food safety

Maine Will Be the Nation’s First and Only Food Sovereign State

 

via localfoodrules.org

via localfoodrules.org

 

Maine legislators voted last week to moved forward with a proposed constitutional amendment declaring Mainers have a natural, inherent, and inalienable right to food freedom.
All that’s left is for the voters to ratify it and Maine’s residents will have the right to produce, process, and consume food without government interference in the form of federal health codes, regulations, inspections, and other restrictions. Foraged foods, garden-grown produce, home-cured meats, and goods produced in unlicensed kitchens will be freely bought and sold.

Even if you’re not familiar with the food sovereignty movement, you’ve probably heard some of the complaints about regulatory interference. 
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The best known (and most controversial) example is the decades-old squabble over raw milk that pits public safety concerns against individual freedom of choice. The result is a patchwork of conflicting state and federal laws, a booming black market in unpasteurized milk with farmers and dairy coöps selling bottles out of pickup trucks like prohibition-era bootleggers, and the occasional federal sting operation that ends with an armed raid on an Amish dairy barn. And every once in a while you’ll come across a news story of heavy-handed health inspectors shutting down a bake sale and confiscating baked goods from elderly, pie-baking church ladies. In Maine, governmental inspections and regulations make for much more than a quaint human interest story. They can deny a livelihood to the state’s food producers and can threaten the food supply of its residents.

Maine is not like other states.
It’s the nation’s most rural state with the greatest majority of its residents living outside of urbanized areas. Its business landscape is dominated by cottage industries, with small proprietors making up 97% of the state’s employers. Its farms are some of the nation’s smallest, they’re run by women at more than twice the national rate, and its farmers are growing younger in a seriously aging sector. Maine’s farmers are also more likely to engage in direct sales to the surrounding community, with some of the highest participation rates in farm stands, farmers markets, and CSAs.

The heart of Maine’s food sovereignty movement is its objection to the government’s one-size-fits-all approach to regulation.
A small farm typically thrives on diversity, with a range of crops and small flocks and herds of livestock, while the kinds of specialized facilities required to meet state and federal food processing standards are geared toward industrial-sized, single crop producers. The facilities often aren’t accessible to a small and scattered rural population, and a special license or expensive equipment can be burdensome for small producers to maintain on site. These requirements can be a barrier to entry for small businesses, but they also ban the kind of casual commerce and bartering that is a traditional part of rural economies—my side of beef for your load of firewood. Even Maine’s traditional community events like bean suppers and Friday fish fries can fall on the wrong side of the law.

Maine residents have been challenging the nation’s food regulations for years.
16 Maine towns had previously declared a local form of food sovereignty under Maine’s governance system of home rule, which gives municipalities autonomy over local matters. The town ordinances can exempt local producers from state licensing and inspections, but only the state amendment can offer legal protection from federal authorities.

Advocates claim that Maine’s food sovereignty creates fewer health risks than what else is out there.
There are growing concerns about the integrity of our national food system, and criticism of the sometimes arbitrary and wrong-headed nature of health code enforcement. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of six Americans gets sick from food-borne illness, with 3,000 of them dying each year. Mainers have decided to takes their chances with local producers, taking reassurance from the personal nature of the interactions between producer and consumer.

 

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This Is Your Fish On Drugs

image via Discovery.com

image via Discovery.com

 

Who needs prescriptions when we have pharmaceutical waste in our fish?
All salmon is heart-healthy because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, but you can also get a dose of Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering prescription drug, which is found in the flesh of wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest. You might be treating allergies, anxiety, menstrual cramps, and dozens more ailments with the substances contained in a chinook netted in the Puget Sound, whose waters are a cocktail of 81 over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs.

We flush the drugs out of our bodies, through the sewers, and into fish habitats.
We’re a nation of pill poppers. More than half of all Americans are currently taking a prescription drug and 20% of us take three or more different prescriptions daily. Between 30-90% of all those drugs aren’t absorbed and are excreted out through urine, but wastewater treatment plants aren’t often designed to catch them. A 30-state study performed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA found pharmaceuticals in 80% of the ‘clean’ water samples.

Pharmaceutical residue isn’t like other pollutants.
Modern pharmaceuticals are designed to be biologically active even at very low concentrations. Fish and marine animals that swim in contaminated waters are subject to very low level exposure. The drugs don’t have the acute toxicity of oil spills and pesticides, but they’re absorbed into the creatures’ systems where they can have more subtle impact over time.

Exposure to human hormones alters the gender identities of fish.
There are feminized fish and frogs— these are egg-producing males with ovaries that are regularly found in waters laced with the synthetic estrogen found in birth control pills and menopause treatments. Spawning and reproduction are interrupted, and these inter-sex creatures have led to the collapse of wild fish populations everywhere from the Potomac River to the coast of Spain.

Fish also have very human responses to psychiatric drugs.
Residue from the widespread human use of mood-altering medications is changing fish behavior. A shy fish becomes bolder on anti-anxiety drugs, less likely to stay within the safety of the group and more likely to be eaten by a predator. An anti-depressant like Xanax can make fish eat faster, and Prozac can make them sluggish and anti-social.

Drug-induced changes in fish behavior can lead to unexpected ecological consequences as they alter population sizes and the balance and diversity of species in waterways. The drugs are also working their way up the food chain as larger fish and other marine creatures like osprey and otter feed on the drug-exposed species.

We’ve understood the problem for 20 or so years, and we’ve watched it get worse.
Sewage treatment plants still aren’t required to remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater before discharging it into open water. Meanwhile, the massive baby boomer generation is taking a deep dive into prescription drugs to fight age-related ailments like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, creating unheard of levels of pharmaceutical pollution. Hydrologists are predicting even greater toxicity as global warming brings droughts and declining water levels, further concentrating the pollution in freshwater bodies.

Our dependence on pharmaceuticals isn’t likely to wane. 
Nor is the need for clean, fresh water.

 

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An ISIS Attack on our Food Supply: It’s not an IF but a WHEN

 

food-security

 

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.
—Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at his farewell news conference, December 3, 2004

Poison is available, so poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah. 
—militant identified as ‘Abu Salman the Frenchman’ speaking in an ISIS recruiting video released November 15, 2015

 

The US made big plans to draw a protective shield around our food supply in the the wake of 9-11. 
Food security joined priority sectors like communications, energy, transportation, and emergency health services as a focus of the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. Early 2002 saw the quick passage of the Bioterrorism Act, intended to create pathways for cooperation and oversight between the government, private industry, and public agencies like water departments and the FDA. But after more than a decade of Presidential directives, Senate hearings, and Congressional reports, we remain as vulnerable as ever to the nightmare scenario of food terrorism.

