The FDA's Idiotic Attack on 'Added' Ingredients

The FDA's growing crackdown on added food ingredients just doesn't add up.


Michelle Obama
Amanda Lucidon / White House

The FDA has a food ingredient most-wanted list. On the list—which I've not seen but am certain exists—are salt, sugar, caffeine, and trans fats. Why the list? These food ingredients are the worst of the worst. The agency's words and actions tell us as much.

List in hand, agency regulators are hard at work hunting down these ingredients and seeking to exorcise them—directly, or through stigmatization—from America's grocery shelves.

I've written thousands of words about the agency's targeting of sugar, caffeine, and trans fats. And there's the FDA's campaign against salt.

But if these agency vendettas share anything besides pervasiveness and zeal, it's that they are total and utter nonsense.

Here's why. First, in each and every case, the FDA has targeted only the direct addition of these ingredients to packaged foods. Second, the impact of the direct addition of these ingredients to packaged foods is exactly the same as in cases where these ingredients occur naturally in food ingredients.

Take the FDA's attack on added caffeine. Last year I wrote that the FDA had announced it would "investigate 'any and all products with added caffeine.'" I also described the history of the FDA's dumbfounding queasiness over "added" caffeine—including its recent ban of a handful of beers like Four Loko that contained added caffeine.

The Four Loko decision was a terrifically stupid and likely illegal action undertaken by the agency. But it illustrates perfectly the FDA's indefensible distinction between "added" caffeine and perfectly legal caffeine.

Why? Because left untouched by the FDA ban were countless beers that contain caffeine but do not contain added caffeine. That includes beers with added coffee, guarana, and other foods and food ingredients that themselves contain caffeine. So "added" in FDA terms means pure caffeine (e.g., powdered caffeine), rather than things that contain caffeine naturally. Even though it's the exact same thing.

In case you're thinking the agency's actions must come down to a question of caffeine levels, they don't. Some beers with pure caffeine added, for example, contained less caffeine than those with coffee or guarana added. The direct addition of caffeine was all that mattered to FDA regulators.

The FDA's campaign against added sugars largely mirrors the agency's attack on caffeine. Take the agency's efforts to slap the words "added sugars" on the Nutrition Facts panels of packaged foods. As I wrote earlier this year, added sugars and naturally occurring sugars (like those in fruit, for example) are "exactly the same substance." Total sugars already appear in the Nutrition Facts panel. And since added sugars are always no greater than total sugars (in a Venn diagram, the former would always reside wholly inside the latter), a label mandating the words "added sugars" tells us nothing other than that the FDA has made them a target.

The Obama administration admits as much.

"You'll also learn where sugar in food comes from—if sugar in yogurt is added during processing or comes from fruits," said First Lady Michelle Obama, who announced the proposed changes earlier this year. "This is a huge deal."

In terms of total sugar content and human health, it's not, I told Reuters earlier this week.

The FDA has increasingly sought to restrict added salt in food, too. "The FDA is proposing a voluntary guideline to lower the amount of sodium food manufacturers add to their products," reported Time earlier this summer.

But some are already suggesting that voluntary limits for added salt (again, distinct from naturally occurring) may not be enough. They recommend set limits for salt content.

The FDA's campaign against trans fats began with the requirement that food manufacturers label the amount of trans fat (above 0.5 g per serving) present in packaged foods.

Some trans fats are manmade, occurring in partially hydrogenated oils. Natural trans fats, on the other hand, occur in some meats and dairy products. Can you guess which group the FDA is seeking to eliminate? Indeed, it's pushing to ban added trans fats only.

The pattern has been repeated enough as to appear obvious. Whether it's with added trans fat or added sugar, salt, or caffeine, the FDA's actions are improper, inconsistent, and indefensible. The FDA's growing crackdown on added food ingredients just doesn't add up.

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  1. OT: Menahem Golan, 1929-2014

    If you don’t recognize the name, you may recognize the movies: he and his cousin purchased the Cannon Group and made some of the schlockiest movies of the 1980s, such as Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo; Bo Derek’s masterpiece Bolero; or the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling epic Over the Top.

    There were also Death Wish sequels galore, and the 1980s version of King Solomon’s Mines.

    1. Bolero, ah yes, Friday nights on Skinemax

    2. How could you not mention the Happy Hooker and Barfly and the most glorious movie of all time, Flash Gordon (seriously, I still enjoy that masterpiece of camp).

      FLASH! Ahhhhh aaaaaaa…..

      1. I am mistaken. That was a still from He-Man.

        De Lauretiis is my man.

        1. Everybody forgets the 1976 version of King Kong.

      2. There is a character limit when posting to H&R, you know.

      3. Flash Gordon has the best Queen soundtrack ever.

    3. Well Breakin was no Krush Groove…

        1. I think the correct video for a Baylin article would have been from the Fat Boys


    4. That cousin being the Globus in Golan-Globus. Schlocky 80’s movies, Ted S.? I have a sad.

      American Ninja, Missing in Action, and The Delta Force series plus Invasion U.S.A just to mention a few.

  2. The government doesn’t even pay attention to their own science. The CDC has admitted there’s no benefit in reducing salt intake, and it can even be dangerous.

    1. The FDA finds the battle against Big Salt to be the Greater Good.

    2. Don’t worry, the FDA is going to send its SWAT Team to take out the CDC’s heretics. The Church of the Government Food Triangle will cleanse the public of those who are minions of the Devil Salt.

