Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
September 13, 2007
Title: Packaged Foods Exposed IV - Unilever II
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Lisa Tang
Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing
Dinner, produced and recorded at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British
Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman your weekly host for this one-hour exploration of
our food system. The program is currently heard weekly on 25 Canadian radio
stations and is available as a Podcast.
Today's show marks part II of an examination of one of the
larger packaged foods companies operating in the country, and that is Unilever,
headquartered in both the UK and the Netherlands. This 2-part series makes up
the fourth episode in an ongoing series here on the program titled Packaged Foods Exposed, created to help
better introduce us to the companies who are exerting the heaviest influence on
Canada's food supply. As we are often presented with a constant parade of
positive advertising by many of these companies, this series will examine
another side to these companies that advertising dollars can't buy, and that is
placing manufacturers in a more critical light.
On last week's broadcast we spent the full one hour
exploring the history of margarine and some of the current issues this staple
of Canadian refrigerators is involved in. We discovered Unilever's heavy
influence in helping shape Canada's agricultural systems, and as is currently
the case, the company's ongoing fight to repeal the last remaining margarine colouration ban in the world, where the
province of Quebec prohibits the sale of any margarine products resembling the colour of butter.
And on today's broadcast I will share some interesting
evidence that was uncovered just in this past week that relates to this
margarine colouration ban.
We will explore the historical and current health impacts of margarine, and how
Unilever has responded to such health concerns. Unilever has both historically
and recently had a heavy influence on life in the oceans, and we will hear from
Greenpeace's Oliver Knowles about their most recent
impact on the depletion of cod stocks in the Baltic Sea. Unilever also controls
roughly 25 percent of the Canadian ice-cream market, and this broadcast will
look into some similar tactics the company has used in the world of margarine
that are quietly being applied to many of the company's ice-cream products. We
will be joined by Nelson's Geoff Ross-Smith, owner of Kootenay Kreamery, a small independent ice-cream manufacturer who
found out first hand how Unilever has begun removing real milk and cream from
their products. We will learn of a misleading website the company maintains
that seemingly violates Canadian laws, and we will hear from Professor Joe
Cummins of London, Ontario's University of Western Ontario, who has been very
involved in the opposition to a controversial ingredient entering into
Unilever's ice-cream products around the world, an ingredient that replicates
the DNA found in a fish. All of this, and more, will make up this shocking part
IV of the Packaged Foods Exposed series here on Deconstructing Dinner.
increase music and fade out
On part I of this 2-part exploration of global consumer
products company Unilever, we honed in on the company's influence in
challenging Quebec's current ban on the colouration of margarine. Quebec has long maintained a law that
prohibits the sale of any margarine products that resemble the colour of butter. Such a ban is in place to protect dairy
farmers who argue that the product misleads consumers and the advertising
campaigns by the many margarine companies operating in Canada even agree that
it's sometimes very difficult to tell them apart.
Now as part of the research that went into this issue, I did
contact one of the handful of people I know living in
Quebec to ask them, about the margarine products they have in their kitchens,
and you won't believe what I found. Sitting in the refrigerator of one of my
family members living in Montreal is a margarine that not only is the exact colour of butter, the label indicates it's a "buttery
spread," and even more shocking, does not contain the required French language
written on the label. The entire product is labelled in English. The product is called Smart
Balance and is produced by a company going by the name of GFS Brands. Produced
in New Jersey, the product is being illegally imported and then purchased by
one of the franchised IGA grocery stores operating in the Cote-St-Luc area of
the city. I contacted the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,
and asked them that if a complaint were to be filed, how the ministry would go
about responding to such a complaint. I was informed that any complaint would
need to go through the Ministry of Health's regional inspection branch, and
they would then include the complaint on their list of things to inspect upon
their next visit to the store. Upon recognizing the product is also not labelled in French, they would pass such information along
to the province's office of the French language, who
is responsible for such violations. Now, this is a process that we've chosen to
not undertake, but I had contacted the manager of the Montreal IGA grocery
store in question and asked him if they carried any margarine that were the colour of butter, and his response, no, we are not allowed
So, we can be assured of one thing, that when a province
makes attempts to protect their local agriculture, there will often be both
producers and retailers looking for ways to undermine such protections in an
age where supporting local agriculture is of paramount importance.
And you're tuned in to
Deconstructing Dinner. A reminder that if you miss any of today's broadcasts or
did not catch part 1 of this 2-part series, you can access it through our
website at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
Now what I know comes as a
surprise to me upon undertaking the research that went into this broadcast, is
that for our previous episode, we were able to spend the full one hour covering
the topic of margarine, yet were also able to not cover what is probably the
most well-known issue surrounding the product - health.
commercial: You Goodluck margarine
gives you both preferred unsaturates and preferred flavours, preferred unsaturates
for those most concerned about in our family diet plus delicious flavor your
whole family will prefer - preferred unsaturates and
preferred flavouring. You Goodluck margarine gives you both
at no extra cost.
JS: It was only a short while ago that trans fats became
a recognized concern among processed food consumers around the world, and
margarine was indeed pinpointed as one of a number of primary culprits in the
mass consumption of such dangerous components in our food. As is now widely
known, trans fats are formed during partial hydrogenation, a process used by
manufacturers like Unilever to harden and stabilize liquid vegetable oils and
prolong shelf life.
