Thursday, February 27, 2014

Added Stupidity

This still needs to be confirmed by the FDA, but NPR has released a first look at the updated nutrition facts panel.

In a jaw-dropping example of knee-jerk Food Hysteric capitulation, the FDA has added added sugars as an added row under sugars. Of course, these are proposed changes which may go in effect after a 90 day public comment period.

Expect many comments, especially from the food industry.

Not because the industry has some sort of shame about the amount of sugar in foods, but about the impossibility of validating added sugars for the nutrition facts panel. You see, food companies know what amounts of what ingredients go into a formulation, and therefore, are able to calculate the amounts of sugar added; that's not the problem. The problem is that food companies have to send samples out to be validated every year to make sure the amounts on the NFP are accurate.

How could you possibly test for added sugars, though? You can't. You can only test for total sugars.  This means that if these changes are codified into regulation, the FDA would have no choice but to take each food company's word as to the amount of added sugars in foods.  Sure, they may be able to estimate the amount and check that against the amount of sugars in the formula; the difference would be added sugars. 

But those estimates, like the amount of sugar naturally occurring in concentrated orange juice used in Mnt Dew, could vary by several grams. The FDA, therefore, would have to spot PepsiCo those grams of sugar, giving them the benefit of the doubt. I wonder if the Food Hysterics thought of that when they peddled this nonsense.

They claim added sugars lead to increased fatality from cardiovascular diseases, cited in only one JAMA study.  What's more troubling is that the study only shows a coorelation, not a causation.  The study refers to increases in mortality as sugar intake exceeds 10% of total caloric intake. The study's authors claim they were able to isolate added sugars from total sugars and weed out other conflicting sources of mortality.

Of course, there are a couple problems with this...

First of all, there is only one study, and one study proves nothing.  The second issue is with the data, which was gathered using a survey... I'll give you a moment to sit and think about that....



Yeah. The study's authors depend on surveys from patients who remembered what they ate and how much, so the data is unreliable. Even if the data is accurate, we still have a correlation and not a causation. Scientists would still need to explain how consuming a specific amount of sugar - above what is naturally found in a food - can cause cardiovascular diseases. This is not likely.  The likely explanation is that people eating excessive sugar also were more sedentary, carried higher body fat, et cetera.

The science is not strong and there is little science involved in the proposed changes to the NFP.

There were changes I did like though, like the addition of potassium and vitamin D.  Currently, these are only voluntary, but Americans don't get enough potassium and that may even be a cause of some heart trouble.  They should have also added phosphorous to the list, which is something people with renal diets have to watch very carefully. 

They proposed reducing the amount of sodium, which can be good or bad or pointless, depending on whom you ask and what time of day it is.

I guess the other big thing was the reshuffling of serving sizes, which I have no problem with.

All in all, this may prove to be a cautionary tale in how we need to make changes such as these based upon science and reason, not Food Hysteria.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Misinformed & Disingenuous.

I once heard the winning strategy of debate competition explained as quickly taking the other side's argument to an outrageous extreme that shows how flawed it is; usually by tying the viewpoint to nuclear war or the Nazis. Of course, this is a horrible method for making an argument in the real world, and often leads to a much more polarized debate, because both sides quickly drift further away from reason.

This is exactly what Chipotle has achieved in their latest marketing vehicle entitled, 'Farmed & Dangerous'. In this Chipotle sponsored video series, a marketing firm is hired to help clean up the image of a Big Ag company.  The company has a new form of feed called a 'PetroPellet', which is somehow a petroleum based feed. One of the cows eating the pellets is caught on security video exploding, and a massive effort to cover up the deleterious effects of PetroPellet is put into place.

A few things...

What Chipotle is attempting to get away with is constructing an allegory to show how evil Big Food and Ag corporations are, but since the truth is fairly benign, they have to resort to wild hyperbole. The Petroleum tie in is meant to associate agriculture and big oil, obviously.  More subtly, the series aims to tie Big Ag to Big Tobacco - an inaccurate comparison that many activists have already tried to make. The problem with this comparison is that Big Tobacco tried covering up science that showed the ill effects of tobacco, while the vast consensus of all available research regarding food & ag supports the technologies and processes that are currently on the market.

Tobacco was the tobacco industry's only commodity, and there was an irresistible urge to protect that commodity.  The Food Industry and the Ag Industry as a whole has many more commodities and thousands more products made by individual food and ag companies. My point is that they can make money from anything, therefore there's no incentive to fool anyone about the safety of any one product or commodity. Also, food and ag scientists eat the end products and many have their own farms, so their incentive is towards safety. Food and ag scientists are also incentivized to conduct research that will stand up to peer review, since it's the scientist's name on the research and scientists typically work for more than one company or university in their life. A scientist proven to be dishonest will see their career cut very short.  Lastly, the individual food and ag companies have a major incentive to produce safe food and ingredients. If one of these companies fails or is dishonest about it's products, their very existence may be at stake.

This all may sound incredibly naive to someone who isn't involved in food and ag, and that cynicism is owed to tactics from groups like the CSPI and companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle. If Chipotle is right and all of us in food and ag are evil co-conspirators out to poison humanity,then why all the hyperbole? Wouldn't the truth be more than enough?  Of course, that's assuming that the truth is on the activists side. It isn't, and that's why you see Chipotle's Chief Marketing and Development Officer, Mark Crumpacker, Executive Producing non-sense, non-science, fact free propaganda.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Debate Prep.

Those of us eagerly awaiting the Bill Nye vs Ken Ham debate on Creationism need to manage our expectations.

First off, it's a debate, not a dry reading of facts.  Ken Ham is much more studied expert of Creationism than Nye is an expert on Evolution.

Ham doesn't have to be right to win a debate.  I see this all the time getting into online flame wars with food hysterics. They concentrate much more on small or even anecdotal evidence rather than the big picture or scientific consensus.  This works in the activists favor in a debate because they will continually ask for immediate evidence that contradicts the study/anecdote they just cited.  The actual expert didn't prepare to rebut specific examples other than the most obvious, so to the audience, it would appear that the expert was stumped by the activist.  This is what is so hard about debating on social media.

Activism and debates are more about emotional appeals than they are about what is actually true.

All of this puts Bill Nye at a disadvantage.

For Bill Nye to win, he must have already anticipated every bit of evidence and anecdote brought forth by Ham, and be able to cite a source refuting it from memory.  If they have the benefit of visual aids, then Bill Nye would count on an assistant bringing these sources to the screen as he mentions them.

But in the end, Bill Nye is unlikely to convince anyone that believes in Creationism that they are wrong, just as Ken Ham is as unlikely to convince anyone who believes Evolution is true, that they are wrong.

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