The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that food-borne illness affects 76 million Americans annually; 325,000 adults and children become sick enough to be hospitalized and 5,000 die.
Daily headlines often include stories about:
- Food poisoned with e. Coli and Salmonella.
- Pesticides and feedlot runoff causing pollution by methane and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Food animal and immigrant labor abuses.
- World hunger, malnutrition, obesity and the diabetes epidemic becoming rampant.
The documentary film “Food Inc.” shows how industrial food is making people sicker, fatter and poorer, and how it negatively affects the environment, the economy and workers’ rights.
David Servan-Schreiber, MD, Ph.D., in his well-documented book “Anticancer,” confronts the hazards of our traditional Western diet.
Thirty million Americans are overtly obese. Processed foods and soft drinks are packed with sugar, the largest crop in the world. Many of the diet sodas contain sweeteners 1,000 to 2,000 times sweeter than sugar. This can ruin the natural ability of a person’s taste buds to appreciate normal healthy foods such as water, vegetables and fruits.
Many adults and children are becoming more sedentary. They spend hours and hours in front of the TV, computer and game toys while filling up with soda pop, brightly colored energy drinks, junk food and fast food. Poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, sugar and stress are major factors that contribute to the epidemic of “Western diseases” such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, dementia and cancer.
For the past half century, according to “Food Inc.,” the goal of the food industry has been to grow food “faster, fatter, bigger and cheaper.” If big-breasted chickens can be fattened in 49 days versus three months, and if cattle and swine can be fed subsidized corn, why would or should industry do anything to slow production?
These feeding practices sounded like a good plan to feed the world when I was an Aggie at the University of California, Davis. I recall writing papers against caponizing chickens and giving hormones to beef cattle.
But in those days, food science researchers did not know about nutrigenomics. Researchers did not fully understand the impact of changing the natural diet of animals. They did not know that feeding large amounts of corn to meat animals (herbivores) would alter their tissues’ natural ratio of omega-3 to -6 fatty acids from close to 1:1 up to 1:16. This imbalance of omega-3 to -6 fatty acids is found in milk products and eggs.
A French study showed that American babies are overweight at 18 months. They could not blame the babies for having bad lifestyle habits. They concluded that American milk and egg products, abnormally high in omega-6 fatty acids (ratio 1:16), cause babies to be overweight.
Consumers have 47,000 products to select from in the mega-supermarkets, according to the film. The public views this huge number of boxes, bottles and bright packages and thinks there is great variety. The public is being deceived because the lion’s share of industrial processed boxed, bagged and bottled food is a rearrangement of corn products, including high-fructose syrup.
Big Business, Big Clout
Industry owns patents on genetically engineered soy seed that confers resistance to major herbicides. Monsanto has gained control of America’s soy bean farmers by accusing non-users of infringing its seed patents. If farmers attempt to save and clean their own seed for planting, they are scrutinized and sued. Monsanto is big business and has the legal and political clout to monopolize the soy bean farming industry.
The public seems to be generally reluctant to eat the meat of cloned animals. However, the public may not be given the opportunity to be informed about the types of meat they purchase because big industry is fighting accurate labeling of meat products. Political clout and money funds lobbyists in favor of big business, so labeling of cloned meat may not be required by law for the public. Would this be deception or an omission?
Meat animals are considered production “units” and are being abused. Ranchers have lost the role of stewards to their animals. There is seldom individualized veterinary “care” for food animals in large operations, only systems analysis.
Similarly, immigrant workers are being used for cheap labor and as political scapegoats. Big agribusiness executives, who hire and bus in immigrant workers, often remain protected and distanced from the immigration raids on their employees.
California voters pushed agribusiness to be kind to chickens in November by passing Proposition 2. Veterinarians in agribusiness differed with consumer-based small-animal practitioners, who displayed posters in favor of Prop. 2.
Why are there no more seasons for certain fruits and vegetables in the supermarket? We get the same ripe fruits and vegetables year-round. For example, tomatoes are picked when green in foreign countries, shipped to market and ripened with ethylene gas. The object resembles a tomato but has less taste and nutritional value because of soil depletion and the early picking and ripening process.
So what can we do to avoid developing a big belly and dying from Western diseases? We can vote at the market by making healthy food choices. The public must demand wholesome foods that are nutritionally dense.
Organic farmers and ranchers, who grow crops and raise grass-fed and healthy food animals, are happy to supply mainstream markets. When the public demands it, big markets will seek and provide wholesome foods at fair prices. <HOME>
Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, is a past president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is president-elect of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.
This column first apeared in the August 2009 issue of Veterinary Practice News