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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

Snickers Shrek

ShrekersHere are some things I know: Novelty is not necessarily a good thing. Being gross does not make it tasty. Shrek is funny.

I got an email from Marvo at The Impulsive Buy alerting me that there were some new Snickers and M&Ms to celebrate Shrek the Third. I spotted the bags of minis at Target but just couldn’t bring myself to buy a whole bag, so I was happy to see the single bars at 7-11 the following week. The wrapper has a little drawing of a cross section and an arrow pointing to it with the words With Green Shrek Filling - Same Snickers Taste” next to it.

Can I just say that I’m wondering if they include smell in that?

image

It smelled a bit like feet to me. Perhaps Shrek’s feet, I can’t be sure, as he’s an animated character and likely smells more like pixels or ozone. Maybe “feet” is too strong. Latex balloons ... yes, that’s it: chocolate, peanuts and rubber gloves.

It tasted the same as the regular Snickers ... but perhaps a little peppery. (It’s not Wasabi that makes it green, is it?)

I’m just glad they didn’t cover it in a green “white chocolate.” A Snickers bar without the green filling gets an 8 out of 10. This one only gets a 7 out of 10. Until it goes on sale at five for a dollar later this year.

The other movie tie in are Ogre-Sized M&Ms Peanut Butter ... which might be similar to the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs. Can anyone confirm that?

Name: Snickers - Shrek the Third
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Mars
Place Purchased: 7-11 (Hollywood)
Price: $.89
Size: 2.07 ounces
Calories per ounce: 135
Categories: Chocolate, Nougat, Caramel, Peanuts, Limited Edition, United States, Mars, Kosher

POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:01 pm     Comments (20)

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)

Starburst Baja California & Tropical

Starburst Baja CaliforniaI’ve never been to Baja. I hear that the experience in the lagoons where the Grey Whales nurse their calves is amazing. I also hear they make great fish tacos there. But I also hear they eat these. It still hasn’t been enough to get me to drive that 200 miles south.

The Starburst Baja California commericals make it seem to be a paradise.

It might well be.

image

I admit that I’m always enchanted with candy that’s named for a place.

Limon - this was strange. It started with the distinct flavor of bubble gum. I can’t explain it. Then it got very tart with a pleasant lemon-lime flavor and a slight hint of key lime.

Strawberry Watermelon -  yes, this tasted just like you’d think a strawberry and watermelon Starburst should.

Baja Dragon Fruit - as a blue flavor, I was a little put off, I can’t quite put my finger on the flavor. It reminded me of mango and a little bit of plum.

Aztec Punch - the first time I tried this I thought I got my mixes mixed and it was a cherry one. So I dug out another one and the same thing happened. It tastes like cherry. Maybe that’s what the Aztecs put in their punch.

Starburst TropicalI often shun Tropical flavored stuff because it all ends up being passion fruit, papaya and guava, which I think are good fresh fruits but not really flavors I’m keen on.

But this array in Starburst Tropical of flavors sounded pretty good.

image

Mango Melon - I don’t know. It was kind of melon, kind of mango, but not the best aspects of either of those flavors. Not tangy enough, not zesty enough.

Strawberry Banana - I don’t consider strawberries a tropical fruit. If something is indigenous to England, it’s not tropical. This was bad. I wanted to like it, as I love real strawberry and banana things, but the banana was just ooky, a little too fake and a little too much like a scented candle.

Royal Berry Punch - another punch flavor. It’s like they thought that there weren’t enough specific tropical fruit flavors so they had to do these punchy things. This is nice though, a little note of coconut with some melon and citrus and maybe kiwi.

Pina Colada - very coconutty and with a good tingly blast of pineapple. It doesn’t have that buttery flavor that coconut stuff often does, but the fully-rounded notes of the pineapple are great.

If I were to create a Tropical Fruit mix, I’d keep it simple and pick from these: Pineapple, Mango, Lychee, Passion Fruit & Banana. The ultimate mix from these two packs would consist of: Limon, Pina Colada and Royal Berry Punch. No, I can’t even manage to pick a fourth. They’re all okay, but I prefer the original mix best (because of its high citrus content).

Name: Starburst Baja California and Tropical
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Mars
Place Purchased: Rite Aid (3rd & Fairfax)
Price: $.69
Size: 2.07 ounces
Calories per ounce: 120
Categories: Chew, United States, Mars, Starburst

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:16 am     Comments (32)

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)

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