Category Archives: USDA


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 07.16.12 – Meg’s Edition

news | photo: mconnors

Normally this is where I write about what’s on my mind and share information and links on a variety of food, nutrition and holistic health topics.  Today we have a guest post from Meg in Connecticut who has been reading along for a while and was inspired to put together this list of links.

Triage Your Food – this excellent tip from Lifehacker claims that by creating a triage box in your fridge you can keep track of what needs to be eaten first and possibly save $100 per month or more.  I’m currently scrounging around my bin collection to see what I have that can be repurposed so I can implement this very idea.

USDA ‘playing chicken with safety’ – Essentially the government wants to turn the inspections over to the companies themselves.  This is not the first time this sort of issue has come up and I am assuming it won’t be the last.  Unfortunately this is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse and I do not believe that safety will continue along its current levels which are already not good enough.

Maryland politicians chicken out on arsenic ban – Yes, there is arsenic in chicken feed.  No it is not necessary.  Yes chickens, and people, would be healthier if it was removed from the feed.  The producers put it in there to reduce or eliminate coccidiosis, a common problem with overcrowded poultry conditions.  The dangers of arsenic go beyond the exposure in the meat, the run-off present in chicken excrement also poisons water supplies and the environment.  Buying organic chicken or from a a farmer you know and trust is the only way to avoid exposure to this toxic metal.

Ag-gag laws in five states – I find this very disturbing.  Producers are so concerned about public opinion if consumers know what they are really doing that they have managed, in five states, to successfully gag anyone who tries to report on them.  So what are they hiding?  Poor conditions, inhumane treatment of animals, unhealthy and unsanitary conditions, and possible/probable contamination which can affect the consumer.

USDA needs to label mechanically tenderized beef – meat that is tenderized by machine is considered “non-intact” and therefore has more surface area.  This higher level of surface area provides more growth medium for bacteria, therefore requiring a higher cooking temperature to avoid illness.  This issue has apparently been under review since 2009.  Quite frankly I’m not sure what the holdup is, this could prevent illness and bacterial outbreak and makes perfect sense to me.

What’s inside the 26-ingredient school lunch burger – The first ingredient is meat and the second is water.  But the third ingredient is soy flour (hmmmmm…..is there no allergen label in those school cafeterias?).  Most of the ingredients are not food and should not be in there, including “natural” flavor and disodium inosinate both of which are key words for MSG, and caramel color, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest says is a carcinogenic ingredient.  Last time I made burgers I had just six whole food ingredients, meat, egg, onion, parsley, oregano, and salt.  No chemicals, no harmful ingredients.  What’s in your burger?

Paper Mache Carrot Pencils – a really cute craft idea to encourage veggie interaction.

Regulating sugar like alcohol – This is an opinion piece from CNN which points out all the reasons that sugar is so bad for our health and how difficult it is to control in our diet.  If nothing else it should at least help you to be more cognizant of how much sugar you may actually be consuming in your diet without being fully aware of it.

Growing Your Own Veggies – more and more people are turning to the idea of home gardening.  Not only to combat the rising cost of food or the increasing food contamination issues, but because growing food is fun.  And other people are learning how to identify, forage for, and eat weeds.

 

ice cream

Antifreeze In Your Ice Cream?

Ah, those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.  Hot, humid, sweltering temperatures just beg for you to stop and enjoy a cold frozen confection.  Ice cream, just the thing to cool you off.  Or not.

Why is antifreeze in ice cream?

If you are looking for a cool summer treat you may want to consider making your own frozen confections.  It turns out that there is a little known ingredient called propylene glycol hiding out in your ice cream.  Considered a “non-toxic” antifreeze (as opposed to ethylene glycol which is highly toxic) many manufacturers use it in a wide variety of foods, especially ice cream.  While it prevents your car from freezing it also keeps your ice cream smooth and prevents ice crystals from forming.  Homemade ice cream turns fairly hard once frozen completely but this doesn’t seem to happen with a lot of commercial ice creams.  Now you know why.

Looking for it on the label provides an even bigger shock.  Propylene glycol is not listed.  Why?  It turns out there is a, little known USDA regulation which covers incidental food additive labeling.  This labeling allows the manufacturers to not include this ingredient on the label.  My research so far seems to indicate that propylene glycol is covered under this regulation.