Now this is a pretty recent issue,
it was only back in 2005 that Canada regulated the mandatory labelling of trans fats on prepackaged food. The concerns
over trans fats really began heating up around 2003, but such recent concerns
don't help illustrate the history of the knowledge behind trans fats.
Questions were first raised about
their presence in foods dating back to 1956 following research published in The Lancet. It was consequently stated
that hydrogenation of vegetable oils could have contributed to the causation of
coronary artery disease. The issue rested on the kitchen table until the early
90s, when ongoing studies were released concluding a causal link between trans
fat consumption and coronary heart disease. And so what happened here in
Canada, well, the use of partially hydrogenated oils continued to increase, and
by the mid-1990s, researchers estimated that Canadians had one of the highest
intakes of trans fats in the world.
Operating as one of the leading margarine producers in the
country, Unilever, the focus of today's broadcast, didn't budge. They continued
to produce their margarine brands such as Blue Bonnet and I Can't Believe It's
Not Butter, both of which contained trans fats. Now it wasn't until around 2003
that some companies began adjusting their production methods and removing trans
fats from their products. In March of 2004, Unilever announced that they had
removed trans fats from all of their soft margarine brands that were previously
not trans fat free. While the announcement may come across as a positive one,
Canada's most popular margarine, which is also a Unilever product, has never in
its history contained any trans fats... and that product is Becel.
Unilever also manufactured Fleischmann's margarine at the time of this
announcement, which also offered non-hydrogenated varieties. But Unilever
nevertheless continues to produce hard margarines that do contain trans
fats such as their Blue Bonnet and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter brands. Now
it would be one thing to suggest that consumers can decide whether consuming
trans fats is a concern or not, this is often the argument by many of the major
food companies in North America - that the consumer can make their own
decisions. But what happens when a company misleads the public into believing
their products are trans fat free when they indeed are not?
And I'll say it quite bluntly that Unilever should be
ashamed for the tactics they use on their American-based I Can't Believe It's
Not Butter website. Listed under the product information for each individual
product is a paragraph that among other text highlights this, "no trans fats
per serving." Now this is listed under every product. But if you read the
sentence before this highlighted claim, it reads this, "try the tub for a
spread with ......no trans fats per serving." That first part of the sentence is
not highlighted and is referring to the fact that each product under the I
Can't Believe It's Not Butter brand comes in either a soft or hard version. The
images that feature the different products feature a soft tub of the product
with the hard version hiding (and it literally is hiding behind the soft
version). So website visitors are able to click on the products to get more
info. So I clicked on the original variety and located on the left hand side of
the screen is a logo that reads "no trans fat." Beside that is the nutritional
information for the soft version of the product which does not contain
any trans fats. But scrolling down the same page,
visitors arrive at the nutritional info for the hard version, which does
contain a whopping 2.5g of trans fats, a figure that is in direct opposition to
the misleading "no trans fat" logo listed on the top of the page.
So let's revisit the trans fat science here for a second,
because it seems as though misleading the consumer becomes a pretty serious
issue when it's misleading them about a serious health concern.
Well for one, Sally Brown, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke
Foundation has once stated this, "Trans Fats are not a choice, they're a
killer." The foundation estimates consumption of trans fat accounts for 3,000
to 5,000 Canadian deaths from heart disease annually. In the United States, as
far back as 1994, it was estimated that approximately 30,000 premature coronary
heart disease deaths annually could be attributable to consumption of trans
fatty acids. In 1998, a study affiliated with Health Canada determined that 11
percent of dietary trans fats were being supplied by margarine. And so here is
Unilever, not only continuing to produce margarines with trans fats, but are
furthermore misleading the public through, at least in this example, one of
their brand's websites. And I encourage you to visit the site and check out for
yourself at www.tasteyoulove.com.
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter advertisement: When
it comes to cooking and food advice, there are a lot of people who want to time
in. We decided to check in with the experts, and I Can't Believe It's Not
Butter. To give us a little perspective on eating healthy, but also eating
well, you already know, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter as the low fat
alternative to the butter. But, you may that it's not about eating healthy,
when it comes to taste, they're all about eating
delicious too. We stop at their test kitchen in New Jersey to see what tips and
advice they have to offer and to see if there is anything new that we need to
know. And I Can't Believe It's Not Butter always makes sure that you don't
sacrifice great taste for healthier eating. As a matter of fact, all the taste
without the guilt is kind of a company motto.
I Can't Believe
It's Not Butter products are great for consumers because they provide the rich
delicious buttery flavor that consumers are looking for. But, our soft products
are low in saturated fat and have zero grams of trans fatty acids and are
It's not secret that portion sizes
are getting bigger and bigger. I Can't Believe It's
Not Butter's sprays are a great way to add flavor. Just five sprays and you get
a lot of flavor with zero calories and zero fat. In fact, we've come up with a
lot of really flavourful recipes
here in the test kitchen using I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray. One of my
favourites is the shrimp with garlic toasted breadcrumbs.
