Warning: The ingredients of this article are highly informative.
After decades of an unhealthy diet of fast food, processed food, fake food and genetically modified food, consumers around the world are waking up to the sobering truth that indeed, we are what we eat, and what we've been eating has been making us sick—for years.
From sugar and high fructose corn syrup to preservatives, artificial ingredients, “natural” flavors, chemicals and foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), what we've been eating can cause diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even death. And it's not only humans who suffer from our unhealthy diet. Pesticides used to grow food, especially Monsanto's Roundup, are killing off the honeybees, birds and butterflies and polluting the planet beyond measure.
Other additives that pose health risks to humans include antibiotics meant for humans that are fed to cows, chickens and even fish so the animals don't get sick while being raised in farm factory conditions so horrible that the term inhumane doesn't come close to describing them. When we consume these animals, we develop a resistance to antibiotics ourselves, and these antibiotics have been linked to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.”
But after years of denial from the multi-industrial companies about the dangers of the foods they grow and sell, the truth is plain to see and consumers are using their wallets to voice their concern. Let's start with a few food giants that have lately been forced by consumers to take steps addressing concerns about food safety.
Faced with slumping sales and competition from fast food joints serving healthier fare, McDonald's has struggled to regain its customer base. The company has announced plans to stop serving chicken that has been fed antibiotics meant for humans.Over the years, the company has made similar promises but actual steps have yet to be taken. McDonald's just announced plans to to toast its buns longer so they're served warmer and to sear burgers longer so they're juicier. But the buns contain high levels of unhealthy high fructose corn syrup and the beef still contains the harmful antibiotics and hormones, no matter how juicy they are.
Other food giants have taken bigger steps, including Chipotles, which no longer uses food containing GMO ingredients. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut just announced they will eliminate all artificial flavors and colors from their fare. Coke has pledged to discontinue using BVO, brominated vegetable oil, essentially a flame retardant banned in food throughout Europe and in Japan because it's linked to cancer and other serious diseases. (Did you know that ingredient was in your soda?) And Dunkin Donuts promised to stop adding TiO2, or titanium dioxide—a chemical used in paint, sunscreen and cosmetics—to enhance the whiteness of its powdered donuts.
This is all great news for diners, but much more needs to be done, including addressing genetically modified foods. GMOs are controversial, to say the least, as lab tests on rats and mice have indicated that eating them causes an array of alarmingly serious health problems. The pesticides used with farming genetically modified crops causes great damage to the birds, butterflies and bees that eat them, and the fact that these seeds can contaminate nearby organic crops and aren't self-replicating has led to their nickname,“terminator” seeds.
Monsanto, one of the biggest chemical companies in the U.S., is the leading producer of geneticallymodified (GM) seeds, In 2010, only 10% of the world's croplands were planted with genetically modified seeds., but today, the U.S is just about the only country in the world that hasn't banned GM seeds. It's telling that last year, in the U.S., 94% of soybean crops and 93% of corn crops came from genetically modified seeds.
Corn and soybeans were the very first GM crops, but the list keeps growing and currently includes alfalfa, apples, canola/rapeseed, papaya, potatoes, rice, squash, sugar beets, sugarcane, sweet peppers and tomatoes. Recently, news of a GM orange came out of Florida, and even salmon has been genetically modified, which many environmentalists believe threatens the very existence of wild salmon, for if just one GM salmon escaped into the wild, it could irrevocably destroy the salmon population via breeding.
Many farmers who do not use Monsanto seeds have had to cease growing their own crops in order to avoid genetic contamination from crops grown with Monsanto seed in nearby fields. That's because Monsanto has driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy by suing them, creating a climate of fear in rural America. The company targets organic farmers and tests their crops, often without permission. If it finds that those crops are resistant to RoundUp, Monsanto sues the farmer for patent infringement.
The situation is much worse in India, where to date, some 125,000 farmers have taken their own lives after being promised huge harvests and income if they switched from planting traditional seeds to genetically modified seeds. They made the switch, but the profits never appeared and the farmers lost everything. England's Prince Charles, an avid proponent of sustainable agriculture, has decried this GM farming experiment in India as immoral and has established the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to help those affected and to promote organic Indian crops over GM crops.
Photo courtesy: IndianExpress.com
Because of all the controversy surrounding GMOs, more than 300 farm, food, health, public interest and environmental organizations and businesses have demanded that Congress protect our right to know what's in our food by requiring mandatory labeling of GM foods. And yet Congress has taken no action. Instead, states and counties have passed their own mandatory labeling laws,only to be sued by Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other pro-GMOparties. But just this week, a federal court upheld a ban on planting GM crops in Jackson County, Oregon, which voters overwhelmingly approved and last month, a federal judge declined to halt Vermont's law, the first in the nation, requiring GMO label. Of course, Monsanto and other entities vow to appeal the ruling, which just begs the question—if GMOs are safe, as proponents claim, what's so wrong with slapping a label on your produc and proudly proclaiming that GMOs are an ingredient?
It's a frustrating juxtaposition to see Michelle Obama advocating healthier food and growing gardens while her husband appointed a former Monsanto lobbyist to head up the FDA and turns a blind eye to the demand of millions of Americans to have GMOs labeled, something he pledged to do on the campaign trail then abandoned after being elected.
Photo: Edalisse Hirst
So what can you safely eat? I struggle every time I visit a grocery store to read the miniscule labes that disguise the true nature of ingredients with the telling term “natural” flavors and with names I can't even pronounce. I make sure to shop the perimeter of the store, where the real vegetables and fruits are, and avoid the center aisles, filled with processed junk posing as food.
I also remember what activist and journalist Michael Pollan wrote in “The Omnivore's Dilemma: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” To that, I would add, eat only organic foods that you grow or buy from farmers you trust. And I take hope in the fact that the world is waking up and wondering what exactly is in that McDonald's hamburger that keeps it looking exactly the same for 20 years, and why are we eating food grown with seeds s manufactured by the same company that created Agent Orange and deadly pesticides.