Category Archives: FoodPolitics

"Raw" Almonds – on the Brink of Extinction:

Last September, a new law requiring the “pastuerization” of all almonds quietly went into effect after a USDA’s proposal was announced (or rather, whispered) earlier in 2007. News of this proposal was kept quiet until just before the law went into effect.
The pasteurization process of almonds is primarily by radiation treatment. Radiation destroys vitamins, minerals, adn essential fatty acids in foods – this has been documented by the FDA, according to Food and Water Watch’s Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter. Because radiation of foods is highly unpopular with the public, you will find these items labeled as “pasteurized” if they are labeled at all.
Another acceptable treatment of almonds is through the use of propylene oxide, deemed a “potential human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This substance is banned in Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. Propylene Oxide was once used as racing fuel, but was banned by the US National Hot Rod Association for safety reasons. This product is not GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and has no business being sprayed on our nuts.
The industry will tell you that radiation is necessary to prevent food borne contamination like salmonella from inhabiting our food supply. Did anyone here know almonds were a potential threat? No, neither did I. And according to the Organic Consumers Association, there have been only two food contamination incidents with raw almonds since 2001 – both caused by improper management of large-scale farms. Could the quiet, uneventful approval of almond irradiation be the door that allows irradiation of more commonly contaminated foods to enter our food supply?

It is important to note that any almond you purchase labeled as “raw” is in fact, no longer raw. Pasteurization kills enzymes – just try sprouting any “raw” almond you find in the stores now.

In light of this news, it isn’t too late to possibly reverse the decision. Since this decision went into effect, the Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, has stepped down. He has been temporarily replaced by Chuck Conner. With another leader at the helm, a new opportunity for reversal exists.
If you are even the slightest bit outraged, disgusted, or concerned about irradiation spreading to other crops such as spinach and other greens (yes – this proposal has already been made) I highly encourage you to click on this link to the Organic Consumers Movement to send a quick email to Chuck Connor asking him to consider re-opening discussion on the almond issue. Our nuts (and other crops) are in his hands.

Old MacDonald had Mad Cow, E-I-E-I-Oh-oh!

I’m going to step up on my soapbox. I’m going to get political. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

As a human being and a consumer, I am positively outraged and aghast at the United States’ response to mad cow disease. If you stop and think about it, you may have noticed that we haven’t heard much about that in the last year or so. Has it gone away?

Of course not. Do not think for a minute we are protected.

I came across an astonishingly grim article from Vegsource, a vegetarian website that I have keep sporadic tabs on for many years. I am the first to admit this source is biased, but the information presented in the article is reportedly drawn from the USDA’s own reports.

According to presented statistics, between the years of 1998 and 2006, an estimated 777 cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (ie – Mad Cow) entered our national food chain undetected. This estimate is derived from examining the number of cattle slaughtered daily, the amount inspected, and cases found.

Last year, despite (or because of) growing concern of BSE risk in the United States, the USDA decided to SCALE BACK on mad cow testing, from 1000 cattle daily to 110 a day. Keep in mind over 70,000 cattle are slaughtered in this country every single day. The majority of these are processed in huge processing plants, where thousands upon thousands of animals become the various cuts of meat enjoyed by millions of Americans. The potential for contamination is ridiculously high; particularly among ground beef which, depending on the processing facility, may contain proteins from 300-1000 different cows in a typical patty. Please also note that while the United States was testing approximately 1% of their cattle, Japan and a number of European countries test 100% of their cattle. It isn’t like it cannot be done.

While the practice which creates mad cow — feeding cattle back to cattle — has been banned in this country since 1997, the USDA lags far behind in inspecting and ensuring this practice is not continued. The law does not prohibit the feeding of one species to another – for instance, downed cows may be fed to chickens, and these chickens can in turn be fed back to cattle. Given this disease can transfer from bovine to homo sapien, who’s to determine it cannot be passed to avian species as well? In a time of lagging profits due to concerns of cholesterol, saturated fat, and BSE, who is to say that a number of feedlots would not continue to sneak in some free food to cut operating costs? It isn’t like USDA inspectors are making spontaneous surprise visits.

Are you concerned yet?

If you consume beef, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and your family. It is absolutely imperative in this culture to practice what I call “defensive eating” in order to stay healthy and well because the industry and the government will not be doing this for us. Below are some steps you can take to prevent contamination:

  1. Consume 100% grass-fed, free range cattle. These cattle are the healthiest because they consume a natural diet they can process (corn is difficult to process, increases digestive disorders and the risk of illness in cows). Know your sources (Thundering Hooves and Oregon Country Beef are a couple) and become intimately aware of where your food comes from.
  2. If you can’t find grass-fed, look for cows which have been fed a 100% vegetarian diet. This may be corn or another grain, but keep in mind newspaper is “vegetarian”, and is a common filler in animal feed.
  3. Grind your own beef. The best way to not ingest 300 cows in a hamburger patty is to have a butcher grind up a cut of beef before your eyes.
  4. Eat less beef. Experiment with meatless meals every few days and see how it feels. Most people know at least one vegetarian – ask for a favorite recipe or idea for lunches and dinners.
  5. Ask Questions. Be a detective. Ask your server where the beef comes from – not the supplier – the RANCH. Look that ranch up online. Just because the menu assures “all-natural beef” doesn’t mean a darn thing. Does the ranch disclose how the cattle are housed, fed, and slaughtered? If not, it probably isn’t pretty. Call them and ask more questions. Your concern will prompt change within the industry – especially among smaller ranches. Don’t underestimate the power of being an informed consumer.

