Category Archives: food labeling

General Mills settles suit over 100% Natural claims on Nature Valley Granola Bars

Earns General MillsHere at FoodFacts.com we often talk about the “halo effect” surrounding certain food products. Language used on certain food products is often designed to impart a certain image. The brand name Nature Valley, for instance, ascribes a wholesome stature to products bearing the name. And often you’ll find 100% natural claims on Nature Valley products.

The non-profit Center for Science in the Public acts as a sort of truth squad for food claims, outing many “good for you” labels and ads for the shameless distortions that they are.

Now, the center reports the settlement of a suit it brought against General Mills for calling Nature Valley granola bars and other products “100% Natural” even though they contained highly processed sweeteners. (Wait, you mean “high-fructose corn syrup” doesn’t just count as corn?) From it’s press release:

WASHINGTON—A settlement agreement announced today prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars, crispy squares, and trail mix bars are “100% Natural” if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. The agreement, which is effective immediately and applies to labeling and marketing for 30 Nature Valley products, settles a 2012 lawsuit brought on behalf of consumers by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and two law firms.
CSPI privately raised its concern with General Mills over its “100% Natural” claims as early as 2005. The company began phasing out its use of high-fructose corn syrup in some products, but at the time of CSPI’s lawsuit was still using high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. While those ingredients are derived from corn, they are produced by treating corn starch with acids, enzymes, or both before being refined into a substance that does not occur in nature.

The center notes that a bill introduced in Congress in 2013 “would prohibit the use of the word ‘natural’ on a food that includes any synthesized ingredient, or any ingredient that has undergone chemical changes such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, maltodextrin, chemically modified food starch, or alkalized cocoa.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that some Nature Valley packaging had apparently already been changed. It says a “spokeswoman for General Mills said the changes were made in 2012 and preceded the lawsuits, which she said the company fought because the suits sought damages. She said General Mills agreed to the settlement to avoid further litigation, and has no plans to change its current labels.”

The Journal also reports that lawsuits over “natural” labeling have been proliferating of late, with more than 100 filed in recent years.

Consumers have targeted PepsiCo Inc., Campbell Soup Co. , Ben & Jerry’s, Kashi, Skinnygirl and dozens of other food and drink brands.

Several companies have quietly removed “natural” claims from the juice, ice cream, potato chips and other foods they make. Campbell eliminated the claim from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and Pepsi got rid of the phrasing on its Naked juice bottle.

A commenter on The Wall Street Journal story writes:

The sad truth is that if you are buying something in a wrapper, box, can or any sealed container, it almost certainly is adulterated with either sugar, hydrogenated oil, preservatives, or all of these, not to mention excess salt, and “additives.”

Go to your friendly neighborhood chain food market and take a magnifying glass. Read the labels on “breakfast cereal”. Of the fifty brands there, chances are that all fifty contain added sugar/corn syrup, or concentrated fruit juice for sweetening. Do the same with “juices” and discover there MAY be ONE or TWO actual juices there, everything else is adulterated and soaked in corn syrup. Basically if it’s in a container, it’s semi junk or junk food.

None of this comes as a surprise to the FoodFacts.com community. And while it is true that many manufacturers have removed natural claims from their labels, well … let’s just say it remains a good idea to read ingredient lists consistently. Remember, every manufacture can change ingredients without notification. A while back, Hunt’s promoted the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its ketchup. Shortly thereafter, it reverted to using high-fructose corn syrup because they claimed consumers preferred the original recipe. They do still have a version of their ketchup without HFCS. But the whole chain of events occurred very quietly.

Be a consistent label reader who isn’t influence by packaging claims and you’ll naturally avoid unnatural ingredients!

http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/11/nature-valley-granola-bars-suit

Lawsuit against Chobani claims it’s not really Greek yogurt and is misleading consumers about nutrition

Chobani_AP2Lawsuits against food manufacturers have been in the news constantly over the last few years. Manufacturers have removed “All Natural” claims from their labels more than a few times because of disgruntled consumers discovering that those claims really weren’t the truth. FoodFacts.com has always felt that the voices of consumers do eventually motivate postive changes in the food industry. And those lawsuits certainly have been motivational for many manufacturers. The latest lawsuit we’ve been reading about is something we want to call to your attention because it may stir up some different feelings.

