Thursday, January 7, 2010

When is zero not zero?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2010 at 2:41 PM

UPDATE, 1/8/10: Reader Francie Kelley from Austin, Texas wrote in to point out an error in my comparison to trans fat and gluten-free labeling. She writes:

"I enjoyed your article and I understand and agree with where you are coming from. However the FDA does allow food containing gluten to be labeled gluten-free. At the present time the FDA has no standard for gluten-free so each food manufacturer can develop their own standard and label accordingly.

"The food labeling act in 2006 said the FDA need to develop a standard by 2008 but that did not happen. They have a proposed standard but it has not yet been finalized.

"The proposal says that if the gluten content is less than 20 parts per million it can be labeled gluten-free.

"So while [your] point is valid (if it is fat free it should really be fat free) gluten is not a good comparison. Because the FDA does not have a zero level for gluten in gluten-free foods."

The change is reflected below.

This isn't new news, but it's something that's been bugging me for a while: Why does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration think it is OK to change the meaning of the word "zero"?

You know all those products in the store and items like Girl Scout cookies that boast "zero grams of trans fats per serving" on their labels?

Well, that's not exactly true, considering that by FDA standards, "Products containing <0.5 g of TFA/14 g serving may be declared as zero," according to this Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry article.

Sure, .5 grams is a small amount, but it's surely not by definition of the word "zero."

You don't take a small puff of marijuana and say you don't smoke. You don't steal a tiny sum of money from a bank and say you aren't a thief. Come on — these are absolutes, people!

The FDA doesn't allow labels to get away with hiding sugar or gluten, because they know that might kill a diabetic or celiac. So why let trans fats slip? Because like cigarettes, they kill you imperceptibly, over a great length of time.

Once and for all, the agency that should be properly protecting consumers should do just that: no loopholes, no false labeling.

And as a tangent to this tangent: Though I applaud the Girl Scouts for having added four new varieties this year that contain no hydrogenated oil, it remains odd to me that we're teaching young women "valuable way(s) to learn business skills, people skills, money smarts, ethics in action and financial goal setting" (according to a press release we recently received) while ignoring health and nutrition.

Its all fun and games until an artery clogs.
  • It's all fun and games until an artery clogs.

Think about it: These entrepreneurial lasses are peddling their "tempting treats" annually to a nation in which 75 percent of adults will be overweight or obese, and 41 percent will be obese, by 2015, according to this study.

The organization obviously does a lot of good in communities — I'm just sayin' they could add a nutritional awareness component to their annual cookie blitzkrieg.

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