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Dirty Dairy: What You Need to Know About Milk

May 12, 2011 •  73 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien

The journal Pediatrics that 15% of American girls are expected to begin puberty by the age of 7 (with the number closer to 25% for African American girls), perhaps it’s time for a little history lesson about the introduction of artificial growth hormones into the American milk supply in 1994.

For the past 16+ years, much of our nation’s milk has come from cows injected with a genetically engineered growth hormone. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone. Since it was never labeled, most of us had no idea that this hormone was introduced into our dairy in 1994. The hormone has two interchangeable names: recombinant bovine somatropine (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

RBGH has dominated the milk market almost since the FDA approved it in 1993. It was the first genetically engineered product ever brought to market. And the Associated Press (AP), the New York Times and the rest of the media have called it “controversial” (the AP headline actually referred to it as “a bumper crop of controversy”).

So what is rBGH anyway? Although the product is made in a lab, it’s designed to mimic a hormone that’s naturally produced in a cow’s pituitary glands. It’s injected into cows every two weeks to boost their hormonal activity, causing them to produce an additional 10 to 15 percent more milk, or about one extra gallon each day. And within the first four years of its introduction in 1994, about one-third of the nation’s cows were in herds being treated with this growth hormone.

If all you knew about rBGH and this hormone was that it increased milk production, you might think it was a good thing. Why shouldn’t we use every means at our disposal to boost the supply of such a nutritious food?

Well, besides increasing milk production, rBGH apparently does a few other things, too.

First of all, the product seems to be hazardous to the cows. The package itself warns of such bovine problems as “increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus,” “decreases in gestation length and birthweight of calves,” and “increased risk of clinical mastitis.” Mastitis is a painful type of udder infection that causes cows to pump out bacteria and pus along with milk, requiring treatment with antibiotics and other meds that can end up in the milk.

When I first read this, I had to stop and walk away from the computer for a few minutes. How many bottles and sippy cups had I filled with this milk? Why hadn’t I known about rBGH when I was pouring countless bowls of cereal for my children? I shuddered at the thought that along with the milk, I had also been giving them doses of growth hormone and antibiotics, not to mention potentially exposing them to cow bacteria and udder pus. How had I not known about this Dirty Dairy?

Want some antiobiotics with that growth hormone?

On top of that, and is often cited in the press (most recently by Laurie David), 80% of antibiotics are now used on our livestock here in the U.S. And overexposure to antibiotics tends to kill off the friendly bacteria in our intestines—bacteria that we need for our digestion and immune system. Many doctors believe that too many antibiotics at too early an age is part of the reason that kids are more likely to be allergic: their immune systems aren’t being given the “microbial environment” that they require. Wonder how many “extra” antibiotics our kids are getting in their milk, cheese, and yogurt? Maybe it’s not just about those hand sanitizers.

And then on top of that, allergies are the body’s response to proteins that it considers “toxic invaders,” and that genetically engineered proteins may spark new allergies. According to CNN and a recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Immunology, milk allergy is now the most common food allergy in the U.S., having risen to the number-one position in the last 10 years. It’s even starting to affect the sale of milk in schools. Might rBGH be a factor in that increase? We wouldn’t have a clue. No human studies were conducted.

But let’s get back to the cows, because rBGH can hurt them in several more ways. The label also warns of possible increase in digestive disorders, including diarrhea; increased numbers of lacerations on the cows’ hocks (shins); and a higher rate of subclinical mastitis.

Bad enough when dairy cows get visibly sick, because then they’re treated with antibiotics that end up in our milk. But what about the cows who are getting sick at a subclinical level—a level so subtle that farmers don’t notice it? Think of the bacteria and pus pouring out of those inflamed udders—infections that aren’t even being treated! How does drinking that milk affect us, our kids, and our babies in the womb?

Those are just the problems acknowledged on the rBGH product label. Another concern is that the extra hormones drain the cows’ bones of calcium, so that they tend to become lame. The Canadian federal health agency actually found that “the risk of clinical lameness was increased approximately 50 percent” in cows that were given rBGH. Partly as a result, Canada has banned the product, concluding that it “presents a sufficient and unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows.”

rBGH is banned in other developed countries but not in the U.S.

Canada isn’t the only country to bar rBGH. The genetically altered hormone has also been banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, the U.N. agency that sets food safety standards, Codex Alimentarius, has refused to approve rGBH not just once but twice.

