Archives for category: Food

Dr. Robert Lustig (Sugar: The Bitter Truth) speaks at Yale’s Peabody Museum on the policy and politics of the “Sugar Pandemic.” Hosted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Mother Jones has a superb new article on the public relations behind sugar. It begins as follows:

ON A BRISK SPRING Tuesday in 1976, a pair of executives from the Sugar Association stepped up to the podium of a Chicago ballroom to accept the Oscar of the public relations world, the Silver Anvil award for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.” The trade group had recently pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in PR history. For nearly a decade, the sugar industry had been buffeted by crisis after crisis as the media and the public soured on sugar and scientists began to view it as a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Industry ads claiming that eating sugar helped you lose weight had been called out by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration had launched a review of whether sugar was even safe to eat. Consumption had declined 12 percent in just two years, and producers could see where that trend might lead. As John “JW” Tatem Jr. and Jack O’Connell Jr., the Sugar Association’s president and director of public relations, posed that day with their trophies, their smiles only hinted at the coup they’d just pulled off.

Their winning campaign, crafted with the help of the prestigious public relations firm Carl Byoir & Associates, had been prompted by a poll showing that consumers had come to see sugar as fattening, and that most doctors suspected it might exacerbate, if not cause, heart disease and diabetes. With an initial annual budget of nearly $800,000 ($3.4 million today) collected from the makers of Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and other sugar brands, the association recruited a stable of medical and nutritional professionals to allay the public’s fears, brought snack and beverage companies into the fold, and bankrolled scientific papers that contributed to a “highly supportive” FDA ruling, which, the Silver Anvil application boasted, made it “unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

The story of sugar, as Tatem told it, was one of a harmless product under attack by “opportunists dedicated to exploiting the consuming public.” Over the subsequent decades, it would be transformed from what the New York Times in 1977 had deemed “a villain in disguise” into a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet. Research on the suspected links between sugar and chronic disease largely ground to a halt by the late 1980s, and scientists came to view such pursuits as a career dead end. So effective were the Sugar Association’s efforts that, to this day, no consensus exists about sugar’s potential dangers. The industry’s PR campaign corresponded roughly with a significant rise in Americans’ consumption of “caloric sweeteners,” including table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This increase was accompanied, in turn, by a surge in the chronic diseases increasingly linked to sugar. Since 1970, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled.

Read the entire article and related items here.

From NPR.org (an article about, and interview of, among others, Upstream Experts Leo Trasande and Frederica Perera):

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That’s the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn’t so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception.

Researchers from New York University looked at BPA levels in the urine of more than 2,800 people aged 6 through 19. The team wanted to know whether those with relatively high levels of BPA were more likely to be obese.

But the results, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, didn’t offer a simple answer to that question.

Among white kids and teens, higher BPA levels were associated with more than twice the risk of obesity. With black and Hispanic youth, though, BPA levels didn’t make a difference.

“When we find an association like this, it can often raise more questions than it answers,” says the study’s lead author, Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University. There’s no obvious reason why one group of kids would be affected by BPA while another group wouldn’t, he says.

Also, there’s no way in this study to know whether BPA is actually causing kids to put on weight, says Frederica Perera, who directs the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. “Obese children may be simply eating and drinking foods that have higher BPA levels,” she says.

And even if BPA is playing a role in weight gain, it may be just one of many chemicals involved, Perera says.

“Our center has recently published a study showing that exposure to another group of endocrine disruptors, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH, was associated with obesity in the children,” Perera says. Those hydrocarbons are typically a part of air pollution in cities.

Some of the uncertainty about BPA may come because the researchers had no way of knowing how much exposure kids in the study may have had in the womb — the time many scientists believe chemical exposure is most likely to have a lifelong effect.

“Clearly we need a longer term study that examines exposure in the earliest parts of life,” Trasande says. Even so, he says, it may be time to rethink childhood obesity.

“Diet and physical activity are still the leading factors driving the obesity epidemic in the United States,” Trasande says. “Yet this study suggests that we need to also consider a third key component to the epidemic: environmental factors that may also contribute.”

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Read entire story and transcript of NPR interview here.

From EurActiv:

Shanna H. Swan, a renowned scientist specialising in reproductive medicine, has warned about the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) known as phthalates which can end up in food via pesticides or plastics. In an interview with EurActiv, she calls on regulators to better protect consumers against those “hidden chemicals”.

