National Consumers League releases its Top Food and Nutrition Policy Priorities for 2022

July 20, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – At a time of significant change in the food industry, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a food policy agenda to improve food safety, reduce sodium in the diet, achieve better portion control, increase transparency in food and beverage labeling, and promote a more sustainable food system. Additionally, NCL is calling for a national strategy to ensure there will be an ample supply of safe infant formula products in the US along with aggressive regulatory oversight.

“Currently, over 335 million people live in the US, and all are consumers who deserve to be represented in the regulation of the foods and beverages they consume and serve to their families,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “Especially now when technology is changing food production, food safety protocols, and the composition of novel and reformulated foods and beverages, NCL will speak for consumers on strengthening the food safety system, filling the gaps in food labeling, alleviating food insecurity, and reducing food waste.”

Addressing serious food safety lapses and areas where regulation has not caught up to changes in food production, manufacturing, and market trends, NCL’s agenda concentrates on 11 priorities where education and changes in public policy will have a direct and positive impact on the American public:

1. Strengthen the Food Safety System

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moves forward with its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, NCL will press FDA to finalize its Food Traceability Proposed Rule, enabling rapid traceback to the source of a contaminated food. Similarly, NCL will stress the need for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to modernize poultry safety rules and update food safety rules, such as expanded pathogen testing in meat and poultry products and updated safe handling instructions label for these products.

2. Ensure the Safety and Availability of Infant Formula

The critical shortage of infant formula in the U.S. requires a national strategy to ensure there will be an ample supply of safe infant formula products in the US along with aggressive regulatory oversight of the safety protocols at U.S. manufacturing facilities. NCL will also advocate for policies that increase the number of companies manufacturing infant formula, and changes in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that allow for more flexibility in the range of infant formula products available through WIC.

3. Make Alcohol Facts Labeling Mandatory

Since 2003, NCL and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have taken the lead in pressing the federal agency that regulates most alcoholic beverages – the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – to issue rules requiring an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. Because this

labeling now appears on hard ciders, wine coolers, certain beers and other products regulated by the FDA, NCL, CSPI and the public health community are stepping up the fight to make mandatory alcohol labeling a reality.

4. Reduce Excess Sodium in the Diet

Because Americans on average consume 50 percent more sodium per day than is recommended, NCL will continue to raise awareness of the goal set by FDA to lower sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day and encourage consumers to use the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less sodium, reduced sodium or no sodium added.

5. Require Labeling of Caffeine Content

While FDA considers 400 mg of caffeine per day as the amount not generally associated with dangerous side effects, the agency only requires food labels to disclose whether there is added caffeine in the food or beverage, not the total amount. Therefore, NCL is calling for new policy requiring all products containing caffeine to list the amount of caffeine per serving and per container.

6. Ensure Transparency in the Labeling of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

In June 2022, NCL released a new report, Education and Transparency in Labeling Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: A Consumer-Focused Agenda to Improve Understanding and Decision-Making of Plant-Based Meats, which lays out seven priorities for regulatory action, including the requirement that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source and that nutrition/health claims for these products undergo FDA review and are supported by available scientific evidence. 

7. Improve the Labeling of Alternative Sweeteners

Although NCL applauds FDA’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the recently updated Nutrition Facts Label, the organization supports a Citizen Petition to ensure transparent labeling of substitute sweeteners and is urging FDA to stop misleading claims, such as “No Added Sugars” and “Zero Sugar,” that imply the product is healthier than the original without disclosing that the sugar reduction resulted from reformulating with artificial substances and sugar alcohols. 

8. Modernize Food Standards of Identity

Because many “standards of identity” – recipes for what a food product must contain and how it is manufactured – are now 75 and even 80 years old and out of date, NCL supports FDA’s action plan to modernize food standards of identity. However, NCL urges FDA to focus on several food products where updating SOIs will lead to healthier offerings, such as olive oil, Greek yogurt, and canned tuna.

9. Improve Federal Nutrition Education and Food Labeling Policies by Elevating the Role of Portion Control and Balanced Food Choices, Revising the Definition of “Healthy,” and Developing Uniform Front of Pack Nutrition Rating Symbols

NCL is implementing a three-phased strategy to improve nutrition education and food labeling policies, which entails: 1) education and advocacy that emphasizes portion control and ensures consumers know the recommended daily intake of calories is 2,000 per day, 2) furthering FDA’s efforts to define the term “heathy” on food labels by addressing if and how added sugar content is calculated; and 3) encouraging FDA to adopt a “Traffic Light” labeling system to depict “healthy” foods on the front of the package.

