Category Archives: government

Repealing Country-of-origin Labeling Isn’t Cool

The House just voted to repeal Country-of-Origin labeling (COOL) for beef, chicken, and pork.  The reason that this happened makes sense but the fact that it happened at all makes no sense.  But first, a little background.

COOL was first signed into law in 2002 as part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act as a voluntary labeling process.  Initially it was intended for the label on fresh beef, pork, and lamb products.  In 2003 it became mandatory to label COOL.  By 2008 the program was expanded and the current labeling requirement covers beef, veal, lamb, chicken, fish, shellfish, pork, goat, macadamia nuts, pecans, ginseng, peanuts, and perishable agricultural commodities.   For the purposes of this post I’m focusing on meat.

The intent of COOL was to clearly identify the chain of supply for fresh food.  If an item was destined for a processing plant where it would be significantly changed for example, turning fresh beef into a shepherd’s pie, that process would remove the need for COOL.  The FDA’s definition of processed is so broad that many foods were able to avoid using the label.

What does the label look like?  It’s confusing.  There’s no clear standards for a COO label.  It can be any size, font, color, location on the package.  There are standards about what it has to say but even there it can get a little confusing.  The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does publish a list of the standard terms acceptable for labeling which covers country names and their abbreviations as well as labeling options covering the chain of supply from birth to either slaughter or slaughter and import.  Prior to May 2013 even that was less than clear due to commingling.  This was the practice of allowing a single label for meat that has more than one country of origin as long as it was processed in the same slaughterhouse all on the same day.  Commingling is no longer allowed which should make for clearer labeling of where animals were born, raised, and slaughtered.

In theory the ability to know where your meat is coming from, where it was raised, is a good one.  In practice COOL does not work as advertised.  I believe part of this is due to the lack of consistency with labeling, a lack of clear understanding for the consumer, and too many loopholes.  I also believe that people really are paying more attention to where their food comes from, how it’s raised, and where it is processed.  They want to know but are confused about the label due to inconsistent and unclear implementation.

The supply chain can sometimes become very convoluted.  As the Horsemeat Gate Scandal in the early part of 2013 highlighted, our food can travel a great distance before it lands on our dinner plate.  This unfortunate incident where horesemeat was fraudulently sold as beef only revealed the scale of travel for processing not for birth and rearing.  Obviously because it was processed it also would have been able to sidestep a COOL process had one been in place.

Horsemeat Gate also revealed a significant breakdown in the traceability of where our meat comes from.  The EU is currently investigating possible solutions to prevent this from happening again.  Something along the lines of COOL comes to mind, but only if it’s properly implemented.  It’s important to note that this was by no means a stand-alone incident, it was simply the biggest, most reported on episode.  There have also been incidents in China such as a 2013 investigation into the use of rat, mink, and fox meat being adulterated and sold as mutton.  And it doesn’t seem to get better.  Just last year there was a recall in China of donkey meat contaminated with fox.  These incidents, by the way, give serious pause to the thought of eating any meat from China.  And yet the USDA has approved the import of American raised chickens to China for processing and then re-imported for sale. Currently the transportation costs for poultry are too expensive and it does not appear that any American producers are doing this.  Unfortunately, if they do, it may be hard to know because the chicken would come back in a processed form that would thereby allow it to avoid COOL.

So why is COOL on the chopping block?  In a single word, politics.  Canada and Mexico filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) claiming that COOL was discriminatory.  It is interesting to note that China is listed as one of the third parties in the complaint.  Canada contends that meatpackers offer lower prices for their products.  Not because they are lesser quality, but because the meat packers don’t want to track and label the meat.  Canadian producers claim this has cost them nearly US$1 billion.  Unfortunately the WTO agreed with the plaintiffs.  This is the second time they’ve done so, the first time the US reworked COOL but apparently this was not perceived as being enough.  Now Canada and Mexico are threatening import taxes on certain products from the United States unless COOL is repealed.  Due to fears about trade the House has voted to dismantle COOL altogether.  The next step is to go before the Senate.

