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Monday, April 30, 2007

Keep it Real Raffle Winner

image I’m happy to report that Julie at Booga J (and her own Chocolate Blog) won the Keep it Real Raffle. A $100 gift certificate from Chocosphere.com is already on its way to her.

It might console you to know that she’ll probably be virtually sharing her booty in the near future on her blog. In case you forget to bookmark her, I’m adding her to my blogroll over there on the lower right.

Julie worked really hard too, with five raffle tickets (there were about 130 entries total) ... though the “ticket” I drew for her was for her comment to the FDA.

In the next week or so I’ll announce some more giveaways. Thanks again to everyone for their help in getting the word out.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 3:59 pm     CandyFDAFun StuffComments (4)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Washington Post: It’s not Over

The article in the Washington Post appeared on their website a little while ago.

Chocolate Purists Cry Foul as FDA Fudges Standards
Proposal Whips Up a Food Fight
By Michael S. Rosenwald

Here are a few interesting passages:

Chocolate purists, of which there are apparently many, have undertaken a grassroots letter-writing campaign to the FDA to inform the agency that such a change to the standards is just not okay with them. More than 225 comments to the petition have been processed so far by the agency, and chocolate bloggers are pressing for more. In the annals of bureaucratic Washington battles, this is a sweet one.

When I talked to Michael Rosenwald about what happens to those comments we submitted on the website, he said that the 225 number was just what they’ve processed. On the FDA website, in their dockets section they have a Daily Listing which shows what they’ve processed lately. They post updates every weekday, however they don’t necessarily process the comments immediately. There’s a big gap between the processed comments since April 16th was the only one I found and then they posted a list on April 23rd. I don’t know how many more are in the queue ... hopefully enough.

Kirk Saville, a Hershey’s spokesman, said it was “premature to speculate on any changes before the process is complete.” He was more expansive in speaking to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, in the company’s back yard, saying “There are high-quality oils available which are equal to or better than cocoa butter in taste, nutrition, texture and function, and are preferred by consumers.”

I’m not an industry insider working at a mega huge company like Hershey’s, so I don’t know about this high quality oil that’s equal to or better than cocoa butter.

From the department of cooler heads comes Nick Malgieri, the director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that this would be optional,” Malgieri said. “No one is going to force a high-class chocolate maker to add vegetable fat to chocolate.” Asked if fine chocolate would just melt away, he said, “Absolutely not.”

This is so true. Just like there’s crappy real chocolate and really good chocolate right now. However, I think that gap will get wider.

If you have comments for the FDA, tell the directly!

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:11 pm     CandyFDANewsComments (3)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FDA Extends Comment Period to June 25

Don’t Mess With Our Chocolate announced that the public comment period has been extended to

May 25, 2007

June 25, 2007.

I’m so happy to hear that the momentum that’s built up over the last few days will lead to more people will be able to properly read up and make their comments. This also provides all of us an opportunity to contemplate what else might be in that FDA Petition that we haven’t thoroughly considered, so you might want to review it again with that in mind.

As for the Keep it Real Raffle? Well, the current one ends today, but I’ll run another one for the next month as well (different but equally scrumptious prize). So if you feel like keeping the conversations going out there and spreading the word even further, there will be another opportunity to win.

Hopefully we’ll all win when we Keep it Real.

UPDATE 4/27/2007: The comment form has been restored on the FDA site featuring a new expiration date of June 25th. I’ve revised this post to reflect the newest information.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:20 am     CandyFDANewsComments (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Final Hours of the FDA Comment Period

Today has been quite a scramble. (Sorry that there’s no new review today ... but I did two yesterday ... whaddaya want from me?)

Last night I was mentioned in a Slashdot post on the topic of the FDA considering the change in the definition of chocolate. I went to bed happy, because I saw quite a few new entries into the Keep it Real Raffle, which meant that the FDA was really going to hear what we thought. (There’s a lot of edumicated folks on Slashdot, the thread has over 600 comments, so I know that if they do end up telling the FDA how they feel it will be many different points of view ... which is cool and exactly they way it should be!)

This morning I found that the interview that I did with Bloomberg news was finally published: Hershey Battles Chocolate Connoisseurs Over Selling ‘Mockolate’ by Adam Satariano. I’m quoted and now everyone knows how old I am (at least Newsday didn’t run my photo ... then all the magic would be gone from Candy Blog). Later I did a companion pre-recorded radio interview with the cocoa-buttery-voiced Steve Geimann. (I’ll try to grab a link to that at some point, I might have missed it, there might be a podcast though.)

I was contacted by NPR for Talk of the Nation and went to their studio at lunch today to do a little 10 minute piece on the subject. The other guest on the show was Fran Bigelow of Fran’s in Seattle. (I didn’t tell her that her salted caramels are lovely ... I had to stay on topic.) The host, Rebecca Roberts, was really on top of things and I think helped to bring a lot of the nuances of the issue out. (Blog of the Nation link.)

I also did a phone interview with a reporter at the Washington Post. I think that’ll run tomorrow.

