Unhappy meal

Ok, so industrial agriculture has not been the most favourable development. But what does this mean to consumers? To their health and rights?

Marco Visscher | April 2003 issue

Hypocrites, the founder of modern medicine, said it clearly some 2,500 years ago: ‘Your food is your medicine, your medicine is your food.’ Meanwhile, doctors in training dedicate only a fraction of their studies to nutrition. Yet when you look at the newspaper, you can hardly miss the stories about the link between nutrition and health. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure – Western wealth-related illnesses that indisputably have ‘something’ to do with food. What happened? Is it a fluke that the epidemic of wealth-related diseases coincided with the breakthrough of industrial agriculture?

Putting it mildly: no, not quite. To stay healthy humans need some 50 different minerals we ourselves cannot produce. These minerals have to come from somewhere. You’d think they’d come from food, as they always have. But a lot of important minerals have disappeared from our farmland due to years of artificial fertiliser use. Artificial fertiliser, a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, disrupts the balance of the soil. While crops may grow, that growth compromises other important minerals, such as magnesium, chromium and selenium.

After conducting studies in various parts of the world, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) concluded that the prevailing method of farming is leading to a ‘serious shortage’ of minerals. Another recent study showed that since 1985 the vitamin and mineral content in beans has fallen by 60%, by 70% in potatoes and by 80% in apples. Popeye would have to eat 200 cans of spinach today to get the same amount of iron as he got from that one can 50 years ago.

The amount of vitamins in vegetables and fruit has also fallen drastically. Cauliflower contains 50% less vitamin C now than in 1963. The amount of vitamin A in apples has dropped 60%, plummeting 50% in broccoli. And take the protein content in grains. In 1900, wheat was 90% protein, compared to 9% today. We’d need to eat 10 slices of bread today to get the same amount of nutrients there used to be in one slice.

Because plants in the soil seek out nutrients, but nowadays rarely find useful minerals, they absorb heavy metals instead, such as aluminium, mercury and lead. Our bodies assimilate these damaging substances more easily due to a lack of protective minerals. In the place of the lost nutrients we get an added bonus – traces of pesticides. In laboratory tests, food authorities have discovered remnants of agricultural chemicals in some 30% of the fruits and vegetables we eat. Studies have also shown that in the western world, we ingest an average of one-and-a-half kilos of pesticides every year.

There is a ready-made answer to the question of how to avoid heavy metals and pesticide residue: organic food. Organic farmers do not use pesticides, chemical fertilisers, antibiotics or other artificial additives. As a rule, their products have a higher nutritional value, although there are no guarantees given that the point is not so much what is in organic food as what is not. It is likely that the soil on organic farms is richer in various minerals given that studies indicate that organic food contains substantially less aluminium, cadmium, rubidium and lead.

It remains a great mystery as to who benefits from ignorance. The food industry does everything in its power to sell its products. Salt, for example, is absolutely crucial in producing the summit of industrial food, the ready-made meal. It is a cheap way to increase the weight of these products; it makes food taste better and, understandably, makes people thirsty. Which is why the food industry convinces scientists and policymakers that salt only causes high blood pressure among a fraction of the population. That eating too little salt could in fact pose a threat to people’s health and that it is impossible for authorities to issue a uniform recommendation on the issue. The Salt Institute, a lobby group of salt manufacturers, distributes a newsletter mainly comprised of reports of studies that prove salt does not present a threat to our health.

In her book ‘Food Politics’, Marion Nestle of New York University points out the various ways the industry tries to promote their interests through legislation and political advice. Nestle (no relation to the Swiss multinational) shows that nutrition experts have been issuing the same advice for scores of years – eat less fat, less sugar, less salt. Pressured by companies that have seen their sales fall when consumption declines, food authorities have never accepted the recommendation of a consumption cutback. While nutrition experts would say ‘eat less red meat’, the government claims consumers should ‘eat more lean meat’.