This is a huge mistake.  While the process of modification on any legislation is certainly challenging, the fact remains that this program was never thoroughly laid out or utilized to begin with.  Given the increasing issues with food contamination, adulteration, mis-labeling, and because of sourcing concerns it makes sense to keep COOL and more clearly identify the supply chain for our food.  Consumers want to know, and have the right to know, where their food comes from.


Pasteurize Eggs With Radio Frequency

  Eggs are a wonderful part of a balanced nutritional plan.  Despite all of the kerfuffle about the cholesterol in eggs, it’s a healthy food which provides protein and choline.  Each egg delivers a whopping 6 grams of protein while choline is an essential nutrient.   Part of the b vitamin family it is responsible for supporting methylation as well as overall nervous system health.

However eggs can also be an infection vector especially for salmonella.  I was shocked recently when I gave a talk to discover, chatting with attendees afterwards, that not one of them was aware of the huge recall involving nearly half a billion eggs back in 2010.  I have a couple of articles about that time frame from my blog here and here.

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Pasteurized eggs or egg products shall be substituted for raw eggs in the preparation of Foods such as Caesar salad, hollandaise or Béarnaise sauce, mayonnaise, meringue, eggnog, ice cream, egg-fortified beverages and recipes in which more than one egg is broken and the eggs are combined.”  This ruling is for susceptible populations such as the elderly in care home situations, children in preschools, or those who are ill, immuno-compromised, or in hospitals or other health facilities.

Currently in order to pasteurized “raw” eggs they are bathed in hot water for one hour.   In a new process, The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) claims that pasteurizing eggs through radio frequency (heating the egg) followed by a water bath to cool it off will be sufficient to kill salmonella.

Given that salmonella comes from the hen laying the eggs doesn’t it make more sense to treat the hens so they don’t get salmonella?  Unfortunately in this country we prefer to treat the outbreak and the affected ill population.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Below is a graphic from the presentation I gave at the Weston A. Price Foundation Regional Conference last weekend.

Screenshot 2014-04-03 14.52.29


As you can see from the graphic above, reducing salmonella at the source not only creates a healthier poultry industry, it reduces health care costs.  I’m not sure how much it costs to treat salmonella poisoning for 80,000 people.  And the truth is that may not be an accurate number as no one knows how many cases went unreported.

So while industry may pat themselves on the back for adding another systematic process to food production I have a few issues with this:

  1. I do not consider these eggs to be raw.  Raw means raw, not heated, not radio treated and heated.  True they are marked ‘pasteurized’ but they are not raw.
  2. We are focusing on the wrong side of the equation.  We should be removing salmonella at it’s source.
  3. We are missing an opportunity to reduce health care costs and save lives by changing how we raise poultry (and in Denmark they do it without antibiotics)

The government wars that even undercooked eggs (such as over easy or soft cooked) can be a potential vector for disease.  If you choose to eat raw eggs you may want to consider getting to know your egg farmer and not purchasing from large, confined, commercial egg operations.

photo:  Phichet9707

On My Mind Monday 04.29.13

on my mind -- what's in the news


It’s never the same two weeks in a row. A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health. Here’s what’s on my mind.

Carageenan – Made from red seaweed carageenan is not an ingredient that you want in your food.  It’s very irritating to the intestinal tract and studies have shown that it causes ulcerative colitis-like symptoms.  Other studies have indicated that it may even cause malignant tumors.  Unfortunately it is found extensively in our food supply, especially in alternative milk products.

While it is important to read the label in order to avoid this product, it’s not always that easy to find alternative milks without it.  The next best solution is to make your own.  This video on how to make hemp milk from Blendtec shows how simple and easy it is to make your own.   My only changes to the recipe would be to not use agave nectar due to it’s high fructose content.  Use a different sweetener or consider using dried dates.  This recipe is easily modifiable to make almond, cashew, or even rice milk.  If making the milk from nuts or grains consider soaking them for a few hours beforehand to help reduce the phytates and make the nutrients more bioavailable.