The problem is that food counterterrorism happens at the intersection of geography and bureaucracy.
Geographic hurdles exist because domestic food production takes place over vast, sprawling areas which are impossible to protect effectively. Oversight becomes even more complicated in a globalized world economy in which food and food ingredients are imported from countries where health and safety standards are low or non-existent. Then there are the bureaucratic tangles and inefficiencies. Food monitoring activities are far-flung and fragmented: there’s the oversight of federal agencies like the USDA, FDA, Department of Defense, and Homeland Security; and in many segments of agriculture and manufacturing, there are parallel systems of self-regulation and voluntary compliance on the part of the private sector. Lines of responsibility are blurred, communications between unrelated entities are scattershot, and there is no one with the authority or accountability to take charge.

The public has also dropped the ball.
One of our deepest fears following the 9-11 attacks was that terrorists would poison our food. But we’ve been lulled into complacency by the relative domestic quiet of the intervening years, and lost our post-9-11 sense of urgency to effect change. Also, direct attacks on the food supply are rare. The vast majority of deliberate contaminations take place at the end of the food supply chain—the rat poison in a husband’s dinner or tranquilizers in the city council’s coffee pot. Occasionally we see tampering at the retail grocery or restaurant level, but these tend to be mostly thrill crimes, or crimes of retribution. Rarer still are politically motivated acts, like the 1984 salmonella attack directed at voters that sickened nearly a thousand Oregon residents, or the poisoning death in London of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 in his tea.

All that tells us is that it hasn’t happened yet.
Food is easily the least protected element of our nation’s critical infrastructure. Some might argue that despite its vulnerability, we have little to fear because the world has never seen a large-scale act of warfare on a food supply. But then again, the world had never seen anything like 9-11 or the ISIS attacks on Paris.

 

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We’ll Choose a Dirty Restaurant Over a Clean One, as Long as We Think It’s Authentic

image via The Health Inspector's  Notebook

image via The Health Inspector’s Notebook

 

Authenticity is the value of the moment.
Much more than a buzzword, it shapes our attitudes and our ideals. It rolls off the tongue when we speak of everything from politicians to blue jeans.
Why would we let a little thing like hygiene get in the way of the pursuit of authentic dining experiences?

Studies like Dirty, Authentic…Delicious and Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: On How Hygiene and Authenticity Shape Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants have looked at diners’ Yelp reviews and correlated them to inspection data from local departments of public health. The findings consistently demonstrate that authenticity trumps cleanliness when consumers choose and evaluate their dining experiences.

Some diners even extoll the virtues of shaky sanitation.
When they see line cooks ankle-deep in bok choi trimmings and unrefrigerated ducks strung up by their necks they double down on the Yelp review, lavishly praising the unvarnished authenticity of the meal. In cities where health inspectors assign letter grades, it’s common to joke that ‘A’ is for ‘Americanized;’ a grade that’s only earned by restaurants that pay too much attention to superficial attributes and not enough to the food.

Let’s be clear, for a variety of reasons we are primarily talking about non-European ethnic restaurants.
First, these are the establishments that are most scrutinized for their bona fides by the self-styled urban adventurers who dominate online opinion and ratings sites. These are also the restaurants that are most challenged by differences in language and cultural norms, two significant obstacles to successful health inspections. And finally, the old clichés are borne out by statisticsimmigrant-owned ethnic restaurants, especially small and family-run businesses, fare poorly in health inspections when compared with similar businesses owned by native-born restaurateurs.

Go ahead and try that grubby little hole-in-the-wall.
And don’t worry; authenticity doesn’t correlate to food poisoning. A look at food-borne diseases by the Centers for Disease Control found that the inspection grades of restaurants with verified food poisoning outbreaks were no lower than those without.

 

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Fast Food in the Age of Transparency

 

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It’s not as nasty as you think. That’s the message of McDonald’s latest ad campaign.

McDonald’s knows it has a serious image problem. Obesity, pink slime, Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me—the decades of exposés, headlines, and scandals have taken their toll. Since they can’t advertise their food as fresh, or healthy, or natural, or environmentally friendly, the company decided to go with It’s really not that bad.

McDonald’s has gone on a transparency drive called Our Food. Your Questions. They’ve produced video vignettes and infographics that explain the production process behind some of their most mystifying menu items like McRibs and McNuggets to show how something not found in nature can end up on your lunch tray. They’ve hired a host from TV’s Mythbusters to debunk some of the more persistent rumors, like the viral video of an ancient burger, so packed with preservatives that it refused to rot.

At the heart of the campaign is the online forum where customers can get real-time answers to their questions.
It’s where you’ll learn that their beef contains growth hormones but no worms, and that NOT ALL of McDonald’s salads are more fattening than their burgers. Special attention is given to questions about the notorious ‘yoga mat’ chemical. Yes, the rubbery additive is baked into most of their buns and rolls, but the spokesperson gives us a new way to think about the link to yoga mats: it’s like sprinkling ice on sidewalks in the winter; you don’t go around saying that you season your food with a de-icer, now do you?

Our perceptions may be malleable, but McDonald’s is McDonald’s is McDonald’s.
The problem with McDonald’s form of transparency is its toothlessness. The food remains fundamentally unhealthy, employees aren’t paid a living wage, and suppliers practice inhumane and unsustainable forms of agriculture. The hamburger meat continues to be pumped full of antibiotics to combat the filth of the crowded factory farming feedlots, and the eggs come from chickens that lived out their lives in locked battery cages.

This new openness might make McDonald’s appear less sinister, but consumer confidence and trust won’t be rebuilt until the company commits to taking a stand for healthy, sustainable foods. Companies like Starbucks, Panera, and Chipotle are winning the fast food wars not because they’re more transparent, but because they’ve taken a hard look at the quality and origins of the ingredients they use and have forged genuine change. As the nation’s biggest fast food chain and one of the world’s largest purveyors of raw materials, McDonald’s is in a position to make a real difference in how food is grown and the way the world eats.

Posted in fast food, food business, food safety | 2 Comments

You probably encountered a dozen pig by-products before you even left your house this morning

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

 

Your world is awash in pig parts.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig by-products make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin derived from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt, garlic salt and spice blends. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig by-products. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

We have a right to know.
Do you keep kosher or follow the rules of halal? Are you vegan or vegetarian? Or are you just, like any sane person, interested in knowing the substances and ingredients that you consume and are exposed to in daily living?

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 19,000 entries.

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Ebola: Can You Get it from Food?

 

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Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The internet is churning with misinformation and fear-mongering about the Ebola virus.
One theory making the rounds is that the food supply could be an entry point for the spread of the virus in this country. Newsweek bolstered the speculation with an inflammatory cover story: A Back Door For Ebola. Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic. 