The industry’s political influence reaches all the way to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Early this year a report leaked to the British newspaper The Guardian, which discussed the industry’s ‘excessive influence’ on measures to limit fat, sugar and salt meant to protect public health. Scientists were paid to speak out in the media against such regulations. The industry also tried to get scientists that were kindly disposed to their views onto committees of the WHO and the FAO.

Eating would be a question of personal choice if people were able to make that choice based on good, reliable information. But a glance at supermarket labels reveals anything but good, reliable information. What manufacturer would affix a health warning on its product label? Who would be the first to admit that agricultural chemicals were used? For now, old-fashioned deception is the most apt description for the information on labels. On Kellogg’s Smacks cereal, sugar is listed under five different names, giving the false impression that it is not the first ingredient.

Take the drinkable Dannon soft curd cheese for children. ‘Without artificial flavours, aromas and flavours’ states the cheerful packaging. But ‘aromas’, as is stated in the label’s fine print, are simply another name for additives that shouldn’t be in there in the first place. ‘Extra calcium’ is also on the label. Sounds healthy, but the drink contains only 6% of the recommended daily amount for children. ‘Lots of fresh fruit’ is another catchy phrase. But it contains less than a slice of banana. And now that you mention it, how ‘fresh’ can that banana actually be?

Nor does freedom of choice include the steady increase in the amount of sugar appearing in nearly all products, from baby food to pasta to canned vegetables. Sugar has no nutritional value, but it is added to almost everything. Americans, who get one-fifth of their calories from sugar, eat around 500 grams of this nutrient-void sweetener every 60 hours. Who knew, given that manufacturers don’t tell us?

By the way, organic food is mainly sweetened with apple juice or malt syrup and therefore offers a healthy alternative. The same goes for salt, which in organic foods is often replaced with refined sea salt that contains more nutrients.

Billions of dollars are spent every year on advertising for junk food, sickly sweet soft drinks and presents hidden in happy meals. It was only ten years ago in the United States that the first advertising poster for McDonald’s was hung up in a school building. Now the industry supplies its products to school lunchrooms, its soft drink machines are scattered throughout school buildings and it sponsors lesson programmes – a trend that has since blown across to the other side of the Atlantic.

Thanks in part to those publicity stunts, 800 million people worldwide are struggling with obesity, just as many as go hungry every day. Fast food mainly consists of fat, sugar and salt, ingredients that deliver quick energy. But to digest and absorb these refined products we need minerals and vitamins that their ingredients no longer contain. The result is that our body is forced to tap into its reserves, robbing us of calcium, magnesium and B vitamins, for example. In other words, fast food does not feed our bodies but does just the opposite, zapping our energy.

Scientists have even discovered that poor nutrition can be an important cause of anti-social behaviour such as aggression, teasing and theft. Studies in American and British prisons revealed that a daily vitamin and mineral supplement significantly improved behaviour. Both studies revealed that only those delinquents that had poor dietary habits before imprisonment benefited from this approach. According to researcher Bernard Gesch, vitamins and minerals are a ‘recipe for peace’.

Not only scientists, but consumers are starting to realise the unhealthy effects of poor nutrition. There are currently even fast food chains being taken to court because they sold food rich in fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol without warning their patrons, while plenty of studies show that this type of food presents a threat to health. In light of the fact that the tobacco industry was forced to back down, consumer rights advocates are keeping a close eye on developments in the food industry.

Using the hawkish approach to which we have grown accustomed, George Bush last year declared a war on fat. Not only the world, but also the body had become an enemy to be fought. Not included in the strategy are taking time to rest while eating healthy food and allowing fields time to recover from years of chemical warfare. The enemy must be attacked with a high-tech approach in the form of chemical miracles and pills, or with more exercise. But vitamins and minerals won’t be restored to our food by running around the park all day or taking a pill against obesity.

Oppression and domination don’t work on people or in nature. But it seems we just don’t get that. Can we learn nothing from a country like Cuba, where the export boycott caused the demise of industrial agriculture? Since out of sheer necessity organic farming became the only alternative, farmland quickly recovered. That’s how nature works, if you just give it a chance. Maybe it’s helpful to recall that our bodies are also part of nature…

 

Solution News Source

Unhappy meal

Ok, so industrial agriculture has not been the most favourable development. But what does this mean to consumers? To their health and rights?

