Kids Overdosing on Fortified Cereals

“When a consumer picks up a box of cereal covered in cartoon characters that is clearly marketed to children and sees that one serving provides 50 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A, she may think that it provides 50 percent of a child’s recommended intake,” reads a new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “She would most likely be wrong. If the label has the signature small-print phrase, ‘Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet,’ that means that the nutrition label is based on the adult Daily Values.

“Moreover, for vitamin A, zinc and niacin, the numbers described by FDA as ‘Daily Value for adults and children 4 or more years of age’ actually exceed the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels for children 8 and younger.”

EWG’s comprehensive study of vitamin-fortified foods shows that pumped-up cereals and snack bars are putting kids’ health at risk. Excessive amounts of vitamins, especially vitamin A, zinc and niacin, can damage a child’s organs and internal systems. The concentrations of synthetic nutrients added to breakfast products are being formulated not for a child’s health needs, but rather for the needs and wants of the marketing department.

Large cereal manufacturers have learned the profitable lesson that putting health claims on a box will deflect a consumer’s attention from the sugary, artificial content within. “Any health or health-like claim on a food product — vitamins added, no trans fats, organic — makes people believe that the product has fewer calories and is a health food,” New York University professor of nutrition Marion Nestle explains in the report.

Citing results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, EWG notes that “with the exception of vitamins D and E and calcium, dietary deficiencies of vitamins and minerals are rare among children 8 and younger in the United States. For young children, the problem is the opposite — the risk of too much intake of some nutrients from fortified foods and supplements.

“One recent study by a joint research team of the National Institutes of Health and California Polytechnic State University found that children younger than 8 are at risk of consuming vitamin A, zinc and niacin at levels above the Institute of Medicine’s Tolerable Upper Intake Level. The study found that from food alone, including naturally occurring and fortified sources, 45 percent of 2-to-8-year-old children consume too much zinc, 13 percent get too much vitamin A and 8 percent consume too much niacin. …”

“A number of factors make children’s excessive intake of vitamin A, zinc and niacin a health concern: 1) These micronutrients are present naturally in food and are also added to many foods children and toddlers eat, including milk, meat, enriched bread and snacks. 2) Many cereals and snack bars are fortified at levels that the FDA considers high, exceeding the amounts children need and in some cases exceeding the safe upper limits for young children in a single serving. 3) Intentional or accidental fortification ‘overages’ by manufacturers can make actual exposures
greater than the amounts indicated on the nutrition label. 4) Many children eat more than a single serving at a sitting because the serving sizes listed on many packaged foods do not reflect the larger amounts people actually eat. 5) A third of all children, and as many as 45 percent of the younger age groups, take dietary supplements.”

EWG concludes: “Excessive exposure to fortified nutrients is the result of unscrupulous marketing, flawed nutrition labeling and outdated fortification policy. The current nutrition labeling system puts children’s health at risk and is in dire need of reform.”

Read the full report here:

Transparency: The Key to Organic Integrity

When journalist Peter Laufer discovered his packet of Trader Joe’s organic walnuts originated in Kazakhstan, he began wondering about the story behind his unexpectedly exotic snack.

Why did the supply chain need to reach across the globe to a former Soviet republic, one famous for a thriving black market and a bureaucracy that retains a sentimental preference for propaganda over candor? Where in Kazakhstan was the walnut grove, who was the farmer, and how were the trees cultivated?

So many questions, and the answers were nowhere to be found — at least, nowhere on the label.

Laufer’s search for an honest walnut led to a newly-published book, “Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling.” More significantly, it led to his conclusion that an organic label is not always a guarantee of wholesome food — transparency is the indispensable complementary element.

In an interview with’s Lindsay Abrams, Laufer even suggests that consumers should ask food companies directly where their ingredients are from: “If they say ‘I’m sorry’ — as so many of them say — ‘but this is proprietary information,’ then that should throw up the red flag pretty high, because what have they got to hide?”

Transparency is the antidote to “the frailties of the [organic] certification process,” Laufer argues. “What I found shocking during [my] investigation was the lack of transparency and the opaque manner in which the certification companies operate. … To be considered organic, a third-party certifier certifies that the operation that’s creating the product is doing so according to the standards of the USDA and of the U.S. government.  The rigor of those inspections differs case by case — that’s one problem.

