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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007 01:36 pm

The all-natural flimflam

FDA allows meat-processing giants to mislead consumers

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Untitled Document Is it true that all the CEOs and lawyers at big food corporations get their job training from flimflam artists at carnival sideshows? These executives are always trying to twist language, pervert meaning, and distort laws in various crass commercial efforts to flimflam consumers. The latest example is a push by food giants to mess with something as basic as “natural” chicken. Most of us would think that any bird with that label has been raised in, well, a natural environment on a diet of such natural feedstuffs as grain, meal, and bugs. We would also assume that the bird has not been doused, injected, or otherwise juiced up with chemical additives or other ingredients. We would be wrong. For example, Tyson Foods Inc., the biggest chicken wrangler in the land, pumps up its “all-natural” birds with water, salt, preservatives, and other ingredients. Indeed, as much as 15 percent of the retail weight of Tyson’s all-natural cluckers is said to be derived from such additives — yet its corporate honchos are telling food regulators in Washington that Tyson’s product is still pure enough to be labeled “all-natural.”
Tyson is not the only trickster. Lawyers from Sara Lee Corp. have recently petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to let it use the “natural” label on its Hillshire Farms brand of meats, even though the meats have had a chemical preservative called sodium lactate added to them. Yes, this chemical is derived from a plant, but its appearance in the meat is not exactly a natural occurrence — it’s an industrial process. Shouldn’t the term “natural” be applied only to food products that are, you know, natural? To stay informed about the flimflammers, connect with the consumer-watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest at 202-332-9110.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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