Shanna H. Swan, PhD is Professor and Vice-Chair for Research and Mentoring Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr Swan is known for her work on the impact of environmental exposures on male and female reproductive health and has served on the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Hormone-Related Toxicants. She was speaking to EurActiv’s editor, Frédéric Simon.

You are a well-known scientist in the field of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which you have been researching for many years. What were your main findings?

The major findings I have are that certain EDCs – and I’ve looked specifically at pesticides, phthalates and Bisphenol A – are significantly related to human development, more strongly when exposure is foetal but also some adult exposures.

Has exposure tended to increase over time?

There are some studies of old stored samples. That’s the only way we can know about a person’s exposure. So to put this in context, unlike studies of smoking or pharmaceuticals where you can ask the person what their exposure was, you cannot learn anything – or very little – about a person’s exposure from EDCs by asking them what they do.

These are chemicals that are hidden – I call them stealth chemicals – and for this reason the only way we can know what the exposure was is to measure it in biological samples, either in urine or blood. Urine is usually easier and for various technical reasons preferable for the non-persistent chemicals.

When older samples are available and have been looked at, they have shown that levels were lower in the past. I can’t unfortunately be more specific but I could point you to some references.

So these go as far back as the 1960s?

There was one study in 1958 called the Collaborative Perinatal Project which had stored urine. There was a Kaiser California study in the early 60s which had stored samples. So these are very rare studies, they are the only ones.

In the most recent years some of the phthalates, for example DEHP, has decreased with the substitution. So we can pick up certain trends in use in these national samples of urinary metabolites.

Do we know precisely what the sources of exposure are?

For that, you have to go chemical by chemical. So if we restrict ourselves to phthalates, you still have to narrow that further because phthalates have different uses. Some phthalates are added to tubing to make it soft, particularly DEHP.

This is in the tubing in hospitals, in the tubing for milking cows, whenever you want a soft, flexible, plastic, you will take DEHP. Whatever is passing through that, particularly if it’s warm, it will absorb that. In this way we get exposure through material that has passed through this.

And also from milk?

It is measurable in milk, yes. So for DEHP, our dominant route of exposure is through food and there’s some in water. But you also get DEHP if you are in a medical department and hooked up to a tube.

Phthalates have been banned in some uses already such as toys, etc. So can we consider the problem solved?

Let me just go back for a second. Phthalate is a chemical class and so it’s important because you ask me if there are many exposures.

If we put cosmetics on our skin, our face – men, women, children, babies – we immediately get another phthalate in our body, which is DEP. And this is very clear. If we put hair spray or put a nail polish, then we inhale that phthalate which is primarily DBP.

So it’s a complicated story because we have many sources and many routes of exposure and also differing toxicity. Now, as for whether the problem is solved – not at all. We’ve only begun to solve the problem.

But there have been bans on some of the uses of phthalates which were of most concern, such as baby bottles…

No, this was Bisphenol A, it’s another chemical class. Think of it this way. Phthalates makes plastic soft, BPA makes plastic hard. So if you have one of these sports water bottles, those were made with BPA. Hard baby bottles, that’s BPA. Lining of tin cans, that’s also BPA. But Phthalates are on the soft side of the equation although they are both plasticisers.

Ok, so why do I say the problem is not solved? The primary elimination of phthalates has been from children’s toys. Certainly this is important but it does not protect the most sensitive organism, and that is the developing foetus.

So a toy is something you play with after birth, the pregnant mother is getting an exposure which is for the foetus much more potent than what the child will get with a toy.

By eliminating these phthalates from children’s toys – I think it is important, excellent, I certainly support it – but I would not do that at the expense of eliminating phthalates in products to which pregnant women are exposed. Because that is the most critical target for phthalates.

There has been a lot of controversy for many years over the health risks of low-dose exposure to chemicals such as phthalates. Looking at the science, is there any evidence to support this?

Let me say three things.

First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that tiny, tiny doses of hormones can permanently alter the development of the foetus – at the right time. You cannot look at the dose alone, you must look at the dose in a particular time window, because otherwise you don’t have the toxicity captured because that’s really a product of two things: Not just the dose but the timing as well.

The next thing is a story that isn’t obviously about chemicals but just to point out that we know from some human and many animal studies that when a rodent is in utero  (in the mother’s womb), each one of those is hooked up in the uterine horn and they will be located between two other pups.

