unconscionable for the FDA to let them.

  59. #60 Ian H Spedding FCD
    October 12, 2007

    Bottom line: Focus on supporting organic producers by buying cereals made without GMOs. If you are a shareholder or if General Mills makes your cereals of choice, be pro-active about discouraging the company’s support of agroscience companies such as Monsanto and Cargill that supply genetically modified products.

    Exactly. I mean, given the near-epidemic levels of deformed babies, chronic debilitating illness and premature death clearly attributable to GMOs I just don’t understand why they are still being grown.

  60. #61 Ichthyic
    October 12, 2007

    the reason that last post looks so strange is that I miscalculated how the page would interpret isolated less than/greater than symbols.

    doh!

    shorter:

    use LESS THAN 0.5g instead of 0 if there still are trace amounts of an ingredient of concern.

  61. #62 Colin
    October 12, 2007

    #57
    Food manufacturers are free to drop precautionary allergen statements. They are voluntary (when I last checked). Food processors used them in the past to ward off lawsuits that could otherwise been prevented by implementing higher standards of GMPs.

  62. #63 gex
    October 12, 2007

    Perhaps we should introduce them to the less than sign.

    (Transfat <1g) != (Transfat = 0)

    Saying it is zero is a flat out lie.

  63. #64 Tom
    October 12, 2007

    The issue with GM crops isn’t that they’re a bad thing in themselves – they’re perfectly safe and hold a lot of potential. The problem that CalGeorge was referring to is with products like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. Farmers who plant RR crops then spray Roundup over their entire fields periodically, and almost never have to worry about weeds (until, of course, the weeds evolve their own resistance). I’m all for GM crops when they’re actually beneficial, but when they just encourage unhealthy farming practices, they do more harm than good.

  64. #65 autumn
    October 12, 2007

    I’ve been on a diet recently to lower my cholesterol levels, and I naturally assumed that things like my love of bacon and breakfast sausage wasn’t helping.
    My loving and supportive wife bought turkey-bacon, and “lite” sausage links. Both of us were quite suprised to find that these items contained more cholesterol than the “evil” (meaning, worth eating) items I had abandoned.

    The problem isn’t the FDA, the problem is that any advertisment is a lie.

    No company should be allowed to use any adjectives in any way to advertise or promote their product.
    Vendors can not be allowed to influence the free market with their anti-capitalist attempts to establish uniqueness, which implies a monopoly.
    I don’t even know if I am being sarcastic or not at this point, I just know that I was a hell of a lot happier before I started to read labels, and thus realize how deceptive all marketing is.
    I’m reminded of the comedian Bill Hicks, who once said
    “Is anyone here tonight in marketing? Great! Kill yourselves. No. I mean it. Kill yourselves.”

  65. #66 Ichthyic
    October 12, 2007

    No company should be allowed to use any adjectives in any way to advertise or promote their product.

    well, that would certainly level the playing field…

  66. #67 DuWayne
    October 12, 2007

    MartinC –

    That’s all fine and good, but until reading this post, I had no idea that partially hydrogenated coconut oil, is in fact a trans fat. Nor was I aware that zero trans fat on the label, does not actually mean zero trans fat. Why? Because remarkably, I have a lot of things to do, studying every damned thing about everything, is not possible. That is why I would like to assume that the label means what it bloody well says. The FDA is supposed to make sure it does, obviously it’s not.

    I pay attention to the ingredients of what I eat. But if I am unaware that something in those ingredients is toxic, am I really to blame for assuming what the damned label says in big, bold letters, right on the front of the package is true? Or should everyone be required to know, well, everything? If they want to claim their product contains zero trans fats, then they should not put the damned stuff in. This is not the fault of the consumer for not paying attention. This is the fault of a regulatory agency without nearly enough balls. I don’t give a damn if they want to put the trans fats in, but if they do, they should not be allowed to claim they aren’t.

    Chet –

    But, but, organic tastes better!?!?! Really.

    Personally, I think the best way to avoid pesticides, is to grow food indoors, with robots mounted to the ceiling, to maximize the use of space. Never touched by human hands, modified for maximum yield per plant. Multiple floors for maximization of acreage. Cattle in the same facility for minimal transport of fertilizer. Everything sterile, “clean” facility. A man can dream.

    Corey –

    Not all that long ago in China and Panama. Chinese company exported “glycerin” that was not in fact glycerine (but it was a really great price). See Terra Sigillata, another sciblog.

  67. #68 miko
    October 12, 2007

    Chet: “And no, waiting for certain mutations and then breeding to increase their frequency isn’t fundamentally different than recombinant genetic manipulation. The latter is simply faster.”

    Faster is the problem. When spontaneous useful/neutral/deadly mutations arise in your crops once every few generations in your little mesopotamian valley and, say, get selected out of your seed stock by killing 14 of your cousins, well that’s how life was back then.

