This week: Dangerous food additives face more scrutiny by the FDA; New York City passes Sweet Truth Act expansion; the potential of obesity drugs to improve the quality of Americans’ health; and examining the link between dollar stores and public health. 

Food safety, health, and nutrition news this week 

Media coverage of Red No. 3, the carcinogenic food dye found in many holiday candies and other processed foods, has increased dramatically since California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state’s Food Safety Act into law, banning the ingredient (along with brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, and propylparaben) in the state. Even Jimmy Kimmel is paying attention (though we felt compelled to issue a clarification to the substance of his joke about crossing state lines to buy Skittles: Skittles will remain unaffected by AB 418).  

Last year, CSPI petitioned the FDA to ban Red 3 from foods; the additive was shown to cause thyroid cancer in rats back in 1990, just before it was banned for use in topical drugs and cosmetics. Now it seems the pressure is mounting for the agency to actually act on this critical food safety issue. Similar bills are moving through the Senate and Assembly in New York, and, as Kathleen Doheny writes for WebMD, “Advocates for phasing out Red Dye No. 3 and other harmful additives hope these state-based developments will spur the FDA to finally take similar action and respond to a petition requesting the ban of Red Dye No. 3.”  

Read more at WebMD: Will California's Ban on Red Dye No. 3 Prompt More Action?

Brominated vegetable oil, one of the four ingredients California recently banned, is now under renewed scrutiny by the FDA, which proposed revoking the ingredient’s authorization for use in food this week. The agency is expected to publish the proposed rule today. BVO, as it’s sometimes listed on ingredients panels, is an emulsifier for flavorings used in some citrus-flavored beverages, like Sun Drop and several store brand sodas. (MTN DEW contained BVO for decades, but it has now been replaced.) The ingredient is banned in the European Union, India, and Japan because studies from 1970 forward have shown it to cause thyroid cancer in rats. BVO leaves residues in body fat and the fat in brain, liver, and other organs. 

Read more at USA Today: FDA proposes ban on soda additive called brominated vegetable oil: What we know

Weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy are so effective that the food industry, clothing brands, and even airlines speculate that they might reduce future profits. But more than 40 percent of American adults are obese, exacerbating rates of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and even the severity of COVID-19 infection. CSPI Executive Director and President Dr. Peter Lurie, writing with Joshua Sharfstein, believes these drugs could be part of a broad effort to improve Americans’ health—if they’re made accessible to the millions who need and can’t afford the drugs, which cost in excess of $1,000 per month and are not generally covered by insurance, and if that access isn’t granted at the expense of other efforts to improve public health, like reducing sodium and added sugars in foods, improved labeling, and healthier school meals and snacks.  

Read more at Washington Post: The obesity drugs craze is overlooking one big, open question

Dollar stores are not immediately recognized as an integral part of the American food supply, but a report released this week by CSPI’s Healthy Retail team reveals that Dollar General and other similar retailers have a significant impact on the food purchases made in lower-income communities.  

Shoppers who purchase food at dollar stores are generally happy to have the option, but would also love to see more healthy options, like fresh produce and dairy and fewer ultra-processed foods, in stock. One way to expand those healthy food options? More dollar stores could participate in WIC: “Increase demand for healthy perishable items, including by increased marketing or prominent placement of healthy items, offering discounts on fruits and vegetables purchased with SNAP benefits and working with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children at dollar stores,” advises CSPI Senior Policy Scientist Sara John. 

Read more at Nutrition Insight: CSPI survey reveals consumers keenly interested in nutritious options at dollar stores

Read more at CSPI: Survey: Shoppers want healthier food options at dollar stores

New York City will see new rules around menu items that are high in added sugars, thanks to an expansion of the Sweet Truth Act. The New York City Council passed the expansion to the 2021 bill this week, and now requires chain restaurants to add warning labels to menu items that contain 50 grams (about 12 teaspoons) or more of added sugars—the maximum recommended intake for adults who consume about 2,000 calories per day. Nearly any size sugar-sweetened fountain soda, including some kids’ sizes, would see a warning label. 

According to a poll commissioned by CSPI in 2021, roughly 85 percent of New York City residents (and 78 percent of residents statewide) support added sugars warnings on chain restaurant menus. Support is bipartisan, with 66 percent of registered New York State Republicans in favor of added sugar warnings on chain menus.  “I think this is going to be a good nudge for [the FDA] to get their act together so they can publicly do something on added sugars,” said DeAnna Nara, senior policy associate at CSPI.

Read more at Food Fix: The Big Apple puts added sugars on notice

You’ve gotta hand it to ad execs. They can turn a sugary snack into a source of “wholesome” energy or “real fruit.” Or reinvent processed meat as “healthy protein.” Or spin salt-laden refined grains as “real meals.” Here’s how not to fall for what they’re pushing.

Read more at NutritionActionMisleading food ads abound. Here are 7 of the latest

We’re hiring! CSPI helped lead the effort for passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a landmark law that got soda and most junk food out of schools and ensures that school meals provide more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less salt and saturated fat. Since then, we have been working to defend science-based school nutrition requirements, ensure schools have the tools they need to provide healthy, delicious meals, and ensure school meal standards remain aligned with the most up-to-date expert recommendations. Now, we are accepting applications for a Policy Associate position, as well as three spring internships. CSPI is also open to pitches from freelance writers and journalists.

Learn more: CSPI Job Opportunities

Pitch us: Write for CSPI

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