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Are You Going to Eat That?

July 4th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

By Michael Doxey

LOGAN—In a day when processed food is available on every corner, health concerns have been raised about the diet of the American people. Fast food, prepared frozen meals, packaged snacks and candy may cause your denim to shrink or your derriere to expand. The World Health Organization attributes a sharp rise in obesity plus chronic disease appearing all over the world to processed food.

So what are the alternatives to all of that cancerous yet beautifully packaged tastiness? What about the healthy fresh produce that you hear about in public service announcements on television? Is there any merit to vegetable phobia that drives children to the delicious taste of hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed or flax seed oil?

Well, as it turns out, there just may be something to the notion of avoiding some fresh foods from your local grocer. According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, in the last 50 years, industrialization in agriculture has taken over the traditional model of organic food production in the U.S. and many parts of the world. This has become a cause for concern for both the quality of food that people consume and for our environment.

In The Hidden Costs of Agriculture, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports,  “The currently dominant system of industrial agriculture—which voters and taxpayers have unknowingly promoted and subsidized through ill-considered government food and farm policy choices—impacts the environment in many ways . . . . It uses huge amounts of water, energy, and chemicals, often with little regard to long-term adverse effects.”

The report continues, “But the environmental costs of agriculture are mounting. Irrigation systems are pumping water from reservoirs faster than they are being recharged. Toxic herbicides and insecticides are accumulating in ground and surface waters. Chemical fertilizers are running off the fields into water systems where they generate damaging blooms of oxygen-depleting microorganisms that disrupt ecosystems and kill fish. Unmanageable and polluting mountains of waste and noxious odor are the hallmarks of industrial-style CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) for poultry and livestock.”

Noxious odors and mountains of waste will probably not be showing up in any marketing campaign anytime soon, though it’s disturbing to know that they will be affecting much of the food we eat.

Mark Bittman writes in Rethinking the Meat Guzzler that the Environmental Protection Agency reported that, “Agriculture in the United States—much of which now serves the demand for meat—contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.”

“[A]ssembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases,” he adds, “and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy, and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.”

The effects on the environment alone raise many red flags about the ethics and sustainability of industrial farming. The actual food that is produced in the industrial farm model raises even more cause for concern.

In Eat This Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide, David Zinczenko says, “Researchers in a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition tested 43 different garden crops for nutritional content and discovered that six out of 13 nutrients showed major declines between 1950 and 1999: protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Researchers say the declines are probably due to farmers’ efforts to achieve higher yields and plants that grow faster and can be picked earlier. As a result, the plants aren’t able to make or take in nutrients at the same rate.”

Further, some research shows that genetically engineered potatoes are poisonous to mammals. Arpad Pusztai found that when the potatoes were fed to lab rats, their vital organs and immune systems were harmed. The cause of the damage was found to be the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, (CaMv) a viral promoter that was causing the rats to contract a severe viral infection. The CaMv viral promoter is found in almost all genetically engineered foods and crops. Food for thought: rats live in the sewer and they eat old garbage and thrive. If genetically engineered food is making them sick, well then, I’m concerned.

So if we don’t eat processed foods, and we don’t eat foods from industrial farms, what else is there left to eat? Organic food from organic farms seems to be a safe bet. The arguments for eating organic foods over industrial farmed foods may be found at organic.org.

One of the best reasons is to avoid pesticides and, of course, to protect the environment. Growing your own food also seems to be a good alternative if you steer clear of genetically engineered seeds and pesticides.

The benefits of industrial farming are unclear; many proponents of industrialized agriculture argue that the benefits include creating more food and providing it cheaper. Organic agriculture supporters refute those claims and even argue that organic foods are cheaper and that more food could be produced on smaller farms.

I went to the grocery store to shop for some items that I regularly consume and did a cost breakdown. The organic alternatives to my genetically engineered food did in fact come in at a higher pricetag—in some cases the cost was more than twice my regular purchase.

Author Zinczenko says, “Organic products cost more—according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Food Science, an average of 10 percent to 40 percent more for typical items.”

The research that organic food supporters cite is true if you are looking at the whole picture. In the meantime, organic will generally cost more item for item. But for an instant savings, omitting many processed foods from your diet will save you enough money to do organic properly, not to mention money that may otherwise be spent on future doctor’s bills.


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