And tomorrow is when it’s all over. Well, that’s when this chapter ends. (Go log your opinions at the FDA site!)

My sincere thanks to everyone who has been working so hard to pass the word along. Instead of reacting to something like this after the fact, we’re able to have a voice and exercise our power to remind the FDA that they are supposed to be working to protect us. It’s a nice warm feeling, isn’t it?

UPDATE: the comment period may have been extended to May 25, 2007. (It’s not on the FDA site, but Don’t Mess with Our Chocolate says so.) Stay tuned!

UPDATE 04/27/2007: The comment period is extended to June 25, 2007. Here’s the new page on the FDA site for entering your thoughts.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:04 pm     CandyFDANewsComments (4)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Chocolate Editorial picked up in Newsday

I’m happy to report that Newsday picked up my Chocolate/Mockolate editorial and printed it in today’s edition. (You can catch it on their website here.)

The print edition actually has an illustration accompanying it. (I was worried ... they asked for a photo!)

(c) 2007 - William L. Brown

The image was made by William L. Brown, who has a really fun website featuring his work and a passion for candy as well. (He gave me some great recommendations which I have every intention of following up on.)

A couple of funny things to report as well:

I have no control over the headlines they give the piece. It’s odd, they printed it exactly as I wrote it (well, it was edited, but all with my cooperation), but on the LATimes website it had two different headlines and another in the print edition. Here Newsday has given it another one.

The original one was “A chocolate rose by any other name” which I came up with but didn’t like. The one that I thought they were going to use in the print edition was “Lowering the chocolate bar” which I think is the smartest of all of them.

There is another unsigned editorial that first appeared in the Sacramento Bee and was then picked up by a bunch of other related outlets. The curious thing about that is that they ask readers to sign a petition. That’s inaccurate. There’s no petition, what you’re supposed to do is submit your comments to the FDA. It’s just a proposal and now is the time to stop it in its tracks.

UPDATE: the FDA comment deadline was extended to June 25, 2007. Get your comments in today right here.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:08 am     CandyFDANewsComments (1)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Farce of the FDA’s Website

Michael brought up a very good point in the comments here. Where is the proof that Big Chocolate is trying to degrade the standards of chocolate?

If you’ve gone through the files that are up for public view listed under 2007P-0085: Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to all Food Standards that would Permit, within Stated Boundaries, Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity you will see that there is a letter from the FDA, a letter about a phone conversation between the FDA and the Grocery Manufacturers Association and then two documents from the GMA (with co-signatories): the cover letter and the citizen petition. (PDFs)

Nowhere in these documents does it say anything specifically about allowing a one hundred percent swap of cocoa butter in chocolate for vegetable fats to be called chocolate.

However, in that Citizen Petition it mentions (page 4) that there is an Appendix C ... a handy chart that breaks things down. But where is Appendix C? It’s sure not on the FDA’s website. I have it (thanks to Gary Guittard) and you can view it right here. Though it’s only a brief explanation of everything asked for in the proposed changes, it’s quite clear in the first example in the second column that they are asking to swap cocoa butter for other vegetable fats.

Since the Citizen Petition had many signatories, and the primary one was the Grocery Manufacturers Association, not the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, I decided to contact them for an official statement of their position. This is what I said:

April 9

I was hoping you could help me with some information on the Chocolate Manufacturers Association’s position on the new FDA Chocolate Standards Identity Change.

(2007P-0085 - Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to all Food Standards that would Permit, within Stated Boundaries, Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity)

Is there an official statement from the CMA about their support for this new change to the current standards for chocolate in the United States? If there isn’t, could I get one?

Specifically I’m looking for something about how this will effect the consumer and why the CMA has petitioned the FDA for this change at this time. Would you be able to tell me how each member of the CMA has supported or not supported this petition that is in the CMA’s name?

Thanks so much for your help and quick attention to this.

I got this reply:

April 11

Hi May,

Attached is a statement from CMA on the Standards filing.  For background, CMA cosigned a joint petition with 11 other food industry trade associations which was filed under the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Also, each CMA member company is sending in individual comments under their company names so if you are interested in finding out more information on how they feel about this you will have to contact the member companies directly.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Thanks and best,

This was what the attached letter said:

April 4, 2007

In October 2006, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA) agreed to lend its name to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) “citizen’s petition” calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revise the standards of identity for food products.

The CMA’s support of the GMA petition is not an endorsement of any specific potential change to the standards of identity for chocolate. Rather, the decision reflects CMA’s view that now is an appropriate time for FDA to begin a general review of the standards of identity for many foods, including chocolate.

The petition in its current form is not the “final word” or a set of new standards. In fact, this proposal is the beginning of a long regulatory process.

Like any proposal before the FDA, the petition must go through a public notice and comment period before any final decision is reached. During this time, CMA, its member companies and any interested party will have the opportunity to comment on any proposed changes and share their views with the FDA.

