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.

Lynn M. Bragg
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 Tracker Pixel for Entry     CandyFDANews

  1. Cybele,

    That’s some great, persistent, and really helpful sleuthing you did. Thank you on behalf of everyone who believes in real chocolate.

    Comment by Rodney North on 4/23/07 at 8:02 am #
  2. I find Appendix C alarming on several counts unrelated to chocolate. It would allow salt and sweetener substitutes “where the standard allows at least one sweetener.” It would allow “enzyme-modified egg yolk in place of regular egg yolk” and reconstituted milk in yogurt. It would allow for processes that would have the “same effect” as aging cheese. It would allow food spahetti made with 51% whole wheat flour to be called “whole wheat spaghetti”.

    Terms like “ingredient interchangability” I find very disturbing. Basically what these changes would mean is that if the manufacturers can make something taste sort-of like real food, they will be allowed to label it as real food.

    Comment by Bill Brown on 4/24/07 at 5:06 am #
  3. Hi,

    I heard you on NPR, Talk of the Nation.
    I am appalled by the endless watering down
    of food standards by the Federal Govt.

    We should be clamoring for quality, standards and integrity of food products rather than endlessly defending against the assaults of
    the bulk food processors to denature fine products in the pursuit of additional profits.

    I respect profits and have no issue with low quality products as long as they are not misleading consumers.
    If it is not chocolate, call it something else.

    Can we stil contact the FDA and be heard ?


    Comment by Philippe Fossier on 4/24/07 at 11:09 am #
  4. Cybele's avatar

    Philippe - absolutely - go to this page:

    They have a tutorial and link to the FDA’s open comment page.

    Bill - yes, there are many other things hidden inside the new proposal. While I think that there’s too much sodium in many processed foods, I don’t know if throwing potassium salts in there instead is going to be any better for me.

    I don’t know what genius came up with enzyme modified egg yolks ... I mean, what’s wrong with just plain old egg yolks? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

    Rodney -  yes, and once we get people clamoring for quality, we can get them clamoring for equity while we’re at it!

    Comment by Cybele on 4/24/07 at 11:14 am #
  5. Cybele, this comment made on Steve Gilliard’s News Blog might interest you:

    The National Cattlemen are probably in on this docket because one of the rule changes would allow processes to be used that are not the ones named, but produce results that *look like* the named process: ie, ‘roast’ meat would not actually need to be roasted, if the process used produced the *appearance* of roasting. (Think grill marks done with a pencil iron. Think the food photos in magazines, where they look perfect.)

    I’m sure that’s not the only one. It’s a long petition.

    —P J Evans

    Comment by desertwind on 4/24/07 at 1:37 pm #
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