I just adore Kate Middleton. I don’t enjoy following celebrities, at all, except Kate. She is just such a classy young lady. Of course, you can never tell what a celebrity is like in real life, based solely on what the press reports. But, since I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Kate, the press is all I can go on. And she certainly does seem like a very graceful, confident yet humble, and gracious princess.
So yes, I do occasionally pick up a magazine when I see her on the cover….oh who am I kidding, I always pick it up if I see her on the cover.
But what does this have to do with food law and more importantly, your grocery store shopping experience, oh I am so glad you asked.
In honor of Kate Middleton and her sightings at Tesco’s (the local British grocery store), here are some interesting tidbits about what you will find in American grocery stores, that you will not find in any British ones.
(but first some pictures of the newly married Princess Catherine, doing groceries for her and her hubby)
Now, back to the food and law business.
Kate reportedly purchased a lot of fruits and veggies on this particular outing, and also, some ice cream. Now ice cream may seem pretty universal to the average consumer, but you are no average consumer, and now you will understand why we in America have certain options when it comes to our ice cream selections that Kate did not have on that April day when she went to the local Tesco’s in Anglesey Wales.
This side of the pond, many of our grocery stores carry ice cream varieties that include artificial food colors (or, as the Brits say, “colours”). There are currently seven different artificial food colors that are approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The three most popular are Red #40, Yellow #5, and Blue #1
Many popular ice cream brands in the US use artificial colors. Take for example Edy’s Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip – one of my boyfriend’s favorite ice cream flavors (but he doesn’t buy Edy’s, he scopes out the organic section at our local grocery store for specials and avoids all these less than desirable ingredients, which is why we get along). This particular product has the following ingredients: non-fat milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, chocolaty chips (sugar, coconut oil, cocoa processed with alkali, fractionated palm kernel oil, cocoa, soy lecithin, salt, natural flavor), whey protein, buttermilk, molasses, acacia gum, carob bean gum, guar gum, yellow 5, blue 1, carrageenan, natural flavor. There are two artificial colors found in this flavor that Kate probably would not find in any of the ice cream flavors available to her at Tesco’s.
That is because in the UK, several major companies have voluntarily chosen not to use artificial colors in their products, even though they continue to manufacture the same product for the US market with the inclusion of the artificial color.
A little background first.
Lately, there has been quite a bit of talk about the science of artificial food colors (both lakes and dyes). Do artificial colors contribute to hyperactivity in children? This is the question that has dominated much of the conversation. The answers are not clear-cut. In analyzing the conflicting answers, it is important to always keep another question in mind – “who funded the research?”
Many of the studies relied upon by FDA to assess the safety of artificial food colors were funded by food companies that manufacture artificial colors. FDA has concluded there is not enough evidence to demonstrate a link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity in children, and has further concluded they should remain permitted in the American food supply. Of course, this position does not preclude parents and other consumers from avoiding them, it just means the parent or consumer needs to be intentional about avoiding them.
Interestingly, many companies, such as Kraft, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, and even Mars (makers of M&Ms candy) have already removed these artificial food colors from products they distribute in some other countries, such as England – and they did so voluntarily. They have reformulated their product lines in other countries to no longer include these artificial food colors, a move they made, again, voluntarily, in response to consumer demand and an important study called the Southampton Study.
The Southampton Study was unique in that it tested the synergistic effect of multiple food colors, because children are seldom exposed to only one artificial color – usually they are exposed to a combination (for example, Yellow #5 and Blue #1 in Edy’s Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream). The Study was also unique in that it was funded, not by industry, but by the British national food safety agency. It was this Study and the consumer reaction to its findings that prompted even American companies to remove artificial colors (and sodium benzonate, a preservative) from their U.K. products. For example, the strawberry variety of the Kellog’s Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars have two formulations,
I am particularly impressed by the fact that these companies removed these artificial colors voluntarily. For example, Asda, the U.K. branch of Wal-Mart, acted one week after details were leaked to the UK press about the results of the Southampton Study. They did not even wait for the study to be published before making their move.
In an article published by the Food and Drink Federation, a Web site that monitors food issues in Europe, Jess Halliday reported that “Asda [U.K. Wal-Mart] has pledged to remove any artificial colours or flavours from its 9,000 own label products, as well as aspartame, hydrogenated fat, and flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate.” And the Study did not even mention those last three items.
According to Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart food trading director Darren Blackhurt, “We know that our customers, particularly those that are mums and dads, are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.” And in 2008, Coca-Cola announced it would remove sodium benzonate from its products, but only in the U.K.
“We know that artificial colours are of concern to consumers, which is why, in 2006, Mars began a programme to remove them from our products. . . in November 2007, Starburst Chews became free from all artificial colours. . . . in December 2007, Skittles were made free from all the artificial colours highlighted in a landmark study by Southampton University. . . We have already removed four colours mentioned in the Southampton study from Peanut and Choco M&M’s, and are in the process of removing the final one so they too will be free from these artificials during 2008.”—Mars UK
“From September 2007, the UK’s favourite kids’ chocolate brand—Milky Bar—is to be made with all natural ingredients.”—Nestlé UK
“We are committed to replacing all artificial colours in our sweets. We note the Southampton University findings, but we had begun this process already because we are continually listening to our customers.” —UK Cadbury Chocolate division
A BBC report quotes Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart as saying that in “its decision to halt the use of artificial colours and flavours, [it] was acting because ‘mums and dads are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.’” An Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart press release elaborates: “Reformulation was hard work, but it was a labour of love.”
Mums and Dads in the UK are certainly affecting the nature of the foods their children will grow up eating and what foods are even available in the grocery stores – I wonder what kind of food Kate and William will feed the new prince or princess! Well, according at least to the press, an insider of the soon-to-be first time mom told Us Weekly, “Kate promised herself she would only eat healthy until the birth,” the insider said, adding, “As soon as she can eat normally again, she’ll be avoiding processed foods.”
And here is one last picture of Kate, this time expecting her first baby 🙂