By Jon Christian Ryter
May 4, 2007
Petitioners who initially—and covertly—referred to themselves as an interested "citizens group" were actually among the most powerful members of the Chocolate Manufacturers of America [CMA]—Hershey, Nestle and agri-giant Archer Daniel Midland) in collaboration with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Products Association. The chocolate cartel covertly petitioned the Food & Drug Administration [FDA] to "modernize food standards" [i.e., modify the "legal language" to better suit them]. Specifically, the petition asked the FDA to change the labeling of chocolate so companies like Hershey and Nestle can make chocolate without using as much—or, in some cases, any—cocoa butter in their end product and still call it chocolate. Instead, the chocolate makers have figured out how to capture the essence of the chocolate taste using milk, artificial sweeteners and the same hydrogenated vegetable trans fats that elevate your bad cholesterol and cause heart disease. According to Julie Anderson of Joliet, Illinois—one of those who protested the FDA's considering this blatant marketing ploy by the Willie Wonkas of the chocolate industry—"Any product that doesn't have cocoa butter doesn't taste as good, and doesn't feel the same on your tongue. A high-quality chocolate, when you put it in your mouth, melts and becomes silky. With hydrogenated oils [instead], it feels kind of waxy or greasy."
Because trans fats are directly linked to heart disease, every food processor in the United States has either removed them or has greatly reduced them in their products in anticipation of the types of class action lawsuits filed by public advocate attorney Stephen Joseph in 2003. British-born Washington, DC lobbyist Joseph is best known not only as the lawyer who sued Nabisco brand owner Kraft Foods in 2003 over the trans fats in Oreo cookies, but also as the lawyer who sued McDonald's over unrevealed trans fats in their French fries. Joseph became the world's leading trans fat advocate after reading an article on how hydrogenated trans fats are hidden in most of America's most popular snack foods. The suit he filed against Kraft Foods was the first of its kind in the nation. Joseph wanted to ban the sale of Oreo cookies to children. [Editor's note: when I first read about Stephen Joseph's class action lawsuit against Kraft Foods in 2003, I thought the man was just one more money-hungry class action lawyer. Stephen Joseph is as close as any lawyer could ever be to a national hero.]
Cardiologists and medical researchers alike believe trans fats are linked to several debilitating diseases—with heart disease heading the list. In 2003, hydrogenated trans fats were in about 40% of all food products on the grocery store shelves—including most cookies, crackers, vegetable shortening, margarine and microwave popcorn (that uses hydrogenated oils to pop the corn). Trans fats are used to solidify oil (particularly that used in margarine and shortening—but they are also used in liquefied cooking oils). Hydrogenation, according to Stephen Joseph, is an industrial process used to make perfectly good oils (such as soybean oil) into perfectly bad oil. Hydrogenation is used to provide longer shelf life even though, Joseph notes on his website, bantransfats.com, it reduces the "shelf-life" of the consumers who ingest it.
What is most dangerous about trans fats is that they cause a significant lowering of HDL (high density lipids) cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and a serious increase in LDL (low density lipids)—the bad cholesterol. Increased LDL makes the arteries more rigid. It's a major cause of arterial clogging. The medical community has found a considerable amount of evidence linking heart disease and stroke to low HDL levels. For every one milligram rise in HDL, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease falls by 2% to 3%. HDL levels of 60 milligrams or higher help protect against heart disease. HDL also acts as an antioxidant by deterring the harmful oxidation of LDL. In addition. HDL is a first aid mechanism to repair the arteries. It also has anti-clotting characteristics which helps keep clots from blocking arteries.
Does Archer Daniel Midland, Hershey, Nestles and the other members of the Chocolate Manufacturers of America know that medical risks exist for people who consume excessive amounts of trans fats? Yes, they do. But, this is just a calculated business decision on the part of big chocolate. Cocoa prices in the futures market have skyrocketed 28% in the last six months based strictly on speculation that a dry summer this year could impair cocoa production in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. (Note: most of the world's supply of cocoa comes from the rain forests of South America and the jungles of Central America.)
The question floating around the chocolate industry is this: can the Willie Wonkas of the world create a true chocolate taste using artificial sweeteners, 2% milk fats and health-threatening hydrogenated vegetable oils and almost no real chocolate in their chocolate bars? The answer: they can, and have. The next question is, will the FDA allow the chocolate industry to called their trans-fat time bomb "chocolate?" The answer is because of the political clout of Archer Daniel Midland they will.
