Saturday, 23 January 2010

Butter Stupidity

Today's Guardian has an great article titled 'I Can't Believe It's Not Healthy' by Felicity Lawrence. It picks apart the commercial inertia that drives the infomercial world of food manufacturing ever onwards towards profit. She looks at the history of the relationship between heart health and fat, noting,

  • [early] in the decade, scientific evidence emerged suggesting that the trans fats produced by hydrogenation affected foetal and infant growth. Then in 1993 Professor Walter Willett, the principal investigator in the Harvard nurses study – on which much of the current advice for heart disease and cancer is based – published evidence that nurses in the study who ate significant amounts of trans fats were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who consumed few trans fats. In 1997 he called hydrogenation "the biggest food processing disaster in US history". In 2004 he told an interviewer that the advice to switch from butter to vegetable oils hydrogenated into margarine had turned out to be "a disastrous mistake".
In 2006 Lawrence took Unilever's director of external affairs Anne Heughan to task about their use of trans-fats in their products long after evidence had emerged of the health implications to which Heughan replied,

  • "As a responsible manufacturer we can only go with the evidence at the time. When Walter Willett's evidence in 1993 indicated that trans fatty acids were as bad as saturated fats we felt that the weight of evidence had moved and we set about removing them. It took about two years."
You can't help but get angry at the hand wringing and doe-eyed pleading from the margarine manufacturers upon finding evidence that their products were actually quite harmful, but JP Morgan seem to have found at least one answer,

  • City analysts JP Morgan point out a further powerful commercial reason in their report on how the food industry is responding to the obesity crisis. According to their estimates, Flora pro.activ fat spread sells at a premium of more than 300% on standard products.
Follow the money! With that kind of profit, you'd imagine that there would be a LOT of machinery lined up to protect markets. Machinery to misinform and obfuscate. At the very least, to maintain the status quo for as long as possible.

For me I can't help thinking shouldn't it be incumbent upon manufacturers to prove that their product is safe? Hey, come to think of it, and given their strategy of making us scared of saturated fat, shouldn't it be incumbent upon them to actually back up this satfat phobia with some evidence?

Thankfully, Ron Krauss has done the job for them and guess what? There isn't any evidence that saturated fat is actually harmful. (This is also a fact that escapes Lawrence but I have found an email address for her, and will be sending her this link !)

In fact with all the research and brainpower at their disposal, why haven't Unilever done their own meta analysis and discovered this for themselves? At the least, you'd think they would be looking in to this (or in to The French Paradox).

Kind of makes you wonder what the point was of inventing margarine.....oh that's right, we get to blame French. You see according to Lawrence, French scientists developed margarine "[in] response to a call from the French government to invent a cheap, long-life butter substitute that could feed its armies on the march".

Jokes about French military prowess aside (I am not Franco-phobic - I am English with French lineage which, according to Ricky Gervais, means 'I have bad-breath and I'm shit in bed'), it is ironic that the nation that gave us 'The French Paradox' should also have given us such a substance.

Baise moi!

Lawrence also has a book out called 'Eat Your Heart Out' which has just made it on to my reading list on the strength of this article alone. The Amazon reviews are quite compelling:

  • I can't remember when a book made me more angry. Lawrence's book should be compulsory reading . . . nothing is what it says on the packet (Evening Standard )
  • Challenges each and every one of us to think again about what we eat. It's almost like uncovering a secret state within the state (Start the Week )
The fightback has truly begun.


Chris said...

Let battle commence.

Chad said...

Agreed, don't let it happen! The "Americanization" of diet over the globe, that is. When i visit Ireland, at least I know that the coloring in food is going to be of some form of food extract (ie carrot in the orange soda). Yes it has sugar, but at least it's real.

Good post...thanks!