Posts Tagged ‘food safety’
Remember the good old days — circa last month — when conscientious parents could shell out the extra bucks for organic fruit juices in the hope of reducing the number of pesticides, heavy metals and other toxins that their children — all of our children — eat, drink and breathe each and every day?
Turns out that — at least when it comes to apple juice, grape juice, canned peaches, canned pears, and baby foods that contain these fruits — it makes no difference where lead contamination is concerned. Which means that we can now safely add both organic and conventionally-grown fruit juices to the overlong list of drinks — a list that includes milk, water and soy — that are no longer safe for our children to drink.
According to the recently released results of a study by the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF), out of the 146 juice and canned fruit samples they tested in an EPA lab (see the complete list below), 125 contained toxic levels of lead. In fact, a single serving of these juices or fruits is toxic enough that, by law in California, these products should carry warning labels. (For more info on lead exposure and children, read the foundation’s FAQ sheet).
Of course, the focus on the ELF study was lead — a heavy metal for which no safe level exists; a heavy metal that accumulates in the body with each exposure, beginning before birth (via their mother’s blood) and continuing into early childhood from myriad environmental and food exposures; a heavy metal that is especially dangerous to young children, whose bodies absorb it more quickly, and who are at the highest risk of brain damage, cancers and developmental/behavioral disorders from lead exposure. But what about the pesticide levels in those same fruit products — leaded and unleaded alike? For this information, you could look here, where you’d find that it makes little difference whether you buy U.S. or foreign-grown agricultural products. It’s a complete crap shoot, as both are likely to be tainted with heavy metals and pesticides.
Now for Some Good News
Once you weed out the fruit juices with lead contamination and the fruit juices likely to have pesticide contamination, there is (until we hear otherwise) a grand total of one “safe” juice on the Environmental Law Foundation’s list. Tentative kudos to R.W. Knudsen Organic Apple Juice for this precarious honor, which may be nothing more than dumb luck on their part because, come next week or next month or next year — depending on which supplier they buy their apples from — the story might be entirely different. As good news goes, we could aspire to better.
As anyone who’s been paying attention could tell you, the ELF study comes as no real surprise. Lead contamination is just the tip of the iceberg. The bad news about our food chain has been rolling out for years — especially over the past decade, as more and more of our food is sourced from China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and other countries that provide dirt-cheap produce, meats, seasonings, supplements and vitamins, courtesy of their lax-to-non-existent standards on food, environmental and worker safety.
Concurrent to this, the U.S. has eased its own standards — giving the green light to corporate American growers and manufacturers to do whatever they jolly well please with our food supply, while simultaneously putting up road blocks to smaller growers of integrity. The hope of the politicians who steer such policies is to kill what little competition remains to their corporate benefactors.
At the same time, the budgets have been slashed to the agencies empowered with protecting American consumers from eating foods tainted with pesticides, heavy metals and other toxic substances. As a consequence, there is little to no oversight on most of the food grown and produced in the U.S. The inspection process is equally lacking on imported foods, as a mere ½ of 1% of the food entering this country is ever tested for these contaminants, much less for pathogens, decay, filth, bacteria, odors, mystery additives, missing ingredients, unidentified objects and the myriad other findings that might prompt the FDA to refuse import into the U.S.
Lacking any real oversight, our ports wait with open arms and a blind eye turned to the roughly 50 million metric tons of food imported into the U.S. each year. It is only through a combination of dumb luck, the vigilance of other countries, and the research of independent food safety advocates — or, as is too often the case, by the trail of sick people and dead bodies — that we become enlightened to the existence of melamine-tainted chocolates, dog food and milk, drug-laced seafoods, and everything from vitamins to rice, garlic and tea contaminated with a mix of pesticides, lead, cadmium and arsenic. Add to this mix the myriad pathogens, such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli that have become staple contaminants in our food supply — both imported and domestically produced. Given our track record in recent years, we can hardly wag our finger at China.
