Tag Archive for: food safety

Dear President Obama,

I was pleased when you were re-elected President of the United States last fall. I believe that throughout the campaign, you spoke with conviction and courage with regard to things that are truly important to you  and, while I didn’t agree with all of them (our nation’s energy policy being one of the most glaring examples), I happily voted for you. Happily, because I saw a common thread running through many of your positions – the acknowledgment that the easy way out is not generally the best way to do things, the acceptance of diversity, and the willingness to tread lightly and ponder solutions deeply. Those are qualities I admire in a person, especially in a leader.

But I have to admit I am very disappointed right now.  While you have expressed concern for families, both in talking about health care and education, wages and job creation, you have dropped the ball when it comes to food safety by signing HR 933 which contained what has commonly become known as the “Monsanto Protection Act.”  You have proven yourself to be unwilling to protect our farmland, the quality of our food supply, our trade with other countries around the world, and the health of our nation’s citizens by allowing Monsanto and other companies like it to act with impunity when it comes to manipulating both the food that is grown in this country and others as well as the supply chain of seeds themselves.

If we continue to be afraid to hold companies accountable for their actions by making them immune to litigation if their products prove harmful, we are simply substituting corporations for banking institutions in the “too big to fail” world and we will surely reap far worse effects than we did from the recession that began in 2008.

If Monsanto is allowed to continue to plant genetically engineered crops such as alfalfa that are resistant to pesticides, there is absolutely no doubt that the alfalfa will find its way into the food chain in ways that we can’t undo. The genetic material from these seeds will contaminate soils, perhaps rendering it altered forever. These crops will pollinate other, non GE crops and change them forever as well.  The alfalfa can find its way into feed for even those animals that are organically grown, affecting both the livelihood of the organic farmers and the health of the consumers who buy them unknowingly.  That hurts American families.

If we continue in this vein, we will also isolate ourselves from the world economy when it comes to trade in foodstuffs.  Ireland and Japan have adopted laws against growing GMOs, Egypt has placed a ban on import/export of GMOs, the EU has strict labeling laws that have effectively stopped GMOs from being purchased for the most part.  None of these countries will be interested in buying food from the US if we cannot prove that our products are free of genetically engineered components.  That hurts American families.

In Japan, Keisuke Amagasa noted that, despite Japan’s ban on growing GMOs,

because Japan imports GM canola from Canada, GM contamination has already occurred and it is spreading to a much greater degree than one could imagine. Judging by the ominous precedent of Canada, once GM crops are cultivated, segregation between GM and non-GM will become almost impossible, and keeping pure non-GM varieties away from GM contamination will be very hard.”

I don’t know what your motivation was for signing this bill, but I do want to help you understand the wide-reaching effects that this kind of legislation will have on the American people. The people you stood up for during both of your campaigns. The people you continue to say you want to protect and support.  In signing this bill, you turned away from those individuals and chose, instead, to protect and support an enormous corporation that has no such convictions, whose only interest is continuing to make as much money as it can, no matter what the damage may one day prove to be.  There are many families in the United States who will suffer both short-term and long-term consequences of the Monsanto Protection Act and I am disappointed that this will be part of your legacy.  I don’t expect to agree with everything you say and do, but I did hope that I could count on your willingness to fight for those individuals who cannot fight for themselves.  In taking up the mantle of Monsanto, you have turned away from that principle and I hope you find the courage and conviction to turn back before it is too late.

to start eating more actual food versus the convenient, prepackaged stuff that comes from a laboratory somewhere.

Normally when I see headlines in the vein of, “8 Ingredients You Never Want to See on Nutrition Labels,” I get a little smug and assume that, due to the food allergies in our household and my constant efforts to buy more whole foods and cook most of our meals, I am not likely to need this particular advice.

Huh. Consider this article I saw this morning. (Don’t worry if you don’t particularly feel like reading the article – while it isn’t long, I will definitely be paraphrasing parts of it in order to make my point).