According to the New York Post, Barry Stoltz and Allan Chang are suing Chobani, alleging that the companies falsely represent their product by hiding the amount of sugar in their yogurt and by calling it “Greek.” Chobani Greek Yogurt is about as nutritious as eating a fudge ice cream bar,the lawsuit claims.

The 48-page suit, which accuses the best-selling brand of deceiving consumers about its health benefits, sounds more like a Jerry Seinfeld routine.

But its irony is unintentional.

“There is nothing ‘Greek’ about the products,” the complaint says. “None of the products sold in the U.S. are made in Greece or made by Greek nationals.”

“The name of the brand itself is not Greek,” noting that it is derived from the Turkish word “chobani,” which means shepherd, and the company’s founder is Turkish.

The suit contends Chobani products contain about 16 grams of sugar, virtually the same sweetness as a Nestlé Fudge ice cream bar.

Chobani allegedly creates further confusion for consumers by prominently displaying a “0%” on the label “without providing any context as to what the 0% represents,” the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs — Barry Stoltz of Scarsdale and Allan Chang of Queens — filed the class-action suit in Brooklyn Federal Court and are seeking unspecified monetary damages for apparently being tricked into thinking that 0%, which actually means it’s nonfat, refers to zero calories or sugar.

“With deceptive packaging and marketing, consumers are deceived into thinking that junk food can be a healthy alternative,” said lawyer C.K. Lee of Manhattan, who filed the suit.

Chobani, based in upstate Norwich, said a similar lawsuit had been tossed in California. The company said it is “committed to using only natural ingredients.”

It also schooled Stoltz and Chang on where Chobani is made.

“Much like English muffins and French fries, our fans understand Greek yogurt to be a product description about how we authentically make our yogurt and not about where we make our yogurt in upstate New York and Idaho,” the company said in a statement.

FoodFacts.com was thrilled to see Subway move to eliminate azodicarbonamide from its breads and rolls because consumers made their voices heard. We were equally happy about Gatorade removing brominated vegetable oil from their products that previously contained the controversial ingredient. We applauded Kashi removing the “all natural” claims from their products because of a lawsuit. It is certainly true that consumers would feel misled by claims that are obviously untrue.

Have to admit though, that none of us here at FoodFacts.com ever considered the possibility that ANY of the mainstream brands of Greek yogurt are actually manufactured in Greece by Greek nationals — unless of course we’re talking about imported products, which we’re not. We’re pretty positive that the overwhelming majority of consumers understand that what we’re talking about are products manufactured in the Greek style of yogurt preparation.

As far as the sugar content is concerned, we have to be honest here, 16 grams (while certainly higher than we’d like) is actually right in the ballpark for most mainstream brands. If you’ve been reading nutrition labels for yogurts, you probably know this already.

We’ve posted about this lawsuit for your consideration. Is this a reasonable claim?

FoodFacts.com would really like for consumers to use careful consideration before filing any lawsuit against food manufacturers. Please don’t get us wrong, legal claims are a great tool to change what is actually wrong with how food manufacturers market products. We just want to make sure they’re used to do just that. We’re really not so sure this particular lawsuit fits that bill. What do you think?

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2014/06/24/greek-yogurt-giants-chobani-and-fage-facing-lawsuits-over-sugar-and-greekness/
http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/chobani-yogurt-greek-deceives-customers-lawsuit-article-1.1836844

Just because it says it’s healthy, doesn’t mean it is .

iStock_000003492931SmallPretty simple concept, isn’t it? Or at least it should be. But food marketers are well aware that minds can be swayed in a particular direction with the use of some very simple language.

Health-related buzzwords, such as “antioxidant,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain,” lull consumers into thinking packaged food products labeled with those words are healthier than they actually are, according to a new research study conducted by scholars at the University of Houston (UH).

That “false sense of health,” as well as a failure to understand the information presented in nutrition facts panels on packaged food, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States, said Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at UH.

“Saying Cherry 7-Up contains antioxidants is misleading. Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they’re not,” said Northup, principal investigator of the study, “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health.”

The study examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. It found that consumers tend to view food products labeled with health-related euphemisms as healthier than those without them. The research also showed that the nutrition facts panels printed on food packaging as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do little to counteract that buzzword marketing.

“Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”

The study also looks at the “priming” psychology behind the words to explain why certain words prompt consumers to assign a health benefit to a food product with unhealthy ingredients.

“For example, if I gave you the word ‘doctor,’ not only ‘doctor’ would be accessible in your mind — now all these other things would be accessible in your mind — ‘nurse,’ ‘stethoscope,’ etc.,” Northup said. “What happens when these words become accessible, they tend to influence or bias your frame of mind and how you evaluate something.”

This triggered concept is then available to influence later thoughts and behaviors, often without explicit awareness of this influence — the so-called priming effect, Northup said.

Northup developed an experiment using priming theory to gather quantitative research on how food marketers influence consumers. He developed an online survey that randomly showed images of food products that either included actual marketing words, like organic, or a Photoshop image removing any traces of those words, thereby creating two different images of the same product. A total of 318 study participants took the survey to rate how “healthy” each product was.

The products with trigger words in their labels analyzed in the study were: Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (Organic), Apple Sauce (Organic), Chef Boyardee Beefaroni (Whole Grain), Chef Boyardee Lasagna (Whole Grain), Chocolate Cheerios (Heart Healthy), Cherry 7-Up (Antioxidant), Smuckers Peanut Butter (All Natural) and Tostitos (All Natural).

Northup found when participants were shown the front of food packaging that included one of those trigger words, they would rate the items as healthier.

“I took a label from Cherry 7-Up Antioxidant and Photoshop it without the word ‘antioxidant’ and only the words, ‘Cherry 7-Up.’ I then asked people via the online survey which one they thought was healthier,” said Northup. “Each time a participant saw one of the triggering words on a label, they would identify it as healthier than the other image without the word. ”

After completing the product evaluations, the study participants then reviewed the nutrition facts panels on a variety of products. These labels would be presented two at a time so the participants could choose the healthier food or drink option.

“Food marketers say there are nutritional labels, so people can find out what’s healthy and what’s not,” he said. “Findings from this research study indicate people aren’t very good at reading nutritional labels even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and Spam. Approximately 20 percent picked Spam as the healthier option over salmon,” said Northup.

Northup hopes the results of this study will contribute to an increased dialogue on how food is marketed, guide development of specific media literacy and help people understand the effects of how food is marketed to consumers.

While we like to think of ourselves as sophisticated consumers (and just about everyone these days considers themselves as such), the proliferation of those small , yet powerful words on food labels everywhere — even where they don’t make sense — speaks directly to their actual influence. Antioxidant soda? Whole grain canned macaroni? Can those words actually manage to make an unhealthy product full of bad ingredients healthy? We know they can’t and yet, somehow, time after time, consumers are fooled. Armed with the insight as to why this manufacturers ploy continues to work, FoodFacts.com suggests we all think a little harder the next time we’re attracted to a product label bearing an extra descriptive word or two.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613130717.htm

New findings say 80% of meat labels could be meaningless … so who do you trust?

Meat Labeling May Be MeaninglessIn the world of food products, consumers have come to recognize that their most complete understanding of what’s actually in the foods they consume comes from reading labels. Food labels are regulated. So we trust them. And for the most part, that trust isn’t misplaced. Sure, there are some problems with food labels. In fact, the FDA is in the process of developing new standards for those labels that will make them clearer and more precise. Those standards have to do with fat, calories and serving sizes. It’s all about transparency and clarity. But what about other claims made on food labels? We already know that claims of “all natural” have come under heavy fire, causing many manufacturers to stop making those claims. Are other such claims as transparent as they should be?

A new report by the advocacy group Animal Welfare Institute finds that “sustainably produced” claims on meat and poultry packages lack transparency, suggesting there are big gaps in verifying that animals are raised humanely.

A new report finds that the government was unable to provide proof that many meat and poultry producers are living up to many of their feel-good labeling claims.

The advocacy group Animal Welfare Institute spent three years requesting documentation from the USDA about companies that boast their animals are well cared for or raised in accordance with high environmental standards. The USDA failed to supply documentation supporting these sorts of claims—which range from “Humanely Raised and Handled” to “Sustainably Farmed”—for 20 of the 25 products AWI investigated.