Gary Guittard, the fourth generation owner of Guittard Chocolate Company agrees with the view of Cybele May who publishes the CandyBlog.org .May and Guittard are convinced the global chocolate industry wants to convert chocolate into mockolate. Guittard, one of 12 chocolate manufacturers in the United States has joined forces with Warren Buffett's See's Candies to fight the US chocolate conglomerate's plan to create artificial chocolate and have the FDA reclassify a product with 25% or less chocolate as "chocolate."
What Archer Daniel Midland and the Willie Wonka chocolate giants want to do is precisely what the vegetable oil giants—US Dairy Company, Armour and Lever Brothers (now Unilever)—wanted to do in the 1920s when they got control of the French inventor, Hippolyte Mege-Mouriez's patent rights in the United States margarine and shortening. The American people didn't accept margarine. In 1930, the per capita consumption of margarine was 2.6 lbs. The per capita consumption of butter in the United States was 17.6 lbs. The margarine moguls wanted Congress to enact a law to allow margarine to be called "artificial butter." It never happened and the smart people continued to eat butter and cook with lard.
It was not until lobbyists for the margarine and shortening industry in the 1950s and 60s successfully pressured the FDA to sanction the health claims that margarine—a product containing unhealthy trans fats—was a more healthy alternative to butter. Now Archer Daniel Midland and the Chocolate Manufacturers of America would like the FDA to redefine what constitutes chocolate, allowing the Chocolate Manufacturers of America to call products with greatly reduced cocoa content chocolate. Today, when you look at gourmet chocolate bars
Hershey disagrees that using trans fats in chocolate will have negative health implications for consumers. What it will have, Hershey suggests, is a calming affect on the spiraling cost of chocolate. A pound of chocolate (which contains about 25% cocoa butter) costs about $2.30 lb. The vegetable oils that the chocolate industry wants to use as '"filler" costs about 70 cents per pound. "Cocoa butter is the most expensive ingredient there is, and so it adds up to a substantial amount of money." Guittard noted that US chocolate manufacturers use about $1.4 billion of cocoa and cocoa products each year. "No one can afford to sit back and eat bonbons while America's great passion for chocolate is threatened." Hershey, according to the Sacramento Bee, said that Hershey plans to make chocolate without any cocoa butter.
According to Kirk Saville, spokesman for Hershey, the name of the game is cutting costs. Referring to their efforts to "modernize" chocolate, Saville said, "The petition would modernize all food standards, increasing flexibility to accommodate changes in technology...If adopted [these changes] would provide the flexibility to make changes based on consumer taste preferences, ingredient costs and availability, and shelf life." The new rules, according to May, would completely obliterate the current trans fats definitions, basically making any concoction containing cocoa solids and vegetable fats classified as chocolate. Under the waiver sought by the chocolate industry, the FDA is requested to relax the ingredient specifications to allow candy makers to substitute flavored vegetable oils for chocolate—even up to a 100% substitution. Chocolate-less chocolate.
Is the FDA about to flip flop on its ingredient labeling? The "citizen's petition" to the FDA that was actually drafted for Archer Daniel Midland and the Chocolate Manufacturers of America by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Products Association.
A statement by Robert Earl, senior director for nutrition policy for the grocery manufacturers makes me wonder if modifications in labeling that will once again conceal the levels of trans fats are in the offing. Earl said chocolate is just part of the proposal—but that food labels would still list all components. The best way to hide trans fats is to modify the regulations to allow larger levels of trans fats to be classified as 0%. Today, levels of trans fats at 5% or less can be listed on the ingredient label as 0% because, today, when trans fats show on the label, the product stays on the store shelf.
As it stands today, even with trans fats listed on the food label of most products, US consumers have no idea how much trans fats are in any of the processed foods they consume daily because of labeling loopholes demanded by food processors. Providing medically accurate information about trans fats on labels, according to Stephen Joseph, could prevent 7,600 to 17,100 cases of coronary heart disease, and 2,500 to 5,600 deaths every year—not only because people would be about to choose healthier foods, but because manufacturers would be forced to reduce or eliminate trans fats in the products they sell.
LaRochelle, owner of a small chocolate company, Cocoa Locoa, in New
York, said any such change authorized by the FDA would undermine the
benefits of chocolate. The antioxidants in chocolate have played a rule
in good heart health for years would be replaced by trans fats that
will have an adverse affect on heart health. "I don't understand," LaRochelle
said, "why we'd want to have more candy bars laden with trans fats
when cocoa butter is natural and beneficial." I agree. But then,
as consumers, we don't have an agenda other than perhaps wanting to
enjoy a piece of chocolate that doesn't have the potential to kill us
somewhere down the trans fat road to heart disease.
© 2007 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights
[Read "Whatever Happened to America?"]
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.