The hidden side of clinical trials

Watch the AllTrials TEDx talk on YouTube

Learn more

Evidence matters to the public

Join us on 1st November at Parliament to make the case

Learn more

Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

Learn more

'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

Learn more

Negative claims: case studies

VoYS members have been asking for evidence on negative claims and supermarket polices. Read their experiences below.

ProductsHave you asked for evidence on negative claims? Send us your case studies to be included here.

 

 


Ask for Evidence
Why does Waitrose have a blanket ban on genetically-modified foods
David McGonigle
23/04/2013
I contacted Waitrose as part of VoYS’ campaign to take supermarkets to task over their ‘negative claim’ policies. In a nutshell, negative claims involve plastering slogans like ‘No MSG’, ‘no GM’ and ‘no parabens’ onto supermarket own-brand products – despite there being little evidence for any health risks from these substances.

I wouldn’t call myself a regular shopper at Waitrose – unless rooting through their reduced doughnuts five minutes before the shop shuts counts – but nevertheless I was looking forward to contacting them. I wrote, via email, that:

‘I'm interested in knowing about how the food that ends up on my plate has been cultivated and processed, and in particular I have an interest in your supermarket's current stand on genetically-modified food…I feel quite conflicted on this issue, as, while I understand some people's qualms about GM food, I also appreciate many of the arguments that support its use, such as, for example, an increase in yields in developing countries using GM strains of crops…What I wanted was to get a better appreciation for was *why* you have a blanket ban on GM foods - and what evidence that you might have used to come to this decision? Reading your webpage, it suggests that GM foods are potentially dangerous, but I wasn't able to find any actual data or documents supporting this view?’

And I received a prompt reply – which, while helpfully informing me that:
‘Waitrose does not allow the use of any Genetically Modified crops or food ingredients derived from GM crops in our own-brand food.’

…failed to tell me why this policy had been adopted. Back to my keyboard, and email no.2:

‘I appreciate you setting out the extent of Waitrose's policy on GM food - but, as a concerned customer who wants to understand how these decisions are made - I wondered *why* Waitrose does not allow the use of any GM foods. Do you have any evidence that GM additions present a danger to your customers?’

No prompt reply this time, unfortunately. A follow-up email three weeks later produced the following:

‘Please accept my apologies that you have not had a response to date. I am still waiting for a reply from our press office, however I will chase this today. Thank you for your patience while I pursue this.’

Sadly, this was my last reply, as my subsequent two emails produced no responses. I’m still waiting.
View
Ask for Evidence
Why have M&S decided to remove MSG from their products? Is this decision based on the best available evidence?
Sara Mynott
17/04/2013
"MSG is a flavour enhancer, like other glutamates that naturally occur in a wide variety of foods from poultry to cheese. Whilst it is well known that high salt intake is associated with coronary heart disease, MSG contains 30% less sodium than traditional table salt, so is less detrimental per unit volume."

"So why is MSG, a simple flavour enhancer, advertised as not being in particular products? In fact, why are food items being advertised as “MSG free” rather than “we’ve left out the table salt, but included an alternative that may be better for you”, aside from the fact that the former is more catchy?"

"I emailed Marks and Spencer to find out why they avoid stocking their shelves with MSG – and very helpful they were too. After contacting their food and nutrition teams, Marks and Spencer informed me that they 'received a growing demand from [M&S] customers for food that did not contain MSG as they felt it could have an impact on their diet. As a result of this we took the move to remove it, it was more a personal opinion of the majority of our customers rather than something like an allergy.'"

"Unfortunately, customer opinion is no substitute for hard evidence. Perhaps if peer-reviewed research is used to found supermarket policies, customers could be better informed about what was an unhealthy ingredient and what is safe to eat. Moreover, these enlightened customers could put their informed opinions to good use in the next supermarket survey to make these science-based policies even better. Just a thought."
View
Ask for Evidence
On what evidence has M&S decided to make a range of their products free from additives and preservatives?
David Ellis
17/04/2013
"Marks and Spencer claim that many of their own-brand products are free from a variety of additives and preservatives. However, I recently asked their customer service department what evidence they use to make that decision."

