Food born illnesses can result from a number of things, such as microbes, the environment, natural toxicants, food additives, pesticides, as well as contamination. There could be acute food hazards, which are straightforward bad for you, and chronically deleterious, which over time may harm one’s health. Some acute food hazards are endogenous toxins and allergens, as well as exogenous toxins and pathogens, and the fact that some food products may be severely lacking essential nutrients. An example of an endogenous plant toxin is ricin, which is a poison derived from the Broad Bean. Another example of an endogenous plant toxin is saponins, which can cause neurological diseases since it is a membrane perturbant. An example of endogenous allergens is peanuts, which some people are highly allergic to, and is added to numerous food products. Allergens result from a failure of tolerance to certain food products or other pollens or molds, etc. The things that children are exposed to early in life are usually what they will be allergic to later in their lives. An example of an exogenous toxin would be the mycotoxin, which is an aflatoxin, which is a type of mold that grows on corn crops during the storage phase of processing the food product.
Nutrient deficiencies are common in other countries, although it is not common in the United States at all because we developed a method of fortifying our food products that are lacking in essential nutrients. There was a nutrient deficiency that developed in one population over time, due to the fact that corn was their main food source.
Corn had become their staple food over time, which caused that population to obtain a niacin deficiency due to corn not having niacin bioavailable in it. Therefore, that population learned that if they were to treat the corn with lye, which comes from fire, they could increase the bioavailability of the niacin in the corn. Also, when they treat the corn with lye they also destroy the majority of the mycotoxins that grew on the corn during storage. An example of an exogenous pathogen is salmonella on chicken. This is simply originally on the food product, and does not result from bad handling practices, etc. In addition there are chronic food hazards, which are hazards that come about eventually and harm one’s health and they are more dangerous than acute food hazards. An example of a chronic food hazard would be having bad components in the food product, such as having trans fats that result from the process of hydrogenation. Over time consuming trans fats are deleterious to one’s health considering they increase one’s risk of developing heart disease, and coronary artery disease. Trans fats have this effect on one’s body because they raise the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and lower the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body, causing arteries to clog due to the lack of clean up by the HDLs (“Trans Fats”). Also, a chronic food hazard would be having an unbalanced nutritional composition. An example of this would be only eating rice, which has a limiting amino acid of lysine in it. Therefore, over time one’s body would develop a lysine deficiency and suffer the consequences. The consequences of developing a lysine deficiency include appetite loss, poor growth, fatigue, mood changes, anemia, hair loss, etc (“Signs and Symptoms”).
The public overall is misinformed about many food products, such as the Nature Valley granola bar. The Nature Valley granola bar company’s slogan is “The Energy bar Nature Intended.”
It’s crazy to think evolution made certain cereal grains help you bike better on cliffs. This is viewed as a successful advertisement, but they are lying because nature is not trying to make our lives better. If anything nature is working against us considering many of the food hazards are put in place by nature. For example, there are environmental toxins, microbes, insects, pathogens, etc. This proves that the public does not understand much about food safety and the origins of the hazards that come about in food products. Another aspect of food safety the public is not knowledgeable about would be the fact that food additive are so highly regulated by the FDA that they are part of the solution to make foods not spoil, and therefore they are not a food hazard. Although, when the public is asked to rank the food hazards with increased concern they rank the food additive as the highest concerning food hazard. This is completely wrong, and shows that the public does not even know which hazards they should be more worried about. This is why the public needs to get educated on food hazards, so perhaps less people can get sick due to food hazards because they know which ones to look out for the most. The media is the one to blame for confusing the consumers on the topic of food safety and food hazards, because most of what the public hears about these topics is through some sort of media; hence the media is influencing the public’s knowledge about these topics.
