In May 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN) announced it had “established a Toxic Elements Working Group whose mission in part is to develop a strategy for prioritizing and modernizing the Center’s activities with respect to food/toxic element combinations using a risk-based approach.” FDA set a goal of limiting lead “to the greatest extent feasible.”
Last June, fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread announced that it would do away with the remaining artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources in its Panera at Home products. The company expects to make its entire portfolio of nearly 50 grocery items “clean,” meaning free of its “No No List” additives, by the end of 2016.
"Cleaning" up its Panera at Home product line comes in addition Panera’s 2014 commitment to remove the “No No list” ingredients from all restaurant food offerings within the same time frame and adhere to other criteria of its “Food Policy”.
Panera has consistently run far ahead of their competitors, and they’ve done it in five key areas where companies can lead on chemicals: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informing consumers, public commitment, and product design. Panera set such a good example of leadership in making safer food available to their customers that we’ve developed a case study to showcase Panera’s approach and results to date.
EDF worked with Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, to develop the case study, who offered many insights into their process. For example, on Panera’s decision to expand its commitment to include retail food, Burnett shared that, “Much of the work that we’ve done to simplify recipes in our bakery-cafes has set a standard for Panera at Home products. However, the challenges in the consumer packaged goods space are unique, where artificial additives have long been used to preserve taste and appearance. For us, the answer was often simple. For instance, we decided early on to use refrigeration to help extend shelf life for products like our soups and salad dressings. Where necessary, we’ve relied on natural preservatives – such as rosemary extract – to do the job.”
Panera started that process by looking at every ingredient used in their food and deciding what was essential. Once that determination was made, Panera identified more than 150 food additives to be prohibited in their food after 2016. Of approximately 450 ingredients they manage, roughly one-third needed reformulation.
Out of several hundred suppliers, only one walked away as a result of the new guidelines. In addition, the deep dive into Panera’s sources and potential replacement options also surfaced opportunities for improvement. As a result, many of the suppliers found that they not only strengthened their relationship with Panera, but developed better business offerings for their other customers.
While a limited number of categories still require change – sweets and fountain sodas among them – Panera has overcome many of its toughest challenges. For example, broccoli cheddar soup took 60 revisions to meet customer expectations in taste tests. Many items, from candy pieces to mozzarella cheese, are now differently colored from their predecessors but meet Panera’s clean criteria and customer preferences. Two products – pepperoncini and white pastry cream – have been unable to meet both Panera’s and customers’ expectations, and will likely be removed from the menu come 2017.
Sales numbers would indicate that customers are also pleased. In July 2016, Panera Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich said “Our strong Q2 results reinforce the fact that our strategy is working and our initiatives are performing. Panera is becoming a better competitive alternative with expanded runways for growth. At a time when other restaurant companies are feeling the impact of a slowing consumer environment, we are maintaining our momentum.”
Or as Burnett puts it, “When we meet customer needs and expectations, sales follow.”
Panera is not alone in their efforts, but they are definitely among the leaders. Since Panera announced its comprehensive food policy in June of 2014, more than a dozen major food manufacturers and restaurants have also made public commitments to reduce or eliminate artificial flavors and colors from their brands.
Learn more about how food companies can lead on safer chemicals management with our blueprint for safer food additives, part of EDF’s Behind the Label initiative.
Follow Michelle Harvey at @
It’s whack-a-mole time.
In April, Walmart released their 2016 Global Responsibility Report. In it, they noted a 95% reduction by weight in the approximately ten high priority chemicals in home and personal care products covered by their 2013 Sustainable Chemistry policy. Ninety-five percent is a big number, but the substance – the chemical names, the volumes – was missing.
Today, Walmart released the names of those high priority chemicals, with details as to how the reductions were achieved. The chemicals – butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, and toluene – will not come as a surprise to most who work on these issues; these chemicals have been called out for action by many for quite some time.
If this announcement is met like most environmental stories told by corporations, the mole-whacking will commence shortly. WHACK! Why these chemicals and not those? WHACK! What took so long? WHACK! What about everything else? While companies that do nothing will stay in the shadows, those like Walmart trying to drive needed change usually get whacked for what they haven’t done already.
And of course a lot still remains to be done.
But this story is a good one, and Walmart deserves credit for what they have accomplished. Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive drive over 11,500 tons – 23 million pounds – of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months.
History was made this week. Major environmental legislation was signed into law for the first time in nearly 25 years, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemical safety law, and putting in place a new foundation of federal oversight for chemicals being used in the marketplace. It took the right conditions and a lot of hard work – including bold action from the retail and manufacturing sectors to answer consumers’ call for safer products – to get here.
