The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has upped the ante in its crusade against sugary drinks with a petition calling on the FDA to reassess the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup in beverages.
The petition , which was launched as new research was published asserting that HFCS and sucrose do not increase liver fat or raise LDL cholesterol , “contends that the current scientific consensus is that added sugars are unsafe at the levels consumed”.
To protect consumers,the FDA should determine the level of added sugars that is safe for use in beverages, and require those limits to be phased in over several years, says the CSPI, which says soda makers should gradually reformulate beverages with natural high intensity sweeteners such as stevia.
To be GRAS, there must be a scientific consensus that the ingredient is safe at the levels consumed, says the CSPI.
“In 1982 and again in 1988, the FDA committed to undertake a new safety determination if sugar consumption increased, or if new scientific evidence indicated a public health hazard. Both of those conditions have been met.
"The information on which FDA relied to grant essentially unrestricted GRAS status to added sugars is antiquated and obsolete... Since the FDA’s review of these products three decades ago, a mountain of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that added sugars, at the levels they are currently consumed by Americans today, are harmful to the public health."
CSPI's petition contends that the current scientific consensus is that added sugars are unsafe at the levels consumed
While it does not propose a specific safe level, the petition notes that several health agencies identified two-and-a-half teaspoons (10 grams) as a “reasonable limit”.
It also calls on the agency to list ‘added sugars’ with an accompanying daily value (DV)on the Nutrition Facts panel; set targets for added sugars in a range of other foods; conduct an education campaign to encourage consumers to consume less added sugar; and encourage limits on the sale of large sugary beverages in restaurants and vending machines.
‘As currently formulated, Coke, Pepsi, and other sugar-based drinks are unsafe for regular human consumption’
The petition, which is backed by some high profile academics including Barry Popkin, PhD at the University of North Carolina; Marion Nestle, PhD at New York University and Robert Lustig, MD at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, San Francisco, also has the support of several public health departments and the National Consumers League.
In a letter urging the FDA to consider the CSPI’s proposal, the supporters write: “People who consume more sugary drinks also have higher risks of heart disease and gout.
“Furthermore, in the last decade, researchers have found that added sugars, especially the fructose component of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, may increase visceral fat, liver fat, blood triglycerides, and small, dense LDL cholesterol, all of which increase the risk of the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease.”
Like a slow-acting but ruthlessly efficient bioweapon, sugar drinks cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease
A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 16 teaspoons of sugars from high-fructose corn syrup, twice the daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association, claims the CSPI.
"As currently formulated, Coke, Pepsi, and other sugar-based drinks are unsafe for regular human consumption," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
"Like a slow-acting but ruthlessly efficient bioweapon, sugary drinks cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The FDA should require the beverage industry to re-engineer their sugary products over several years, making them safer for people to consume, and less conducive to disease."
ABA: Today about 45% of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased have zero calories and the overall average number of calories per beverage serving is down 23% since 1998
Soda makers hit back this morning issuing a statement highlighting changing soda consumption habits and the growing market share of low and zero calorie options - something also highlighted by Coca-Cola in its Q4 results yesterday.
The American Beverage Association said the industry was committed to giving consumers the information they need to make informed choices via calorie labelling and offering reduced or zero calorie options, adding: “Everyone has a role to play in reducing obesity levels – a fact completely ignored in this petition.
“This is why the beverage industry has worked to increase options and information for consumers.”
It added: “Today about 45% of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased have zero calories and the overall average number of calories per beverage serving is down 23% since 1998.”
“Beverage companies voluntarily removed full-calorie soft drinks from all schools and replaced them with lower-calorie choices, resulting in a 90% reduction in beverage calories shipped to schools since 2004. Americans are consuming 37% fewer calories from sugar in soft drinks and other sweetened beverages than in 2000, according to the CDC.”
Center for Consumer Freedom: Soft drinks only provide 7% of a person’s daily calories
Non-profit the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) also criticized the CSPI’s petition as ”misguided”.
“Blaming the sugar in soda as the main culprit for obesity and weight-related ailments is absurdly misguided. Study after study demonstrates that soda or any specific food or beverage is not a unique contributor to obesity.
“In fact, federal government data shows that soft drinks only provide 7% of a person’s daily calories.”
While it doesn't happen very often, the FDA has in the past revoked the GRAS status of ingredients, the CSPI's Michael Jacobson told FoodNavigator-USA: "In the past, the FDA has revoked the GRAS status of saccharin, cinnamyl anthranilate, cyclamate, and possibly others."
The FDA is required to respond to such petitions within 180 days.
Click here to read the CSPI's citizen's petition.
Click here to read about Coke CEO Muhtar Kent's 'personal commitment' to tackle obesity.
Click here to read about the latest research on HFCS, sucrose and liver fat.