Posts Tagged ‘food safety’

“Natural” is a friendly word. It conjures green, growing things, blue skies, clear water, winsome wildlife. It is the antithesis of all things man-made: cold concrete, sterile steel, loathsome landfills. The word “natural” seems to strike something deep in our psyche, perhaps a longing for things we miss as we race from home to work and back each day. Things like trees, wildflowers, and babbling brooks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarketers know this about us. We can’t seem to help but believe that natural is good. Natural is safe. Natural things are, well… natural. What could be better?

Natural claims frequently appear on products meant to be ingested or used on our bodies. Apparently if we aren’t going to eat or wear it, we don’t much care if it’s natural. Take cars or cellphones, for example: no natural assertions there! I suppose it makes sense that “natural” labeling in food, health supplement, and cosmetic marketing would be so ubiquitous. If I eat it, drink it, or put it on my skin I’d rather it didn’t make me break out in a rash, stop breathing, or develop cancer. If it’s natural, it won’t, right?

Unfortunately, “natural” is NOT a synonym for “safe.” Radon is natural. It’s an element found in rocks and soil. It’s also radioactive and the second leading cause of lung cancer. Consuming rhubarb leaves can cause convulsions and coma. Munching on mistletoe berries will kill you. Hundreds of other substances easily encountered in nature are both natural and unsafe.

So, depending on my mood, I either giggle or rant when I hear phrases like, “It’s safe, all-natural, and it’ll work for you—guaranteed” shouted from the TV or radio. I always wonder, “What’s their definition of natural?”

Some people say natural foods are the ones that don’t contain chemical ingredients. Food writers like Michael Pollen espouse this rule: if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it. The idea is that if you read the ingredients list and it includes chemical-sounding substances like phenylalanine, glutamic acid, or ethyl butanoate, you should avoid that product and reach for something natural, like a banana.

Natural Cheetos: the best of all worlds?!

Natural Cheetos: the best of all worlds?!

Some people say natural foods are the ones that don’t contain genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), weren’t treated with conventional pesticides, or (in the case of meat, milk, or eggs) don’t come from animals treated with antibiotics or hormones.

What do the regulators say? In case you wondered, in the U.S. there are no FDA or USDA regulations for the use of the word “natural” on food labels. Therefore, a “natural” claim on one label may not mean the same thing as a “natural” statement on another.

Personally, I try not to succumb to “natural” labeling. I’m convinced of the safety of GMOs. I’d rather rinse off a practically undetectable amount of pesticide residue from an apple than eat a worm. I know livestock treated with antibiotics didn’t suffer needlessly with illness and a withdrawal period was followed so my meat and milk are antibiotic-free. I know rBST used in dairy cows doesn’t change their milk, and that there’s a heck of a lot more estrogen in a potato than in a steak from a hormone-implanted steer.

And those unpronounceable chemicals I mentioned earlier? They are just a few of the many chemical components of a banana.

Country Fair Blog Part

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the April/May 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.


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Edamame glee croppedAfter 16 years of marriage, two-thirds of which we spent in pursuit of parenthood in one way or another, my husband and I adopted a beautiful baby girl. During the time we were trying and waiting, we had innumerable conversations about how we were going to parent our someday child.

One thing we agreed on during those pre-baby parenting conversations was that we weren’t going to be crazy overprotective. What we didn’t anticipate, however, was the “mama bear” instinct that would kick in when we actually had our child. Nothing I’ve ever felt compares to the feeling of sweet, ferocious love that engulfs me when I hold my daughter close. I want to protect her. I want to do everything in my power to make sure she has a safe, bright, and healthy future.

I worry about her exposure to the diesel fumes, paint fumes, and household chemicals. I get nervous when she is anywhere near cords or ribbons longer than 5 inches. Now that she’s eating solids, I compulsively cut up or smoosh any food she could possibly choke on. I stress over whether her meals are nutritionally-balanced.

What DON’T I worry about in regards to her health?

GMOs. Not even for a second.

I know, I know—a lot of people DO worry about them. Heck, there’s a whole segment of the book, movie, media, and food industries focused on instilling fears over genetically modified organisms. I’m not biting, and here’s why.

I trust science. Good, peer-reviewed, thoughtful, thorough science. Not the debunked “research” which concluded rats developed tumors from eating GMOs. Not the Facebook memes that supposedly show that squirrels choose non-GMO corn over the modified kind. (Seriously?) I trust groups and agencies such as the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Medical Association, who confirm the safety of genetically modified foods. I trust my friend Tom who plays French horn two chairs away from me in band and who also happens to be a plant molecular biologist.

I trust agriculture. Modern, technologically-advanced, careful, sustainable agriculture. Not the foodies who would have us believe “big ag” is actively trying to kill us. Not the e-mail from a friend which warned, “these products are virtually poisonous and can negatively affect DNA.” Not even the TV celebrity doctor who claims there is a global conspiracy to hide the truth about GMOs. I trust the dozens of farmers I know personally who grow genetically modified crops.

So, tonight for supper we are having chicken (likely fed with GMO corn and soybeans), sweet corn (probably GMO), baby lima beans, and crescent rolls. For the baby, I’ll cut the chicken into really small pieces and make sure it and the sweet corn aren’t too hot before I give it to her. I’ll give her one or two cut-up lima beans; so far she hates them. I’ll tear part of a crescent roll into tiny pieces. We’ll probably try her on a bit of whole milk (from cows fed GMO grain) in a sippy cup. And I won’t question for a moment whether the food I’m giving her is safe.

After all, scientists and farmers care about their children, too.

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the March 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.


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