Label scrutiny worthwhile when it comes to food

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I wonder how many people are aware of the number of contaminants and hormones that are found in our foods?

Let me give you just a bit of information about this.

For example did you know that some farmers use an agent on their potatoes to keep them from sprouting before you buy them? This chemical is sprayed on the foliage before the potatoes are harvested.

This agent goes from the leaves into the stalk and then into the potato. It literally stops the potato’s eyes from sprouting. And, yes, it is still in the potato when you eat it!

One such agent is called “Sprout-Nip”.

We know that this agent doesn’t outright kill us or make us sick, but we really don’t know its long-term effects. What might the subtle and long-term effects be? To my understanding, no long-term studies have been done to answer these questions.

Some farmers, especially “hot-house” farmers keep insects off their crops by using something called “systemic insecticide.”

This is sprayed onto the foliage. It is absorbed into the plant, and as one-manufacturer states on the label “One bite and the insect dies!”

Do you want to eat food thus produced? I don’t.

Did you know that some milk is produced from cows treated with bovine growth hormone or bovine somatropin? These hormones are may be abbreviated as BGH, rBGH, BST and rBST.

All are intended to cause the cow to produce more milk. All are female hormones. Regardless of what claims are made, some of this is residual in the milk.

Have you noticed at the beach or at pools that some early teenage boys are developing breasts? It is getting so common that there is even a word to describe this, it is called “gynicomastia.” This is caused by the consumption of female hormones in the diet.

There are so many other examples that I simply can’t mention them all here.

Because of these facts, many people buy “organic food.”

But do we really understand what that means?

Organic is not really a good word because it says the wrong thing.

The word “organic” means that the chemical structure of a compound is built around carbon rings and carbon chains. The study of those compounds is organic chemistry.

When you come right down to it, gasoline and motor oil are also “organic” as far as chemistry is concerned.

So literally, if everything manufactured from petroleum is “organic” in the true sense of the word then plastics and most vitamins sold in stores, fall into that category.

It’s not a good word for us to use.

I’ll never forget a particular professor making fun of the “organic cultists” he called them. “they don’t have any idea what they are talking about”.

In a sense, he was right.

So what do we really mean when we say that something is “organic” or “organically grown”?

We really mean:

Grown or raised on soils without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Grown without hormones — organic eggs, organic chicken, organic meat, etc.

Using only an organic fertilizer derived from animal or vegetable matter such as manure or compost.

The problem that we have run into is that the word means different things to different people.

Consequentially, unscrupulous individuals have used this confusion to mislead the public.

Besides, all organic food is not created equal, an important fact to keep in mind when shopping for healthy food.

In an effort to prevent food growers and manufacturers from fraudulently marketing food, the U.S. Department of Agriclture as well as specific states have implemented sets of guidelines.

They are still somewhat confusing if the consumer is not completely familiar with the guidelines. Here are some of the rules to be followed in order to display the “USDA ORGANIC” label and for foods containing more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal:

100 percent Organic — Every ingredient in the product was raised and harvested in an organic environment as approved and certified by the USDA.

Organic — Seventy to 95 percent of all the ingredients have been raised in a USDA approved manner.

Any product containing ingredients with less than a 70 percent organic content can separately list each ingredient that falls into the USDA organic category, but the product may not display a label claiming the product as organic.

For qualifying foods consisting of one ingredient, such as milk, eggs or meat, an official USDA Organic label can be displayed on the package.

In order to qualify as USDA organic the producer must use renewable resources and endeavor to conserve soil and water to enhance the environmental quality for future generations.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products must come from animals that are fed only organically grown grains and were given no antibiotics or growth hormones during their entire lives.

Organic food must be produced without using harmful, conventional pesticides; or with fertilizers containing sewage products, bioengineered products or ionizing radiation.

Before a product can be labeled USDA organic, a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to ensure that the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

In order for a farmer to be able to raise “organic” food his fields must have been free from commercial fertilizers and sprays for at least five years.

So, if we don’t use the word “organic”, what then shall we use?

How about using the simple words “grown naturally”. Or simply “natural.” Of course, those words are used now for products that are far from organic, but if you have a better name, let me know.

My advice to you would be to honor the USDA guidelines and their symbol until someone comes up with something better.

In future columns I will go into greater details about the things mentioned herein.

Suggestions or comments? Write to me in care of U-B or at ftrapani@charter.net.

Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes a bachelor of science in agronomy from Penn State University; active practice for 41 years; investigative reporting for many years on stations KTRG and KPOI on Hawaii radio and exercise/fitness yoga TV broadcasts on channel KHVH, also in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a fourth; a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to drftrapani.com.

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