Tag Archives: Food Additives

Parents Get Baked Junk Food Banned From Schools

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A parents group in the Montgomery County, Maryland school district has been struggling, cajoling, begging and fighting hard to improve the quality of food served – and made available, ala carte – to students in their area’s schools.

They recently had a noteworthy success, first reported on their own Real Food For Kids – Montgomery (RFKM) web site then, for good measure, on the wonderful web site called The Lunch Tray.

The latter, a creation of Bettina Elias Siegel, does nationally what the RFKM folks do a mere few miles from the headquarters the federal agency – the U.S. Department of Agriculture – that could be doing more than it already is to boost the quality of what kids are given to eat in schools.

The RFKM folks have managed to convince their school district to eliminate Baked Doritos and Baked Cheetos from the list of foods kids can choose from an ala carte menu. Their argument was, simply, that these products, as TheLunchBox.com put it, “are so-called “copycat snacks” –  i.e., junk foods tweaked to meet the USDA’s new Smart Snacks nutritional standards but which otherwise look just like their less-healthy supermarket counterparts.

“Specifically, in this case, Cheetos and Doritos sold at school (in cafeterias and for fundraising) are baked instead of fried, [and] have a reduced fat content and are considered ‘whole-grain rich’.”

The LunchBox.com article continued:

RFKM particularly objected to these snacks because they contain certain artificial food dyes and other additives which the group has deemed problematic. According to a quote in RFKM’s newsletter, the head of the district’s nutrition services department agrees, saying “Cheetos and Doritos were products that we elected to remove for sale because the ingredient label had such a plethora of additives and preservatives. We are continuously seeking to purchase food and beverages with cleaner labels.”

This is a nice victory for RFKM parents, but the group’s experience is also instructive for all parents seeking to make change in their district’s school food program.

According to the RFKM newsletter, the group first requested that the district ditch various food additives three years ago. It then doggedly kept on top of the issue in an organized fashion, refusing to give up even after various set-backs. Here’s the group’s own account:

RFKM first brought the issue of food additives to the attention of MCPS in 2013. In response to a parent petition and testimonies before the Board of Education in June of 2014, MCPS developed a policy prohibiting from future bids for school food many of the chemicals that RFKM had requested be removed (including MSG, trans fat, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Aspartame, Acesulfame-Potassium, Saccharin, Butylated Hydroxyanisol (BHA), Potassium Bromate, Propyl Gallate, Sodium Tripoly Phoshate, and TBHQ). However, right before that policy was put into effect, a 3-year contract for a la carte foods, many of which contain these additives, was signed by MCPS. Last March, RFKM helped pass a resolution through the Montgomery County Council of PTAs asking, among other things, that MCPS not serve foods with artificial food dyes.

In the meantime, at many individual schools, parent representatives of RFKM had stepped forward to ask for healthier a la carte options. As a consequence, some schools, such as Somerset Elementary School . . . had already replaced Cheetos and Doritos with 51% whole grain pita chips, SmartFood Popcorn and Tostitos, all clean label products with whole grains. However, almost all MPCS middle and high schools, and many elementary schools continued to sell these chips until this year. While Doritos and Cheetos may not have disappeared completely (there are reports that they are still available in vending machines), we are thankful to MPCS for making them less accessible to students by removing them from a la carte options. And we look forward to the time when no MCPS foods will contain artificial colors and other harmful ingredients.

The upshot, TheLunchbox.com reported:

Reforming school food from the grassroots level is not always easy. It often takes considerable persistence, time, effort and some highly dedicated individuals to coordinate the campaign. And, as my recent, dispiriting experience in Houston ISD well illustrated, even after requested reforms are implemented, parents may still need to act as watch dogs to make sure their district doesn’t backslide on its promises.

Kudos to RFKM for its continued progress. You can read more about the group’s history and mission here.”

This is a mission that should be taken up elsewhere – in a lot of ‘elsewheres’ . . . school districts across the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world).

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Report Exposes Food Industry Cover-up

 

The following is a press release issued earlier this year (2016) by  The Cornucopia Institute, whose web site says the organization is “promoting economic justice for family scale farming”.
The web site’s ‘About’ section includes this statement: “The Cornucopia Institute engages in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural issues, The Cornucopia Institute provides needed information to consumers, family farmers, and the media.”
You can expect this blog, now that we’ve discovered this organization, to pay close attention to its activities.

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Toxic, Carcinogenic, Degraded Carrageenan:
Widespread Contamination Present in the Common Food-Grade Ingredient

A just-issued report by The Cornucopia Institute summarizes research on the common food additive carrageenan, exposing the industry’s hidden data demonstrating that all food-grade carrageenan contains a carcinogenic contaminant—low molecular weight poligeenan.

Carrageenan, harvested from specific species of red seaweed, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products, including cream. The controversy over carrageenan has existed between food industry representatives and public health researchers for years, but it is now flaring up again over its use in organic food.

Cornucopia’s report, Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer, and Diabetes, will be formally released in Washington, on April 25, at the upcoming meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board. The board will be debating whether to remove carrageenan from its list of approved materials for use in organic food.

Cornucopia, a farm policy research group, has made available the full set of data that was originally published online ten years ago by the Marinalg Working Group. The data show widespread contamination of food-grade carrageenan with poligeenan, both of which cause chronic and acute intestinal inflammation and can cause cancer.

Marinalg, the trade-lobby group representing carrageenan manufactures, had posted the illuminating research on its website, but later removed it since it has aggressively lobbied food safety regulators for continued approval of the use of carrageenan in food.

