The big­gest food lies

iD magazine - - Current Events -


Hardly any­one would sus­pect that beavers serve a pur­pose be­yond gnaw­ing trees and build­ing dams; they also pro­duce a nat­u­ral fla­vor the food in­dus­try uses—ca­s­toreum. This se­cre­tion is ex­tracted from the ro­dent’s egg-size cas­tor sacs near the base of its tail. To ac­cess the se­cre­tion—which beavers use when groom­ing their coat or mark­ing their ter­ri­tory—the an­i­mal is killed and the pair of black wrin­kled glands found be­tween the pelvis and the anus are re­moved and dried. Fol­low­ing this treat­ment the ca­s­toreum con­tained in the sacs is pro­cessed into vanilla fla­vor­ing and used to re­fine dishes. Cur­rently ca­s­toreum is per­mit­ted as a food ad­di­tive in the U.S. In Europe the process is gen­er­ally pro­hib­ited be­cause beavers are pro­tected by con­ser­va­tion laws. But the planned free trade deal with the U.S. ( TTIP) may mean ca­s­toreum will end up on the Euro­pean mar­ket—as an im­port.

World Power Food Inc. largely dom­i­nates the of­fer­ings in our su­per­mar­kets. Most peo­ple aren’t both­ered by that. There’s a false sense of se­cu­rity about the abun­dance of food. But do we re­ally know what we’re eat­ing? On closer in­spec­tion, it soon be­comes clear: We are be­ing de­ceived— ev­ery day.

How do you BAKE BREAD us­ing HU­MAN HAIR?

It doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s bread rolls, loaves, or cake—in or­der to keep the dough that’s used to make in­dus­tri­ally pro­duced baked goods pli­able, smooth, and workable, the amino acid L-cys­teine is added to it. The or­ganic com­pound is ob­tained ei­ther by fer­men­ta­tion of bac­te­rial cul­tures or from hu­man hair. And in China a whole in­dus­try has emerged around the pro­cure­ment of the hair. Col­lec­tors sweep up hair from salon floors and sell it to whole­salers by the bag. The ma­te­rial is de­liv­ered to sort­ing fa­cil­i­ties where the hair is sep­a­rated from dirt and de­bris by hand—a de­sir­able and well-pay­ing job in China. Af­ter this is fin­ished, the tons of clean hair get de­liv­ered in pressed bun­dles to yet an­other pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity—and liq­ue­fied in large vats of acid. Fi­nally dried and pro­cessed into pow­der, th­ese hair rem­nants are sup­plied to in­dus­trial bak­eries. Though in Europe the use of hu­man hair in baked goods has been banned since 2013 on eth­i­cal grounds, the food in­dus­try found a sub­sti­tute in the form of pig bris­tles, horse hooves, and chicken feath­ers.

Why are PEOP PEO­PLE chew­ing A AN­TIFREEZE?

Propy­lenePropy­len gly­col is a liq­uid or­ganic com­pound­compo made of car­bon, oxy­gen, and hy­dro­gen. This mem­ber of the al­co­hol fam­ily is typ­i­cally used as an an­tifreeze agent—in so­lar col­lec­tors, for ex­am­ple. But an­tifreeze is not the only way propy­lene gly­col is uti­lized. The sub­stance is per­mit­ted for use as an ad­di­tive in a range of prod­ucts, from chew­ing gum and baked goods to per­sonal care items and cos­met­ics.

How do you F FAKE a FISH?

If you think y you’re eat­ing wild salmon, think again.aga A re­port re­cently is­sued by Oceana,Oc an in­ter­na­tional non­profit ad­vo­ca­cyadv group that fo­cuses on the pro­tec­tion and restora­tion of marine habi­tats, in­di­cates that 20% of wild salmon sam­ples in stores had been mis­la­beled, as was nearly 70% of the fish served in res­tau­rants. This ini­tial re­search re­veals con­sumers may be pur­chas­ing farm-raised salmon when they are shelling out more for what they think is re­spon­si­bly caught wild fish—and this is es­pe­cially ap­pli­ca­ble to fish caught dur­ing win­ter months.

