Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The 2 percent rule

I admit that the main reason for my research is that I am, by nature, someone who is distrustful of the status quo.

Can you blame me? All my life I've been from doctor to doctor to doctor. I've had asthma, allergies, stress fractures...I've experienced a lifetime in partnership with a body that, frankly, hasn't worked all that well at times.

After I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I failed on standard therapies -- big time. I did my own research, and got better. Hmm. Once I figured out that my doctor did NOT, in fact, know everything, I became a bit dangerous I suppose.

And then after my son was diagnosed with autism, I thought I could probably do better than those experts who were managing my son's care -- and I did.

So when I joined Pecanbread and started SCD, a few individuals were tossing around this much hailed 2 percent rule.

This rule, as told to me, is that manufacturers don't have to tell you if there is 2 percent or less of an ingredient in a store-bought food product.

I was curious as to the origin of this little gem, so I went poking around the Internet. I figured this was something I could easily find, since it seemed to be a rather widespread notion.

But on my first few passes, I found nothing at all.


So I started looking a bit further, a bit further and...I landed on some materials from the FDA about food labeling. Cool.

The first page I found here explains in very plain English about labeling laws for food. It explains that ingredients must be listed in order of predominance by weight.

Thus, whatever weighs the most is listed first. Whatever weighs the least is listed last.

OK. Fine. Got that. But no mention of this 2 percent business.

Onward. I found a page that was a sort of op-ed that talked about food labeling and how it affects the Jewish community, in regards to finding kosher foods. Kosher foods were such a godsend. It was so easy to find dairy free stuff with that little Kosher Pareve thing on it back in the day! But I digress.

I didn't really read that page, but it mentioned the 2 percent rule as a mythical thing, sort of like unicorns. But it cited a source! *happy dance*

The source was listed like so:

21 CFR 101.4(a)

Hmm, that's not really plain English. OK, let's keep going. Oh hey, if you go back to the first link I posted, there's this itty bitty little link under the title that says...

Food Labeling CFR References.

And right there are all of those source code thingies! So if you click on the code in question...you get a big long page but here's the important part:

(2) The descending order of predominance requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section do not apply to ingredients present in amounts of 2 percent or less by weight when a listing of these ingredients is placed at the end of the ingredient statement following an appropriate quantifying statement, e.g., “Contains _ percent or less of ___” or “Less than _ percent of ___.” The blank percentage within the quantifying statement shall be filled in with a threshold level of 2 percent, or, if desired, 1.5 percent, 1.0 percent, or 0.5 percent, as appropriate. No ingredient to which the quantifying phrase applies may be present in an amount greater than the stated threshold.

So what does that mean to YOU?

It does not mean that ingredients with less than 2 percent do not have to be listed. It says that they ARE listed...but they don't have to be in order of weight once they get to that small of an amount.

So basically, the whole 2 percent rule is pretty much fallacy.

Does that mean that we can just trust food labels willy nilly then?

Come on, you didn't think it would be that easy, did you? Nah, of course not!

Here's item 7 from that first link I posted, which states, "Is it necessary to declare trace ingredients?"

It depends on whether the trace ingredient is present in a significant amount and has a function in the finished food. If a substance is an incidental additive and has no function or technical effect in the finished product, then it need not be declared on the label. An incidental additive is usually present because it is an ingredient of another ingredient. Sulfites are considered to be incidental only if present at less than 10 ppm.

OK, pardon me, but it says that if something is added that has no function or technical effect in the product, then why the hell would it be there in the first place?

But ingredient of another ingredient, that I get. That's why you can't buy most products "from concentrate" because who the heck knows went into the concentrate? Sugar? Flavorings? Babies?

Thankfully there's another reference which directs you to another boring page that talks about EXEMPTIONS in food labeling laws! Huzzah!

So, one of the points on said boring page is as follows:

Substances that have no technical or functional effect but are present in a food by reason of having been incorporated into the food as an ingredient of another food, in which the substance did have a functional or technical effect.

Mhmm. So a starch or sweetener can be added to an ingredient. A simple example? A soup that lists garlic powder as an ingredient, but doesn't mention that starch was added to the garlic powder so it wouldn't cake together.

So while the 2 percent rule is a little simplistic, and kind of inaccurate, it STILL doesn't mean it's safe to open up your canned tomatoes, kids. Sorry.


Kristen Bays said...

That's why you can't buy most products "from concentrate" because who the heck knows went into the concentrate? Sugar? Flavorings? Babies?

Why do you think Sunny Delight always uses such cute youngsters in their ads. Truth in advertising laws require them show their food product undoctored.

Sunny Delight, now with moar behbehs.

The SCD girl said...


I really never liked Sunny D. It was always kind of thick and oily tasting. Blech.


rp said...

Thanks for the research. I did find a "5%" rule but after reading your post I'm not sure if it applies to the US food.

The "Codex Alimentarius", which sets worldwide food standards, has the following line:

Where a compound ingredient (for which a name has been
established in a Codex standard or in national legislation) constitutes less than 5% of the food, the ingredients, other
than food additives which serve a technological function in the finished product, need not be declared.

The PDF of is available here: www.codexalimentarius.net/download/standards/32/CXS_001e.pdf

One question is whether imported food adheres to FDA or to the Codex . . .

The SCD girl said...

Hi RP,

The Codex is indeed a worldwide standard. It's notorious in gluten free communities, because Codex maintains that 200 ppm of gluten is adequate for gluten free status. As many celiacs know, 200 ppm is a TON of gluten and will definitely cause a reaction in sensitive people.

That standard that you referenced is pretty similar to the FDA standard, actually. An ingredient of an ingredient need not be declared.

Kind of sad, but it explains why 100 percent juice for concentrate is almost never actually 100 percent juice. At least Codex says that the ingredient of the ingredient cannot be more than 5 percent of the finished product. I don't think the FDA has that kind of stipulation, which makes me think the Codex standard may be better than the FDA's in this instance.

Thanks for stopping by!

Susan :)