“Another problem is that certification is a business. And so the potential for conflict of interest is huge, since the outfit being certified is paying for that certification in a competitive market. By definition, that puts the certifier in a position of being concerned about keeping the job.

“The third of three really big problems with the certification process is that so much food now is in the globalized food chain, so from a U.S. point of view, food is coming in certified organic from all over the world, and these certifiers, that are U.S.-based, rarely do that certification on-site. They shop it out to local certifiers. Definitions are different about what the regulations mean, and outside of the United States, unfortunately, the standards for honesty are not necessarily at the level that you and I may wish.”

Organic fraud is not simply an overseas phenomenon, however. Laufer cites an Oregon case in which a supplier labeled his conventional corn as organic: “He used fraudulent certificates, counterfeit certificates that he created from real ones, and it’s an example of how relatively easy it is for a crook to take advantage of the system. We don’t know how often it happens, in part because the inspection system is understaffed and we have something like $28 billion worth of organic food being traded annually at this point in the U.S. and about 28 employees in the National Organic Program to handle investigations of such certificates.”

Laufer discovered the truth that only transparency of information, coupled with a consumer’s actively inquisitive mind, can provide the proper level of reassurance that our food is safe, healthy and genuine. Or as a Supreme Court justice once observed: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Read more here:

Consumers Want to Believe “Natural” Labels

A new survey by Consumer Reports shows that consumers are incredible idealists in the grocery store, at least when charmed by the promise of “natural” on food labels.

Although “natural” is more of an ad agency term of art than a reflection of reality, buyers desperately want to believe the word stands for something. Fifty-nine percent seek out products that carry the “natural” label, most of them believing the food within has been produced in a healthy, conscientious and sustainable way.

Of those surveyed, more than 80 percent percent say “natural” should mean no pesticide use, no GMOs and no artificial ingredients of any kind. Huge majorities also indicate they believe the definition of “natural” should include supporting family farms, protecting the environment, reducing use of antibiotics in animals, and promoting fair conditions for workers.

The Consumer Reports survey demonstrates that consumers have an almost limitless appetite for honesty, fairness and transparency:

Fair Trade: “About 80 percent of consumers will pay more for fruits and vegetables produced by workers under fair wage and working conditions; and about one-third of consumers would even pay 50 cents or more per pound.”

Animal Welfare: “The majority of consumers think the humanely raised claim on eggs, dairy and meat should mean that the farm was inspected to verify this claim (92%), the animals had adequate living space (90%), the animals were slaughtered humanely (88%), and the animals went outdoors (79%). Currently, the ‘humanely raise’ label does not require that the farm was inspected, and there are no standards for ensuring animals had adequate living space, were able to go outdoors, or were slaughtered humanely.”

Antibiotics: “While nearly 7 out of 10 Americans (65%) correctly think the ‘raised without antibiotics’ means that no antibiotics were used; a sizable portion (31%) of consumers mistakenly think this label means no other drugs were used in addition to antibiotics. In addition, if an animal was routinely given antibiotics, the vast majority of consumers (83%) demand that the government require that this meat be labeled as ‘raised with antibiotics.’”

GMOs: “Nine out of 10 Americans think that before genetically engineered (GE) food is sold, it should be labeled accordingly (92%) and meet long-term safety standards set by the government (92%). Similarly, nine out of 10 of Americans specifically agree that the government should require that GE salmon be labeled before it is sold (92%). In addition, nearly three-quarters (72%) of consumers say that it is crucial for them to avoid GE ingredients when purchasing food.”

Organic: “Nine out of 10 consumers demand that the ‘organic’ label on packaged or processed foods should mean no toxic pesticides were used (91%), no artificial materials were used during processing (91%), no artificial ingredients were used (89%), and no GMOs were used (88%).”

Country of Origin: “Nine out of 10 Americans want food labels to reflect country or origin (92%) and want to know if their meat is from outside the U.S. (90%).”

More here:

Study Proves Organic Antioxidant Benefits

Organic fruits and vegetables are richer in antioxidants and carry far fewer traces of pesticides and other toxins than conventionally-grown produce, according to new research by scientists at Newcastle University.

The findings have agitated the agribusiness lobby, which claims antioxidant content is not very important, and that any differences in concentrations of polyphenolics and other antioxidant plant compounds are negligible.