10. Increase Funding and Access to Federal Nutrition Programs

NCL’s advocacy to enhance the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) during the COVID-19 pandemic helped to increase access to healthy food to people in need. Now, NCL is working with partners to broaden the public health impact of SNAP by reducing the eligibility requirements, strengthening the nutritional goal for SNAP and providing incentives for healthier foods sold in retail establishments.

11. Reduce the Amount of Food Waste

Because about 90 billion pounds of food goes uneaten every year in the US, NCL is working to help the nation meet the goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. As such, we will continue working with USDA, FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise awareness of food loss and waste and inform consumers of how they can reduce food waste in their homes.

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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.

A New Patient-Centered Action Agenda calls for people with obesity to have the same rights and access to care as people with other chronic diseases

July 7, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC— The National Consumers League (NCL) today released A New Patient-Centered Obesity Action Agenda: Changing the Trajectory of Obesity Through Patient Empowerment, Health Professional Intervention and Supportive Government Policies, a new report with a blueprint to change how Americans think about obesity, empower people with obesity to get the best care, and afford those with obesity the same access to care as adults with other serious chronic diseases.

Issued as a call to action, the report was prepared in consultation with a panel of leading obesity specialists as a roadmap for overcoming one of the difficult challenges affecting US adults now living with obesity: despite significant advances in the understanding and treatment of obesity, only 10 percent of people with obesity get help from medical professionals,[1] meaning the disease remains largely undiagnosed and undertreated. Accordingly, only 30 million[2] of the estimated 108 million adults living with obesity[3] have been diagnosed with the disease and only around 2 percent of those eligible for anti-obesity medications have been prescribed these drugs.[4]

The consequences of undertreatment affect virtually every aspect of the healthcare system. Obesity not only has a negative impact on almost every aspect of health and well-being, but it worsens the outcomes of over 230 obesity-related chronic diseases, from type 2 diabetes and heart disease to some forms of cancer.[5] Accordingly, obesity is responsible for an approximately 300,000 premature deaths each year[6] deaths and costs the U.S. economy an estimated $1.72 trillion annually in direct and indirect costs.[7]

“Although obesity is one of today’s most visible public health problems, it is often ignored and discounted as a serious disease, resulting in a health crisis that has only worsened with time,” said
Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “This report focuses attention on the numerous public perception, provider and policy-related factors that preclude Americans with overweight and obesity from getting effective treatment and must be addressed if obesity outcomes are to improve in the US.”

To change the trajectory of the obesity epidemic, the report calls for a national mobilization to overcome the “human” factors– incorrect beliefs about the cause and treatment of obesity, prejudice towards people due to their size, lack of training for health providers, access barriers, and outdated government policies – that continue to prevent Americans from seeking and obtaining obesity care. Towards this end, NCL’s patient-centered action agenda identifies nine priorities for action:

  1. Redefine Obesity for the American Public as a Treatable Chronic Disease

Although the American Medical Association classifies obesity as a chronic disease requiring treatment, three-quarters of Americans believe obesity results from a lack of willpower. Thus, redefining obesity as a treatable chronic condition will provide a new context for health providers and patients to have a positive discussion about weight, leading to more people getting diagnosed and treated.

  1. Adopt Patient-First Language for Obesity

Unlike other chronic diseases where health professionals use people-first language that puts a person before a diagnosis, practitioners routinely use terms to describe obesity that can be off-putting and demoralizing. To change this situation, the National Consumers supports the agenda of the People-First Initiative launched by the Obesity Action Coalition, which advocates for widespread adoption of people-first language by practitioners in all healthcare settings.

  1. Make Combatting Weight Stigma a National Priority

Studies show that 40 percent of healthcare professionals –physicians, nurses, dietitians, psychologists and medical students – admit to having negative reactions based on a person’s size.[8]Addressing this pervasive problem requires a unified national initiative that makes the impact of weight stigma “real” for clinicians and the public and disseminates the latest information to health providers on strategies to reduce weight stigma.

  1. Elevate the Need for Physician Training in Obesity

A recent study of 40 US medical schools finds that 30 percent of these institutions provide little or no education in nutrition and obesity interventions while one third of schools reported no obesity education programs in place.[9] These findings underscore the urgency for US medical schools to change their priorities and develop curricula that comprehensively addresses the disease of obesity.