Marco Visscher | April 2003 issue

Hypocrites, the founder of modern medicine, said it clearly some 2,500 years ago: ‘Your food is your medicine, your medicine is your food.’ Meanwhile, doctors in training dedicate only a fraction of their studies to nutrition. Yet when you look at the newspaper, you can hardly miss the stories about the link between nutrition and health. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure – Western wealth-related illnesses that indisputably have ‘something’ to do with food. What happened? Is it a fluke that the epidemic of wealth-related diseases coincided with the breakthrough of industrial agriculture?

Putting it mildly: no, not quite. To stay healthy humans need some 50 different minerals we ourselves cannot produce. These minerals have to come from somewhere. You’d think they’d come from food, as they always have. But a lot of important minerals have disappeared from our farmland due to years of artificial fertiliser use. Artificial fertiliser, a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, disrupts the balance of the soil. While crops may grow, that growth compromises other important minerals, such as magnesium, chromium and selenium.

After conducting studies in various parts of the world, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) concluded that the prevailing method of farming is leading to a ‘serious shortage’ of minerals. Another recent study showed that since 1985 the vitamin and mineral content in beans has fallen by 60%, by 70% in potatoes and by 80% in apples. Popeye would have to eat 200 cans of spinach today to get the same amount of iron as he got from that one can 50 years ago.

The amount of vitamins in vegetables and fruit has also fallen drastically. Cauliflower contains 50% less vitamin C now than in 1963. The amount of vitamin A in apples has dropped 60%, plummeting 50% in broccoli. And take the protein content in grains. In 1900, wheat was 90% protein, compared to 9% today. We’d need to eat 10 slices of bread today to get the same amount of nutrients there used to be in one slice.

Because plants in the soil seek out nutrients, but nowadays rarely find useful minerals, they absorb heavy metals instead, such as aluminium, mercury and lead. Our bodies assimilate these damaging substances more easily due to a lack of protective minerals. In the place of the lost nutrients we get an added bonus – traces of pesticides. In laboratory tests, food authorities have discovered remnants of agricultural chemicals in some 30% of the fruits and vegetables we eat. Studies have also shown that in the western world, we ingest an average of one-and-a-half kilos of pesticides every year.

There is a ready-made answer to the question of how to avoid heavy metals and pesticide residue: organic food. Organic farmers do not use pesticides, chemical fertilisers, antibiotics or other artificial additives. As a rule, their products have a higher nutritional value, although there are no guarantees given that the point is not so much what is in organic food as what is not. It is likely that the soil on organic farms is richer in various minerals given that studies indicate that organic food contains substantially less aluminium, cadmium, rubidium and lead.

It remains a great mystery as to who benefits from ignorance. The food industry does everything in its power to sell its products. Salt, for example, is absolutely crucial in producing the summit of industrial food, the ready-made meal. It is a cheap way to increase the weight of these products; it makes food taste better and, understandably, makes people thirsty. Which is why the food industry convinces scientists and policymakers that salt only causes high blood pressure among a fraction of the population. That eating too little salt could in fact pose a threat to people’s health and that it is impossible for authorities to issue a uniform recommendation on the issue. The Salt Institute, a lobby group of salt manufacturers, distributes a newsletter mainly comprised of reports of studies that prove salt does not present a threat to our health.

In her book ‘Food Politics’, Marion Nestle of New York University points out the various ways the industry tries to promote their interests through legislation and political advice. Nestle (no relation to the Swiss multinational) shows that nutrition experts have been issuing the same advice for scores of years – eat less fat, less sugar, less salt. Pressured by companies that have seen their sales fall when consumption declines, food authorities have never accepted the recommendation of a consumption cutback. While nutrition experts would say ‘eat less red meat’, the government claims consumers should ‘eat more lean meat’.

