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    Coca-Cola and Their Obesity Response

    Riffing off of Marion Nestle’s recent post about Coca-Cola, marketing, and obesity, I think that it’s not a problem that Coca-Cola should be a participant in the conversation about the growing of America’s waistline. Hell, the more companies involved in such discussions, the better off we would all be.

    That being said, the Coca-Cola company, nor any corporation for that matter, should solely drive the discussion, at least not without chance of proper questions to be asked of them and their own presumed culpability in the matter.

    There in lies the dissonance. Companies like Coca-Cola don’t want a dialogue. It might put the company at risk, which in turn, puts their stock at risk, something that is a big no-no in the corporate world. It’s far, far better, from their point of view, to get in front of the debate, and lead it in the direction where questions surrounding their marketing, health claims, and pricing strategies simply do not get asked.

    The result of this is silliness such as Coke’s Live Positively website, designed to give the impression that they care about the obesity issue. Yet, if you look around this site, the one unequivocal answer to helping consumers reduce caloric intake, i.e. drink less soda, is not mentioned once.

    In fact, the opposite is true. Looking at their section on Active Healthy Living, Coke promotes guiding principles: Think, Drink, and Move. You’ll note that “Drink” comes before “Move”. You’ll also note that when clicking on the “Drink” link, it takes you to one of their many branding pages, where they boast of their “500 beverage brands inclusive of more than 3,500 beverages”, many of which are no where near what one would consider a healthy choice for consumption.

    I’ve said this before about McDonald’s, and it holds true for Coca-Cola: Creating an illusion that their products are healthy is a difficult one to maintain in the long run. When your primary product is sugar water, and you major goal for your sugar water is to have people consume it in excess, it’s difficult to hold the position that Coke’s interest is equitable to the interest of those trying to be healthy.

    It has to be a difficult position for Coke to be in. After all, they can’t just say that their products are little more than empty calories. They can’t imply that their beverages are little more than an affordable luxury item. But this is exactly what they are. They have the science to prove it. As do we.

    They know this. They just can’t say it. And when a company cannot be free to speak to the facts when engaging in dialogue, for fear of adversely affecting their stock prices, they become a dishonest broker of information in the national discussion.

    More Bad News for High Fructose Corn Syrup?

    From the New York Times:

    In a small study, Texas researchers showed that the body converts fructose to body fat with “surprising speed,’’ said Elizabeth Parks, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The study, which appears in The Journal of Nutrition, shows how glucose and fructose, which are forms of sugar, are metabolized differently.

    It is important to remember that High Fructose Corn Syrup is not 100% fructose. Depending on the product (there are several varieties of HFCS), it can be comprised with as much as 58% glucose, so your mileage may vary.

    And of course the standard caveats apply… HFCS is only one variable out of many regarding obesity, you shouldn’t eat too much of any sugar, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

    Oh, and it still makes soda taste dull and lifeless.

    As always, thanks to Jack at Fork & Bottle

    Food Safety and (the lack of) Inspections

    Nestled deep within the Washington Post was this article, about the current administrations perspective on the current problems surrounding food safety. Their response is rather stunning, but not all that surprising when you consider their track record on other issues.

    A consensus is building among government and food industry officials that the fix for the country’s import safety system is likely to require better-targeted inspections, though not necessarily more of them.

    Yesterday, Mike Leavitt, secretary of health and human services and chairman of a panel established by President Bush to study the safety of imported food, reflected that point of view when he said: “We simply cannot inspect our way to safety.” (emphasis mine)

    The best interpretation for the above is that we’re not going to see any more funding for additional inspectors out in the field.

    The article goes on to say the following:

    Instead, the import safety panel is expected to push for expanded use of technology to more quickly identify risky imports. Leavitt has supported the use of technology at the border that could read the contents of a sports drink bottle, for example, looking for potentially toxic chemicals without opening it.

    And the best interpretation for that is that some contractors are about to receive a large amount of money to develop products that…guess what…will have to be regulated. Hardware and software developed for the government does not occur in a vacuum.

    The FDA is developing a food-safety strategy to be unveiled this fall that would rely on risk-based inspection but has not asked for more resources to pay for more inspections.

    The only question here is why wasn’t the FDA already pursuing risk-based inspections?

    I will concede the fact that throwing inspectors at the problem is only a drop in the bucket. But there’s more that can be done on this side of that fence. Companies who knowingly violate regulations, or repeatedly have the same issues should be penalized. Inspectors need to have accountability in their arsenal of tools. Currently there is precious little of that.

    Also, adding more inspectors doesn’t mean that there will be a zero sum gain in findings. They will catch some issues that are not being caught now. Arguing that adding additional inspectors is a waste of time is absolutely false.

    Outrage Fatigue – Realities in Food Safety

    I have to say that it only took a year full of various e.coli outbreaks, spinach recalls, and a handful of other food safety news stories to make me feel resigned to the state of our food culture. There’s only so much bad news and unfortunate circumstances that one can take before these episodes become less of a news story and more of a common fact of life.

    As the pet food story evolved from the recalls of the various pet foods to the discovery that the chemical Melamine had been used and is the root cause of the way too many animal deaths, I mentioned in passing to a friend that the odds of this chemical being fed to our food sources was an even money bet. I had hoped that it wouldn’t be so, but when my prediction turned out to be true, I wasn’t surprised.

    Like a child who grows jaded upon learning the truth behind Santa Claus, so too becomes a person who hears repeated stories of the failures of an industry who’s primary purpose is to maintain the health and well-being of their consumers. At some point news reports of these types stop being the exception and instead become the rule.

