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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stevia and Coca Cola

Are the FDA and Coca-Cola at War Over Regulatory Power?

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, December 23, 2008
Key concepts: FDA, Coca-Cola and Diet coke

Recently the FDA warned Coca-Cola over the use of the word "plus" in its Diet Coke Plus product, saying it was mislabeled. Just a few days ago, however, the FDA issued a letter of no objection to Coke's use of a new stevia sweetener (Truvia), even though the FDA apparently has no intention to actually GRAS approve the sweetener.

Although this is speculation, I believe there's a power play going on behind the scenes between Coca-Cola and the FDA. Here's the short timeline I've constructed in an attempt to explain the recent actions by the FDA and Coke:

Early December, 2008 - Coca-Cola announces it will begin selling beverages sweetened with stevia even without FDA approval. It simply announces it will "self-affirm" Truvia (the brand-name version of Cargill's stevia sweetener) as being a safe sweetener.

The FDA sees its authority threatened by Coca-Cola. If Coke can simply declare ingredients to be safe and start using them, then what's the point of having the FDA in the loop at all?

The FDA isn't happy about Coke threatening an end-run around the FDA's regulatory power, to it begins to look at ways to make life difficult for Coca-Cola.

December 10, 2008 - The FDA fires a shot over the bow of Coca-Cola by issuing a warning to the company, saying its Diet Coke Plus products are illegally labeled. Note that Diet Coke Plus has been on the market for over 18 months, but only now, after the Truvia threat, did the FDA decide to move against Coke.

Coke responds by saying its products are legally labeled and, essentially, that the FDA is full of bunk. The FDA does nothing.

December 17, 2008 - With Coke about ready to start selling stevia-sweetened products without FDA approval, the FDA realizes it must preempt Coke's launch of these products by quickly issuing a letter "authorizing" Coke to market stevia-sweetened beverages, or else it will lose face. The other option would be to halt the marketing of stevia products, but the FDA doesn't feel it has the political power to pull that off against Coca-Cola. With its hand forced by Coca-Cola, the FDA issues a "letter of no objection" that allows Coca-Cola to sell stevia-sweetened beverages and still maintains the appearance of FDA authority.

The truth, of course, is that Coca-Cola was about to market the products anyway, without FDA approval, and the FDA has become little more than a regulatory ragdoll that pretends to stand up against Big Business from time to time but is actually working so closely with other businesses (Big Pharma) that is has no remaining credibility to move against Coca-Cola.

In the battle of Coke vs. the FDA, the FDA just got trampled. (Or "pwned," if you're a gamer.) Sure, the FDA can threaten small companies with some degree of credibility, but not Coca-Cola. And not Big Pharma, either. The upshot for all of us is the observation that the corporations are in charge around here, not the FDA.

We are well into the era of corporations running the food supply while the regulators can only pretend to exert anything resembling real authority.

Does that mean we should "strengthen" the FDA? Nope; we should radically reform it and split it into two agencies: The FOOD Safety Administration and the DRUG Safety Administration. And finally, we need a third agency called the Topical Product Safety Administration that would ban all the toxic skin care and body care products made with cancer-causing chemicals. All three agencies should be led by consumer health advocates who have no ties to industry whatsoever.

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