food and health

How to Protect Yourself from 7 Food-System Threats

Are you and your family ready to handle supergerms, superweeds, and other risks created by chemical agriculture?

By Leah Zerbe


How to Protect Yourself from 7 Food-System Threats

Using toxic chemicals to grow our food has produced serious threats to our health and our environment.

RODALE NEWS, ANAHEIM, CA—The way we grow food in this country, and increasingly do around the world, is making us sick. As Rodale CEO Maria Rodale points out in her book, Organic Manifesto, that's because pesticides aren't just on the food, they're in it, too. In her book, she discusses (in an easy-to-understand way) how many scientists are linking the hormones, genetically engineered seeds, and estrogenic, synthetic pesticides that are used in the chemical farming industry to diabetes, accelerated aging, a skyrocketing rate of food allergies, the feminization of boys, and even obesity.

Analyzing some of that same peer-reviewed, scientific research, Charles Benbrook, PhD, chief researcher at The Organic Center and former agricultural policy and science researcher for congress and the National Academy on Sciences, last year released a list of his seven predictions for food.

Here are seven major health and environmental threats from chemical farming, and how to protect yourself and your family.

Threat # 1: An increase in the number of children facing developmental issues, including autism, ADHD, birth defects, and allergies.

Benbrook says just 1 percent of pesticides are responsible for virtually all pesticide-related developmental risks from exposure in the diet. If the government bans the high-exposure uses of these pesticides and increases the availability of organic fruits and vegetables, which are generally free of these residues, in schools, many pesticide-linked health problems in children could be avoided.

Protect yourself:

School yourself on the Dirty Dozen, a list compiled by Environmental Working Group of the produce items that generally harbor the most harmful pesticide residues. They are: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. Don't stop there, because it's best to buy organic whenever you can. But always try to get certified-organic versions of those 12 foods.

Threat #2: An increase in the number of Americans who are obese, diabetic, or both.

We're all responsible for choosing a healthy diet. But it's also true that we live in an "obesogenic" world that pressures us to eat more high-calorie, high-fat food than is healthy for us. "Government agencies and programs either directly control or shape one or more of the daily meals consumed by 25 percent of Americans," according to Benbrook. "More can and must be done in the marketplace to reward the food industry for offering healthier choices."

Protect yourself:

Recently, Michelle Obama urged the food industry to stop pushing unhealthy food to kids, and to get busy offering healthier choices. We can all send a similar signal to the companies that make and market the food on our supermarket shelves. "Consumers get to vote three times a day when they eat," says Benbrook. "That is the most profound statement."

To find organic-food bargains, buy some of your grains in bulk. For instance, "a 50-pound bag of organic rolled oats for just $5 more than conventional will feed a large family oatmeal once a week for a year," Benbrook explains. "It's the same thing with rice, potatoes, and apples."

Buying in-season and cooking at home more will greatly bring down the costs, and you might even save money over conventional processed foods. For more free healthy meal and snack ideas, visit the Rodale Recipe Finder.

Threat # 3: A decrease in the efficacy of lifesaving antibiotics.

This statement should give pause to everyone. Antibiotics save lives, but because we routinely use them to accelerate growth and boost animal health in filthy concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs), superbugs are emerging. "There are now several strains of bacteria that are essentially untreatable in humans, and more will follow, without major changes in how antibiotics are used on farms," says Benbrook. Even this winter's swine-flu epidemic may have been the result of CAFO practices.

Protect yourself:

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. go to the livestock industry, where farmers don't even need a prescription to administer them. Buy organic meat and dairy (antibiotics are not allowed), and tell your elected official to support Congresswoman Louise Slaughter's (D-NY) bill that would ban subtherapeutic agricultural uses of human antibiotics. Know how to protect yourself from hospital infections, how to kill household germs, and how to talk to your doctor about prescription antibiotics.

Read on to find out how organic food can reduce chronic disease.

Published on: March 17, 2010
Updated on: November 23, 2011

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