You can get lots more recipes just by going to tasteyoulove.com
A visit to I Can't Believe It's
Not Butter is always filled with great food, and it's good to know you don't
have to sacrifice your figure or your health to enjoy it.
JS: And this is Deconstructing
Dinner and the second part of a two-part series focusing on the company Unilever.
This two-part show is part of our ongoing Packaged Foods Exposed series here on
Now the questionable actions by Unilever
and their approach to educating the public about the health implications of
their products took an even more startling turn when coming across a statement
found on the company's Canadian website. Unilever's Becel
margarine has long been known as a product that does not contain trans fats,
and located on the Becel web page of the Unilever website,
visitors are presented with this sentence, "For more than forty years, Unilever
has played a leading role in helping consumers maintain healthy hearts." Such a
statement leaves Canadians wondering, where has this company been for the past
40 years, where as mentioned just earlier, it is now common knowledge that the
trans fats that were historically in their products and continue to remain, are
proven to have deadly effects on our health. How the company justifies having
played a leading role in maintaining healthy hearts is a mind-boggling
statement given such accepted information that has been placed before the
Now Unilever's Becel
has been marketing their product alongside heightened concerns over heart
disease for quite some time. The marketing efforts by the company have
aggressively connected the product to leading heart healthy lives. The Becel Canada website itself is riddled with more
information on healthy hearts than it is filled with information about the
product itself. And in just a moment we will visit with some of this
information, but first let's travel to India, where Unilever maintains the
largest stake in consumer goods through their Hindustan Lever division. One of
the tools used by the company in India to market their products, is by
promoting their Network Marketing division whereby any member of the public can
sign up and begin earning rewards by undertaking the marketing of Unilever
products for the company. Hindustan Lever developed a promotional video that
introduces their network marketing division, hoping to recruit new marketers
wishing to make some money. And the message and tone of the video may surprise
you, as it is reminiscent of the science fiction stories depicting a society
that brainwashes its citizens. In fact, watching this video reminded me of
George Orwell's 1984. And how the company structures the message in this video
is strikingly similar to how they market Becel here
in Canada. So let's first take a listen to some audio segments from this
Hindustan Lever video. In this first one, we learn of the network marketing
division's ability to "change your life forever."
Hindustan advertisement: We are all human, we all dream,
we all aspire. Those who dream bigger and aspire more turn their dreams into
reality. They seize the right opportunities and spend far more fulfilling lives
both emotionally and financially. Think, what if you are presented that one
opportunity that could change your life forever? That one opportunity that
could turn your dreams into reality? That one opportunity that would let you
get more out of life? That's what Hindustan Lever Network offers you. Hindustan
Lever Networks road to success is true with incredible opportunities and every
opportunity brings rewards. Don't let time pass you by. Wouldn't you want to
look back later in life and know that you made the right decision and
succeeded? Hindustan Lever Network offers you the opportunity to make your
dreams real now. Go ahead, make the decision now. Let this decision that you
make today be the start of your successful tomorrow.
JS: One of the most common
criticisms of the advertising we are bombarded with daily,
is that much of it is ultimately trying to sell happiness. Such efforts can
indeed be dangerous, as defining what happiness is is
perhaps one of the most philosophical and debatable questions facing humankind.
But in this next segment we learn that Unilever is very much in the business of
selling happiness, and their definition, or equation for happiness is that
time, money and security is happiness - certainly a common belief, but equally
certain as an equation that for many, isn't working. Take a listen.
Hindustan advertisement: Welcome to a unique and
fulfilling business opportunity from Hindustan Lever Network. Let's take a look
at the harsh reality of life today. The stresses of day to day life, the ever
increasing costs of living, growing family needs such as education for your
children, saving for your dreams and aspirations, new car, bigger home, more
holidays, the list is never ending. How do you make ends meet with limited and
uncertain earnings? Life passes by while you are busy earning desperate to save
and invest in your family's future. But then, when does life begin? After
you've grown tired trying to save for it? You need three things that make your
life worth living: time, money, and security. Time into money into security is
equal to happiness. If even one of these elements is missing, you are left
unhappy. Leverage time to your benefit - time to indulge in your favourite hobbies, to spend with your loved ones. Establish
an unlimited source of money - money to fulfill all your wishes. Enough so that you never have to worry about spending anymore.
Enjoy security for generations - security so that even if you do not go to work
for some time, your earnings remain stable for future expenses. There's only
one way to get all three - network marketing. Hindustan Lever Network your
partner in success. This is the kind of business that gives you time, the power
to add more hours into your day. Money, from I cannot afford it. Your situation
changes to I know how I can afford it. Security, your earnings come to you even
if you are away from work for long periods of time. This opportunity comes to
you from Hindustan Lever Network a division of Hindustan Lever Limited, India's
largest consumer good's company. Hindustan Lever Network,
is a golden business opportunity that gets it straight from Unilever. Hindustan
Lever Limited, Unilever, the parent company of Hindustan Lever Limited is a
global giant in consumer goods with a turnover of more than 50 billion US
dollars and products sold in over 150 countries.
JS: Let's take a listen again to
Unilever's definition of happiness.
Time into money into security is equal to happiness.