Item #1: BHA –  a chemical that is used to prevent foods with added oils from going rancid. Okay. But (and I quote), “BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) has been shown to cause cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. The reason the FDA hasn’t banned it is largely technical–the cancers all occurred in the rodents’ forestomachs, an organ that humans don’t have.”  Me talking here: I don’t have fur or beady eyes, either, but a lot of things that cause cancer in rats have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Cancers are not that picky about which cells or organs they attack. 

I’m going to skip right over items 2 (parabens), 3 (partially hydrogenated oil), 4 (sodium nitrite) and 5 (caramel coloring) in order to get to the one that has me the most stumped. Please, by all means, read about the ways in which you can get cancer from the aforementioned ingredients, but for my purposes, I am far more intrigued by

Item #6: Castoreum – generally labeled “natural flavorings” by food manufacturers. I’m thinking probably because (and I quote), “Castoreum is a substance made from beavers’ castor sacs, or anal scent glands. These glands produce potent secretions that help the animals mark their territory in the wild. In the food industry, however, 1,000 pounds of the unsavory ingredient are used annually to imbue foods–usually vanilla or raspberry flavored–with a distinctive, musky flavor.”  Now, let’s break this down, shall we? 

  1. Whose idea was it to MINE A BEAVER’S ANUS FOR FOOD FLAVORINGS? And why? If we can make synthetic banana syrup in a chemistry lab (I know we can, I did it in Organic Chem 101 my first year in college), WHY, OH WHY would someone CHOOSE to get a “musky” flavoring from the hind end of a beaver?!? (The little devil on my shoulder taps me on the head and says, “Duh – if they did it in a lab, they couldn’t label it “natural” flavoring.) True dat.
  2. What happens to the beavers after their scent glands have been mined? Is it a process like taking your pug to the vet to have his anal glands aspirated? Do they keep these poor creatures in a cage and extract “musk” from them multiple times? Or, instead, do they capture the beavers, surgically remove their glands and then either release or, ahem, retire the critters?  Inquiring minds want to know!
  3. How many beavers does it take to yield 1,000 pounds of secretions? 
  4. Does this mean that even foods that bill themselves as “vegetarian” or “vegan” cannot accurately do so if they contain castoreum? Methinks so…
  5. Most importantly, HOW MANY OF THE FOODS IN MY PANTRY CONTAIN “NATURAL FLAVORINGS?” I will be purging them immediately.
Item #7 is food dyes. I will also skip right over this one since we have heard stories for years about how food dyes (especially red ones) are known carcinogens.  I hope I don’t unwittingly have any of them in my house….

Item #8: Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein – sounds fairly harmless.  I mean, when I hear that I think hydro-water, lyzed – broken, vegetable protein. No big.  Until I read this (and I quote), “plant protein that has been chemically broken down into amino acids. One of these acids, glutamic acid, can release free glutamate. When this glutamate joins with free sodium in your body, they form monosodium glutamate (MSG)….When MSG is added to products directly, the FDA requires manufacturers to disclose its inclusion on the ingredient statement. But when it occurs as a byproduct of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA allows it to go unrecognized.” WTF? So after all the work I do to ensure that myself and my kids are NOT getting gluten in any form, the FDA has decided that this particular little gem can hide in foods I buy? I can’t tell you how many times I have felt rotten, as though I somehow got gluten in my diet, but couldn’t figure out how that was even possible. It happens from time to time and makes me feel as though I’m crazy, suffering symptoms when I can’t locate the source.  

The more lists like this come out, the more I realize that we are slowly poisoning ourselves by looking to chemists and giant food companies to figure out how to feed ourselves.  For centuries, we have known how to grow good, healthy food while keeping the soil healthy enough to sustain us over time.  We are intelligent enough to understand that letting nature take its time to grow its bounty in the way it was meant to yields nutrition-rich whole foods that won’t give us cancer or heartburn or grow salmonella or listeria faster than we can contain them. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go mine my pantry for beaver scent sacs.