Saturday, January 22, 2011

"The Future of Food" - Pharming?

So, earlier this week I watched The Future of Food (sort of in the tradition of Tapped), and I highly suggest it. I learned a lot (probably a lot I didn't want to know, but definitely should know).

I'm addicted to documentaries. I'll admit it. I'm a nerd. And these kind are my favorite, not because they are fun to watch (well, actually they are for me), but because they teach me about things that directly affect me and my family. And because they don't just say what's wrong without offering a solution or some hope at the end.

So what did I learn from this one?

--Though FDA scientists supported regulations on the use of GMOs, the U.S. government does not require companies to label products that contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) because they are considered to be GRAS (generally recognized as safe) - according to who, is what I want to know. All 15 nations of the European Union DO require labeling.

--Two particular ingredients that often contain GMOs are high fructose corn syrup (the devil) and soy lecithin (his right hand man).

--The crops most often genetically modified are corn, wheat/grains, and soybeans.

--Interestingly, GMOs may be directly responsible for the rise in food allergies.

--Products to watch carefully include: pre-packaged mixes, cereals, ready made meals, soft drinks, baby food and formula (Gerber has said NO! to GMOs), bread, and chocolate (good lord, kill me now...and stay tuned for my "sad, but necessary post on chocolate, coming soon).

--Foods containing GMOs that have been tested on lab animals have elicited negative effects on their immune systems, growth, and life span.

--Many of the politicians at the head of committees that impact decisions about our food have worked for companies responsible for encouraging the use of GMOs. And several EPA officials have, too.

--Companies can now patent seeds and plants, which allows them to buy the rights to thousands of species, put them on the shelf, and monopolize the market with their own genetically engineered products. As a result, biodiversity is decreasing.

--Corporations are also patenting genes, which means they can't be used in any other research.

--Multinational corporations are suing farmers for the unintended presence of their product. And they are winning!

--It is predicted that the consolidation of companies and food retailers will leave us, within 10 years, with only 6 companies controlling the supply, and only one of those being in the U.S. (Wal-mart).

--Currently, 80% of U.S. beef products come from 4 companies (most use hormone additives) and seed supply is dominated by 4 clusters of companies.

--Terminator Technology creates "suicide seeds" that self-destruct after one growing season. These seeds pollute and kill other species near-by.

--Some bio-engineered seeds have to be sprayed with a proprietary chemical in order to grow at all.

--GMOs not seen in the 1980s now account for large numbers of farms in the U.S.

--Legislation has been introduced to control or stop the use of genetically engineered foods (The Right to Know Act).

--The EU and Japan have said no to bio-engineering crops and refuse to buy products from the U.S. that have been modified.

--Genetic engineering is not a plant-only problem - we now have genetically altered fish, livestock, poultry, insects, and trees.

So what's the good news?

--Most of our foods are NOT yet being genetically modified.

--Sustainable agriculture on small-scale farms is on the rise.

--Farmers Markets have increased exponentially.

--Small organic farms that boast diverse crops are better for the land and for the people who eat what grows there.

--Farm cooperatives are making organic farming more affordable.

--More and more people are choosing organic produce.

--Consumers have power - USDA organic products did not have pure standards until consumer backlash forced the issue.

--Some states have banned non-family owned farms in an effort to force out mega-corporations that plant genetically-altered seed.

Consumers are learning, speaking out, and demanding healthy products. Companies will only make products that sell. If we refuse to buy them, they'll stop making them. But, how can we make informed decisions if companies aren't legally required to label their products?

The best way to avoid the problem altogether is to do what you already know is best: buy local produce, meat, eggs, poultry and fish - try not to buy ready-made meals, boxed mixes, pre-packaged foods, processed foods - avoid preservatives, soy lecithin, high fructose corn syrup, fast food, junk food, soda...

And really check out your soy products. GMOs have been found in baby formula, "health" drinks, name it - anything that says "soy". It seems to be the latest fad, but just because it contains soy doesn't make it healthy...or natural.

Also, just because it ISN'T labeled USDA Organic doesn't mean it ISN'T organic. Lots of small farms can't afford the costs of having their foods certified. If it is a local or regional farm, it shouldn't be too hard to find out if they use antibiotics, hormones, or other additives.

All in all, I didn't learn anything new about what I should be doing as a consumer. I just learned that it is even important than I thought - to fanatically read labels and spend hours researching companies and ingredients. Luckily, once you find your staple products, it takes much less time and effort.

And it makes me awfully happy that I started doing this before my son was born - so that most of what I put in my body at that time was "acceptable". Now, I'm even better at it (though I've got a ways to go). I'm hoping it will rub off on my kiddo and that he'll grow up thinking it's important to buy local, eat natural, and read labels. was D's idea, initially, to start buying hormone-free products so our son didn't develop a third eye or too many limbs in the womb. And now look at how far we've come.

If it is possible for us, anyone can do it.

And yes, it is more expensive in some ways. Our meat costs a bit more, but we use less. The dairy products cost more. And the produce is less diverse sometimes (especially if you eat what's in season in your own region). But, if it will give my kid a better chance at a cleaner body-burden test later in's worth it.

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