So if you look at a male between two males, and a male between two females, you can measure how much testosterone is in those two males. And the difference is significant and measurable and very, very small. It’s about a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool. That’s how small it is. It’s an extremely low dose, one part per trillion.

And what is the consequence of exposure to this?

The consequence is that the rodent that is a male between two males grows to be more aggressive, more masculine in behaviour and in his general development. He will have a stronger sperm count; he will be more fertile. And there’s no question about that, it has been shown in a number of species. And there are a number of supporting human studies. I only mention this as proof of principle that a very small amount of hormonal substance at the right time alters development.

Now let’s just go to the human situation. When people say, ‘Well the doses are too low,’ I say two things. One is, ‘Maybe so, but we are seeing effects’. So whatever dose it is, it seems to be doing something. There are probably close to 30 studies that find associations between phthalates and a variety of human health end points.

The counter-argument could be that these effects could be coming from something completely different.

Exactly. Not the counter argument, but a relevant, additional point is that, we are never exposed to one chemical. In fact a recent study found 200 chemicals on average in babies at birth.

That means that in utero the babies had 200 chemicals circulating in their bodies affecting their development, on average. The maximum in that study sample of ten was 287. So we are unquestionably exposed, and the foetuses as well.

So yes, there are many chemicals and statistically you can ask what are the associations with just DEHP metabolites, just DBP metabolites. But it’s not the most efficient way to do it. Better is to ask what about co-exposure to all of those? What about the cocktail effect?

Now, we cannot reasonably, with the sample sizes we have available, yet look at the 200 all together. But we could look at and do look at multiple exposures. So the fact that they may be quite low individually, we know that these doses add up, and so if you have several of these, you already add up to a much higher dose.

Do we know specific combinations that are particularly harmful?

Yes, among the DEHP metabolites, there are many of them, we currently look at four or five of them and can assess the sum of them. That’s one example but there are others.

This sounds quite scary. How should consumers behave or react? If my wife was pregnant what should I be telling her?

I get this question all the time. It’s a frustrating question because I can only give you a partial answer. On a simple side, I would tell her she could limit her exposure to harmful personal care products.

And the reason we can give this advice is that they have been looked at quite carefully by a number of NGOs, and specifically I point you to the Environmental Working Group website called ‘Not Too Pretty’, where they actually go through product by product and talk about the chemicals in them. That’s a nice tool for consumers.

You can also say, just a blanket precaution: Do not use air fresheners, do not spray things in your house, products and so on.

Where it gets more problematic is that even when we tell people all these things, only in rare situations can we remove these chemicals from their body. And one of the major reasons is that they are so deeply hidden, you can check the label on the lotion but you can’t check the label on your spaghetti sauce or on your bottle of milk and so on.

So we need to give consumers the tools to make informed choices. And at this point we don’t have those tools.

You mean labelling?

Labelling, yes, and also advice about behaviour – for example not to store in plastic, not to microwave in plastic.

What I tell people if you want to do the best you can, buy local produce, buy it unprocessed, buy it organic. There is a population in New York that does this, and that is the Old Order Mennonites [an anti-technology religious group similar to the Amish]. They’re quite severe, they grow everything themselves, they don’t drive in cars, they don’t use sprays… and they have very low levels of environmental chemicals.

And that has been scientifically measured?

Yes, we measured how many phthalates and phenols were in their urine and they had almost none. And it’s interesting because a couple of women did have peaks. One was a woman who used a hairspray. And you could see this because we asked what did you do before you came here and gave your urine? And this woman said, ‘Well, I was not supposed to but I used hairspray because I was going out.’ And there we see the peak for MBP in her urine.

And then another woman rode in a car even though they don’t do this normally and you see another peak. So in an extreme situation – which to most consumers is quite radical action – you can eliminate.

Another population was given regular food and then they fasted. Their urine was tested under the normal diet and after 48 hours of fasting and they had no DEHP in their urine at all.

Of course we can’t all fast! So I think we have to make it much easier for consumers to avoid these products.

In terms of chemical presence in food, there have been measures taken at EU level to reduce the use of pesticides. In France for example there is an objective of halving the use of pesticides by 2018, and there have been bans on aerial spraying and things like that. Are these steps sufficient to reduce the risk of contamination in food?

Well, removing pesticides certainly removes one source of exposure to EDCs – and a very important one, and I think this is great.

