Posts Tagged ‘Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us’

The Food Read Round-up: What are we really eating?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

If there’s a theme to the food news of the past few weeks, it’s that what you see is not what you get when it comes to processed food.

In Canada, it turns out that the nutrition labels we count on to make informed food choices are based on information that’s decades out of date. In Europe, more products advertised as beef have been found to contain horsemeat, pork, and other undeclared meats. In the U.S., former officials of the Peanut Corporation of America were charged with 76 counts of fraud and conspiracy for their role in the 2009 Salmonella peanut butter outbreak. To cap it off, two new food industry exposés hit the market: Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by food safety journalist Melanie Warner, and Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us  by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael Moss.

While there are no easy fixes for an industrial food system that’s spiraling out of control, there are two things we can do as consumers. One is to eat fewer processed products and more real, whole foods. The other is to support a shorter, more transparent food supply chain by buying from local producers whenever possible.

Take food labels with a grain of salt.  Dietician and cookbook author Rosie Schwartz took aim at the accuracy of Canadian nutrition labels in February 22 op-ed piece in The Ottawa Citizen. When Canadians read food labels, Schwartz wrote, most of us don’t know that the information on daily recommended values, or % DV, is 30 years old and seriously out-of-step with recommendations Canada and the U.S. developed in the mid-2000s based on age, sex, and life stage.

Here’s just one example of how the outdated information gap affects consumers. Although the current recommendation for sodium is 1,500 mg per day, the figures on food labels are based on the old recommended limit of 2,400 milligrams per day. So if you eat two cups of soup with 650 mg of sodium in each, you may think you’re slightly over half of your daily sodium quota but in fact you’re close to the maximum of 1,500 mg.

Health Canada is looking to update its nutrition figures, a process that will take two to three years. But that hasn’t stopped them from launching a Nutrition Facts Education Campaign based on the old figures.  If – as the department claims – it wants to educate Canadians about the Nutrition Facts table and % DV, why not use the latest information? As Rosie Schwartz says: “Congratulations Health Canada.”

“Sh*t, Just Ship it”: Felony Prosecution for Salmonella-Peanut Executives.  In 2009, peanuts contaminated with Salmonella sickened 714 people in 46 U.S. states; one quarter of them were hospitalized and nine died. On February 24, 2013, former executives of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) were charged with 76 counts of fraud and conspiracy for knowingly distributing the contaminated nuts. Prosecution doesn’t happen in many cases of foodborne-illness. Why here? Part of the reason, says food safety journalist Maryn McKenna, is that the behaviour of PCA’s officials was so flagrant. In addition to being negligent, they were responsible for deliberate deception, including falsifying origin labeling and lab results. According to the indictment, PCA president Stewart Parnell instructed an employee who warned that a product would be delayed until the results of Salmonella testing were available: “Sh*t, just ship it. I cannot afford to loose (sic) another customer.”

Horsemeat Scandal. The scandal that erupted January 15 shows no sign of fading, with horsemeat having now been found in beef and beef products in at least 14 European Union (EU) countries. Brands such as Ikea (their signature Swedish meatballs), Burger King, Nestle, Bird’s Eye, and many others have been affected. Criminal activity is believed to be behind the fraud, with the perpetrators taking advantage of global food’s long, complex supply chains that make it difficult to trace ingredients to their source. This infographic published in Food Safety News, shows the scandal at a glance.

Big Food exposés. Melanie Warner’s Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal goes behind the scenes in the $1 trillion-a-year industry to learn more about really goes into what we eat and how we’ve developed such an appetite for foods that are cheap, addictive and nutritionally empty.  Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss argues that food company scientists work hard to get people addicted to inexpensive convenience foods; our soaring rates of diabetes and obesity are among the consequences. You can find reviews and discussions with the authors at Huffington Post, NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, and Democracy Now!, among other sources.

What food and farming stories have you been reading?

Photo: J.P. Goguen, Flickr