JS: And again those clips are
taken from a promotional video produced by Unilever's Indian operations,
Hindustan Lever. The video is designed to recruit Indians to join their network
marketing operations which provide rewards depending on how much product is
sold to neighbours and friends.
Now as Canadians, one would probably be
left assured that such manipulative and archaic tactics of using the stresses
and challenges of daily life to help sell a company's products would not exist
here. But taking a visit to Unilever Canada's Becel website
at becel.ca suggests otherwise.
Located on the main page of the website
are dozens of references to our hearts, including among others, the Becel slogan - "Love Your Heart." But of the four main
options to choose from at the top of the page is one titled, "Your Heart." Upon
selecting the option, a number of subcategories appear, Women and Heart
Disease, Physical Activity, Stress Management, Smoking Cessation, Heart Healthy
Living, but wait a minute, was that stress management. How does a margarine
product relate to stress management, and wasn't this also a heavily used
reference in the Hindustan Lever video. Users who venture in to this page on
stress management are greeted with a long list of many serious issues that many
people are faced with. One of these options is titled "How to Nurture Your
Relationships." That's right, Becel
is consulting their customers on how to manage relationships. They suggest
spending quality time with your family, writing letters to far-away loved ones,
volunteering at your place of worship or scheduling a date night with your
partner. But here is what's most manipulative, that at the bottom of the page,
and that goes for each page relating to managing stress, are 1 or 2 links to
other articles relating to food - a convenient strategy to connect the stresses
of everyday living to, well Becel. So in this case,
upon advising customers about how to nurture relationships, visitors are then
directed to a page that suggests how to choose heart healthy margarines.
Let's take a look at some other
suggestions a global food company has on managing stress. One page is titled channel your anger. Unilever indicates
that "Anger is a natural emotion." The page suggests options for channeling
your anger such as problem solving, assertiveness, and diversions. And there,
at the bottom of the page, is a link to an article titled, Share the gift of
nutrition, which includes links to dessert recipes using Becel
Now these marketing tactics go on, for
quite some time. Using these tactics to quickly explore the rest of this
section on Stress, Unilever seems to be suggesting that Becel
can help solve sadness by eating Becel Salt Free
Margarine. Becoming happier can be achieved by purchasing Becel
Margarine or Becel Oil. Managing stress in ten
minutes or less can be achieved through using Becel
whenever possible when preparing baked goods.
You can check out more on these marketing
strategies by visiting becel.ca. And to wrap up this segment, here is the
manipulative Unilever advertising that takes the cake (that is of course cake
made with Becel). Listen to this recent
advertisement, and pay attention to the position of the words right at the end
of the ad.
Becel advertisement: Follow it. Break it. Change it. Don't do it if
it's not in it. Get it pumping. Pour it out to someone. Keep your loved ones
close to it, whether it's cold, warm, or made with stone. Take good care of it.
Exercise and listen to it. It's the most important thing you'll ever own. Becel, love your heart.
JS: And you're tuned in to
Deconstructing Dinner a weekly one-hour program produced at Kootenay Co-op
Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman. Today's broadcast marks
the second of a two-part series on global consumer goods company Unilever, who,
headquartered in the UK and the Netherlands, operates their Canadian operations
from Toronto. The focus up until now has been on Unilever's significant stake
in the country's brands of margarine, including Imperial, I Can't Believe It's
Not Butter, Blue Bonnet, Becel, and Fleischmann's.
But there's another line of foods that
the company removed from their lineup within the past year, and that is
Unilever's former European frozen fish brands known as Igloo and Birds Eye. Now
while the company has since sold these brands to a private equity firm, a look
into Unilever's management of these brands up until the end of 2006 is
important in order to better get acquainted with this company who exerts such
considerable influence on Canadian agriculture, food, and health.
Now the role this company has had through
these brands of frozen fish can actually be connected to the company's historic
production of margarine (and you thought I was done with margarine). When
Unilever began producing margarine in Europe in 1878 (although it was not
called Unilever until 1930), producers were using among other ingredients,
Whale Oil. Prior to World War II, the margarine of Great Britain and Germany
was about 40 percent whale oil. Whale oil was even being used in margarine
products and ice-cream up until around 1960. Around that time, in one year,
floating whale factories processed 6,158 blue whales, 17,989 finback whales,
2,108 humpback whales, and 2,566 sperm whales (and these are only those that were
Now in a 1940 book titled Whale Oil, Karl
Brandt of Stanford University indicated that the large proportion of the whale
oil output was purchased by, you guessed it, Unilever. And yet again in a 1994
publication titled Living Off the Sea, the author writes, "behind the scenes,
the world's biggest food producing company, Unilever, was pulling the strings."
So as we can see it, Unilever had a
significant stake in the widespread pillaging of the ocean for whale oil, which
as most are probably aware, led to a dangerous decline in the population of
many whale species and an eventual worldwide ban on commercial whaling
commencing in 1986.
