Catalyst Summer 2016

Sweet Victory on Added-Sugar Labeling

Added sugar label

Through reports, commentary, and activism, UCS pushed hard for better labeling of added sugar in foods.
illustration: Audrey Eyring/UCS

In May, after years of involvement by the Union of Concerned Scientists via testimony, reports, and fact sheets as well as activist and Science Network engagement, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized its decision to revise the Nutrition Facts label, requiring companies to declare the amount of “added sugars” in packaged food sold in the United States and to list a serving’s percentage of the recommended daily allowance for those sugars.

The new labels, which are required by 2018, represent a significant victory that reflects the mounting scientific evidence of the adverse health effects of added sugar. Nearly three-quarters of all packaged foods contain added sugar today, including many products consumers don’t normally think of as sweet, such as soup and crackers. But, until this ruling, there has been no way for consumers to see exactly how much sugar is being added to their food.

Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons of sugar a day, compared with the recommended limit of 12 teaspoons (based on a 2,000-calorie diet), and the scientific evidence has been steadily accumulating that eating too much sugar is associated with diabetes, obesity, and heart and liver disease—conditions that currently affect millions of Americans.

The Center for Science and Democracy at UCS strongly pushed for the public’s right to know about added sugar through analysis, commentary, meetings with decision makers, and by mobilizing more than 62,000 supporters, scientists, and public health professionals to write to the FDA.

UCS analyses also exposed the corporate misinformation about sugar that has, until now, blocked regulatory changes and continues to keep sugar-laden foods within easy reach of consumers, including children and busy parents. Our analysis of comments submitted to the FDA showed that the public strongly supported the measure, while opposition came almost exclusively from the food industry.

Of course, including information about added sugar on food packages is only one step in empowering consumers’ right to know about the food they eat. More work remains to reduce added sugar in our foods and to foster healthier diets for all Americans. Still, by shining a light on the tremendous amount of sugar that is added to food, and giving consumers an easier way to monitor their sugar intake, the FDA decision marks a milestone achievement for both science and public health.   

Go Geek Chic with UCS   

UCS store merchandise

Photo: Audrey Eyring/UCS

You might be surprised how often strangers approach our staff members when they are sporting limited-edition UCS-branded clothing, offering to literally buy the shirts off their backs. After hearing enough of such stories, we concluded that many folks yearn to display their love for science, and UCS. So, by popular demand, we are launching an online store featuring environmentally friendly gear that makes a statement.

Items include “Nobody Puts Science in a Corner” T-shirts and a slew of “Got Science?” gear that includes hoodies and onesies, all made from bamboo and or organic cotton. We also offer water bottles, bumper stickers, buttons, and a “Team Science” bike jersey. Proclaim your passion for science and your support for the work we do by visiting the new UCS store.

Getting Animated about Nuclear Weapons

End hair-trigger alert

A still from our video explaining why we should take our nuclear weapons off “hair-trigger” alert.
Video still: UCS

For more than a year, UCS has called on supporters and experts to urge the US president to take the country’s landbased nuclear weapons off “hair-trigger” alert status—one of the most simple and consequential steps we can take to reduce the risk of an accidental nuclear launch. This spring, UCS released a short animated video explaining the issue and what’s at stake. It has already reached the biggest audience of any UCS video to date, with more than 1.4 million views. 

UCS Calling—For You

This summer, we invited our entire membership to join a conference call with UCS President Ken Kimmell and several of our experts. On the agenda: a discussion about how UCS puts science into action. In a thought-provoking conversation, members heard updates from UCS scientists and analysts about our work defending science and fighting disinformation, promoting sustainable farming, ensuring that climate science guides water management, and advocating on behalf of the Clean Power Plan, among many other UCS priorities.

Our experts explained how UCS takes science off the shelf and into the field—including courtrooms, legislative chambers, farmlands, boardrooms, and communities on the front lines of climate change. Equally important, we got to hear from you. Members from across the country asked smart questions and offered insightful commentary and advice.