Health risks of propylene glycol

Unfortunately it does not take into effect the “ick” factor (after all who really wants to eat anti-freeze, even if it is the “non-toxic” variety?).  Nor does it take into effect the fact that there are people who are highly sensitive to the substance.  While I don’t know how much propylene glycol is in ice cream I’m assuming it’s not a huge amount.  However if you eat a lot of ice cream, or frosting, or other foods that contain it you could be getting a significant exposure.

Apparently people who suffer from vulvodynia and interstitial cystitis can be particularly sensitive.  It’s known to cause skin problems when it appears in lotions, asthma or other allergies in children exposed through airborne sources, and large doses administered orally have been been shown to have a depressive effect on the central nervous system in animals.  The challenge with the large dose testing is that because it’s not labeled we do not know how much we may potentially be exposed to through ingestion or through osmotic skin absorption.

Avoiding propylene glycol

What can you do to avoid it?  That’s not so easy since it’s not labeled.*  Still want those creamy, cool summer treats?  Consider making your own.  Here are a few recipes that really hit the spot when the temperatures are climbing outside.

Strawberry or Raspberry Water Ice
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 lb. strawberries or raspberries
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 1-2 cups water
  4. juice of 1 lemon
  5. juice of 1 orange
  6. 5 tablespoons orange liqueur, or kirsch
  7. 2 egg whites (optional)
Instructions
  1. Put the fruit through a blender.
  2. Make a syrup of the sugar and 1/2 cup water.
  3. When it is cool add the puree and strain.
  4. Flavor to taste with lemon juice.
  5. Dilute with the extra water if required.
  6. Pour into a container, stirring the frozen sides of the mixture into the more liquid middle part every so often. With shallow trays this needs to be done every half hour; deep boxes can be left longer.
  7. In 2-3 hours, the time depends on the depth of the mixture, you will have a thick mush of iced granules, called a granita.
  8. IN 3-4 hours you will have a firm but not impenetrable block of water ice ready to be turned into sorbet.
  9. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they're stiff.
  10. Add spoonfuls of ice gradually, if properly done the mixture blow up to a mass of white foam.
  11. Refreeze in a larger container until the sorbet has the consistency of firm snow.
  12. Add the liqueur gradually at the end during the last stirring; with the sorbet add when ice and beaten egg white are mixed together.
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy https://www.theingredientguru.com/
Vanilla Ice Cream
Print
Ingredients
  1. 3 egg yolks
  2. 1/2 cup maple syrup
  3. 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  4. 1 tablespoon arrowroot
  5. 3 cups heavy cream, (NT prefers raw, not ultra-pasteurized)
Instructions
  1. Beat egg yolks and blend in remaining ingredients.
  2. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to instructions.
  3. For ease of serving, transfer ice cream to a shallow container, cover and store in the freezer.
Notes
  1. I've found that adding 1-2 cups of fresh fruit to this is delicious
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy https://www.theingredientguru.com/
2 Ingredient Ice Cream
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 can Native Forest organic coconut milk
  2. 1 pound frozen fruit
  3. 1/2 tsp. vanilla (optional)
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients in order into the blender
  2. Blend until completely mixed (using tamper if necessary) -- approximately 1 minute
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy https://www.theingredientguru.com/
 

 

Side note: as an outcome of my research I did manage to find an online source for propylene glycol free flavoring.

*Some manufacturers, in an effort to meet consumers desire for more transparency are including propylene glycol on their label. This is, in my opinion, a good thing as it makes it easier to see that they’re using it. However just because some manufacturers are disclosing it doesn’t mean that many others use it but fail to disclose. In this case it’s still best to make your own ice cream.

Pink Slime Clarified

ground beef | photo: Rainer Zenz

One reader contacted me asking, “What cafeteria food is made with this pink slime stuff?  I’ve never heard about this and [my son] is now eating in the cafeteria at public school.  He took his lunch every day for four years but not this year.  I was just worried about the nutritional value of what he was eating but now, this is creepy.”