In some cases, the stuff you find at the su­per­mar­ket is re­ally a beast of an­other na­ture: Par­tic­u­larly in Europe, the “salmon” may ac­tu­ally be Alaska pol­lock or even trout. “So what?” you might think­ing. As long as there’s some fish in there, it does not mat­ter where it comes from. But that’s where things start to get a bit fi shy—be­cause, strictly speak­ing, Alaska pol­lock does not ex­ist. It is an in­ven­tion from the 1980s. Pol­lock is ac­tu­ally cod. But it was re­named be­cause it could sell bet­ter un­der the new name. No de­cep­tion, then— only a bril­liant mar­ket­ing gim­mick dreamed up by the food in­dus­try. If it weren’t for just one prob­lem: the color! Cod does has a cru­cial flaw; it doesn’t feed on any crus­taceans, which means its flesh has a white hue—not the rosy pink of a salmon! That’s what led the food com­pa­nies to come up with a sec­ond trick—in or­der to con­ceal the first one: Dye the white cod­fish ( aka pol­lock) red. The main dye used for this pur­pose is cochineal red A, which is de­rived from crushed in­sects and has been as­so­ci­ated with al­ler­gic re­ac­tions as well as eczema and asthma.

How many FLYFL EGGS are there in MY SOUP?

In the Unit­edUn States 100 grams of peanut­peanu but­ter con­tains an av­er­age of 30 in­sect frag­ments and one or more ro­dent hairs, while 100 grams of tomato juice can legally con­tain up to 10 fly eggs or two mag­gots. The fe­cal con­tent is also reg­u­lated: Per 50 grams of flour one in­stance of ro­dent drop­pings is per­mit­ted. The FDA con­sid­ers a cer­tain amount of con­tam­i­na­tion by for­eign mat­ter (“de­fect lev­els”) ac­cept­able. In fact Ohio Univer­sity re­search re­veals the av­er­age Amer­i­can un­wit­tingly eats up to 2 pounds of in­sect parts a year.

What does M MOLD TASTE like?like

The answ an­swer: what­ever you want it to taste like. It is ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble to use bac­te­ria or en­zymes to mod­ify many or­ganic source ma­te­ri­als to sim­u­late the taste of straw­ber­ries, peanuts, or beef. A range of var­i­ous sub­stances can serve as an or­ganic ba­sis—such as saw­dust, or or­ganic re­mains from slaugh­ter­houses, or even mold. The trick: As long as the start­ing ma­te­rial has been formed in a nat­u­ral way, the fla­vor­ing agent that is pro­duced from it for use in foods can be called “nat­u­ral fla­vor.”

Can CAKES c cause CAN­CER?

The term bu buty­lated hy­drox­yanisole ( BHA) re refers to a mix­ture that the food in in­dus­try uses as an antioxidant. For ex­am­ple, it can be used to keep the fat in a cake mix from re­act­ing with oxy­gen and be­com­ing ran­cid. The prob­lem: Stud­ies with mice have shown that in­ges­tion of more than a cer­tain dose can lead to liver can­cer. Although BHA has been banned in Ja­pan and many Euro­pean coun­tries such as the UK, the sub­stance is still per­mit­ted for use as a food ad­di­tive in the U.S., although Cal­i­for­nia has rec­og­nized it as a car­cino­gen.

Why is GM CORN so TOXIC?