  1. Establish Excess Weight as a Vital Sign

Besides body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, health providers routinely measure height and weight at each visit. Thus, if healthcare professionals were to calculate and provide patients with their Body Mass Index (BMI) at the time of the office visit, practitioners could have a tool to discuss excess weight when patients are most receptive to discussing their health status.  It is recognized that BMI is a crude measure and not the sole predictor of obesity but when combined with patient-friendly information that explains the level of weight and options for treatment, this interaction could initiate a positive, respectful conversation about obesity care.

  1. Provide the Tools for a Doctor-Patient Dialogue on Excess Weight

A major reason primary care providers (PCPs) are reluctant to provide obesity counseling is the lack of informational tools to have conversations with patients about their weight status and care options. Therefore, a unified effort to make available to PCPs evidence-based, patient-friendly content on obesity will facilitate a better dialogue between clinicians and patients and promote shared decision-making.

  1. Establish Coverage of Obesity as a Standard Benefit Across Insurers and Health Plans

Although employers and insurers are starting to cover treatment options for obesity in employee benefit packages, too many people continue to be denied coverage or face access barriers, such as step therapy and prior authorization, that delay treatment. Improving obesity outcomes therefore requires supporting legislative efforts, like the “Safe Step Act” that would require group health plans to provide an exception process for step-therapy protocols. It also necessitates collaboration among payers, providers, policymakers, and advocates to establish a standard, affordable benefit for the prevention and treatment of obesity that applies across plan types and payers.

  1. End Outdated Medicare Rules That Exclude Coverage for Necessary Obesity Care

Today, the many millions of Americans enrolled in the Medicare program are denied safe and effective obesity treatment due to outdated Medicare Part D rules that exclude coverage for FDA-approved obesity drugs and Medicare Part B policies that places undue restrictions on intensive behavioral therapy by allowing only primary care providers to deliver IBT and severely restricting the physical locations where this care can occur. Congress has the power to change this situation, which is why NCL has joined with the obesity, public health and nutrition communities is pressing for swift passage of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA). The proposed legislation would expand Medicare coverage to allow access to IBT from a diverse range of healthcare providers while ending the exclusion for new anti-obesity medications that are improving the standard of care for adult Americans with obesity.

  1. Create a Patients’ Bill of Rights for People with Obesity

For too long, people with obesity have been stigmatized, discriminated against, and have faced significant hurdles and burdensome requirements to receive care. Changing this situation will require giving people with obesity the knowledge, skills and confidence to be advocates for their best obesity care. Therefore, NCL’s patient-centered obesity action agenda calls for the creation of a Patients’ Bill of Rights for People with Obesity based on the recognition that obesity is a treatable disease and everyone with obesity deserves the same level of attention and care as those with other chronic conditions.

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About the Report

To prepare the report, NCL partnered with the Obesity Care Advocacy Network (OCAN) to host a roundtable discussion in December 2021where public health specialists, leading professional societies, the minority health field and the obesity policy community assessed the state of the science on obesity today, the scope and cost of the disease in the US and the major barriers impeding quality obesity care with special attention to the “human” obstacles that keep people with obesity from seeking or obtaining treatment. Additionally, NCL conducted a literature review to gather additional insights, especially regarding how to change how people with obesity see themselves, so they become empowered to advocate for their care as patients with a chronic disease. Based on this assessment, NCL drafted the report, which was vetted by experts participating in the roundtable, and developed the policy recommendations included in the Patient-Centered Obesity Action Agenda.

 

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.

 

[1] Stokes A, et al. Prevalence and Determinants of Engagement with Obesity Care in the United States. Obesity. Vol. 26, Issue 5; May 2018, 814-818

[2] PharMetrics-Ambulatory EMR database, 2018. Novo Nordisk Inc.

[3] Hales CM,, et al. Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017-2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NCHS Data Brief. No. 360. February 2020.

[4] PharMetrics-Ambulatory EMR database, 2018. Novo Nordisk Inc.

[5] Obesity Care Advocacy Network. Fact Sheet: Obesity Care Beyond Weight Loss

[6] Allison DB, et al. Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States JAMA 1999Oct 27 282(16)1530–8.

[7] Milken Institute (October 2018), “America’s Obesity Crisis: The Health and Economic Costs of Excess Weight.”

[8] Fruh SM, et al. Obesity Stigma and Bias. J Nurse Pract. 2016 Jul-Aug; 12(7): 425–432.