The quick answer to your question is any hamburger product is potentially made with pink slime.  The industry term is actually “lean finely textured beef.”  It is a meat-product made from scraps and trimmings, heated, de-fatted, and treated with ammonium hydroxide.

Current federal regulations say it does not need to be listed as an ingredient and reports suggest that it can be the basis for as much as 50-70 percent of “hamburger” meat.  Although many fast food restaurants are backing away from it in response to consumer disgust, the industry still wants to sell it because it is cheap and profitable.  The USDA has just approved it for school lunches.

News reports indicate that in response to growing outrage by consumers, schools will be allowed to opt out of receiving this product.  Not, however, until next Fall and not until after currently signed contracts have been fulfilled.  I assume there will be schools which will claim they didn’t hear from enough families so they signed contracts and it will continue to be available in the school food for some time to come.

There is a petition being sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (started by Houston resident Bettina Elias Siegel who runs the blog The Lunch Tray) urging a ban of pink slime in schools.  Although I no longer have children in the public school system I am furious that my tax dollars are being spent to feed garbage to children and I have signed.

Current research shows that this product is also in grocery stores.  However, once again, because it is not required to be labeled you may not know.  As of today, March 20, 2012, the most recent list I have been able to find indicates the following:

Pink Slime NOT In Grocery Store:

Costco, Whole Foods, HEB, Ingles, and Publix

Pink Slime ALLOWED In Grocery Store:

Safeway, Stop&Shop, Kroger, Giant, Frys (I’m going to assume this includes Randalls since they are owned by Safeway)

Stores Not Responding About Pink Slime:

Walmart, Food Mart, Fred Meyer  (I’m going to assume this includes Sam’s Club since they are owned by Walmart)

If your store is on the list for allowing or not responding the ONLY way to avoid purchasing this product is to purchase organic ground beef as it is, to the best of my knowledge, fillers are not allowed under the rules of organic production.

On My Mind Monday 1.30.12

newspaper | photo: mconnors
Once again, it’s time to see what’s on my mind.  These are the articles that have come across my desk and that I am interested in this week.
My Subversive (garden) Plot – Roger Doiron’s funny TEDx talk about gardening and food.  While it’s funny there’s also a message.  He talks about how we are going to feed people and how we need to grow more food to keep up with the growing population.  But we need to do so with less. Less oil, less water, less farmland, less genetic diversity, and so on.  I highly encourage you to watch the clip, it’s worth the time.
Local Food Sovereignty Being Challenged in Maine – Roger’s talk, above, lead to to search for food sovereignty.  I discovered that in some ways Maine is ahead of the curve.  Hey, they voted in many towns for food sovereignty – allowing cottage food industries to come into existence and grow.  But then there’s the challenge that comes up from one farmer who is being challenged.  I am continually amazed at how major corporations produce harmful food, salmonella laden peanut butter, the massive egg recall of 2010, and others.  There appears to not only be very little consequence for these companies for knowingly producing bad food, but the government is increasingly going after small producers whose food is not contaminated or harmful.  Their primary crime seems to be that they are small producers.  Doesn’t make sense to me.

Big Pharma Is Putting Microchips in Drugs – This article disturbs me on a lot of different levels.  First of all, I don’t want to be microchipped.  For any reason.  Second of all, I’m not convinced that the data collected from this will be able to take into account bio-individual response to the medication or to other lifestyle issues.  I see this as a potential gateway to the doctor deciding that based on your results you need more medication.  Thirdly, I think it has the potential to go massively awry.  We are not meant to eat or ingest microchips.  One of the thoughts that occurs to me is that although right now we can know if we have it because the chip transmits to a patch on the skin, what if they find another way for the chip to transmit.  Then we won’t know if this is in our medications.  Just not a good idea.

Why Woman Should Stop Their Cholesterol Lowering Medication – I was stunned to learn that for post-menopausal women, taking statins can increase their risk of diabetes by as much as 48%.  That’s an enormous risk.  Cholesterol is important to our health.  It comes from two sources, either we make it naturally in our liver, or we ingest it from our food.  In the rush to reduce cholesterol many of us lose sight of (or are unaware) that cholesterol that is too low is also unhealthy.  Studies done in 2000 show that low cholesterol (below 160 mg/dl) can cause anxiety and depression in otherwise healthy women.  And other studies show that reduced cholesterol (and saturated fats in the diet) can increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

    All of the above indicates a need to look carefully at your diet, your cholesterol intake and cholesterol levels before taking statins.  As a side note it is important to know that if you are taking statins you would do well to also take CoQ10.  Statins deplete CoQ10 from your body.  Adding it to your supplemental routine can help prevent or reduce some muscle problems that can go along with statin use.  