Now, as this new law gets implemented, industry is headed for a new status quo on how chemicals are evaluated and approved for use. What does that mean for those companies already on the safer chemicals journey?
Fertile Ground for Safer Products
This new piece of legislation –The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – amends for the first time the core provisions of TSCA, originally passed in 1976. It requires new chemicals to clear a safety bar before entering the market, and mandates safety reviews of all existing chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Many consumers assume this has been occurring all along. If a product has reached a retailer’s shelves, someone must have reviewed its chemical ingredients for safety, right? But this hasn’t been the case. When TSCA was signed into law, it grandfathered in the 64,000 chemicals then in use as “safe.” The law didn’t mandate review of new chemicals entering the market, either. And it put the entire burden on EPA to find evidence of harm in order to restrict market entry. The updated law will for the first time give EPA the authority and resources to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety, along with new authority to more easily obtain information necessary for conducting these reviews.
Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will first focus on “high priority” chemicals, such as those classified as known human carcinogens, highly toxic, persistent in the environment or bioaccumlative (able to build up in the bodies of animals). In assessing the safety of chemicals, EPA must consider risks to vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women. EPA can only consider the health and environmental impacts of the chemical—leaving consideration of costs or availability of alternatives to the next step when EPA is determining how to manage a chemical’s risks. The law also puts strong new limits on what information can qualify as ‘confidential business information,’ striking a balance between the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed, and proprietary interests in chemical information important, for example, to innovation. Read more
Finding substitute chemicals for ingredients either known to be harmful or with unknown safety information can be a case of swapping the devil you know for the devil you don't, a recent report found.
“Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and Regrettable Substitutes Found in the Linings of Canned Foods,” an extensive report by five public interest groups, documents the persistent use of bisphenol-A, or BPA, as a base ingredient for lining metal cans. Because of its endocrine-disrupting properties and other associated health risks, BPA has been the focus of a major federal research project and public campaigns to eliminate its uses in contact with food. Despite those efforts, 67% of tested cans still contain the chemical.
Equally troubling is that the report found four chemical types used in alternative can coatings – acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. These chemicals not only were approved for uses decades ago with little to no data, but some have less-than-perfect safety profiles. This lack of innovation raises questions about the food industry’s use of informed substitutions.
Gauging alternative chemicals
In 2013, a group of more than 100 representatives of business, universities and NGOs published The Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment, a broad consensus around simple, solutions-based guidance to move hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and drive in safer innovations.
Key elements of informed decision-making that companies should use in choosing alternative product ingredients include reducing hazard, minimizing exposure, using the best available information, requiring disclosure and transparency, resolving trade-offs and taking action. While they were developed for chemicals in consumer products, these same principles apply to chemicals in food—or food additives— as well. In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences expanded these principles into its framework for chemical alternatives selection.
What’s in a can (liner)?
How do the food packaging industry’s choices and decision-making in replacing BPA measure up against the alternatives assessment principles listed above? According to the Buyer Beware report, not very well. Read more
With so many vague claims and misleading labels on products in the marketplace, it’s no surprise that consumers are increasingly calling for safer products and greater transparency with regard to product ingredients. That’s why we at EDF were proud to share the stage at the EPA’s 2016 Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards ceremony yesterday with companies, trade groups, and other NGOs working to do just that.
EDF was recognized alongside other Safer Choice Partner of the Year awardees for “demonstrated leadership in furthering safer chemistry and products.” Among the 17 corporate winners were chemical makers, product manufacturers and retailers like BISSELL Homecare, The Clorox Company, Seventh Generation, BASF Corporation, Ecolab and Wegmans Food Markets, all of whom have submitted products or chemicals for certification under the Safer Choice label.
Consumer health is one of the most pressing – and frequently, less recognized – areas of corporate sustainability, and one where driving adoption of safer practices takes both ambition and leadership. We are gratified to see such a diverse range of corporations take significant steps to introduce safer chemicals into the marketplace and for organizations like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Healthy Schools Campaign to lend their support and encouragement.
Every product labeled under the Safer Choice certification program makes the marketplace a little safer and our jobs as advocates for consumer safety a little easier. Read more
Recently, SC Johnson took the next step in product transparency, becoming the first major player in the consumer goods industry to disclose 100 percent of fragrance ingredients for a product line – in this case, its Glade® Fresh Citrus Blossoms collection. Consumers can now see what chemicals make up these home fragrances by reading product packaging or visiting SCJ’s WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com ingredient website. Over time, the company will expand the disclosure to the rest of its air fresheners and other products.