Why would any­one want to mod­ify crops—such as corn and soy—at the ge­netic level? What’s wrong with those orig­i­nal, al­ready highly cul­ti­vated, plants? The fact is: Above all, it is in­dus­try that ben­e­fits from fab­ri­cat­ing th­ese ge­netic mu­tants. By in­flu­enc­ing the ge­netic makeup of a plant it’s pos­si­ble to make soy, for ex­am­ple, re­sis­tant to the broad­spec­trum her­bi­cide glyphosate— so the poi­son can be de­ployed en masse across the soy­bean fields. And glyphosate has only one goal: to kill plants. Since GM plants are able to grow and thrive de­spite a con­tin­ual rain of her­bi­cide, ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion can lead to un­in­hib­ited use of sub­stances like glyphosate. The prob­lem: The toxin is grad­u­ally de­posited in th­ese re­sis­tant plants and makes its way into the feed of cat­tle and pigs bound for slaugh­ter and thereby ends up on our plates. And this might be dan­ger­ous—even for hu­mans. Glyphosate is strongly sus­pected of dam­ag­ing in­testi­nal flora so harm­ful pathogens can no longer be held at bay: Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern is the bac­te­ria Clostrid­ium bo­tulinum— which causes botulism. Bo­tulinum neu­ro­toxin is one of the most lethal sub­stances on Earth— so much so that 50 grams would be enough to wipe out all hu­mankind.


Sheep have an in­te­grated func­tion for the main­te­nance of their wool. A waxy sub­stance called lano­lin is se­creted from se­ba­ceous glands in the skin. The sub­stance is ob­tained by wash­ing out sheep’s wool with chem­i­cals af­ter it has been sheared. The food in­dus­try is in­ter­ested in it for an­other rea­son: The com­pound can bind many times its own weight in wa­ter (wa­ter-in-oil emulsion). But how does this se­cre­tion from sheep skin end up in our mouths? Sim­ple: Lano­lin—which is pri­mar­ily used in cos­met­ics—may be used as a food ad­di­tive in chew­ing gum. That’s not only un­sa­vory, it can be dan­ger­ous: When the sheep’s wool is washed out the sur­fac­tants can re­main and cause al­ler­gic re­ac­tions.


In the U.S.U.S the use of hor­mones in live­stock­livesto farm­ing is per­mit­ted. Sex hor­mones,hor for in­stance, are given to syn­chro­nize or halt es­trous cy­cles. Growth en­hancers like rac­topamine present still more threats to health. Use of th­ese has been per­mit­ted by the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( WTO) since 2012, but they are banned in Europe. For good rea­son: No­body knows ex­actly how dan­ger­ous the sys­tem­atic use of growth hor­mones is. Re­li­able stud­ies on the sub­ject are still in short sup­ply. But in China cases have been recorded of in­fant fe­males grow­ing breasts af­ter be­ing fed with milk pow­der de­rived from hor­mone-treated cows. And an­i­mal stud­ies have in­di­cated that growth hor­mones can cause mal­for­ma­tion of sex­ual or­gans. As con­tro­versy con­tin­ues to swirl in the U.S. about hor­mones in meat, the is­sue may also crop up on Europe’s hori­zon: While the use of growth hor­mones in feed is for­bid­den in Europe as is im­port of hor­mone-treated meat, the pro­posed free trade agree­ment ( TTIP) be­tween the U.S. and Europe could re­sult in the rene­go­ti­a­tion of such im­port re­stric­tions.


If you’ve drunk cit­rus-fla­vored soft drinks in the U.S. in re­cent years, you prob­a­bly al­ready know. That’s be­cause bromi­nated veg­etable oil isn’t just a sub­stance that bev­er­age man­u­fac­tur­ers in­clude in drinks so the fla­vor gets evenly dis­trib­uted— it’s also used as a flame re­tar­dant in up­hol­stered fur­ni­ture and gar­ments that pro­tect against fire. The oil is banned through­out the Euro­pean Union be­cause it is as­so­ci­ated with de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues, neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age, and in­fer­til­ity. But in the U.S. that is not the case; BVO has been used in the soft drink in­dus­try since 1931 and the FDA con­sid­ers

the sub­stance to be safe for use as a food ad­di­tive, though re­stric­tions ex­ist re­gard­ing the con­cen­tra­tion. But if the TTIP free trade agree­ment is ap­proved, Euro­peans might also be im­bib­ing BVO in their fizzy drinks.

