We Have a Right to Know Where Our Food Comes From

During my last trip down the grocery freezer aisle, I chose the Breyers Low Fat Double-Churned, Extra Creamy Chocolate ice cream. I avoided the calorie count, but checked the ingredients, which included “genetically modified fish ‘antifreeze’ proteins from the blood of ocean pout.”

Suddenly, I wasn't so hungry.

In truth, food labels in the United States are not this transparent -- these details were not provided on the Breyers’ label. But you will see “ice structuring protein” (ISP). Produced with genetically modified yeast, ISP creates the desired creamy effect without the extra calories. While this ingredient is found in some Breyers ice cream, and albeit at less than 1 percent of the final product, the devil is in the details. In this case and many others, the details aren’t even on the label.

It can be an exhaustive marathon to read every label to ensure we are feeding our families healthful, edible substances that won’t cause us future harm. To be sure, the path from farm to fork guarantees food safety and quality we need effective legislation as well as transparency and honesty from food companies.

It’s a given that every family wants to eat the most nutritious and tasty meals for the least cost to achieve that quality. How do we get there?

As victims of uninformed consent, we have much to decipher in how our food is produced through various means: genetically modified organisms, preservatives, pesticides, cloned animals, rBGH or bovine growth hormone, etc. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering changing "irradiated" on food labels to simply “pasteurized.”

If my leg of lamb is given shock waves of gamma rays, x-rays or electron beams to kill bacteria, I consider that a long way from pasteurization. Recent studies have shown that irradiating food may promote cancer development, cause genetic damage and deplete vitamins. Irradiating food masks the core problem of poor sanitation in slaughterhouses and processing plants, which causes food-borne illness.

Even simple, common-sense solutions, like knowing where my food came from -- China, California, Cuyahoga County or Calico Cow Farm just down the road -- have been hijacked by agribusiness. The origin of one’s food should not be considered a complex question. Yet Congress had to pass a law just to protect the consumer’s right to know what country our food originated from -- and it hasn’t been implemented.

Federal farm policy theoretically requires labeling the origin of meat, peanuts, seafood, and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables sold in retail stores. Called Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), it was written in the 2002 Farm Bill and was to go into effect in September of 2004.

Deep pockets influenced Washington as industry lobbyists blocked COOL with the exception of seafood. Lobbying expenditures by groups that opposed COOL between 2000 and 2004 include American Farm Bureau Federation spending $11,840,000 and Wal-Mart doling out $2,760,000. The Goliaths of Agribusiness undercut our right to know where our food comes from despite 82 percent consumer support for mandatory COOL.

Along with over 200 organizations, the National Family Farm Coalition sent a letter to Congress urging our elected officials to finally implement COOL as of September 2007 and end the backdoor delays. So while my T-shirt tag informs me it was made in Bangladesh, darn if I can place where the hamburger meat came from that is sizzling on my grill.

Of course, the best way to avoid the entire labeling dilemma is by eating all whole foods straight from a local family farm source. No labeling need be required when you pick up your vegetables from a farmers' market or your pork from Curly Tail Farm the next county over.

But for many busy families, reality sets in. Between two working parents and kids with more activities than they have years, schedules demand convenience. And this convenience plays out in the form of trips to the grocery store, where we should have all the information to make an informed choice.

To keep us sanely and safely fueled in our hectic lives, the very least that we deserve is to know what is in our food and what country the food came from … is that really too much to ask?

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