Unilever's willingness to deplete stocks
of sea life continued up until just recently, because Birds Eye, a company they
owned from 1957 until 2006, along with the brand Igloo, had been pinpointed by
Greenpeace as one of the major purchasers of illegal cod being fished in the
The cod stocks in the region are on the
brink of collapse, with advice coming from scientific advisory boards being
ignored by the countries in the region setting quotas. On top of what are said
to be insufficient protections, is the ongoing illegal harvesting of cod, which
in a recent report released by Greenpeace titled "The Cod Fishery in the Baltic
Sea," indicates that 30% of the cod caught fits into the illegal category. One
of the major scientific advisory boards to the European Union is known as ICES
- the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
To first learn more about this issue, I
spoke with Oliver Knowles, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace UK based in
London. Oliver first describes who ICES is.
Oliver Knowles: Well, I mean ICES is the International Council for
the Exploration of the Sea, and they are essentially the body charged with
recommending to governments in Europe and around the world recommended quotas
for particular types of seafood and fish species. ICES only of course makes
recommendations to governments and for governments to heed the advice or
otherwise. But ICES is certainly in the view of Greenpeace that represents the
best available science on the status of fisheries around the world, and we do
encourage governments strongly to heed the advice given by ICES each year.
ICES has been
the leading body advising the nations of the European Union on recommended
quotas for fishing cod out of the Baltic Sea. Oliver Knowles outlines these
Oliver Knowles: ICES has been recommending a zero catch of cod in
the Eastern Baltic for about five years. So it's very clear the sign is
suggesting there is a looming crisis in this particular fishery. The overall
biomass is massively reduced its original status. Unfortunately, what we have
here are governments routinely ignoring that advice given for a variety of
different reasons not least the pressure brought to bear on them from the
fishing industry itself, which tends to operate in a very hand-to-mouth way. In
actual fact, Greenpeace is not anti-fishing here what we want to see is a sustainable
fishery in this part of the world and into the future, but of course that means
taking some urgent and quite difficult decisions at this stage in order to
protect the stock into the future.
JS: As the quotas recommended by
ICES have long been ignored, there is an even greater concern given that on top
of the actual quotas set, a significant catch of cod is being extracted above
and beyond the quotas themselves.
Oliver Knowles: Again, the ICES advice was clear that the catch
should be zero, but the quotas were set at many thousands of tons, although I
don't have the statistics in front of me. A significant amount of cod was being
taken out of the Baltic Sea, and each year, which of course is further
exacerbating the problem. And of course the issues around illegal fishing in
this particular part of the world are further exacerbating the problem. And
there is great evidence to suggest that there is an awful lot of inaccurate
recording of landings and many vessels are fishing over their quota. But there
are transshipments at sea which allow vessels to land more than just their
quota. So we have not just a quota which is in contradiction of the scientific
advice, but we actually have illegal fishing which is taken way above the
limits set by the government. In fact, we have a situation of real chaos at sea
where a massive number of fish continue to be taken each year.
JS: Now coming back to Unilever's
role in this when they were managing two of Europe's largest frozen fish brands
up until the end of 2006, Oliver Knowles indicated that tracking how much of
this illegally caught fish was ending up in the company's Igloo and Birdseye
brands was too difficult. Greenpeace nevertheless approached Unilever and have
pinpointed them on the number of processors sourcing their cod from the region.
OK: We've had a long history of
working with Unilever, and in fact, Unilever's involvement with fisheries is
long-standing and instrumental in sending out the green stewardship council
which of course one of the leading independent eco labels for fisheries
products. We've worked alongside them for a number of years. It was clear that
Unilever were instrumental in cod crises. They were a very large company taking
a very large amount of fish from this part of the sea. The situation of course
now has changed and Unilever has sold all of its frozen food brands Igloo and
Birdseye to a private equity company called Primera. So
the situation has changed but Unilever in a sense were a well recognized brand,
and therefore quite responsive to pressure from Greenpeace over the longer
term. Greenpeace's role was to attempt to move
companies performing in an unstable way away from these fisheries. It's often a
very difficult thing for these companies to do and to actually make these
policy changes work on the ground.
JS: One of the responses Unilever
gave to Greenpeace's pressure placed upon the company
was the following, "Unilever felt comfortable purchasing from the region,
given European Commission proposals that fishing continue there, and added that
withdrawing from fishing in that area would increase the pressures in other
comments on this response.
OK: I don't think that's any kind of excuse for
continuing to fish stocks where the scientific advice is very clear that there
is a problem. There is an issue about something of pressure around the world. But
what we have to be doing, and I think collaboratively between environmental
groups like Greenpeace and big companies like Unilever and others, is finding a
way to first of all, to identify those stocks around the world which we can
fish, we can manage sustainably. It's not just Greenpeace's
role to find those fisheries; industry plays an important part of that role as
well. I would suggest that it is something of a fudge of the issue for Unilever
to claim as an excuse for continuing to fish from a massively overfished stock.
JS: Now Canadians know all too
well what happens when a cod stock collapses. There was much prediction when
the stocks off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland collapsed that they would
eventually return. There are now many saying that this may never happen. In
closing out my conversation with Oliver Knowles of Greenpeace, he addressed the
seriousness of this similar scenario in the Baltic Sea.