[9] Butch WS, et al. Low priority of obesity education leads to lack of medical student’ preparedness to effectively treat patients with obesity; results from the U.S. medical school obesity education benchmark study. BMC Med Educ 20, 23 (2020)

Consumers need transparency in labeling of plant-based meat alternatives

Agenda-Setting Report Identifies Seven Priorities for Regulatory Action

June 9, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – As more plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) that closely mimic the look, taste, and cooking properties of traditional meat products enter the U.S. market almost daily, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a report with seven priorities for regulatory action to ensure that labels of so-called “meatless meats” readily identify the protein source and inform consumers of the nutritional composition of each PBMA product.

Issued as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is developing draft guidance for food manufacturers on the labeling of plant-based milks and alternatives to animal-derived foods,
the report underscores the importance of consumer-focused labeling to sustain the growth of the plant-based meats category, which has been fueled by consumer optimism. Findings were informed by an expert panel meeting held in 2021 that explored a standard of identity for PBMAs and based on an assessment of the PBMA marketplace which NCL conducted in 2022 to identify action steps that will significantly impact public awareness and understanding of PBMAs and can be readily implemented.

Providing up-to-date information on the issues affecting the labeling of plant-based meat alternatives, the report – Education and Transparency in Labeling Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: A Consumer-Focused Agenda to Improve Understanding and Decision-Making of Plant-Based Meats –documents promising projections for PBMA sales in the U.S. and globally. Recent polling shows that two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) consumed plant-based meat alternatives in 2021, and two in five (42 percent) ate PBMAs at least weekly.[1] Due to consumer demand, the plant-based meat category delivered $1.4 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2021 – up from $962 million in 2019 [2] – and a Bloomberg Intelligence report projects a 500 percent increase in global sales of plant-based foods by 2030[3]. Moreover, a recent market analysis predicts a growth rate of almost 20 percent globally for plant-based meats between 2021 and 2026 if consumer interest in PBMAs continues to grow.[4]

Yet, the NCL report points to marketplace challenges for plant-based meat substitutes. Currently, many brands define PBMAs differently and there is a lack of clarity about how to use traditional meat, dairy, and egg terminology on product labels. Additionally, only half of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” familiar with PBMAs in 2020 and 30 percent had no knowledge, according to a Gallup survey.[5] This lack of understanding is concerning because new plant-based meats are unique in their formulations and processing techniques– meaning products can differ in calories, saturated fat, sodium content, and levels of protein, fiber, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and other nutrients. Plant-based meats may also contain a food allergen depending on the source of the plant proteins in the product.

[1] International Food Information Council. Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives. November 3, 2021

[2] Good Food Institute. US retail market data for the plant-based industry.

[3] Fortune. Plant-based food sales are expected to increase fivefold by 2030. August 11, 2021

[4] ResearchandMarket.com. Plant-Based Meat Market-Global Industry Analysis (2018-2020) & Growth Trends and Market Forecast (2021-2026). January 11, 2022

[5] Gallup. Four in Ten Americans Have Eaten Plant-Based Meats. January 28, 2020

 

“Plant-based meat alternatives are a popular and valued part of our food supply,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “This is why the public needs regulatory policies that ensure the labels on these products are accurate, complete, and provide the qualifiers necessary for consumers to understand what they are purchasing.”

As the agency that regulates plant-based foods in the U.S., FDA shares this viewpoint and has sought information on a range of issues to issue draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based foods. Therefore, NCL prepared the report to articulate the consumer’s voice on PBMA labeling and lay out a blueprint for FDA and the food industry to ensure the information needs of the public are addressed. Specifically, the report identifies seven priorities for labeling, naming, and marketing plant-based meats alternatives that are in the best interest of consumers:

