Consumer group: 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines falls short on alcohol, sugar recommendations

For immediate release: January 6, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –At a time when almost 75 percent of American adults are overweight or obese and as many as six in 10 have one or more diet-related chronic disease, such as diabetes and hypertension, the National Consumers League (NCL) is concerned that the just released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not contain clear recommendations on added sugars and alcohol consumption that can help reverse these trends.

While stressing the importance of consuming mostly nutrient-dense foods and beverages – especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry – the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines fall short when it comes to advice on limiting added sugars. Despite the urging of the independent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to recommend that Americans reduce their consumption of added sugars to 6 percent of daily calories, the 2020-2025 guidance continues to allow for up to 10 percent. This is worrying because added sugars, which include high fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, molasses, corn sweetener and fruit juice concentrates, are ubiquitous in foods and beverages and contribute only calories but no essential nutrients.

“We are greatly disappointed that the latest dietary guidelines make no progress in educating Americans about moderate drinking, despite compelling evidence of excessive alcohol use in the country,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “As the new Dietary Guidelines itself acknowledges, about half of the estimated 66 percent of adults who drink alcoholic beverages report binge drinking – sometimes multiple times a month. Americans need significantly more information to make responsible drinking decisions than is now contained in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines.

Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy continues to be a problem in the United States. Specifically, one on ten pregnant women reported consuming alcohol with an average intake of two or more drinks on the day in question.

On a positive note, the latest guidelines define a standard “drink” as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (all equaling 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol). However, the reality is most adult Americans don’t know this and consider a “drink” to be the contents in a glass, bottle, or can.  Thus, it is challenging to follow the dietary guidelines advice to limit consumption to two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women.

For this reason, the National Consumers League is renewing the call for the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages – the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – to mandate an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products on an expedited basis. Our call for alcohol labeling goes back to 2003 when NCL and 76 other organizations first petitioned TTB to require alcohol and nutrient content information on alcoholic beverage products, including the serving size, amount of alcohol (in fluid ounces or grams) per serving, number of calories per serving, and the percent of alcohol by volume.

“Unfortunately, we are still waiting for alcohol labeling and the American public is paying the price in higher rates of chronic diseases, depression, learning and memory problems, and serious injuries, such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, drownings, and burns,” said Greenberg.

According to a study published in the July 31, 2020 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate an average of 93,296 deaths (255 per day) and 2.7 million years of potential life lost in the United States each year from excessive alcohol use at a cost to the economy of $249 billion in 2010 alone.

“Only with comprehensive alcohol labeling will Americans have the facts to heed the advice on alcohol consumption contained in the newly released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines and for the public health community to have the tools to reduce excessive drinking in a meaningful way,” said Greenberg.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Is your honey real?

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners. And I’m not alone. The global demand for honey is extremely high with the market size value in 2020 at 9.79 billion. But are we buying the authentic thing?

This high demand has resulted in market fraud and adulteration. Insider has stated that honey is the third-most-faked food in the world behind milk and olive oil. Assessing the quality of honey can be difficult because of the production process or adulteration with cane sugar or other ingredients.

In the United States, 400 million pounds of honey ends up in our food every year. Most of it is adulterated product from China. Manufacturers either dilute real honey by adding syrups derived from plants or they chemically modify the sugars in those syrups so they look like real honey. Honey consumers in the U.S., and across the globe, are being duped and need to be made more aware of how to tell if the honey they purchased is real or fake.

Here are several ways to spot fakes:

  1. Crystallization – real honey crystallizes over a period of time once kept in a cool dark place. Adulterated honey will always retain the same consistency.
  2. Water test – drop a teaspoon of honey in water. If the honey is pure, it will not easily mix with water but will become slightly thicker in texture.
  3. Microwave test/heat test – place a bowl of honey in the microwave and heat it for a minute. If it caramelizes, then it is real honey. If it bubbles, it is not.
  4. Paper test – put 2 teaspoons of honey on a plate and put paper on it. If the paper soaks the honey, then it is adulterated.

As the demand for honey increases, one would expect that the price of honey would increase. However, the opposite has occurred since the supply of adulterated honey has increased and driven global honey prices down. This has resulted in beekeepers barely being able to sell their honey for a profit.