OK: I think it's very clear that we have a major
problem in the Eastern Baltic Sea. The ecosystem is changing dramatically as a
consequence of overfishing which has been in place there. People these days
tend to think of cod as a relatively small fish, about the size of a fish you
have on top of chip. But, of course it wasn't so long ago that cod coming out
of the seas were substantially larger, even just going back to the 1960s, an
average cod was around 1.25 metres and that's an
awful lot more than the cod we are pulling out the sea right now. It's quite
clear that there is massive and rapid change taking place within this ecosystem
and rather like the situation that occurred off the Grand Banks, there are fishermen,
there are scientists and academics who are warning of the potential collapse of
this cod's stock. So all the ingredients for disaster are there and it feels a
little bit like we're waiting for that collapse to happen. Greenpeace is
calling on politicians to heed the ICES crisis and really stop this fishery,
stop the fishing effort, to give these stocks a chance to recover.
JS: And this is Deconstructing
Dinner, and that was Oliver Knowles, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace based
in London, England. You can learn more about Greenpeace's
efforts by visiting the links on the Deconstructing Dinner website at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
As we continue on with our examination of global food
manufacturer Unilever, we arrive at another line of products the company
produces around the world - ice-cream. Here in Canada, Unilever controls about
25% of the market with brands such as Breyers, Ben
and Jerry's, Klondike, Good Humor, Cadbury, Reese, Skor
and Oh Henry Ice-cream Bars.
Unilever's approach to their ice-cream products doesn't
differ so much from long-standing efforts to move the Canadian population off
of dairy products such as butter. Now you may ask how an ice-cream producer
could possibly do this take Canadians off of dairy, but to an extent, they are,
and we can look back on two previous broadcasts of Deconstructing Dinner when
we explored the increasing presence of modified milk ingredients being found in
Canadian dairy products.
Pick up many cheeses, yogurt,
or ice-cream products, and one may not find any mention of milk or cream, but
instead find modified milk ingredients. As was learned during our April
Packaged Foods Exposed feature on Kraft Foods, many manufacturers are choosing
to bypass the more expensive fluid milk products and are opting for ingredients
such as milk protein concentrate (or MPC) an ingredient which begins as skim
milk, but then passes through a membrane to remove everything but the protein
in the milk itself. In 2004 alone, the Canadian ice-cream industry experienced
a 48 percent rise in imported butter oil and other milk ingredients. These
ingredients have now displaced over 50% of the milk for the ice-cream market in
country. And so just as dairy farmers have taken a significant hit by the
introduction of margarine in 1949, one of the same company's responsible for
this, Unilever, is now also increasingly doing the same with their ice-cream
products. As long been the protection for dairy farmers in Canada, our supply
management system has ensured that any imports of milk products require heavy
tariffs that in most cases restrict any desire to bring them into the country
in the first place. Many of the modified milk ingredients now making their way
into Canadian foods are bypassing these tariffs and entering the country tariff
free. From 2005 to 2006, protein concentrates imported into Canada tariff free
grew by 82%. Such increases have resulted in annual revenue loss for Canadian
dairy producers increasing from $58 million in 2005 and to $110 million in
2006. Now there are efforts currently underway to prevent this from happening,
but in the meantime, companies like Unilever are taking full advantage, and
have been doing so without letting the Canadian public know about it. One of
the most recognizable ice-cream brands on grocery store shelves and in
ice-cream freezers is Breyers, a company founded in
1882, and purchased by Unilever from Kraft Foods in 1993. Since then the
quality of what used to be known as all-natural ingredients in Breyers products, has gradually disappeared, and one
retailer of Breyers ice-cream noticed the difference
within the span of one-week.
Located just outside of
Nelson, British Columbia and not far from our radio station, is Geoff
Ross-Smith. Geoff had long operated an ice-cream stand in the community of
Ainsworth, where he sold Breyers Ice-cream. Within a
span of one-week, Geoff recognized a significant change in the flavour and texture of the product, yet no indication on
the label suggested any difference.
I invited Geoff Ross-Smith into or studios to share his
story with Deconstructing Dinner.
I was running a roadside stand in Ainsworth called Fruit of the Moon. The
first year I served Breyers. It was great, all
natural ice-cream. My second year, at the beginning, the first couple of weeks Breyers was still the same as the year before and then the
next week I bought it and now it was double churned with extra creamy taste
instead of the all natural. It was the naturally flavoured.
JS: I asked Geoff to describe
what differences he noticed in the ice-cream.
GR: The texture and the taste and the way it unfogged. With the all natural ice-cream, it was more of a
melt. It would let itself get even all around. This stuff just staying in the
shape that it was put there. I want to feel right about the food that I serve
to people. Once I realized that the recipe had been changed I really didn't
want to serve Breyers much at all.
JS: Following Geoff's discovery
that the recipe and quality of the Breyers Ice-cream
had indeed changed, he contacted the company regarding this change, and
Unilever indicated that the product line had been discontinued, but as Geoff
points out, the label never changed.
GR: I made enquires to the company and they told me they
were no longer carrying that product line although the packaging for that
product line hadn't changed at all. They had the blue and white which was the classic and the black and white which was the all
natural ice-cream. And now they have the blue and white and they have the black
and white, but it's no longer all natural, it's naturally flavoured.
But, to a person who has been buying it for the last 10 years who has all
natural ice-cream, they're just looking at the package,
they're not necessarily looking at the ingredients. And this company Unilever,
took over the company Breyer, once they changed the
ingredients, they had no interest in going back to the old recipe because it's
not very cost effective.