“This type of subterfuge by powerful agribusiness might have been successful at the FDA, or before European regulators, but we are optimistic that, carrying out the mandate of the U.S. Congress, the National Organic Standards Board will weigh the current evidence and protect organic consumers by banning this dangerous material,” stated Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia co-director.

The “smoking gun” data was originally published to meet the demands of a 2005 European Commission recommendation that no more than five percent of food-grade carrageenan fractions should have a molecular weight below 50 kD due to the well-known health concerns associated with low molecular weight carrageenan.

Carrageenan producers have long claimed that food-grade carrageenan and poligeenan (a known carcinogen) are two distinctly different substances. The industry still denies that food-grade carrageenan contains poligeenan, however, publicly funded scientific research has long found otherwise.

“Now, the industry’s own data has revealed that all twelve food-grade carrageenan samples tested did in fact contain poligeenan in varying quantities up to 25%,” said Linley Dixon, PhD, Cornucopia’s Senior Staff Scientist.

Carrageenan is such an efficient inflammatory agent and carcinogen, it is widely used to study the molecular signals involved in cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Publicly-funded researchers have published dozens of studies on the harmful health effects of consuming food-grade carrageenan, but the industry has aggressively responded by funding its own studies, many of which Cornucopia critiques in the new report.

Dr. Dixon stated, “Marinalg’s cover-up of this scientific data demonstrates how damaging the results could be to the carrageenan industry.”

University of Illinois researcher, Joanne Tobacman, M.D., who has published widely on the subject said, “The carrageenan industry has tried for decades to retain using carrageenan in food products because of its biological reactivity with ingredients. This same biological reactivity is what makes carrageenan harmful. Food-grade carrageenan inevitably contains some lower molecular weight forms naturally.”

Dr. Tobacman continued, “Additional lower molecular weight forms are produced by processing, heat, acid, intestinal bacteria, and chewing.”

Research has shown that besides the initial contamination in food-grade carrageenan, stomach acid in the human digestive tract can convert a percentage of carrageenan that may otherwise be safe into the most dangerous, carcinogenic form.

Tobacman’s findings, along with others in her field, demonstrate the molecular mechanism by which food-grade carrageenan causes inflammation, cancer, insulin resistance, and an immunogenic response in humans.

Cornucopia’s report details many flaws in some of the industry-funded studies used by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) as justification for the continued use of carrageenan in food. In addition, the report provides a rebuttal to the industry’s critique of publicly funded research (the majority of US studies were funded by the National Institute of Health).

“In the past, a successful tactic by many financial interest groups, including the tobacco and fracking lobby, has been to attempt to discredit reputable, publicly funded research, and to fund their own flawed studies to create the impression that there is scientific debate,” Dr. Dixon stated. “The carrageenan industry has used both of these tactics and, to top it off, hidden its own counterproductive results as well.”

Cornucopia’s Kastel added, “If these scientists were accountants working for a corporation they might be accused of ‘cooking the books’ due to their protocols and the selective data they chose to discuss in the publication of these studies.”

Through experimentation, many people have discovered a correlation between carrageenan in their diets and a myriad of symptoms such as diarrhea/irritable bowel syndrome, and more serious inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. For many, when carrageenan is removed from the diet symptoms quickly dissipate.

As part of its investigation over the last three years, The Cornucopia Institute has received 1,337 questionnaire responses from individuals reporting they had suffered adverse health effects after consuming carrageenan. One respondent, Charlene Beebe of Townsend, Montana stated, “My husband has been ill with ulcerative colitis for 20 years, and has been in remission since we removed carrageenan. Unknowingly, I began buying cream with carrageenan in it for a few weeks now and he started bleeding and had a terrible gut ache for weeks now. I since found out the cream contains carrageenan and about fell through the floor. I am furious!”

The Cornucopia Institute’s report is being released as the National Organic Standards Board reviews carrageenan for continued use in organic foods. In addition to health concerns, the report points out that carrageenan is not “essential.”

“For every organic product containing carrageenan, an organic alternative exists, produced by one or more competitors,” said Kastel. “That has allowed the marketplace to prove, conclusively, that carrageenan does not meet the legal threshold as an ingredient in organic food based on a lack of essentiality.”

Leading organic brands, like the farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, have removed carrageenan from many of their products in response to customer concerns. “The co-op has recognized the informed concerns of organic shoppers by labeling their sliced deli meats as containing ‘no binders, fillers or carrageenan’.”

Even some toothpaste brands have shunned the carcinogen.

“When the CEO of the iconic Dr. Bronner’s brand became aware of the research on carrageenan, their CEO, David Bronner, researched the alternatives and found that xanthan gum performed just as well in their toothpaste,” Kastel said. Dr. Bronner’s, known for its line of soaps along with other bodycare and food products, is a prominent leader in the fight to maintain organic standards and advocate for GMO labeling.
Cornucopia’s Kastel said, “We commend organic companies that operate under the ‘Precautionary Principle’ and strongly encourage members of the NOSB to protect organic consumers and their children as well.”

Like other regulatory bodies, the carrageenan industry is aggressively lobbying the NOSB, urging the board to retain the ingredient in organic food. However, efforts by the industry to cover up the harmful effects of carrageenan are being fully challenged setting the stage for a showdown in Washington, DC on April 25, where public interest groups and organic consumers, widely known for their passion and discernment, are likely to make their voices heard as well.