Monday, September 24, 2012

Ten Ways Corporate Food Is Threatening Our Food Supplies by Juan Cole

Ten Ways Corporate Food Is Threatening Our Food Supplies

by Juan Cole

Informed Comment,  23 September 2012

While it is much better than the fascisms of the Right and the Left, one of the big drawbacks of corporate democracy is that the people are often outgunned. Large corporations account for half of the national economy and pay more for lobbyists to write and pass laws in Congress favorable to themselves than they do in Federal taxes. The way in which the Congressional committees that are supposed to watch certain industries actually become beholden to them is called ‘legislative capture.’
For this reason, I don’t entirely trust the US government any more to look out for our health. We are increasingly exposed to thousands of chemicals that haven’t really been tested (plastics are full of them). We’re not even given the courtesy of knowing which foods are genetically modified so we can make a market choice for the natural ones.
Here are the top ten disturbing news stories about our food that have come across my screen in recent days, and which inspire a certain amount of alarm in me.
1.   Sugary, i.e. non-diet soft drinks make you fat, especially if you are genetically at greater risk of being fat. According to a study about to appear in the New England Journal of Medicine, teens who had genes that disposed them to put on weight easily were twice as likely to be obese if they drank a lot of soda pop. Pre-modern human beings who lived in conditions of food scarcity probably tried to bulk up when they saw a drought becoming prolonged, and there would have been a survival advantage to being able to put on weight quickly when you were trying. So likely those teens’ bodies thought all the sugar they were being fed was a sign of famine coming, and obliged by storing a lot of fat to get through it. For a certain percentage of the population, extra calories are actually subject to a multiplier effect inside their own bodies. (It can even happen to Lady Gaga.)
Soft drinks have like 160- 180 calories per can and nobody can afford all that in their diet even once daily.
In other words, not only is Mayor Bloomberg’s policy of banning supersized soft drinks in New York justified, actually people should just never drink sugary soft drinks.
2.   Here’s the kicker. It isn’t just the sugar that puts some people at risk of obesity. It is bisphenol A or BPA, a chemical used to coat the aluminum cans in which soft drinks come (as well as soup and other cans) so as to prevent them from rusting. A recent study in JAMA found that the one fourth of the thousands of children and adolescents in their study that had the most BPA in their urine were twice as likely to be obese as those in the one fourth that had the least BPA. So I guess if they were drinking sugary sodas out of cans, they were really doomed to be obese. BPA has been implicated in other studies in “diabetes, cardiovascular disease, reproductive disorders, and obesity in adults.”
Think you can get away from BPA by avoiding cans and going to plastic bottles instead? Think again. It is widely used in the making of clear plastics, and there is evidence that it seeps into us from them.
When exactly will the US government have enough evidence to ban BPA? When we’re all 400 pounds?
3.  The Consumer Union has found concerning levels of arsenic in American-grown rice. Apparently much rice in the US is grown in the Southwest and West on land that used to be used for cotton, on which arsenic-laden pesticides were used for decades. Arsenic can cause cancer. Me, I never like to hear the phrases “arsenic” and “in your food” in the same sentence.
4.  Over-use of antibiotics may be making us fat. There is now scientific evidence that the antibiotics activate bacteria that are good at turning carbohydrates into fat. That is, the Atkins and Manhattan diets may work mainly because a lot of people’s gut microbe population had already been messed with by the antibiotics. People are always trying to get antibiotics for their children with viruses, which can’t anyway be treated that way. Ironically, they may not only be giving them medicine inappropriate to their malady but may be priming them for diabetes and heart disease later in life.
5.   Speaking of antibiotics, 150 scientists and physicians are calling for the end of non-medical antibiotics being routinely administered to livestock. All that is happening is that we are evolving bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics, and are already killing 100,000 Americans a year that way (more than die of AIDS). This baneful practice, they warn, has to stop.
6.   Genetically modified corn, treated with the pesticide Roundup, were found by a French team of scientists to cause more frequent and more rapidly growing tumors in rats than ordinary corn. The study has been criticized and it is based on a small N. But, I’ll tell you what. Let us decide. Could we please have the genetically modified vegetables marked as such, Congress? I know we ordinary folk don’t pay you the way the corporations pay you, but you are supposed to be representing us lab rats too.
7.    The global collapse of bee colonies, a severe threat to the world food supply, according to three new studies, is likely being in some part caused by a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. France and Germany have already banned them. But Corporatocracy America has not. Are there other factors involved in the great bee die-off? Sure, but why not remove a major factor when we can? Oh, and by the way, see 4 above, because another cause may be genetically modified plants that have absorbed pesticides into their genetic structure.
8.   It is not just what corporations put in our food. It is also how they produce it that endangers us. Industrialized, often state-subsidized fishing is rapidly depleting world fish stocks. I’ve heard David Suzuki worry that half of all marine species could be extinct in 50 years at this rate, between overfishing and ocean acidification (caused by all the extra carbon we are pumping into the air at the Koch brothers’ behest).
10.   40% of US corn production goes to making ethanol, and at a time of drought and high food prices, this policy is indefensible. The US has to relax the laws mandating ethanol. Although ethanol claims to be carbon-neutral because the corn takes carbon dioxide out of the air when it is growing, processing it into ethanol releases a lot of greenhouse gases. Moreover the policy of burning it in cars is apparently on the verge of causing malnutrition.

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