By the way, aside from phthalates, we found a number of pesticides and herbicides in the Midwest where they were associated with a lower sperm count. So these are acting as well. Also I should point out that phthalates are actually in pesticides – they are put in there to increase absorption.

So these measures to reduce pesticide use are certainly a good thing to do but it won’t do the whole job. As long as the food is processed in contact with phthalates or Bisphenol A, canned, shipped in plastic, stored in plastic or cooked in Teflon, there are just a lot of occasions along the way to pick endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

And pesticide removal is certainly a very important first step but then we have to worry about what happens to the food after it is picked and along the rest of the chain from farm to fork.

In Europe, we have minimum residue levels for pesticides in food below which ingestion is not considered to pose any risk for human health. Are you saying these should be lowered further?

I cannot comment on permissible level of pesticides. But I can comment on the question of a threshold. We have many examples in environmental science – the best I think is lead – that no matter how we keep dropping the permissible level, we see adverse effects still at a lower level.

And I think that what we have to keep in mind is that to some particular sensitive populations and particularly sensitive periods, perhaps the level has to be reduced further. But there will have to be some practical level – obviously we can’t remove everything entirely.

You may be aware that in Europe we have this REACH regulation on chemicals which is undergoing a review this year. Are you encouraging policymakers to tighten REACH even further?

For me the most important thing about REACH it that it alters the burden of proof. Of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the world, 62,000 were just blessed and assumed to be safe in the United States.

That is actually the default assumption still in the United States: That until a chemical is proven harmful it is assumed to be safe. This of course places the burden of proof on the consumer, to prove harm, which is not where the burden should be in my opinion. So generally shifting the burden of proof I think is extremely important and should be implemented in US policies as well.

The US must actually follow REACH if they are going to export to Europe. What has been the impact on the US industry the way you see it?

I can’t tell you that. I do know that that is not the default assumption in regulation. So whether they do something different to send things to Europe, I’m sure they have to, and I’m sure they do, but it is not what they accept as their burden to prove safety before a product is marketed.

As far as whether the regulation should be tightened, that is a very broad question. And what I have an opinion about is that I feel that endocrine disruption is a category deserving its own regulation. It’s different enough from reproductive toxicity and carcinogenicity. The risk assessment for endocrine disruption is different. The scientific issues are different enough that it would protect public health much further if we could deal with this as a class of chemicals. So that’s where I see maybe tightening up.

For you as a scientist, the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the ones you have been studying, and lower fertility has been proven and is scientifically watertight? Can it be argued against?

Watertight? This is never the case, of course. There are still people here who argue cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Of course it will always be argued against.

I think we have now a lot of data that environmental chemicals can and do lower sperm count, impact time to conception, increase foetal loss in early pregnancy, affect pregnancy outcomes. Do we need more studies? Of course we do. But do we have enough information to act on these studies that we have? I say that we do.

More.

From :

Is eating organic more expensive? In the long-run the answer would be NO. Synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used on vegetables and fruits affects our health. Pesticides have demonstrably elevated rates of asthma, leukemia, and prostate cancer.

From Red Bluff Daily News:

Pesticide drift from a commercial strawberry field in the Bend area has a group of residents actively concerned about how the chemicals used will affect their health.

When Sam Sleezer, 37, and his father-in-law Manuel Silveira, 65, installed new scientific devices to measure air quality on their neighboring properties in the Bend area, they hoped that they would find their concerns were unwarranted.

I’m not against farming, Silveira said.

However, results came back that levels of a toxic chemical found were far above safe levels beyond the time frame that it was supposed to be in the air.

The two men brought their concerns to the state capitol March 20 as discussion in the Department of Pesticide Regulation reached a climax over the use of methyl iodide that was approved under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The following day, the manufacturer for methyl iodide pulled the product and decided to no longer distribute it for use in the U.S.

However, similar chemicals, such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still in use and part of the compound applied in the Bend strawberry fields.

Concerned about his children, Sam and Manny, ages 3 and 5, who play just feet from the 50-plus acre field, Sleezer is considering moving if the county continues to allow the company to use dangerous chemicals.

Another neighbor already moved because of concerns, he said. There are still 17 children total that live all around the same field.

County officials say that Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., the owners of the field next to the Silveira and Sleezer properties, is within the legal limits and they have no good reason to deny the company a permit to fumigate.

County Agricultural Commissioner Rick Gurrola, who has the authority to approve or deny the grower’s pesticide use permit, based his decision on scientific data and evaluation from a legal standpoint, he said.