  3. Wondering if the FDA will have a collective head explosion when chicory makes its inevitable comeback. Chicory stout is teetering on the edge of becoming the next big thing in beer, I can just sense it.

    1. Somebody makes one. Dogfish Head? I know I’ve had one, but I don’t remember what it was like. The next big thing in beer should be cock ale.

      1. Cock ale? Made from foreskins?


      2. Yes, there is at least one out there. You are on the cutting edge my friend, it is poised to take over the beer world.

        1. I like a good spruce beer. I wouldn’t mind seeing that become more popular.

          it is poised to take over the beer world.

          Chicory or cock ale?

          1. Chicory. Cock ale can be had at any bar, bathhouse, or tea room in America.

            1. Just so we are all on the same page

          2. Yard’s makes a spruce ale. It’s pretty good. Part of the Ales of the Revolution!

  4. Is Four Loko challenging the FDA decision in court? Until the FDA is abolished this agency needs to be defanged by whatever means necessary. Let people decide what they want or not want to put in their bodies.

  5. Who’s the dude in the red and white striped skirt?

    1. That is a kilt, you insensitive urchin.

      1. Red and white stripes must be the clan of Scottish Moors.

        1. What about the Scottish county of Kenya, smart guy?

  6. It’s a matter of scratching where they can reach rather than where it itches. The FFDCA (and probably most states’ laws) treats food additives differently from foods. Food additives are illegal except as permitted, while foods are legal except as forbidden. Coffee is a food, caffeine is an additive.

    1. Is an apple food? What if I peel it? What if I crush it and use only the juice? At what point does it become an “additive”? Is it when it’s just one compound? Is water a food or additive? Their distinctions are arbitrary.

  7. this screams of modern leftist goody-goody douchebags managing to get their noses into the FDA’s business, as opposed to something that comes from within the agency itself. The FDA has always been reasonable about food additives, and perhaps overly permissive in a few cases (brominated vegetable oil, for one), and so most assuredly NOT anti-food ingredient and food science, as is the fad nowadays, mostly from idiots who have no idea what they’re talking about.

    1. If only the leftist goody-goody douchebags could see the great harm they do. If they could, no doubt, they’d put the peddle to the metal.

  8. Problem with government bureaucrats – all too often people in these jobs not only want to have fat benefits and a relatively easy job, they want to accomplish changing the world in some way. Its an ego thing.

    Changing the world’s major problems is hard, dangerous, and requires almost infinite patience. Most changers end up dying in the cause or die before they’ve accomplished their goal.

    So the sort of lazies who work for the government go for easy crap to hang their hat on – stuff all of us like and that we’ll never know who the little fascist ba5tard was who got our favorite salty, greasy, smoky-flavored, nitrite-laced, bit-of-heaven snack banned or turned into something that tastes like rice cakes or tofu.

    It is these little local evils that are laying waste to our civilization … would some fat-a55ed bureaucrat dare to ban the importation of melamine-laced baby-food from a Chinese government-owned food factory given our debt to them and their influence? Hell no.

    However that bureaucrat would send a dozen EPA lawyers and a SWAT team to deal with the guy who asked for and got permission from what he thought were all the requisite agencies to turn 13 odd acres of bare (save for a couple scraggly cattails) lowland trash dump into a really nice home with a workshop, bakery, and a country store that looked to become popular all because maybe 50o square feet would become a garbage-laced pond a couple times a year (barely) supporting the now-bulldozed cattails.

  9. Food without salt, sugar, caffeine, and trans fats … sounds like lettuce. Who wants to live on lettuce? Snails live off lettuce. Know folks who like snails – fine. Same folks like lettuce – great. But they don’t live on a diet of lettuce and break it up with snails.

  10. Excise from shelves, exorcise from minds

  11. Too bad that there is new evidence that the sodium target that has been preached for 50+ years is too *low* and in fact correlates with a *higher* risk of heart problems.

  12. Nobody has said it yet, so I will.

    Fuck Michelle Obama

    1. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but am left wondering when she was elected or confirmed by the Senate like the other policymakers in the executive branch were.

    2. Naaaaaawwwwww…

  13. They’re not going after “naturally occurring” sugar/caffeine/fat/etc because that would be on much shakier legal ground. The FDA is authorized by statute to regulate “food additives” unless they are “generally considered safe” for human health.

    I’m sure they’d put caps on naturally-occurring sugar and fat content too if they thought they could get away with it. Considering that in BO’s second term, today’s ridiculous unconstitutional trial balloon has often been tomorrow’s law of the land, they may be getting more consistent sooner than we might like.

    1. All this illegal FDA overreach has drove me to begin stockpiling my own huge cache of food additives.

  14. Consumers should be protected from mass produced goods that are intentionally deceptive. The regular consumer could not have received accurate information or protection from cigarettes without the FDA. Any time 4 lok I is mentioned I laugh because those that defend it are using bad examples. Article: prove natural caffeine is at higher levels than the added caffeine drinks you bring up….FALSE

    1. the FDA is not helping consumers get accurate information about the products they are purchasing. They are preventing them from purchasing them at all.

      In the 4 loko case the word “caffeine” is written in bold letters right on the can. This is about attacking a woman’s right to choose her alcoholic beverage.

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