The World Health Organization classifies Ebola as a foodborne disease.
The official U.S. position, voiced by both the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is that you can’t get it from food. The truth comes down to your diet.

Researchers haven’t absolutely pinned it down but there’s general agreement that the virus probably originated with African bats.
Bats are notoriously adept at hosting parasites and pathogens and spreading diseases to other animals. The really nasty viruses like SARS, Ebola, and Marburg all happen to be of the zoonotic variety, meaning they can be passed between animals and humans.

Bats and their animal neighbors in the wild are a common food source in the Ebola zone.
Hunting, butchering, cooking, and eating infected animals creates contact with blood, organs, and bodily fluids—the known paths of transmission. But no African meat, raw or processed, bush or otherwise, is allowed to enter the U.S. The FDA bans it from every country on the African continent, and the CDC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have policing authority, with each violation carrying a $250,000 fine. That’s not to say that it’s not here; illegal, smuggled bushmeat has always found its way into immigrant communities whose residents hunger for a taste of home.

From the global perspective of the World Health Organization, Ebola is indeed a foodborne disease. But the Surgeon General and the CDC are also correct—it’s not a foodborne disease in this country because bushmeat isn’t a part of our food supply. With all due respect to the culture and traditions of our nation’s African immigrants, it’s unimaginable that members of their communities are continuing the risky practice in the midst of this ongoing health crisis. But to many West Africans, bushmeat is more than just a tradition; it’s an essential form of sustenance in regions where other sources of animal protein are scarce or prohibitively expensive. And that’s a situation that just continues to worsen as the Ebola epidemic sickens farmers, and quarantines disrupt food trade.

 

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Wake Up and Smell the Rat Meat: Stop Buying Chinese Food Imports!

 

unfit-for-human-consumption-safety-sign-p3871-119052_zoom

 

It wasn’t easy choosing a headline. 
I could have gone with the noodles infested with maggots or the baby food with more lead than a gallon of old gasoline. Then there’s the used cooking oil reclaimed from sewers and the shrimp that are raised on a diet of pig feces. I wanted a headline that will make you ask why we still import food from China.
I’m thinking that rat meat sold as lamb could do the trick.

China hit a new record this year: in the first three quarters of 2014 more of its food production was deemed unfit for human consumption than fit.
In recent months we’ve seen 11,000 cases of norovirus among schoolchildren served smoothies and fruit salad made with diseased frozen strawberries, and American restaurants frying with Chinese-made ‘vegetable’ oil that was actually extracted from the fat of animals like cats and foxes. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Burger King were all ensnared in a massive tainted meat scam that involved expired meats that were ‘freshened’ with bleach and relabeled for shipping.

If you think that you’re not eating Chinese food imports because you don’t frequent fast food outlets, think again. They make up 80% of America’s tilapia, 51% of cod, 49% of apple juice, 34% of processed mushrooms, 27% of garlic, and 16% of frozen spinach. Reading labels is not enough: American food companies are generally required to label only where their products are packaged or processed, not where the ingredients come from. A Swanson frozen dinner or a can of Campbell’s soup can contain 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries with no mention of this on the label. When you open a can of Bumble Bee tuna or Dole fruit, or pour your child a glass of Mott’s apple juice, you’re likely eating foods from China. All-American brands like Kraft, Lay’s, Pepsi, and General Mills all buy from Chinese growers and producers that harvest and process with lower labor costs than almost anywhere else.

Many more food violations see the light of day because of Wu Heng, the Upton Sinclair of China. 
Gelatin made from leather scraps, melamine in milk, pork that’s chemically transformed into beef—these are some of the scandals that first came to our attention through Wu Heng’s muckraking website Zhi Chu Chuang Wai. The name translates to Throw it Out the Window, a reference to an incident in which then-president Theodore Roosevelt tossed a sausage out of a White House window after reading Sinclair’s The Jungle, chronicling the horrors of the U.S. meatpacking industry. Wu and his staff of volunteers have identified and documented nearly 4,000 separate incidents of substandard, unsanitary, and unsafe food production, mostly deliberate, and most fueled by greed, ignorance, and corruption.

It’s gotten so bad that wealthier and savvier Chinese citizens are shunning their own local foods. 
They’ve sent food imports from the U.S. soaring to new heights by shopping at large grocery stores, like Walmart or the French chain Carrefour that offer foreign brands and a greater guarantee of quality control over domestic products. 

Can somebody tell me why the U.S. still imports food from China?

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Let’s All Play the “Would You Rather” Game

 

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It’s a party game, a conversation starter, and an internet meme.
It poses a dilemma in the form of a question.
Would you rather give up the internet or lose your sense of taste?
Would you rather sweat mayonnaise or have Cheetos dust permanently stuck to your fingers?

The game can be fantastical or mean-spirited. It can show a path to self-improvement or contain a veritable Sophie’s choice of unbearable options. A good round of “Would You Rather” should make you laugh, and cringe, and think. 
Would you rather speak every language fluently or be able to communicate with animals? 
Would you rather h
ave legs the size of fingers or fingers the size of legs?

The chicken-or-beef version of the game goes a little something like this:

Would you rather consume carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic or a hormone-interrupting anabolic steroid?
The FDA withdrew its approvals for most forms of arsenic-laced chicken feed in 2013, but a new study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found the poison still showing up in 55% of supermarket samples and 100% of fast food samples.
The growth-promoting steroids are given to virtually every single conventionally-raised beef and dairy cow—at least in this country. The practice has been banned for years in much of the world.

Would you rather condemn a chicken to a lifetime in a cage of less than a square foot or a cow to be castrated without anesthesia or pain relief?

Would you rather get salmonella from a chicken farmer or E.coli from a beef processor?
It’s perfectly legal for farmers to ship out salmonella-contaminated chicken. E. coli. requires a bit more patience. It’s found in the intestinal tracts of cattle and isn’t usually transferred to the meat until cutting, grinding, and packaging.

Would you rather eat chickens that eat slaughterhouse remains or cows that eat poultry waste?
Factory production of chicken and beef is a continuous system of waste into food into waste into food… A single cow can eat as much as three tons of poultry waste in a year before its waste circulates back to the chickens.

That last one was a trick question.
Since cow and chicken by-products keep circulating  between facilities, when you eat one you’re really eating both.
And here’s another trick question. The trick this time is that neither option is a good answer.
Would you rather eat conventionally-raised chicken or conventionally-raised beef?