  1. Establish a definition for “plant-based meat alternatives” that will unite all stakeholders. Because brands define the term “plant-based” differently, FDA guidance should define what constitutes a “plant-based meat alternative” to promote consistency in labeling across the category.
  2. Ensure brand names are not deceptive. NCL’s position is it is a deceptive practice to use brand names for PBMAs that suggest a product contains meat, seafood, or eggs when none is present. Even when the label states the product contains no meat or eggs, consumers are influenced by the brand name, especially if packaging and promotional content feature pictures and iconography of animals or the type of meat.
  3. Require that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source. For labels of PBMAs to be transparent, the naming and labeling of PBMAs must be uniform and consistent and ensure that consumers can readily identify the protein source. Accordingly, FDA should require that all labels and advertisements for PBMAs must:
  • Use a common name that links the protein source and the form, such as “soy burger.”
  • Make clear that the product contains some animal protein in addition to plant-based proteins like soy. Qualifying terms can include “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Make clear when the PBMA contains no meat. These terms can include vegan,” “meatless,” “vegetarian,” “veggie,” and “veggie-based” as well as “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Place the phrase “contains no meat,” “contains no poultry,” or “contains no eggs” on the principal display panel of vegan PBMAs near the common name and in letters at least the same size and prominence as shown in the product’s common name.
  • Not use pictures, icons, or vignettes on the packaging, in marketing materials or in advertising that suggests nutrition superiority or that the product is the same as the comparable meat product.
  1. Regulate health/nutrition claims for PBMAs. Consistent with how FDA regulates the health claims allowed on traditional food products, FDA guidance must make clear that nutrition/health claims must undergo agency review and there must be significant scientific agreement that the claim is supported by available scientific evidence.
  2. Ensure website, social media, and advertising content for PBMAs conforms to what is on the product label. The guidance must make clear that FDA considers websites and social media to be an extension of the product label, meaning the claims and information that PBMA manufacturers put online must conform what FDA allows on the label.
  3. Address the nutritional composition of the PBMAs in FDA guidance. In Canada, proposed guidelines for plant-based protein foods would include nutritionally required amounts of vitamins and mineral nutrients that must be added to the PBMA product and a minimum limit of total protein content, among other requirements. While NCL supports this approach, FDA should at least recommend levels of key vitamins and nutrients in its guidance.
  4. Educate consumers about the nutritional composition of plant-based protein alternatives. It is in the public interest for FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – along with nutrition societies – to conduct education programs that explain the nutritional composition of plant-based protein food products. This will allow consumers to make informed decisions based on science-based information.

About the Report

To prepare the report, NCL built on the deliberations of an online expert panel meeting – Meeting Consumers’ Needs for Modernizing Food Standards of Identity: General Principles for Naming and Labeling Plant-Based Meat Alternatives – co-hosted by NCL and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in November 2021. Exploring whether new standards of identity (SOI) for PBMAs could lead to better labeling of these meat substitutes, the meeting started with a review of the U.S. market for PBMAs and featured breakout sessions where regulatory specialists, market researchers, consumer advocates and food industry leaders debated the need for a standard of identity for PBMAs and discussed consumers’ needs for education and labeling of PBMAs.

The November 2021 meeting produced consensus that there is not enough evidence to support a standard of identity for PBMAs and in fact, that a SOI could hamper innovation within this new category of plant-based foods. Yet, the meeting generated important insights on the need for consumer education about plant-based meats, a common nomenclature for describing PBMAs, and transparency in labeling so consumers will know the composition of the products they buy. Thus, when FDA announced plans to issue draft guidance on PBMAs in 2022, NCL used the deliberations from the November 2021 meeting as the foundation for developing recommendations for how FDA can ensure labels of PBMA products meet consumers’ needs. The final step was a literature review NCL conducted in March and April 2022 to add marketplace data on PBMAs and apply lessons learned from consumer research, voluntary labeling initiatives, legislation passed in different states label PBMAs, and labeling rules for PBMAs proposed or instituted in other countries.

Read the report here.

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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.

 

Coronavirus and food safety: What you need to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Perhaps some of the only good news about the Covid-19 is that food is not the primary way that the virus can be spread. According to Harvard Medical School, “We are still learning about transmission of COVID-19. It’s not clear if this is possible, but if so, it would be more likely to be the exception than the rule. That said, COVID-19 and other coronaviruses have been detected in the stool of certain patients, so we currently cannot rule out the possibility of occasional transmission from infected food handlers. The virus would likely be killed by cooking.”

Great, but not all foods can or are intended to be cooked – think of deli meats, cole slaw, potato salad, cheeses, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, pastry, butter, cream cheese; so if the mainstay of a deli or restaurant is “fresh” foods, spreading the virus is a real threat if the right precautions are taken.

And COVID-19 has made us all keenly aware of the importance of wiping surfaces and washing hands frequently, especially when handling food. We also know that COVID-19 can’t typically be transmitted from food or from food packaging. But we do have suggestions.

Food safety measures one should take:

  • Wash your hands the right way: Use plain soap and water- skip the antibacterial soap, scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails for about 20 seconds, if you need to time yourself sing the chorus of your favorite song twice. Rinse your hands, and then dry them with a clean towel. Remember to wash your hands often especially since COVID-19 lives on surfaces for an extended period.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use: Wash cutting boards, utensils countertops with hot, soapy water, especially if you had raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs on these surfaces. Don’t cross contaminate!
  • Remember it is very important to wash your dishcloths in a hot cycle of your washing machine, sometimes we forget this key element to food safety.
  • Learn more from FoodSafety.gov.