Sleep for Fertility – A new study out from Denmark appears to show a correlation between poor sleep and lowered sperm count.  While we all know that good quality sleep is important for overall health, now it appears that it’s also important for fertility.  While the study pointed out that those who sleep less also tend to have other unhealthy habits, there seems to be a correlation between lowered testosterone production accompanying the bad sleeping habits.  While this is not a definitive study it does seem to indicate that it is important to at least consider sleep quality when looking at other male-related infertility issues.

Ag-Gag Outrage – In the news recently is the issue of Ag-Gag laws.  The term was originally created by Mark Bittman and defines  the laws that make it illegal for people to reveal inhumane and unsanitary conditions via surreptitious surveillance at corporate processing facilities or other animal centers such as laboratories.  The truth is without those undercover videos, pictures, and reports we would have no idea of what happens at the facilities where the animals are processed.  Unfortunately every case of undercover surveillance has shown animal cruelty, barbarism, and unsanitary conditions.  The companies claim that these gag laws are needed to protect their “agricultural interests” and further state that employees would be able to report abuses and violations.  The truth is that most employees don’t (and I’m guessing those who do don’t have a job for very long).  Making it illegal to report on illegal, unethical, inhumane treatment of animals does nothing more than protect the companies where it is happening. The latest bill is undergoing review by the Governor of Tennessee.  Current laws are on the books in Iowa, Utah, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Montana and North Dakota.  Consider writing to your representatives if you live in one of those states and let them know your feelings on the matter.

GMO labeling moves to DC – Although Prop 37 did not pass in California it did one very important thing.  It opened the doors to the debate and let people begin to realize just how contaminated their food might be.  No wonder the manufacturers don’t want you to know what’s really in your food.  As public awareness grows so does public support.  One good resource to help you learn about GMOs and how to avoid them, aside from my book, is the Non-GMO Shopping Guide from the Institute for Responsible Technology.

photo: alvimann

Monsanto And Gmo: Taking Over Your Food

It appears that the rights of corporation have prevailed over the rights of people. HR 933 was approved and signed by President Obama.  Tucked into a spending bill which was supposed to prevent government fiscal shutdown, most of those who voted for the bill were unaware of this “act” which was inserted by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt.  With it’s passage, the act effectively allows Monsanto the right to do whatever it wants.

In short this bill now gives Monsanto the right to plant Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) even if a federal court has ruled that the organism presents a danger to the environment.  In other words, even if crops are clearly determined to be dangerous, they cannot be stopped because Monsanto has been given the authority to do as they wish. This legislation effectively gives Monsanto the right to override the government on this issue.  I believe this is a very dangerous state of affairs and one which will have severe consequences.


On My Mind Monday 03.18.13

on my mind -- what's in the news

It’s never the same two weeks in a row. A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health. Here’s what’s on my mind.

Honey Laundering – It appears that the Chinese have been at it again. I don’t mean to keep pointing the finger at them, but what is it that causes them to so vigorously attempt to adulterate such a wide variety of foods? This time US Immigration and Homeland Security discovered Chinese honey which was potentially laced with illegal antibiotics was re-routed to avoid fees and potential testing. The solution to this kind of food fraud is to get to know whose bees you are buying from. Local and raw honey is better for you anyway.

Vitamin D3 may help to clear amyloid placques – these are the placques that are linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. It appears that vitamin D3 may be supportive against both the onset and the pathology of Alzheimer’s. Once again it appears that it’s important to know what your vitamin D levels are and to get enough. For many of us that does mean supplementation. Vitamin D3 levels can be checked by a simple blood test. Contact me if you would like more information about this.

VT House committee backs labeling of GMO – Prop 37 may have failed in California but it opened the eyes of many consumers who had no idea just how contaminated their food is. I was fortunate enough to hear Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology speak about this issue and he pointed out that food producers can’t sweep the knowledge of what they’ve done back under the carpet. People know and this is one fight that isn’t simply going to go away.

