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No More 'Natural' Foods, Trans Fat Ban, and More in Food Policy This Week

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That sugar might cost you. [Photograph: Mel B. on Flickr]

Washington GMO Labeling Vote Too Close to Call

Last week, voters went to the polls to decide on a number of ballot initiatives. One of them, Proposition 522 in Washington, would decide whether foods containing genetically-modified organisms must be labeled as such. With nearly 1,000,000 votes counted, it seems likely that the initiative failed—food manufacturers claimed victory with 55% of the vote. The no-vote campaign spent about $22 million on their efforts— more than any other campaign in the history of Washington state, while supporters only spent about $8 million. Washington is the second state to propose a GMO-labeling initiative—California's Proposition 37 failed this time last year.

'Natural' Foods Disappearing From the Shelves

'Natural' is the second most lucrative food label, raking in $40 billion in revenue in the last year. So why are big brands abandoning the claim? Well, since 'natural' and 'all-natural' are undefined terms, their use can be considered misleading. Many companies have been taken to court over 'natural' labels, including Ben & Jerry's, Naked Juice, Kashi, and Nature Valley. The litigation process and occasional settlement is sapping corporate desire to capitalize on this unregulated cash cow. After struggling with the issue for many years, many brands are abandoning 'natural' and moving on to more definitive labels.

FDA May Essentially Ban Trans Fats

Trans fats have long been "generally recognized as safe" by the Food and Drug Administration, a category reserved for ingredients around which there is some health-related debate. Trans fats have been slowly removed from many menus (and entire cities), but they still pop up in shelf-stable grocery items. Now it seems that the FDA may remove the GRAS label from trans fats, making it much more difficult for companies to use trans fats in their products. The FDA claims that removal of trans fats from packaged foods could result in 22,000 fewer heart attacks and 7,000 fewer deaths from heart disease. While the current ruling is preliminary, it is likely to move forward after a 60-day public comment period.

High Sugar Prices Threaten Domestic Candy Production

For decades, the federal sugar program has propped up the price of sugar in the U.S. This program came about in the 1930s and has continued in order to protect American sugar prices against cheaper sugar from Brazil, India, and Thailand. However, the high cost of sugar in the U.S. is now forcing some domestic manufacturers to relocate to other countries in order to access less expensive ingredients. The company that produces Dum Dums, for instance, recently moved 200 jobs to Mexico. Confectioners are hoping that the coming Farm Bill will include language to reduce price supports; however, sugar producers are opposed to that plan of action.

Farm Workers Speak Out About Sexual Assault in the Fields

Sexual assault is one of many abuses suffered by farmworkers in America, but the vast majority of rape and assault cases go unreported, as discussed in this story from NPR, The Center for Investigative Reporting, and UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting program. The report focuses on Guadalupe Chavez, a farmworker who brought her case to local officials, only to have charges dropped against her assailant when the case went to court. The threat of deportation and job loss keeps most workers silent in the face of mistreatment.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.

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