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Beware! 5 Depressing Stories About Food in the News This Past Week

As we continue to manipulate nature in detrimental ways to ensure our comforts, we put one of our great needs at risk.
 
 
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This article was produced in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

As we continue to manipulate nature in detrimental ways to ensure our comforts, we put one of our great needs at risk: food. From creating polluted environmental conditions that both contaminate and deplete food, to putting weird chemicals in our food that just do not belong, we continue to take everything natural out of nature; and it’s biting us in the you-know-what.

Here are five stories about food in the news this week that you should be concerned about:

1. GM Foods May Cause Tumor Growth, Premature Death

Genetically modified foods — foods developed by altering an animal or plant’s DNA via genetic engineering — most likely make their way onto your dinner plate in the form of corn, tomatoes, potatoes or soybeans. And now, a new controversial study states that these GM foods are linked to tumor growth and premature death.

In a new study led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen in France, Séralini used 200 lab rats (rude) to test the effects of GM corn as well as an herbicide called Roundup — both of which are used by industrial agriculture giant Monsanto. Séralini said that what made his study different was the amount of time he spent conducting it — two years, which is much longer than the 90-day period standard for feeding studies. In this time frame, he found that rats fed GM corn or given water containing Roundup were much more likely to develop tumors or die before they would have from normal age. 

While many scientists have called Séralini’s methods into question, supporters of a ballot measure that would require GM foods to be labeled have used the study as support for their cause. The Californian measure, called Proposition 37 (or The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act) aims to “help consumers make informed choices about the food they eat.”

Nutrition scientist Marion Nestle wrote that she had concerns about Séralini’s “weirdly complicated” study, but that the contentious science behind GM foods shouldn’t derail Proposition 37 and its labeling campaign.

She stated:

The California Prop. 37 proponents (and I’m totally with them) already have a strong “right to know” argument.  They don’t need to be distracted by the kinds of scientific arguments that are already raging about this study.

2. Arsenic in Your Rice

Consumer Reportsrecently released new research that found high levels of arsenic in rice as well as other rice products such as rice breakfast cereals, rice baby cereal and rice pasta. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, arsenic is a Group 1 carcinogen known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer. Consumer Reportstested more than 200 samples of rice products — traditional and organic, notable brands and store bands — and found significant levels of arsenic levels in all of them.

Popular brands tested in the study included Goya, Uncle Ben’s, Gerber, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Quaker. The study found that consuming a single serving of rice could contain one and a half times more arsenic than drinking a day’s worth of water containing arsenic at 5 parts per billion — the Environmental Protection Agency’s originally proposed limit for arsenic in drinking water.

So how does arsenic get in rice? While the USA Rice Foundation is claiming arsenic is a “a naturally occurring element in soil and water,” Consumer Reportsstated that humans are mainly to blame. U.S. agricultural and industrial producers have used about 1.6 million tons of arsenic since 1910, making the United States the world’s leading arsenic user. We use arsenic for a variety of purposes, such as to treat lumber and to manufacture glass.  Also, the practices we use to make more food faster and cheaper cause arsenic to contaminate rice. For example, arsenical pesticides and fertilizers linger in the soil, while animals are fed food-containing arsenic to make them plumper.

Consumer Reports has demanded that the EPA phase out pesticides and fertilizers containing arsenic and that the Food and Drug Administration ban feeding of arsenic-containing drugs to animals. In the meantime, the group stated that consumers should test their water for arsenic, lessen their rice intake and switch from brown rice to white, which contains less arsenic. Rinsing rice thoroughly until water is clear also lessens arsenic intake.

3. Popcorn Can Cause Respiratory Problems

When Wayne Watson, 59, went to the doctor after having trouble breathing, he was shocked when she asked him, “Have you been around a lot of popcorn?” Watson had. In fact, he had been eating two bags of microwave popcorn a day for the past ten years. The doctor diagnosed him with “popcorn lung,” a respiratory disease in which small airways of the lung become scarred and tighten up, making it difficult to breathe. Workers at plants who inhale diacetyl, an artificial flavoring that gives popcorn its buttery taste, are usually the victims of the disease. A recent study even linked diacetyl to Alzheimer’s.

Watson was recently awarded $7 million in damages, with the popcorn’s manufacturer, Glister-Mary Lee Corp., being 80 percent at fault. The jury stated the supermarket where he purchased the popcorn was 20 percent at fault.

Watson said he barely eats popcorn any more.

He said: “Occasionally we'll pop some on the stove the old fashioned way."

4. Mercury in School Lunches

Do you like your tuna sandwiches? Well, they may contain something not so delicious. A council of consumer groups are now urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get tuna out of school lunches after studies show tuna may contain high levels of mercury. The Vermont branch of the Mercury Policy Project, an organization that raises awareness about the health and environmental threats of mercury, tested 59 canned tuna samples sold to schools in 11 states. The Project found highly variable levels of mercury, even among tuna that came from the same can; the average methylmercury content ranged from 0.02 to 0.64 parts per million in light tuna, and between 0.19 and 1.27 parts per million in albacore tuna.

Methylmercury is a more hazardous type of mercury, formed after bacteria contacts the mercury in fish. Fish become contaminated with mercury due to industrial pollution. Because albacore live longer than other species of tuna, they accumulate more mercury in their bodies and are therefore more dangerous to consume. According to the EPA, even tiny levels of methylmercury have been linked to learning disabilities in children. They limit methylmercury intake to a tiny amount. The Project stated that a 44-pound child who eats merely two ounces of albacore tuna might already be consuming 47% of the limit.

Pregnant women should also be concerned, as studies have shown the EPA’s recommendation for pregnant women — of eating fish no more than two meals a week — may still be too high. The Project is urging schools to limit tuna servings to twice a month and then phase it out.

5. Atlantic Ocean Fish on Decline

Besides tuna, it may still be safe to eat fish — but what happens when there’s no more fish to eat? According to the environmental publication, Grist, something (not very) fishy is happening in the Atlantic Ocean this year. In their new video, reporters traveled to Gloucester, Mass. to talk to people in the fishing business about how climate change is affecting their work.

They spoke with Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, which works to protect and promote the Gloucester, New England fishing industry. Sanfilippo talked about the bizarre happenings in the Gloucester Harbor.   

“There is a strange phenomenon in the ocean this year,” she said.

Sanfilippo said that the warm water has caused lobsters in the harbor to shed earlier than usual. There was also a huge increase of lobsters along the New England coast this year, which actually drove prices down and was troublesome for fisherman.

In terms of fish, Sanfilippo said they’ve seen a 20 percent reduction in ground fish and next year they’re predicting a decrease of 70 percent.

“We see that it’s hard to find a great abundance of ground fish. In the summer there are usually herring that the ground fish feed on.” Now, she said, “There is nothing. It’s like somebody swept everything away.”

Sanfilippo also mentioned that small squid have appeared in the harbor — a species rarely seen there before. She called what is happening a “natural disaster,” and that we need to care about the environment if we want to continue to have fish to eat.

“We know that if we keep the ocean clean we will always have fish,” she said, adding that fishermen have been fighting with oil companies to keep out of waters. “We can control the damage we do to the environment … [but] there are people in the world that, for money, they’re willing to do anything — they don’t care about the environment.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.