"After 2 months and several emails, this evidence was not forthcoming. Marks & Spencer do not base their current recipes on any evidence and failed to cite a single piece of peer-reviewed research. Their policy is simply aligned with perceived customer pressure."
View
Ask for Evidence
Do Aldi have any evidence to support their 'no-GM' policy?
Sara Mitre
17/04/2013
"In an effort to attract customers, it appears that supermarkets are happy to turn a blind eye to scientific evidence. Their concern is simply to provide “what the customer wants”. This is what I was told on contacting Aldi’s customer service centre and asking why they do not supply genetically modified foods, as advertised on their website. The operator told me that she did not know why they had made this choice, but that there were some controversies over GM products, and they only wanted to satisfy their customers. In the scientific community, however, there is little doubt that GM products cause no adverse health effects."

"I believe that the choices supermarkets make should not simply reflect the public’s misconceptions, which is likely to fuel them even further by confirming that their fears are legitimate. Instead, they should strive to provide quality, healthy foods. In deciding which products fit these standards, scientific evidence should be used. I hope that the efforts of this initiative will help encourage a more evidence-based approach."
View
Ask for Evidence
What evidence is there behind Tesco's 'no-MSG' policy?
Laura Childs
17/04/2013
"Tesco has a policy of not using MSG in its Everyday Value products. I asked Tesco on what evidence this policy is based. They responded saying that "We do not have any own-brand GM foods on our shelves, and use of GM feed is prohibited in organic products. We will continue to regularly review our policy in line with scientific advice." This didn't really answer the question I asked, and didn't say specifically what scientific advice they were basing their GM policy on. I replied asking for more detail on the evidence behind their stance on GM foods."
View
Ask for Evidence
Do Lidl have any evidence to explain why their products contain 'no-MSG'?
Simon Rees
17/04/2013
"Walking around the supermarket Lidl, it is difficult not to notice the many green labels covering the packaging of their own brands – or as Lidl calls them, brands available exclusively at Lidl. These labels tell you if something is high in fibre, or low in salt, or if it doesn't contain something like 'artificial preservatives'. I was particularly interested in the bold 'No Added MSG' label."

"MSG is one of those scary sounding acronyms that we've been programmed to believe means something most definitely bad for you. This is despite little supporting evidence and the fact that the flavour-enhancing active ingredient (glutamic acid) is an amino-acid present in high concentrations in common foods like Parmesan cheese and a certain yeast extract that I like to spread on toast."

"So, I sent Lidl an email asking whether they could tell me why they had decided to make some of their products with 'No Added MSG'. The very next day I received an answering machine message telling me that my query had been passed on to the relevant department and that they would be back in touch soon. That sounded promising."

"The Christmas holidays were fast approaching, so it wasn't much of a surprise that it was a good few weeks before a letter appeared. I was looking forward to Lidl's reasoning, so I was initially a little disappointed to read a very short letter stating that Lidl had made some of their products with no added MSG 'due to customer demand'. My first reaction was that I'd been fobbed off. Waste of an email and a piece of paper, really. But maybe not. To be fair to Lidl, they may have answered my question with 100% accuracy. They make their products with 'No Added MSG' because that's what they think customers want. No science. No evidence. Simple marketing."
View
Ask for Evidence
Have Iceland based their no-GM policy on evidence?
Lucy Brooks
17/04/2013
"Genetically modified foods are widely considered by the scientific community to be just as safe to human health as conventional foods. Regardless of this, since 1998, the UK supermarket Iceland has banned the sale of genetically modified products in its stores. Upon contacting Iceland to find out the evidence on which they base this decision, I was informed that: 'Until more is known about the implications of GM food for humans and the environment we do not believe we should sell it to our customers.' One wonders whether this is a genuine concern for customer welfare from the company that brought us the Double Decker Double Pepperoni Pizza, containing 1,780 calories, more than the RDA for salt and 54.4g of fat despite the known health risks."

