Archive for the ‘Consumer’ Category

GMOs: What’s a consumer to do?

July 9, 2013

Presentation1GMOS are in the news yet again. The controversies re their health and economic value abound, as does the ‘evidence’ for and against their production/cultivation and release on the market.

The World Health Organisation – WHO – defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. In their 20 Questions on GM foods they specifically discuss the safety of GM foods. “Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods. GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.” Note the phrase – “not likely”.

Some argue that GMOS can solve World Hunger. Yet the FAO Director General, Jose Graziano da Silva, seems not to agree. In March 2013 he issued a warning saying that GMOs not needed to eradicate hunger.Our position as FAO is not that we are against GMOs but we are saying we don’t need them now to eradicate hunger.” He expressed concern about the impact GMOs have on the environment. “We don’t know what will happen to areas of production and the crops.”

Due to an interview I was involved in recently (see here: http://www.sundaycircle.com/2013/07/crop-wars/), I have been talking about GMOs to a couple of people and they were all asking the same question: “So as a consumer what is the bottom line?”

As a health and consumer educator —  a Home Economist — I would say that:

  • We still do not have enough data on the potential risks to human health in the long-term from consumption of GMOS.
  • We already have evidence on the impact on the environment and on social and economic aspects related to farmers. It is not always so positive.
  • So we might want to be a bit cautious still… Some people might even decide already to avoid GMOs altogether for health and ethical reasons.

My Key Messages for (Maltese) Consumers

1. Read labels on packaged foods. If the food contains GMOs it will say so; not necessarily on the front of the package; but in the ingredients list. Some companies will voluntarily put a label that their food does not contain GMOs. This will typically be on a food which consumers might think could contain GMOs (e.g. soy products). This label is often somewhere quite visible.

 2. Buy organic as much as possible. Any food which is certified organic cannot contain GMOs. Look for the official EU label. new_EU ORGANIC logo

 3. If you buy your chicken meat from a local source, ask the producer if the feed given contains GMOs.

The same goes for local eggs. Ask the producer if the layers are given feed containing GMOs.

It is more difficult to check re feed given to other local animals slaughtered for meat which we buy through the butcher or at supermarkets.

4. Avoid the ‘Big Four’ as they are often called. Most GM ingredients are products made from the ‘Big Four:’ corn, soybean, canola (also known as rape seed), and cottonseed, used in processed foods.  Some of the most common GM Big Four ingredients in processed foods are listed below*. REMEMBER: It will be stated on the label if these GM ingredients are present :

Corn
Cornflour, cornmeal, corn oil, cornstarch, gluten and corn syrup
Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose and glucose
Modified food starch

Soy
Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate and isoflavone
Vegetable oil and vegetable protein

Canola/Rapeseed oil
Canola/rapeseed oil, additives made from canola/rapeseed oil

Cottonseed
Cottonseed oil, additives made from cottonseed oil

5. For sweetened foods, check on the ingredients list for the type of sugar used. You might find GM beet sugar as one of the ingredients.

 *May be derived from other non-GM sources

Sources:

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

http://www.gmeducation.org/government-and-corporations/p207350-un’s%20food%20and%20agriculture%20organisation%20issues%20gmo%20warning%20.html

Think. Eat. Save. Food waste is not allowed!

June 5, 2013

Image                                                           Happy World Environment Day! The UNEP theme for this special day is Think! Eat! Save!

So much food is wasted needlessly in the world. Are you part of this wasteful chain? Zero waste is a goal sought by many individuals and organisations – especially when it comes to food. Good menu and shopping planning, as well as good waste mangement are key (Does this recall Home Economics skills anyone? 🙂 ) So make that extra effort today to ensure that any food you buy or prepare to eat will be consumed 100%. And then make this a habit in your household and workplace as from tomorrow.