There’s risk with all chemicals, Gurrola said.

There’s risk with gasoline.

However, California is one of the most heavily regulated states and many chemicals banned here are used in other states, he said.

The chemicals used by Driscoll are within regulation.

The scientific data collected by the residents is flawed, Gurrola said.

Data was collected incorrectly and they are using uncertified equipment or techniques.

Sleezer and Silveira, who helped form Healthy Tehama Farms, a group of at least 20 individuals who are working to protect the community from dangerous exposure to fumigants, got a grant for $3,000 to perform the air quality tests.

The equipment, Drift Catchers invented by the Pesticide Action Network, collects air samples in small tubes that can be analyzed later for pesticide levels.

After analysis was completed at University of California at Davis, the report showed that over the eight-day study, during and after the fumigants were applied, Nov. 4-11, 2011, concentrations of chloropicrin, a known carcinogen, were on average twice as high as the acceptable levels determined by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The results imply that lifetime exposure at those levels would cause 151 excess cases of cancer per 1 million people on average.

Silveira bought his property from a man who suffered from thyroid cancer, and with a quick glance across the field, he could name several other neighbors who had incidents of cancer as well.

He and Sleezer had heard complaints about sore throats, burning eyes and other illnesses when the fumigants were used, but nobody could prove it was from the pesticides.

Sleezer, a former soldier, remembered checking the mail in a community locked box next to the strawberry field when he suddenly felt as if he was back inside a gas chamber, he said. He and his wife felt their eyes and throats burning.

Some of the families are given a stipend and asked to stay away for three days when the fumigants are applied.

Sleezer, who works as a child guardian for supervised family visitations, keeps free-range specialty chickens as a hobby.

After a time away, he returned home to a nightmare, he said.

I came home and 28 chickens were strewn all over the yard dead, Sleezer said.

Clearing them out before his sons could see them, he saved some of the animal carcasses to try to find out what killed them.

After some testing, he still doesn’t know why they died, but the timing of the pesticide use was odd, he said.

Healthy Tehama Farms and the Pesticide Action Network have asked three times for the county to deny a permit to Driscoll Strawberry Associates without success.

More.

From Big Think Blog:

What’s the Big Idea?

Over the last two weeks, pink slime has become the safe food movement’s equivalent of the Kony 2012 campaign. Over 200,000 people have signed an online petition to ban the use of what the food industry calls “lean beef trimmings” in school lunches. Larger questions have been raised about why it has taken consumer advocates and government watchdogs so long to catch on.

After all, haven’t we seen this movie before?

106 years ago Upton Sinclair blew the whistle on the Chicago stockyards meatpacking industry in his famous muckraking novel The Jungle. I have quoted a representative, nausea-inducing passage from the book below, but here is a quick tease:

These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.

These reports shocked an incredulous nation. President Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, initially concluded that Sinclair must be “a crackpot.” Yet subsequent investigation confirmed Sinclair’s reporting (although claims that workers who fell into rendering vats were ground into lard were not officially substantiated). Public outcry led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and ultimately the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

And yet, consumer protection requires vigilant oversight, and that is exactly what critics say was lacking during the administration of George H.W. Bush, when low-grade ammonia-treated “lean beef trimmings” previously reserved for pet food were declared safe for human consumption. According to The Daily, health concerns were muted by JoAnn Smith, Undersecretary of the USDA.

Then for the next two decades, apparently, Smith’s successors at the USDA were out to lunch.

What’s the Significance?

Pink slime is everywhere. It’s sold in grocery stores and served in school lunches, meaning most of us have probably consumed it at some point in our lives. The government purchased 7 million pounds of pink slime for school lunches just last year. While the USDA announced it would let schools opt out this week, food administrators and consumers alike have found pink slime to be so ubiquitous that it is nearly impossible to avoid. Some experts estimate it can be found in up to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in grocery stores.

In other words, we know how the sausage is made. We don’t like how it is made, but we don’t know how to avoid it. That is because you will never see packaged meat in the grocery store labeled “pink slime.”

How Can I Avoid Pink Slime In Meat?

Look for meat that is labelled “USDA Organic” and shop at stores such as WholeFoods and Costco that have guaranteed their products don’t contain pink slime. Your other choices are to go vegetarian, or grind your own meat (or watch a butcher do it for you).

More.