On My Mind Monday

newspaper | photo: mconnors

It’s Monday and these are the news articles that have caught my attention from around the web:

A look at the $175 in your compost – That’s how much many Americans throw our per month in food.  Most of it probably goes straight to the landfill not to a compost pile.  Wherever it goes, however, is a huge waste of food and resources.  We work hard at our house to make good use of leftovers, to plan what I call sequential eating, and menu planning.  This idea of not wasting food ties in with what Jonathan Bloom has been promoting for a while through his book, American Wasteland, and his Wasted Food blog.  Given the rising cost of food, it makes even more sense to think about what we’re eating and how much we’re buying.

Walnuts Are Drugs – Says FDA – seriously?  This is just ridiculous.  There are large numbers of scientific studies showing the health benefits of walnuts but apparently this is not good enough for the FDA.  It kind of makes me wonder how oats managed to get their approval for their ability to lower cholesterol (which they do.  There are studies to this effect and yet oat producers are not being told they cannot use those studies).  I have no problem with stopping unvalidated health claims, but where there is evidence that shows the healthful benefits why is the FDA stopping them?  Of course this is the same agency that told the cherry industry that they couldn’t promote the healthful benefits of cherries, even with USDA funded studies that showed exactly what the producers were claiming.  Obviously there is a huge conflict of interest between food and drugs.

Fruits and Veggies Challenge – ever since reading last week about the sad fact that the USDA is not going to use the clever videos promoting fruit and vegetables they received in response to their contest, I have been working my way through watching the videos.  They’re all good, one I like a lot is the Fruit Veggie Swag video.  I find it ridiculous that the USDA has received some wonderful replies that clearly promote eating more fruits and veggies and they won’t use them.  I would much rather watch these than an over-hyped unhealthy fast food ad.

Just Label It – This link takes you to a video by Robert Kenner, the filmmaker who made Food Inc.  I am a huge proponent of food labeling for all sorts of reasons.  I am very much pro-label for GMO and believe we all have a right to know what’s in our food.  The website also allows you to tell FDA Commissioner Hamburg how you feel about this issue.

disclosure: cmp.ly5

Pizza As A Vegetable

My mind is reeling.  Last week Congress declared pizza a vegetable, again.  Having just returned home from the Wise Traditions conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), where the focus was on whole, nourishing, traditional foods, to a this kind of absurdity is mind boggling.

I should not be surprised, this has been policy up until now but I confess I’m appalled to think that anyone in our government is stupid enough to believe that the tomato paste on a slice of pizza in any way counts as a serving of vegetables.  It’s barely got any nutrition at all and comes wrapped in highly processed, chemically conditioned dough, covered with cheese that is no doubt loaded with rBST and antibiotics and possibly some preservative-laden pepperoni.  As the video above states, we, and our children, are having their taste buds conditioned to prefer unhealthy foods.

While this is nothing new, it is certainly getting a lot of press.  I hope it’s also getting a lot of attention from a lot of parents.  This is not what you want to feed your kids to have them grow up strong and healthy.  I encourage everyone who cares about these issues to get involved:

Food Day

Our food system in this country is broken.  Many people don’t have access to real food, often eating highly processed, low nutrition food; they live in what are called food desserts.  Much of our food supply is not raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner.  Many of our food animals are raised in confined quarters making their lives less humane.  And Big Ag receives massive subsidies from the government, our tax dollars paying for processing instead of supporting wholesome, whole foods and the farmers who raise them.  This in turn often leads to more ill health and more tax dollars supporting a sick-care system.

Food Day is an organization that is lobbying Congress to make changes to our system.  To help bring real food back to our schools and our neighborhoods.  To help educate people about what truly constitutes a healthy diet.  To bring real food back into our homes.  This issue is more than just me or you.  It’s our neighbors, our community, it spreads outwards and I believe it is a vital part of our future.