    When you have a bunch of third rate big-ag geneticists pumping crops full of pesticide resistance genes so they can sell four times as much chemical pesiticide to farmers (to have it mostly run off or soak into the water table), then with a rubber stamp from a lobbied-up government introduce it into the food supply of 10s or 100s of millions of people… well, I’m not against genetic engineering but I’m also not against stopping to think.

    I’m not prepared to give big-ag or the food industry much benefit of the doubt on corporate citizenship and due diligence. They are exactly the same as the tobacco industry.

  68. #69 Peter Ashby
    October 12, 2007

    The way to deal with serving sizes is the European method of listing nutrients per 100g. Many products have per serving analyses but always beside the per 100g. For one thing it makes percentage amounts easy. Add in the regulation of using TRACE instead of zero where the amounts are present but not zero and the whole problem is solved.

  69. #70 sailor
    October 12, 2007

    And while on the subject of labelling, ever see those boxes of tasty crackers with that food pyramid proundly stating that your diet should consist of lots of servings of cereal? Yet when you look at the percentage of your daily requirement of the various food groups they contain, one could easily argue they chould be in the fat group.
    And then there are those “serving sizes” Yes if you only eat three of the mouthfulls you will get no more than 29.5% of your daily maximum for fat, but no one has ever been known to open the packet without finishing the whole thing.

  70. #71 David Harmon
    October 12, 2007

    For anyone who doesn’t care for (over)processed foods, the old vegetarian standby Laurel’s Kitchen … has tables in the back that allow you to calculate calories for dishes that you prepare from scratch

    I’ve got the book, but the stuff I make for myself generally isn’t an issue, mostly because I know what I’m putting in, and it doesn’t involve hydrogenated oils. (I don’t even own a can of Crisco. Olive oil is the fat of the gods. 😉 ) “Salad” veggies approximately zero calories, Bread and pasta about 400C/100g, oil and butter, about 850C/100g, fruit and “massy” vegetables like squash go between the first two numbers, cheese and meats between the second and third numbers. (For metric-deficient folks, 100g is a “short” quarter-pound.)

    Pull out those tortilla chips, though, and all bets are off: they look like carbs, but just how much fat got snuck in? Let alone the bedamned trans fats, and the sodium!

    I was just struck by those round numbers….

    Regarding GMO veggies, I don’t consider “GMO” to be a useful category, as it all depends on what they’re modified for. Better nutrition? Cool! Better “handling qualities”? Bleah, but sometimes tolerable. Better pesticide or herbicide resistance? Uh-oh! For stuff like built-in pesticides, the stuff ought to be re-tested for human edibility….

  71. #72 Barn Owl
    October 12, 2007

    #70-

    I agree with you about the hydrogenated oils. However, those of us who have a metabolism inherited from Northern European peasant ancestors must count total calories too, and that’s where Laurel’s Kitchen is especially useful.

    I gained a quarter of a pound just *reading* that list with the KitKat bars and Tostitos….

  72. #73 David Harmon
    October 13, 2007

    I gained a quarter of a pound just *reading* that list with the KitKat bars and Tostitos….

    oops, sorry! 😉 But another side of processed food is that all those preservatives (and refrigeration, of course) really do make a difference… my bag of Kit Kats will last a lot longer than a batch of homemade cookies, which means I’ve got less excuse to pig out on them, instead of munching a couple (snack size, remember) each day or so. Of course, that can be abused too, in much the same way as the “Roundup Ready” crops.

  73. #74 David Harmon
    October 13, 2007

    And as I alluded to above, I do pay some attention to my caloric intake, it’s just that I’m not willing to take the time to figure it past 2 significant digits, much less calculating from a dozen ingredients.

    But just knowing the basic values (water and fiber 0C/g, carbs & protein 4.3C/g, fats 8.6C/g) gives me a fair intuition of how much of my daily energy supply needs I’ve just covered.

  74. #75 Barn Owl
    October 13, 2007

    #72-

    my bag of Kit Kats will last a lot longer than a batch of homemade cookies, which means I’ve got less excuse to pig out on them, instead of munching a couple (snack size, remember) each day or so.

    Best. Candy Rationalization. Ever.

    😀

  75. #76 Steve_C
    October 13, 2007

    Damn it.

    Now I want home madechocolate chip cookies and a big glass of milk.

