Seven Products on Consumers' Blacklist
As we rethink our use of calcium and Vitamin D, WalletPop asked experts to suggest other products that should be considered for consumers' Do Not Buy list. Here are the seven they nominated:High-Fructose Corn Syrup
This sugar substitute gained popularity in 1970s as the cost of sugar rose. Inexpensive to make because it's derived from corn, which in turn is heavily subsidized by the government, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) caught on with soda makers and eventually made its way into all sections of the food pyramid.
Why Blacklisted? Health advocates set their guns on HFCS over the past few years as more and more Americans relied on processed foods. They blamed HFCS for the rise in obesity and diabetes, among other health concerns.
The Impact: The campaign seems to be working, as companies like PepsiCo and Hunt's reintroduce sugar into some of their products. It has also given rise to "more natural" sweeteners like agave nectar, stevia and Truvia.
That doesn't mean that the Corn Refiners Association is taking this lying down. Money is being poured into advertising and marketing to convince consumers that high-fructose corn syrup is really just corn-based sugar.
To some health advocates, that's the problem. Keri Gans, national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of the upcoming book, The Small Change Diet, told WalletPop in an email interview. "HFCS is the same as sugar. It offers no benefits nutritionally. It only provides calories. Calories consumed in excess cause individuals to gain weight, plain and simple."
BPA, short for Bisphenol A, has been around since 1891 but didn't really break into the marketplace until the 1950s, when it was used to make polycarbonates (those handy, shatterproof, hard-plastic containers), and epoxy resin (which is used to line metal cans and other food packaging).
Why Blacklisted? It's been known since the 1930s that BPA mimics estrogen. But it wasn't until the 1980s that evidence started to mount that there were serious health risks when BPA leached into things like baby formula, water, foods and cosmetics. Scientists are finding that the chemical has adverse affects on brain and reproductive development, increases the risk of cancer, and causes other health problems in test animals.
Last January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised its stance on the chemical from "safe in low doses" to expressing "some concern" about its effects on fetuses and young children.
The Impact: While American consumers are voting with their pocketbooks, and going out of their way to buy bottles and containers labeled non-BPA, the Canadian government was the first to ban BPA entirely from its marketplace in September.
Hormones in Milk
Naturally found in cattle, bovine growth hormone (BGH), also known as bovine somatotropin (BST), gained popularity in the 1990s when agricultural-giant Monsanto developed an artificial form of BGH. To prevent cows from going dry -- and hence to increase their milk production -- dairy farmers could simply inject rBGH/rBST, marketed as Posilac, into the cows.
Why Blacklisted? While the FDA has declared rBGH/rBST safe, more and more consumers aren't convinced. Some studies are linking rBGH/rBST milk, which contains high levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, to an increased chance of developing cancer of the breast, colon and prostate. It doesn't help that Canada, Japan, Australia and the European Union have banned the use of Posilac, as well as the importation of U.S. milk.
The Impact: Consumer fear has led some companies to tout hormone-free milk and dairy products. Sales of organic dairy products continue to climb, according to The Organic Trade Association. In a 2010 survey, organic dairy comprised a little more than 5% of all dairy sales in 2009, totaling almost $3.6 billion, up from $1.1 billion in 2002.
Genetically Modified Food
Thanks to advances in biotechnology, companies are creating crops that do more than just feed the masses -- they can resist pests and disease, tolerate herbicides and conditions like drought and severe cold, and impart more nutrition than normal.
The slicing and dicing of plant genes is just the beginning. The FDA is reviewing the safety of the AquAdvantage salmon, the first ever genetically modified animal to be considered for public consumption. This salmon's ability to grow fast and with less food than usual came from splicing together DNA from the Chinook salmon and ocean pout.