UCS staff members know how fortunate we are to have members who care so deeply about the work we do. We want you to know exactly what your support makes possible, and—whether by email, in person, or by phone—we always welcome the chance to hear from you. If you missed the call, you can dial (888) 266-2081 followed by access code 1673253 to hear a recording.  

Startling Texas Forecast Highlights Solar’s Growing Role

Solar power farm

The 95-megawatt Alamo 5 solar project in Uvalde, Texas, is one of the largest installations in the state.
Photo: OCI Solar Power

UCS energy analysts have long contended that renewable energy, if simply given the chance to get a foothold in the marketplace with the help of renewable energy standards and other mechanisms, would soon be able to compete head to head with fossil fuel energy. A recent assessment by a Texas electric grid operator is the latest to validate that view and, in so doing, is sending ripples through energy markets across the country.  

ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas), the entity that manages the flow of electric power to some 24 million Texas customers and about 90 percent of the state’s total electric load, just issued its predictions of where Texas will be able to find the cheapest electricity over the next 15 years. Its stunning forecast: solar power will not only offer the cheapest electricity for projected bulk power purchases in the state from 2017 to 2031, but its price is also so low already that no other type of power plants will likely be built in the state.

This assessment is remarkable for several reasons. First, competition to supply electricity is unfettered in Texas so existing power plants have no guarantees or privileged status. In this environment, ERCOT is claiming that solar can beat the cost of all other types of energy. ERCOT’s assessment also represents a clear case of economics overtaking politics: Texas is, ironically, leading the court fight against the federal carbon reduction requirements known as the Clean Power Plan. This stance is rendered purely symbolic, however, when the state’s own deregulated market is moving rapidly to cut carbon emissions anyway.  

ERCOT’s forecast underscores the success of years of prudent state renewable energy policies such as the renewable energy standard (RES). (For more on the history of UCS involvement in state renewable energy standards, see “Then and Now,” p. 18.) In Texas, these policies so successfully helped prime the pump for wind energy that they triggered a boom in wind development that met the state’s RES requirement 15 years ahead of schedule. Other states’ renewable energy standards have helped the solar industry expand so rapidly that prices have now dropped some 70 percent since 2009.  

Just as predicted by proponents of renewable energy standards, both wind and solar power—with just a small assist— have quickly been able to achieve equal footing in the marketplace with their fossil fuel counterparts. As UCS Senior Energy Analyst Mike Jacobs explains, “This latest assessment is a very significant development. With expected rises in natural gas prices and a trajectory of declining solar costs, what’s happening now in Texas is certain to spread to other states as well.” 

 “Plate of the Union” Food Truck Hits the Presidential Campaign Trail

Plate of the Union Food Truck

Look for this truck, sponsored by UCS and others in the HEAL Food Alliance, at a campaign
Illustration: Andrea DiMattina for Plate of the Union;

The next US president could play a pivotal role in helping to end the American public health crises of diabetes and obesity by ensuring healthy food is available to all. Bearing that in mind, UCS food experts, along with our partners at Food Policy Action (FPA) and the HEAL Food Alliance, are working hard through the Plate of the Union campaign to draw attention to US food policy this election season.

Unfortunately, the media maelstrom surrounding the candidates often makes it difficult to draw attention even to deserving issues. But everyone has to eat, including reporters, voters, campaign staff, and presidential candidates. Our answer: the Plate of the Union food truck tour, providing food for thought on the need for smart agriculture policy—and actual food, in partnership with local chefs and restaurants.

The Plate of the Union food truck joined local partners on the ground in Cleveland and Philadelphia at the national presidential conventions in serving up healthy and delicious snacks and meals with a side dish of advocacy for a sensible national food policy. And, as the candidates travel to critical swing states, the Plate of the Union food truck will follow: to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, back to Ohio, and then off to Iowa and North Carolina.

By appealing to voters’ stomachs, UCS, FPA, and HEAL hope to build enough support to pressure the next president into making food policy a national priority. Catch the Plate of the Union food truck in your area by checking its whereabouts.