The food industry knows that its products are making people sick. In 1999, the CEOs of Kraft, Nabisco, Nestlé, Coca Cola and General Mills, met in Minneapolis to review the facts. First, they got rid of employees who called the problem to their attention. Then they went after the scientists to destroy the reputation of anyone who studied the problem. Sugar a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and possibly even cancer.
Photo credit: Georg Regauer
Consumers rely on food labels to make informed purchases. Yet the sheer variety of labels we encounter in the supermarket is overwhelming. Labels like natural, organic and local appear on every type of food product, from fresh meat to processed junk food. What, if anything, do these labels actually tell us? Very little, it turns out.
Photo credit: Douglas Kugler
Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent insists his company is not responsible for the rise in US obesity despite New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent moves to limit the consumption of sugary drinks. "This is an important, complicated societal issue that we all have to work together to provide a solution," Kent told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published late Monday.
Photo credit: Anna Shvets
ALMOST HALF of the fresh fruit and veg sold across the UK is contaminated with toxic pesticides, according to the latest scientific surveys for the government.
Nearly every orange, 94% of pineapples and 90% of pears sampled were laced with traces of chemicals used to kill bugs. High proportions of apples, grapes and tomatoes were also tainted, as were parsnips, melons and cucumbers. Alarmingly, as much as a quarter of the food on sale in 2008 - the date of the latest figures - was found to contain multiple pesticides. In some cases, up to ten different chemicals were detected in a single sample. advertisement Experts warn that the "cocktail effect" of so many different chemicals endangers health.
They also point out that some of the pesticides are not only cancer-causing but also so-called "gender-benders" - chemicals that disrupt human sexuality. The revelations about the widespread contamination of conventionally-produced food have also prompted renewed attacks on the government's Food Standards Agency. The FSA published a report last week casting doubt on the health benefits of eating organic food, which is mostly produced without pesticides. Over 4000 samples of more than 50 kinds of food on sale to the public in 2008 have been tested by scientists for some 240 pesticides.
Detailed reports for the government's Pesticide Residues Committee show that 46% of all the food samples were found to contain detectable levels of pesticides. Just over 25% contained more than one pesticide. In 57 cases the levels of contamination were so serious that they breached the government's safety limits. They included 13 samples of beans in pods, and 10 yams, as well as potatoes, spinach and chilli peppers. There were hardly any types of fruit and veg found to be completely free of contamination, although the vast majority of organic food tested was clean. As well as fruit and vegetables, smoothies, whole-grain breakfast cereals, oily fish and wine all contained pesticides.
Hundreds of pages of tables released by the Pesticide Residues Committee show that many of the contaminated products were bought at well-known supermarkets in Scotland. They include an iceberg lettuce, a courgette and a packet of Cheerios from a Tesco store in Glasgow. Asda was found to be selling parsnips in Glasgow, Chinese leaves in Edinburgh and apricots in Aberdeen, all with pesticides. Baby food and oranges from Sainsbury's in Glasgow were contaminated, as were white bread and bagels at Morrisons in Aberdeen. Government scientists say that the residues would be "unlikely" to damage the health of those that eat them.
But this is disputed by a growing body of experts concerned about the impact of mixtures of different chemicals. "Researchers are concerned about the possible adverse health effects of very low-level exposures to mixtures of chemicals," said professor Andrew Watterson, head of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at the University of Stirling. Watterson pointed out that several of the pesticides found on food were thought to be carcinogenic. Others were suspected of being endocrine disruptors, meaning that they could cause sex changes. He also criticised the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for failing to include the impact of pesticides in last week's report on organic food. "Why did the FSA apparently frame the recent research project to exclude the human and environmental health impacts of so-called food contaminants?" he asked. The FSA report reviewed previous studies and concluded that there were "no important differences" in the nutrition content of organic food compared to conventionally-farmed food. But the FSA has since come under fire. The Soil Association's Scottish director, Hugh Raven, said: "Many consumers buy organic food because they're worried about pesticide residues. "The FSA itself recommends buying organic food if you want to avoid residues. Yet they were specifically excluded from this study." The FSA accepted that the report only examined the nutritional content of food, and did not deal with pesticides. "It's a fact that conventional production methods permit the use of a wider range of pesticides than organic," said an FSA spokeswoman. "The FSA is neither for nor against organic food. Our interest is in providing accurate information to support consumer choice."
Photo credit: Krzysztof Kowalik
Cod caught off Scotland is being sent on a 10,000-mile round trip to China and back again to be filleted for supermarkets, shops and chip suppers. The fish is caught in the North Atlantic, deep
frozen, shipped to China for processing by workers earning less than £1-a-day before being refrozen and returned to Scotland.
The globe-trotting trek made by cod has been condemned as “madness” and “ridiculous” by Scottish fish producers, fishermen and environmentalists. And it happens despite pledges by supermarkets and food producers to reduce their climate pollution and food miles. The revelation also raises questions about the environmental and social impact of the globalisation of the Scottish food industry. “Surely it would make more sense to process the fish here,” said Hugh Raven, director of Soil Association Scotland, which backs organic food.
Despite its obvious benefits for our health and for the environment, organic food continues to be denigrated by the political and corporate establishment in Britain.
The food industry, in alliance with pharmaceutical and big biotechnology companies, has waged a long, often cynical campaign to convince the public that mass-produced, chemically-assisted and
intensively-farmed products are just as good as organic foods, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
The latest assault in this propaganda exercise comes from the Food Standards Agency, the government's so-called independent watchdog, which has just published a report claiming that there is no nutritional benefit to be gained from eating organic produce.
Thousands of British teenagers could be suffering from depression because of a poor diet, a leading scientist warned yesterday. Research had linked depression in young people to a low intake of vitamins,
minerals, and other essential nutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids, said Cambridge University scientist Diane Bamber.
Around three per cent of adolescents suffer severe depressive symptoms lasting a year or more, and the condition often goes hand in hand with eating disorders, drug abuse and self harm, she added. But many thousands more are thought to be less seriously affected with common effects including mood swings, irritability and changing sleep patterns. School work and social development are often badly affected, Dr Bamber said.
She told a British Nutrition Foundation Conference in London that several trials had successfully used supplements of Omega 3, which is found in oily fish, to relieve the symptoms of depressed patients.
Photo credit: Hussain Lazim
The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.
In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five "responsibility deal" networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month. The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises.
Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the
head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering
company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal's sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.
The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal's physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.
In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, the leading liver specialist and until recently president of the Royal College of Physicians, said he was very concerned by the emphasis on voluntary partnerships with industry. A member of the alcohol responsibility deal network, Gilmore said he had decided to co-operate, but he doubted whether there could be "a meaningful convergence between the interests of industry and public health since the priority of the drinks industry was to make money for shareholders while public health demanded a cut in consumption" .
He said: "On alcohol there is undoubtedly a need for regulation on price, availability and marketing and there is a risk that discussions will be deflected away from regulation that is likely to be effective but would affect sales. On food labelling we have listened too much to the supermarkets rather than going for traffic lights [warnings] which health experts recommend." Employers are being asked to take on more responsibility for employees in a fourth health at work deal. The fifth network is charged with changing behaviour, and is chaired by the National Heart Forum. This group is likely to be working with the new Cabinet Office behavioural insight unit, which is exploring ways of making people change their behaviour without new laws.