 

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, health + diet | Leave a comment

What Can You See at 175 Chickens-Per-Minute?

chicken-inspection

image via Linco Food Systems

 

That’s how fast the line of eviscerated chickens will soon be flying by slaughterhouse inspectors.
The speedup is just one of the controversial features of the USDA’s planned deregulation of the poultry business.
The proposal is officially named ‘The Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection Regulation,’ but it’s known informally as ‘The Dirty Chicken Rule.’ For good reason.

Not everyone is on board with the plan, and its critics are not just the usual suspects from food safety and consumer watchdog groups. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on its potential to negatively impact food and worker safety, and 68 members of Congress have already written to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to suspend action on the proposal.

Criticism has focussed on four distinctly troubling features of the regulation:
• Increase inspection line speeds from an already inadequate maximum of 140 chickens per minute to 175. 
• Reduce the number of government poultry inspectors by 40%. 
• Allow poultry processors to opt for ‘self-inspection’ by their own, non-certified employees in the place of trained government inspectors. 
• Allow poultry processors to subject chickens to higher levels of antimicrobial chemicals.

Add it all up and you have inspectors that get one-third of a second to inspect each bird inside and out, while the number of eyes on them is cut almost in half. The remaining eyes need no particular training in inspection techniques and they’ll rely on the slaughterhouse owner for a paycheck. Is it any surprise that there’s a provision for more pathogen-killing treatments? Processed chickens are already typically dunked and doused with antibacterial chemicals four separate times, but the industry wants to be ready for the onslaught of feces, tumors, lesions, deformities, and other abnormalities that it expects to pass unchecked through the rejiggered inspection lines.

The USDA has already been test-driving the new inspection model through a pilot project in two dozen slaughter facilities, and the agency’s regulatory agenda indicates it hopes to finalize the plan in April. Poultry workers, chicken industry lobbyists, and food-safety advocates have been bringing dueling efforts to Capitol Hill, while the Obama administration is having a hard time looking beyond the cost savings that arise from reduced and privatized inspections.

Don’t let the USDA play chicken with your health.
Change.org is petitioning the agency to abandon its plans to overhaul and privatize the poultry inspection system. Add your signature to the nearly 200,000 already collected at the petition with the appropriately unsavory name of Scabs, Pus, and Feces in Chicken? USDA, Keep It Off My Plate!. 

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Everything Added to Food (at least according to the FDA)

nothingaddedThe FDA’s Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS) has more than 3,000 entries and goes on for 40 pages.
As the nation’s food safety database you’d expect it to be an exhaustive inventory of what we eat. ‘Everything’ is right there in its name.

The FDA plays fast and loose with its interpretation of ‘everything’
Colorings and flavorings can be added to food without being included in the EAFUS. Same with substances that are used in processing and then stick around in the final product. These might be disinfectants like bleach, or residue from production and packaging processes that use acids, metals, salts, arsenic, or radiation. Since the FDA calls them processing aids rather than ingredients, they don’t make the ‘everything’ list either. The Pew Health Group, the health sector of a U.S. public policy non-profit, has its own list and it identifies nearly 10,000 allowable food additives that the FDA seems to have overlooked on their so-called ‘everything’ list.

The agency maintains a second list of foods that are designated Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), although ‘safe’ is interpreted as liberally as ‘everything’.
Foods that are Generally Recognized as Safe were grandfathered into the food system because we were already eating them in 1958, the year when our current food additive regulations went into effect. Remember 1958? Back then we ‘generally recognized’ that we didn’t need seat belts or bicycle helmets, and doctors ‘generally recognized’ that a martini and a cigarette was a good way for pregnant women to relax. Items on the GRAS list are allowed in our food without FDA approval or restrictions, and it’s what brought us things like saccharine and MSG and the notorious Red Dye No. 2. It’s allowed substances like salt, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats to overwhelm our diets because manufacturers can use them in an unrestricted way. The controversial caffeine levels found in energy drinks and the dangerous combination of caffeine and alcohol are recent examples of GRAS freedoms run amok.
And GRAS items don’t show up on the list of EAFUS. Don’t ask me why.

The GRAS list has become an unlocked back door directly into our kitchens.
What began as an inventory of the most common and presumed benign foods has become the primary way that new ingredients are added to the food system. A GRAS designation allows a manufacturer to add a substance without pre-market review and no government agency has to sign off on its safety. And all the folks who are ‘generally recognizing’ its safety can be on the manufacturer’s payroll. The Journal of the American Medical Association examined 451 GRAS notifications submitted to the FDA between 1997 and 2012 (a process that is itself strictly voluntary) and found that every single one of them was based on assessments that were performed by employees of the manufacturer or by company-paid consultants.

The FDA says innocent until proven guilty when it comes to our food—even if it’s genetically modified.
It’s positively mind-boggling, but controversial substances like GMOs are treated as Generally Recognized as Safe. If the conventional version of a food has GRAS status, its GMO counterpart is a slam-dunk—no additional safety testing or approval is needed. And it isn’t even documented in the EAFUS.

For all its obfuscation, the FDA actually publishes something called FDA Transparency Blog.
The blog’s stated purpose is “to create a dialogue with the public about the activities that FDA is engaged in to protect and promote the public health.”
Unfortunately, nobody at the agency has bothered posting to it since September, 2013.

We have a right to know. 
We might choose to buy organic, or non-GMO ingredients, or to support brands with strong sustainability practices and appropriate safety oversight. Our choices are only as good as the knowledge allows.

 

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The FDA or Monsanto: Which One Will Control GMO Labeling?

i-do-not-want-your-gmo-i-do-not-like-you-monsanto

image via ediblearia

 

GMO labeling is coming.
The fight over if we’ll label genetically engineered crops and foods is over and the good guys won. The fight over who will control the labeling is just beginning.

Last week we saw the first shot fired in this new battle.
A group representing the inventors and food manufacturers who use genetically modified ingredients announced the formation of a new alliance called The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. The group wants to get out ahead of legislative efforts to enact mandatory GMO labeling by creating their own voluntary labeling system.

The food, chemical, and biotech companies of the coalition have pretty much given up on the state battles. For years the agribusiness giants—companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Kraft Foods, and Coke and Pepsi—opposed labeling initiatives at the state and even local level, engaging in costly campaigns to defeat individual ballot measures one by one. They pressed so hard because they felt that a single regulatory win could have a domino effect on the remaining states. And they were correct: after recent legislation passed in Alaska, Connecticut, and Maine, as many as 30 states are expected to introduce mandatory labeling laws during the 2014 legislative session.

Consumers should be wary of voluntary GMO labeling. In fact such a system already exists. The FDA instituted self-labeling in 2000 and in the dozen or so years since not a single food company has voluntarily labeled its genetically engineered products. The difference this time, if The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food has its way, is that the new voluntary system would get congressional approval allowing it to take precedence over state regulations. Essentially it would let the industry off the hook for mandatory labels.