JS: Now as any responsible
company should do, even if it is a company discontinuing a product and
replacing it with one packaged the same way, some form of apology or
consolation is certainly called for. Geoff Ross-Smith describes how the company
responded to his concerns, and how he then decided to stand up to the company
and begin going into the production of ice-cream himself. Geoff launched the
company Kootenay Kreamery.
GR: They were willing to send me
some gift certificates. There, you can try another one of our crappy products. It's
like well forget it. So I bought an ice-cream machine it's just a little
2-litre one so I could make two litres at a time
everyday cause I have to throw it into the freezer in this bowl surrounded by
gel so it freezes up. So I started out that way and then I bought a little Cusine Art, which makes a quart and a half at a time every
hour and a half though so that it enabled me to do a little bit more ice-cream.
I still had to because of the demand, I had to
supplement the ice-cream that I was making with a Breyers,
unfortunately. There was nothing I could do, unless I was going to buy Häagen Daaz, at 7 dollars a
container. The ice-cream that I was making was selling for sure because people...
it was forced on people initially. Hey try this try this, it's fantastic. And
then I just had too much demand, and I couldn't produce enough. And then in my
third year, I got three more of the Cuisine Arts, so I tossed out Breyers altogether. It went out the door.
JS: Geoff's decision to challenge
the decline in the quality of Breyers Ice-cream by
creating his own is an inspiring story to say the least. But in an age where
the quality and safety of Canada's food supply is seeming
to decrease at a steady rate, Geoff's decision is perhaps a sign of hope in a
sea of cheaply made and bland food. But of course there are difficulties, as
Canadians have allowed such massive companies like Unilever to slowly assume
control of more and more of our food supply, launching a small-scale ice-cream
operation is a difficult venture, and Geoff describes the success of Kootenay Kreamery.
GR: It's definitely hard pressed
to say I'm making a living out of it. I have a wonderful girlfriend who
supports me basically from last year. It's relatively popular. I got about ten
stores. I definitely feel good about the product that I make. I use all natural
ingredients so the costs definitely are higher and I'm a much smaller company
so the work is all done by me basically and all my labelling
and packaging. It's really hard to get the company to that next level.
JS: And that was Geoff Ross-Smith,
owner of Kootenay Kreamery, an ice-cream manufacturer
based here in Nelson, British Columbia. Contact info for Geoff will be posted
on the Deconstructing Dinner website.
This issue whereby Canadian ice-cream is seemingly becoming
less and less like, ....well, ice-cream, is one of a number of examples of how
the major processed food manufacturers are influencing the food available to
Canadians. As we learned in part I of this 2 part series on Unilever, the
company is one of the world's leading purchasers of vegetable oil products -
margarine, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Bertolli olive
oils, soap, the list goes on, but ice-cream has also tended to contain some
vegetable oil as well, and one would wonder whether Unilever's aggressive
marketing of margarine and their steady replacement of Canadian dairy with
imported modified milk ingredients, is a suggestion that ice-cream is heading
in the same direction. Now we can rest assured that there are laws in Canada
that state that ice-cream must contain a specified percentage of solids from
milk fat in order for it to be called ice-cream. On part I of this Unilever
expose, we heard from Therese Beaulieu of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, and she
indicates that there are indeed products in grocery store freezers that resemble
ice-cream but are not actually ice-cream. I asked her if such an idea could be
true - is Unilever abandoning its reliance on dairy, and if they started to use
vegetable oils instead, what would the product be called.
wouldn't be called ice-cream; it would be called frozen desserts when oil is
used instead of butter fat. The debate is whether they are trying to replace
ice-cream or dairy products or something else, or they're just trying to
provide a different product. That's up for debate what the reason is for those
products to be there. But yes, there are products that are up on the shelves in
JS: Sure enough Therese is right.
As many Canadians may be unaware, there are a number of Breyers
products that are not legally allowed to be labelled
as ice-cream, yet certainly appear to be ice-cream. I wanted to explore
what some of these products were, and as I looked through the Breyers Canada website, I came across yet again, some very
misleading information being presented to consumers. Located on the left hand
side of the webpage are the Breyers product
categories - one of which is Packaged Ice-cream, and located under the packaged
ice-cream heading were at least six products that are not legally allowed to be
labeled as ice-cream in Canada. One of these products is Breyers
Double Churned Extra Creamy Fat Free Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk (and yes, that
is seriously the entire name). And while this product looks like ice-cream, it
is by law only allowed to be labelled as a frozen
dessert. Another one of the products that cannot legally be called ice-cream
but has snuck it's way into the company's ice-cream category on the website
contains ingredients such as palm oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, and margarine.
And so as we did during our last Packaged Foods Exposed
broadcast on Kraft Foods, we will yet again file a complaint with Advertising
Standards Canada regarding Unilever's misleading website. You can stay updated
on the website and track any progress of this complaint, or stay tuned to
future broadcasts of this series when we will provide an update for you then.