Chemical Cuisine Food App – For those of you that have a smart phone, iPhone, iPad or other smart device here’s an app you need to get. Produced by the Center for Science in the Public Interest it is an additive database that lists a wide array of “things” that have been added to our food. While I don’t agree with everything they say (ie, there are some things that they say are safe that I feel should be avoided) this and my book, The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food, are an excellent place to start cleaning up your diet. And the best part? It’s free.

What’s Mira Reading: I just received my copy of Food: An Atlas which was funded via a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a fascinating look at food in a variety of ways all over the world. It’s a great coffee table book as well as an inspiration of food topics.

Video of the Week: Easter is coming. For many that means and overwhelming abundance of conventional treats possibly loaded with massive amounts of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. My friend Wardee over at Gnowfglins has a video showcasing a wonderful sweet treat and shows you how to make it.

photo: alvimann

On My Mind Monday 05.22.12

news | photo: mconnors

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  This is what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, health, and holistic living.  Read what’s on my mind.

Testing Antioxidant Power of Foods –   The concept of antioxidant powders or beverages may sound great, but we are still moving away from the idea of whole foods.  Not even all whole foods are perfect as many of them contain enzymes that interfere with bioavailability if not soaked or fermented.  As the article itself states, “Blueberries have one of the highest scores—6,000 to 9,000 a cup, and more for wild-type berries. But the berries’ colorful anthocyanins may not be well absorbed by the body, scientists say. Raw broccoli, they add, has a score of 1,400 a cup, but it contains a powerful antioxidant booster that isn’t recorded by the lab test.”  My suggestions:  Don’t rely on a can for all of your nutrients and eat a varied, balanced, nourishing, whole food diet.

Foodiodicals – This collection of foodie magazines and concepts sounds amazing and intriguing.  Going beyond the typical grocery store food magazines, or those who love food and love reading about food – those who are obsessed with food, it looks like there’s a lot more out there than one might think.

Mario Batali Spending $31 Per Week On Groceries – This is in response to the Food Stamp Challenge. I did this a while back as did a few of my friends.  It’s an eye opening experience.  For me I also realized how, unless you know how to shop and cook well, you are not going to be able to eat as well as you would like.  There’s also a huge divide in the foods which are subsidized (and therefore cheaper)  and those which are not.  Batali remarked, “We want people to think about calling and talking to their representation about cuts to the Farm Bill and the food stamp program.”  I would like to encourage folks to read the book Hope’s Edge by Frances Moore Lappe.  There are a lot of amazing stories in it about food and our diet.  One that really stuck with me over the years was the story of Belo Horizonte, Brazil which established the practice and belief of “Food As A Right.”  As I re-read the story I’m struck by how simple the concept is and how powerfully it can work.

Everything You Thought About Pricey Health Foods Is Wrong – This goes back to something I’ve been saying for a while.  If you look at the nutrient density of what you are eating, that’s how you determine your spending.  The picture in this article says it all. I don’t know about you but I would be a lot more satisfied with the serving of strawberries than potato chips.

This is an older video but definitely one worth watching. If an 11 year old child can get it, why can’t those who produce our food?  Birke Baehr is now 13 years old and still going strong with his mission as a sustainable food advocate.


On My Mind Monday 4.2.12

news | photo: mconnors

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  This is a snapshot of what I find interesting; information about health, nutrition, and holistic living.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

Light It Up Blue – Today is World Autism Awareness Day.  With rising rates of autism, which many believe has strong ties to chemical influences in our food and environment, it is important to be more understanding and supportive of those families affected by this disease.  I’ll be wearing blue today to show my support.

Beekeepers say we’re running out of time – There appears to be more evidence that pesticides are behind the tragic decline of bees.  Bees are so important to our agricultural system, without them there is no pollination, and without that many crops cannot reproduce.  A recently filed lawsuit claims the EPA violated   the law on several counts.  We need to think more about what is good for the planet rather than concentrating only on the bottom line.