The ConAgra Solution
One wonders: How the hell does this stuff get into the food chain? There are as many answers to that question as there are tainted products on the market. Here’s but one.
To speed up the drying process, they would lay the tea leaves out on a huge warehouse floor and drive trucks over them so that the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out. And the problem there is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves. — from a 2007 NPR interview with former FDA commissioner, William Hubbard.
Of course, tea is a single ingredient. Once somebody bothers to test it, the trail is easy enough to follow. But what if that tainted product happens to be a processed food containing, perhaps, dozens of ingredients from a dozen different countries? You’d think that, by testing each ingredient, the answer could be pieced together.
Problem is, the suppliers of those dozens of ingredients change from day to day, depending on which supplier from which country offers the cheapest flour, cheapest peanuts, cheapest garlic, cheapest beef, cheapest spinach, cheapest grapes, and so on. This was the conundrum faced last year by the frozen food industry giants (e.g. ConAgra, General Mills and Nestle, who peddle brands such as Healthy Foods, Swanson, Hungry Man and Banquet).
These manufacturers knew for a fact that their products were contaminated with salmonella and other food-borne pathogens, but they couldn’t pinpoint the source. Was it today’s ground pepper from China? Yesterday’s pepper from India? Last week’s pepper from Vietnam?
What to do? ConAgra took the lead and decided that, since they couldn’t find the source of the salmonella, much less get rid of it, they’d pass the buck to the consumer. Other companies followed suit. They accomplished this by adding an advisory to their pot pie packaging, which told the consumer, in so many words, how to go about killing those deadly pathogens: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots”.
Got that, American consumer? Keep your food thermometer handy, and should you fail to check several spots to make sure your food heats to a consistent 165° F, you’ll have no one but yourself to blame if you die from salmonella poisoning.
The Kellogg Solution
Problem is, some foods (e.g. spinach salad, breakfast cereal, granola, cookies, crackers, peanut butter) aren’t compatible with the ConAgra method and would taste downright awful if heated to an internal temperature of 165° before eating. To this end, some larger manufacturers, such as Kellogg, have hired private investigators to inspect their suppliers. But even that’s no guarantee.
A supplier unscrupulous enough to knowingly pass food contaminated with salmonella, E. coli and possible bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) pathogens onto consumers is certainly not above greasing the palms of these 3rd-party inspectors, as Kellogg discovered, when their products were drawn into the huge dragnet of recalled products in the wake of the Georgia peanut scandal. Such scandals are ongoing — both in our food supply and in the consumer products we use every day. But, unless we make a point to frequent the USDA and CPSC websites, along with consumer advocate and safety websites, we’re none the wiser.
But at least some of the peanut stories made the news. Usually such stories pass, like ships in the night, with little to no fanfare on the evening news.
The House of Cards
Our lawmakers, for their part, have largely been asleep at the wheel, most of them drunk on lobbyist dollars from the corporations who peddle these toxic products. This symbiotic relationship — with corporations funding political campaigns and careers, and with politicians creating loopholes, laws, subsidies and tax breaks to benefit their corporate benefactors (turning a blind eye to infractions and felonies alike, as needed) — has created a house of cards. Only, unlike our economy, this house of cards won’t fall all at once. It will fall little by little, child by child, and with little fanfare from our news or lawmakers until, perhaps, their own children or grandchildren succumb to illness or disease, putting the issue of food safety squarely into their own laps.
For now, these politicians and the corporations who fund their careers will stick to their battle cries of, “The free market is self-correcting!” and “Keep big government out of business!” To this end, the only way for U.S. growers and manufacturers to keep pace with China — who we now depend on to feed us — is to craft our environmental, worker and food safety standards to mirror theirs, then sell this corrupt bill of goods to the American consumer.So far, so good.
The good news for these politicians and their benefactors is that, over the past 10 years, U.S. standards indeed come to resemble those in China, so that today the average agricultural product (not to mention toys, dishes, clothing, furniture, household products and cleaners) produced in the U.S.A. is just as likely to be grown or manufactured with slave-wage labor and contaminated with pesticides, lead and other heavy metals as the average product from China. Fancy that.
