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Nutritional Freedom, the Frog in the Water

Date: 1/5/2009
Posted By: Jon Barron

December was an interesting month in an interesting year when it came to nutritional freedom and your ability to obtain the supplements you want and need. The political signals were decidedly mixed -- along the lines of one step forward, two steps back. What does the future bring? That is the $64,000 question, isn't it? So, with that in mind, let's take a quick tour of some recent events and see if we can extrapolate what they mean and what they portend for the future.

Stevia approval

It was just over a year ago that I predicted that after years of open hostility, the FDA would soon approve stevia for use as a food additive -- as soon as Coca Cola and Cargil were ready to begin marketing their proprietary version. As I said:

"One has to wonder why aspartame, sucralose, and high fructose corn syrup -- all with proven major negative health effects -- are approved by regulatory agencies in the US, Canada, and Europe and are currently in widespread use; whereas stevia is not. Not to be cynical, but perhaps the companies behind aspartame, sucralose, and high fructose corn syrup (G.D. Searle, Royal DSM, Tate and Lyle, and ADM) have a political clout that small independent stevia producers cannot muster for a non-patentable natural sweetener.

"If that's true, we can be fairly sure that we will never see stevia approved for commercial use in Europe, Canada, and the US until one of those large corporate entities finds a way to patent it. But wait! Forgive my cynicism! Cargill and Coca Cola are doing just that even as we speak! I think we can look forward to an approval of stevia -- in a patented form -- in the not too distant future. Will this version be safer? No, of course not! It will merely have a different name, Rebiana. Oh yes, and Coke and Cargill will back it. In the world of nutrition regulation, it appears that money talks... and real nutrition walks. It's enough to give you high blood sugar, tiny thymuses, brain tumors, and shrunken sex glands!"

And in fact, this prediction turned out to be remarkably prescient, with a couple of minor corrections. First, it is not called Rebiana. It now goes by the name Truvia.

And second, the FDA didn't exactly "approve" its use. Instead, they stepped aside and formally stopped "blocking" stevia's use in food. Or more precisely, stevia has not been officially placed on the FDA GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list. Instead, the FDA has merely issued "letters of no objection." That means that the FDA has taken the formal position that they will no longer treat stevia as an "outlaw" sweetener in foods and beverages and will no longer look to suppress its use in those applications.

The bottom line is that the FDA has effectively declared open season on the use of stevia as an alternative sweetener in all applications. You can expect a veritable barrage of stevia sweetened foods to hit the market in the coming months as companies -- large and small -- jump on the stevia bandwagon.

All in all, this would seem to be a step forward in the world of alternative health. And in fact, of all the issues in alternative health, the FDA's position on stevia seemed to be one of the most blatantly absurd -- a decision based on financial considerations, not health. As long as government regulators were willing to approve aspartame, sucralose, and high fructose corn syrup as healthy and refused to allow stevia to be used, calling it unsafe, despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary, they could have no semblance of credibility when it came to issues of health. It was tantamount to an open admission that approval had nothing to do with safety -- only with what was bought and paid for.

The State of New York proposes taxing sodas

A little over two years ago, the city of New York implemented its ban of trans fatty acids in all restaurants -- a ban that was soon copied in many cities and states throughout the country. Although most people in the alternative health community celebrated this action as a great leap forward in improving the health of people throughout the world, I was somewhat less sanguine about these bans as explained in the newsletter I wrote at the time. I had three main concerns.

  1. First, the health aspects of the decision itself were suspect. Yes, manmade trans fatty acids are extremely unhealthy, but some natural trans fats are not. In fact, they can be positively healthy, and yet no distinction between the two types of trans fats was allowed for in any of the instituted bans.

  2. Then, of course, there was the fact that mandating restaurants to shift from trans fats to more Omega-6 vegetable oils was decidedly unhealthy. As I have discussed on numerous occasions, using high levels of highly refined Omega-6 vegetable oils is almost as deadly as using manmade trans fats. The ideal dietary ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is in the range of 1:1 to 2:1, but in the modern diet, ratios of 20:1, 30:1, and even 50:1 are not uncommon. Forcing people to shift from trans fatty acids to even higher rations of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is bad nutrition and carries serious long term health consequences. The bottom line is that governmental agencies are run by politics and money, not health. Allowing them to determine what you can and cannot eat is tantamount to letting the village idiot choose your diet.

  3. But my biggest concern was letting the government "camel" put its nose in the tent when it comes to regulating what you can eat. Do you really want any government agency mandating your diet or the supplements you can and cannot use? Do you really want to let the camel into the tent tonight, only to find yourself living outside in a nutritional wasteland come the morning? Which brings us to the issue of taxing fizzy drinks.

Earlier this month, Gov. Paterson of New York, as part of a $121 billion budget, proposed an "obesity tax" of about 15-18% on nondiet drinks. Although, triggered by a budgetary shortfall, the obesity tax in truth represents nothing less than a blatant attempt by big government to control what you eat and what foods you have access to -- to move more of the camel into the tent, if you will. Again, this is just another example of clueless government trying to mandate health issues. Since Gov. Paterson's proposal does not tax diet sodas, it represents an attempt to steer millions of people away from sugar towards artificial sweeteners (keeping in mind that Gov. Paterson had no idea the FDA was going to approve stevia when he made this decision). Forcing millions of people to use artificial sweeteners? As they say in England, that's brilliant!! The health consequences of using artificial sweeteners is well documented, as is their role in promoting obesity. You read that correctly, "promoting obesity." If Gov. Paterson was playing fair, then he would have proposed a tumor tax and an even larger obesity tax on diet sodas -- but then again, big government (in all countries) is clueless.