Farmers themselves have noticed problems with the product. In addition to the expense of the drug itself, rBGH results in higher feed bills, higher vet bills due to increased antibiotic use, and more cows removed from the herd due to illness or low productivity. One study found that 25 to 40 percent of dairy farmers who tried rBGH soon gave it up because it wasn’t profitable enough to justify the damage to their cows. Other farmers have said that they see how hard the product is on cows, and they don’t want to subject their animals to such treatment.

Okay, so that’s why rBGH hurts cows. But I’m way more concerned about us and our kids. How does having a genetically altered hormone in our milk supply affect us?

Health concerns include possible link to cancer

As early as 1998, an article in the Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, reported that women with even relatively small increases of a hormone known as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) were up to seven times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer.

And guess what? According to a January 1996 report in the International Journal of Health Services, rBGH milk has up to 10 times the IGF-1 levels of natural milk. More recent studies have put the figure even higher, at something like 20-fold.

Now stop and think about that for a minute, while correlation is not causation, breast cancer used to be something that women got later in life. Premenopausal breast cancer was so rare that when young women presented their physicians with breast cancer symptoms, the doctors often failed to diagnose it, simply because it was so unlikely that an “older women’s disease” would be found among young women.

But according to the Young Survival Coalition, one in 229 women between the ages of 30 and 39 will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the next ten years. Why are all these young women now getting breast cancer? And what about the effects of IGF-1-laden milk on older women, who are already at greater risk for breast cancer?

In case you think that the rising cancer rates have something to do with genetics, stop and think again. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, 1 in 8 women now have breast cancer. But only 10 percent of those cases can be linked to genetics. In other words, 90 percent of breast cancers being diagnosed today are being triggered by factors in our environment.

How did this happen?

Now if you’re like me, your next question probably is, So, if we know all of this, how did this hormone find its way into our dairy products? How did our government agencies, responsible for ensuring the safety of our food, allow the use of this growth hormone and the sale of IGF-1-laden milk? Why was rBGH not used in Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but used so freely right here in our own United States?

Well, the year before the FDA approved the first genetically engineered protein, it said, “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” But at the same time, the corporate communication’s director of the company introducing rBGH said, ” We should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.”

You read that right. It’s kind of a “Who’s on first?” routine. Didn’t we learn anything from the tobacco industry?

So with the jury still out on this one, no long-term human trials ever conducted, a self-regulated industry whose “interest is in selling as much of it as possible,” the increasing rates of antibiotics used on our livestock (not to mention the increasing rates of early puberty and cancer), and the stunning fact that this synthetic growth hormone was never approved for use in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 countries in Europe, maybe it’s time we start to exercise a little bit of precaution here in the U.S., too.

How to Opt-Out of rBGH

Thankfully, we can opt out of this experiment and look for milk labeled “organic” or “rBGH-free”— since by law, these types of milk are not allowed to contain rBGH, a genetically engineered product that was never allowed into the milk, cheese, ice creams and other dairy products in other developed countries. And you can find this milk in Wal-Mart, Costco & Sam’s.

And while correlation is not causation, with the American Cancer Society telling us that 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women are expected to get cancer in their lifetimes and the Centers for Disease Control reporting that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15, a precautionary move like this one just might be what the doctors ordered (at least that’s what they did in all 27 countries in Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Japan).

Written by Robyn O’Brien with excerpts from The Unhealthy Truth

How to Read Meat Labels

May 9, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Michelle Stern, author of What’s Cooking with Kids

First thing’s first – let’s not confuse Natural with Organic.

We’d hope that naturally produced foods were organic, but officially that is not so. We talked about natural products with chicken above. But what does Organic Food Production mean?

The USDA defines the national organic program as one that “is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

Organic meat is meat that is raised according to the National Organic Standards which means that:

  • All ingredients must be 100% organically produced. No chemicals were used, unless the animal needs to be treated. That animal must, by law, be sold to the conventional food market and never be labeled as organic.
  • 100% organic feed is required (the food was produced with no herbicides, pesticides, or petroleum based fertilizers)
  • No added growth hormones are allowed
  • No genetically modified feeds are allowed
  • No animal by-products of any form allowed in feed
  • No antibiotics are allowed. If antibiotics are used to treat a sick animal, then that animal is marketed through conventional channels and is not sold as organic.
  • Restrictions on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers
  • No genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation or sewage sludge for fertilization
  • No synthetic chemicals, artificial preservatives or harmful additives such as sodium nitrite allowed in processing
  • Annual inspection of producers and processors required for maintaining certification
  • Third party assessment required

While some people may shy away from buying organic because of a “crunchy or hippy” stigma, there are a few key points to remember: When chemicals are used in farming to control insects and weeds, they leach into the soil, air, water and into the farmers growing the food. Organic farming protects growers, food consumers, and the physical environment from any such chemicals. This provides an immediate benefit and a long-term one. And it is clear from our obese nation that people are not typically thinking long-term…and we should.

Organic foods tend to cost more than conventional foods because they meet stricter guidelines and undergo testing and evaluation. They tend to be more labor intensive, because farmers do not take chemical shortcuts. But the overall cost reflects healthier animals, plants, farmers, and most likely consumers. If the long-term costs of health care and environmental clean-up were factored into “cheap” factory meats, it is likely that they would actually cost more than their organic counterparts.

The big picture:

  1. Know who grows your food, or at least find a vendor at your local farmer’s market who can tell you about how their animals were raised and what they ate.
  2. If you can’t know your producer, the next best choice is to look for these labels: Certified Organic AND 100% Pasture Fed and Finished

Michelle Stern is the owner of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified green mobile cooking school for children, and author of The Whole Family Cookbook – Celebrating the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods. To learn more about meat labels and What’s Cooking With Kids please visit, Michelle’s site.

US Version of Kraft Mac and Cheese versus UK Version

May 3, 2011 •  30 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien

As we are quickly learning, other countries have chosen not to allow things like artificial growth hormones, food dyes derived from petrochemicals and genetically engineered ingredients into their food supplies – particularly in the foods fed to children.

And in response to this demand, especially the European Union’s labeling regulations on genetically modified food, many American food manufacturers now create two versions of their product, one for the US and a “cleaner” version for the moms, dads and kids in the 27 countries in Europe, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the U.K.

So how different could those two versions be, you ask? After all, “food is food”, right?

Well, let’s take a look at one of our staples, macaroni and cheese:

U.S. Version of Kraft Mac & Cheese:


U.K. Version of Kraft Mac & Cheese:

Macaroni (Durum Wheat Semolina), Cheese (10%), Whey Powder (from milk), Lactose, Salt, Emulsifying Salts (E339, E341), Colours (Paprika Extract, Beta-Carotene)

Given that Kraft’s latest ad campaign invites us to “Bring Back the Fun”, while we’re at it, how about they bring back products that don’t contain ingredients that have been shown to cause things like hyperactivity, cancer and allergies? You know, products like their UK version of mac and cheese that don’t contain the artificial dyes like the ones seen on these kids’ tongues?

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Healthy Food for Hungry People

April 23, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Lynette Johnson is Tennessee Regional Director for the Society of St. Andrew

When you’re choosing peaches in the grocery store, do you ever marvel at how they’re all the same size and shape, how the colors are so perfectly matched from one to the next, how there aren’t any blemishes or spots on them? And then, do you ever wonder about how that happens? I mean, really, is that the way peaches grow?

American consumers expect the freshest and the best, ideal fruits and vegetables, not too ripe, not too tender, and definitely pretty. (Tell the truth, don’t you even pick through those peaches in the display to make your selection?) And the USDA has grading standards that shape our expectations for peaches and for every other type of produce we buy.

But peaches (and every other fruit or vegetable), outside of supermarkets, aren’t nearly so similar or so perfect. What happens to the rest of them?

More than 96 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year in this country. And that’s pre-consumer waste! We’re not talking about the kale I bought, but didn’t use, that’s slowly turning to mush in the crisper of my refrigerator. This is produce that never even gets to the grocery store. It is food left unharvested in fields or graded out in packing houses. It is mislabeled, mispackaged, or misdirected in shipping. Ultimately, it becomes fodder for livestock, it’s plowed under or is left to rot in landfills.

There’s a high environmental cost for all of this, of course. There’s the water and energy used in growing and harvesting that are wasted, and then there’s the greenhouse gases produced as all that produce rots away. Every ton of food rotting in a landfill produces emissions equivalent to driving a car for a year[i].

But the impact is much more than environmental. While all this fresh, nutrient rich produce is going to waste, 50 million Americans will face food hardship this year; 44 million Americans now receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits. And these struggling neighbors of ours are turning to non-profits for food assistance, even as non-profit budgets have been pruned, pared, and puréed. Feeding America™ affiliates and thousands of other food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, emergency food programs, senior and child nutrition programs, etc. across the country are struggling to find nutritious food to serve their clients.

Somebody ought to do something. Somebody ought to connect the dots. Somebody ought to find a way to recover some of that staggering quantity of produce that’s being wasted and move it to agencies feeding people at risk for hunger.

Somebody is. A lot of people are, actually.

The Society of St. Andrew has, in fact, been doing just that since 1979. Recovering produce in 35 states and distributing it in 48, over the last 32 years we’ve recovered 622 million pounds of fruits and vegetables (1.866 billion servings) that we’ve always provided free of charge and always in quantities that can be used quickly and without waste to agencies serving people in need. In 2010 alone, we recovered and distributed 28.1 million pounds of produce—that’s roughly equivalent to four football fields, piled four feet high with fruits and vegetables!

Our Potato and Produce Project works to secure large-load (28,000-45,000 pound) donations by networking with trucking companies, packing houses, warehousers, and distributors. We’ll move these loads to areas where they’re most needed, distributing them either through large food banks or through volunteer-intensive ‘crop drops’, in which the load is ‘dropped’ at a central location and quickly parceled out to many partner agencies nearby.

The Gleaning Network connects farmers and growers with volunteers in their immediate area who enter fields and orchards to ‘glean’ (pick, gather, or dig) produce remaining after harvest. Produce is taken immediately to nearby agencies for their use, creating a rapid, local farm-to-fork cycle that is often complete in 72 hours or less, as gleaned produce is served at table in a feeding program or distributed in food boxes through a local food pantry. This effective, efficient grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor program, with its community sharing model, mobilized 31,000 volunteers in 2010 and provided 54.3 million servings of food.

Everything that the Society of St. Andrew does is a ‘win’ for the community and the country, in both the short and the long terms:

  • Farmers share what they cannot sell—and their on-farm food waste is reduced. Their hauling and composting costs go down, and they get a receipt for their donations that helps them on their taxes next year.
  • Volunteers glean—and grow community spirit. They work together and achieve measurable results that make a real difference in the lives of people nearby. Even people who are in need can join in gleaning, doing what they can to help themselves and to help others.
  • Receiving agencies get good, nutritious food at no cost—and that frees more of their limited budget funds to acquire and serve critical proteins to their clients, too—a double benefit!—enhancing the nutritional quality of what they provide even more.
  • Hungry people—men, women, and children—eat better foods. They are healthier, less at risk for diseases, and better able to function, because their bodies are nourished.
  • The state, covering health care costs for many of the poor, benefits by spending less for health services as nutrition improves. Emergency hospitalizations decline; obesity declines; diseases related to poor nutrition decline; child health improves; prenatal outcomes improve; and children attend school more often and perform better while they’re there.
  • Landfills are less burdened, and the environment is less taxed as food is eaten rather than trashed.

Other organizations all across the country are waking up to the challenges of recovering food waste to feed the hungry. If you’re interested in being part of a growing movement, see if there’s an organization already at work in your community and join their efforts. If you’d like to find out more about the Society of St. Andrew, visit our website, www.endhunger.org, and consider partnering with us.

An NPR feature about the Society of St. Andrew’s Gleaning Network

To learn more about food waste in the United States, see Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food blog.

To learn more about gleaning (and who’s doing it), read the USDA’s pamphlet, Let’s Glean.

To find a food pantry near your home that will accept fresh produce from your tree or garden, visit Ample Harvest.

Lynette Johnson is Tennessee Regional Director for the Society of St. Andrew. Follow her on Twitter @SoSATN.

