How safe is your breakfast?

I love food.  I love cooking it, eating it, trying new styles and products…. all of it.  I guess that is why I gravitate toward food events, love making friends with chefs, could easily shop only at gourmet stores and why I spent so many years in grocery and hospitality careers.  Being on a budget, I can scarcely afford to buy solely organic, but I try when I can.  I do make certain food choices that I almost never waiver on.

The first one is eggs.  I don’t always buy organic, but I always buy cage free.  Why?  I think that if I am going to eat eggs, that I need to spend that few dollars a month on something better for me and that does not promote the cruel mass production of foodstuffs.  While I am not so naive as to believe that all the hens who produce these eggs are happy and running around a large barnyard, I can feel reasonably certain that they are not stacked in cages 12 feet high, with no room to walk, and laying in their own waste.  Many people do not eat veal for the way it is raised, but are perfectly happy to buy the cheapest eggs on the market, ensuring the cruelest possible treatment for the hens that delivered them.  Since I buy these cage free eggs, I had no worries about the large egg recall that occurred.  Cage free hens are less likely to be contracting salmonella and are less likely to be fed the hormones that promote egg production.  Consequently, they are also less likely to need the antibiotics necessary to keep chickens healthy in this type of environment.

The second thing I rarely stray from is that I eat little beef, and when I do, I buy high quality.  Reasons for this are varied, but the biggest is that raising cattle is a poor use of the world’s resources.  We use exorbitant amounts of fresh drinkable water to raise cattle and the corn and soy beans to feed them.  Consequently, we need more of everything-land water, pesticides, to raise the feed, only to use more water and land to raise the cattle.  Cattle are often kept in the same deplorable conditions as chickens-requiring huge amounts of antibiotics and hormones to make the biggest profits.  A cow’s natural diet is grass, but rather than feed them grass (which would require more land) they are usually fed grains which makes them produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas.  Or worse, cows were even turned into cannibals, which is what led to the huge outbreak of mad cow disease.  We have tainted beef recalls all the time, and no one seems to even notice.

In fact, there have been some 85 food recalls since July of 2009.  That is a pretty steep number.  When there was a pet food recall, and pets died, we were up in arms.  These deaths were hard to track, as there is no central database for this type of thing, but it was in the hundreds for sure and possibly in the thousands.   The furor and uproar in the US was unbelievable.  Pet food was pulled form shelves, whole pet diets were changed, congress pressed, the USDA petitioned, and concerned pet owners frantically called hotlines and checked websites daily to make sure the food they gave their animals was safe.  Contrast that to the estimated 76 million Americans who get ill from food each year.  As many as 325,000 end up in the hospital and 5,000 (mostly children) die EVERY YEAR from food related illness.  Still a food recall on eggs passes with barely a whimper and a food recall on beef hardly registers a blip on our radar.  The billions of eggs that were pulled from store shelves were basically form only two huge farms, and there is evidence that it was found a week before the actual recall was issued-while they continued to deliver eggs.  I won’t even go into the BPA that taints most of the bottles that contain that “cleaner and safer” bottled water (as well as plastic baby bottles and other packaging).

Why does this happen so often and so easily?  The short answer is that the public is often duped by premiere public relations departments and advertising, while USDA employees and politicians bend the rules for corporate interests.  Add to that the complications of bloated and unorganized government that is in charge of watching our food supply and you have a recipe for disaster.  According to an article in the L. A. Times (to which I was alerted by Green LA Girl-a blog you should definitely subscribe to):

in the U.S. cheese pizza is regulated by one federal agency, but a pepperoni pizza is overseen by another. An open-faced turkey sandwich, likewise, falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but one with two slices of bread is under the jurisdiction of the FDA. Liquid beef broth and dehydrated chicken broth? USDA. Liquid chicken broth and dehydrated beef broth? FDA.

In an effort to try and make the food chain that we partake in safer and easier to regulate, there is a bill out there.  Titled the Food Safety Modernization Act this bill has passed committee and will likely die in the Senate.  Of course there are rumors  abounding about what this bill will and won’t do.  The multi-billion dollar food production industry is likely behind many of the rumors that it will stop farmer’s markets, kill small family farms, and interfere with organic food production and labeling.  In reality, this bill would only be a start to healthier food.  According to the Enviroblog:

The Durbin bill would:

  • Require food processors to anticipate and prevent possible contamination in the food production process.
  • Increase FDA inspections of food-processing plants based on risk associated with a particular product.
  • Require imported food to meet the same safety standards as domestic food.
  • Establish science-based minimum standards for safe fresh produce farming.
  • Empower FDA to order mandatory recalls.

There is another synopsis on the Food Poisin Journal, and you can read the bill in it’s entirety or by its informative summary here.  Mostly stalled by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn this bill is an expensive one.  But with the annual impact of food borne illness estimated at $152 billion, how much is reform worth?  You can join the Make Our Food Safe Coalition in an effort to alert the Senate to your support of this bill.

The best thing that you can do is vote with your dollars and buy locally produced foods, support farmer’s markets, and the like.  Unfortunately, those with the lowest incomes in America are disproportionately affected by food safety issues.  These are the same folks who are less likely to have access to health care and insurance.  This leads to more visits to emergency rooms by under or uninsured and raising the costs of health care and insurance across the board.  Just one more example of how all things are interrelated and how impact in one area is an impact in many others.