But, again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve not even broached the topic of the genetically modified organisms (built-in pesticides and such) that have been contaminating our food supply, both domestic and foreign, for years. There’s more than arsenic and old lead lurking in that bowl of rice.
Choose Your Poison Wisely
Even as some of us have been watching this house of cards being erected year by year — all the while writing letters and protesting as these food safety standards have fallen one by one — it’s still alarming, dismaying and downright depressing to learn the results of the ELF study on lead. Of course, we can continue buying organic in the hope of avoiding — or at the very least reduce our children’s exposure to the carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disruptors and developmental/reproductive toxicants already known by the USDA to exist in most of the conventionally-grown grape juices, apple juices, canned peaches and canned pears that the ELF tested for lead. But now we’re left with an impossible choice: pesticides or lead?
The choice is easier for those parents who rely on the evening news to enlighten them as to what they’re feeding their children: both.
Enlightened or not, the rule of thumb for children in the U.S. (not to mention adults) is this: nothing is safe. The old rules of thumb for travelers abroad now apply to us. When in the U.S., don’t drink the water, don’t eat the food, don’t use the dishes, don’t wear the clothes, don’t breathe the air, stay off the grass and, for god sakes, don’t play with the toys. Perhaps this is all right with you. As Thomas Gray famously said, “Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.”
I can attest to the truth of Gray’s words, as I’m always happier before I learn that my grandchildren — despite their organic vegetarian diets and all the care that is taken to buy safe products — have nonetheless been eating, drinking and breathing arsenic, lead, cadmium, Cobalt 50, mercury, BPA, phthalates, formaldehyde, melamine, antibiotics, hormones, pathogens and the residuals of hundreds of pesticides lurking everywhere you look.
I’m always happier before learning that — despite all the care taken to ensure their safety and well-being — that the odds have just grown that my grandchildren’s number might be called to pay the price for exposure to these toxins: cancer, neurological disorders, endocrine & reproductive disorders, behavioral disorders, asthma, skin afflictions and countless other diseases.
Because, see, we don’t live in the good old days. In the good old days, businessmen like Mr. Potter were the bad guys in movies with titles like, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In the good old days, politicians whose consciences could be bought and paid to turn a blind eye to poisoning children were fewer and far-between. In the good old days, you’d be hard-pressed to find any but the most ignorant of souls who would scoff at the most rudimentary commonsense knowledge (not to mention the mountains of scientifically drawn evidence) that feeding children arsenic, lead and poison is bad for their health.
Our entire food chain has been poisoned from start to finish: from the growers, to the processors, to the manufacturers, to the inspectors, to the laws that govern the ethics of these interests, to the food on our tables.
The problem, you see, is that no one’s minding the store. No one except for the scoundrels and you, if you so choose.
by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers
TO TAKE ACTION:
From What’s in My Food? website: a petition for Safe, Fair and Green Food
From the Make Our Food Safe Coalition website: Tell Your U.S. Senators: Make Our Food Safe NOW!
From the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families blog: Tired of Toxics? Give Congress a Jingle
From the Environmental Working Group website: Babies are born pre-polluted with hundreds of toxic chemicals. Sign this petition to demand that Congress take action to make chemicals in consumer products kid-safe.
From the Physicians for Social Responsibility website: a petition to support the Lautenberg Plan: Protect Americans from Toxic Chemical Exposure
FOR MORE READING:
Environmental Working Group website:
- EWG Supporters Push Chemicals Act Reform
- Kid-Safe Chemicals: The Cost of Inaction
- Page on Health/Toxics: Children’s Health
The Washington Post:
Physicians for Social Responsibility
- The Need for Chemical Reform in the United States (Excerpt: During the past 30 years the incidence of childhood cancer, asthma, autism, infertility, premature births, birth defects, and a range of other problems has increased. For example, from 1976 to 1994, there was a 30 percent increase in the incidence of all types of cancers for children under the age of one….)