Food safety is paramount in our day-to-day lives – it’s so important that we take the necessary steps not to expose ourselves – whether eating in a restaurant or cooking at home, to COVID-19. Remember eat healthy, nutritious foods and take all the steps needed in preparing a safe meal for you and your family.

I’m going for the kids’ portion!

With overweight and obesity stats in an upward trajectory, the National Consumers League and the Georgetown School of Business are partnering up for a survey on a simple topic: what do Americans know about portion sizes, calories of average foods, and how many calories we can eat each day without packing on the pounds? 

We have a health crisis in AmericaFrom 2015-2016, 39.8 percent of American adults were considered obesewhich means the body mass index (BMI) measurements of more than 129 million of us are considered obeseThe annual medical cost of obesity is estimated at $147 billion because heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers are tied to obesity. What is particularly concerning is that more than a third of younger people, ages 20-39, are obese.  

In fact, the New York Times reported that roughly a fifth of our soldiers are obese! The military is trying to combat this problem by replacing sweet drinks with water and cutting out fried foods, but it’s not working. 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person should consume about 2,000 calories a day. Do most of us know that if you exceed 2,000 calories day regularly, you pack on the pounds? (That’s unless, of course, you’re getting a lot of calorieburning exercise or have a great metabolism.) Is that number too high for many of us? (It is for me. If I eat more than 1,650 calories, I know I’m going to put on weight.That’s what we want to find out with our research: what do Americans really know about this guideline? 

We will also be asking whether most Americans know how many calories are in average serving of common foods such as yogurt (150), hamburgers with bun (350), pizza (350 per slice), bagels (325), muffins (425), 4-piece fried chicken dinner with all the fixings (850-1,200), a 30oz. steak (1,400), a piece of cheesecake (650)big chocolate chip cookie (450)and an ice cream cone (300-400.) 

Also, dAmericans know what an average serving is? A Cheesecake Factory salad is not an average serving! Each of their salads have more than 1,300 calories. That’s too much for one meal. Unfortunately, restaurant serving sizes have increased a lot over the last several decades. 

Which brings me back to my headlinekids portions! I’ve begun sampling my local downtown DC upscale food spots popular with millennials like Roti, CAVAChoptThe custom is that you order a bowl of lettuce or spinach as a base and put lots of pretty healthy but also pretty caloric toppingsadd a protein for a few bucks extra, and crowned with shredded cheese and salad dressing. When you’re done, you have a big portion and lots of good food but also lots of caloriesalbeit not from hamburger and fries but still, calories! 

So try the kids’ portion! They are cheaper by a thirda lot less food, a lot fewer calories, and completely filling. My CAVA kids meal had a small white bread (unfortunately) pita, yogurt spread, two small spicy meatballs, cucumber salad, tomato salad, three pieces of fried breadand scoop of brown rice. In other words, a lot of food! I figured it was about 550 calories. Voila! A third of my 1,650 allowable daily intake of food. And I was stuffed. I’ll be trying other food outlets to check out the kids portions. And we recommend that other consumers do the samehelps to limit calories and prevent food waste when you’re eating out!

Three reasons scientists believe bugs are the next beef

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

There’s a thin line between hunger and disgust when deep-fried tarantulas and smoked barbeque crickets are on the menu. Many scientists argue that animal protein is not environmentally sustainable, so alternatives–like bugs–may be the answer to the perils of global warming. Recent research supports eating bugs as a way to maintain a protein-rich diet while benefiting the environment.

Infographic comparing the water, feed, and land needs of cattle against the same needs for bugs farming

Why bugs are slowly crawling into our everyday diets

As the world population continues to grow, so will demand for animal protein. By 2050, we’ll be eating more than two-thirds the animal protein we do today, causing a strain to our planet’s resources. The surge in demand for animal protein has also contributed to an increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). These gases lead to extreme weather conditions, ozone depletion, increased danger of wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases. Even today, climate changes are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.

Most westerners prefer beef over bugs

While many of us westerners may gag at the thought of maggots in our sausage, more than 2 billion people throughout the world have been eating bugs as a regular part of their diets for millennia. But historically, for westerners, livestock not only yields meat, but also milk and milk products, their hides or skins provide warmth, they are suitable for plough traction, and act as a means of transport. Because of the use of these animals, the benefits of eating insects in many societies has failed to gain much interest. Also, certain insects are transmitters of disease and are virtually a nuisance.