Here are just a few examples of what others are doing around the world:

Think.Eat.Save (International) – This initiative, launched by the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, works to reverse food loss and food waste by providing consumers, retailers, leaders and the community with advice and ways to take action to reduce their yearly food waste.  The campaign aggregates and shares different methods of conserving food, including policy recommendations and steps that consumers and households can take on their own to prevent waste.

Culinary Misfits (Berlin, Germany) –Started by two friends, Culinary Misfits seeks out the ugly vegetables at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants and turns them into delectable dishes at the events they cater in the city.

Love Food, Hate Waste (United Kingdom) – This program teaches consumers about food waste and provides them with helpful portioning and planning tips, as well as an array of recipes to make sure food doesn’t go to waste.

Stop Spild Af Mad (Stop Wasting Food) (Denmark) – Danish food expert Selina Juul’s campaign inspired Danish supermarket Rema 1000 to replace buy-one-get-one-free and other quantity-based discounts with general discounts in all of its stores. Such discounts, frequently implemented by grocery stores to get produce off the shelves, often result in food being wasted at home.

FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) (European Union) – After recognizing that the European Union discards approximately 89 million tons of food every year, Brussels has pledged, through the FUSIONS program, to reduce that number by half by the year 2025. Currently in development, FUSIONS hopes to tackle the issue throughout the supply chain, working with farmers so that they don’t reject less-than-perfect-looking produce. And they work with grocery stores to offer discounts to consumers on products that are nearing their expiration dates.

Songhai Centre (Sub-Saharan Africa) – The Songhai Centre is a sustainable development organization that, among other projects, teaches environmentally conscious farming practices in rural areas in Benin, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their agricultural education is based on a policy of production totale zéro déchet (zero waste total production) – in the organization’s own words, “the byproducts of one field are valuable raw materials for another.”

University of Cincinnati SolerCool (Ohio, United States) – Developed by MBA students at the University of Cincinnati, this solar-powered refrigerator runs on eight solar panels to keep food comfortably cool when it is being transported.

Sanford and Son (Illinois, United States) – Sanford and Son is a father-and-son company that works in the West Side of Chicago to repurpose food waste for urban farms. Ray Sanford and his son Nigel recycle food waste from restaurants and private homes and convert it into organic compost, which is then distributed to urban farms to use as fertilizer. They claim to save 226 kilograms (500 pounds) of organic waste for each family that uses their composting services.

(Source of examples — Food Tank: The Food Think Tank)

The day after…Healthy Weight Week

January 23, 2011

Today is January 23rd. The first day after Healthy Weight Week was celebrated in the USA (January 16-22).

For several years now, I have been following this special week with great interest. Initiated by Francie M. Berg (editor of the Healthy Weight Journal), the idea is to celebrate interventions which promote a healthy weight and a healthy body image; and also to name and shame  the past year’s worst weightloss diets, products and claims. The latter is done on ‘Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day.’

One reason I named this entry ‘The day after’ is that many consumers are often  lured into trying out weightloss diets and different products, only to realise very soon that these do not work. Clever marketing strategies highlight the ‘benefits’ and ‘special properties’ of these  diets or products, often quoting the science imprecisely or inadequately to argue their point. In the long-term, many of these weightloss diets and products  prove to be useless or occasionally even harmful. It is also well known that one of the outcomes of society’s and the media’s overemphasis on weight, as reflected in appearance, is disordered eating.

Weightloss, where this is truly needed, is no easy task. In many cases, however,  small and gradual lifestyle changes are enough to set one on the right track. Eating a variety of foods,  with an emphasis on low-energy (i.e. low calorie) but  nutrient-dense (i.e. rich in nutrients) foods, accompanied by a good amount of physical activity is the basic  formula. This clearly points to increasing plant food intake (vegetables, fruits, pulses, wholegrain cereals) and opting for low fat milk and milk-products, lean meat and low calorie beverages (e.g. water). It also points to choosing low fat cooking methods, such as steaming, grilling, and stir-frying, and making physical activity a regular feature in ones daily/weekly routine.

