What is Real Food: Chocolate manufacturers take sides in compostition of chocolate

Originally posted May 3rd, 2007 by Kris

A few short months ago, The Chocolate Manufactures Association (CMA) in conjunction with numerous other food industry associations submitted a thirty five page Citizen Petition to the FDA to “Modernize Food Standards”.

Recent news stories (links below) have focused on the “mockolate” issue which is likely to be but one of many changes to our food, if the FDA makes policy changes based upon this petition. If this happens, it may allow the incorporation of vegetable fats, artificial sweeteners and milk substitutes in place of cocoa solids and butter, while allowing the resulting products to be labeled as chocolate. Currently these forms of chocolate are labeled “chocolate flavored” or “chocolaty” and swamp our shelves every spring in wide assortment of pressed, poured and molded shapes. Hershey, Nestlé and Archer Daniels Midland are all members of the CMA.

What should cause greater concern is the list of other associations who are also sponsoring this petition, they include: The American Frozen Food Institute, The American Meat Institute, The Food Products Association, The Grocery Manufacturers Association, The International Dairy Foods Association, The Juice Products Association, The National Cattleman’s Beef Association, The National Fisheries Institute, The National Meat Canners Association, The North American Miller’s Association and The Snack Food Association.

Reading this document takes some time but it is work the effort. The petitioners are requesting variation in 6 key categories of food production or manufacture.

“These categories would permit, within carefully defined boundaries, variations from food standards to accomplish the following beneficial objectives:
-Addition of ingredients intended solely for technical, non-distinctive effects, such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, or antimycotic agents.
-Use of safe and suitable flavors and flavor enhancers in foods generally, and use of safe and suitable ingredients such as salt substitutes, sweeteners, and vegetable fats and oils where appropriate.
-Use of advanced of more efficient technologies to produce ingredients of all types, such as enzyme technologies that enhance properties of egg yolk used in mayonnaise.
-Use of alternate manufacturing processes, also known as “alternate make” procedures, for those standards that specify particular processes.
-Changes to a product’s basic shape in response to consumer demands, such as “chunky” stewed tomatoes.
-Improvements in nutritional properties that do not rise to the level of a defined nutrient content claim (e.g., reducing calories by 10% rather than requiring a minimum of 25%), or use of nutritious ingredients like whole grains.”

The basis for these suggested variations to current standards framework, in brief are:
1) The role of food standards has changed over time
2) Consumer expectations have changed over time
3) The government’s approach to food standards has evolved in response to these changes
4) The procedural difficulties and delays in amending the current food standards are daunting
5) The agencies’ “General Principles” provide and excellent catalyst for the next generation of Food Standards reforms

The document continues, urging the FDA to “adopt a horizontal approach” to the modernization of Food Standards, stating both the benefits and limitations to this approach.

Needless to say, all of the additional ingredients and substitutions would be noted on ingredient labels, but there is no requirement to highlight these changes.

Unfortunately, the window for feedback closed on April 25th, some days before this came to my attention. Personally, I’m of two minds in regard to some of these proposed changes. Healthier food sounds like a reasonable idea, and foods with some cholesterol or saturated fats removed does not appear to be a diabolical plot.

That said, I do prefer “real food”, by which I mean food that I could, conceivably, make in my home from basic ingredients if I had both the time and energy to spend on preparation. If a food requires extrusion, extractions or a chemical process that would make it unsuitable for household production I consider it to be, in some degree, less than “real food”. This does not mean that I purchase only fresh produce, milled grains and meats. I do have jars of pasta sauce, dried pasta and cans of soup and the occasion box of macaroni and cheese-like-procuct at home. I try to avoid “processed, pasteurized cheese food” and various prepackaged and frozen foods and that are easily created in the kitchen. I also do not use low fat or non fat dairy products, they just aren’t the same when it comes to baking and cooking, and I would rather eat a smaller serving of whole milk yogurt, than lots of non-fat yogurt that uses multiple additives to provide it with an appropriate “yogurt” consistency and “mouth feel”.

My only fear with the proposed changes is, if they are adopted, that an ever increasing quantity of our foods will be manipulated, tweaked and enhanced, leaving us with more food that is manufactured to be “better for us” and fewer foods that are grown, produced and made simply using ingredients that do not require a chemistry degree to pronounce or recognize.

Related news stories:
http://www.thenewstribune.com/261/story/50706.html
http://www.philly.com/philly/business/homepage/7234247.html
http://www.busrep.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=553&fArticleId=3798702

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