One thing everyone in the industry can agree on is that the conversation about engineered ingredients is growing louder.
A recent survey found that more than half of all American adults report some concern about GMOs in their food. They don’t necessarily perceive a health risk from engineered ingredients. They might not even choose to eliminate them from their diets. But they have the right to know what they’re eating.

 

 

Posted in food business, food safety | 1 Comment

The Government Shutdown Diet

 

meat inspector magnet via Zazzle

meat inspector magnet via Zazzle

 

The Food and Drug Administration is closed during the government shutdown.
The furloughed employees turned in their government-issued cell phones and were told not to even check their work email until Congress passes a budget. Same for the food safety inspectors at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves 85% of the nation’s food supply unmonitored and uninspected.

Here’s what’s not going on during the shutdown:

  • Lab testing of food samples—for sanitation, disease, additives, or parasites—is almost non-existent.
  • Foodborne illness outbreaks aren’t traced, tracked, or monitored. The CDC’s 80-person food pathogen staff is reduced to two, with just one lone, unfurloughed CDC employee on the salmonella, listeria, and E. coli beat for the entire country.
  • Pending actions on known outbreaks that were sickening people before the shutdown have been suspended. Yesterday’s reported outbreak of salmonella is a prime example; it had already been spotted by the USDA when the shutdown halted the investigation and reporting mechanism. It sickened 278 people in 18 states before the barebones CDC staff could pinpoint the source (Foster Farms chicken) and notify the public.
  • There are no unannounced site visits. The visits are an important tool that keeps processors ‘honest’— so far this year spot visits to slaughterhouses and other processors of meat and poultry have already caught 500 violators red-handed. With the enforcement arm of the FDA on furlough, that means that there are 500 perpetrators of meat tainted by diseased feces, illegal drug residue, and other unsanitary and unsavory conditions that are free to ply their trade.
  • Our borders are wide open to food imports. One of the FDA’s most potent weapons is the ‘red alert’ list. It allows FDA inspectors to automatically snag shipments from companies that have repeatedly violated our health and safety laws. During the shutdown, tainted, toxic, parasite-riddled, putrefying food imports are freely flowing through our ports of entry.
    If you think that sounds like an overstatement, take a look at some of the past Inspection Refusal Reports, released monthly by the Food and Drug Administration. The blue Chinese pork that had been contaminated by a phosphorescent bacteria that caused the meat to glow in the dark will have you thinking again.

What’s safe to eat on the government shutdown diet?

Eggs, meat, and poultry
I wouldn’t exactly call these safe even though USDA inspectors are still on the job. Egg farms, poultry processors, and slaughterhouses aren’t allowed to stay open without an inspector on site, and because these facilities are so important to the nation’s food supply, the inspectors are unfurloughed ‘essential’ workers. That means that the day-to-day observations are continuing, but the suspension of spot inspections, laboratory testing, and import oversight are putting us at risk.

Fruits and vegetables
This category is just a free-for-all. Fruits and vegetables, both domestic and imported, fall under the FDA’s domain. State agricultural agencies provide some oversight for produce grown within their borders, but on a national level it’s being produced and shipped without scrutiny. About 50% of our fruit and 20% of vegetables are imported, and those are flowing in unchecked for parasites, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, fungicides, hormones, and a long list of banned substances that have shown up in previous shipments.

Canned, boxed, and packaged groceries
Inspections for these products fall under the purview of the idled workers at the Food and Drug Administration. While most food-borne illness is spread by perishable foods, pantry foods can pose threats of their own. The FDA has previously encountered risky and unsavory additives like lead-laced candy, industrial resins in rice, canned meats infected with mad cow disease, and a food processor who reused cooking oil salvaged from sewer drains. Some of the pre-shutdown findings that haven’t been supported by FDA alerts, withdrawals, and recalls include metal fragments in both Turkey Hill ice cream and Justin’s nut butters, plastic particles in Pillsbury cinnamon buns, and ingredients like nuts and shellfish– potentially deadly allergens– that are undeclared on package labeling in dozens of products like Safeway cake mixes, See’s candies, and P.F. Chang’s frozen dumplings.

Fish and shellfish
Seafood safety is a crapshoot, but that’s true even when the government is up and running. We import more than 90% of our seafood but have the resources to inspect less than 10%, with a tiny fraction of that portion going on to lab testing for abnormalities, pathogens, and illegal substances. There is little scrutiny despite the fact that most is farmed in developing nations with unsanitary conditions and lax regulations, where untreated animal manure and human waste can be used as feed, and antibiotics, pesticides, and fungicides are liberally applied to battle the rampant bacteria and disease. Salmonella and excrement are so routinely found in imported seafood that entire nations are on the FDA’s ‘red alert’ list so that every one of their shipments can be flagged at the border—at least they would be if the FDA were open for business. These days it’s all waved through and sent on to the nation’s supermarkets.

Even when the government is fully operational, our nation’s food safety monitoring is over-burdened and under-funded. Our fragmented collection of responsible agencies and their archaic food safety laws have never caught up with the complex, globalized system of food production. In a ‘normal’ year we see 3,000 deaths and millions of cases of food-borne illness caused by pathogen-tainted foods. This year, with uninspected shipments moving through the food supply for months to come, you can expect to see a lot more

 

 

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‘Pink Slime’ Worms Its Way Into School Lunches

image via the Office of the Manhattan Borough President

image via the Office of the Manhattan Borough President

 

Have we already forgotten about ‘pink slime’?
The 2012 scandal was a real stunner even for veterans of the food safety wars.
We were outraged to learn that the vast majority of the nation’s ground beef contained a squishy, beef-like substance made by heating and centrifuging fatty trimmings and connective tissue to extract every last little bit of edible muscle. It’s then treated with ammonia to halt the growth of bacteria, since these lower-grade cuts of beef are more likely to have had contact with E. coli-carrying feces.

Pink slime, known more flatteringly as lean finely textured beef, has been responsible for widespread contaminations, illness, and death. After enough high profile recalls and lawsuits, and a chorus of consumer protests, it’s been banished from every major fast food chain and retail grocer. But it’s still making the stomach-churning journey from slaughterhouses to school lunch rooms.

In the aftermath of last year’s media uproar, thousands of schools across the U.S. voluntarily eliminated the ammonia-treated processed beef product from their cafeterias. While school budgets are tight all over, their lunch programs are under new financial pressures from the recently revised national nutrition standards that hit the ground in 2012. The new requirements demand greater quantities of costly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while the federal government increased its contribution by just six cents more per lunch.