This is meaningful. Industry-wide, major consumer goods companies list fragrances in aggregate on an ingredient list, whereas in actuality, those fragrances are composed of many individual chemicals. Consumers deserve greater transparency.
As SCJ Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson noted, “… key to [making thoughtful ingredient choices] is continually challenging the status quo. By sharing the full ingredient list for this fragrance — all the way down to the component level — we’re going beyond the norm of even so-called ‘natural’ products.”
EDF has applauded SCJ’s efforts on fragrance disclosure in the past, and we encourage them to continue increasing transparency throughout its product line. Read more
Have you ever looked at the tag on your power supply and wondered what all those symbols meant? Many of them represent a voluntary consensus standard designed to protect the safety and health of the user.
Since we believe these types of standards can serve a valuable purpose, we wanted to explain why and how we make the decision to participate – and why we and other NGOs recently withdrew from one such effort by NSF International, funded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
Put simply, a voluntary consensus standard means a relevant and balanced group of stakeholders got together and reached agreement on how to do something voluntarily and consistently that serves national needs.
For example, NSF/ANSI Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components sets health effects criteria for many water system components such as pipes and faucets. Such standards, overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), can create assurance that might otherwise require regulation.
As you’ll read below, the ANSI due process guidance for consensus standards require balance in the range of viewpoints considered. EDF increasingly finds itself invited to represent the public interest point of view. Read more
Regrettable substitution. Informed substitution.
The first sounds like a problem – and it is. The second is the way you avoid the first.
In the world of consumer products made from mixtures of chemicals – baby lotion, shampoo, cleaners, laundry soap – chemists seek ingredients that are effective and feasible. What they too often don’t also consider are the hazardous properties of the chemical and its risk to people. This is in part because most chemists are not trained in toxicology. Further, many of the biological interactions between us and the ingredients in everyday products we use on our bodies and in our homes are only now being understood. As our understanding has grown, groups such as EDF have called for the removal of some of the more concerning chemical ingredients from store shelves.
For the last six years, I’ve lived in Bentonville, AR, working with Walmart, whose global headquarters is located here. My job, in part, is to help the world’s largest retailer find ways to bring healthier products to market, by shining a light on the ingredients in products that EDF believes need to be replaced.Can a quality product contain a cancer-causing substance? I don’t think so. I’ve worked hard to convince Walmart of that, and together with my NGO colleagues offered alternatives that will result in an effective product, affordably priced, made with benign ingredients. The average Walmart supercenter carries hundreds of thousands of everyday products, from shampoo to eye shadow to baby lotion to spray cleaners. Change these products for the better – remove an unnecessary endocrine-disrupting fragrance enhancer, for example – and the health and environmental benefits can be huge.
How huge? We’re about to find out. On Sept. 12, Walmart announced a new chemicals policy intended to bring better ingredients into its home and personal care products, targeting an initial set of roughly ten common chemicals of concern for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination.” More importantly, Walmart’s policy calls for suppliers to use informed substitution, meaning what goes into the redesigned product has to be better than what came out. It’s a first for any retailer.
The Road to Sustainability
My colleagues and I also work with Walmart to make the company more sustainable – from the kinds of products it sells, to the ways that they transport those products, to recycling the materials its uses every day. But do sustainable products and sustainable operations bring us closer as a society to sustainable consumption? That is, can we continue to buy and use what we want, when we want it, and still guarantee that our great great grandchildren will be able to do the same?
Walmart is a good place to start on the road toward true sustainability. After all, the world’s largest retailer – with some 220 million customers every week– is also the world’s largest customer, with more than 100,000 suppliers that are eager to meet its needs and wants. So EDF began by helping Walmart develop a better list of wants, such as energy-efficient factories and food production using less water and fertilizer.
A related part of my job is to help Walmart move toward a corporate goal of zero waste – that is 100% beneficial reuse of everything Walmart uses in its daily operations. That means no dumping of stuff into landfills and no incineration.
What we’ve learned together is that there’s the easy stuff – give unused food to food banks, recycle shrink wrap and cardboard. And there’s dozens of other things that can be disassembled or recaptured or repurposed. But not everything is easy. The same things you can’t recycle at home – bathroom trash, broken items, food-contaminated packaging – are even tougher at Walmart scale. Finding ways to reuse things like that takes creativity and innovation.
My conclusion, as EDF and Walmart travel down this road toward sustainability, is that we have to get better and better at keeping materials in play. The longer we can use what’s already been extracted, grown or created, the less quickly we need to extract, grow or create more.
So that’s my goal. To get healthier, more sustainable products on store shelves in the short term, and, long term, to figure out how to use and reuse and recycle the stuff a consumer society produces in such abundance.
Thought for the day: Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.