The findings suggest that whether or not the animals in question are actually being raised humanely or in an eco-friendly manner, there are big gaps in verifying those claims and giving consumers access to that information. “We’re not suggesting that all these claims are misleading or that the claims we reviewed were misused,” says Dena Jones, manager of AWI’s Farm Animal Program. “But that’s the problem—we don’t know,” she notes. “That doesn’t give any assurance to the consumer.”

In the five cases in which AWI did receive relevant documents about labeling claims, the evidence, in Jones’s opinion, was inadequate, often consisting of a one- or two-sentence statement by the company that the animals were being raised appropriately—and no additional information about animal cage size, feed or water quality.

These claims are considered added value, Jones says, and people pay top dollar because of them. For example, the online grocery service FreshDirect sells its own brand of boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets—raised without antibiotics—for $6.99 per pound, whereas they sell a humanely raised and organic competitor’s cutlets for $11.99 per pound. And if the explosion of the organic market is any indication, these claims could be poised to bring in even more sales; in 2013, organic foods soared in size, to approximately $35 billion. “To most people, these claims mean you are getting something above the standard of conventional industry.” And with such prices at stake, companies should have to prove it, she says.

Indeed, these labels have become a major selling point with consumers. “The larger conventional meat companies, they see the success that our sector has had,” says Christopher Ely, co-founder and farmer liaison for Applegate, which makes meat and dairy products, many of which are certified organic. And they want a piece of the warm-and-fuzzy meat pie. “Everybody is jumping in.”

Many companies do pay an outside organization, such as Certified Humane or Global Animal Partnership, to supply guidelines and perform audits to make sure their practices are in line with the statements on their labels. (The third-party labels that AWI cites as trustworthy are Animal Welfare Approved, American Humane Certified, Certified Humane, Food Alliance, USDA Certified Organic and GAP, which verifies products sold at Whole Foods Markets.) But other companies may feel empowered to make exaggerated—or very vague—claims, Jones notes, and the various certification groups have distinct standards for what many of these terms require.

“There aren’t scientifically established and consumer-agreed-upon definitions for ‘humanely raised’ or ‘sustainably raised’,” says Lindy Miller, an agricultural extension educator at Perdue University. “So it becomes very hard to write or enforce regulations.” This leaves the marketplace in moderate chaos—as it was a couple decades ago for the term “organic” before the USDA took over a centralized labeling program. Simply arriving at a unified definition of organic took years and resulted in hundreds of pages of regulatory documents. Terms such as “humane” and “sustainable” are far murkier, and open to interpretation. “It’s not like ‘cage-free’ or ‘free-range,’” which have relatively specific, self-explanatory implications, says Jones.

Applegate was one of the 20 companies for which the USDA failed to supply any documentation supporting a “humanely raised” label. Jones points out that the company had previously verified that claim through Certified Humane but no longer does. Ely explains that Applegate now allows its individual producers to select their certification process but assures that each of its producers does get verified for humane handling. (He also asserts that they file thorough documentation with the USDA each time they apply for a new product label to be approved.)

Ensuring accountability for how an animal was raised becomes even more complicated because the company requesting USDA label approval is rarely the same one that has actually raised the animal. Most major distributors buy their animals from suppliers all over the country. Applegate, for example, might acquire animals from 1,500 different individual farms this year alone, Ely notes. And the USDA, which is tasked mainly with ensuring that food is safe and unadulterated, “does not have authority to regulate animal-raising facilities,” says Catherine Cochran, a USDA spokesperson, adding that they do “require processors to substantiate that they meet the claims presented on their product labels.”

And just because the USDA was not able to supply AWI with documentation does not mean that it does not exist. As Miller notes, when proprietary information—such as a company’s list of suppliers or their animal feed blend—does not generate a human safety concern, the USDA will respect the company’s trade secrets and not release the documents to the public. This policy, he notes, could be adding to the confusion and lack of transparency about how these claims are being verified.

Nevertheless, AWI plans to submit a petition to request that the USDA require third-party certification for all labeling claims about sustainability and animal welfare.
“In the end,” says Ely, “it’s going to be about the trust of the label and the company.”
If you’re concerned about this situation and agree that manufacturers should be required to follow standards for sustainably and humanely raised meat and poultry, you can add your voide to the discussion here: http://awionline.org/action-ealerts/shouldnt-humane-labels-be-accurate.