As our country became more urbanized, food transactions became anonymous due to the majority of foods being shipped and stored across the country. The processing and handling of the food products remained a mystery to the consumers; therefore the need for regulation of the food supply came about. In the 19th century there came about regulation laws, such as the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which was set in place to regulate food toxicants and adulterants. This law was rewritten in 1938 and now serves as the main law for making sure our food supply is safe and processed properly. This law ensures that there is no adulterated food, which includes foods that contain poisons, deceased material, carcinogenic substances, filth, and anything that decreases the value of the food product. The only flaw in the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the rewritten bill in 1938 was the fact that they did not set aside any money for implementing the policy throughout the nation. There was another law, the Food Additives Amendment of 1958, that stated all food additives must be GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). The FDA determines which food additives are GRAS. There are direct additives, which are substances added because they serve a purpose in the food product. There are indirect additives, which are ingredients that are unintentially added. For example, some of the packaging may break apart and become incorporated into the food product. In addition, there was the Pesticide Chemicals Amendment of 1954, which prevented people from using a harmful amount of pesticides on our food, considering there are certain limits where pesticides may harm our health. There are many agencies that play a large role in the regulation of food safety, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food and drugs, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which regulates food borne illnesses. In addition, there is the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), which ensure that the country’s meat and eggs are safe for consumption. Although there are many other organizations involved with food safety, these are the main organizations involved in food safety. Farmers were trying to find an herbicide that worked well and that was inexpensive, and they found a glyphosate more commonly known as Roundup that was exactly what they were looking for. Roundup is very effective at killing the weeds, is also notorious for killing everything that is growing in the general vicinity in which it is sprayed. Since the glyphosate also killed the crop that the farmers were growing, Roundup was not considered an effective herbicide. A UC Davis Microbiologist had a remarkable idea, and developed a genetically modified organism that would be resistant to Roundup. This organism allowed the farmers to still be able to use Roundup on their crops, because this Microbiologist’s idea involved having a glyphosate gene spliced into the DNA of the crop they were trying to grow. The addition of the glyphosate gene allowed for the plant in the crop to be able to produce it’s own glyphosate that it was resistant to. This new idea of genetically modifying organisms allowed farmer’s yields to increase, and be able to produce the crop less expensively and with less mold growth and less fungal growth. Although many people in the United States have a multitude of concerns about consuming the food that was made with the somewhat newly invented genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Since the US does not require labeling of these GMOs, therefore does not even tell the consumers when they are purchasing and consuming GMOs, it is practical that the public has concerns about the risks of utilizing and consuming GMO food products.
Some risks of utilizing GMO food products include since a multitude of the GMO plants have a insecticide gene embedded in their DNA, only the insects that are resistant to that insecticide will survive and be able to feed on the plant. Therefore, “a new class of superbugs” arise that are resistant to the most common insecticide used in the agriculture industry (Grant). This new class of insects will be the major cause of damaged GMO plants. The GMO plants also have an herbicide embedded in their genes, in hopes of preventing weeds from taking over the area in which the GMO plants are growing. The most common herbicide that is put in GMO plants is a glyphosate, which is more commonly known as Roundup. This is a cheap and effective herbicide, although it is known for killing everything, and this is why they had to embed the gene to produce glyphosate in the GMO plants to be able to utilize it. Since GMO plants are so prevalent many weeds are evolving to be resistant to the glyphosate. This is resulting in a new class of weeds that must be battled with additional herbicides. With the use of GMO plants over the years the amount of herbicide needed to keep the weeds under control and out of the way of the plants growing has dramatically increased. The use of the GMO plants has “Increased herbicide use in the U.S. by an estimated 239 million kgs (527 million pounds) in the 1996-2011 period” (Benbrook). Although when a farmer first utilizes GMO plants the need for the use of herbicides decrease at first, with time the weeds develop an resistance to the herbicides and the farmers will need to use more herbicides. With the use of more and more herbicides, the health of the consumers could begin to be jeopardized in the near future, considering we are introducing different toxins into our food supply. Not only could this affect the health of the consumer, but it could also have negative effects on our environment, taking into account herbicides and insecticides are pollutants. For example, these insecticides are also killing off other bugs that do not harm the plants, such as bees (Grant). Although not only GMO plants are to blame for this, it is also the fault of other farmers who use pesticides on their normal plant crops. But the GMO crops utilize more insecticides on their crop, so they contribute more to the killing of the bee population. Most people might not think killing some bees is a huge deal, but it is, considering bees pollinate many species of plants all over the world and are a means for many plant species to survive and reproduce. The food supply would be severely compromised without the bee population, considering many crops are mostly or completely dependent on bees for pollination. For example, crops such as apples, cranberries, melons, broccoli, cherries, and blueberries all rely on bees for pollination (“American Beekeeping Federation”).
