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9 Things You Need to Know about the Food You Eat

9 Things You Need to Know about the Food You Eat

Story at-a-glance -

  • From artificial growth hormones to cloned animals, there’s often unsettling and harmful “ingredients” added to the U.S. food supply – unbeknownst to most consumers
  • Food contamination, including Salmonella, heavy metals, and drug residues, and deadly conditions like Mad Cow Disease are also products of the industrial food complex in the United States
  • Virtually the only way to truly know what’s in your food is to grow it yourself -- or get it directly from a farmer you can trust

By Dr. Mercola

Seems like every week there is a new revelation of massive perversion in the food industry, resulting in more corporate profits and a greater risk to your health. From arsenic in fruit juice and chicken to "pink-slime" ground beef treated with ammonia, nasty tidbits about the foods you're putting in your body are now so commonplace as to be expected.

But it does make you wonder what next … what else is there that you don't know about that dinner on your table?

To help with that, the featured article offers a list of nine factoids you need to know about the food you eat. If you're squeamish, now would be a good time to cover your eyes – or, actually, to open them so you can learn how to find food that doesn't make you cringe.

1. Growth Hormone in Your Milk

About one-third of the dairy cows in the United States are injected with a synthetic, genetically engineered growth hormone called rBGH. RBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a synthetic version of natural bovine somatotropin (BST), a hormone produced in cows' pituitary glands. Cows are injected with it to boost their milk production.

Monsanto developed the recombinant version from genetically engineered E. coli bacteria, and though it is banned in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in the 27 countries of the European Union because of its dangers to human health, it is the largest selling dairy animal drug in America.

RBGH milk differs from natural milk nutritionally, pharmacologically, immunologically, and hormonally, and one of the most glaring examples of this is its IGF-1 levels. IGF-1 is a potent hormone that acts on your pituitary gland to induce powerful metabolic and endocrine effects, including cell growth and replication.

Elevated IGF-1 levels are associated with breast and other cancers. When cows are injected with rBGH, their levels of IGF-1 increase up to 20-fold, and this IGF-1 is excreted in the milk.i Not to mention, the cows receiving this synthetic hormone suffer massively high rates of mastitis, a painful infection of their udders, along with high rates of other conditions like infertility, hoof disorders and lameness.

You very well may be drinking rBGH milk, or eating rBGH cheese or yogurt, as no labeling is required. The good news is, as increasing numbers of consumers and dairies choose to avoid rBGH, you can find labels that say "rBGH-free" or a similar variation. Organic milk is also rBGH-free.

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2. Factory-Farmed Eggs Contaminated With Salmonella

Over half a billion eggs were recalled in 2010 after authorities linked them to Salmonella poisoning across the United States. The massive egg recalls came from the Iowa farms Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, both of which use Quality Egg for supplies of young chickens and feeds. Both Quality Egg and Wright County Egg are owned by Austin Jack DeCoster, a businessman who has been cited for health and safety violations so many times he's known as a "habitual violator."

I think it's safe to say most Americans would choose to buy their eggs elsewhere -- if they knew what was really going on behind the scenes.

This was not an "isolated" incident by any stretch, as there are many other confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that are still selling eggs raised in filthy, inhumane conditions. The eggs, which are sold under numerous brand names and shipped to various locations from institutions to restaurants, bear little evidence of their past once nestled into an innocent-looking egg carton and placed on your grocery store shelf. That is, until people start getting sick.

By then, of course, it is too late, which is why I so strongly urge you to avoid eggs that come from CAFOs, and instead get eggs from a local farmer you know and trust.

Ordinarily, eggs are one of the healthiest foods in the world, and in my opinion are at their very best if you eat them raw. Under ideal farming conditions, the risks of contamination are very remote, but the U.S. food system is not set up to support these ideals. Instead, most agribusiness "farms" produce eggs in such a way that makes contamination risks soar.

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3. Drugs and Heavy Metals in Your Factory-Farmed Meat

A report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2010 called into question the national Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) ability to adequately monitor the safety of U.S. meat for potentially toxic residues, after revealing that drug residues and heavy metals are common in U.S. meat.ii

Residues of veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals enter the food system when producers bring animals to slaughter that still have these toxins in their system. This occurs more often than you might think.

For instance, in the dairy industry if a farmer determines a sick cow is going to die, he will sell the animal as quickly as possible, even if it still has veterinary drugs in its system. This ensures he will get some return on his investment, at the expense of the Americans' health who end up eating the medicated meat. So-called "waste milk," which is produced by medicated dairy cows and banned for human consumption, is also fed to veal calves, which then pass the meds on to the consumers that eat them.

The FSIS is supposed to monitor for such "residues" in your food, but the USDA report found their regulatory practices to be woefully inadequate. It may look like a steak and it may smell like a steak … but the only way to really know what you're eating -- if you got your meat at the supermarket that is -- is to send it out for lab testing! A far better option is to get your meat from a source you can trust, such as a small local farmer or rancher.

4. Antibiotics in Non-Organic Factory-Farmed Food and Non-Filtered Water

About 80 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture -- not only to fight infection, but to promote unhealthy (though profitable) weight gain. Feeding livestock continuous, low-dose antibiotics creates a perfect storm for widespread disease proliferation – and, worse yet, antibiotic-resistant disease. This link is so clear-cut that the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed has been banned in Europe since 2006!

Antibiotics are not only embedded in your meats, they have made their way into your produce as well, as slow-to-biodegrade antibiotics are transferred, via the manure used as fertilizer, into your corn, lettuce, potatoes, and other crops. Even U.S. waterways, and drinking water, are being impacted.

Sadly, even eating organically may not entirely alleviate this problem, since organic crops, which cannot be fertilized with synthetic fertilizers, are the ones most often fertilized with manure. As it stands, conventional, factory-farmed animal manure containing antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is still allowed under the USDA organic label.