"When I enquired whether this was the approach they take to all new food-stuffs they sell, I was told 'Before we bring out a new range of foods, it always goes under intense scrutiny from our buying department and test kitchens'. But, as I put it to Iceland, GM products that are currently on the international market have all passed thorough risk assessments conducted by national authorities and have not indicated any risk to human health. To which they replied 'We understand the reasons clouding GM Foods in uncertainty hold little/no substance, but until it is 100% clear, this will be the position Iceland hold on these products. We are continually revising the products and services we provide, and will continue to offer new lines where we identify significant consumer demand. Your comments have been passed on to our Buying Department, who are constantly reviewing said lines.'”

"It would appear that Iceland's decision not to sell GM products, much like their decision to sell products such as the Double Decker Double Pepperoni Pizza is based on customer demand. It should also be mentioned that this is a stance held by most of the leading Supermarkets. Nonetheless, if science and logic are to prevail then change needs to start somewhere."
View
Ask for Evidence
Why are Budgens selling 'msg-free' crisps?
Katherine Aitcheson
17/04/2013
"I looked at produce in a local branch of Budgens and found that they were advertising their own brand crisps as being ‘MSG-free’. I wrote and asked them why they chose to exclude MSG (monosodium glutamate) from their product and what the evidence was behind this decision. Originally they told me that MSG is linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which is why they haven’t added it to their crisps. When I asked for the actual evidence showing this link they replied that “There are no specific studies to show a link to any health issues regarding the consumption of MSG” but that if I was concerned I should seek medical advice."

"Every one-line response took several emails to obtain as the Budgens technical team seem to be very reluctant to respond to consumers and it was disappointing that they couldn’t find any evidence to back up their claims."
View
Ask for Evidence
What is the the evidence behind M&S's no-GM policy?
Helen Pritchard-Smith
17/04/2013
"When I became aware of Marks and Spencer’s non GM policy, I was surprised to discover how extensive the removal GM products had been: "Since spring 2002, we've been producing all our fresh meat and poultry, salmon, shell eggs and fresh standard milk from animals fed on a diet based on non-GM cereals and soya." These seemed to be extreme lengths to go to for what is now a globally accepted method of food production."

"I emailed them to ask what evidence they had based their non GM policy on and was referred back to the web page I had quoted in my initial query (http://www.marksandspencer.com/Food-Manufacturing-Our-Food-Policies-About-Our-Food-MS-Foodhall-Food-Wine/b/46528031). When I probed further, I was told that they had no information beyond that of the web page and I would have to contact the head office for specifics, which I duly did."

"They seemed superficially helpful and said they would contact one of their nutritionists and get back to me. I had specifically asked for the academic, peer-reviewed data that they had based their non GM policy on – I was told that "the sources that have influenced the decision are confidential" which I took to mean unpublished or unpublishable. It also became clear that the overriding reason behind the non GM policy is due to "customer concerns" from 1999."

"I have asked that they make it clear on their website that the reasoning behind the removal of GM products is based on a customer survey not scientific evidence. I look forward to their response."
View
Ask for Evidence
Why are the SPAR's babywipes 'paraben free'
Stefan Piatek
17/04/2013
"I saw that SPAR was selling babywipes listed as paraben free. I asked them why they decided to use a formulation for babywipes that was paraben free. They quoted an EU recommendation and a Daily Mail article: 'SPAR is following recommendations from the European Commission which states that propyl and butyl parabens should not be used in leave-on products for the nappy area intended to be used on children under six months old.'"

"As the EU recommendation is for leave-on nappy area products to be paraben free this seems a reasonable basis creating for a paraben free formulation."
View
Ask for Evidence
On what evidence have Asda based their no GM foods in their own brand policy?
Duncan Casey
17/04/2013
"I was interested in the evidence behind the anti-GM stance taken by a number of UK supermarkets - by ASDA in particular, as their parent company, WalMart, sells GM food to its US customers that the UK subsidiary refuses to stock. Assuming the US operation isn't trying to poison its customers, customer safety can't be the driving issue - so what is?"

"I contacted ASDA customer services to ask about the basis for their policy, which is, "led by our customers" according to their policy statement. However, their staff were unwilling, or unable, to provide any further information beyond the vague statements on the website; I can only conclude that their stance is led more by scare stories in the press than by any real evidence."
View

VoYS pinboard

  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

Share VoYS on: