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Food dyes have gotten a bad rap in the United States and have been linked to health concerns as far reaching as cancer. A “Rainbow of Risks” cites one report, putting parents on alert.
But the food industry has been slow to respond. As CBS Market Watch reported, “any clampdown would be fiercely opposed by the major food manufacturers who use a boatload — 15 million pounds — of food dyes in the U.S. every year. ”
Fifteen million pounds of artificial food dyes per year.
It’s hard to hear for parents trying to feed kids on a budget, especially when you consider that our very own American companies have pulled these artificial dyes, derived from petroleum based products, from the kids’ foods that they are serving in other countries. That double standard just doesn’t sit right for most American parents, and people have been making some noise.
I am one of them. I first took on the issue back in 2008 on Good Morning America when I was writing my book. Studies linking these artificial ingredients to hyperactivity led American companies to reformulate their products in the United Kingdom. Despite this response to consumer demand and parental concern overseas, our own companies did nothing here while the FDA said that more studies are needed.
But since then, despite the fact that the FDA sat still, companies began to take notice. They are listening and responding to consumer demand, even while the FDA says nothing. In no way is this more obvious than in an email I received last week from the makers of Goldfish. I had hammered on their product in my book, The Unhealthy Truth, for being a kid-favorite and absolutely jacked up on these artificial ingredients that can send some kids sky high. As a mom of four, it had been my go-to snack for years, but upon learning that, I ditched the colors and opted for something else.
So when I emailed them, following up on some research being done on artificial colors, to ask about their recent announcement to ditch these artificial dyes, I got the following response.
Ms Robyn, we received your message and appreciate the time you took to contact Pepperidge Farm regarding the coloring used in our Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors.
Our Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors use the following natural ingredients for coloring:
- Red Beet
Huito fruit is a native Latin American exotic fruit much like Acai, Passionfruit or Guava. Its flavor is reminiscent of an apricot or raisin.
We appreciate your interest in our Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors. Please contact our Consumer Response Center at 1.888.737.7374 if you need further assistance.
If you don’t think these companies are listening, you have not yet tried talking to them. They are making these changes, but they need us. They need consumers to share their concerns, to write, call and email so that they can show their shareholders and show their boards of directors that this food awakening is happening.
Together, we can get this junk out of our food the way parents have overseas. We can clean up our food system and restore the health of our families.
Pepperidge Farm closed their email saying, “Thank you for visiting the Pepperidge Farm website.”
Thanks for listening, Pepperidge Farm. Next up, let’s figure out a way to help your farmers grow their corn and soy with fewer chemicals, without those genetically engineered ingredients and chemically-intensive operating system that the biotech industry says we need.
Our combined talent, intellect and creativity are so powerful. And it is our collective talents that will create the changes we want to see in the health of our food system and the health of our country.
Sometimes the first step just might be as tiny as a goldfish.
To ask Pepperidge Farm to remove the chemical industry’s genetically engineered ingredients from our children’s goldfish or to thank them for ditching the artificial dyes, please contact Consumer Response Center at 1.888.737.7374 or send them an email here: http://www.pepperidgefarm.com/ContactUs.aspx
Written by Robyn O’Brien after visiting farmers in Iowa in August 2010.
Had someone told me four years ago that I’d be standing tractor-side, appealing to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans for their support on the cornfields of Iowa, I’d have thought they were nuts. But there I stood in August in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for aTractor Ride for Tots.
The event had been the brainchild of a big-hearted farmer named Scott McAllister. Scott, a fourth generation farmer, had reached out after learning about my work. He wanted to show me the farms.
So there we stood on a humid August day – Scott, farmers and tractors- ready to kick off our 50 mile tractor ride across the small towns of Iowa, and I had no idea what to expect. As Scott introduced me to the farmers, they smiled in amusement eager to get out on their tractors (reminding me more of my boys on their bikes than the agricultural giants I’d been a bit fearful of meeting).
And as I spoke about how 1 in 3 children now has autism, ADHD, allergies or asthma, they nodded in agreement as they’d seen the TV commercials on their local stations that spoke of how pervasive autism had become in military families, now affecting 1 in 88 children and knew what was happening to their grandchildren. They then introduced themselves and we set out on our tractor ride.
It was pretty quiet.