Good luck out there, my fellow defensive eaters. We have a lot of homework to do!

Starbucks to go rBGH-free!

After continued pressure from consumers, Starbucks has annoucned that it will supply only rBGH-free milk in their US stores by December 31st of this year!
This is a huge step in public health advocacy, as Starbucks is a significant supplier of America’s dairy consumption. Starbucks yield to consumer concern is sending a loud message to the Dairy Industry: Americans do not want added hormones in our milk!

rBGH is a genetically modified, artificial hormone added to dairy cows to encourage milk production. The amount of milk a cow fed rBGH is able to produce is around 7 to 8 additional gallons per day. However, the risk of mastitis (pussy inflammation of the udder) increases by 25%, necessitating additional antibiotics and contaminating the milk supply with both puss and excessive pharmaceuticals. Yes – there is an allowable amount of puss permitted in your glass of milk.

In addition to causing greater suffering and drugging of dairy cattle, rBGH is suspect in human cancers of the prostate, breast, and colon and is consequently banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and all 27 countries in the European Union.

Please express your thanks to Starbucks for taking a step to ensure quality beverages and for responding to consumer concerns. Click here to send Starbucks CEO Jim Donald a thank you, on behalf of Food and Water Watch, a public advocacy group.

More info on safety concerns of rBGH.
Wikipedia’s definition and discussion of rBGH.

What are they eating in Bhutan?

This fascinating Photo Essay from Time Magazine explores the common foods eaten in a family each week across the globe. Included is price per week on groceries and favorite meals. A fascinating window into different cultures (and the pervasiveness of soda) across the world. Photos have been taken from the book “Hungry Planet” – a coffee table book on my wishlist for about a year now.

What The World Eats – Part 1:

What The World Eats – Part 2:

How Now Cloned Cow?

The FDA has recently approved the use of cloned milk and meat products to be introduced into our food supply. According to their studies done on the flesh and milk of cloned
animals (funded by whom?), nutrition composition is relatively indistinguishable. Since testing methods have determined cloned meat and milk to be biochemically identical to naturally created creatures, these products will not be labeled as cloned (according to Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame), despite the fact that over 60% of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of introducing cloned products into the food supply.

This technology is only 4 years old – far too soon to rule definitively on safety. We know from the past that breeding single variations of crops lead to an increase in pesticide use due to higher risk of pests and diseases wiping out entire fields. Keep in mind there are genetic variances within the same crop species (such as iceberg lettuce) — but what would happen if the DNA were identical? Cloned species without genetic variance pose a wealth of unknown consequences. Companies which have invested in cloning are eager to be able to make a profit on their research and hard work – already the “long” four year wait has forced one comapny into bankruptcy, so pressures are high.

To find out more about some of the concerns on cloned animal products, I recommend clicking here to visit Food and Water Watch, a consumer education and advocacy group working to diminish corporate control of food and water resources. The National Organic Standards Board has met and made the recommendation that products from clones and their offspring not be labeled as organic, thus upholding the integrity of the USDA Certified Organic Label. Soon organics may be our only assurance that we are not consuming cloned animals.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of UNKNOWINGLY consuming cloned animals and their milks, you have until May 3rd to tell the FDA by emailing them your objections or calling 1-888-463-6332 . I urge you to contact them to voice your concerns!

Washington Post article

On the Senate Table: National Food Uniformity Labeling Act

A Bill which threatens your ability to make informed decisions with your wallet

Despite significant public opposition, The House passed the National Food Uniformity Labeling Act which, if passed through the Senate, would eliminate over 200 state food labeling laws describing foods and beverages which are likely to cause cancer, birth defects, allergic reactions, or mercury poisoning. It will also overpower a state’s right to inform their citizens if a food or beverage contains genetically engineered ingredients such as Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).

The “National Uniformity for Food Act,” reduces the quality of our food safety by overturning state food safety laws that are not “identical” to federal law. Hundreds of state laws and regulations are at risk, including those governing the safety of milk, fish, and shellfish.
This bill is being pushed and supported by the big food and biotech industries. These industries have an understanding that an informed consumer, concerned about genetic engineering, irradiation and mercury poisoning will likely reject products and manufacturing practices that are in use if truthful labels are allowed to remain on products. If you are concerned about the quality and safety of our food supply, I urge you to learn more below and send a quick note to your Senator opposing this Act.

  • Full Text of the National Food Uniformity Labeling Act
  • Sign and Send a Message to Your Senator