When pink slime first came to public attention, schools in all but three states— Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota; all big beef producers—purged it from their menus. Four more states—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas— have since put aside concerns and resumed buying the controversial product for the 2013-2014 school year.

If not for school lunch programs, those same slaughterhouse trimmings would be processed into pet food or dumped as compost.
It’s not just about quelling the queasiness of parents and school officials. This is a substance that falls below the quality and safety standards of fast food restaurants and most commercial food processors. It’s nutritionally inferior to slime-free beef and inherently riskier, yet we’re feeding it to our most vulnerable population.
Don’t our nation’s schoolchildren deserve better?

 

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Farmed Shrimp: A Cocktail of Nastiness

 

image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Raised in sewage, bathed in toxins, harvested by child laborers…
and we’re just getting started.

Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, and most of it is filthy, nasty stuff.
90% of the shrimp we eat has been imported, and 90% of that comes from shrimp farming ponds in developing nations with unsanitary conditions and lax regulations. When it’s inspected by U.S. regulatory agencies, shrimp is consistently found to contain more banned additives, pesticides, antibiotics, and even more cockroaches, than any other seafood, but less than 2% is inspected. Here’s what’s wrong with the shrimp that’s getting through the system.

Shrimp ponds are like over-crowded sewers
As shrimp grew in popularity, production has become more intensive to meet the demand. A few years ago, the typical one acre pond produced 445 pounds of shrimp; a concentrated operation will now produce as much as 89,000 pounds, packing 170,000 shrimp into a single acre. Most shrimp farms don’t purify, filter, or recycle the water  as it becomes a stagnant cesspool of mouldering feed and decomposing shrimp bodies. Most ponds have seven year runs before the water itself kills off all the shrimp.

Drugging the sick shrimp
With all the bacteria flourishing in the pond water, shrimp farmers battle disease outbreaks with antibiotics, pesticides, and fungicides added to feed pellets or dumped directly in the water, or both. And while a mere 2% of the imports are inspected, only 0.1% are tested for chemical residues, according to the Government Accountability Office. Among the substances that the FDA fails to catch in the untested 99.9 % are the banned carcinogen PCB; chloramphenical, a highly toxic drug of last resort to treat typhoid fever and meningitis that’s been detected in shrimp at levels 150 times the legal limit; and penicillin, the antibiotic that is also the most commonly reported allergen in the U.S.

Ghastly conditions in shrimp processing plants
A reporter’s visit last fall to an Asian seafood exporter resulted in the Bloomberg News article Asian Seafood Raised on Pig Feces Approved for U.S. Consumerswhich describes a filthy hellhole of buzzing flies, murky water, and unrefrigerated shrimp sitting on the trash-strewn floor waiting to be sorted. Human Rights Watch has documented physical abuse, debt servitude, and child labor, and Food and Water Watch reports on processed shrimp shipments that arrive in the U.S. containing filth like rodent hair and cockroaches.

More shrimp could leave us with nothing but shrimp
Shrimp farms dismantle critical elements of the marine ecosystem. Inland shrimp farming is located in ecologically important salt flats and marshes, giving farmers easy access to saltwater, the natural environment for shrimp, and intensive production almost always requires large-scale removal of mangroves. Coastal mangrove forests provide vital habitats for countless seafood species including snapper, wild tilapia, sea bass, oysters, and crabs. Food and Water Watch estimates that for each acre of mangroves destroyed, 675 pounds of commercial fish are lost. As much as 80% of mangrove forest land has already disappeared from the leading fish-farming nations of Thailand, Ecuador, Indonesia, China, Mexico, and Vietnam.

Go wild, go domestic
Rule out farmed imports and you’re left with the still imperfect options of wild-caught and domestically farmed shrimp.
Wild-caught shrimp isn’t raised in a chemical cocktail, but most is caught by trawling, a highly destructive fishing method that drags nets the size of football fields along the ocean floor. For every pound of shrimp that’s caught, many more pounds of marine life, including endangered species like giant sea turtles, are scooped up, most to be killed and discarded. The nets also inflict damage all along the ocean floor, razing coral reefs and stirring up plumes of sediment that are large enough to be seen from outer space. Domestically farmed shrimp is free of antibiotics and added toxins but there are still lingering concerns from the effects of the 2010 BP oil spill.

What’s a shrimp lover to do?
There are safe and environmentally-responsible farmed shrimp sources in the Pacific Northwest and sustainably and humanely harvested wild varieties like spot prawns and pink shrimp. Choose from the list of ‘best choices’ and ‘good alternatives’ provided by Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Their free downloadable guides will tell you what to buy and where you can find it for every region of the U.S.

Bubba tells us what we can do with all of our good, clean shrimp:

 

 

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They’re Banned in Europe, So Why Are We Still Eating Them?

courtesy of ComplianceSigns.com

courtesy of ComplianceSigns.com

 

Do they know something we don’t know?
Americans eat a shocking number of foods that much of the world won’t touch. We think of the U.S. as being at the forefront of medicine, technology, and advancements that protect its citizens’ health, and we blithely put our faith in regulatory agencies and government sponsored health and dietary guidance. But if you look at what’s on our plates, it’s clear that Americans are not afforded the same protections given to citizens of Europe and other developed nations.

Citrus Beverage Stabilizers
Everyone knows to shake orange juice or stir lemonade before drinking it, but when it comes to highly processed citrus drinks like Mountain Dew, Fresca, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Sunkist Pineapple, and some Gatorade and Powerade flavors, no shaking is required. That’s because the manufacturers add brominated vegetable oil, an emulsifier that keeps things from separating. A handy additive that also doubles as a flame retardant, the bromine in BVO is a nasty, toxic, corrosive chemical that’s linked to everything from schizophrenia to hearing loss. That’s why it’s been eliminated in more than 100 countries whose citizens decided they would rather just shake their beverages.

Man-made Fats
Manufacturers love them because they’re cheap, prolong the shelf life of foods, and create an appealing texture. That’s why they put them in everything from bread to cookies to peanut butter. And by all accounts they’re really, really bad for you, leeching metals into blood vessels, clogging arteries, raising cholesterol, and impacting organ function and natural immunities.

You’ve heard the fuss about trans fats, but those are just one of many fats that have been banned elsewhere. The man-made fats start out as natural vegetable oils, but after the oil is pressured with hydrogen, superheated, and injected with metals, what comes out is a new beast with its own molecular structure, a mere one molecule away from officially becoming a plastic.

While we’re at it, let’s give a special shout-out to the fat substitute Olestra (aka Olean).
It’s referred to as fat-free; actually you’re eating fat but you don’t absorb the calories because Olestra’s been manipulated to pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested. Unfortunately it also pulls vitamins and nutrients from other foods out of the digestive tract to be eliminated along with the undigested fat—an oily excretion that the manufacturer likes to refer to as ‘anal leakage’—a  feature that inspired Time Magazine to name Olestra to its list of the world’s all-time 50 worst inventions.