With more and more food recalls happening, with the shrinking of the American family farm, with the aggressive advertising that junk food producers create, our health as a nation is rapidly declining.  We need to turn this cycle around.  I believe one way to do this is to speak up, to tell your elected representatives how you feel.

I rarely publicize campaigns on this blog but in this particular instance I feel moved to do so because this one issue encompasses so many of the challenges facing our food supply.  I have signed the petition and I encourage you to visit Food Day, learn more about the issues, and sign.

Eggs Again

egg | photo: Kacper “Kangel” Aniotek

A recent article brought to light the fact that eggs are still not being appropriately monitored and companies are free to do what they wish.  Unfortunately egg producers are apparently not required to tell the federal government when they find salmonella, nor are they required to share the names of companies under which they sell their eggs.  There’s no egg recall currently underway but I believe it may not be long until there is.

I find it exceedingly strange that one agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is responsible for overseeing the health of chickens, the FDA is responsible for whole eggs, the USDA is responsible for eggs if they are transported or broken (sold as liquid), and then the FDA is responsible again for eggs sold in retail environments.  It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

I have several thoughts that come to mind about this whole situation:

  1. Monitoring:  For years food manufacturers in all different areas of the industry have claimed that they are perfectly capable of monitoring themselves and that the industry does not require government legislation because the industry is so good as self-monitoring.  Obviously this (and other examples) prove that line of thinking to be fallacious.
  2. Consistency:  While I confess to not always being a fan of how the government does business with regards to food and/or nutrition, I believe this situation highlights the need for one agency that oversees all aspects of food.  Bouncing back and forth between agencies leaves too many gaps in the system.  Gaps that manufacturers are only too willing to take advantage of, leaving the consumers as the ones at risk.
  3. Oversight:  On the one hand there is too much transparency to certain parts of the system and too much secrecy regarding others.  Federal agents tell egg producers when they’re coming to visit?  Or allow the producers to suggest dates that might be convenient for them?  How is that helpful?  I think we’re all smart enough to know that you don’t warn someone that you’re coming if you want to check and make sure they’re doing what they are supposed to.  And if, in spite of these pre-arranged visits, the inspectors find problems they don’t tell the public and there are no sanctions?  Then why bother to go in the first place?  And how does this in any way protect the consumer?
  4. Location:  With the vast majority of egg farms located in Iowa this type of situation once again highlights how far removed we are from our food.  I believe it is very important for consumers to consider shopping a little closer to home.  Get to know your local farmer, farmer’s market, or join a CSA. Pay attention to where your food comes from.  Does this mean that you won’t be affected by illness or other disease?  Honestly no, but I believe your chances will be reduced.  The vast majority of people I know who are farming in more of a small-holding are more conscientious about the quality of their product.  I believe they are not as overwhelmed by the demands of large scale farming which leads to many practices which in turn can make the food chain more susceptible to problems.

We all need to become informed consumers.  We need to be aware of these problems and we need to start paying attention to our food.  I spend what many consider to be far too much time looking at information about food, health and nutrition on a daily basis.  I also spend a lot of time letting people know how I feel and what I think.  I do this because I believe it’s important.  

Until the manufacturers and the government know that we, as consumers, are not willing to idly sit by and let them make poor decisions about our food that affect our health, they will continue to do what they’ve always done — support the manufacturer over the consumer.  Marion Nestle has written a wonderful book about this which has many eye-opening passages in it that show how consumers are, in some ways, seen as product of the industry rather than a valued customer.
It goes back to something I’ve said a number of times, not only do we need to become informed, we need to vote; with our voices and with our wallets.  I’m thrilled to see more products in the store that are labeled from local sources or that are made without artificial colors and preservatives.  These changes are happening because people are speaking up.  These ideas are being implemented because at the end of the day the manufacturers want your money.  And while I believe they would far rather have an uninformed, apathetic consumer on the other end of their production line, they will change if they have to in order to get your business and your dollars.
So while it seems like a long way from eggs to artificial colors, the process and the end result is the same.    Read the labels, know what’s in your food, and be willing to speak out about how you feel.