Sincerely,
Lynn M. Bragg
President
Chocolate Manufacturers Association

As for the confusion about the changes not being entirely public (honestly, I’m not sure what else is in there), it is completely deplorable that the public comment period on these proposed changes ends on Wednesday, yet to this date there has been no coherent posting on the FDA’s website as to what we’re commenting on.

I was a bit panicked at first, after all, I was just getting my information from the Don’t Mess with Our Chocolate website. I actually waffled for a moment ... I can see a case being made for looser standards when it comes to using newer ingredients and keeping in step with other countries. But there came a reality check for me that I wasn’t just making this up in my head on the basis of one little old website. There have been quite a few articles written about this, with comments from the industry itself. I’m not sure why Hershey would respond to it (as they did in this article) if it weren’t true. I’ve also talked to two other journalists, one from ABC News and the other from Bloomberg.

But yes, it would be nice to get a hold of the actual document. Wouldn’t it?

POSTED BY Cybele AT 4:37 pm     CandyFDANewsComments (5)

Friday, April 20, 2007

More People Testifying for Real Chocolate

Thursday, April 19, 2007

LATimes Editorial

imageMy editorial in the LATimes was published.

If you’re looking for the comment form on the FDA Site, go here. (Tutorial here.) Deadline is

April 25th

June 25th.

Hands off my chocolate, FDA!
The FDA may allow Big Chocolate to pass off a waxy substitute as the real thing.
By Cybele May, CYBELE MAY is a writer who reviews candy on her blog, candyblog.net.
April 19, 2007
THE AVERAGE American eats 12 pounds of chocolate a year. That’s about a chocolate bar every other day. (I am above average, judging by the fact that I eat enough chocolate to deduct it as a line item on my tax return.)

To sum up so far: Americans eat a lot of chocolate.

That’s cool, because we also make a lot of it. We make everything from the inexpensive milk chocolate bars that you buy at the supermarket checkout counter to the decadent, limited-edition chocolate bars made from “handpicked beans from a single hillside in Venezuela,” for which there’s a waiting list.

It’s all basically made the same way: cacao pods are fermented and then roasted and ground into a fine paste that can be separated into two components: cacao solids (commonly called cocoa powder) and cocoa butter. Each chocolatier uses different proportions but generally blends sugar, cocoa solids and cocoa butter plus the optional ingredients—emulsifiers, flavors (typically vanilla) and milk solids (to make milk chocolate)—and molds that into a chocolate bar.

A little over 100 years ago, Milton Hershey created the nickel bar, the first American chocolate bar for the masses. Today, these small purchases of chocolate products add up to an $18-billion business. Like all foods in the United States, chocolate is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that consumers get a safe and consistent product.

But perhaps no longer. The FDA is entertaining a “citizen’s petition” to allow manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter.

The “citizens” who created this petition represent groups that would benefit most from this degradation of the current standards. They are the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (OK, I’m not sure what’s in it for them), along with seven other food producing associations.

This is what they think of us chocolate eaters, according to their petition on file at the FDA:

“Consumer expectations still define the basic nature of a food. There are, however, no generally held consumer expectations today concerning the precise technical elements by which commonly recognized, standardized foods are produced. Consumers, therefore, are not likely to have formed expectations as to production methods, aging time or specific ingredients used for technical improvements, including manufacturing efficiencies.”

Let me translate: “Consumers won’t know the difference.”

I can tell you right now—we will notice the difference. How do I know? Because the product they’re trying to rename “chocolate” already exists. It’s called “chocolate flavored” or “chocolaty” or “cocoalicious.” You can find it on the shelves right now at your local stores in the 75% Easter sale bin, those waxy/greasy mock-chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped eggs that sit even in the most sugar-obsessed child’s Easter basket well into July.

It may be cocoa powder that gives chocolate its taste, but it is the cocoa butter that gives it that inimitable texture. It is one of the rare, naturally occurring vegetable fats that is solid at room temperature and melts as it hits body temperature—that is to say, it melts in your mouth. Cocoa butter also protects the antioxidant properties of the cocoa solids and gives well-made chocolate its excellent shelf life.

Because it’s already perfectly legal to sell choco-products made with cheaper oils and fats, what the groups are asking the FDA for is permission to call these waxy impostors “chocolate.” Because we “haven’t formed any expectations.”

I’d say we’ve already demonstrated our preference for true chocolate. That’s why real chocolate outsells fake chocolate. Nine of the 10 bestselling U.S. chocolate candies are made with the real stuff. M&Ms, Hershey Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—all real chocolate. Butterfinger is the outlier.

Granted, a change to the “food standards of identity” won’t require makers to remove some or all of the cocoa butter, it would just allow them to. But really, why else would they ask?

But as long as they’re asking, the FDA does have a way for other citizens to voice their expectations. It’s buried deep in its website. Until April 25, the agency is accepting comments—by fax, mail or online—on a docket with the benign-sounding name of “2007P-0085: Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to All Food Standards that Would Permit, Within Stated Boundaries, Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity.”

I’m telling them to keep it real.

Keep up with all my coverage of the issue here. Daily reviews continue as usual below.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:07 am     Comments (33)

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