Two sets of awards are highlighted during Healthy Weight Week. These are the ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ aimed at prevention of disturbed eating, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; and the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ aimed at exposing the fad diets, gimmicks and false promotions.

 The ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ winners for 2010 were:

‘A Chance to Heal’: a multi-workshop programme for middle and high school students, adults and families, and the health care community focusing primarily on  dissonance (http://achancetoheal.org)

‘In Favor of Myself’: an innovative 8-session preventive programme to promote positive self and body image widely disseminated among youth in Israel;

‘Healthy Body Image’: a 4th through 6th grade curriculum emphasising positive body image, appreciation of inner strengths, resistance to marketing pressures among others (http://www.bodyimagehealth.org )

 – ‘Body Rocks’: a school and community peer education club focusing on positive body image and eating disorders prevention.

This year’s finalists in the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ were:

Lapex BCS Lipo Laser, using laser light treatment for spot reduction (worst gimmick);

– HCG, a pregnancy-related hormone placed under the tongue to mobilise fat (worst product);

– Ultimate Cleanse, that builds on a myth re the need to detoxify the body (worst claim);

Basic Research, a marketer of bogus products with a long history of Federal Trade Commission (US) violations, warnings, charges and fines (most outrageous).

One must realise that due to global marketing and internet shopping, many  products like those mentioned above are available and accessible worldwide. Therefore, as Home Economics educators or other educators promoting healthy eating and a healthy weight we need to help our students / clients to be more consumer savvy. We also need to teach the basic principles of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

For more on Healthy Weight Week and research and information on obesity, eating disorders, weight loss and healthy living at any size see http://www.healthyweight.net/hww.htm

For a 22-year history of Slim Chance fads and frauds see www.healthyweight.net/fraud.htm

Good for you; good for the environment

December 28, 2010

(Image (c) Barilla; Source: http://www.barillacfn.com/en/pyramid)

As we approach the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, typically many of us are making their New Year’s resolutions.  A common resolution is to improve our diet – “I must cut down on those high-fat, high-salt packet snacks”. “I should really ban fizzy sugary drinks from our dinner table.” “I need to drink more water.” The goal is often to manage our weight and to safeguard against illness and health problems. Good for us!

But have you ever stopped to think that choosing to improve our diet as a New Year’s resolution might have additional value…beyond personal gain?  Well it does! It can also help to safeguard the natural environment.

You have probably often heard the food-related slogan “Good for you, good for the environment.” Some of you may already use it in your educational settings. It seems, however, that this food choice principle is now being given much more importance both by governments and by industry.

In 2009, the government of Sweden proposed a new set of dietary guidelines combining health and environmental impact. (http://www.slv.se/upload/dokument/miljo/environmentally_effective_food_choices_proposal_eu_2009.pdf) Recommendations in the Environmentally Effective Food Choices proposal included: eating locally produced meat, chicken, fruits, vegetables and berries, eating sustainable fish, avoiding bottled water and palm oil, and limiting rice consumption (as its production results in large amounts of methane). Unfortunately, these guidelines were not approved by the EU Commission who said that they would encourage Swedish consumers to choose locally produced products at the expense of products from other countries, which contravenes the principles of free movement of goods in the EU internal market. Although the original proposers (the National Food Administration) made revisions to the guidelines to address this criticism, the Swedish government eventually decided to withdraw the proposed guidelines.

Nonetheless, this interest in guiding consumers on the food and sustainability link is gaining momentum in Europe.

This past September the German Council for Sustainable Development published their updated Sustainable Shopping Basket guide. (http://www.nachhaltigkeitsrat.de/fileadmin/user_upload/English/pdf/publications/brochures/Brochure_Sustainable_Shopping_Basket_September_2010.pdf) With respect to food they recommend that the consumer’s shopping basket “should contain above all  healthy food products, organic products,  seasonal fruit and vegetables grown locally,  less meat and fish, fair-trade products and beverages in recyclable packaging units.” The guide also explains sustainability-related labels to look for when making food choices.

