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Many people presume that some federal agency is overseeing the safety of the ingredients in our food supply. That's not unreasonable, because that is actually what the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to be doing, and what Congress told it to do in a 1958 law that created a system of approvals for food additives and allowed companies to use substances that the scientific consensus determines is "Generally Recognized As Safe" or GRAS.
Now, the loophole has swallowed the law. Since 1997, FDA has allowed companies to make their own secret determinations of a substance's safety for use in food.
The legal standard that an ingredient is "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS originally applied to things like oil and vinegar-foodstuffs that are widely accepted as safe to consume. But today, companies are deciding in secret that almost anything they want to put in food is GRAS.
If companies decide on their own that a new ingredient is GRAS, they don't have to tell FDA what their investigations show about safety or even tell the government what or how much of anything they have decided to add to food. In short, the food industry-not FDA-is in charge of what you eat.
What can you do about this shocking failure to ensure our food is safe?
First, check out and share our great new infographic exposing the spaghetti-tangle of FDA's failure to ensure the safety of food additives.
Then, join this campaign to strengthen FDA's role on food safety and let them know how shocked and disappointed you are that they have fallen down on the job and put you at risk.
And stay tuned for more! We are calling on FDA to fix this system, in part, by asking companies to give the agency basic notice of what they are doing. One of our key allies is the Natural Resources Defense Council, which published an important expose of all the secrecy in the GRAS determinations by companies.
With your help, we can fix this frightening problem. We won't rest until FDA is once again ensuring the safety of our food supply.
The recent antibiotic-resistant Salmonella outbreak from Foster Farms Chicken should raise serious warning flags for all of us. More than 350 people have been sickened in more than 21 states-and those illnesses were preventable. We need the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to act with greater authority to protect our food supply. The USDA should take action before people get sick, and require controls and testing for antibiotic-resistant Salmonella before it reaches consumers.
At CSPI, we're working to make sure that meat and poultry found to contain antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella can't harm consumers. When these superbugs are found in products, those products should be recalled from the marketplace. Two years ago, CSPI filed a petition to the USDA requesting this important safeguard. But we haven't yet received a response.
We need your help.
Please write to Secretary Vilsack today, and ask that the USDA declare four strains of Salmonella that are known to be antibiotic-resistant as "adulterants" under federal law, thus making products that contain them illegal to sell.
If you know a child with ADHD, you know hyperactivity can make it difficult for parents trying to raise happy, healthy children. But did you know that many food and candy companies use unnecessary ingredients that can trigger hyperactivity, adding additional stress to families already coping with ADHD?
Petroleum-based artificial food dyes are found in everything from cereal, yogurt, and granola bars to candy, chips, and even children's medicines! Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that dyes cause hyperactivity in sensitive children. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that fact. But the FDA has refused to ban dyes or even require a warning notice on labels, as the European Union does for most dyes.
CSPI is working with the Shutters family from Jamestown, New York, to encourage companies to stop coloring foods with these harmful dyes. Read their story on Change.org and sign the petition asking Mars to color M&M's, the best selling candy in the country, with only natural colors.
This year, the Walt Disney Company announced it will no longer accept advertisements for junk food on its child-directed television, radio, and online sites. Disney also updated its nutrition standards for foods that can be advertised to children. Meanwhile, almost half of food ads viewed by kids are seen on Viacom programming, which includes Nickelodeon.
The food and beverage industry spends $2 billion per year advertising food to children. Kids aged 2-11 years old see an average of 13 food ads a day, mainly promoting unhealthy foods. This contributes to our country's obesity epidemic; one in every three children is overweight or obese.
Please urge Nickelodeon to follow Disney's lead. Write to Nickelodeon and urge it to do right by our kids and stop advertising unhealthy food to them. Thank you.
Several months ago, we asked you to send a letter to your governor asking him/her to improve the foods and beverages available on state property. Those letters resulted in progress in a few states, but more work needs to be done. Right now, state legislators are getting ready for the next legislative session; please ask them to improve the foods and beverages on state property.
Nationally, 17 million people work for state and local governments, and countless others visit recreational facilities, parks, state agency buildings, highway rest stops, and other state property every day. Visitors and employees deserve healthy options and healthier options could help to reduce health care costs, which burden the state's citizens and budget!
Please send a message to your state legislators urging them to ensure that there are plenty of healthy options available for foods and beverages sold on state property.
Are you shocked to learn that it is perfectly legal to market chicken, turkey and even ground beef that is chock full of Salmonella bacteria? That's right, your family's chicken dinner can come with a sickening dose of bacteria and the government won't do a thing about it! This is true even if the Salmonella infection is difficult to treat because it is resistant to antibiotics.
In 2011, at least 136 people in 34 different states got sick and one died from ground turkey laced with dangerous antibiotic-resistantSalmonella bacteria. That same year, CSPI petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make it illegal to sell ground poultry and beef that is contaminated with four common strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella adulterants.