[i] “[The UK’s Waste Resources and Action Programme] revealed before Christmas that about 6.7 million tonnes of food a year is dumped in bins. This represents a third of all food bought for consumption at home and is worth a total of £8 billion, or an average £400 for every household. However, by preventing this scale of food waste about 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year would be saved, the equivalent of taking one in five cars off the roads.” (emphasis added) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3701660.ece

31,035,791 cars on road in Britain (2009) ::: 1/5 cars = 6,207,158 cars http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1264282/Number-cars-road-falls-time-Second-World-War.html

6.7 million metric tonnes of food waste reduction is equivalent to removing 6.2 million cars from road

[Metric tonne conversion to US ton: 1 metric to .907184 US]

6.1 million US tons of food waste reduction is equivalent to removing 6.2 million cars from road

Fast Food Follies

April 22, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

By Alex Formuzis, EWG Vice-President for Media Relations and father of two

Around this time last year the health-conscience crew at KFC headquarters gave the American consumer the Double Down chicken sandwich – 540 calories of bacon and cheese with no veggies, smashed between slabs of fried chicken instead of buns.

At the time I thought Fast Food couldn’t sink any lower.

I was wrong.

This time the cause for my stomach churn is Burger King and its latest product, the Meat Monster burger that delivers 1,160 calories via a mountain of:

  • two beef patties
  • a piece of chicken
  • two strips of bacon
  • two slices of cheese
  • teriyaki sauce
  • if you want, add a fried egg and/or a fish patty on top – but that’s extra.

Along with the whopping calorie count come 24 grams of saturated fat, 12 grams of sugar, 240 miligrams of cholesterol, 54 grams of carbs and 2,290 miligrams of salt, according to a breakdown by the folks at Consumerist.

Currently, this is only available in Japan.

Here in the U.S. it’s estimated that roughly 75 percent of all health care-related spending goes to treat chronic diseases, many of them associated with a diet high in calories, fat and sodium from regularly indulging in meals like the Meat Monster.

Comparatively little is spent on preventive care, including helping people get access to and eat healthy, nutritious food like fruits and vegetables.

We’re the richest and one of the fattest populations in the world. Not our proudest achievement.

The number of American adolescents who are overweight or obese has tripled since 1980. One of the primary reasons is the easy access kids have to cheap, ready-made fast foods and sweet, fizzy drinks. In many places the fast food joint has replaced the park as the place where kids hang out before and after school.

A 2009 study conducted by economists at Cal/Berkeley and Columbia universities found that kids at schools within walking distance (500 feet) of a fast food restaurant will likely have an obesity rate at least 5 percent higher than kids who aren’t so “lucky.”

Another 2009 study cited in the same Reuters article, by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan, found that residents of neighborhoods heavily populated with fast food restaurants are at greater risk of suffering a stroke.

Both these scenarios typically confront families who live in inner-city neighborhoods and depressed rural communities throughout the country, where fast food chains and junk food mini-marts are often the only available and affordable options.

In a recent analysis by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, researchers reported that:

“Fast food is the most unhealthy food product marketed to children, other than sugar-sweetened beverages, and is relentlessly and aggressively targeted toward children starting as young as age two. Food marketing to children negatively influences the dietary choices and health of society’s most vulnerable citizens.”

The report by the Rudd Center may be the most extensive to date focusing on Fast Food’s marketing assault on American children. According to the Yale researchers, the industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on advertising and other media, and the average child between 2 and 5 years of age watches 2.8 fast food ads every day.

Our friends at Burger King and McDonalds pledged to clean up their acts and improve the way they pitch to children. But the Rudd researchers found that both chains ramped up their television advertising to kids from 2007 to ’09:

“Preschoolers saw 21% more ads for McDonald’s and 9% more for Burger King, and children viewed 26% more ads for McDonald’s and 10% more for Burger King.”

The report goes on:

  • McDonald’s web-based marketing starts with children as young as 2 at Ronald.com.
  • McDonald’s and Burger King created sophisticated websites with 60 to 100 pages of adver-games and virtual worlds to engage children (McWorld.com, HappyMeal. com, and ClubBK.com).
  • McDonald’s 13 websites attracted an average of 365,000 unique child visitors and 294,000 unique teen visitors each month in 2009.
  • Nine restaurant Facebook pages had more than one million fans each as of July 2010.

Smartphone apps were available for eight fast food chains, providing another opportunity to reach young consumers anytime, anywhere.

Overworked, exhausted parents don’t stand a chance against this onslaught. It’s the equivalent of the Erickson family from two doors down facing the NFC champs in the Super Bowl.

Crunchtimefood’s Sherri York does provide some helpful tips for parents looking for ways to steer their kids away from junk food and eater more fruits and vegetables. But perhaps the best advice on this front is: Just do it — the longer you wait, the harder it gets.