From :

With an eye toward envisioning a Farm Bill that promotes health, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Jennifer Billig will provide an overview of the Farm Bill and its intersections with public health, including the kinds of farming and eating the bill currently supports.

Roni Neff, PhD of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will enrich the discussion by sharing an innovative new web-based tool that allows visual analysis of Farm Bill spending. Using the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, Neff will answer questions like, “What portion of the overall Farm Bill goes to fruits and vegetables, to commodity crops, or to industrial food animal production?” and “How big are some of the public health initiatives within the Farm Bill?”, demonstrating graphically how the provisions and budgets within the bill tie into the nation’s public health and environmental sustainability. Beth Hoffman of Food+Tech Connect will also join us to share highlights from the Farm Bill Hackathon, an event held in early December that brought together policy experts with designers and developers to create more visually interesting representations of the Farm Bill.

From Environmental Health News:

A study raises concern about children’s exposure to mercury through fish eating, tying it for the first time to hormone changes that increase chronic stress and associated immune system dysfunction.

The mercury levels measured in the children were well below the levels considered a health risk by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This new study from Oswego County, New York, finds that higher mercury levels measured in the children’s blood are significantly associated with lower cortisol levels. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress and is important for metabolism, immune responses and blood pressure. Its levels naturally fluctuate during the day – levels are higher in the morning and lower in the afternoon.

Even lower cortisol levels and responses can result in chronic stress even though stress increases the hormone’s level. The study’s results suggest that mercury exposure at levels commonly seen in fish eating populations may do this. It may act as a chronic stressor and disrupt the stress response. Chronic stress means the body doesn’t relax – cells continually function in high gear and do not return to a normal state. Long-term stress can have many negative health effects such as increased heart disease, more metabolic disorders and lowered immunity.

The findings are in line with prior studies in people and fish. The toxic metal increased inflammation in miners exposed to mercury. Animal studies find reduced cortisol levels in mercury-contaminated fish after capture stress.

Fish consumption is a major source both of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and toxic mercury. Omega-3s benefit health by protecting against heart disease. Mercury is potentially harmful because it affects the brain and nervous system in children. Although there are fish advisories in many states, it is still uncertain whether the benefit of eating fish outweighs the potential harm in children.

To address the pros and cons of fish eating in children, the researchers examined 100 children from 9 to 11 years old in New York State. Parents reported children’s fish consumption, which was categorized as eating or not in the analysis. Blood mercury levels, blood lipids, cortisol in saliva and inflammation markers were measured. Blood lipids indicate future heart disease risk; cortisol reflects changes of stress response; and inflammation markers indicate immune response differences.

Fish eaters had higher HDL – or so called good cholesterol – related to lower heart disease risk, than non-fish eaters. However, the fish eaters also had much higher – almost three times higher – mercury levels than non-fish eaters (1.1 and 0.4 microgram per liter, respectively).

More.

From the Argus Leader:

McDonald’s and two other fast-food chains have stopped using an ammonia-treated burger ingredient that meat industry critics deride as “pink slime.”

The product remains widely used as low-fat beef filling in burger meat, including in school meals. But some consumer advocates worry that attacks on the product by food activist Jamie Oliver and others will discourage food manufacturers from developing new methods of keeping deadly pathogens out of their products.

The beef is processed by Beef Products Inc. of Dakota Dunes at plants at Waterloo, Iowa, and in three other states. One of the company’s chief innovations is to cleanse the beef of E. coli bacteria and other dangerous microbes by treating it with ammonium hydroxide, one of many chemicals used at various stages in the meat industry to kill pathogens.

“Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs, and after this process we can give it to humans,” Oliver said in a segment of his ABC television show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, that aired last spring.

BPI, which once boasted of having its product in 70 percent of the hamburger sold in the country, has lost 25 percent of its business. McDonald’s has been joined by Taco Bell and Burger King in discontinuing use of the product, and the company is worried other chains and retailers will follow them.

“It’s just a shame that an activist with an agenda can really degrade the safety of our food supply,” said David Theno, an industry consultant who has advised BPI and is credited with turning the Jack in the Box burger chain into a model of food safety after a deadly E. coli outbreak in 1993. He called the BPI process “extraordinarily effective” in making beef safer.