The results will be hard to ignore, however. That’s because the study is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, based on analysis of data from 343 broadly-accepted related studies from around the world.

As Patrick Sawer reports in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper: “The international scientific team behind the research suggests that switching from regular to organic fruit and vegetables could provide the same nutritional benefits as adding one or two portions of the ‘five a day’ currently recommended. [The researchers] concluded that there are ‘statistically significant, meaningful’ differences between organic and conventional fruit and vegetables, with a range of antioxidants ‘substantially higher’ — between 19% and 69% — in organic.”

“The study, to be published next week in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition, also shows significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals in organic crops,” adds Tony Henderson, writing in northeastern England’s Journal paper. “Cadmium, which is one of only three metal contaminants along with lead and mercury for which the European Commission has set maximum permitted contamination levels in food, was found to be almost 50% lower in organic crops than those conventionally-grown.

“The study … also found that nitrogen concentrations were significantly lower in organic crops. Concentrations of total nitrogen were 10%, nitrate 30% and nitrite 87% lower in organic compared to conventional crops. The study also showed that pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than organic ones.

“Carlo Leifert, professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University who led the study, said: ‘The organic versus non-organic debate has rumbled on for decades now but the evidence from this study is overwhelming — that organic food is high in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides. This demonstrates that choosing food produced according to organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants and reduced exposure to toxic heavy metals. … This study should just be a starting point. We have shown without doubt there are composition differences between organic and conventional crops, and now there is an urgent need to carry out well-controlled human dietary intervention and cohort studies specifically designed to identify and quantify the health impacts of switching to organic food.’”

Reacting to the groundbreaking study, the head of Britain’s Soil Association told the Telegraph: “The crucially important thing about this research is that it shatters the myth that how we farm does not affect the quality of the food we eat.”

Discover more here:

Family Farms at Risk

The impulse to supersize farms is a worldwide phenomenon, according to a new report by the European nonprofit organization GRAIN. The trend has profound implications for the quantity, quality and character of the global food supply.

Data compiled by the United Nations show that 70 percent of the world’s food still comes from small family farms. But the number of such farms is in steep decline almost everywhere. Giant agribusinesses, wealthy plantation owners and oppressive elites are pushing small farmers onto slivers of land and seizing the richest soil for themselves. These family farmers, leading increasingly hardscrabble lives, now control less than a quarter of the world’s farmland.

As John Vidal explains in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper: “The [GRAIN] report suggests that the single most important factor in the drive to push small farmers onto ever smaller parcels of land is the worldwide expansion of industrial commodity crop farms. ‘The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing,’ it says. The land area occupied by just four crops — soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane — has quadrupled over the past 50 years. …

“The concentration of land ownership is seen on every continent. Argentina lost more than one-third of its farms in the two decades from 1988 to 2008. Between 1997 to 2007, Chile lost 15% of its farms with the biggest farms doubling their average size. … The United States has lost 30% of its farms in the last 50 years. …

“The report also found that small farmers are often twice as productive as large farms and are more environmentally sustainable. ‘Although big farms generally consume more resources, control the best lands, receive most of the irrigation water and infrastructure … they have lower technical efficiency and therefore lower overall productivity. Much of this has to do with low levels of employment used on big farms in order to maximize return on investment. … Beyond strict productivity measurements, small farms also are much better at producing and utilizing biodiversity, maintaining landscapes, contributing to local economies, providing work opportunities and promoting social cohesion, not to mention their real and potential contribution to reversing the climate crisis.’”

Read the full report here:

Colorizing Nature’s Classics

Mother Nature needs a good fashion makeover, many food manufacturers seem to believe. Oranges just aren’t orange enough; salmon could be pinker, and even pumpernickel needs an earthier tone to set it apart from ultra-processed loaves sporting a whiter shade of pale.

Outside the Ted Turner film vault, a grocery store may be the place you’re most likely to encounter such an immense array of cheaply colorized natural classics. Writing in Health magazine, Jessica Migala explores the profitable intersection of chemical-dye palette with consumer palate, and finds a few other “food industry tricks” along the way:

Pinker salmon: “The salmon you see at the fish counter almost always sports a bright pinkish-orange hue, but in fact, salmon is naturally a greyer shade. The swimmers take on their classic coloring in one of two ways: wild-caught salmon eat krill, while farm-raised salmon are fed pigment pellets.”