Another major issue that adulterated honey causes is the threat to pollination and our food systems. Vice highlights that bees help produce 90 commercially-grown crops in the U.S. and have brought in over $24 billion to the economy. Without beekeepers, we would have a failed food system.

Consumers should seek out raw, organic, unadulterated honey that will not have negative impacts on our beekeepers, our crop, and our economy. If you buy a plant-based burger, you would like to know the nutritional value and ingredients of the product and it should be the same for honey or any product that we consume.

I would recommend that each consumer watch the Netflix documentary Rotten. The episode called “Lawyers, Guns and Honey” shows the reasons behind low production of authentic honey and the impact of the dwindling bee population on our environment.

Vitaminwater making bold claims

Since its founding in 1899, NCL has been on the look-out for product claims that may be deceptive or misleading. So when we came across a few advertisements about vitaminwater recently, we were shocked to see that the company that manufactures vitaminwater, Glaceau (a Coca-Cola company), is suggesting that its products can keep you healthy or pre-empt the need for flu shots!

In a formal complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission in February 2011, NCL is pointing to print and television advertisements that suggest vitaminwater can replace flu shots or prevent illness and prey on consumers’ health concerns to sell a high-calorie product:

“These advertising claims are not only untrue; they constitute a public health menace. Stopping these vitaminwater claims, which contradict information by the Centers for Disease Control and other public health authorities, should be a top FTC priority,” stated Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL.

The NCL complaint also urged the FTC to halt deceptive label statements for vitaminwater that describe the product as:

According to NCL, the statements are deceptive because the products on which they appear are not simply made from vitamins and water, but are made with crystalline fructose or other forms of sugar, and contain 125 calories per bottle.

“Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese; the last thing people need is sugar water with vitamins you could get from eating a healthy diet, or by taking a vitamin pill, Greenberg stated.

The FTC should act now, during cold and flu season, to stop vitaminwater’s outlandish claims,” she said.

Read NCL’s letter to the FTC here, or tell vitaminwater what you think of its ads here.

Consumers for Safe CBD is working to protect, educate Americans

As America’s premier consumer advocacy organization, with a rich history of fighting to make the marketplace fair, safe, and healthy for consumers, NCL is hard at work on the most important issues in food and drug safety and to collaborate on improving consumer education.

In recent years, NCL has been observing the CBD, or cannabidiol, marketplace exploding, with products lining shelves of grocery stores, specialty shops—even gas stations. Products were appearing to make many claims or hint at miracle cures, and most consumers had no idea how or whether the products were being regulated. Who is making sure these tinctures, oils, gummies, and lotions are safe, and do they do what they claim?

This is why last year, NCL joined forces with the Consumer Federation of America and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, to create a national campaign called Consumers for Safe CBD.

NCL had identified a serious need for greater education among consumers about CBD, and that’s why Consumers for Safe CBD was created. Consumers for Safe CBD aims to help educate the public about the risks related to untested, unapproved CBD products on the market, champion the rights of consumers, and call on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and industry to do better to ensure safety and promote a pathway for new products through clinically tested scientific research.

“Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is being used in a growing number of consumer products and is illegally sold in stores and on the Internet,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We’re working to educate consumers and ensure accurate labeling, clear guidelines, and further research to protect against unknown and known risks of CBD products.”

NCL and its partners continue to raise awareness among consumers, policymakers, and regulators about the health risks associated with the unregulated CBD marketplace, in particular with the unproven health claims and often inaccurate labeling of products on the market today. Beyond the known health risks associated with unregulated CBD, there are a number of unscrupulous marketing tactics that prey on unsuspecting consumers. This includes false and dangerous claims that CBD has medical benefits that can prevent and stop the spread of the COVID-19.

By warning consumers about these false claims, participating in media interviews and publishing op-eds across the country, highlighting important research and reports, and sending letters to several retailers, state Attorneys General and Members of Congress, the campaign is working to protect consumers across the country from unapproved and potentially dangerous CBD products.

“We need to better understand the potential health benefits of CBD, but this can only be accomplished through clinical testing and scientifically validated methodologies,” said Greenberg. “We need the FDA to step up for consumers and for the public health.”

The time for action is now. CLICK HERE for more information about the Consumers for Safe CBD effort.