FoodFact.com is a fan of transparency. We have the right to understand the foods we’re eating — and that right reaches beyond packaged food products. Ultimately we as consumers are the judge and jury for every food product in our grocery stores. Our voices count and need to be heard.

http://awionline.org/action-ealerts/shouldnt-humane-labels-be-accurate

Are Kashi and Bear Naked misleading consumers with “natural” claims?

In early December two class action lawsuits were certified by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California against two popular “natural” product companies — Kashi and Bear Naked Inc. The lawsuits claim that both companies have misled consumers with false claims of “100% Natural” or “Nothing Artificial” ingredient lists. The court has ruled that the plaintiffs have proven that some of the “natural” ingredient claims are not true and some of the ingredients used were synthetic.

FoodFacts.com is all too familiar with manufacturer claims of “natural” ingredients. There are many ways companies can make that claim legally, regardless of whether or not we would consider it true. Kashi and its subsidiary Bear Naked Inc. certainly wouldn’t be the first companies to assert that their claim of “natural” ingredients” is consistent with current federal law.

This lawsuit specifically states that Kashi and Bear Naked products were found to contain Alph-Tocopherol Acetate and Hexane-processed soy ingredients. Hexane is listed as a federal hazardous pollutant and was identified as a toxic contaminant by the California Assembly in 1993.

Kashi is a leader in the natural foods market and has successfully branded itself as a nutritional, environmentally conscious manufacturer. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit hope to show that Kashi is deceptive about its branding and misleads consumers to believe that their products do not contain artificial ingredients. They assert that as a result of their misleading labeling, Kashi has been able to sell products to hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide.

In addition, plaintiffs claim that Bear Naked labeled products containing potassium carbonate, glycerin and lecithin as “100% Natural”. These ingredients are all recognized synthetic chemicals under federal regulations.

Both companies deny that their labeling is misleading. Kashi and Bear Naked state that their claims are truthful and consistent with federal law. The trail will begin for both lawsuits on February 11, 2014.

It’s definitely worth noting that the use of the word “natural” by food manufacturers is in decline. That seems to be a direct result of lawsuits like these. FoodFacts.com believes that consumers are getting smarter about the branding practices of mainstream food manufacturers. But we also think that those same consumers can develop a strong relationship with companies like Kashi and Bear Naked because they aren’t necessarily viewed as mainstream manufacturers (even though they’re owned by Kellog’s). These aren’t the first lawsuits against these two companies. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the results. We’ll all be happier consumers when we can count on any manufacturer’s “natural” and “nothing artificial” claims.

http://www.examiner.com/article/court-certifies-lawsuit-against-kashi-bear-naked-for-false-natural-claims

Don’t count on nutrition labels for your calorie count

We know that those in our FoodFacts.com community are vigilent about nutrition labels and ingredient lists for the foods they purchase. It’s the best way to be as educated as we can regarding what’s really in the products we’re taking home with us from the grocery store. Today, however, we came across some information we want to share with you about possible inaccuracies regarding the calorie counts on nutrition labels. Experts are now telling us the numbers listed might be incorrect.

Some recent studies have shown that it’s not just the ingredients that count for calorie counts. It’s also the amount of processing that is required to prepare the food. So whatever slicing, chopping, mashing might be necessary to get that food into its package can affect the number of calories you’re actually consuming. In fact, even chewing those foods might, in fact, release some calories during the digestion process when it comes to the ingredients that aren’t used by the body. None of these variables are accounted for in the current calorie calculations used on nutrition labels.

Science has understood for quite a while that calorie counts are actually estimates. But now, researchers are focusing on the issue and asking for a revamp of the system used. That way, consumers would have a more accurate depiction of the number of calories they are consuming from the products they purchase.

David Baer, a research physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center headed a study that showed that almonds have 20% fewer calories than previously thought. They are now looking into testing other food products. While the inaccuracies of nutrition label calorie counts are generally small, it is thought that for some foods, the count can differ from the estimate by up to 50%.

A device called a bomb calorimeter is one way that’s used to measure a food’s calorie count. There are many factors the bomb calorimeter cannot take into account. But old methods are still used today, because food manufacturers have simple ways to make their calorie calculations.