The above Swedish and German recommendations are in tune with a December 2009 report by the UK’s Sustainable Consumption Commission which mapped out synergies and tensions between public health, the environment, economic stability and social inequalities. ( http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/Setting_the_Table.pdf) The Setting the Table’s priority recommendation for changes likely to have the most significant and immediate impact on making our diets more sustainable was: Reduce consumption of meat, dairy products, and fatty and sugary (low nutritional value) foods, and waste less food.

The food industry is also pitching in with their research and guidance. Just recently, in December 2010, the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) published what they called a Double Pyramid to graphically represent the link between the well-known food pyramid and the generation of greenhouse gases, water use and the ecological footprint. (http://www.barillacfn.com/en/pyramid) Although the food pyramid depicted is not the same as that of the WHO Europe CINDI Healthy Eating Guide, its concept is the same and food group placements are similar. Eat-often foods found at the base of the food pyramid, such as bread, pasta and wholegrains are shown to have a lower impact on the environment than meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and fats, oils and sweets found higher up in the pyramid. In other words, recommended foods for health are more environment-friendly and vice-versa.

The Double Pyramid and the rationale behind it was presented at an open debate at the European Parliament and discussed by a panel of MEPs and food policy experts. MEP Paolo de Castro warned: “The issue of food supply, fuelled in recent years by the exponential growth in demand, particularly in some areas of the world, is leading us onto dangerous ground. Food is destined to become an insufficient and costly resource. Today’s challenge is to increase productivity, with fewer resources and less pollution.”

These words echo those of Professor Joan Gussow, noted American nutritionist and environmental scientist, who nearly a quarter of a century ago, wrote ”Learning to view foods as more than just sources of nutrients may guide consumers toward sustainable food choices. A shift to sustainable diets would be an important first step in widespread adoption of a sustainable agriculture policy that promotes the conservation of natural resources and regional self-reliance in food production and consumption.”

So if you are teaching or writing about the food pyramid, food groups and healthy eating, there is very good reason to also emphasise the sustainability link. (For more on this you might also want to check out the Dolceta website on Sustainable consumption [http://www.dolceta.eu/malta/Mod5/spip.php?rubrique1], as well as Seasonal and Sustainable an interesting recipe book recently published by my Home Economist colleague Karen Mugliett [http://www.timesofmalta.com/life/view/20101211/news/healthy-cuisine-for-every-season].)

And finally, as you make your New Year’s resolutions, choose one or two related to sustainable food consumption. Remember that from the health perspective: What’s good for you is very probably good for the environment.

Eat local – Eat seasonal – Eat a ‘kiwi-stick'(?)

June 5, 2010

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the importance of ‘eating local and seasonal’. The reasons focus mainly on the need to support local producers and the local economy, to reduce pollution arising from the transportation and storage of food, to try to eat produce in its freshest state possible for maximum benefit of nutrients, and to lessen the demand for processed food, resulting in less pollution from manufacturing processes and less use of preservatives, and hence less health risks for humans.

International, national and business-led campaigns with the ‘eat local’ and ‘eat seasonal’ message emerge weekly.

In Malta we have the Naturalment Malti campaign led by the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs. This campaign promotes consumption of local fruits and vegetables, as well as other locally produced foods such as honey, ricotta, rabbit and wine, among others.

An interesting campaign was launched recently by McDonalds Italy:  the ‘Mc-Italy menu’. The goal was to present consumers with a range of menu items using a variety of local ingredients. These included Italian products such as extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, artichokes, onions, bresaola (low-fat dry beef sliced thinly and eaten cold), pancetta and a 100% Italian beef patty in a locally produced bun.

A variety of salads with local produce are also sold at McDonalds Italy outlets;  but the latest trend is the ‘kiwi-stick’. This is literally a speared kiwi fruit (grown in the Agro-Pontino countryside just south of Rome) which can be eaten on-the-go as if it were an ice lollipop.