Sweetened with what? Lack of transparency and misleading claims make reducing added sugars confusing

Many of us are probably trying to heed the advice of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce our consumption of added sugars. FDA has made “Added Sugars” content per serving a mandatory line on the Nutrition Facts label and has established a Daily Value of 50g of added sugars based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. FDA’s actions, however, have had some unintended consequences.

The agency’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label has created a marketing incentive for food and beverage manufacturers to replace added sugars with alternative or substitute sweeteners.  Leading brand name products bear prominent claims such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars,” implying that the new product is healthier than the original without disclosing how the sugar has been reduced. As detailed in a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) letter and an industry citizen’s petition filed with the FDA (Docket No. FDA-2020-P-1478), consumers have little idea that when they purchase a no/reduced sugar product, they may be buying a food that contains alternative sweeteners, highly processed, or artificial substances.

Most of us following the FDA’s advice aren’t looking to load up on combinations of new-fangled sweetening agents, sugar alcohols and other synthetic substances. CSPI’s January 9, 2020 letter asks that FDA enforce standards for nutrient content claims related to added or reduced sugar. We support that request.

The petition was filed by the Sugar Association, whose members are clearly concerned about competition from alternative sweeteners. But their complaint to the FDA makes a strong case for transparency by citing products that make no/reduced added sugars on the front label, but fail to disclose that sugars have been replaced by other sweeteners—many unfamiliar, some artificial, and some with known glycemic index effects. For example:

  • Rebel Ice Cream claims “No Sugar Added” but is sweetened with Erythritol, Chicory Root Fiber, Vegetable Glycerin, and Monk Fruit;
  • Kool-Aid Jammers claim “Zero Sugar” but are sweetened with Sucralose and Acesulfame Potassium;
  • Oikos Greek Yogurt claims “No Added Sugar and No Artificial Sweeteners” but contains Stevia and Chicory Root Fiber;
  • Quest Nutrition’s Hero Blueberry Cobbler Bar claims “1g” of sugar but is sweetened with Allulose, Erythritol, Sucralose, and Steviol Glycosides (Stevia);
  • Snack Pack Juicy Gels claim “Sugar Free” but are sweetened with Sucralose;
  • ONE Maple Glazed Doughnut Bar claims “1g” of sugar but is sweetened with Maltitol, Vegetable Glycerin, and Sucralose;
  • Snack Pack Chocolate Pudding Cups claim “Sugar Free” but are sweetened with Sorbitol, Maltitol, Sucralose, and Acesulfame Potassium;
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks claim “Reduced Sugar” but are sweetened with Chicory Root Fiber and Maltitol Syrup;

The petition, among other steps, urges FDA to require that such substances be clearly disclosed as a “sweetener” in the ingredient list. That step seems reasonable to insure transparency and ensure that consumers know what they are purchasing.

The petition also calls for action against outright misleading claims regarding sugar content. The CSPI letter and industry petition blows the whistle on deceptive claims like these:

  • The reduced sugar version of Skippy peanut butter has 1/3 less sugar than its traditional counterpart but has more calories and fat per serving than the regular version. Despite having 1g less added sugars, the reformulated product provides 20 more calories per 2 tablespoon serving. The claim on the front label is misleading because it implies that the reformulated version is healthier due to the reduction in added sugars when the reformulated version is higher in calories.
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks Reduced Sugar version claims 25 percent less sugar than the original version. The claim is predicated upon a reduction in the serving size of the reformulated version of the product. The original version has a serving size of 25.5g while the Reduced Sugar version has decreased to 22.7g.
  • Oikos Triple Zero blended Greek Yogurt makes a “0 Added Sugar” claim but has more calories per serving than the company’s regular Greek yogurt. The zero added sugars product, which is sweetened with Stevia Leaf Extract, has 120 calories per serving while the company’s original version has 110 calories per serving.

Statements like these turn the supermarket aisle into a minefield of misleading claims that are not good for consumers who are trying to sort out health values. We urge the FDA to prohibit misleading labeling of alternative sweeteners in processed foods and beverages and to grant the citizens’ petition for greater transparency in food labeling when it comes to these artificial sweeteners.

 

Alcohol consumption during COVID-19: What the consumer needs to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

While most people are stuck at home in America during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have increased their alcohol purchase and consumption. During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly stated at the end of prohibition, “what America needs right now is a drink.” American’s are now facing another crisis, a pandemic and are adhering to this call.

