President, Strategic Communications, LLC

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Added Sugars," Labeling, Give Me a F------ Break

The presidential election political silly season is upon us and Congress is in recess until after Labor Day.

The USA Olympic Champions are getting covered in tats, the Tea Partyers are having Mark Twain's joke, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session," etched on their foreheads; and, the Democrats continue to hope that Sir Winston Churchill was right was he commented,"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

The country is facing perhaps the most important election since 1968, and what is the the FDA doing, considering whether to require "added sugar" labeling to foods. Give me a break. Oh yes, this news comes on the heals of two major microbiological contamination recalls involving onions and cantaloupes that led food safety experts to cite recent CDC reports that the country is not meeting its goals for reducing food borne illnesses such as salmonella and listeria. Consumer advocates complained that the government has been too slow to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which should help prevent food borne illness. The only good news here is that nobody has died, yet.

So, with not enough funds to do its work, with a House of Representatives, axe in hand, prepared to slash FDA dollars, where, you might wonder is the Agency is spending the few resources it has -- to beat the dead horse of "added sugars" again.

The LA Times immediately jumped into the fray with: "Snorre… I mean, Man the Barricades! Put a Stop to This/Get This Done ASAP!"

Let's not let three facts intrude. First, sugar is a required listing in the Nutrition Facts Box. Second, there is general scientific agreement (is that an oxymoron?) that the body does not distinguish one kind of sugar from another -- sugar is sugar is sugar. Sure, honey and pure evaporate cane juice give us a warm and fuzzy feeling compared to HFCS and granulated white sugar, but, metabolically speaking, there is no nutritional difference. And, third, have you ever tried to drink a cup of straight cranberry juice? I tried, and I could not do it, way too tart for me and most consumers which is why the industry sweetens the drink with other, cheaper sugars. Apple juice, Mother Nature's junk food, is a popular choice. Take off the peel and all you have is sugar and a modicum of vitamins.

When HFCS began, to borrow another DC phrase, "to twist slowly in the wind," smart companies found more consumer friendly alternatives, even if they did not meet the strict standard of identity established by the FDA for sugar. Cane juice consumption jumped and some companies actually advertised "contains real sugar" as opposed the sugar that comes from a factory of corn going in one end, lots of pipes and syrup coming out the other end.

Just for the record, the last two rounds of Dietary Guidelines (DG) declined to recommend the "added sugar" approach. Oh sure, the DG panel was dominated by industry and despite the East Wing of the White House's  Let's Move campaign, big, bad industry won. Which brings us back to why the food fundamentalists are trying to end run the DG process and have FDA change the regulations.

FDA is a risk adverse, deliberative Agency, to say the least. They should carefully and painstakingly review the comments and then stick them in a place where the sun does not shine, in a backroom storage facility with no windows.

After all it is excessive calories people consume from a wide variety of foods, just not sugar that provides the risk factor for obesity, CVD and diabetes. Brownell and his usual suspects know, if you consume more calories than you expend, you will put on weight. Perhaps, that is where they ought to focus their personal efforts and let FDA worry about the really important stuff, like surviving.

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