Whom do you trust when it comes to food and health advice?
This is the fundamental question underlying the latest food skirmish between health activists The Environmental Working Group and “big food” represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Last week, the EWG released its Food Scores database rating 80,000 foods on a variety of criteria that encompass nutrition, ingredients and processing. Foods like organic kale score 1 (the best) while Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Puffs get a 10 (the worst).
But today, the GMA responded by calling the Food Score database “severely flawed” and predicting it will “only provide consumers with misinformation about the food and beverage products they trust and enjoy.”
The GMA, which represents some of the biggest food manufacturers in the world, accused EWG of using “isolated studies” to penalize foods containing artificial sweeteners and added sugar. It further questioned the group’s algorithm for weighing certain factors too heavily in its final scores.
The Association said that the best advice for health and nutrition comes from the Nutrition Facts Panel and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Critics, however, argue that it is those very guidelines--which, for decades, have emphasized fat reduction over sugar and carbohydrate restrictions--that have led to a in tripling in American obesity over the past 40 years.
Additionally, EWG says information on packaging is limited.
“When you think about healthy food, you have to think beyond the Nutrition Facts panel,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research. “It doesn’t always tell the whole story. EWG’s Food Scores shows that certain foods that we think are good for us may actually be much less so because they contain questionable food additives or toxic contaminants.”
Tuesday, the Alliance for Food and Farming, a produce industry group, trumpeted the high ratings the EWG gave to produce. It also noted that the EWG encourages consumers to eat plenty of fresh produce.
But the AFF, which represents both conventional and organic produce growers, once again called on EWG to stop its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. These popular lists rate produce based on pesticide residues as measured by the USDA, but the AFF finds them misleading.
“If EWG doesn’t stop, the AFF will happily remind consumers about the ‘1’ scores and EWG’s new consumption message every single time the ‘dirty dozen’ list receives attention. Every single time.”
So which organizations or agencies do you trust to provide balanced nutrition information? Tell us in the comments.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at email@example.com