Kale is not chikin – Chick-Fil-A continues to press it’s lawsuit demanding that Bo Muller-Moore, a t-shirt artist in Vermont, cease and desist in the creation of his t-shirts.  This multi-billion dollar company apparently feels that they own the rights to the words “Eat Mor” and that folks will be very confused when presented a choice between his “Eat More Kale” t-shirts and their Eat Mor Chikin campaign.  I’m happy to say Bo is going to make a documentary about this corporate bully.  I’m also happy to say that I helped to fund this documentary and I’m looking forward to watching it when it comes out.

Artichoke – I’ve just planted one and am looking forward to seeing how it grows in my Texas garden.  Aside from being delicious, artichokes are a great source of vitamins, K, C, and folate.  They’re also a good source of magnesium, manganese, and potassium. One delicious artichoke also provides a lot of  fiber.  For those of you just starting your gardens or starting seed for later crops, here’s a neat tip on making your own bio-degradable plant pots.

Governors supporting pink slime – leaving aside the financial contributions that BPI has made to these political leaders who are trying to put a positive spin on this product the fact remains that this is not a good food choice.  It is the leftover bits that the company is trying to eke a profit out of an then hitting up with ammonium hydroxide.  In many countries this product is only considered fit for dog food.  I don’t even think it should be fed to animals.  The original term Lean Finely Textured Beef makes it sound like food however it doesn’t override the fact that now consumers know what it is and THEY DO NOT WANT TO EAT IT.  I know I’m shouting there but I find it very frustrating when companies feel that their corporate profits are more important.  I choose not to eat this product, I encourage others not to eat it and I’m thrilled that fast food restaurants and grocery stores are bowing to consumer demand and removing this product from their shelves.  Now we need to get it out of the school system and out of the food supply.

Hopping for health – I confess that I no longer have a gym membership.  I never made it to the classes because my schedule never seemed to work out and I get bored by the machines after a while.  For some people gyms work well and that’s great.  I’ve been using walking, bike riding, yoga, and strength exercises at home as my form of exercise.  I know that I’m not getting enough impact exercise which is important for bone health and to help prevent osteoporosis.  This looks like a lot of fun and I’m going to make one on my patio and see how I like it.  Either that or start borrowing neighborhood kids and playing hop scotch.

Luckily we had a very mild winter.  My eggplant and pepper plants did really well and managed to last through the winter.  Now they’re loaded with blooms.  I’m going to try to help it along by pinching, as he suggests.  My hot pepper is already producing lots of peppers and I’ll let that go, but my bell peppers and eggplants will get a trim.  We’ll see what happens.

News Review…or…it’s On My Mind Monday

in the news | photo: mconnors

I’m always looking up information about food, health, and what’s in the news.  Just as an experiment this is a posting of what’s I’m reading right now, some of which may or may not turn into a blog post, but all of which is of interest to me.  I’d be curious to know if any of this is of interest to you.  In no particular order (other than this is what’s open across my browsing window) here’s what’s on my mind:

The little county that could get CA to rethink methyl iodide – I’ve written about this before.  Essentially CA agreed to let agricultural companies use a known carcinogen (so effective that it is used in laboratories to reliably cause cancer) on strawberry crops.  In spite of massive protests CA went ahead and approved it anyway.  Turns out the fight is still on.  This gives me hope that this awful carcinogenic chemical will be banned.  Until then I have essentially fought back the only way I know how.  I purchase no strawberries from California at all, even the organic ones.

Public Park Helps Feed 200,000 People Every Month –  I love this.  What a great solution to help feed those who are hungry and also make effective use of public lands.  This ties in to a video I shared on my Facebook Page about Suburban Homesteading/Urban Victory Gardening.  Looking at the info I see it’s the same guy, John from Growing Your Greens.  I’ve subscribed to his YouTube channel and am looking forward to more good info.