JS: And this is Deconstructing
Dinner. To wrap up this second and final part of our Unilever expose here on
the program, we will continue on the topic of ice-cream, but focus in on an
ingredient that Unilever has begun using in a number of their ice-cream
products around the world, an ingredient that may shock you.
Unilever has patented an ingredient that is making its way
into a number of Breyers products found in the United
States, Mexico, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, an ingredient that
is created through genetically modifying a yeast that in turn produces a
protein that aids in the creation of a product that can withstand longer transportation
without losing its consistency. Transporting ice-cream long distances can
indeed be hard on any frozen product, and what is being labelled
on products as an ice-structuring protein is the replication of the dna found in the blood of the ocean pout - a fish that
lives in arctic waters and can withstand extremely cold temperatures. You heard
it here, there are proteins created through the genetic modification of yeast
that mimic the DNA found in a fish! Now understandably this has raised intense
controversy and was mildly covered by American media about a year ago. In the
UK, this controversy has really heated up in recent months as Unilever has been
attempting to get the ingredient approved for the market there.
Two of the most outspoken groups opposing this ingredient
are the UK based Independent Science Panel and the Institute of Science in
Society, home to one of the most well-known critics of genetically modified
food, Mae Wan-Ho. On the board of the Independent Science Panel is Professor Emeritus
of Genetics, Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario based in London,
Ontario. Joe is one of the earliest critics of genetic engineering.
I caught up with Joe Cummins to learn more about what ice
structuring protein is and where it is coming from.
The ice-structuring protein is isolated from an arctic fish, the ocean
pouter. They isolate the genes from the pouter because there just aren't enough pouter around to supply the needs even though
they don't use a lot in ice-cream. But they take the genes from the pouter and
they have to fiddle them a bit to change certain sequences and alter gene
sequences and alter them in subtle ways. And then they insert them into baker's
yeast and grow them up in fermenters and isolate the
resulting protein from the yeast.
JS: Now any Canadian is probably
wondering if such an ingredient exists here, and Joe responds to such a
JC: The protein was approved by the US FDA roughly ten
years ago. One company has pretty well taken over the market in these
ice-structuring proteins and that's the Unilever which makes most of the brands
of ice-cream used in Canada and in fact, our collection of Unilever products. The
approval of the product in Canada was having a really hard time getting anyone
to acknowledge and approve the product use in Canada. But the reviews from New
Zealand and Australia, indicate the product is approved in Canada, but they
haven't really been very active to disclose the use of genetically modified
product in the ice-cream.
JS: As Joe Cummins is confident
that the ingredient exists here in Canada, I did choose to verify such
suggestions with Unilever themselves. Upon contacting Unilever's head office in
Toronto, I was told that the ingredient has not been approved for use here and
is not in any of their products.
Ben and Jerry's, another Unilever brand, has broken ranks
with their parent company and publicly announced that the ingredient will never
make its way into any of their products, a sigh of relief for anyone who consumes
their flavour that contains miniature chocolate fish.
But one of the major concerns posed by the Independent
Science Panel and the Institute for Science in Society, is the adequacy with
which the testing of the ingredient was put though.
issue is that they haven't really tested it on animals or extensively on human subjects.
Their testing on animals is very minimal and very short termed, so they said
earlier that because people in the Arctic ate a lot of pouter fish that it must
be safe, but the fact is it matters that it's not really the same thing, it's a
synthetic approximation of what the people in the arctic are eating. It's kind
of a quick and dirty way of dealing with the issue. But I thought in the area
of genetic modification there's a lot more public relations and there is actual
experimentation. You just have to really look at it carefully because the long
term consequences are profound.
JS: Now the first question that
comes to mind when recognizing how inadequate testing was on this controversial
ingredient, how could those at the United States Federal Department of
Agriculture for one, approve such a product. And Joe Cummins comments.
JC: FDA for example, and I have
been fighting with the approval in the US, these bureaucrats have very outvoted
opinion and that opinion is that the molecules DNA and RNA are completely
harmless and it's just a false belief. They always go back to these poor very
old studies from 20 years ago, and in the meantime they found that many many
DNAs, particularly the DNA from bacteria that is used a lot in immunology these
days, one of the side effects is that it can kill people. The RNAs they find in small RNAs, which are the ones that get
into this product they say is safe because they are small, but the small ones are the most dangerous. They find out that these small
RNAs... they went into some experiments with mice. They treated the mice
expecting that they would either be effective in producing or just harmless and
what happened is they killed off all the mice. They were so dumbfounded they
just went out and killed hundreds of mice. And they prepared 20 to 30 small RNA
preparations and they all killed the
mice. And yet, you go back to the bureaucrats and the FDA and they seem to
suffer some horrible brain death because they simply refuse to acknowledge this
and it's so strange that they do that.
JS: And that was Joe Cummins,
Professor Emeritus of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario located in
London, Ontario. More information on this issue will be posted on the
Deconstructing Dinner website at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner. Previous
Packaged Foods Exposed episodes can also be found archived on the website, and
this is an ongoing series, so do stay tuned for future broadcasts.
That was this week's edition of Deconstructing
Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op
Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy
of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.
This radio program is provided free of charge to
campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial
support from you the listener. Support for the program can be donated through
our website at deconstructingdinner.ca or by dialing 250-352-9600.