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Lean beef long has been added to fattier meat to produce the blends of hamburger meat that’s sold in supermarkets and restaurants. BPI’s innovation was to develop high-tech methods of removing bits of beef from fatty carcass trimmings that had previously been sold for pet food or animal feed and then treating the beef with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. Ammonia is used extensively in the food industry and is found naturally in meat. The gas BPI uses contains a tiny fraction of the ammonia that’s used in household cleaner, according to the company.

Ammonium hydroxide, a mixture of water and ammonia, is used in baked goods, cheeses, candy and other products, according to the International Food Information Council. The Food and Drug Administration approved the chemical for leavening, acidity control and other purposes. The ammonium hydroxide lowers the acidity of meat, making it inhospitable to bacteria.

A Washington Post report in 2008 described a BPI plant in South Sioux City, Neb., as a technological marvel that could be the “key to a safer meat supply.” But the good publicity didn’t last.

That same year, the documentary Food Inc., featuring authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, portrayed the ammonia treatment as typical of “high-tech fixes” that agribusiness giants use to ameliorate the public health problems that the filmmakers contended are created by industrial-scale agriculture.

A 2009 New York Times story raised questions about the safety of the BPI product, citing government and industry records of E. coli and salmonella contamination of meat sold for school lunches. One of the company’s plants was barred by the USDA for a time from selling meat for schools.

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The newspaper story included a quote from an email in which an Agriculture Department microbiologist called the pale-colored product “pink slime,” a term critics seized upon.

OIiver’s TV segment didn’t so much portray the product as unsafe as simply disgusting.

“To me, as a chef and a food lover, this is shocking,” he said.

Burger King issued a statement confirming that it was discontinuing use of the BPI product but was not clear as to why.

“The decision to remove BPI products from the BK system is not related to any particular event but rather part of the company’s normal course of business,” the company said.

McDonald’s and Taco Bell did not respond to requests for comment.

BPI officials said they still have other fast-food chains as customers but would not identify them.

Superficial fix or preventive process?

Patty Lovera, who follows food safety policy for the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said the BPI product raises legitimate questions about whether the food industry is relying too heavily on chemical washes and other technology to kill bacteria instead of doing more to prevent the contamination.

More.

Image from EASY BEING GREENer.

From Consumer Reports:

Findings of a Consumer Reports investigation about arsenic and lead levels in apple juice and grape juice have prompted the organization to call for government standards to limit consumers’ exposure to these toxins.

The tests of 88 samples of apple juice and grape juice purchased in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut by Consumer Reports staffers found that 10 percent of those samples had total arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking-water standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 25 percent had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit for bottled water set by the Food and Drug Administration. Most of the arsenic detected in our tests was the type called inorganic, which is a human carcinogen. For our complete test results download Consumer Reports Arsenic Test Results January 2012.pdf.

The investigation included an analysis of the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) database from 2003 to 2008. The results of that analysis suggest that these juices may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure. Through interviews with physicians and authors of peer-reviewed studies, Consumer Reports also found mounting scientific evidence suggesting that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead even at levels below federal standards for water can result in serious health problems, especially for those who are exposed in the womb or during early childhood. FDA data and other research reveal that arsenic has been detected at disturbing levels in other foods as well.

While federal limits exist for arsenic and lead levels in bottled and drinking water, no limits are defined for fruit juices, which a recent Consumer Reports’ poll of parents confirms are a mainstay of many children’s diets. The FDA says when a fruit juice sample has 23 ppb or more of total arsenic, it will retest the sample to determine how much of it is inorganic, because according to the agency’s 2008 hazard assessment, 23 ppb of inorganic arsenic would represent a potential health risk. But that 23 ppb “level of concern” is not a mandatory limit, nor is it based on arsenic’s well-established cancer risks.

A call for arsenic standards for juice

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes the FDA’s “level of concern” is an inadequate reference point for establishing a protective limit for public health. Based on Consumer Reports’ test findings, Consumers Union is urging the FDA to set a more protective standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice. Such standards are attainable: 41 percent of the samples Consumer Reports tested would meet both thresholds.

Consumers Union was encouraged by recent discussions with FDA officials and by an FDA letter to the consumer advocacy groups Food & Water Watch and Empire State Consumer Project indicating that the agency is considering setting guidance for the level of inorganic arsenic permissible in apple juice. The agency announced that its new initiatives include collecting and analyzing up to 90 samples of apple juice from retailers across the U.S. by the end of 2011 and analyzing levels of organic and inorganic arsenic in other types of juice as well.