Fascinatingly, whereas the ban on trans fats encountered little objection, New York's proposed obesity tax on sodas and other non-nutritional drinks has caused a firestorm of protest. Polls taken since the Gov. announced his proposal show that New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose his obesity tax. In fact, 60% of those surveyed oppose the proposed 18% tax, with just 37% supporting it. Even those who prefer diet soft drinks, which would not be subject to the tax, say "nyet" to the proposal by a 58% to 39% margin. And the opposition runs across the political spectrum.

The bottom line is that although people seem quite willing to let government steadily nibble away at their personal freedoms, their right to privacy, and even their right to habeas corpus, they draw the line at taxing their sodas. On the positive side, it doesn't matter where resistance starts, as long as it starts somewhere.

EC shifting against high-dose vitamins and minerals - FDA and codex

But all of the above pale in comparison to our last item.

To date, across Europe, levels for vitamins and minerals have varied radically from country to country -- with each country choosing the levels that satisfy their citizens' desires -- and that accommodate the interests of large corporations pressing specific agendas in those countries. A study by the Association of the European Self-Medication Industry (AESGP) found that Belgium, for example, had maximum levels which varied between 1.5 and three times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) with a minimum level of 1.5 per cent RDA. By comparison Denmark varied on the maximum level from 1.8 to 1300 times the RDA, and a higher minimum level of 30 to 33 percent of RDA. Then again, some countries, such as Estonia had no minimum level and a maximum level that merely matched the RDA. In other words, each country could do what it wanted.

However, John Redman of the Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA) has warned that Robert Madelin, Director General of the European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs has told him that the EC may severely restrict maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements. According to Redman, the Director General has told him the commission "will not consider any potencies that may result in minor and reversible side-effects. More alarming was the fact Madelin said the EC considers the loss of higher potency substances a fair price to pay for harmonization in the EU." What are these "minor and reversible side-effects" that would make a supplement "too potent?"

  • Niacin at doses that causes your skin to flush.

  • Vitamin C at doses that may upset the stomach of one person out of every thousand.

  • Magnesium at levels that stimulates bowel movements.

  • Beta carotene at levels that imparts a temporary orange color to your skin.

You get the idea -- side effects that are considered absolutely irrelevant in the alternative health community could now be associated with doses considered "too potent."

But then again, as Director General Madeline told Mr. Redman, "The EC considers the loss of higher potency substances a fair price to pay for harmonization in the EU."

Now before anyone living in the US feels too smug and thinks, "Well, the FDA may not be very friendly to alternative health, but they would never do something like that in good old America," think again. Understand EC directives and the European Health Initiative are merely diplomatic probes -- shots across the bow, if you will -- in the world of complementary medicine. In effect, the EC serves as a stalking horse for Codex Alimentarius, which has much grander designs to limit the ability of anyone (and everyone) reading this newsletter to buy the supplements they want at the dosages they need. What is Codex?

The stated goals of Codex are "to develop and adopt uniform food and supplement standards for its member countries (US included) and to promote the free and unhindered international flow of food goods, thereby eliminating trade barriers to food and providing food safety." This certainly sounds reasonable, that is until you understand that this harmonization is to occur only at the lowest possible RDA levels and only for a handful of herbs and supplements that Codex deigns to approve.

It should be noted that BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst/Aventis (all spinoffs of I.G. Farben) are actually the primary architects and promoters of Codex. And with that in mind, it should probably be considered particularly disturbing that BASF just announced that they are getting out of the mega vitamin business. Makes you wonder what they know that we don't. . . yet.

Bottom line: despite the good news on stevia, all of the other news surfacing over the last few weeks indicates that governments throughout the world are steadily looking to close down your ability to purchase the supplements you want without a prescription.

Frog in the water

The only thing that stands in the way of government initiatives throughout the world designed to crush the alternative health industry is public outcry. For the most part, the signs  are not encouraging. Over the last eight years, people all over the world have given up right after right with nary a squawk. The only encouraging sign is the opinion poll on Gov. Paterson's initiative to tax soda pop, although that is hardly a settled matter. It would seem that citizens everywhere are far more willing to give up things like the right to privacy than they are their Red Bull.

More important will be how citizens throughout Europe react if the EC initiative to maximize supplement dosages at near RDA levels is allowed to stand. If that ruling is actually implemented and left unchallenged, approval of a similar initiative by Codex will not be far behind. And make no mistake, this will affect people in the US too. The FDA has, despite clear instructions from the American people and Congress to the contrary, indicated that it strongly approves of said initiative and will vote to support them. And don't look to the new Democratic administration to be the knight in shining armor riding to the rescue of the supplement industry. The sad truth is that thanks to their strong connection to the pharmaceutical industry they are far more hostile to alternative health than the outgoing Republican administration.

In the end, I believe it comes down to the frog in the water. I'm talking about how a frog will jump out of boiling water, but will allow itself to be boiled alive if the temperature is raised slowly, one degree at a time. So the question at hand is, "Have governments been acting to restrict your rights to alternative health slowly enough so that you will allow yourself to be boiled alive -- or will you scream blood murder (like if they decided to tax your soda pop) and force them to back down?" In the end, your ability to have access to the supplements you want is entirely in your hands.


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