There are foods – for instance, those high in fiber – that are not digested as well as others. That would mean that we actually get less calories from them then we’re currently aware of. For other foods, however, we’re actually consuming a higher amount of calories than suggested by the listing on the nutrition label.

Further research coming out of Harvard University’s FAS Center for Systems Biology has shown that processing food changes its calorie count. So for example, pureed carrots would carry a different calorie count than whole carrots. That’s because the processing of the vegetable takes some of the work out of digesting the vegetable. The processed vegetable will contain more calories than the whole vegetable.

While some researchers are saying that the differences in actual calories versus those estimated by current calculation formulas on nutrition labels really wouldn’t affect us that much, others who are advocating for a calculation revision say that it would be best to give consumers the most accurate information possible. This would help people make the most informed choices possible about their food choices.

Changing the current system would not be an easy task. But researchers might be able to improve the biggest gaps in the system … like adjusting for food processing.

FoodFacts.com is pleased to see increased concern regarding the need for consumers to make the most educated and informed food choices possible. While we know changes to the calorie calculation system make take some time to reach us, we think it’s in every consumer’s best interest and will keep an eye out for whatever improvements are being considered.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/02/04/calorie-labels-inaccurate-experts-say/#ixzz2JzKLRbqe

Progress in labeling … lawsuit against General Mills reaches a settlement

FoodFacts.com has been following the lawsuits that have been filed against various food manufacturers based on misleading labeling. Today, we have some news regarding one of those suits that was brought against General Mills by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a consumer protection law firm.

It focused on Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups – which actually aren’t made with any strawberries. That’s right, no strawberries at all – just pears from concentrate and some “natural flavors,” so they can taste like strawberry.
The settlement of the lawsuit requires General Mills to market this product differently than they have been. As long as the product does not contain actual strawberries, the new labels cannot include any images of strawberries. In addition to this important fact, as long as the packaging reads “Made with Real Fruit,” General Mills is required to state the actual percentage of real fruit included in the product. The Center for Science in the Public Interest feels that this requirement will give consumers a more honest definition of the food product they are purchasing. Many purchasing these products currently believe they are made completely or mostly from fruit. While the most honest labeling for the product would be Pear Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-ups, the removal of strawberry images from the packaging is certainly a more accurate representation.

While these changes aren’t required to take effect until 2014, FoodFacts.com is encouraged that there is actual progress being made in labeling the products in our food supply in a more honest manner. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been behind other labeling changes and advertising issues. They’ve been behind agreements with Kellogg’s regarding improvements made to the products they manufacture that are specifically targeted to children as well as the removal of partially hydrogenated oils from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

FoodFacts.com will continue to keep our community updated on other developments in the numerous lawsuits against food manufacturers that may help consumers make more educated food choices free from misleading product claims.

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/the-strawberries-are-about-to-disappear-from-the-labels-of-strawberry-fruit-roll-ups-122712.html
http://www.startribune.com/business/184878301.html?refer=y

10 ways food labels mislead consumers

Day after day we learn more about how misleading food labels continue to dupe consumers with keywords and bold statements that feed into people’s dietary needs and weight loss goals. This doesn’t mean all food labels are lying because plenty of products are “fat free” or made with “real fruit,” but what about the other nutritional facts or ingredients?

Foodfacts.com observes that, unfortunately, the FDA does not regulate all food labels and cannot keep food manufacturers from using clever wording to avoid a potential lawsuit. What you can do is read the nutritional facts and ingredients list to find the truth behind the fancy wording and manipulative marketing. Here are 10 misleading food labels to look out for:

* “Zero grams trans fat”
Since trans fat have become the ultimate no-no in today’s diet, many companies have cut trans fat from their products. However, it has led way to a manipulative marketing move to promote 0 grams of trans fat, without indicating the product’s level of saturated and total fat. Food labels know people are looking for the label that says “0 grams trans fat,” but they may skip over the saturated and total fat amount, which is just as important.

* “All natural”
The “all natural” stamp is one of the most abused and misleading food labels used by food manufacturers today. Many of these so-called “all natural” products use citric acid, high-fructose corn syrup and other unnatural additives, but still get to bear that positive label. Always check the ingredients list to know exactly what’s in your food.

