I’m going out on a limb and predicting Glitter Wine in 2014

According to today’s Federal Register (the daily roundup of announcements from the US Government’s agencies), the FDA is “amending the color additive regulations to provide for the safe use of mica-based pearlescent pigments…in distilled spirits…in response to a petition filed by E. & J. Gallo Winery.”

I’m not really sure what to make of that, except that E. & J. Gallo Winery (which according to their website is “the world’s largest family-owned winery and largest exporter of California wine”) had a vision of a world in which wine wasn’t merely white, red or whatever color this is, but instead shimmered with a panoply of magical iridescence, and the FDA wanted to help make that vision a reality.

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I have no idea what the health ramifications are of ingesting mica-based pearlescent pigments. Presumably, if the FDA OK’d it, it means it’s probably fine, although the FDA has been known to make bad calls in the past. Common Sense seems to suggest that we probably don’t need glittery wine, and that rather than amending the color additive regulations to allow for more additives the FDA could revisit some of the controversial color additives already in use.

But who knows? Maybe I am totally wrong and the FDA was right to prioritize green-lighting mica-based pearlescent pigments over their other duties. Its not like they have more pressing things to worry about, procrastinating like a college student watching kitten videos at three in the morning the night before finals until, to pull a hypothetical out of thin air, the Center for Food Safety sued them for taking too long to implement several major provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This law, ratified on January 4, 2011, represents the largest overhaul of our food safety system in decades. Its delay, hypothetically speaking, “is putting millions of lives at risk from contracting foodborne illness” and “constitutes unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed agency action.”

This suit is actually almost a year old and the court ruled in April, finding that the FDA’s delay in implementing the FSMA was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The judge ordered the FDA and CFS to work together to set a mutually acceptable schedule for implementation. In a turn of events that was surprising to no one, the FDA refused to set any specific deadlines so both parties submitted different timetables to the court. F for group effort on that one kids.

The FDA, explaining that “because there are numerous factors and variables that will affect the length of time required for the development of draft final rules for regulations that have already been proposed, as well as the development of proposed rules that are not yet completed,” concluded “it is not feasible to predict with anything approaching certainty when the final FSMA regulations will be ready to be published.” So they decided to give themselves the “aggressive but achievable” timeline of well into 2014 with the caveat “that future developments, such as the need to supplement the administrative records with additional information, or the need to re-open one or more regulations, may render FDA unable to act within all of these timeframes.” So basically they accomplished the opposite of setting a timeframe.

In response, CFS stated that the FDA’s proposal “utterly fails to comply with the Court’s Order…A deadline is a deadline, a firm parameter with meaningful consequences, not a “target timeframe.” Contrary to Defendants’ mischaracterization, Defendants’ Proposal provides nothing remotely resembling a closed-ended process, not in accordance with the Court’s Order and congressional intent in setting firm deadlines for rulemaking in FSMA.” CFS wants everything finalized by 12/31/13, with final rules submitted by 5/1/14.

Part of the problem here is with the Office of Management and Budget, which the FDA doesn’t have any control over and which likes to sit on finalized rules for a long time with no reason because otherwise our democratic system of government might actually work.

To summarize, this whole fiasco is basically the story of FDA, the hapless undergrad, trying to get a paper extension from stern professor CFS. Thanks to helicopter parent OMB, FDA is probably going to walk away with an Incomplete with option to submit the paper after a long summer break sipping on Glitter Wine™.

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Seriously FDA, do you do ANYTHING?

“We have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable.”

‘Sort of figure out’? Strong words from the FDA, justifying the three-year delay in finalizing a rule that will specify where and how nutritional information will be displayed on menus. Also, pretty sure ‘implementable’ is not a word.

A little background–the FDA is currently (read: for over two years) working to issue final menu-labeling rules governing how restaurants will provide nutrition information to consumers. The rules will affect companies with 20 or more locations operating under the same brand name.

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So next time you, the consumer, are trying to decide if it would be healthier to eat one order of Bistro Shrimp Pasta from The Cheesecake Factory, or three orders of Lasagna Classico plus an order of tiramisu from Olive Garden, you would be empowered to make an informed decision. Well with both options at over 3,000 calories, neither decision is a great one, but if you were counting calories, go with the lasagnas. (Don’t believe me? This and other insane calorie revelations here.)

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So if its going to help you, the consumer, and any other American trying to navigate a restaurant menu without totally blowing their recommended caloric intake for the day, why the delay? Well, according to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, “There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side” and the issue “has gotten extremely thorny.”

Translation? The National Restaurant Association doesn’t want these rules finalized. Mississippi probably doesn’t want them finalized either. And the restaurants definitely don’t want the menu labeling rules finalized (although if they are finalized, they do want groceries and convenient stores to be regulated too, because less federal regulation is more, unless your competitors aren’t also being regulated…).

Why are these powerful interests against menu labeling? Because it would be a cost on business owners to tweak their menus. But let’s not forget that we are talking about companies with 20 or more locations. These are not your struggling Mom & Pop shops, and we aren’t exactly asking for space age innovation in food.

Bottom line: FDA, maybe its time to, you know, sort of figure it out?

Now whether this will all actually result in accurate menu labeling is a question for another day…

Well maybe the board wouldn't be this big if McDonalds stopped using 117 ingredients in its McWraps...

Well maybe the board wouldn’t be this big if McDonalds stopped using 117 ingredients in its McWraps…

What Does 200 Calories Look Like? How About 2000?

AKA breakfast at the airport vs. the Hilton continental breakfast

AKA breakfast at the airport vs. the Hilton continental

What Does 200 Calories Look Like? (photos from Wisegeek)

&

What 2000 Calories Actually Looks Like (video from Buzzfeed)

These two resources have been floating around the internet recently and for those of you who haven’t stumbled across them yet, I thought it would be helpful to repost them here.

Neither tries to tackle the fact that not all calories are created equal or that the more processed food is, the more likely it is to contain harmful hidden ingredients, but they are a fun way of visualizing a day’s worth of food (give or take a couple hundred calories, depending on your age, gender, and activity level). It would be interesting to see a rough price estimate per calorie for the foods profiled as well as the number of ingredients contained in each.

Taking a moment to think about how my stomach would feel after eating any one of these foods for a whole day ended up being a pretty good indicator of the food’s overall healthfulness. I recognize that the correlation falls apart with milk and I’m not saying eating avocados or whole wheat pasta all day would be much fun, but I do think it would go over better than just eating soda or donuts.

Which reminds me of that important life lesson we all learn some time freshman year of college or during the first year we become responsible for feeding ourselves and we make the mistake of eating one thing for three meals in a row. Oh come on, we all did it at least once. I think I remember my brother learning it over a loaf of white bread, a jar of Nutella and a box of Tropicana orange juice. For a roommate, it was with slices of red velvet cake. For me, the culprit was Smartfood popcorn.

I had locked myself away to complete a final 24 hours before the deadline. The giant bag of popcorn came out sometime around lunch, made cameos appearances throughout the afternoon, was the lead at dinnertime, and guest-starred in a midnight snack. I think it was somewhere around 4:00 in the morning, as I reached into the bag only to find white cheddar dust, that it occurred to me that popcorn was an entirely inappropriate form of sustenance, and it was then that I like to think I joined the ranks of Responsible Adults Who Don’t Eat Only One Think for 24 Hours, Especially Not Popcorn at 4AM.