Low Vitamin D Ups Diabetes Risk in Kids – One more reason to check your vitamin D levels.  I think sometimes people tune out the vitamin D message believing that they are getting enough from their milk.  Sadly that’s often not enough, especially if you are drinking skim milk.  Vitamin D is important for so many different reasons and across different populations.  Are you over 65?  Check your vitamin D.  Is it wintertime and you live in a Northern latitude?  etcetera etcetera etcetera.  Check your vitamin D.  I’m not saying everyone needs to supplement, but it’s easy to check and if you are low you probably do need to supplement.  Always get the 25 hydroxy test rather than the 1,25 dihydroxy – it’s a better indicator of your vitamin D status.

Apple Juice Made In America?  Think Again – This one surprised me.  Because I know we have so many apple orchards in the US I just assumed that our apple juice was made here.  Turns out it’s not.  Given that so many children drink it (and the recent fungicide contamination of orange juice) I’m even more convinced that getting our food from abroad is not necessarily a good idea.  I believe the best thing is to get to know your farmer, buy locally, and grow your own.  I’m blown away by the idea that apples which are grown in China can be juice and fossil fuels expended to bring a liquid product (very heavy) all the way around the world to us, and somehow it’s cheaper.  There is something very very wrong with that equation.

Programmed To Be Fat? – This looks like a fascinating program and I am going to try to see if I can borrow a copy through my local library.  Given the increasing number of obesogens in our environment (I wrote an article some time back called Is Your Plastic Making You Fat?) and  the rising toxicity levels for newborns this is an issue that really needs to be looked at and worked on.   We are poisoning ourselves, our environment and destroying our future.

Goats being used, instead of pesticides in Eastham – I love this.  What a great way to solve a problem.  Instead of throwing chemicals at the issue of weeds, use goats.  The goats are happy, they get fed, the town gets less toxic chemicals in their environment, the residents have less exposure and, presumably, less potential for illness.

You Get Your Antibiotics Where?

confined feeding lot – pigs | photo: Matthias M.

A recently published article shares that the FDA has once again failed to protect the public from corporate abuse.  Apparently in spite of it’s own Guidance for Use (draft form published June 28, 2010) which was supposed to reduce the amount of antibiotics in the food chain, the FDA is now withdrawing legislation to mandate and reduce this usage.  I believe that this is because the FDA is too unwilling to do the right thing and would rather protect corporate interests (corporates need this overuse and abuse of antibiotics in order to be able to run their Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or factory farms.

It is a disturbing fact that 70% of the antibiotic use in this country is used by the agriculture industry for food animals.  Not because the animals are already sick, but to keep them from getting sick due to the way they are raised; in unhealthy, high intensity settings.  Unfortunately this means that when you consume conventionally raised animal products, meat, dairy, and eggs, you are getting a dose of antibiotics.  Just a dose, not a full course.

As many of you know, when you are prescribed antibiotics by your doctor it is important that you finish the course.  This is to make sure that all of the negative bacteria that you are trying to wipe out don’t survive and learn to become resistant.  Repeated minor doses of antibiotics teach bacteria how to grow stronger against them.  Emerging evidence indicates that this overuse of antibiotics is behind the increase of antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA.

According to information about the FDA found at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “The agency has known for more than 30 years that mixing human antibiotics into animal feed poses a risk to human health. It first confirmed the connection back in 1977.”  They have filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),  to try to get the FDA to follow through on it’s own recommendations.

This is a situation that bears watching.  We can only hope that the FDA will come to it’s senses and follow the lead of the European Union which banned the use of antibiotics for growth purposes as far back as 2006.  Until such time as this situation is corrected the only way to avoid ingesting animal products with antibiotics in them is to purchase organic (which is legislated to be antibiotic free) or you can try natural. The “natural” food label is not regulated or legislated however many manufacturers of products bearing this label do share on the packaging that they do not use antibiotics, hormones and preservatives.  Read the label.