As the day wore on, so did the stories. A man named Mark shared tales about his high school reunion, while “Pa” shared stories about his grandson. And one they called “Beauford” spoke of their stewardship of the land learned at their grandfathers’ knees, record harvests and record rainfalls (and told a funny tale about how his wife moved out on him). They shared stories about lost crops, lost livestock and lost loved ones. They were sincere and authentic, proud and humble, and dedicated to their trade in ways seldom seen in today’s culture. As fourth and fifth generation farmers, their legacies were deep and their commitment strong.
Yet at the same time, as they spoke about the recent changes in agriculture and its new costs structures, there was an ambiguity. With trait fees, licensing fees and technology fees now required of farmers, this wasn’t the same business model that their grandfathers had built, and they knew it, with numbered lot signs and logos down the sides of their fields. As we discussed the privatization and patenting of agriculture and the impact it was having on their business, one of them shared, “The toes they step on today will be the tush they’ll be kissing tomorrow.” As they had witnessed firsthand the impact that this new cost structure had on debt loads and declining income levels and spoke candidly about monopolistic practices and predatory pricing.
And as we road from town to town, they laughed about their lives and livelihoods being in the hands of Mother Nature, saying “It either makes you religious or alcoholic,” as all of them chuckled. And having seen billboards juxtaposed against each other on the side of the Iowa highway, I had seen what they were saying and couldn’t help but listen.
I asked about their friend, Tom Vilsack, who now serves as the Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, and they shared stories about how he’d lived in their friend, Jimmy’s, childhood home, as well as his unusual political beginnings, quickly rising to Mayor, when a gunman shot and killed Mt. Pleasant’s mayor. And I listened as they shared their stories, shared their lives and shared their passion for farming.
And as the day came to a close, a farmer named John asked, “Did you see that lady with the white hair back there?”
“Yes. She smiled and waved and was so pretty,” I said.
“Well you see, you see…..that…well….she’s my wife. And, and, and…..” And as I looked into the face of this farmer, his eyes welled with tears, and my heart hurt, and I asked, “Is she sick?” And he nodded. Cancer. Twice.
And as the tractors were put away, we said our good-byes, reflecting on new dialogues, new knowledge and new friendships. And we knew that we were all in this together.
And while none of us could do everything, we also knew that all of us could do one thing. And sometimes that one thing is simply taking the time to listen. Really listen. Because if you do, you may realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us, as our hearts beat in unison for the love of our families.
Since the original posting of this article, Big John’s wife died of cancer. She was beautiful, and it was an honor to meet her
Stars like Emmy Award winners Michael J. Fox and moms like Julie Bowen and Ali Larter have joined the efforts to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The celebrities are featured in a new Just Label It (JLI) video calling for the FDA to require labeling of GE foods. Fox, Bowen and Larter are joined in the video by 24 other entertainers like Chevy Chase and advocates and Just Label It (JLI) Chairman, Gary Hirshberg.
Bowen, a mother of three sons, shows her support for labeling by revealing a sign in the video with the message: “Every modern family has the right to know what’s in their food!”
As a mom, she gets it. And it’s a message many of us can relate to.
It’s great to see mothers like Bowen, Ali Larter, Kimberly Van Der Beek and Anne Heche stand up for their right to know what’s in the foods they are feeding their families, as it’s a right that’s already been given to eaters in dozens of countries around the world, even in China, Russia and India.
The United States remains one of the few developed countries in the world that has not yet labeled these ingredients, introduced into our food supply in the 1990s, in our foods.
The message in this video sums up the argument JLI has been making throughout the country: every American deserves the right to know about their food and whether they are eating or serving their families food that has been genetically engineered.
Just Label It is petitioning the FDA to update its 20-year-old voluntary guidelines and require labeling for GE foods, giving a voice to all Americans who are concerned about wha is going into the foods they are feeding their loved ones. Today, more than 1.2 million Americans have joined the petition. I hope you will too, so that together, we can have this same basic right enjoyed by citizens around the world.
To learn more, please visit Just Label It .
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice specializing in metabolism and sport nutrition. She is a friend of the AllergyKids Foundation, and we recently invited her to share her thoughts on the Stanford Study, the value of organic foods and other topics.
In an analysis of 237 studies of organic produce, meats and dairy foods, Stanford scientists determined that organic foods are no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. The recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine has the food world spinning. The scientists looked at vitamin C in produce and omega three fatty acids in animal products among other nutrients and concluded that there just wasn’t enough difference to impact human health.
Human nutrition is a young science. The first “vitamin” was discovered early in the 20th century, the Recommended Dietary Allowances were first released in 1941 and the first dietary guidelines were established in 1980.