  76. #77 Edward Siguel, MD, PhD.
    October 17, 2007

    Many people, many fats, many views. Not all equally significant. Like blind men touching tiny parts of an elephant and guessing what it is.
    I invented technology to accurately measure fatty acids (FAs) in humans. Based on my review of published articles, interviews with researchers and visits to labs, I believe I was the first to accurately separate and measure >100 different types of FAs, including trans (TFAs) in humans. I measured FAs profiles (FAPs) in >1,000 humans. I calculated the impact of different FAs, TFAs on TC/HDLC, risk for heart disease and other conditions. It is very difficult to accurately measure FA in human tissue. I wrote several articles explaining common errors.
    Overview. Humans cannot make Essential FAs (EFAs). Most humans can make long chain derivatives from EFAs, so eating plenty of natural foods rich in EFAs (e.g., vegetables, soybean oil) provides enough of very long chain FAs (such as EPA/DHA). Humans can make MONOs (=MUFAs). I showed that plasma levels of MUFAs are inversevely proportional to plasma levels of PUFAs (essential fats). This means that within wide ranges, eating more or less MUFAs makes little difference to the body.
    All excess calories are stored primarily as Saturated FAs (SFAs). Because most Americans eat too many calories and are overweight, most Americans have accumulated an excess of SFAs. That means they do not have enough PUFAs (relatively speaking). As a result, they make more MUFAs. Thus, most Americans have high levels of SFAs and MUFAs in their blood, and not enough essential fats, particularly w3s. Humans can rapidly burn or destroy TFAs. However, when the body has too many SFAs (and usually MUFAs/MONOs), then TFAs appear to be potentially harmful. The dangerous combination is eating too many TFAs, too many calories, not enough essential fats. When we are slim, and get enough essential fats from natural sources, TFAs have minor effects. The effect of TFAs is small compared with the effect of eating too many calories and not enough essential fats. The solution is to cut calories, not TFAs.
    There will always be some TFAs in foods. Not just TFAs, but many other different froms of FAs, such as branch FAs. They come from bacteria, plant feedings, intestinal activity, etc. It is practically impossible to achieve close to zero levels of undesirable FAs. It is not obvious that we want that. Perhaps we evolved to have the pathways to use/eliminate undesirable FAs commonly incorporated in foods or produced in the intestine. If we seek to eliminate them, we may turn off critical biochemical pathways with undesirable consequences.
    Emphasizing very low TFAs in foods is looking for the lost wallet where there is light, not where it was lost. We should not eliminate TFAs because they are relatively easy to identify and have few defenders. Our emphasis should be to eat adequate calories, be slim, eat foods with minimal processing, and CLEAN the air, water and soil from pollutants (which probably pose far greater risks to humans than hydrogenated oils in pastries and French fries). Teach people to preserve the environment and eat well. There is no need to waste paperwork and time compelling restaurants to post the obvious facts that few rarely care to use (that many foods are high in calories). Either fight the real enemies, overweight (not just obesity), polluted air, water, soil (not trans fats), and misleading clinical studies, or save time and money watching HiDef TV. Read references in essentialfats.com or search for Siguel and fatty acids.

  77. #78 srkring
    March 2, 2010

    I am a little late to the discussion, but I’m just catching up on all the FDA news lately. Particularly interested in this one in light of the recent “trans fat bans” that are going on around the country. Our FDA in the U.S. is a pretty short-sighted agency. They do as much harm as good at times.

    I understand the argument that often there are trace amounts and how picky are we going to get, but saying that up to 0.5 g can be listed as 0 when there are hardly restrictions on what constitutes a “serving size” for most things. I cannot list how many times I have picked up a package and looked at the nutritional information and initially thought to myself, “Oh! This meal only has 300 calories and 7g of fat….” Followed by an immediate, “Damn it!” when I realize the tiny little package really contains 2 or 4 servings, when it is clearly something that a normal person would easily eat in one sitting. Then apply that to snacks. I’m looking at a box of crackers right now where the serving size is 5 crackers (14g). How many people actually eat 5 crackers and then walk away from the box? Why have they picked that serving size? I’m guessing that at 14g, they can list their trans fat (since they do have ‘partially hydrogenated’ oil as an ingredient, which yes kids, does yield trans fat) which is probably ~.49g as 0g. So you eat 10 crackers, and you’re at ~1g, and good god, heaven forbid you eat a whopping 20 of these tiny crackers and you’d better not drink any milk or eat any animal products that day or you’ve FAR outdone your limit.

    The problem here isn’t about whether or not it can be measured. It most certainly can. And are trace amounts okay? Of course they are. But we aren’t really talking about things with “trace” amounts when a serving size is so small. You’re talking about things that are 3-5% trans fat in composition. That’s not “trace”, and servings add up quickly. Have you ever noticed that something you’ve eaten has a serving size of 2 tablespoons and you just ate a cup of it? There are no standards on what constitutes a serving size, no percentage restrictions on “trans fat”.

    And awesomely foods with long shelf lives are not just found in areas where people have graduate degrees and health insurance (to visit their nutritionist) and nice health clubs with fancy personal trainers… they also amazingly sell these foods in areas where people don’t have access to fresh produce, good health care, and lots of great schools. So yes, I agree with the original poster that there should be some responsibility placed on the food labels as well as on the government agency that fails to regulate them adequately.

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