September 13, 2019
Friday by Noon:
Labels Are for Food, Not Friends
“… we need a word other than “processed” to describe the low-nutrient, calorie-dense foods that are so easy to overeat, and big contributors to obesity & disease. Maybe start with the purpose of the processing?”
Washington Post writer Tamar Haspel, Twitter
Let’s be Clear
We’ve been tracking food issues since 2012 and labeling has always been a big concern. This week, activists, policymakers and courts collided as various labeling laws were introduced, rolled back or dismissed.
- We first covered Consumer Reports‘ “Danger at The Deli” in the August 30 edition of Friday by Noon. This week, Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the USDA to ban “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” labels from all cured or processed meat products, even those “using non-synthetic sources of nitrate and nitrite, such as celery powder.” The petition notes, “Both synthetic and non-synthetic nitrates and nitrites may cause cancer” and suggests that the arbitrary distinction simply confuses consumers.
- A Wisconsin district court issued an injunction against the parent company of Bud Light, AB InBev, prohibiting the company from using “no corn syrup” claims on packaging. The court based its decision on the fact that use of the call outs could cause consumers to incorrectly infer that Bud Light’s competitors contain corn syrup. Food Dive spoke with a representative from AB InBev: “Bud Light is brewed with no corn syrup — plain and simple. We look forward to defending our right to inform beer drinkers of this fact at trial and on appeal.”
- This week, Mississippi’s department of agriculture proposed an update to a March law that stated: “A plant-based or insect-based food product shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product.” The new rule would allow the word “meat” to be used along with clear, prominent “plant-based” labels on packaging.
- A California judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit against General Mills that accused the company of misleading consumers with its “100% Natural” label. General Mills argued that “100% Natural” “cannot be viewed in isolation and must be read in the context of the entire package, including the ingredient panel.” The court agreed.
Imported Food News
The influential voices we track turned their attention to the international stage this week as a bevy of announcements surfaced from overseas.
- NPR: The Salt discussed how the Irish dairy industry, under the threat of a no-deal Brexit, would be affected were Great Britain to pull out of the European Union. The article predicates the industry’s success on open borders, noting, “Northern Irish farmers who have built lucrative cross-border trade with the Irish Republic are especially worried.”
- Reuters summarized a statement from China’s National Development and Reform Commission spokesperson Peng Shaozong, who relayed that China’s fresh pork supplies would be enough to last its citizens through the upcoming holiday season. Peng insisted, “The government had the ‘confidence and capability’ to secure enough meat and stabilise the market” despite mass culling of pigs, surging pork prices and the release of frozen state reserves to address shortages due to African swine fever.
- Food Navigator covered Denmark’s decision to outlaw polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from its food packaging. Denmark is the first country to ban PFAS following reports that the chemicals have negative effects on human health and do not biodegrade naturally in the environment.
- CNN highlighted a less-known tariff that, if passed, would increase prices “up to 100% on $25 billion in European items” — essentially doubling the cost of specialty cheeses, wines and meats.
- Following a Euromonitor report that projected spending on foodservice products at convenience stores globally to increase 11% in the next four years, U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Dan Halstrom announced the group would be “developing brand new ideas for packaged meals and protein snack items featuring U.S. beef and pork,” to capitalize on this opportunity in the market.
- Politico reported that President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue attended the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) conference in Washington D.C. In an official White House briefing of the event, Trump promised to “ensure that HBCUs continue to thrive and prosper and flourish for the countless generations to come.”
- Medium covered a pop-up dinner series at Plowshare Farms in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where chef Omar Tate uses his food to pay homage to the formerly enslaved persons who once worked that land — most notably, his own ancestors.
- Vox published an essay from historian Cynthia Greenlee, PhD, in which she addresses the conditions that turned watermelon from a source of income and pride for newly freed African Americans to a “stereotype threat,” or an item “at risk of confirming … a negative stereotype about one’s group.”
- Eater discussed why representation matters in restaurant staffing, and the profound effect it can have on Black chefs’ sense of belonging in “an industry where only 17 percent of chefs nationwide are Black.”
- NPR: The Salt featured an 11-year-old Black vegan chef, Omari McQueen, who is making a name for himself in the food world after the debut of his vegan Caribbean pop-up restaurant, Dipalicious.
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Processed Good, Plant-based Bad?
On September 9, Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel suggested some “convenient, reasonably nutritious stand-ins,” for consumers looking to incorporate processed food items into their diet in a healthy way. Haspel noted that while she believes “the best way to eat a healthful diet is to cook with whole or whole-ish ingredients,” she recognizes that time, price and availability can be limitations for many people. Another Washington Post article published the same day criticized ultra-processed foods for hiding behind a plant-based label to sustain an “undeserved health halo.”
‘Eerily Smooth and Pale’
This week, Eater championed one of Starbucks’ new food offerings: the sous vide egg bite. Author Meghan McCarron insisted that despite the “eerily smooth and pale” appearance and “diminutive” size, the eggs are “the best food item at Starbucks.” The article notes that the bite-size breakfast offering’s debut coincides with the rise in popularity of ketogenic and paleo “fad diets,” and quotes Starbucks, who confirmed, “Customer requests for low-carb, protein-packed breakfast foods” inspired the egg bites.
Disgruntled at Whom?
Reuters interviewed farmers who claim to have been hurt by the Trump administration’s policies on trade, ethanol and agriculture. The article reports that disgruntled farmers have turned their attention away from Trump and toward the USDA, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and other federal employees, alleging they “are overestimating corn plantings as part of a plot to hurt Trump in the 2020 election.” Despite policy decisions that ignored the ag sector’s interests, farmer sentiment and polling data in rural areas show that support for Trump remains “substantial.” As one farmer said, “It’s much easier to be angry at a faceless Washington bureaucracy than at the man you voted for.”
Millennials Want Quality
A survey from market research firm YouGov, conducted for Whole Foods, suggested that when it comes to millennials, quality, labeling and transparency drive grocery purchasing decisions. Of the 1,006 surveyed, findings showed nearly 70% were willing to spend more money on “high quality foods.” Food & Wine covered Whole Foods’ report summary calling it self-fulfilling prophecy, and noting “more than a survey of millennials’ grocery shopping habits, this is Whole Foods leaning in to still being Whole Foods.”
The Wall Street Journal profiled farmers who have built ‘food cannons’ to draw in visitors and make some money from unsold produce, rather than let it go to waste. The cannons work by using “an air compressor to build up enough pressure to send the fruits or vegetables flying hundreds of feet.” Food cannons are part of a growing field The Wall Street Journal refers to as “agritainment,” which “also includes corn mazes, hayrides and goat yoga — that can serve as a hedge for farmers during tough times.”
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