The Safety of Our Food

The world is a dangerous place. And the list of dangers includes our food supply.

  If a government agency with a mandate to protect us from food-borne pathogens tells us a food is safe, is that good enough? 

  It’s not good enough for me, or for many others who are appalled at the state of Industrial Agriculture. Can it ever be safe to ingest herbicides and pesticides sprayed on our food in the fields, or hormones, anti-biotics and anti-depressants in industrial meat? Is it not absolutely alarming that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States approve this kind of food production as safe? I have learned it is useful to follow the money and ask cui bono; Latin for who benefits? Big Business can buy a lot of bureaucrats, and scientists. 

  What these agencies do endorse strongly are procedures that make our food safer from bacteria. But the food itself has become de-natured: It is being sterilized to death. Pasteurization does kill bacteria, but the process kills beneficial bacteria also, and destroys active enzymes in the food, all of which results in less nutrition. Irradiation of food kills insects, bacteria, and parasites, but zapping food with high-frequency gamma rays also destroys the living enzymes and nutrients in fresh produce, as well as altering its molecular structure (as do microwave ovens). In Canada, it is mainly spices that are irradiated, although onions, potatoes, and wheat are also approved for irradiation. We already know radiation can harm our bodies, so how is it possible to be certain there are no harmful effects from eating food that has been irradiated? 

  Food safety is always going to be a hot topic, and rightly so. The foods most likely to cause food poisoning are poultry, eggs, red meat, pork, unpasteurized milk, shellfish, deli meats, soft cheeses, pre-packaged sandwiches, and coleslaw. Most of the items on the list are from animals, and the main culprit with coleslaw is the mayonnaise, which of course is made with eggs. When Maple Leaf Foods had to recall their processed meats because people were dying from listeriosis, it was simultaneously reassuring to know that Maple Leaf Foods was being held accountable, but also scary to know this tainted meat was “out there”. 

  Some will see this as a reason to get on the vegetarian bandwagon. But E. coli bacteria also thrive in soil. Therefore, it is always advisable to wash all produce, which could carry unhealthy germs from either the soil or its handlers. Common sense needs to prevail in all aspects of food preparation and storage. Hands, utensils, and cutting boards must be clean. After that, we need to follow proper cooking procedures. However, we should not take for granted that kitchen appliances will keep our food safe. When we use microwave ovens, they distort the molecular structure of foods. When we heat non-stick cookware, it releases toxic vapours into the surrounding air and the food, including carcinogens. The latter is an example of enthusiastic industry endorsement of a product before proper testing had been done. Many people are choosing to get rid of both these items. 

  Without a doubt, my vote for most unsafe food goes to genetically engineered or genetically modified foods. When challenged by my son who wanted to hear science (not just information about corruption and manipulation by Big Biotech, such as can be found in the powerful documentary The World According to Monsanto), I read Jeffrey M. Smith’s meticulously researched books on GMOs, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. In his books, Smith points out many examples of shoddy science and stunning deceptions that characterized reports from both scientists and regulatory agencies: Irresponsible reports that GMO foods were safe. He provides detailed scientific proof that GMOs cause allergies, create viruses or awaken dormant ones, and increase environmental toxins which then accumulate in the food supply. Think rising cancer rates, and diseases that are difficult to diagnose. 

  How GMOs were approved for the food supply in the United States is a telling example of irresponsible decision making. According to US law, GMO ingredients are considered a food additive. However, the FDA bi-passed the normal process for approval of a food additive, which required extensive safety studies including those conducted with animals. Instead, they made an exception to this process, for substances regarded as GRAS:  “generally recognized as safe”. Such status allows a product to be commercialized without any additional testing. Although GRAS certification usually requires substantial peer-reviewed published studies, with overwhelming consensus amongst the scientific community that the product is safe, the FDA set a precedent by simply accepting that GMO crops were safe. Why? Because the producers said they were. 

  To sum up FDA approval of GMOs:  Powerful biotechnology companies achieved official Safe status for GMO seeds with no proof of safety except their word! This example defies the very idea of consumer protection. Consequently, the world’s eaters are guinea pigs in a planet wide genetic food experiment, for nobody really knows what will result from the unstable and unpredictable science of genetic engineering–a fact that is underlined in Smith’s research.  

  How asleep we have been in North America as compared to Europe and elsewhere about the perils of GMO foods. In 1998, as soon as scientist Arpad Pusztai working in Scotland reported dangerous results in his experiments on genetic engineering , Europeans listened, and began their resistance to GMO crops. So Big Biotech acted quickly to ensure that North Americans did NOT hear these reports. In India, where farmers were not warned they were planting experimental crops, anger led them to burn fields of Monsanto’s Bt cotton, and desperation from the problems of GM agriculture has led to the very sad legacy of thousands of farmer suicides. This past summer, food activists in Spain, France and Italy destroyed GMO crops, condemning the use of public funding for open field tests, which they do not want. 

  Besides the non-labelled GMO “food additive”, other so-called safe ingredients are allowed in our food. Artificial food colours supposedly make our food look more appetizing; however, these adversely affect our health. Perhaps the most notorious additives are the artificial sweetener aspartame, a known deadly neurotoxin initially used as a bio-weapon, which got pushed into the food supply through overt corruption at high levels of government, and the flavour enhancer MSG, which like aspartame, is an excitotoxin, that causes degenerative, and potentially deadly, effects on the brain and nervous system. Is it not completely outrageous that these additives are approved as safe?

  At the local level, a rather disconcerting form of control is currently being attempted by local health inspectors. They want those who sell homemade baked goods, jams and jellies, considered “low hazard foods”, to have their foods inspected. Furthermore, the insidious hand of authority wants to prohibit public potlucks, allegedly for our own safety. In 37 years of living on Gabriola Island, I have never heard of death by jam or potluck. Such fear inducing, anti-community directives erode both trust and respect for the necessary work of protecting consumers from the real dangers in our food. 

  If health inspectors were really concerned about the safety of our food, they would know and want to protect us from the dangers of GMO foods. They would understand why well known biologists like Alexandra Morton are heading the citizen’s campaign to stop open cage fish farms, which are much like factory farms everywhere: overcrowded, sickly, infected animals forced to grow as large as possible in as short a time as possible. Because such methods create disease, the answer is the “safety” measure employed by Industrial Meat producers–adding anti-biotics to the feed. 

  The truth is irrefutable: It is impossible to insure that we have access to safe food within the toxic system of industrial food production so prevalent today. Now is the time to heed the message of the international agrarian movement, La Via Campesina, the essence of which is that the way to feed the world is with small scale, local sustainable farming. Recently, a local Lantzille vegetable farm was served a “cease order” and we are now experiencing the opportunity to speak on behalf of these sustainable food growers, Dirk and Nicole. It follows that the best assurance of safe food we can have is to nurture loving relationships within our own communities around all food issues, through support for our local farmers, shopkeepers and food distributors. Let’s remember to keep our hands in the soil, save our seeds, and sometimes, to dance, which keeps our spirits high. 

Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 37 years, and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.