Bad News About Food

Well, all in the world of food is not sweetness and light.

In the past few days and weeks, some really ugly news has surfaced in the realm of food and health that I thought I would share with my readers. I do try to be positive here, but sometimes, I feel that we, as members of the reality-based community, need to look into the shadows and see what lurks there.

So, first up, we have this snippet of dread from The New Scientist: “Billions at Risk from Wheat Superblight.”

Basically, we are warned that there is a form of black stem rust fungus that threatens the wheat crop of the entire world. Originating in Uganda in 1999, it has already spread across Africa and has shown up in Yemen. It has the potential to spread to southern Europe, and father, wiping out the staple food of billions of people on our planet, ushering in the return of famines the likes of which we have not seen since the “Green Revolution” of the 1960’s. It was during that time that rust-resistant varieties were planted, thus avoiding widespread famine and death.

Who says we may see a return to the pre-Green days?

None other than Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate, whose work in developing those rust-resistant wheat varieties led to him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

I don’t know about y’all, but when someone like Norman talks about agricultural disaster on a global scale–I listen.

What is most unfortunate in this entire matter is that worldwide agricultural research budgets have apparently been slashed in the past few decades, leaving humanity unprepared to fight this dire threat to our food supply.

I have to tell you: I am more afraid of black stem rust fungus than I am of terrorists. All I can think of is the untold billions of tax dollars being pumped into funding a very dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security, while research in making our food supply safe and stable goes unfunded or under-funded.

That is just a shame.

Okay, if you are not sufficiently depressed by that news, how about this one from Reuters? “Eat a lot of beef? It may affect your son’s sperm.”

What? How could that be? I mean, people have been eating beef for thousands of years, and have been reproducing just fine all this time, right?

Well, yeah, but read on.

Researchers at the University of Rochester, have a theory that the reason that sons of mothers who remembered eating more than seven meals worth of beef per week while they were pregnant have sub-fertile sperm counts has something to do with pesticides, hormones or some other contaminants in the meat. These sorts of chemicals build up in the fat cells of animals (and of people, too, btw) and are then consumed by the mothers.

Some pesticides can either act in our bodies in a way that mimics hormones, while others can interfere with our own natural hormone production and secretion. And growth hormones and other hormones given to beef and dairy cattle have been theorized to affect humans who eat the meat of these animals as well.

What does line of research say to me?

That I have yet another reason to avoid factory farmed feedlot beef. As if I needed yet another one.

Finally, there is a small glimmer of hope on the horizon, in the form of three lawsuits aimed at ConAgra, the makers of the salmonella-tainted peanut butter that was in the news back in February.

It turns out that the cause of the contamination was a combination of dormant salmonella spores lingering in the manufacturing facility and a series of floods and water leaks in August 2006.

As a result of the recall, the FDA has announced that it is adding peanut butter to its list of high-risk foods and will institute more inspections of facilities that make it.

Meanwhile, there is a class action lawsuit that is being filed in Tennessee, and two separate suits are being filed in Palm Beach, Florida by women who became ill after eating the tainted peanut butter. Apparently, many other individuals across the country are filing suit against the food industry giant, in an attempt to force the corporation to have some accountability for the health and safety of those who buy and consume their products.

So, as I said, there is a little bit of silver lining to this dark cloud of food fears. It is possible that through legal action, food producers in the US might have to take a little more care in the making of their products.

Though, the way I see it, the peanut butter and salmonella sandwich scandal is just another reason to try and eat as few processed foods as possible.

Okay, that is all for now. Next time I write about food in the news, I promise to highlight more cheerful stories.


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  1. These are things that we need to know about – however scary. Food shortages, global warming and overpopulation are far greater threats than terrorism; in fact, they will lead to more terrorism because desperate people will lash out — regardless of who is innocent and who is not. We should all be mindful consumers and active, concerned citizens. This type of information helps us to do both.

    Comment by Nancy — April 12, 2007 #

  2. It’s indeed scary. It’s good that those peanut butter victims sued the company. It’s about time that they should be aware of their incompetence in terms of their product’s safety.

    Comment by Rhonda — April 12, 2007 #

  3. although its a scary bit of info its good to have some knowledge.

    Comment by sia — April 12, 2007 #

  4. I think this is the first time that I’ve really thought about peanut butter as a “processed food”. But I guess it is.

    Not that I buy it from ConAgra. Ugh.

    Comment by Alexis — April 12, 2007 #

  5. […] Famine in our future?: The New Scientist reports that a plague is coming, and almost no one has heard about it, let alone prepared for it. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green revolution, is sounding the alarm over Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus discovered in Uganda in 1999. Since the Green Revolution, farmers everywhere have grown wheat varieties that resist stem rust, but Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and almost no wheat crops anywhere are resistant to it. New Scientist (Via Tigers and Strawberries — thanks Jack) […]

    Pingback by The Ethicurean: Chew the right thing. » Blog Archive » Digest: Tomato pickers get raise, Norman Borlaug to the rescue, Wal-Mart retreats — April 12, 2007 #

  6. Why is it that when something very important going on which needs careful research, we are not prepared for it? This kind of attitude will certainly be our downfall in the future if we keep on neglecting the basic things like the world wide research budget.

    Comment by Oscar — April 12, 2007 #

  7. So… only us coeliacs left, then?

    Comment by Mike — April 14, 2007 #

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