Arsenic
If you’re familiar with the plot lines of old who-done-its you probably think of arsenic as the quintessential poison for humans. So what’s it doing in our beef and chicken?

The chicken is a straight shot—producers put arsenic in poultry feed in the form of drugs that kill intestinal parasites, promote growth, and give the flesh a nice pink glow. It’s actually a safe form of arsenic when it’s fed to 9 out of 10 chickens, but the metabolized arsenic that’s found in chicken meat is a form that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a human carcinogen. That’s why the EU never approved arsenic feed compounds, and Japan and many other countries outlawed the use of arsenic in chicken feed years ago.

Arsenic has a less direct path to beef.
It seems that U.S. cattle eat chicken manure, and lots of it. Who knew? Apparently arsenic-laced chicken droppings are filled with a cheap form of protein, and we feed our cows two billion pounds of the stuff annually. The meat ends up on our dinner tables, and the odd bits are ground into bone meal that goes right back into chicken feed, keeping  the arsenic circulating and recirculating through our food.

Then there’s the cannibalism thing.
We probably shouldn’t need a regulatory agency to tell us that it’s a bad idea to feed animals to animals—especially when we’re mixing herbivores with carnivores and even feeding them their own species. Much of the world has already figured this one out, and Mad Cow Disease gave an extra push to the holdouts, but here in the U.S. most animals are still allowed to eat their own kind. Pig carcasses are rendered and fed back to pigs, chicken feed can contain chicken carcasses, and cattle can be fed cow blood and some other parts of their brethren. Road kill, dead horses, and euthanized cats and dogs are also regularly and legally thrown into the mix.

Shall I keep going?
How about the chemical bleaching agents added to flour? Manufacturers in most countries just store the flour for a week or so and wait for it to naturally lighten up. American food processors like things fast and cheap so they add the instant whitener azodicarbonamide; a substance so toxic that the illegal use of it in some countries can land a factory owner a 15 year prison sentence. Then there’s ractopomine, a drug that keeps pigs lean by hyping them up. The pork can do the same to humans, causing tremors and raising heart rates so much that it’s supposed to be avoided by anyone with a cardiovascular disease—no easy feat since it’s fed to around three-quarters of U.S. hogs. And let’s not forget the coloring ingredient used in food dyes (blue 1&2, yellow 5& 6) that color our candy, soda, and cake mixes. You’ll find that substance in overseas factory but only when it’s used to polish the floors.

Nobody wants to see their food choices crushed under the jackboot of regulation.
We already have labeling requirements and safety regulations. There are diet and nutrition concerns, species to preserve, and animal welfare to guard. We look out for the state of the environment and of the economy, the fate of family farms and of children with allergies. We don’t need more regulations, but we do need better ones. The public’s interests should come first in a regulatory system that’s not beholden to industry.

If it’s legal, it ought to be safe.

 

Posted in food knowledge, food policy, food safety | 1 Comment

Not Pushing Caffeine to Kids? Yeah, Sure.

Which of these is being marketed to children?

 

caffeinegummi_bears

clockwise from top: Energy Gummi Bears, Nixie Tubes candy powder, Brain Bits watermelon candy, Cracker Jack’d

  caffeinated_nixie_tubes              cracker_jackd_     brain-bits-watermelon-flavored-caffeinated-candy-3-pack_2407_400

According to their manufacturers, none of them.

 

The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it’s launching an investigation into the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children. Surprisingly, the agency doesn’t have any rules for caffeine in food. It classifies caffeine as a GRAS, an acronym for food additives that are Generally Recognized ASafe.  Any additive with the GRAS designation—and there are more than 4,500 of them—is exempt from safety testing when a manufacturer adds it to a new product. 
Caffeine’s GRAS designation dates back to 1958.

The proliferation of caffeinated foods, not beverages, is something new.
Caffeine has been popping up in the most unlikely of places. You can find it added to breakfast foods like instant oatmeal, frozen waffles, and pancake syrup. It’s being added to snack foods like potato chips, marshmallows, sunflower seeds, beef jerky, Jelly Belly ‘extreme sport’ jelly beans, and most recently a new line of caffeinated Wrigley’s chewing gum.

Caffeine is now consumed at levels that the FDA could have never anticipated when it first classified the additive as a GRAS.
In 1958, there were no energy drinks, sports beverages, or caffeinated ‘smart’ waters. Per capita soda consumption was one-third of today’s level. And now we have caffeine’s appearance in a wide range of new products, including foods that are especially appealing to children and teens.

We keep things loose when it comes to kids and caffeine.
The United States doesn’t have dietary guidelines for caffeine consumption for adults or children. Since we don’t know how much is too much, there’s little effort made to limit it. In theory, caffeine-added products aren’t supposed to be marketed to children, but it’s up to the manufacturers, advertisers, and trade associations to regulate it. Most manufacturers insist that they don’t target kids. Apparently they’re using kid-friendly cartoon mascots and logos to push caffeinated gummy bears and pixy stix to adults.

Where have we heard that one before?

 

joe camel

 

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We Can Do This. We Can Get Yellow Dye Out of Kraft Mac & Cheese.

swatch-yellow5      swatch-yellow6

Meet Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow.

You can thank them for the foil pouch of day-glo cheese powder that comes in every box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Every box in the U.S., that is. Kraft reformulated the recipe for the European market replacing the artificial dyes with natural, plant-based ingredients like paprika and beta carotene. The dyes are gone because European consumers revolted over potentially harmful side effects and demanded that the company remove them.

Both of these yellow dyes are man-made chemicals derived from petroleum.
The additives have been linked to a host of disturbing side effects like asthma, eczema, and migraines, in addition to hyperactivity and learning impairments in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that both dyes are also contaminated with known carcinogens. And they serve no purpose beyond the aesthetics of bright orange cheese, contributing nothing to the nutritional value or safety of food.

They’re not just in the blue box of Kraft.
It’s estimated that a young child with a taste for fast- and processed foods could be eating as much as a pound of food dye every year. Well beyond the usual suspects like purple Popsicles and rainbow Skittles, you’ll find food dyes in a staggering array of foods like canned fruit, fresh oranges, hot and cold cereals, pizza crusts, chocolate milk, salad dressing, lemonade, ginger ale, cookies and bread, chips and crackers, even matzoh balls. Oy veh.