* “Whole grains”
Chances are you’ve seen the label, “Made with Whole Grains,” pop up on bread, crackers or rice products now more than ever. The reality is that many of these whole grain products are actually made with refined wheat flour and maybe a small percentage of whole grains. In order to check the validity of the whole grains label, check out the listed ingredients. Unless “whole grains” is one of the first ingredients on the list or if you see “enriched wheat flour,” it’s likely that your product contains a small percentage of whole grains.

* “Fiber”
Food products that contain fiber has become a growing trend in the food industry because consumers are looking for foods that are going to keep them fuller for longer, help regulate their digestive systems and lower their blood sugar. Shoppers might see their favorite cereal bar or yogurt is labeled “a good source of fiber,” but they won’t see where the fiber comes from listed anywhere. Many of the products you find with the label “contains fiber” actually contain isolated fibers, like inulin, maltodextrin, pectin, gum and other purified powders that are added to boost the not-so-fibrous foods.

* “Light”
When a food label says “light” as in “extra light olive oil,” consumers are misled to think that a product is light in fat or the fat content has been cut in half. Unless the product says reduced fat, “light” is generally referring to a lighter color of the original product, such as light-colored olive oil.

* “Heart healthy”
Many of today’s foods claim to be “heart healthy,” but don’t have FDA approval or scientific evidence to support such bold claims. These types of “heart healthy” labels mislead consumers into thinking they will improve their heart health by eating this particular food. Considering that heart disease is the number one killer in America, this food label is dangerous to promote if it’s not true.

* “Low fat”
The label “low fat” can be very misleading to consumers because, while it may be low in fat, it may also be loaded with sugar or sodium that won’t be highlighted. In addition, manufacturers are playing into people’s awareness of fats and efforts to lower their fat intake by advertising exactly what they’re looking for. Don’t be fooled by a “low fat” food label without examining the rest of the nutrition facts, and making sure that the product is well-balanced and healthy in its other areas.

* “Low sugar”
Just like “low fat” indicators, “low sugar” food labels are misleading for consumers because it plays up one nutritional factor to downplay a not-so-healthy factor, such as a high amount of calories, sugars or fat. Manufacturers also get around saying “contains sugar” by saying “lightly sweetened” or “no sugar added,” but you have to look at how much sugar is in each serving to know for sure.

* “Free range”
The “free range” food label can be found on meat, dairy and eggs at your local grocery store, but this progressive way of farming is not always as it seems. What consumers may not know and won’t see on their “free range” foods is that the USDA regulations only apply to poultry. Therefore, “free range” beef, pork and other non-poultry animals were fed grass and allowed to live outdoors, but their products are not regulated by the USDA. Another misconception consumers have about “free range” is that these products are also organic. Unless it’s labeled free range AND organic, free range animals may be fed nonorganic fed that could contain animal byproducts and hormones.

* “Fresh”
The “fresh” food label can be very misleading to consumers, by making them think their chicken was killed the day before, or their “freshly squeezed” orange juice was prepared that day. The label “fresh” simply means that it was not frozen or is uncooked, but many of these products are allowed to be chilled, kept on ice or in modified atmospheres to keep them from spoiling.

Foodfacts.com does not endorse specific views about nutrition or exercise, but presents interesting news and information worth reading about. As always, consult a physician or nutrition professional before making any major changes to your diet. Be sure to SCORE your foods so that you’re empowered to make good food choices. The Food Facts Health Score is FREE to use with your free membership at Foodfacts.com.

Lawsuits being brought against food manufacturers for product misrepresentation

FoodFacts.com has long held the opinion that many of the products on our grocery store shelves are labeled in a misleading fashion, and don’t actually give consumers a clear representation of the products held in their boxes, cans and bags. Our community has always agreed with us. And it does appear that a controversy may be brewing over this practice.

Information has come to light that the same lawyers who brought millions of dollars in lawsuits against big tobacco companies (and won tremendous settlements form the likes of R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris) have been busy filing 25 new cases against food manufacturers, including ConAgra Foods, Heinz, General Mills and PepsiCo. These suits have been filed over the last four months and are claiming that these food manufacturers are mislabeling products and ingredients. Currently there are also lawsuits regarding Pam cooking spray, Swiss Miss cocoa products and some Hunt’s canned tomatoes.