The herbicides and pesticides that are present in these GMO plants stay in the plant, therefore the consumers are also eating harmful killing agents. These insecticide and pesticide genes that are present in the GMO food products “transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function” (Smith). GMOs are relatively new, and the human population has not had enough time to see what will happen with the continued consumption of these insecticides and herbicides. There would need to be multiple year studies examining the effects on animals to determine what will happen to humans with the continued consumption of GMO food products. We do know that these killing agents are linked to cancer causing agents in the human body, neurological diseases, and other severe health conditions, although there needs to be further research conducted to determine exactly what cancers and effects will arise (Connealy). One current study has proved that the glyphosate has been correlated with promoting the growth of breast cancer cells. There have been many studies on animals that were fed GMO food products that resulted in severely negative impacts on their health and ability to survive. For example, there was a study that showed that pregnant female rats that were fed Roundup Ready soy products, gave birth and fifty-five point six percent of their offspring did not survive (“65 Health Risks”). The control group of this study consisted of pregnant female rats was fed normal food products, and they had a nine percent mortality rate among their offspring (“65 Health Risks”). Another study was done in which rats were fed GMO potatoes. The rats “developed potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract, inhibited development of their brains, liver and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver, enlarged pancreases and intestines and immune system damage” (“65 Health Risks”). Therefore, there are some studies showing negative effects of consuming GMO food products, although there needs to be more studies conducted to determine exactly whether consuming these insecticides and pesticides in the amounts present in GMO plants will cause the same deleterious effects in humans like it did in other animals.
Another risk of utilizing GMO plants is the fact that no one can control the cross pollination between GMO crops with non-GMO crops (Grant 2013). Since pollen can travel very far distances, “up to one half mile with a speed of 15 mph wind in a couple of minutes,” no one can ensure that an organic crop has not been infected with the pollen from a GMO crop (Thomison). With the cross pollination of the different types of crops, if in the near future the population decides not to utilize GMO plants anymore, it may be very difficult if not impossible to eliminate the GMO DNA that has transferred to other plants, because one would not know which crops have been infected. Hence, this Microbiologist developed a method of genetically modifying foods so they can be superior, although there were many hazards to the food supply as well as our health by inventing such modification. Since these regulatory agencies have not had enough time to complete enough studies to determine if GMOs are actually deleterious to humans’ health in the amount that we consume, they have not taken any action against these food products that contain GMOs. Although, it is not good to assume these products are harmless to humans due to the studies performed involving rats consuming these GMO food products.
In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act was put in place. This act served for the purpose of prevention, detection, and response to hazards in food products. They have a special emphasis on imported goods. This act has made very important improvements, although there was not enough funding to make this act go as far as it should have gone. There can be acutely and/or chronically toxic substances in our food products. An acutely toxic substance would be a substance that only takes effect on the body for a short period of time and is usually not life threatening. An example of an acutely toxic substance would be poisonous mushrooms, considering the deleterious effects only last for a short period of time.
A chronically toxic substance is a substance that works on one’s body over time and usually is life threatening. An example of a chronically toxic substance is aflatoxins, which are DNA mutation catalysts; therefore they increase one’s risk of developing cancer. Since aflatoxins work over time and do not take on an immediate effect they are known as chronically toxic. There can be natural or man-made toxicants present in food products. Man-made toxicants are produced in the processing stage of a food product. Overall, regulations are necessary to make sure that there are no toxicants in the food supply that may jeopardize the lives of people in our population. The next question we have is how can we determine whether a food is safe to eat. The solution is to balance the risk with the benefit. The key to analyzing foods for a toxin as a health hazard is based on prior experience, considering even when no one would expect a health hazard to be present sometimes there is.
American Beekeeping Federation. (n.d.). American Beekeeping Federation. Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://www.abfnet.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=14
Benbrook, C. (2012, September 28). Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. — the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24
Connealy, L. (2013, July 9). GMOs: The Pros & Cons of Genetically Modified Food. Newport Natural Health GMOs The Pros Cons of Genetically Modified Food Comments. Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://www.newportnaturalhealth.com/2013/07/gmos-the-pros-cons-of-genetically-modified-food/
Grant, S. (2013, June 22). 10 Problems Genetically Modified Foods Are Already Causing. Listverse. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://listverse.com/2013/06/22/10-problems-genetically-modified-foods-are-already-causing/
Institute for Responsible Technology. (n.d.). – 65 Health Risks of GM Foods. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/65-health-risks/1notes
“Signs & Symptoms of Lysine Deficiency.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.
Smith, J. (n.d.). Institute for Responsible Technology. – Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/health-risks/articles-about-risks-by-jeffrey-smith/Doctors-Warn-Avoid-Genetically-Modified-Food-May-2009
Thomison, P. (n.d.). Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. Managing “Pollen Drift” to Minimize Contamination of Non-GMO Corn, AGF-153. Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://ohioline.osu.edu/agf-fact/0153.htmli
“Trans Fats.” Trans Fats. American Heart Association, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.