The kiwi stick is an item in the McDonalds Italy Frescallegre packages. In winter, bags of local seasonal fruit are sold. These have included, for example, apples from the northern Piedmont and peaches from Emilia Romagna. This summer, the company plans to use Sicilian oranges to make ice cream.

Yet, the ‘Mc-Italy menu’ was not met without controversy. The President of the Slow Food movement – Carlo Petrini – accepted the campaign with reservations. He asked for transparency regarding the fairness of the price paid to local farmers and artisans for the ingredients, and also queried how the sensory qualities of the Italian ingredients would be ensured in the end-product. He was also concerned with respect to the potential standardisation of these ingredients if the campaign was launched globally, thus jeopardising the true traditional Italian taste.

Across the pond, in Canada, another food company – Hellmann’s – is sponsoring a campaign promoting consumption of local Canadian food. Click on the link below to see their video which spells out clearly the rationale for eating seasonal and local.  Though our balance of imports and exports here in Malta cannot be compared, the different arguments and messages will get you thinking.

So next time you go food shopping, whilst keeping healthy eating as one of your main goals, do make that effort to check if you can buy local and seasonal, to satisfy both your nutritional needs and your appetite…and to show a bit of patriotism.

For more on the mentioned campaigns read here:

http://www.mrra.gov.mt/index.asp

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10149/1061601-28.stm#ixzz0q0XuU0nH

http://www.slowfood.com/sloweb/eng/dettaglio.lasso?cod=C2744B880501e2AE0AjlMmE90175

To see the video, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIsEG2SFOvM

Nutritional supplements

May 15, 2010

This morning the Times (Malta) published an article about where and who should be allowed to sell nutritional supplements. The current law states that “food supplements may only be dispensed by a pharmacist, doctor or a person with other suitable qualifications as may be laid down by the Food Safety Commission.”

(See http://www.doi.gov.mt/EN/press_releases/2010/05/pr0870e.asp)

The local Food Safety Commission is organising a training course for retailers in Health Food and similar stores to better understand the products they sell. Those who successfully attend for this course may then be approved by the Food Safety Commission to also be allowed to sell  food supplements. (For further details on this course call:  23952000.)

In Home Economics we teach that if a person is in good health and eats a  variety of foods from the different food groups they should be meeting their nutritional needs. However, we also teach that there are times during the lifecycle when a person may need to boost their nutritional intake for a while, or they may need to make up for deficiencies.

It is key that consumers make informed choices when seeking to use nutritional supplements. It is advisable not to buy supplements over the counter without knowing a little bit about the science of nutrition and how nutritional  supplements can interact with nutrients and healthy substances found naturally in food, or even with medication.

Here is the link to the Times article where I was also quoted.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100515/local/only-trained-people-can-sell-food-supplements

Unfortunately, there is a slight imprecision in the last sentence. I had said that fat-soluble vitamins, such as A and D, are stored in the body and that excess can be harmful. They misquoted me slightly here.

Weight Watchers©’ endorsement of McDonald’s© in New Zealand

March 7, 2010

Last week several items on the fast food giant’s menu – the Filet-O-Fish, Chicken McNuggets and Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap – were approved for the Weight Watchers diet in McDonald’s 150 New Zealand restaurants. Each meal is worth 6.5 points on the programme, which assigns points to food items and allows dieters to consume 18 to 40 points each day to achieve their target weight.

McDonald’s New Zealand managing director reported that they were able to include some of the most popular items in the Weight Watchers diet because of the many changes they had made over the years. For instance, the switch to a healthier canola blend cooking oil meant items such as the Filet-O-Fish and Chicken McNuggets now contained 60% less saturated fat than six years ago.

The Weight Watchers’ director of business in Australia and New Zealand said the partnership between the companies reflected “part of our philosophy that you can enjoy life … while still achieving your weight loss goals”.

However, around the world many nutrition and obesity experts were not so sure of this collaboration…

What are your views?