Oranger oranges: “Believe it or not, the dye Citrus Red No. 2 is sprayed on some Florida oranges early in the season to brighten their coloring. These oranges are usually used for juicing, but some end up on grocery store shelves. The dye is FDA-approved and used in small concentrations, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest warns this dye is related to health risks, including cancer, in lab animals. (It’s not allowed to be used on California oranges.) Bags of these oranges need to include a label that says color has been added. The dye still isn’t meant for eating, so don’t make candied orange peel or zest them for cooking.”

Slices and spears: “Caramel color … is often added to wheat or pumpernickel breads to make them look like they contain more wheat than they do. The same colorant is used in some roast beef deli meats for a beefier look. Meanwhile, yellow dyes are added to pickles so the spears appear more vibrant.”

Unctuous olive oil: “Extra virgin olive oil has come under fire for not actually being olive oil. Many bottles are mixed with cheaper oils like soybean or canola, according to Consumer Reports, and shipped to the United States where you pay a premium price. In addition to wasting your money, you’re also losing out on the heart-health perks of the monounsaturated fats you’d find in pure olive oil. …”

Oxidized almonds: “Along with milk, bottled juice, and canned goods, almonds are pasteurized in order to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks. … [This] can be achieved by roasting, blanching, steam treating, or spraying with a Propylene Oxide Treatment (PPO). You should know that PPO is considered safe by the EPA, but is also sometimes added to engine oil or used to make mattress foam. … If you want to avoid PPO, look for brands that say they’ve been ‘steam pasteurized’ or dry roasted.”

Discover more here:

Root of the Problem: Pesticides vs. Peels

Many consumers believe that fruits and vegetables with naturally tough skins carry the perfect antidote to farm and orchard toxins. In reviewing the scientific literature, researchers at The Organic Center found that nature’s defenses are limited: Peels are often no match for the potent creations of Dow, Monsanto and other chemical giants.

“While the peel can act as a barrier that slows pesticide absorption, some pesticides can penetrate deep into the fruit or vegetable,” the Washington DC-based nonprofit concluded. “Unfortunately, some pesticides can even move across even thick-skinned fruit such as citrus and bananas. One study found that phenoxy herbicides such as 2,4-D had some of the highest abilities to transfer through the peel. This is especially worrisome, because 2,4-D has been associated with health problems such as development of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and reproductive dysfunction.

“The fungicide imazalil also has a high diffusion rate, and can thus pass through peels easily. Research has shown levels of this pesticide in the pulp of produce such as peeled apples. This is another scary chemical to be exposed to, because studies have found it to be genotoxic even at low doses, and it is classified as a likely carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Draft Guidelines for Carcinogenic Assessment. Other studies have found that imazalil can have negative effects on reproductive health, and exposure in utero can cause neurobehavioral problems.”

Chemicals also penetrate plants the same way pathogens, antibiotics, hormones and other substances conveyed by non-veganic fertilizers do — up the root and throughout the plant systemically.

“Root vegetables are at particular risk for pesticide saturation,” notes The Organic Center report. “Carrots, for example, are well known for their ability to absorb pesticide residues from soils. One study found that concentrations of pesticides in carrots could be as high as 80% of the concentration in the soil, with up to 50% of that concentration contained in the pulp (rather than the peel) of the carrot. …

“Neonicotinoids are one of the most commonly used systemic insecticides. It is chemically similar to nicotine, and is often applied to seeds, subsequently becoming systemic throughout the growing plant. These chemicals can have toxic effect in humans. One recent report by the European Food Safety Authority concluded that neonicotinoids can damage the human nervous system, especially brain areas associated with learning and memory. Additionally … researchers found that infectious disease spread in fish, amphibians, birds, and bats coincides with neonicotinoids’ ability to suppress immune system function.”

Discover more here:

Tipping Point: Designer Cows

“In the meadow, four white-haired Shorthorn heifers peel off from the others, raising their heads at the same time in the same direction. Unsettling, when you know they are clones.”

So begins a chilling report from an Iowa field by Agence France-Presse reporter Juliette Michel, who explores a brave new world that is dawning without much notice: the laboratory cloning of animals for consumption. Like all cloned animals, cows designed in dishes and destined for plates are much less healthy than nature’s versions, and live shorter lives. Whether they feel less healthy during the short interlude between surrogate birth and sesame bun is anyone’s guess.