Since the beginning, nutrition science has been preoccupied with identifying essential nutrients. This early orientation has led too many nutrition scientists down a path of reductionist thinking, as if food were merely a delivery vehicle for essential nutrients in our diet. Today the rest of the food world is pushing back. Farmers, chefs, journalists, environmentalists, foodies, as well as many more integrative nutritionists, dietitians and other health care providers are crying foul.
The push back to the Stanford study has been enormous. Many Americans have become far too sophisticated in the post Omnivore’s Dilemma era to take the narrow findings of this study at face value. Every post I have read over the past two days immediately points to the real differences between organic and conventional food. To many consumers, the value of organic food production was never only about the nutrients.
The Problem with Reductionist Science
The traditional approach to studying nutrition is fragmented. Nutrition science often focuses on the smallest components of the diet, the essential nutrients. Most funding for nutrition research is appropriated for studies regarding specific nutrients.
It is easier to study a single nutrient compared to the overall diet. This is why you get to read front page stories telling you to avoid fat, or more specifically to eat more unsaturated fat, and even more specifically to consume more omega 3 fatty acids.
There is very limited research looking at overall dietary patterns, and even less linking the production of food to anything. Too often the only concern is what happens to man. Nutrition science tends to ignore the rest of our ecological home. Today, there is a need for nutrition science to connect more of the dots.
WHAT ABOUT THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Most critics of the Stanford study focus on the findings of the researchers. People want to think organic food must be far superior compared to conventionally raised foods. But research looking at nutrient content of organic versus conventionally grown food is mixed.
Sometimes conventional foods show higher nutrient content. (Although research shown below shows that organically grown produce has higher content more often) Still, this kind of data doesn’t often inspire the average Joe or Jane to pull out their hard earned cash to pay a premium for an organic product.
OMEGA THREE CONTENT IS DIFFERENT
The omega three fatty acid data is more compelling. Greater amounts of omega three fatty acids are thought to be health promoting. A lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is linked to less inflammation. Less inflammation is associated with reduced risk of everything from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to allergies, asthma, and more.
Grass fed beef is markedly different than beef from conventionally raised cattle. Grass fed beef contains more omega 3 fatty acids. Grass fed beef has a 2:1 ratio of omega six to omega three fatty acids; conventional beef has a ratio of 9:1. The greater amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in grass fed beef is bonus.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE HEALTH, NUTRITION AND DISEASE?
The Stanford’s study glaring omissions are exactly what has so many people energized about eating closer to the earth and preferentially choosing organic foods.
- People know that water is important. Runoff from conventional farms using conventional NPK fertilizer pollutes the waterways and creates dead zones in the oceans.
- Today’s educated consumers don’t want to consume added hormones in their food supply. The use of recombinant bovine growth hormone in dairy cows is far less common than it once was. Many consumers won’t buy milk containing rBGH.
- The educated food consumer knows that 80% of all antibiotics are used with animals, often in animal feed as a growth enhancer. They worry about the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
- Today’s consumers are concerned about exposure to pesticides, insecticides and other chemical agents used in conventional farming. They are aware these substances pose risk to human health. They bio-accumulate in fat stores.
These agents are known endocrine disruptors. 95% of “persistent organic pollutants” enter our body via the food supply. These chemical agents impact all life forms, especially compromising biodiversity of insects and microbes in the soil.
- Consumers have every reason to be wary of genetically engineered and GMO foods. Studies regarding the safety of genetic engineering are inadequate.
Proponents of genetic engineering would like consumers to accept that GMO foods are “substantially equivalent” to traditionally cultivated foods. Currently, substantial equivalence is determined using 90 day studies with lab rats. No wonder the current initiative to label GMO foods in California garners huge public support.
WE CAN NOT AFFORD TO EAT ACCORDING TO REDUCTIONIST SCIENCE
When making food choices we can no longer afford to only consider the nutrient content of food. The way food is grown and harvested matters. They way in which food is processed matters. The methods and packaging used to transport our food matters.
Today nutrition scientists need to broaden their scope and consider their findings in much broader context. The range of issues impacting human health encompasses the health of our precious resources: the vitality of livestock, crop diversity, soil ecology, the health of our oceans, our supply of fresh water and clean air. Everyone connected to the food supply needs to understand and respect this truth. Good nutrition has never been just about the nutrients.
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice specializing in energy metabolism and sport nutrition. Bonnie works extensively with individuals and families addressing nutrition concerns throughout the lifecycle, with a special focus on maternal, infant and child nutrition. She is a speaker and author, writing her blog at www.muchmorethanfood.com