Add Sugar, Subtract Science: How the Food Industry Influences Policymaking
Food and beverage companies regularly obscure the negative health effects of over-consuming sugar when trying to influence food policy, according to a new report from the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, Added Sugar, Subtracted Science, comes as Congress debates allowing states to opt out of federal school lunch standards and as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers an added-sugar label on foods.
“Sugar interests are using the same playbook the tobacco industry pioneered,” said Gretchen Goldman, a lead analyst for the center and the report’s author. “They question the science, hire their own experts and try to hide the simple fact that eating too much sugar is bad for our health.”
The report draws heavily from documents released earlier this year as part of a lawsuit between the Sugar Association, which represents the sugar cane and sugar beet industry, and the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), which represents corn syrup producers.
Scientific evidence clearly links over-consuming sugar to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other illnesses, but in many cases, trade groups and the companies they represent dismiss the evidence and refuse to acknowledge the public health damage their products cause.
For instance, while seeking to weaken federal school lunch standards in 2013, General Mills told the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that except for dental issues “sugar intake has not been shown to be directly associated with obesity or any chronic disease or health condition.”
Similarly, the Sugar Association told the USDA that “experts continue to conclude that sugar intake is not a causative factor in any disease, including obesity.” Ultimately, the USDA adopted a weaker rule than it first proposed, limiting kids’ sugar intake at school by weight rather than by calorie as public health experts had recommended.
The CRA has long funded two controversial scientists to produce research that aligned with CRA’s policy goals. Dr. John White and Dr. James Rippe were paid to promote the idea that corn syrup affects the body the same way table sugar does. A 2013 email from an employee at Cargill, which sits on the group’s board, described Dr. White as “CRA’s hired gun.”
Similarly, CRA has suggested that inconvenient findings about sugar should be concealed from the public. When a 2011 University of Southern California study found that there was more high fructose corn syrup in products than companies were disclosing, a CRA consultant suggested that the group sponsor its own research and that “if for any reason the results confirm [the original study], we can just bury the data.”
In 2009, the Sugar Association created a website to promote unscientific claims about sugar and diabetes. The now-defunct website claimed that “No! Sugar in the diet does not cause diabetes.” Similarly, for Halloween in 2010, the group created a factsheet that claimed “sugar adds to the quality of children’s diet.” A memo from a staffer at the time described the group’s strategy to “question the existing science” on the health effects of glucose versus sucrose.
The food industry adds sugar to a variety of products, including cereal, yogurt, soup and bread. Americans consume about twice as much sugar, on average, than the USDA indicates they should in its dietary guidelines.
Goldman will share the report findings at a June 26 public hearing the FDA is hosting in Washington, D.C. on its proposed added sugar label and other Nutrition Facts label changes. Several trade groups, including the Sugar Association, have already asked FDA to extend the comment period on the rule and the Grocery Manufacturers Association is promoting a misleading voluntary labeling program for its members. Other trade groups, including the CRA, have asked the FDA to wait for them to conduct their own research regarding consumer reception of new label changes.
Several public health experts have written to the FDA to ask the agency to adopt an added sugar label. Last month, the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS released a report documenting how the food industry obscures the added sugar in its products, including by highlighting other nutritional information, such as protein content in yogurt and whole grains in cereal.
“The good news is that the science is clear and people seem to be waking up to the risks associated with eating too much sugar,” Goldman said. “The bad news is that producers of sugar and sugary products continue to mislead decision makers on the science in order to undermine health and food policies.”
The report recommends that researchers disclose all real or perceived conflicts of interest, that investors and citizens pressure companies to align their consumer marketing and policy advocacy efforts with established science, and that Congress and federal agencies enhance transparency around corporate political activities.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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