The Providence Journal:
Report finds gaps in food safety, FDA powers (this article speaks on the difficulty of tracing the pinpointing the country-of-origin on salmonella-tainted ground pepper)
The Raleigh Telegram:
NOTE: The above two links illustrate but one angle being used by corporate growers and their political hacks to exploit the food safety bill to drive small farmers out of business.
THE LISTS FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW FOUNDATION LEAD STUDY:
Below are the lists of fruit product brands that were tested in the ELF’s lead study. To make the list more reader-friendly, I’ve highlighted the lead-tainted products in red, and the unleaded brands in green. The organic brands are in bold font. The original report can be seen in this pdf form on the ELF website. See also: Lead in Children’s Foods: Frequently Asked Questions
Apple JuiceFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Beech Nut 100% Apple Juice
- Earth’s Best Organics Apple Juice
- First Street 100% Apple Cider from concentrate
- First Street Apple Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Full Circle Organic Apple Juice
- Gerber 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Great Value 100% No Sugar Added Apple Juice
- Hansen’s Natural Apple Juice
- Kroger 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Langers Apple Juice 100% Juice
- Minute Maid Juice Apple – 100% Apple Juice
- Motts 100% Apple Juice
- O Organics Organic Unfiltered Apple Juice Not From Concentrate
- Old Orchard 100% Apple Juice
- Parade 100% Juice Apple
- Raley’s Premium 100% Apple Juice not from Concentrate
- Safeway 100% Juice Apple Cider
- Safeway 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Stater Bros. 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Sunny Select 100% Apple Juice
- Trader Joe’s Certified Organic Apple Juice, pasteurized
- Tree Top 100% Juice Apple Cider
- Walgreens Apple Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Walnut Grove Market 100% Apple Juice
- Great Value 100% Apple Juice not from concentrate
- Harvest Day 100% Apple Juice from Concentrate
- Kirkland Fresh Pressed Apple Juice Pasteurized
- Martinelli’s Gold Medal Apple Juice 100% pure from US grown fresh apples
- R.W. Knudsen Organic Apple Juice unfiltered
- Raley’s Everyday 100% Apple Juice
- Sunny Select 100% Unfiltered Apple Juice
- Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice all natural pasteurized, 100% juice
- Tree Top 100% Apple Juice
- Tree Top Three Apple Blend 100% Fresh Pressed Juice
Grape JuiceFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- 365 Everyday Value Organic 100% Juice Concord Grapes
- First Street Grape Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Gerber 100% Juice – White Grape Juice
- Great Value 100% Grape Juice
- Kedem Concord Grape Juice 100% pure grape juice
- Kroger Grape Juice 100% Juice
- Langers Grape Juice (Concord)
- Langers Red Grape Juice
- O Organics Organic Grape Juice from concentrate
- R.W. Knudsen Just Concord Grape Juice
- R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Concord
- Raley’s 100% Grape Juice
- Safeway 100% Juice Grape Juice
- Safeway Organic Grape Juice
- Santa Cruz Organic Concord Grape Juice
- Stater Bros. 100% Juice Grape Juice
- Stater Bros. 100% Juice White Grape Juice
- Sunny Select 100% Grape Juice
- Trader Joe’s Concord Grape Juice made from fress pressed organic concord grapes
- Tree Top 100% Juice, Grape
- Valu Time Grape Drink from Concentrate
- Walgreens Grape Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Walnut Acres Organic Concord Grape
- Walnut Grove Market Grape Juice
- Welch’s 100% Grape Juice (from Welch’s Concord Grapes)
- Welch’s 100% Red Grape Juice from Concentrate
- Old Orchard Healthy Balance Grape (Unfortunately, the only “safe” grape juice happens to be sweetened by Splenda).