According to a survey done by the research firm Nielsen, off-premise sales of alcohol spiked nationwide following stay-at-home orders. A new study from Alcohol.org stated that 1 in 3 Americans are drinking alcohol while working from home during COVID-19 lockdown. About 32 percent of Americans are more likely to be drinking while working from home, with 36 percent of men and 26 percent of women drinking while working.

In 2018, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) disclosed data showing that 86.3 percent of Americans ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70 percent reported they drank in the past year; 55.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month. NSDUH also indicated in 2018 that 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States. This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women. The survey went onto disclose an estimated 401,000 youth ages from 12 to 17 had Alcohol Use Disorder.

According to Healthline, Americans expressed that their daily routine has changed and many have faced unemployed. This increased uncertainty, anxiety, and fear brought on by the pandemic has resulted in binge drinking.

What is defined as “binge drinking”? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.

Binge drinking has some serious risks and is associated with many health problems, including:

  • sudden infant death syndrome;
  • obesity;
  • chronic diseases such as high blood pressures, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease;
  • cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon;
  • memory and learning problems;
  • alcohol use disorders;
  • and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

The CDC stated in 2010 that alcohol misuse cost Americans an estimated $249.0 billion. These costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent of these costs or $191 billion.

Many consumers are unaware that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has not mandated “Alcohol Facts” on alcoholic beverages. Consumers have access to labeling information that contains nutritional facts on every single thing they consume except alcoholic beverages. As a result, consumers have little means of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages. At the National Consumers League (NCL), we think the need for alcohol labeling is long overdue. Over the last two decades, NCL has petitioned the federal government for standardized “Alcohol Facts” and, this summer, will be calling for action on Alcoholic Beverage Labeling. Join your voice with ours by signing the forthcoming petition addressed to TTB and demand the drafting and implementation of rules that mandate a standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all alcoholic beverages. It’s time to end the confusion so consumers can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions.

Consumer group says ‘NO!’ to proposal to lift standard sizes for spirits, says ‘unscrupulous actors will cheat consumers’

October 29, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

NCL files comment with the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) objecting to a proposal to completely eliminate standards of fill (or permissible bottle sizes) for distilled spirits, inviting consumer confusion.

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) has filed a regulatory comment with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) objecting to its proposed regulation (Docket TTB-2019-0005) to eliminate the “standards of fill” or permissible bottle sizes for distilled spirits products. 

For years, NCL has been urging TTB to take into account adult consumers’ interest in having access to clear, usable, and meaningful information about the alcoholic beverages they consume. Most recently, NCL wrote TTB to make the case that its effort to “modernize” alcoholic beverage labeling and advertising should include mandatory serving facts labeling so that consumers may understand how much alcohol (as well as nutrients) they consume in a serving and in a given container. 

In its comment, NCL objects to the TTB proposal because of its great potential to harm consumers by damaging the common understanding of container sizes, which consumers have come to rely on since the end of Prohibition. The TTB proposal makes no sense in the absence of mandatory serving facts labeling and invites deceptive practices by unscrupulous manufacturers who will undoubtedly vary bottle sizes to deceive consumers and increase profits.

NCL’s full comment may be seen here. 

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

AdvoCare settlement highlights FTC’s importance in protecting consumers from pyramid schemes

October 2, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today, the National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization applauded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for its successful investigation and settlement with multi-level marketing (MLM) company AdvoCare. The settlement, in addition to providing $150 million in relief to victims, implements a lifetime ban preventing AdvoCare from ever rejoining the MLM business.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League:

Today’s settlement once again highlights the central role that the FTC plays in protecting Americans from illegal pyramid schemes. The FTC has a 45-year track record of winning favorable settlements and court judgements against pyramid schemes. In spite of this, many leading members of the direct selling industry continue to push a discredited bill that would dramatically undermine the Commission’s ability to protect consumers against companies like AdvoCare. 

Under the Orwellian name of the “Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act,” the bill would create a series of carve outs and safe harbors that would prevent the FTC from protecting consumers and entrepreneurs from all but the most blatant pyramid schemes.

Today’s actions by the FTC demonstrate the need for  continued  consumer protection under its existing authority. NCL opposes pyramid scheme legalization bills like the Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act, which is even now being peddled by industry lobbyists. We hope this bill will once again be stopped from gaining momentum by members of Congress.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to www.smartlabel.org on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.