5. Lackadaisical Food Inspectors

Inspectors from the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), started in 2000, are supposed to be evaluating meat safety. But in reality they simply make sure that companies are following their self-imposed standards. No wonder HACCP has been dubbed "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray."

According to AlterNet:

"Once upon a time, federal meat inspectors visually examined carcasses for wholesomeness. But under the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), implemented in 2000, inspectors now simply ratify that companies are following their own self-created systems--as in "Trust us."

Soon after HACCP, 80 percent of inspectors surveyed said that HACCP limited their ability to enforce the law and the public's right to know about food safety. Almost 20 percent said they'd been told to not document violations. And 62 percent of inspectors said they allowed contamination like feces, vomit, and metal shards in food on a daily or weekly basis since HACCP."

6. Foie Gras – A Cruel Delicacy?

Foie gras, translated literally from French means "fatty liver," and is considered a delicacy by many. But it's a highly controversial food, considered by many to be cruel to animals, because it involves a force-feeding process called "gavage." When produced on CAFOs, the animals (typically ducks in the United States) live in complete darkness in cramped, filthy cages. The ducks are confined inside these dark sheds and force-fed several times a day from the time they're just a few months old, until they soon become grossly overweight with livers up to 10 times their normal size.

Foie gras production has been banned in 16 countries simply because it's considered to be too cruel to the animals, including the UK. Unfortunately, all this has done is open the door for mass production of it in countries like China, which has become somewhat notorious for lacking food quality standards and having little regard for animal welfare.

Foie gras has also been banned from being sold in certain areas in the U.S., even though the U.S., like Canada, is a large producer of foie gras.

7. Extreme Growth Promoters in Factory-Farmed Meat

Ractopamine, aka Paylean and Optaflexx, is banned in 160 countries, including Europe, Taiwan and China. If imported meat is found to contain traces of the drug, it is turned away, while fines and imprisonment result for its use in banned countries.

Yet, in the United States 45 percent of pigs, 30 percent of ration-fed cattle, and an unknown percentage of turkeys are pumped full of this drug in the days leading up to slaughter because it increases protein synthesis. In other words, it makes animals more muscular … and this increases food growers' bottom line.

Adding insult to injury, up to 20 percent of ractopamine remains in the meat you buy from the supermarket, even though the drug is marked "Not for use in humans," and is known to increase death and disability in livestock.

While other drugs require a clearance period of around two weeks to help ensure the compounds are flushed from the meat prior to slaughter (and therefore reduce residues leftover for human consumption), there is no clearance period for ractopamine. Food growers intentionally use the drug in the last days before slaughter in order to increase its effectiveness.

8. Mad Cow Disease

Mad Cow Disease is the common term for Bovine Spongiform Encepholopathy (BSE), a progressive neurological disorder of cattle that can be transmitted to other species, including humans. The human equivalent of Mad Cow Disease, Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease, causes memory loss, emotional instability including inappropriate outbursts, an unsteady gait, progressing to marked weakness, severe rapidly progressive dementia and death, often within a year of the onset of symptoms.

In Europe, all older cattle are tested for Mad Cow Disease, and in Japan every cow slaughtered for human consumption is tested, a move that experts say would add just pennies to a pound of beef.iii The most recent case occurred in California in May 2012, but U.S. regulators are still only testing 40,000 of the 35 million cattle slaughtered annually.

As the featured article details:

"Does anyone remember the government's misinformation and ineptitude with the first three mad cows, now that the disease is baaaaacck? With the first cow, a government report said all "potentially-infectious product" had been "disposed of " in a landfill but the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times said it went to California restaurants where it was eaten.

That's very different. With the second cow, authorities did not even realize it had mad cow disease for seven months! The government's final report says the farmer who sold the cow was "relatively sure" he had not kept any offspring but "there were essentially no records maintained." Want more reassurances? The ranch was cleared to resume selling meat within one month."

9. Cloned Animals May be on Your Dinner Plate

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a formal recommendation to allow milk and meat from cloned animals on grocery store shelves, without labels indicating them as such. Their most recent recommendation also gives the green light to cloned animals being used for food:iv

"FDA has concluded that meat and milk from cow, pig, and goat clones and the offspring of any animal clones are as safe as food we eat every day."

Research says otherwise, as AlterNet reported:

"The FDA says clones and their offspring are no different from other food animals and won't be labeled. (See: rBGH.) But in its own 2008 report it cites cloned calves with elevated glucose, elevated growth indicators, early mammary development, umbilical abscesses and high white blood cell counts. Even the meat and milk is different in one study, the FDA admits."

Unfortunately, if you eat beef from conventional sources, there's a possibility you've already eaten this type of food, as some ranchers admit cloned cattle have made it into the food chain and, quite possibly, your dinner table. Even Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack couldn't say for sure whether cloned meat was already on the market when asked whether Americans are eating unlabeled clones right now …

""I can't say today that I can answer your question in an affirmative or negative way," replied Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the question in 2010. (Why should the ag secretary know?) "I don't know. What I do know is that we know all the research, all of the review of this is suggested that this is safe," AlterNet reported."

Finding Food Grown the Way Nature Intended

If you want to optimize your health, it is vital for you and your family to return to the basics of healthy food choices and typically this includes buying your food from responsible, high-quality, sustainable sources. This will help you avoid virtually all of the problems previously discussed in this article.

This is why I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems.

You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs and food coops.

Now that summer is near here in the United States, fresh produce and other wonderful whole foods grown with the laws of nature in mind are available in abundance. Here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also animal welfare and the environment:

  • Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  • Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  • Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  • Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  • Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  • FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.


+ Sources and References