Packaged PearsFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Best Yet Bartlett Pear Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Del Monte Diced Pears in Light Syrup
- Del Monte Pear Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Del Monte Pear Halves, Bartlett Pears in 100% real fruit juice from concentrate
- Dole Pear Halves in Juice
- First Street Diced Pears
- First Street Sliced Bartlett
- Full Circle Organic Bartlett Pear Slices
- Gerber 3rd Foods Pears [Baby Food]
- Great Value Bartlett Pear Halves in 100% Juice
- Great Value Bartlett Sliced Pears in Heavy Syrup
- Market Pantry Diced Pears in Light syrup
- Maxx Value Pear Pieces in Light Syrup
- Polar Pear Halves in light syrup
- S&W Natural Style Pear Slices in Juice
- S&W Sun Pears Premium
- Safeway Lite Bartlett Pear Halves in Pear Juice
- Safeway Pear Halves in Light Juice
- Sunny Select Pear Halves in Pear Juice
- Trader Joe’s Pear Halves in white grape juice
- Truitt Brothers Pacific NorthWest Bartlett Pear Halves, in pear juice from concentrate
- Valu Time Irregular Bartlett Pear Slices
- Walnut Grove Market Natural Pear Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Eating Right Kids Diced Pears Fruit Cups
- Stater Bros. Diced Pears Snack Bowl
Packaged PeachesFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Best Yet Yellow Cling Peach Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Del Monte Freestone Peach Slices in 100 % Juice
- Del Monte Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in 100 % Juice
- Del Monte Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in heavy syrup
- Dole Diced Peaches, Yellow Cling in light syrup
- First Street Yellow Cling Peaches in heavy syrup
- Gerber 3rd Foods Peaches [Baby Food]
- Golden Star Peach Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Great Value Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches
- Libby’s Yellow Cling Peach Slices No Sugar Added (Sweetened with Splenda)
- Market Pantry Diced Peaches in light syrup
- Polar Peach Slices
- Raley’s Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in Heavy Syrup
- S&W Natural Style Yellow Cling Peach Slices in Lightly Sweetened Juice
- S&W Premium Peach Halves Yellow Cling Peaches in light syrup
- Safeway Diced Peaches in Light Syrup
- Safeway Yellow Cling Peach Slices in Pear Juice
- Simple Value Yellow Cling Peaches in light syrup
- Stater Bros. Yellow Cling Peach Halves
- Stater Bros. Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches in heavy syrup
- Sunny Select Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches in Pear Juice
- Trader Joe’s Yellow Cling Peach Halves in while grape juice
- Valu Time Yellow Cling Peach Slices
- Walnut Grove Market Natural Peaches Sliced Yellow Cling in Light Syrup
- Dole Diced Peaches, Cling in Light Syrup
- Dole Diced Peaches, Freestone in Light Syrup
- Dole Sliced Peaches
- Eating Right Kids Diced Peaches in Extra Light Syrup
- Stater Bros. Diced Peaches Snack Bowl
Fruit CocktailFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Best Yet Chunky Mixed Fruit in Pear Juice
- Chef’s Review Fruit Cocktail
- Del Monte 100% Juice Fruit Cocktail
- Del Monte Chunky Mixed Fruit in 100 % Juice (peach, pear, grape, etc.)