While the food manufacturers are claiming that these are frivolous lawsuits and are strictly financially motivated, the lawyers are claiming that these cases could result in a cost of billions of dollars to the food companies.

For example, two mothers have brought a lawsuit against the makers of Nutella, claiming they were deceived into believing that the chocolate hazelnut spread was healthy for their kids. A similar suit was brought against PepsiCo three years ago accusing them of false advertising for Cap ‘n Crunch Crunch Berries cereal because it does not contain actual berries. The court felt that a “reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the product contained a berry that does not exist.” But is that really an analogous case? Of course, there are no such things as “crunch berries,” but Nutella certainly advertises itself as a healthy product that moms can feel good about serving their families. As a note, the product does not rate well on the FoodFacts.com website for a number of reasons.

In addition to the lawyers who filed suit against Big Tobacco, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has also filed suits against General Mills and McNeil Nutritionals over claims they make on Nature Valley and Splenda Essentials products. Both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are faced with many suits regarding the 100% natural claims on many of their products, as well.

The focus seems to be – as we would have suspected – on products that make claims of “natural” or “Healthy.” These claims, often, seem to be subjective. And since these products aren’t subjected to the same federal standards as organics, the claims really do reflect the purposes of the food manufacturer and not the nutrition labels or the ingredient lists.

With obesity at epidemic levels in this country, and food additives being linked every day to increasing health problems, FoodFacts.com wonders whether or not this will go the way of the old tobacco lawsuits. Initially, the courts declared smoking a personal choice that consumers make, hopefully understanding the health risks they are inflicting on themselves. It wasn’t until the tobacco companies were sued on behalf of states on the basis of the hundreds of millions of dollars caring for sick smokers that the settlements were won by the lawyers.

It does appear that this is a new trend that is just beginning to emerge. It’s a trend that may cost offending food manufacturers a tremendous amount of money and cause them to actually pull products from the shelves, until they rebrand, rename or redevelop many of their products so that they accurately depict nutritional value and ingredients used.
FoodFacts.com thinks that this is a trend worth watching and we’ll be keeping you informed as we discover more about what companies are being sued and why. In the meantime, here are two links for you to read and discover more about what’s happening: http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120819/NEWS0107/208190394/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/business/lawyers-of-big-tobacco-lawsuits-take-aim-at-food-industry.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&smid=tw-share

Is that really fat free?

 


FoodFacts
knows that reading (and understanding) a foods nutrition label is key to a healthy diet – whether you are counting your calories, increasing your fiber or watching fat intake. After what seems like way too long, you may have finally found your holy grail of healthy foods to replace a high fat, high calorie favorite. Low and behold, a product that is fat free! Before you rejoice, keep reading.

…The ingredients list that is. The ingredients list will give you a better picture of the nutrients in your food. So is there an item on the ingredients list that didn’t end up on the nutrition panel? If you happen to notice “mono and diglycerides” on the list – these are fats. They carry the same amount of energy per gram (9) as a triglyceride (3 fatty acids and a glycerol), yet the food item in question has “0 calories,” and “0 fat.”

Two things are at play here. Number 1 is the definition of a fat. The FDA requires fats to be listed as triglycerides, which mono and diglycerides are not. Number 2 are the labeling laws – if a product has less than 5 calories or less than 0.5g fat per serving , it can be listed as “0.” As an example, let’s say we have cooking spray X that is listed as having “0 calories” and “0 fat” per 1/3 second spray ( I’m not sure about you guys, but we don’t stop spraying at .33 seconds, nor can we operate a stop watch and spray at the same time, but that is our short coming). Further reading shows one of the first ingredients are mono and diglycerides aka oils, aka fats, that are magically fat free. Since we don’t live in a magical world where somehow fat has become fat free, let’s assume that one serving contains 5 calories of fat. That means one seconds worth of spraying has given us 15 calories and approximately 1.7 grams of fat. Let’s say you sprayed for 5 seconds. That would run you 75 calories and 8.3 grams of fat. That is, sadly, not as fat free as the nutrition panel suggests.

However, FoodFacts understands that if we are watching what we eat and we do our homework, then we have a better idea of what we are putting into our bodies. And bravo to us, since that is not always easy!