Why Blacklisted? Concerns about the impact of genetically modified foods on people's health and the environment have been growing, as have accusations that patents on genetically modified crops hurt rather than help small and Third World farmers. In fact, Zambia, India, Venezuela and many European countries do not allow the farming of genetically modified crops. Other countries, including Japan and Australia, require genetically modified products to be labeled.
The Impact: Americans may say they are wary of eating genetically modified foods, but they are their biggest consumers. Staples like corn, soybeans and alfalfa have been genetically modified for years. And while some countries have banned genetically modified crops, those barriers are slowly giving way. Japan and Europe may not grow genetically modified crops but they import them. Belgium just allowed the farming of genetically modified potatoes for use in manufacturing.
Before the introduction of these preservatives in the 1950s, food and cosmetic products had short shelf lives. Add parabens like butylparaben, heptylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben, and the growth of mold, fungus, and bacteria is halted. It also helped that their price was right. So it's no surprise that they're in everything from anti-aging cream to packaged fish.
Why Blacklisted? Once it was thought that the worst you could get from parabens was an allergic reaction or sun damage. But everything changed in 2004, after a U.K. study found traces of parabens in 20 women with breast cancer and concluded that parabens "may certainly be associated with the overall rise in breast cancer cases" and called for more study.
"There have also been reports that parabens may contribute to the notable drop in sperm count in European men," Ruth Winter, author of A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives and A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, told Walletpop in an email interview.
The Impact: While subsequent studies have found no causal link to breast cancer, scientists believe parabens act like estrogen. As a result, some companies, like Yes to Carrots and Burt's Bees, have established a cult following for their paraben-free products.
Around since the 1890s, when a chemist developed the hydrogenation process, trans fat didn't become a part of the American diet until World War II, when margarine overtook butter due to war rationing. However it wasn't until the 1980s that trans fat was in nearly every spoonful. Food manufacturers and eating establishments were pushed to find a less fattening substitute to saturated fats like butter, animal fat and tropical oils, so they turned to trans fat.
Why Blacklisted? Trans fat didn't prove to be any healthier than saturated fat. "Trans fats not only raise LDL cholesterol, but they also decrease the HDL -- the good cholesterol -- a double whammy," said Keri Gans, a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Since 2006, the FDA has required food labels to list the amount of trans fat in each package.
The Impact: Food manufacturers and establishments are in a race to eliminate trans fat and find an alternative. Even Crisco, the first trans fat product, was reformulated in 2007 to contain zero trans fat so as to avoid being banned from U.S. supermarkets.
"Made in China"
When U.S. companies sought to cut their production and labor costs, they went shopping overseas, finding developing areas like Taiwan, Hong Kong and China eager for the work and salaries. By the 1990s, "Made in China" became ubiquitous, as almost every major U.S. corporation, from Apple to Mattel, set up shop there.
Why Blacklisted? Concerns about loss of American jobs to China remain. But in the past few years, those concerns have given way to fears as scandals about contaminated pet food, toys containing harmful levels of lead, drywall sickening U.S. homeowners and baby formula tainted with melamine made headlines.
The Impact: Homeowners sickened by defective drywall may get a tax deduction from the Internal Revenue Service but are still awaiting word from the federal government if they will be further compensated. Certain toymakers proudly proclaim their non-Chinese origins since the 2007 lead scare. Sales of books on making your own pet food jumped after reports in 2007 of pet deaths and subsequent recalls, according to The Associated Press.
Ultimately, Forbes Beijing Bureau Chief Gady Epstein told WalletPop in an email interview, "Made in China" will eventually become less ubiquitous because "in tough economic times, that price tag, more than the questions about quality, will be the key decider for people in shopping for 'Made in Anywhere.' The price tag itself is going to go up, due to rising Chinese wages and an appreciating Chinese currency,"
Still, he added, "'Made in China' has such a dominant established lead over 'Made Anywhere Else' -- China has the infrastructure, the know-how and all the critical supplier relationships -- that it will take years before you start noticing there's less Made in China at your Walmart or Ikea."