How does the PES­TI­CIDE TRICK wor work?

In the U.S U.S. we’ve long been used to all the fruit and veg­eta­bles on store shelvesshe look­ing to­tally im­mac­u­late. We have the widespread us­age of pes­ti­cides to thank above all else for those gi­ant bright red pep­pers. But pes­ti­cides have a draw­back: They can make us ill—even very ill. Stud­ies have pointed out pos­si­ble con­se­quences: can­cer, in­fer­til­ity, autism, asthma, and Alzheimer’s. The good news: The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency eval­u­ates all the pes­ti­cides in use and es­tab­lishes a thresh­old for the residue of each one. The bad news: Pes­ti­cide rules are sub­ject to a loop­hole, re­gard­ing the so- called “pes­ti­cide cock­tails.” The trick: While the EPA sets a limit for how much of each pes­ti­cide can be present in a food item, there is no limit to how many pes­ti­cides can be used. Thus lim­its can be by­passed by com­bin­ing var­i­ous pes­ti­cides into a “cocktail”—each pes­ti­cide comes in un­der the limit, but al­to­gether they yield a high con­cen­tra­tion of tox­ins. Around 25% of food prod­ucts that do not ex­hibit high sin­gle-pes­ti­cide val­ues are treated with con­coc­tions. Food chemists warn of dan­ger­ous in­ter­ac­tions, but the use is le­gal and in­ten­si­fies long-term ac­cu­mu­la­tion.


Have you ever won­dered how most of the toma­toes, pep­pers, or grapes in t the su­per­mar­kets can be about the same size? The fact is, in na­ture al­most noth­ing grows so uni­formly. How does the food in­dus­try do it? The an­swer is sober­ing: by us­ing chem­i­cal growth reg­u­la­tors. One of th­ese is ethep­hon, and it is used to max­i­mize rev­enue po­ten­tial. In the U.S. the sub­stance is per­mit­ted for use on a range of pro­duce, from ap­ples and grapes to wal­nuts and wheat. The prob­lem: Ethep­hon acts like a neu­ro­toxin that can lead to acute health prob­lems even in small doses (1.65 mg per kg). Symp­toms in­clude di­ar­rhea, ir­ri­ta­tion of the skin and mu­cous mem­branes, as well as neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age ( man­i­fest­ing as de­pres­sion or mo­tor im­pair­ment).


In 1999 a very in­ter­est­ing—but quite unint un­in­ten­tional—ex­per­i­ment be­gan. AmA man from Utah buys two burg­ers. He eats one and puts the other in his jacket pocket for later—and for­gets about it for a year or so. But against all ex­pec­ta­tions the burger is not spoiled—it looks ex­actly the same as it did on the day he pur­chased it. How can that be? The an­swer: No one knows. The rea­son likely lies in the burger it­self. It doesn’t per­tain to the traces of 38 pes­ti­cides that ac­cord­ing to the FDA are found in ev­ery burger patty. The key is salt! The burger meat is so heav­ily salted that it does not spoil. That’s why a cheese­burger can still be sold as fresh even af­ter it’s been sit­ting on the counter of a fast-food restau­rant un­re­frig­er­ated for sev­eral hours. i

i CAKE Fatty foods of­ten con­tain buty­lated hy­drox­yanisole. In large quan­ti­ties it can trig­ger an ex­treme de­gree of cyanosis.

GE­NET­I­CALLY MOD­I­FIED CORN Since GM plants first hit U.S. soil in 1996, 90% of corn and soy acreage has come to be used for grow­ing ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crops for food and feed. Cur­rently the pres­ence of GM in­gre­di­ents is not re­quired to be dis­closed on th

PES­TI­CIDES Re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Bern found that pes­ti­cides, es­pe­cially those of the neon­i­coti­noid class, have se­ri­ous ef­fects on the fer­til­ity of queen bees.

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