Food Industry Urges Caution in Regulating Ultra-Processed Foods

by Ella

In a meeting with a panel of nutrition experts appointed by the federal government to advise on the upcoming revision of national dietary guidelines, representatives from the food industry expressed concerns over what they perceive as excessive scrutiny on the health impacts of ultra-processed foods. This category encompasses a wide range of foods, from hot dogs and chicken nuggets to cookies and potato chips.

Stakeholders, including frozen food producers, the meat industry, and a coalition representing the bakery, candy, corn syrup, and sugar sectors, along with the Consumer Brands Association, which counts General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Hostess among its members, conveyed apprehensions regarding the heightened focus on ultra-processed foods by regulatory bodies.


Last April, federal regulators announced that the nutrition panel responsible for reviewing the latest nutritional research and recommending changes to dietary guidelines every five years would examine the connection between ultra-processed foods and weight gain as part of its review.


For some, this review appeared warranted and long overdue. Multiple studies have indicated that ultra-processed foods account for more than half of the daily calorie intake for many Americans. Clinical research has also linked these foods to adverse health outcomes, including cognitive decline, weight gain, specific cancers, and type 2 diabetes.


However, the North American Meat Institute, representing companies such as Hormel and Johnsonville, asserted that “the scientific evaluation of the role of ultra-processed foods in health outcomes is premature” and that “classifying foods as ultra-processed oversimplifies the complex issue and is not appropriate for the dietary guidelines.”


Several representatives from the food industry contended that food processing should be acknowledged for its positive impact. Allison Cooke, a vice president at the Corn Refiners Association, representing the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance, which the corn refiners group leads, stated, “Food processing can provide benefits to products, including food safety and security, improved nutrition, reducing food waste, permitting food diversity, and offering convenience and affordability.”

This debate mirrors discussions occurring worldwide on how to address the issue of ultra-processed foods. Countries ranging from Brazil to Nordic nations have contemplated recommending limits on consumption. The challenge lies in defining and categorizing ultra-processed foods, with the commonly used classification system endorsed by the World Health Organization facing criticism for being overly broad.

The Soy Nutrition Institute Global, representing soy food companies, expressed concerns that even foods like tofu could be labeled as ultra-processed, a notion disputed by Mark Messina, director of nutrition science and research for the group, who stated, “The idea that tofu, a food that has been consumed for centuries, warrants the same … classification as Twinkies defies common sense.”

While the sugar association did not directly address the ultra-processing debate, it emphasized that “evidence shows that a singular focus on sugar reduction over the past twenty years has not reduced obesity.”

The impact of these public comments on the panel’s final recommendations, slated for release in late next year, remains uncertain.

The meeting on Tuesday also witnessed heated exchanges on other dietary issues. Advocates for plant-based diets clashed with representatives from the meat and dairy industries. A dairy farmer and dietician argued that “dairy foods make a positive impact on healthy living,” while a former Olympian contended that the current dietary guidelines’ emphasis on dairy was “culturally insensitive and even racist,” as lactose intolerance is prevalent among a majority of Black Americans.

In another exchange, a physician promoting plant-based diets argued that Americans consume more protein than necessary, a viewpoint countered by a representative of the National Pork Board who asserted that pork could “enrich the diets of those who may not be able to get nutrient-dense meals.



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