It's not just ground meat that is the problem now. More recently, Foster Farms, a huge west-coast operation, kept selling its chicken products for more than a year after they were found to be the cause of a Salmonella outbreak that eventually sickened more than 600 people.
For consumers these outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are bad news twice over. Not only do victims needlessly suffer through a preventable illness, but because the bacteria are resistant, they are harder to treat with normal antibiotics.
What was USDA's response to our petition? Denied! USDA said that it won't do anything about antibiotic-resistant Salmonella unless people are getting sick. So, instead of requiring companies to clean up their poultry and meat products before they get to market, USDA is allowing them to foist this dangerous food onto consumers, making it our problem.
Tell Congress to fix the law by supporting H.R. 4966, the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act, introduced by Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter.
Write your Representative today!
We need to see big reductions in soda consumption in order to reduce the roll of soda-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. One way to achieve faster reductions in soda and sugar drink consumption is to enact excise taxes. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Act of 2014 (the SWEET Act), which would levy an excise tax of one cent per teaspoon of caloric sweetener, raising the price of a 12-ounce can by about 10 cents. That's enough to make a modest dent in consumption-and to raise about $10 billion to help prevent and treat soda-related diseases.
Antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella on meat and poultry have been linked to at least 2,358 illnesses, 424 hospitalizations, and eight deaths. In one outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections linked to Foster Farms products, the USDA allowed the contaminated chicken to stay on the market for nearly 10 months as the number of people sickened doubled. We've filed a petition with the USDA to classify these strains of Salmonella as adulterants and keep them out of our food supply.
Eating out at restaurants is no longer a rare treat saved for a special occasion. Families eat out twice as often as they did in 1970s, with children consuming about a quarter of their calories at fast-food and other restaurants. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of children's meals at the nation's largest chain restaurants are high in calories; many also are high in salt and saturated fat.
There has been some progress improving children's meals at restaurants, but not nearly enough. Between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of restaurant children's meals meeting nutrition standards increased from 1% to just 3%-that is, 97% of restaurant meals are still unhealthy.
Given the growing role of restaurant foods in children's diets and the high rates of childhood obesity, it's important to provide healthier options on children's menus. States and localities can support parents in helping children make healthy food choices by nudging restaurants to do better.
Please take a minute to send a message to your state legislators urging them to work to improve the nutritional quality of restaurant children's meals.
The iconic image of Hello Kitty can be found on packages of Jelly Belly jellybeans and Pez candies. And that's not all. Sanrio licenses images of Hello Kitty to be used to promote cotton candy, imitation fruit snacks, Popsicles, marshmallow pops, and sour mints too.
Child obesity rates are at record-high levels. Though a number of factors contribute to children's poor diets, food marketing is an important one. The Institute of Medicine concluded that food advertising affects children's food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and health.
The entertainment company that licenses Hello Kitty, Sanrio Inc., should ensure that her adorable image is not used to advertise junk food to kids.
Please send a message to Sanrio to ask them to follow commonsense nutrition standards for food marketing to kids.
The Topps Company has plastered the characters from DreamWorksAnimation's "How to Train Your Dragon 2" all over packages of Blow Pops, and their advergame site features "The Dragon Berry Dash," where kids can "powerup" their dragon by consuming Ring Pops, Push Pops, and Baby Bottle Pops. They get double points if they enter in a code from the candy package.
For older kids, Topps is trying to boost its meager Twitter presence by getting kids to #RockThatRock. The contest is aimed at getting kids to post pictures of themselves dancing or singing while wearing Ring Pops. Whenever kids use the hashtag online, the rules of Topps' promotion state that they and their parents/legal guardians are granting Topps "irrevocable," "worldwide," and "royalty-free" permission to use their name, online handle, and profile picture to promote its candy.
Ask any dentist or pediatrician: kids do not need to consume more sugar! Tooth decay remains a problem, and child obesity rates are at record-high levels. Though a number of factors contribute to children's poor diets, food marketing is an important one. The Institute of Medicine concluded that food advertising affects children's food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and health.
Please send a message to Topps and DreamWorks to ask them to follow commonsense nutrition standards for food marketing to kids. Big companies shouldn't exploit kids' natural interests in dragons and dancing to get them to consume junk.
It used to be that candy was an occasional treat for kids. No longer! Instead, candy is a significant source of calories in kids' diets, beating out the calories they get from burgers, fries, pancakes, or waffles.
Some candy companies have stopped advertising their candy on children's television networks like Nickelodeon. Other companies, however, continue to hawk empty calories to kids, urging them to spend their pocket money and nag their parents to buy confections they can't afford nutritionally.
Please send a message to the candy companies that market junk food to kids to ask them to stop.