    Part of this cynicism sits at the feet of the instant news culture. Out of all of the news reports surrounding the Salmonella outbreaks last year, or the various E.Coli reports this year, very few outlets highlighted the fact that a typical American’s chance of catching these diseases from the products in question was practically zero. But this fact doesn’t sell newspapers or bring people to websites. However, the amount of people who were or could be affected by these diseases was only one of the messages meant to be heard. It’s the unintentional subtext to all of these stories that gets us riled up…

    …that our quest for cheaper food is putting us at greater health risks.

    The problem is that these two points are directly contradictory to one another. If it was unlikely, to a tune of almost zero percent probability, that we could get salmonella or E.Coli, how is our health at greater risk? The answer depends upon one’s perspective.

    Some would argue that x amount of deaths versus y amount of illnesses is an acceptable risk. When deaths and illnesses due to food is compared against traffic injuries and fatalities, it’s easy to draw this conclusion.

    Others would argue that there’s little to no excuse for allowing preventable illnesses from entering the food supply. Would we pay an additional 5 cents to a quarter more per pound of ground beef, head of lettuce, or jar of peanut butter if it meant saving one life or preventing 200 people from getting ill?

    And still others would claim that all of the free market checks and government regulation in the word cannot completely prevent a company from behaving badly and putting people at risk.

    None of these perspectives are illogical to take. But each one becomes more and more tiresome either to hear or to espouse with each new story of failure of oversight someone’s loved ones (be they friends, family or pets) becoming ill. Instead, we become inured to the stories.

    And as we hear of melamine being fed to farmed fish and workers who need new lungs due to a chemical used in artificial butter flavor, we give a quick thanks that these stories haven’t affected us directly and then move on to Iraq or the Alberto Gonzalez hearings.

    The Past Sins of Conagra

    I realize that there is a possibility that any salmonella outbreak is likely to fall into that small percentile of probability where coincidences occur, and bad stuff sometimes just happens. There is no such thing as a perfect system, and there’s no way to manage mistake-free workplaces. As anyone who works in the Quality and Safety industries can assure you, even in the best of environments, sometimes bad things happen.

    Now, that being said, let me put out the following pieces of information:

    • July, 2002 – ConAgra Foods Inc. recalled 19 million pounds of ground beef and beef products nationwide after at least 16 people became ill with E. coli bacteria-related diseases from eating meat packaged at the company’s Colorado plant.
    • December, 2002 – ConAgra voluntarily recalls approximately 36,000 pounds of fully-cooked, frozen chicken products that may be contaminated with plastic.
    • June, 2003- ConAgra Poultry is recalling 129,000 pounds of chicken due to fears that a number of products may contain glass.
    • December, 2005- Almost 3,000,000 pounds of 2.6-ounce packages of Armour Lunch Makers Cracker Crunchers made with ham, bologna, turkey, and chicken are recalled when it is discovered they may be contaminated with listeria. Conagra owns these brands.
    • February, 2007 – That’s right, just this past Tuesday ConAgra recalled more than 400,000 pounds of pasta and meatball meals that may have been underprocessed.
    • February, 2007 – Conagra recalls peanut butter that contains salmonella.

    My question is thus: At what point does the above behavior describe a negligent corporate culture rather than simple “bad luck”?

    My Second question is: At what point do we, as consumers, start punishing companies who have these issues? And I don’t mean simply stop buying Peter Pan peanut butter (which will occur anyways, by virtue of the recent salmonella news stories). I mean the collective “we” figuring out “Well huh, these guys kinda suck when it comes to producing safe food for consumption. Not only will we stop eating their Peter Pan peanut butter, but also their Orville Redenbacher Popcorn, their Reddi-Whip Whipped cream, their Slim Jim’s, ad infinitum and (literally) ad nauseum.

    Sadly, I don’t think the answer to the second question is “soon”. Most people probably aren’t even aware of Conagra, let alone the products they sell.

    tags technorati : Food Safety, Conagra

    Cause meet effect – Vegetarians and IQ

    Ya gotta love this headline from the BBC:
    High IQ link to being vegetarian
    As if some vegetarians aren’t already insufferable enough, now we have to deal with this? I kid, I kid.
    So let’s look at the numbers here…

    Men who were vegetarian had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians; while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for non-vegetarians.

    That’s a swing of a whole 5 points. That’s probably just enough of a swing that allows a person to realize that choices in eating have long term ramifications.
    My guess? Becoming vegetarian doesn’t make you more intelligent. Rather than being intelligent allows a person to make vegetarianism a lifestyle choice. In other words vegetarians were already intelligent even before becoming vegetarians.
    My favorite part of the article?

    Twenty years after the IQ tests were carried out in 1970, 366 of the participants said they were vegetarian – although more than 100 reported eating either fish or chicken.

    I guess this means that these 100 people who called themselves vegetarians yet still ate fish and/or chicken would be at the lower end of the IQ scale? Because apparently that swing of five IQ points wasn’t enough of an uptick in their smarts to make them realize that eating chicken and fish makes a person an omnivore, not a vegetarian.
    Technorati Tags: Vegetarianism, vegetarians

    E.Coli Scallions Farm located

    They’ve come from a farm in Southern California that supplies produce to Ready Pac (which I nodded at slightly yesterday).

    The scallions suspected in the E. coli outbreak linked to Taco Bell came from a southern California grower, an official with the company that washed, chopped and packed them for the restaurant chain said yesterday.

    Ready Pac Produce, the sole supplier of green onions to Taco Bell restaurants in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia areas, stopped all production of scallions at its Florence, N.J., plant, which federal food inspectors visited Wednesday.

    Technorati Tags: E.Coli, Taco+Bell