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Feuds with Disease-Fueling Food - The YEARS Project

Feuds with Disease-Fueling Food

There's a reason life expectancy in European countries is longer than in the United States. And it’s clear that the general population in America is not healthy, but why’s that? Our food is essentially poisoning us, and our government regulations are allowing it.

There are many ingredients that are banned in the European Union (EU) due to reported health effects but are approved and commonly used in traditional U.S. agricultural practices. As a frequent milk drinker, It was shocking to hear Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is commonly injected into cows to boost milk production, is dangerous for humans. Studies show milk from cows treated with rBGH contain elevated levels of a growth factor which can increase the risk of breast cancer and other types of cancer. This is just one of the many ccarcinogenic chemicals which we may ingest daily, like Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) which are used to make food last longer. It’s not just cancer we have to worry about either. Ractopamine, which is an animal feed additive used to lean animal meat, is another commonly used drug associated with major health problems like heart disease in humans. Potassium Bromate is an irritant in packaged baked goods that may cause bronchitis. Repeated exposure to this chemical may affect the nervous system causing headache, irritability, impaired thinking and even personality changes.

Some more alarming ingredients to watch out for include seed oils (like vegetable oil, palm oil, and canola oil) which are commonly used for cooking and frying food. Inflammation, toxin buildup in body fat, and other chronic health issues are all made worse by the high quantities of polyunsaturated fatty acids in seed oils. Processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hotdogs are a class 1 carcinogen meaning it is proven that they cause cancer. Eating these meats is in the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos.. but they are sold for all ages to consume! That should be the biggest red flag yet. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFC) is a common sweetener that is used in sodas, candies, sauces like ketchup and mustard, and many other foods and drinks. Studies show that HFC and other ‘fake sweeteners’ increase your appetite and promote obesity more than cane sugar. Food manufacturers use it because it makes food sweet like sugar, but less expensive. All of these things could potentially be avoided with a switch to regenerative farming, but I’ll get to that later. 

The ingredients above are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which informs the U.S. population that based on research they believe they are safe for humans to consume. It was unsettling to learn that about 40% of items approved by the FDA are later rescinded. 12,787 drugs have been recalled since 2012 which means after further research the FDA decided they made a mistake by allowing the American people to ingest those products or take those medicines. And the most damning of all, 75% of the FDA’s funding comes from pharmaceutical companies… the same companies that profit off giving us drugs when we are sick. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

Based on this research, it seems like the FDA just isn't prioritizing food regulation. Especially since resources are prioritized and allocated to pharmaceuticals and other medical products rather than food. People involved with the FDA, including past employees, have described the agency's regulation of the food supply invariably as "ridiculous," "impossible," "broken," "byzantine" and "a joke." The neglect of the food system affects people in staggering ways. A staggering two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are now considered overweight or obese, more than doubling the prevalence of obesity since the 1980s. Obesity has a direct link to our food system and is primarily caused by poor nutrition quality influenced by the many systems, laws, and surroundings in which food is produced, obtained, and consumed.

Our food system is not only hurting people but also has a negative effect on our planet. Producing food, transporting it, and storing wasted food in landfills, create greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change. Unhealthy artificial fertilizers and insecticides require a lot of energy to create, making their use unsustainable as they rely so largely on low-cost fossil fuels. Tractors, graders, and combines are all examples of agricultural machinery used in traditional agriculture that are powered by fossil fuels. After it has been grown, transported, and prepared for consumption, the food system damages the ecosystem one last time through food waste. Food waste produces 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Our food system comes full circle to then harm human health in even more ways. Some examples of climate change induced health problems include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health. 

 An answer to this complicated issue can involve a kinder and gentler way to produce food. 

Will Harris, a farmer in Georgia who owns and operates White Oak Pastures, describes regenerative farming as a farming method where everything works as an emulation of nature. This biomimicry incorporates the cycles of nature, rather than destroying them like the industrial commodity centralized farming model. 

With industrial farming, animal welfare is almost nonexistent. Although the animals are not intentionally harmed, they are confined in expensive facilities and given therapeutic antibiotics, ionophores, and hormone implants/injections to produce more meat in less time. Land management is also negatively affected through cultivation, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides which disrupt soil biology and are bad for the microbes that break down organic matter. With regenerative farming, animal welfare is key. The feed is all natural and drugs and hormones are not used on the animals, so they are naturally smaller and leaner, but much healthier and happier.  Land is also managed without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The cycles of nature, like water, carbon, mineral, microbial, energy, etc. are allowed to work together and with necessary animal impact. This generates more organic material (topsoil) that retains more water from rainfall and provides a clean runoff. Also, the plant serves as a carbon pump and the ruminant livestock is not destroying the earth but rather an excellent mitigator of climate change.

Regenerative farming is not widely used even though it is better for the land, water, air, animals, environment, and local economy. The problem is that the direct cost is expensive, it takes time and effort, and it is not readily scalable to feed large US city populations. However, in the long term, regenerative farming is more economical because you don’t have the negative effects on health or the climate… both of these paid for by the individual. Ultimately it will be the consumer (us!) that has to force the transition to regenerative farming because we have the power to change the demand cycle. 

The U.S. government and FDA are allowing toxins to flood our ecosystems and in turn harm our bodies. We have to stay away from industrial farming and the current regulatory processes of our food to prevent illness and protect ourselves and our families. Regenerative farming is a clear and obvious winner to detoxifying our environments and our bodies. We will never be able to eliminate every harmful thing we ingest, but it is so important to look after our health and that of our families. Learning to read food and beverage labels is extremely important to know exactly what to look out for and what to avoid. There is an app called Yuka that you can use to scan the ingredient list of food and cosmetic products and it will give the item a health rating out of 100. Sustainable farms, like White Oak Pastures, sell their products to grocery stores around the country, or you can connect with trusted farmers near you by using FarmMatch.com. I have listed some of my favorite healthy food alternatives below. Food is not the enemy, our food system is.  


Harmful ingredients to look out for:

  • rBGH (rBST) 
  • Ractopamine
  • Potassium bromate (bromated flour) 
  • Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) 
  • Olestra 
  • Azodicarbonamide
  • Coloring agents (Red #40, Yellow #6, Yellow #5, and Blue #1)
  • BHA and BHT
  • Seed oils (vegetable oil, palm oil, canola oil, etc.)
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFC)

Food brands to look for with little to no harmful ingredients:

  • Dave's Killer Bread - baked goods
  • Banza - pasta
  • Applegate - meats 
  • Red mill - baking
  • Hippeas - snacks
  • Horizon organic - milk 
  • Vital farms pasture raised - eggs