So, why should we eat bugs?

In 2013, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, urged global citizens to eat more bugs for three reasons:

  1. They’re healthier for you…and tasty too!
    • Bugs are a healthy, nutritious alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef, and fish (from ocean catch).
    • Many insects are rich in protein, good fats, and high in calcium, iron, and zinc.
    • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.
    • Bugs can be used as an ingredient substitute for almost any recipe. Here’s a link with ideas on how to make some delicious bug treats!
  2. They’re safer for the environment
    • Bugs promoted as food emit 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock.
    • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require as much land as livestock.
    • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
    • According to the Harvard Political Review, producing one pound of beef requires 10 pounds of feed, 1,000 gallons of water, and 200 square feet of pasture. In contrast, producing one pound of insects only requires two pounds of feed, one gallon of water, and two cubic feet of land space.
  3. They’re lower in cost
    • Bug harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers economic opportunities to all levels of society.
    • Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

Recent advances in research and development show edible bugs to be a promising alternative to meat for both human consumption and as feedstock. But to make this a reality, regulatory frameworks for safety and nutrition will need to be developed and government, industry, and academia will need to work together.

In the meanwhile, knowing the benefits can help turn disgust to hunger when tarantulas or crickets appear on the menu… Something to think about!

Amazon and other retailers launch program allowing SNAP beneficiaries to order food online

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

On April 18, 2018, Amazon and other retailers launched a two-year test (pilot) program to boost food access to some of New York’s 2.7 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants. Beneficiaries will be able to use their SNAP benefits to order groceries online and have them delivered directly to their door.

photo of supermarket produceSNAP is one of the most efficient and important public benefit programs,” said Shaunice Wall, NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow. “SNAP helps reduce food insecurity and improves the nutrition of millions, especially among the most vulnerable Americans. For many Americans living in food deserts, online food retailers are sometimes the only way to stock refrigerators,” NCL supports this collaboration between USDA and Amazon.

“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food–by ordering and paying for groceries online,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.

Stats on the rise of e-commerce sales in America in 2017

The pilot will test both online ordering and payment. It will also work to ensure that orders are processed safely and securely, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items, but not pay for service or delivery charges. 

The program will also add a new SNAP redemption option, with broad selection, low prices, and the convenience of home delivery without requiring a membership fee. As Amazon expands participating areas throughout the life of the pilot, they believe the program will dramatically increase access to food for customers living in rural and remote locations.

The USDA defines food deserts as communities where one-third of the population lives at least one mile away from a supermarket in an urban area and 10 miles away in a rural area. For SNAP beneficiaries, it is often the simplest – or sometimes the only – option to use their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card at convenience stores or gas stations, which often have only a sparse supply of produce and fresh protein.

The pilot will start with SNAP households with EBT cards issued by New York. Online retailers will only be able to deliver in New York. The plan is for the pilot to eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Lessons learned will then allow expansion of online purchasing in SNAP.

“The ultimate goal of this pilot is to pave the way for a national rollout once the USDA identifies the best path to large-scale implementation,” says Amazon. NCL recognizes that the advancement of SNAP takes on a larger significance because of the argument by conservatives that the program “costs too much, has grown too quickly, encourages government dependency and discourages work.” NCL supports SNAP and this exciting online system, if it works, well, will address the dearth of healthy food options for millions of Americans in food desserts or who cannot, for lack of transportation, health or disability reasons, get to a supermarket and choose from healthier options.

For more information, please visit the SNAP Online Purchasing pilot webpage.

Multi-agency initiative invites public and private partners to collaborate on strategy to reduce food waste

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

An estimated 40 percent of food goes uneaten in the United States. Between 2007 and 2014, American consumers wasted nearly 150,000 tons of food per day. Yet, 40 million Americans struggle with hunger, including 12 million children.

The massive amount of food waste has far-reaching consequences on food security, the economy, and our environment. On April 9, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted an event NCL attended for its Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, a multi-agency effort created to tackle the burgeoning problem of food loss and waste through combined and agency-specific action.

Led by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the purpose of the initiative is to work with communities, organizations, and businesses along with state, tribal, and local governments to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent over the next 15 years.

In attendance were state, local, and community leaders and other stakeholders to discuss how all levels of government can work together to reduce food waste. A strategy that includes six key action areas–such as improving consumer education and food labeling–was introduced.

