October 31, 2012

Natural Foodie: Grim reapings from the industrial food system

To really scare yourself this Halloween, consider the 'extras' that come with many foods: arsenic, pesticides and salmonella.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Today is the day when we go out of our way to consume creepy eats – eyeball appetizers, bug-encrusted cupcakes and kitty litter cake. Why not?

But for people like me – science majors who spend too much time reading lengthy tomes about the unappetizing realities of modern food and farming – we don't need Halloween to cause our dinner to give us nightmares. All someone like me needs to do is take a stroll through a brightly lit grocery store. Here, the horrors of our industrial food system assault me on every aisle.

Run from the factory-farmed meat! Watch out for the pesticide-dipped fruit! Duck to avoid the chemical-filled snack foods!

Care for your own Halloween food scare? Then let me take you on a haunting tour of the shadowy underbelly of the food world, where culinary abominations lurk under familiar logos and beneath safety-sealed packages.

Just be warned, you could end up like me: Skeptical and overly cautious of all foods that don't come from a farmer or food producer that you know personally. Because you never know when that tempting foodie treat will turn out to be a sneaky agribusiness trick.


RICE – We don't have to start our tour at the bulk bins to find rice. This popular grain turns up in cereals, pastas, rice milks and countless processed foods. So what's so freaky about this traditional staple? Oh, just a little thing called arsenic.

According to a recent investigation by Consumer Reports, all rice and rice products tested contained worrying amounts of naturally occurring and man-made arsenic. The inorganic, or man-made variety, is the most troubling, as it's a known cancer causer. Turns out, rice absorbs water-soluble arsenic much better than other plants.

So what's the source of all that inorganic arsenic? Humans, of course, who aren't always particularly bright and do things like spray crops with arsenic-based pesticides and fertilize fields with factory farm poultry feces, which is often contaminated with arsenic too. These practices are particularly prevalent in the South, which is why Consumer Reports found that rice grown in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas contained the highest levels of arsenic.


CORN/SOY/CANOLA – As we creep around the store on alert for sketchy eats, take notice of all the crackers, cereals, cookies, energy bars, chips, candies, sodas, canned pastas, instant soups, tubed yogurts and frozen dinners that fill the shelves. Read the label on any of these highly processed foods and it's next to impossible to find one that doesn't contain ingredients derived from corn, soybeans or canola.

These ingredients frighten on two levels. First, you have the overly processed derivatives of these plants, like high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil, which have been linked to poor health. Second is that these foods are the big three when it comes to genetically engineered crops, which have never been independently tested for safety and aren't labeled. Unless they are certified organic, you can confidently assume all corn, soy and canola is genetically modified.

Many of these crops have been manipulated in laboratories to manufacture pesticides within their cell walls. And the ones that don't produce their own pesticides are sprayed with large amounts of chemicals, including the weed killer Roundup, which has been linked to infertility and cancer. While the marketers of genetically engineered seeds claim they allow farmers to use fewer chemicals, data show the introduction of these Frankenfood crops actually caused the use of pesticides to skyrocket.


APPLES/CELERY/BELL PEPPERS – Speaking of pesticides, if we tiptoe over to the produce section, we can spot many of their victims. Pesticides – both herbicides and insecticides – are designed to kill biological organisms and disrupt normal cellular function. Last time I checked, humans continue to be biological organisms composed of cells, which if nothing else, makes you question the intelligence of a species that sprays this stuff on its food. Not surprisingly, many of the most common pesticides are suspected or known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and neurotoxins.

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