Where, pray tell, is the FDA?
The Food and Drug Agency calls the shots when it comes to food additives, and it has a long history of calling them wrong. Looking at Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow, the agency acknowledged the sizable body of research linking the colorings to behavioral changes in children, but the advisory panel tasked with their review called the evidence inconclusive and recommended that the agency continue its hands-off approach to the additives. Of course FDA approval is hardly a guarantee of safety. The agency’s site lists 91 previously approved artificial dyes that are now banned. And bear in mind that countries throughout Europe weighed the same ‘inconclusive’ evidence against potential health consequences and have banned most artificial food dyes.

We don’t need to wait for the FDA.
Earlier this year, consumers targeted brominated vegetable oil, an additive that prevents flavorings from separating in Gatorade. After studies linked the FDA-approved ingredient to neurological disorders and altered thyroid hormones, a petition requesting its removal circulated on Change.org, collecting more than 200,000 signatures. In January Kraft announced that because of the feedback it was reversing its earlier decision to retain the substance and would be replacing Gatorade’s brominated vegetable oil with a more acceptable emulsifier.

It worked for Gatorade. Now let’s get the yellow dye out of our mac & cheese.
Visit Change.org where you can add your name to the 360,000 that have already signed the petition demanding that Kraft stop using dangerous food dyes in its Macaroni & Cheese. You can also bring the fight to the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Facebook page, where thousands of consumers have already chimed in with their comments.

 

Posted in community, food policy, food safety | 1 Comment

Food Activists and Tea Partiers Team Up to Fight GMOs

image via Whale.to

image via Whale.to

 

It’s said that politics make strange bedfellows.
None stranger than the union of Food Democracy Now and the Tea Party Patriots. 
The unlikely allies are united in their opposition to a small bit of language that was tucked into the emergency spending bill which Congress passed and President Obama signed that keeps the federal government operating through the end of the fiscal year.

The controversial rider, the so-called ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ was quietly and anonymously inserted into the agricultural appropriations portion of the 587 page budget document as it wound its way through Congress. The provision allows biotech companies like Monsanto to ignore pending safety reviews and even federal court rulings on the dangers of their genetically modified seeds. Plants can stay planted and seeds can continue to be sown and sold, and the companies can’t be sued over any damages that result when the crops are consumed. Unless there’s a veto or a court rules it to be an unconstitutional usurpation of judicial review, the provision will last until the spending bill expires at the end of September.

This ugly little bit of legislation was eventually proven to be the work of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo), who represents Monsanto’s home state, is a frequent recipient of Monsanto campaign donations, and is a lawmaker with a long record of using legislative tricks to benefit special interests. It somehow appeared in the Senate version of the budget without committee review or debate, and many in Congress claim to have been unaware of its inclusion. It slipped in under the nose of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md), who distanced herself with the statement “As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski’s first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown.”

A common enemy. Sort of.
The Tea Party is protesting the Monsanto Protection Act because it’s rife with abuses of power, special interest loopholes, collusion, and corruption. Tea Partiers aren’t all that worried about the environmental impact and possible health risks of genetically engineered and modified organisms, and in fact their official position is that “It is not the purview of Tea Party Patriots to comment on the merits of GMOs.” But we need to worry about all of it.

The upshot of the legislation is that we’re going to be eating whatever is already out there. And the GMOs and seeds that are already in the ground have this year’s growing season and harvest to spread their funky coding in seeds, pods, spores, and pollen that blow across the land and flow into our water. We have no assurance of consumer safety— there are no independent, long-term studies investigating how this new genetic experiment affects our health, environment, and future food security—and no legal protections or recourse.

Food for thought:
After a recent earthquake in Haiti, Monsanto made a donation of 475,000 tons of genetically engineered and treated seeds to the devastated farmers of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. They chose to burn them rather than plant them.

Join environmentalists, food activists, and even Tea Partiers in the fight to overturn the Monsanto Protection Act. 
Add your name to the petition at Food Democracy Now where they are on their way to a million letters of support.

 

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Should Hot Dogs Come With Cigarette-Style Warning Labels?

billboardhotdog

 

hotdogbillboard

The medical reform group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine likes to stir up the hot dog debate with its billboards. Every spring it brings its cancer awareness message to billboards outside of baseball stadiums, race tracks, and other hot dog-friendly venues. PCRM is on a crusade to bring cigarette-style warning labels to hot dogs.

A steady diet of hot dogs can send you to an early grave.
According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, a daily hot dog raises the risk of heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent. Research from the American Institute for Cancer Research found that the risk of colorectal cancer rises by 21 percent, and the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii linked hot dog consumption to a 67 percent increase in the risk for pancreatic cancer. Hot dogs have also been linked with prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and childhood leukemia. All told, a multi-nation meta-study of 450,000 participants headed by the University of Zurich concluded that the overall risk of mortality increases by 18 percent for each hot dog consumed per day.

The problem with hot dogs.
There’s plenty of salt and saturated fat in hot dogs, but it’s the nitrites that’ll kill you. And all hot dogs have them—regardless of what it says on the package.

The salty preservative that’s added to conventional hot dogs is sodium nitrite. It develops flavor, keeps the meat’s pink color, and inhibits bacterial growth. A hot dog isn’t going to taste like a hot dog without sodium nitrite. So what about the premium and organic hot dogs that are labelled ‘no-added-nitrates’ or ‘naturally cured’? Brands like Applegate and Niman Ranch get around it with a little additive sleight-of-hand plus some arcane labeling loopholes courtesy of the FDA. They pour on the celery juice, which happens to be loaded with naturally occurring nitrate, then they add a naturally-derived bacterial culture that converts the harmless nitrate into harmful nitrite.

Alas, nitrite is nitrite. It makes no difference if it’s added directly or formed later, synthetic or naturally-derived. Take any kind of nitrite, add any kind of meat and heat, and it’s going to form cancer-causing compounds. When the Journal of Food Protection looked at popular hot dog brands, it found that the natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained.

About those warning labels
The PCRM wants graphic labeling that would make consumers think twice about what they’re eating. Other public health organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund call hot dogs “unfit for human consumption” and would like to see an outright ban. Even the USDA has been trying to rid the meat industry of nitrites since the 1970’s.

Meanwhile, the American Meat Institute, the meat industry’s oldest and largest trade association, has taken a stand against additional labeling requirements with the publication of its own sodium nitrite Fact Sheet. The AMI dismisses much of the research as “old myths” and the work of vegans and animal rights activists. It refers to sodium nitrite as “an essential public health tool,” and points to a 2005 animal study suggesting therapeutic uses for nitrites in the treatment of heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and leg vascular problems.

Most experts say that the occasional hot dog isn’t going to kill you. The choice is yours. And if there is honest and accurate labeling, you can make an informed choice.

 

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, health + diet | Leave a comment
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