Natural Life Magazine

GMO tomato

Five Nasty Things They're Doing To Our Food...
And Five Things We Can Do About It
by Wendy Priesnitz

Food price spikes and shortages; product recalls; a food allergy/sensitivity epidemic; e coli and listeria outbreaks; unpronounceable ingredients on the labels; growing rates of childhood obesity, cancer, and diabetes…the food-related horror stories continue to pile up. And they come at us thicker and faster than the average consumer can keep track. Here are just a few of the issues that are in the news and how we can cope.

1. Pink Slime: So-called “pink slime” is a good example of industrialized food – and people’s reaction when they realize what they are eating. The term was coined a decade ago by a grossed out U.S. government microbiologist to describe a byproduct created from low quality, high-fat beef trimmings and connective tissue, treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. It has long been used as an unlabeled filler in ground beef products, with its manufacturers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture spinning it as boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) or lean, finely textured beef (LFTB). Estimates are that it appears in between fifty and seventy percent of the ground meat and burgers in the U.S. (Other countries – including Canada – do not allow the use of ammonium hydroxide in ground beef, although it is considered to be a safe additives and is widely used in baked goods, puddings, and other processed foods.)

Pink slime came back into the spotlight in 2012, as a result of some media scrutiny, helped along by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and social media, about its use in school food lunch programs. Within a few weeks, fast food chains, school boards, and grocery stores were dropping the product like a hot potato. As a result, its manufacturer Beef Products Inc. had to suspend operations at three of its four plants pending a PR campaign to convince consumers LFTB is a fine product.

2. Farm Chemicals: Many scientists, environmentalists, and health and farm advocates are concerned that the farming industry is using ever expanding amounts of crop chemicals. As they use more chemicals to boost production to feed the world’s growing population, and to produce biomass fuel and livestock feed, they are discovering that they need even more and stronger chemicals to address the increasing chemical resistance of weeds and pests due to the use of genetically engineered seeds. Twenty-two U.S. plant scientists co-authored a letter in early March warning the EPA about a biotech corn that is losing its resistance to pests and could trigger “escalating use of insecticides.”

A study released in March of 2012 by researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that fertilizers and nitrates from agriculture are contaminating the drinking water for more than two hundred thousand residents in California’s farming communities. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has taken its concerns to court, filing suit against the EPA in February. The group accuses the EPA of not adequately addressing the health threats of 2,4-D. The chemical is being used to fight “super weeds” that resist glyphosate, which is the Roundup in Monsanto’s infamous Roundup-Ready biotech seeds.

Of course, the pesticide residues are found in our food as well, along with contaminated municipal sewage sludge, which is spread on fields as fertilizer in many areas (see my article in Natural Life’s November/December 1997 issue), as well by hormones and antibiotics that are fed to poultry and cattle. Infants and children are especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides, due to their still developing organs and small size. The “maximum acceptable levels” allowed by government agencies are based upon estimates of the harm to adults. But, in relation to their body weight, children eat and drink more – especially foods like fruit and juice – possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.

3. GMOs: Genetically engineered (GE) foods, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created when DNA from one species is spliced into the genes of another species, creating transgenic organisms with combinations of genes from plants, animals, bacteria, and even viral gene pools. The safety of GE food has not been adequately assured. Several National Academy of Sciences studies have affirmed that GE crops have the potential to introduce new toxins or allergens into our food. Scientists recently found that the insecticide in GE corn is now showing up in our bloodstream and the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women. However, there are no mandatory human clinical trials of genetically engineered crops, no tests for carcinogenicity or harm to fetuses, no long-term testing for human health risks, no requirement for long-term testing on animals, and limited testing for allergic reactions.

4. Food Dyes: Some government-approved food dyes are made from coal tar and other petroleum products. According to Jane Hersey, Director of the Feingold Association, which works with children’s food-caused health and behavior issues, Red Dye #3 has been shown to cause cancer and three other dyes (Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6) are contaminated with low levels of known cancer-causing compounds, such as benzidine. These dyes are regularly found in processed food products and candy. Studies have shown that these additives can trigger hyperactivity and attention problems in sensitive children. A recent study from the University of Arizona suggested that the increased consumption of synthetic food colorings in the modern diet may be partly responsible for the dramatic rise in ADHD. Some countries, such as those in the EU, require warning labels on candies containing these additives.

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5. High Fructose Corn Syrup: High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – called glucose-fructose syrup in the UK, glucose/fructose in Canada, and high-fructose maize syrup in other countries – is basically corn syrup that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert more or less half of its glucose into fructose. In North America, it has replaced the more expensive sucrose (table sugar) in processed foods (even ones that you wouldn’t think would be sweetened, like crackers, yogurt, and salad dressing) and beverages, where it can be labeled as “corn syrup.” Its ubiquity is a problem; in 2005, Americans each consumed, on average, more than forty-two pounds of high-fructose corn syrup, representing ten percent of all calories consumed. Although it has long been classified as safe, it is thought to contribute to obesity and diabetes because the body cannot metabolize it in the same way as sugar. In 2010, a Princeton University research team found that in addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides.

What We Can Do

1. Demand safer food laws and clear labeling: We need to be able to choose what we eat. For instance, many countries require labels to identify GMOs in food, but not the U.S. or Canada. The Just Label It coalition recently commissioned a survey that found ninety-one percent of American voters favor the labeling of food with GE ingredients. And at least a million people in the U.S. have signed a petition in favor of labeling. Due to consumer pressure, about twenty U.S. states have bills in process about labeling, although some of them are stalled because of lobbying from the biotechnology industry. When mandatory labeling was introduced in Europe, the food manufacturers would not buy GE ingredients because they did not want to put GMO labels on their products. Essentially, it killed the market for GMOs in Europe. So make your voice heard: Complain to manufacturers, write to politicians, join advocacy organizations.

2. Grow your own produce organically: That’s the best way to be sure you’re avoiding pesticides and GMOs. You can also consider some backyard chickens and bees.

3. Buy products that are certified organic or with “Non-GMO” labels: Ask your grocer to stock healthy, organic food. “Non-GMO” is said to be the fastest growing natural food category, with sales of Non-GMO Project-verified products reaching over a billion dollars. Shop local farmer’s markets, or join a natural foods co-op or buying club. Organics can be more expensive, but the value to your family’s health is worth it.

4. Alternatively, avoid certain conventionally grown produce items that contain the highest levels of pesticides: Some of these items are fruits like cherries, apples, peaches, pears, and grapes. Non-organic vegetables you should avoid are celery, spinach, and sweet bell peppers. (See this article for more detail.)

5. Cook from scratch: More than seventy percent of processed supermarket food contains ingredients from GE corn, soy, canola, or sugar beets. That also means that animals fed corn, as well as canned goods, soft drinks (and anything else that contains high fructose corn syrup), farmed fish, and some dairy products could contain or have been exposed to GMOs. Cooking from scratch with fresh, organic ingredients will avoid that exposure. Wash, scrub, and peel produce. Washing fruits and vegetables in a dilute solution of water and dish detergent (a quarter teaspoon to one pint of water) can remove most of the surface pesticides, although not the residues inside the produce. (Peeling fruits and vegetables also removes much of the fiber.)

Learn More

Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Life Magazine's editor and co-founder. She is a journalist with over 40 years of experience and the author of 13 books. This article was published in 2012.


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