by Dina Eliash Robinson
Who knew that going from ‘farming’ to ‘agribusiness’ would end up poisoning consumers and polluting the environment? A perfect case of good intentions paving the road to… well, you know… Because while agricultural mass-production is the benign Force that makes farming more profitable,and foods more affordable–as well as plentiful enough to alleviate world hunger–Big agribusiness also keeps a foot on the Dark Side by playing fast and loose with consumer and environmental health.
Quantity vs. Quality — Ever since cultivation has become mechanized and the land fumigated within an inch of its life, more, bigger and prettier foods with longer shelf-lives are being produced. Quantity and good looks,however, have come at the expense of natural flavors and nutrients—much of them lost because of current food processing practices. No amount of sugar, salt, MSG or hot sauce could replace Mother Nature’s own seasoning. Nor could vitamins and supplements entirely make up for all the essential minerals and other elements lost in the over-chemicalized agricultural process.
Fortunately, organic foods contain both the flavors and nutrients that earlier generations took for granted.
Defensive Eating — The good news is that we are waking up to the damage done to our health and environment by pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, bioengineering, ionizing radiation technology, chemical preservatives, growth hormones, antibiotics and other garbage with which ‘conventionally’ produced foods are sprayed, fed and artificially bred.
We know about the cancer-causing chemicals and Bovine Growth Hormones. The former are coating most fruits and vegetables, while the latter are fed to livestock—along with antibiotics, the overuse of which breeds antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ in both animals and humans. We know about the carcinogenic benzene and other ‘new’ chemicals known as ‘radiolytic’ products found in beef that has been irradiated (and intentionally mislabeled as ‘pasteurized’). We even know about the GM (genetically modified) rice engineered to produce human proteins found in breast milk and saliva. At blog-post time, this ‘Frankenstein Food’ is set to be approved for commercial production. To know more about food additives, go to: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/foodaddi.html
But back to the good news: Consumers are beginning to push back the toxic tide by making healthier choices—in short, eating ‘defensively.’ Their hunt for organics and careful scrutiny of food labels has triggered a media frenzy about healthy living. All this helps keep the food industry honest when listing ingredients, and pressures it to keep pace with the growing demand for safe and health-promoting foods and environment-friendly practices. As this trend continues, not only farmers but many others involved in the production, packaging and transportation of organic foods are eager to adopt the FDA’s strict and labor-intensive practices to qualify for its coveted “USDA – ORGANIC” certification label. For more information, go to: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexNet.htm
The latest fad among health-food fans and celebrity chefs of gourmet restaurants is to visit and shop at organic farms. Those, that is, who live or work within a reasonable distance of one. Many return—not only to buy fresh produce, eggs or cheese, but also for the thrill of finding exotic ingredients (along with recipes for their preparation); and to learn about the science and challenges of organic farming. Visitors notice that— in the absence of toxic crop-dusting, medicated livestock and the foul runoff they generate—the air is cleaner and the soil more fertile; that honeybees, ladybugs and other helpful insects are thriving; and in nearby waterways, healthy aquatic life is holding its own. For more information, go to: http://www.organicconsumers.org/
“Frankenstein” Grains — After sifting through data produced by both independent and industry scientists—including population test results—I have come to believe that organic grain products are safer to eat than genetically engineered “Frankenstein” creations. Not only are some people allergic to bio-grains, but there have been clear and public admissions by a number of scientists involved in their development, that we won’t know for decades whether or not these products are safe, or might cause health problems for consumers in the long run.
Determined to protect the health of their populations, most European and some Asian countries have barred all imports of bioengineered grains from the U.S. In fact, they have to contend with crowds of demonstrators on the rare occasions when some genetically altered product gets through their customs and is found near farms or markets. You might have heard of the uproar triggered by the so-called ‘golden rice,’ a Vitamin A-enhanced grain intended to compensate for some Third World diets lacking that nutrient.
Even American consumers fly off the handle when they think their food supply might be threatened by plants crossed with bacteria, viruses or other genetic material. Not long ago, headlines alerted us that a small amount of experimental rice that had not even reached the pre-FDA approval stage somehow got out of the lab and into circulation.
Organic farmers are the quickest responders to food alarms. They go into emergency mode the moment any GM grains are discovered near their fields.
An Antidote to Paranoia — Knowledge is power. The better informed you are, the more tools you have with which to protect your and your loved ones’ health. Only don’t get hooked into getting all your information from a single source, or even two—that’s dangerous. Read what many different sides are trumpeting about nutrition and food safety.
For example: Notice the glaring contradictions between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “FDA / IFIC Brochure of January 1992” on “Food Additives” and the comprehensive report of food safety entitled “CSPI’s Guide to Food Additives,” posted on the web site of the Center for Science in the Public Interest http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm.
Read this and other material critically. Read between the lines, keep up with new discoveries and draw your own conclusions. Above all, use your commonsense, trust your instincts, and don’t become a fan(atic) of any camp. Adopt defensive eating habits—but since not everything can be foreseen or prevented, maintain a reasonable balance between risk and caution to avoid obsessing about either.
To put everything into perspective and let you sleep at night, it’s good to know that 100% organic foods have only existed until human beings figured out ways to increase their crop yields. Around 2500 B.C., for example, Sumerians used sulfur to control pests; while about 900 A.D., arsenic was found by Chinese farmers to be a more effective pesticide. In the 1700s, kerosene was tried, and 50 years ago, DDT became the miracle pesticide throughout the world. Fortunately, we are beginning to develop a better relationship with Mother Nature.
The rapidly growing demand for organic foods is benefiting farmers and the environment in the U.S., as well as in Chile and other countries that got the message and decided to board this profitable bandwagon by developing their own organic agri-business. Whole Foods Supermarkets, Trader Joe’s, Jimbo’s Naturally and proliferating local Farmers’ Markets are weaving a nutrition-blanket around the country. Even Starbucks is using its bean by offering organic coffee, and commercial chains such as Vons supermarkets, Costco, and Wal-Mart are also getting into the game. With this many players, the already small (if any) price differences between organic and conventionally produced foods are soon bound to disappear.
Until then, remember that protecting your health, and that of your family, also protects your and the nation’s pocketbook. Not only are healthcare expenses going through the roof, but loss of income due to illness punches a hole in everyone’s bank account.
by Dina Eliash Robinson