The industry’s political influence reaches all the way to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Early this year a report leaked to the British newspaper The Guardian, which discussed the industry’s ‘excessive influence’ on measures to limit fat, sugar and salt meant to protect public health. Scientists were paid to speak out in the media against such regulations. The industry also tried to get scientists that were kindly disposed to their views onto committees of the WHO and the FAO.

Eating would be a question of personal choice if people were able to make that choice based on good, reliable information. But a glance at supermarket labels reveals anything but good, reliable information. What manufacturer would affix a health warning on its product label? Who would be the first to admit that agricultural chemicals were used? For now, old-fashioned deception is the most apt description for the information on labels. On Kellogg’s Smacks cereal, sugar is listed under five different names, giving the false impression that it is not the first ingredient.

Take the drinkable Dannon soft curd cheese for children. ‘Without artificial flavours, aromas and flavours’ states the cheerful packaging. But ‘aromas’, as is stated in the label’s fine print, are simply another name for additives that shouldn’t be in there in the first place. ‘Extra calcium’ is also on the label. Sounds healthy, but the drink contains only 6% of the recommended daily amount for children. ‘Lots of fresh fruit’ is another catchy phrase. But it contains less than a slice of banana. And now that you mention it, how ‘fresh’ can that banana actually be?

Nor does freedom of choice include the steady increase in the amount of sugar appearing in nearly all products, from baby food to pasta to canned vegetables. Sugar has no nutritional value, but it is added to almost everything. Americans, who get one-fifth of their calories from sugar, eat around 500 grams of this nutrient-void sweetener every 60 hours. Who knew, given that manufacturers don’t tell us?

By the way, organic food is mainly sweetened with apple juice or malt syrup and therefore offers a healthy alternative. The same goes for salt, which in organic foods is often replaced with refined sea salt that contains more nutrients.

Billions of dollars are spent every year on advertising for junk food, sickly sweet soft drinks and presents hidden in happy meals. It was only ten years ago in the United States that the first advertising poster for McDonald’s was hung up in a school building. Now the industry supplies its products to school lunchrooms, its soft drink machines are scattered throughout school buildings and it sponsors lesson programmes – a trend that has since blown across to the other side of the Atlantic.

Thanks in part to those publicity stunts, 800 million people worldwide are struggling with obesity, just as many as go hungry every day. Fast food mainly consists of fat, sugar and salt, ingredients that deliver quick energy. But to digest and absorb these refined products we need minerals and vitamins that their ingredients no longer contain. The result is that our body is forced to tap into its reserves, robbing us of calcium, magnesium and B vitamins, for example. In other words, fast food does not feed our bodies but does just the opposite, zapping our energy.

Scientists have even discovered that poor nutrition can be an important cause of anti-social behaviour such as aggression, teasing and theft. Studies in American and British prisons revealed that a daily vitamin and mineral supplement significantly improved behaviour. Both studies revealed that only those delinquents that had poor dietary habits before imprisonment benefited from this approach. According to researcher Bernard Gesch, vitamins and minerals are a ‘recipe for peace’.

Not only scientists, but consumers are starting to realise the unhealthy effects of poor nutrition. There are currently even fast food chains being taken to court because they sold food rich in fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol without warning their patrons, while plenty of studies show that this type of food presents a threat to health. In light of the fact that the tobacco industry was forced to back down, consumer rights advocates are keeping a close eye on developments in the food industry.

Using the hawkish approach to which we have grown accustomed, George Bush last year declared a war on fat. Not only the world, but also the body had become an enemy to be fought. Not included in the strategy are taking time to rest while eating healthy food and allowing fields time to recover from years of chemical warfare. The enemy must be attacked with a high-tech approach in the form of chemical miracles and pills, or with more exercise. But vitamins and minerals won’t be restored to our food by running around the park all day or taking a pill against obesity.

Oppression and domination don’t work on people or in nature. But it seems we just don’t get that. Can we learn nothing from a country like Cuba, where the export boycott caused the demise of industrial agriculture? Since out of sheer necessity organic farming became the only alternative, farmland quickly recovered. That’s how nature works, if you just give it a chance. Maybe it’s helpful to recall that our bodies are also part of nature…

 

Solution News Source

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