Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Do We Really Know What’s In Our Food?

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Author: United States Department of Agricultur...

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The safety of the food supply continues to be a concern with recalls, food borne illness outbreaks, organic versus non-organic, genetically modified foods, imported foods (especially from China) and on and on. A recent article I read reports that the problem does not just concern the United States but is a global problem. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recently conducted a survey of 2,430 food manufacturers and consumers in four countries, China, India, Germany, and the United States.

In its consumer findings the UL found:

• Most of the respondents worldwide felt that food safety is slightly improved, but in the last two years has not changed very much. One exception was China where they stated that fresh and processed food safety has gotten worse. It has been reported that about one-half of Chinese food inspections failed last year with fecal contamination being the reason ten percent of the time.

• The primary food safety concerns were food borne illnesses, chemical additives, and poor sanitary conditions.

• Seventy-six percent of the respondents said that they found it hard to find food safety information on the label. I personally find it hard to find country of origin and reading very small print ingredient lists.

• About half of the consumers also agreed – they say that country of origin is needed and that it will become more important to know in the next five years. Sixty-nine percent think it is more important than knowing the ingredients; I think both are equally important.

• Forty-two percent thought freshness and performance of a food was most important; thirty-eight percent chose food safety; but only 7% felt that organic foods were most important. This is interesting in that organic foods may be safer due to the non- use of sewage sludge and genetically modified ingredients.

• Food-borne illnesses were a concern for most consumers when eating fresh foods, while chemical additives were more important in processed foods.

• Seventy-one percent were most concerned about processed foods and felt that the food products were no better in the last five years.  They said manufacturers could do a better job.

Chinese imports are starting to crop up in our supermarkets more frequently particular in the freezer case.  Imports are up 20 percent over the past decade and it is no longer unusual to find frozen vegetables that originated in China. However, they still only represent a small segment of the market at the present time.  Mexico, Canada and Chile provide most of the market with China coming in fourth. There are exceptions. Chinese apples dominate the apple juice market in the U.S. Chinese apple juice concentrate, a crystallized concoction reconstituted in the U.S. accounts for about 60 percent of the U.S. apple juice supply.

China does have a history of contaminated food products. “Tainted melamine milk powder, salted duck eggs containing cancer-causing dyes, artificial honey, fake wine, donkey-hide gelatin, waste oil, sulfur steamed ginseng, plaster tofu, dyed bread…the list goes on,” stated a columnist in China Daily. Some say that food imports have to meet the same safety and regulatory standards that U.S. products must meet. But a headline like this does not offer much assurance. “Flood of food imported to U.S., but only 2 percent inspected.  As shipments rise, many say FDA can’t ensure the food that ends up on your plate is safe”.

Consumers need to insist on knowing what exactly is in the food they eat and this can only be accomplished by demanding better labeling practices such as country of origin and clearer ingredient listing. We need to insist on better food production practices with more attention paid to the growing, harvesting, processing and packaging of food. Let’s just hope that choices will remain for us to decide where and how we want our food to be produced instead of  settling for shoddy practices of the feedlots and food processors and lax inspections of both domestic and imported food products. Perhaps we should all be more aware and get involved of the progress of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

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One thought on “Do We Really Know What’s In Our Food?

  1. Absolutely- we need to know more about where and how our food is being grown. Better labeling practices is a must.

    I am encouraged to see an increase attendance at our local farmer’s market where community is supporting local farmers, and a personal relationship is being developed between farmer and customer. I think this is the best way to know where and how your food is being grown- but yes we absolutely need better labeling practices.


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