NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Ammonia burgers. That cup of java with milk, sugar, and bug.
These are just a few of the repercussions of food industry practices sanctioned by the U.S. government, primarily the Food and Drug Administration.
The fact that the FDA allows ground beef to be infused with ammonia in a mechanical processing technique now referred to as “pink slime,” and the stories that pop up from time to time about the cochineal bug (in the latest case, vegans objected to Starbucks using the dye in red colored drinks the company labeled as vegan friendly), are just a few of the unpalatable items that the FDA serves to the American public.
Review a few of the federal food rules and it's no surprise that the “grow local” and organic food movement are proving to be high growth industries as more American families reject processed food in favor of knowing where their food comes from and what is in it. In an ironic way, the FDA could be the best thing that ever happened to organic growers and Whole Foods.
That said, the public is simply much better informed -- and more interested -- these days in sourcing food. After all, pink slime had been used in public school cafeterias for decades and the cochineal bug used in food for hundreds of years.
Nevertheless, as schools across the country get ready for a new academic year and your kids are back in the lunchroom eating food with unknown origins, you might ask yourself if they are consuming any foods seasoned by these 9 regulations on the fringe of the FDA's governing of the national food supply:
1. “Natural unavoidable defects in food”: Enjoy that insect and rat hair. Yeah, not kidding. Not even remotely. Many people do not realize that the FDA allows so many “natural and unavoidable defects” in our food that rodent hair and excrement, insect parts, flies, maggots, parasites and mildew are part of a balanced diet (Strange that you never noticed them on that food pyramid on the back of the Cheerios box, right?)
In the pamphlet poetically entitled, “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” it’s all outlined in nauseating detail.
Hungry for a pizza? This one comes with free "toppings." Pizza sauce may have “30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams,” according to the FDA.
2. Zapping food with radiation: Food irradiation is defined as “exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy microorganisms, bacteria viruses or insects (well at least the pizza sauce seems delectable anew) that might be present in the food.
According to food expert Kris Bordessa, who runs the website Attainable Sustainable, irradiation still flies under the radar of many Americans.
“I think most people don't realize that much of the food they eat is irradiated,” Bordessa says. The FDA claims it is safe and effective, however, Bordessa points out that the FDA admits the process affects the nutritional content of food. “This is one of the reasons I try to grow most of my own produce or get it direct from the farmer,” Bordessa adds.
3. All Natural?: There's got to be some way, though, for the average Joe who doesn't live near an organic farm or can't afford Whole Foods to skip the rat excrement and radiation, right? If there is, it isn't that label prominent on many typical grocery store items proclaiming an "all natural" item.
Sam Gold, founder of Yumvelope, a subscription box with a monthly selection of 6+ all-natural and pure snacks, says this is one area in which the FDA is in the clear: “The FDA does not regulate or have any sort of certification for the 'all-natural' claim that manufacturers use,” says Gold.
4. Coal Tar as a dye: If red powder derived from bugs isn’t appealing, how about a lump of coal, as in coal tar? Allura Red AC is FDA-approved and made from coal tar, a highly flammable liquid. It's used in many shampoos to kill parasites such as head lice (fine, getting rid of lice at all costs, we will allow), but in soda and candy, too? When it comes to food, I'll take the bugs I can't see over the highly flammable coal-based liquid.
5. Fighting bacteria with viruses: Most Americans are aware that many vaccines contain the dead virus of the disease they are combating (such as the flu vaccine), but not as many people are aware that in 2006 the FDA approved the use bacteriophages in the preparation of food. These are viruses infused into food to kill bacteria that causes food poisoning.
6. Human hair: Nobody likes to find a hair in their food, but L-cysteine, an amino acid derived from human hair, well, let's just say that the bagel just out of the oven isn't just slathered with cream cheese. L-cysteine is used in process foods and baked goods such as bagels as it softens the dough and makes for more elasticity. And if you're someone worried about all the jobs that the U.S. is losing as a result of globalization, this food fact is disturbing on a whole other level: Much of the human hair from which L-cysteine is derived for our food supply comes from India and China, with the original sources rarely tracked, according to this report. Your bagel with hair has been outsourced.
7. Shellac: You may have heard your great grandparents or grandparents refer to shellac in reference to wood varnish. It was used for this purpose in the first half of the 20th century. It's still used to provide a shine, but now that finish is dressing up the coats of candies and confections. While not approved by the FDA as a food additive, it is still approved as a “component of resinous and polymeric coatings for food.” Which makes it go down so much easier.
8. Anti anti-oxidants: Sometimes the FDA does have your back in keeping certain ingredients out of the food supply. It just so happens that some of those ingredients might actually be more beneficial to your health than coal, human hair and rat droppings. The FDA has approved “antioxidants,” some of them synthetic vitamins, while other "natural" foods with a long history in the world food supply and a good track record have not been approved. Melissa Picoli, founder of BijaBody Health & Beauty, an indie line of tea, said. “We use organic, fair-trade tea leaves of the utmost quality. Technically, we're not allowed to use the word ‘antioxidant’, since there have been no FDA approved antioxidants added. This is ridiculous considering tea's antioxidants have been very well documented.”
9. Horsemeat? Nay. While most Americans do not eat horsemeat and horses are not currently raised or slaughtered in the U.S. for human consumption, Congress last year voted to lift a 2006 ban on government funded inspections horse slaughter plants, opening the door for old slaughterhouses to reopen and new ones to be built in the U.S. (the ban had simply led operators to move plants to Canada and Mexico and export horses to these operations, a relatively ineffective ban, and as a result, a rare moment of D.C. bipartisanship in voting to lift it). While most Americans are disgusted by the thought of eating a horse, the meat is considered a delicacy in certain overseas regions, as well as being used in the food supply for other animals.
American horses, tainted with drugs such as Phenylbutazone -- which has long been banned for use in animals used for human consumption -- are routinely trucked across the borders for slaughter in other countries. Rules have been enacted in Europe to try to track a horse’s origins, but according to Jo-Claire Corcoran, a board member of the of Equine Welfare Alliance, these documents cannot be trusted. “Most kill buyers buy their horses at auctions and off of craigslist,” says Corcoran. “They lie on the EID forms, which is required by the EU and say to their knowledge the horse has not had any of the banned substances, when they most likely have.”
--By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
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