- Del Monte Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup (peach, pear, grapes)
- Del Monte Fruit Cocktail No Sugar Added
- Del Monte Lite Fruit Cocktail in Extra Light Syrup
- Dole Mixed Fruit in Light Syrup
- Eating Right Fruit Cocktail packed in Sucralose
- Eating Right No Sugar Fruit Cocktail
- First Street Fruit Cocktail in heavy syrup
- Golden Star Mixed Fruit in Light Syrup (peach, pineapple, pears)
- Great Value No Sugar Added Fruit Cocktail
- Kroger Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- Kroger Lite Fruit Cocktail in Pear Juice
- Kroger Value Fruit Mix (Peaches, pears, grapes)
- Libby’s Fruit Cocktail No Sugar Added (Sweetened with Splenda)
- Market Pantry Mixed Fruit in light syrup
- Maxx Value Fruit Mix in Light Syrup (peach, pear, grape)
- Mrs. Brown’s Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup (peaches, pears, grapes)
- Polar Mixed Fruit
- Raley’s Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- S&W Natural Style Fruit Cocktail in Lightly Sweetened Juice
- Safeway Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- Safeway Light Sugar Fruit Cocktail
- Safeway Lite Fruit Cocktail in Pear Juice
- Stater Bros. Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- Sunny Select Fruit Cocktail in Juice
- Del Monte Mixed Fruit
And, hey, as long as we’re talking toxin, you may as well know which veggie burgers contain the neurotoxin, hexane, and which don’t:
Hexane burgersJust because a product is “made with organic ingredients” does not mean it is made with organic soy. And, chances are, if the soy in your soy milk, energy bar or soy burger came from China, Vietnam, Taiwan or Korea, that organic certification means absolutely nothing.
- Amy’s Kitchen
- Boca Burger, conventional
- Franklin Farms
- Garden Burger
- It’s All Good Lightlife
- Morningstar Farms
- President’s Choice
- Taste Above
- Trader Joe’s
- Yves Veggie Cuisine
Hexane-Free (yay!) BurgersAs a rule of thumb, USDA certified organic soy is not going to contain hexane. But, again, if that soy comes from China, it’s a crap shoot. As luck has it, there are still a few hexane-free burgers on the market:
- Boca Burgers “Made with organic soy”
- Helen’s Kitchen
- Morningstar “Made with organic”
- Superburgers by Turtle Island
While you’re chewing on the topic of soy, you may as well check out the complete Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report Scorecard on the various brand name soy products — from soymilk to veggie burgers to tofu to baby formula — to see which ones were (as of May 2009) still safe to consume. Also see the studies on Infant Formulas.
Like everything else, soy is a crap shoot. You never know from one week to the next which company’s been swallowed up by a conglomerate and/or succumbed to the China syndrome for sourcing their ingredients.
If so, chances are you’ve also “got” the pesticides Diphenylamine (DPA), DDE, Dieldrin, Cyhalothrin, Endosulfan sulfate, 3-hydroxycarbofuran, Permethrin, Bifenthrin, Cyfluthrin, Tetrachlorvinphos, Carbaryl and Dimethoate, plus a host of hormones, antibiotics, vaccine residues, pus and possible pathogens.
Think you can escape these hazards by buying organic? Think again. According to the Cornucopia Institute, which continually updates their Organic Dairy Brand Ratings Scorecard as part of their ongoing effort toward Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk, if you’ve been buying any of the following “organic” brands of milk, you may want to reconsider:
Alta Dena (Dean Foods)
Aurora Organic Dairy
Back to Nature
Good Heart Organics
- Back to Nature (Kraft)
- Good Heart Organics (Rockview)
- Hain Celestial (Earth’s Best)
- Horizon (Dean Foods)
- Organic Cow (Dean Foods)
- PMB Nutiritionals (private-label infant formula including Wal-Mart)
- Noris Dairy/Noris Organic Life
- Natural Prairie
- Shamrock Farms
- Rockview Farms
- Wholesome Valley (Galaxy Foods)
- Greenbank Farms/ Stonefelt Cheese Co.
LAST WORDS: Heck, I could keep writing on this post and, five years from now, I’d still be writing. I could link to a thousand web pages of dedicated individuals and groups who are working to restore some integrity to our food supply. Either you care about such things or you don’t.
If you do, please do something, even if it’s just to take a few moments to give a few clicks to the mouse to sign your name to a petition. Many hands make light work.
But it you don’t care, please don’t waste your time sending me impassioned comments about how poisons and heavy metals are our friends, or on how the human body has miraculously adapted to lead contamination, or on how tree hugging alarmists are exploiting these dangers to kill our economy. And while you’re at it, spare me the thinly-veiled racist missives on big government take overs. I’ll just delete them.