“We need to feed our hungry world, and by reducing food waste, we can more wisely use the resources we have,” said Secretary Sonny Perdue of the USDA.

A panel titled “Lessons Learned from States, Cities and Organizations in Reducing Food Waste” discussed various efforts to combat food waste. One effort mentioned was a recycling assistance program in Massachusetts called RecyclingWorks. The program was designed to help businesses and institutions maximize recycling, reuse, and composting opportunities. Another successful program that was discussed was the Save the Food Campaign, a program developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council to encourage Americans to make simple lifestyle changes like creating shopping lists, freezing food, and using leftovers to reduce waste in their own homes.

Mr. Trump recently designated the month of April as Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month and is encouraging participation from all sectors.

The actions of the USDA, EPA, and FDA will include research, community investments, education and outreach, voluntary programs, public-private partnerships, tool development, technical assistance, event participation, and policy discussion. These three agencies invite public and private partners to participate in Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month through the following:

  • Join the conversation: Share your efforts with the #NoWastedFood hashtag in your social media posts throughout the month.
  • Educate your community: Learn about USDAEPA, and FDA programs and resources to reduce food loss and waste.
  • Be a U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion: Join other corporate and business leaders who have made a public commitment to reducing food loss and waste in their U.S. operations by 50 percent by the year 2030.

The National Consumers League (NCL) has been a longstanding advocate for reducing food waste. Most notably, NCL has produced a and collaborated with like-minded organizations to conduct research on household food waste.

NCL believes that the strategies undertaken by the three agencies will be a critical measure to combatting food waste and we look forward to continuing our work to achieve the goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

For more information on the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, visit the following webpages:
epa.gov/reducefoodwaste
usda.gov/foodlossandwaste
fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm628706

Fighting penny soda tax gets pricey – National Consumers League

Sally GreenbergEditor’s note: The measures discussed in this piece were approved on Election Day, 2016.

It’s hard to believe that corporate America would throw so much money fighting a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas, but that is exactly what’s happening in San Francisco and Oakland. The soft drink industry has thrown $50 million in efforts to fight this tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

Sweetened beverages have been tied to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. Public health experts see measures to raise prices as a way to drive down consumption, which is the last thing Big Soda would want to promote.

These soda tax measures are proliferating. In June, Philadelphia adopted a soda tax, beating back a $10 million industry campaign petitioning it. Berkeley, CA passed its own tax two years ago. Boulder, CO is voting on a 2 cent tax today, and three California cities (San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany) will also have a sugary drink tax on the ballot. This is all happening as consumption of soda is slipping nationally.

These measures are similar: they would impose a tax of a penny per ounce on any drink with added sweetener, including soft drinks, iced teas, and smoothies. The taxes would be imposed on beverage distributors, not at checkout. Evidence from current soda taxes suggests price increases will be passed through to retailers, and, according to the New York Times, the price of a 2-liter bottle might increase 67 cents and a 12-pack of sodas would go up $1.44.

If the soda tax can achieve its dual goal: reducing consumption of sweetened drinks and using the proceeds for community and health initiatives, then this will be a success. NCL supports these efforts, and we wait eagerly to see whether both of these laudable goals will be achieved.

NCL statement in support of Congresswoman Pingree’s Food Recovery Act – National Consumers League

December 18, 2015

Contact: Cindy Hoang, National Consumers League, cindyh@nclnet.org or (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–In September, the USDA and EPA announced a national commitment to reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. However, we are lacking the comprehensive strategies that must be in place and it is hard for stakeholders to know where to start. We are pleased to support Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s groundbreaking bill, the Food Recovery Act, aimed at reaching this national goal.

The Food Recovery Act (HR H.R.4184)  is organized by four major stakeholder groups; farms, retail and restaurants, schools and institutions, and consumers and local infrastructure. Framing legislation in such a way, presents stakeholders with policy solutions that are relevant and achievable. Solutions include standardizing date labeling, increasing funding for larger-scale state composting, and strengthening the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which encourages companies and organizations to donate food by protecting them from criminal and civil liability.

The issue of food waste is real and mounting. It’s easy to get discouraged when confronted with numbers such as: 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted; the average American throws away between $28-433 of food each month; and we could feed 25 million people if we reduced food waste by just 15 percent. The National Consumers League (NCL), along with other non-profit and government groups, are working to address this problem throughout the food supply chain and appreciate initiatives such as the Food Recovery Act from leaders like Congresswoman Pingree. We urge Congress to pass the Food Recovery Act to help move us closer to our 2030 goal. 

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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.