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Factory Foods

August 1, 2011

I’m sick. Not just sick about what is happening to food. But I’m actually sick. I’ve got a nasty head cold, which is really hindering my efforts at exploring some of the hidden gems of rural Pennsylvania. I’m told there is a place in Johnstown that puts French fries right on the salad.

Maybe that doesn’t get everyone hot and bothered, but it’s right up my alley.

However, I did discover something here on this trip that was quite unexpected. And it came from quite an unexpected place: my mother-in-law’s church. You see, this is farm country. There are dairies, and fields of corn and soybeans visible from the roads. And you can bet your bottom dollar these aren’t organic corn and soybean operations.

In fact, I’ve had a very difficult time up until recently even finding milk with a pledge against the use of rBST around these parts. So imagine my surprise when the church ladies were telling me all about their preferences for organic eggs and grass-fed beef.

I’m still trying to piece together what it all means. But it calls into stark contrast some of the other news from the past week, which is a good reminder about the shenanigans of big agriculture. At least now I know that it’s not just us urban dwellers who are concerned with such things. And I take no small amount of comfort in that.

So, that’s the good news. For the bad news you might want to sit down.

Did you hear the one about the arsenic and the chicken? So I’m not a chemist. My chemist friends might back me on this, or maybe not. But as I understand it organic arsenic is fine, and it’s in lots of things, including a chicken feed ingredient called Roxarsone. The dangerous stuff is inorganic arsenic.

The industry line has been that the chickens poop out all the arsenic, which leaves their body in its inorganic form, and that arsenic-fed chickens are safe to eat. Except that part in the middle was recently found out not to be entirely true.

Here is the blurb from ABC News:

In a study of 100 chickens, the FDA found that chickens that had eaten the Roxarsone had higher levels of inorganic arsenic…in their livers than chickens which had not eaten the Roxarsone.

The feed ingredient is now coming off the market. But if you’ve been a regular eater of chicken livers for the past 70 years, I’m sure that’s little comfort. Although the National Chicken Council assures us that “Chicken is safe to eat.” Naturally.

Story number two isn’t a food safety issue, so you can relax. It’s about orange juice. The funny thing was that just before this story crossed my desk, I was explaining to my brother-in-law’s wife how fresh orange juice is available in grocery store refrigerators all year long. I knew about the tank farms, but I didn’t realize they stripped out all of the oxygen, and with it all of the flavor.

Maybe you saw the Consumerist piece on it a few days ago.

To summarize, the big orange juice companies buy oranges, squeeze them, make orange juice, remove the flavor from the juice (rendering it more akin to sugar water), and then put “natural orange flavor” back into the final product to make it taste like our conception of orange juice.

My complaint here is not about the chemicals in the flavoring agents, but about the labeling or lack thereof. It’s also about the wasted effort of the orange growers and pickers. The whole thing makes me think of contracting an artist for a portrait, bleaching the canvas, and then gluing on a photocopy of your face. To add insult to injury, you still refer to the abomination on your wall as a portrait by the original artist.

Currently you will find no mention of any added natural flavor on any package or any ingredients list, because the components of the “flavor packs” added to the “orange juice” are derived from orange oil and orange essence. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Because they are. And I think that’s cheap and sleazy.

So you may want to reconsider if that carton of good OJ is worth your money.

At this point, you may be wondering what is happening at those government organizations that are designed to prevent big agriculture from messing around with our food supply. And I’m sad to say that I have more bad news. Perhaps you saw this headline recently:

What the USDA Doesn’t Want You to Know About Antibiotics and Factory Farms

Well, at the very least when the shit hits the fan, everyone will know what the USDA knew and when they knew it. But it’s not going to be a lot of comfort to those who might die from antibiotic-resistant pathogens. It really does seem like it’s a disaster waiting to happen, and all because we insist on letting farmers give all their animals sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics in their feed. I mean, what could be wrong with that?

Anyway, it’s been a fun few days. Hopefully I’ll feel better soon, and can report on happier matters. In the meantime, stay vigilant, and vote with your wallet.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    August 1, 2011 10:32 am

    Arsenic is element #33 on the Periodic Table. Period. It cannot be “organic.”

  2. August 1, 2011 10:52 am

    Mr. Sunshine is correct. There is no such thing as “organic arsenic”. The term organic implies that something contains carbon. Arsenic is arsenic.

    The “organic arsenic” in question must be part of a organic compound, which must contain carbon. The inorganic stuff is likely part of a compound that does not contain carbon.

  3. August 1, 2011 11:23 am

    Arsenic itself is toxic whatever form it is in. The term “inorganic arsenic” usually refers to As2O3 “arsenic trioxide” which is highly toxic (often as a contaminant in drinking water) due to the biochemistry of its absorption in the body. Without being too graphic, any form is harmless to ingest if it passes through the body without being absorbed of course.

  4. August 1, 2011 11:23 am

    Here’s an interesting little arsenic fact sheet from the Argonne National Laboratory: http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/arsenic.pdf

    Should clear up the organic/inorganic question, which the ABC News article bungled. But I suppose only those of us with a degree in chemistry would be annoyed by it.

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