“A few miles away, four Trans Ova scientists in white lab jackets bend over high-tech microscopes in the company’s laboratories,” Michel writes. “They are meticulously working with the minute elements of life to create, in Petri dishes, genetically identical copies of existing animals. Each year, the company gives birth, using the cloning technique, to about 100 calves. It also clones pigs and horses.”

For its part, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has looked at cows from both sides now, the cloned variety that arrives nearly shrink-wrapped, and calves from normal atomic families. In 2008 it gave a green light to the sale of beef, pork and goat meat, as well as milk, from cloned animals. With little transparency in the process — including zero labeling mandates — it seems inevitable that consumers, very soon, really won’t know cows at all.

“There are [cloned] cattle in the thousands globally now,” a Trans Ova mad cow scientist told Michel. Many of these animals will reproduce naturally, complicating genealogical research for grazing posterity. “It would be next to impossible to go backwards,” he promised.

Discover more here:

Sugar Frosted Flacks

The nation’s longest food conflict — the Sugar War — is set to heat up once again, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers new rules that will require the industry to list naturally occurring sugars separately from those added during processing.

Influential trade groups such as the Corn Refiners Association, the American Frozen Foods Institute, and the National Confectioners Association have mobilized for the fight. And, according to a new report from the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists, these groups have been remarkably successful over the years in deflecting government mandates and preserving market share.

Clever public relations firms and various “front groups” have been key to the industry’s success, according to the report’s authors. “Through the use of many of the same tactics employed by the tobacco industry, sugar interests from all sectors have intentionally worked to deceive the public” and maintain high levels of sugar consumption, they contend.

Among the tactics ostensibly employed: “Seeking to discredit [scientific] findings by intimidating the study authors … promoting misinformation through research institutes … deploying industry scientists … failing to disclose scientists’ conflicts of interest, hijacking scientific language for product promotion, influencing academia, buying credibility through academic scientists, funding research to support their preconceived positions, paying academic scientists to persuade other scientists of sugar interests’ positions,” as well as routine lobbying of politicians and regulators.

For a substance so sweet, the charges are fairly harsh. But the authors remind the reader that over-consumption of sugar is a serious health issue: “We think of it as a sweet treat, but it hides in everything from barbeque sauce to yogurt to salad dressing, added to foods before they ever reach our plates.

“Scientific evidence has shown that over-consumption of added sugar has serious health consequences: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension have all been linked to high consumption of added sugar. And yet Americans continue to consume large amounts of hidden sugar every day, and our food policies do not reflect the scientific evidence on this health risk.”

Read the full report here:

Sesame Sunflower Wins Best in Show

Transparency is a huge concept these days, but in practical terms it’s really no bigger than a breadbox.

That’s what Delicious Living magazine discovered when they went looking for the most candid food products they could find. One Degree’s Veganic Sesame Sunflower bread emerged as winner of the “Best Transparency” category in the respected publication’s 2014 “Best Bite” awards.

As the editors explained: “We asked experienced natural retailers, manufacturers, and you to share the products that make healthy living more delicious. After carefully tasting samples and scrutinizing ingredients, we chose these 29 winners, with a focus on products that use nutrient-dense, clean, whole-food ingredients to deliver exemplary foods and beverages — and also address special-diet considerations.”

Honesty is one of many compelling character traits our customers love about these warmly inviting loaves. After all, it’s hard not to smile when you think of our Sesame Sunflower bread. What’s more joyful than a sunflower, nor packed with as much fiber, flavor and vitamin E?

And how could our sesame seeds be cultivated with any more pride, loyalty and kindness than they are by our Oaxaca farmers? Add the timeless purity of khorasan wheat, a grain which could never imagine GMO, hybridization or processing, and you have an irresistible slice of nature and life.

The story of One Degree Sesame Sunflower starts high in the mountains of southwestern Mexico, where farmer Gerardo Pacheco and his community’s agricultural cooperative grow the sesame seeds you’ll find in our uncommonly delicious recipe. His family has been cultivating the land since pre-Columbian times. The purity of these veganically-grown seeds, together with the wisdom of ancient traditions, makes every meal a celebration.

It’s a story we love to tell. And as this much-appreciated award from Delicious Living shows, it’s the kind of straightforward narrative that the industry, the market and consumers have long been waiting to hear.