Tag Archive | Stephanie Strom

Trix Are For Suckers. Evil Genius Edition.

The relentless Stephanie Strom reports on the fiendishly brilliant change the General Mills has made to their privacy policy.

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

One of those occasions when only Mencken will do:
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

[Editor’s note 20 April 2014: General Mills has responded by making their application of this policy slightly less slimy, and for this they should be applauded.]

Advertisements

The Revisionist History of Healthier Fries

Here comes the news that Burger King has engineered a lower fat, lower calorie fry. I don’t really care and five will get you ten that whatever they did will make french fries even more fattening and unhealthy . But what got my goat in the article was this:

Roughly a decade ago, McDonald’s began using a soy-corn blend of fats instead of beef tallow to cook its fries in an effort to reduce the trans fats that contribute to higher cholesterol.

What actually happened was this:

At the behest of the Center for Science in the Public Interest that delicious, wholesome (relatively wholesome) beef tallow was replaced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. That campaign started in 1984 and was victorious in 1990 when the chains abandoned tallow in favor of trans fat laden partially hydrogenated oil.

NPR’s Dan Charles:

But did you know that in the 1980s, health activists actually promoted oils containing trans fats? They considered such oils a healthy alternative to the saturated fats found in palm oil, coconut oil, or beef fat. In 1986, for instance, the (CSPI), described Burger King’s switch to partially hydrogenated oils as “a great boon to Americans’ arteries.”

It wasn’t until 1993, after stampeding the fast food industry into greatly multiplying the nation’s consumption of what may be the single most deadly ingredient in our food supply, the CSPI reversed course and began campaigning against trans fats.

Here’s The Harvard School of Public Health on the dangers posed by trans fats:

Today we know that eating trans fats increases levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad” cholesterol), especially the small, dense LDL particles that may be more damaging to arteries. It lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles, which scour blood vessels for bad cholesterol and truck it to the liver for disposal. It also promotes inflammation, an overactivity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Eating trans fat also reduces the normal healthy responsiveness of endothelial cells, the cells that line all of our blood vessels. In animal studies, eating trans fat also promotes obesity and resistance to insulin, the precursor to diabetes.

This multiple-pronged attack on blood vessels translates into heart disease and death. An analysis of the health effects of industrial trans fats conducted by researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition indicates that eliminating trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent up to 1 in 5 heart attacks and related deaths. That would mean a quarter of a million fewer heart attacks and related deaths each year in the United States alone.

McDonald’s and Burger King didn’t remove trans fats from their menu until 2008.

Michael Jacobsen’s obsession with saturated fat caused the organization to tout the benefits of partially hydrogenated oils well after their dangers had been established. This didn’t stop them from changing course when the dangers of trans fats had been exposed without apology or acknowledgement. The history of trying to engineer low fat, low calorie foods that make us fatter and sicker is a long one, but CSPI has been there every step of the way. The trans fat french fry debacle was just the pinnacle of their blundering.

Mary Enig at The Weston Price Foundation traces the twists and turns of CSPI’s position on saturated fats and partially hydrogenated oils:

By 1988, the adverse effects of trans fats were well known. The article points out that stearic acid has no effect on blood cholesterol levels, yet CSPI continued to accuse beef tallow, which is rich in stearic acid, of “raising cholesterol and increasing the risk of heart disease.” As for the tropical oils, they do not need to be hydrogenated!

Blume was at it again in March 1988 with another article, “The Truth About Trans .” “Hydrogenated oils aren’t guilty as charged. . . . All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent.. . . . As for processed foods, you’re better off choosing products made with hydrogenated soybean, corn, or cottonseed oil. . . ” This article was widely disseminated; Michael Jacobson provided it as a handout to members of the Maryland Legislature during hearings when the University of Maryland group tried to introduce labeling of trans fatty acids in the State.

But by 1990, CSPI could no longer defend the indefensible. In October of that year, Bonnie Liebman, CSPI Director of Nutrition, published an article “Trans in Trouble” which referred to recent studies by Dutch scientists showing that trans fats raised cholesterol. “That’s not to say trans fatty acids are artery-cloggers,” she wrote, “. . . the fats in our foods may affect cholesterol differently than those used in the Dutch experiment. . . . The Bottom Line. . . Trans, shmans. You should eat less fat. . . Don’t switch back to butter. . . use a soft tub diet margarine. . . . ”

. . . The revisionism began in December 1992 when Ms. Liebman wrote: “We’ve been crying ‘foul’ for some time now, as the margarine industry has tried to convince people that eating margarine was as good for their hearts as aerobic exercise. . . . And we warned folks several years ago that trans fatty acids could be a problem. . . . That’s especially true now that we know that trans fatty acids are harmful, but we don’t know how much trans are in different foods.” Of course, CSPI had issued no such warning, but had been defending trans fats for more than five years. And there’s no apology for falsely demonizing traditional fats. “Don’t switch back from margarine to butter,” wrote Ms. Liebman, “. . . try diet or whipped margarine. . . use a liquid margarine.”

In November 1993, Bonnie Liebman coauthored an article with Margo Wootan called “The Great Trans Wreck,” which would have been in preparation well before Michael Jacobson’s infamous press conference, in which they asked, “Why do companies love hydrogenated fat if it’s so unhealthy? . . . . despite the claims on many packages, most companies switched not to vegetable oil, but to vegetable shortening. And that created a problem.”

You can read the whole sorry tale of hubris and revisionism at the Weston Price Foundation. The fruits of that revisionism can be seen in the statement above from The New York Times.

A FEW QUICK THOUGHTS ON STEPHANIE STROM’S GLYPHOSATE PIECE IN THE TIMES

This piece has gotten fairly wide circulation and deservedly so. I have a few quibbles and observations.
1. You really need to disentangle biotech seeds and problems relating to the pesticide use associated with specific seeds before you explain how they are related. To someone who isn’t already on top of the issues, they are hopelessly conflated in this piece.

The local differences over glyphosate are feeding the long-running debate over biotech crops, which currently account for roughly 90 percent of the corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States.

While regulators and many scientists say biotech crops are no different from their conventional cousins, others worry that they are damaging the environment and human health. The battle is being waged at the polls, with ballot initiatives to require labeling of genetically modified foods; in courtrooms, where lawyers want to undo patents on biotech seeds; and on supermarket shelves containing products promoting conventionally grown ingredients.

This is the opposite problem from what Amy Harmon was criticized for in her citrus greening piece. Many felt that she did not provide enough context. I disagreed with that criticism. I thought Harmon was wise not to attach a giant boilerplate rehash of the entire GMO debate before moving on to tell the story that she had chosen to tell. Balancing the proper amount of background necessary for clarity and context is tricky.

2. Strom’s choice to use the term ‘biotech’ without ever using ‘GMO’ is an interesting and loaded choice. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Is there a move a foot at The Times to tell these stories in a less polarizing way? Not enough data. Stay tuned.

3. I’m sure that this story will fuel Monsanto Derangement Syndrome but it’s not clear to me that there are any clear policy takeaways other than the need for funding independent ag research at our public universities to make sure farmers get the information they need to make good choices.