Consumers Union believes that the FDA already has the data it needs to set juice standards, and that a guidance level must be followed by the establishment of a legally binding standard.

More.

From NBC News (11/22/2011):

From :

A report released by the Breast Cancer Fund documents the presence of the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in canned foods marketed to children. Every food sample tested positive for the chemical, with Campbell’s Disney Princess and Toy Story soups testing the highest.

Exposure to BPA, used to make the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans, has been linked in lab studies to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Childhood exposure is of concern because this endocrine-disrupting chemical can affect children’s hormonal systems during development and set the stage for later‐life diseases.

“There should be no place for toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems in our children’s food,” said Jeanne Rizzo, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund. “We hope this report will shine a spotlight on this issue and encourage companies to seek safer alternatives.”

From Harvard Gazette:

Every day, the government’s food stamp program buys Americans 20 million servings of soda, paying billions for a program that fosters the obesity that the government then has to pay again for in increased health care expenditures.

“That is arguably the single largest contributor to obesity,” said David Ludwig, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). “It makes no sense … especially when we might wind up paying for that as a society in obesity and diabetes.”

The food stamp program was front and center on campus and on the Internet Thursday during a session of The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health, which regularly brings experts together to discuss important issues in the field. The session examined reforms needed in the federal government’s farm bill to improve public health. The farm bill, expected to come up for discussion in Congress in 2012, is the federal government’s major agriculture subsidy program.

Participants included Ludwig; Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the HSPH Department of Nutrition; Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition and of economics at the University of North Carolina; and Gary Williams, a professor of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University. The event was moderated by former Washington Post health editor Abigail Trafford.

Several panelists blamed U.S. agricultural policy over the past four decades for creating a food system where healthier fruits and vegetables are relatively expensive while high-starch, processed foods and red meats are cheap and widely available. The first farm bill was passed in the 1930s as a way to help the nation’s struggling agricultural sector, which at the time not only fed the country but, in a more rural America, also provided many jobs.

With ensuing technological changes in the years after World War II, the United States ramped up its subsidies, steering production toward what at the time was thought to be a healthy diet of starches and meat. Popkin said the program worked well, as illustrated by statistics showing the prices of those staples came down in the ensuing decades, while those left alone by government policy — fruits and vegetables — became more expensive.

“What is cheap today is what we made cheap. What we ignored, we made more expensive,” Popkin said.

The problem, Willett said, is that we now know that a healthy diet is not dominated by processed starches and red meat, but is just the opposite. A healthy diet is composed of whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, with red meat in moderation and very little refined starches and added sugar. The result is that today two-thirds of Americans are overweight or even obese, diabetes is rising across the country, and in some parts of the country, life expectancy is actually dropping.

“If we judge by its impact on human health, the American food supply is a disaster,” Willett said. “We’re not using the levers we potentially have to make an impact.”

Williams, however, said it is wrong to blame the farmers for doing what was asked of them by the government. In addition, he said, there is a lot that is right with the American food supply, which made food plentiful and inexpensive.

Williams pointed out that subsidies to farmers make up just 15 percent of the farm bill’s expenditures and, given the nation’s budget problems, farmers are bracing to see those subsidies cut. The lion’s share of expenditures in the bill go toward providing food for America’s poor through what was formerly the food stamp program, and is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Panelists decried the lack of limits on the kinds of food that SNAP can fund, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rejection of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s request that purchase of sugar sweetened beverages be banned from the city’s SNAP program.

Panelists said there is an opportunity to change the incentives in the system to emphasize healthy eating, and they suggested separating the food assistance from the farm assistance portions of the bill in order to treat the two issues separately. They cited the federal government’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program as a successful example of federal food aid. Poor mothers can get food assistance through WIC, but the program includes healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, along with nutritional education.

Other issues discussed by the panel include the school lunch program, whose menu was described by one panelist as largely junk food, and food marketing to children, a major focus of food manufacturers — and something Ludwig recommended banning. Ludwig told of seeing a 200-pound, 8-year-old girl in his clinical practice who was pre-diabetic and who insisted her mother buy food branded after iCarly, a popular children’s show.

“Busy working parents are undermined by this massive marketing campaign,” Ludwig said. “The industry knows that parents are going to cave.”

More.

From :

Part road trip, part self-help manifesto, FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD defies the traditional documentary format to present an unconventional and uplifting story of two men from different worlds who each realize that the only person who can save them is themselves.

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