Public Policy

Honeybees are sweeter than honey

Perhaps you’ve heard murmerings over the past 5-10 years about the plight of the honeybee, whose population has dropped 50% in the past 50 years in the U.S.  While many of you are probably thinking, “sweet, fewer irritating bee stings for me”, there is much, much more at stake than your carefree picnic time.  Honeybees do much, much more than make honey. 

Honeybees pollinate 80% of the flowering plants in the US, and pollination is necessary for plants to produce fruit.  A huge percentage of our food supply is dependent on this process, and if the bees disappear so will our food.  Here is an excerpt describing just how critical the honeybee truly is to our ability to eat:

“Typically, according to the US Department of Agriculture, these under-appreciated workers pollinate 80% of our flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat.Their loss could effect not only dietary staples such as apples, broccoli, strawberries, nuts, asparagus, blueberries and cucumbers, but may threaten our beef and dairy industries if alfalfa is not available for feed. One Cornell University study estimated that honeybees annually pollinate $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the US. Essentially, if honeybees disappear, they could take most of our insect pollinated plants with them, potentially reducing mankind to little more than a bread and water diet.”

Before 2006 the honeybee population was declining at a relatively constant rate, and was believed to be due to certain pests (mites), pesticides, and reduction in beekeepers and natural bee environments.  However, in 2006 the honeybee population took a major hit, declining by 25% with no understood cause.  This was labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and is characterized by bees that leave the hive and mysteriously do not return [...]

Pesticides and other Chemicals – Worst and Best Foods

People ask me all the time – which foods are most important to buy organic?  I’ve seen many lists of top 10s, and they tend to vary, so generally my advice is to buy organic whenever possible (why eat dangerous herbicides and pesticides when you don’t have to?), especially when you’re eating the skin of the fruit or vegetable.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with the dangers of these chemicals – many of the most commonly used chemicals on fruits and vegetables act as carcinogens (cause cancer), endocrine disruptors (meaning they mimic the effects of hormones in the body), and/or nervous system disruptors (they screw up the system that maintains your nerves and nerve impulses).  That’s scary stuff – and we don’t really know the long-term effects of small exposure over time.  Most of us have traces of these chemicals detectable in our bodies.

That said, it is helpful to know the worst offenders, and whether there is anything conventionally grown that isn’t a large risk.  The Environmental Working Group, a public and environmental health non-profit, conducted extensive research on 47 differents fruits and vegetables to create their Dirty Dozen  list of 12 common fruits and vegetables that are most highly contaminated with pesticide and herbicide residue.  They ranked the list based on consistency of residue found (percent of product tested), quantity of residue found, and number of different chemicals found.  They scored all fruits and veggies based on a 100-1 scale, worst to best, so that you the consumer can understand what your risk of exposure is with any of the tested products.  The worst offenders are peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, and nectarines, followed closely by strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, and imported grapes.  The good news?  Turns [...]

By |February 15th, 2010|General, Public Policy|

Food Labeling Exposed!

An awesome article on food labeling tricks and falsehoods appeared today on yahoo.  Here’s a sampling of the fascinating doozies that the article exposes:

  • Some products that advertise that they “contain whole grains” actually use carmel color to mimic the brown color that would appear from whole grains, while containing almost none of the good stuff.  Instead their main ingredients are refined flour, salt, and sugar.
  • Ingredients on food labels are listed in the order of greatest to least quantity, however there isn’t a clear way to aggregate ingredients when they appear under multiple names.  For example high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, juice concentrates, fructose, etc are all sugars.  A product could be 75% or more sugar but you can be mislead when the first ingredient on the label isn’t sugar.
  • “Real fruit” marketing on products, which are typically targeted at kids, only technically need to contain a trace of fruit juice concentrate, =sugar.  This is like squeezing a raisin and then dumping in a bunch of other sugar.  Not the same thing as fruit.
  • Fiber – apparently the fiber that is being added to multiple products (juices, powders, bars, etc) is inulin – a synthetic commercially manufactured product that does not act in the body like a natural fiber.  That means no health benefits.  But it shows up as fiber on the label.
  • And my personal favorite, outrageous health claims.  Kellog’s Cocoa Krispies recently tried to claim that their cereal improves kids’ immune system function.  The FDA stepped in on this one, but there are plenty of other sketchy claims out that play on health claims like intelligence, heart health, cure cancer, etc.  Unfortunately most packaged products are heavy in cheap ingredients – enriched flours and [...]
By |February 4th, 2010|Public Policy|