Recipes for survival!
Not all countries have the same standards when it comes to food, some have areas of contamination that cannot be safely used for food production, so it is important, not only to list the constituents of foods but also where they came from.
Poor practises, testing and enforcement
Some countries like India have poor quality controls, others like China, have the laws but are lax in enforcing them. A payment here or there for an official to look the other way or rubber stamp testing that was not carried out properly can prove lethal down the track.
Melamine contamination in China's baby formula put many infants in hospital. For some it was fatal.
In 2008 six Chinese babies died and approximately 600,000 more were effected by melamine (an industrial chemical additive) added to milk to boost the apparent protein content.
This had a massive flow on effect worldwide because the contaminated milk was also powdered, used in manufacturing within China and exported worldwide as a raw material in food production in other countries too. Here in Australia it could have ended up in chocolate, ice cream and a range of other foods manufactured here from "imported and local ingredients".
In 2014 a friend of ours left for China, to spend the New Year there. Her friends there, in China, asked if she could bring over six cans of baby formula in her luggage because no-one trusts the baby formulas in China, six years after the contamination!
Today we trust food businesses to do the right thing but many people are commenting on a decline in business ethics everywhere. If we can't believe a business will do the right thing in one aspect of their business, can we still trust them in all the other crucial areas of production?
Here in Australia we see food manufacturers like Simplot (makers of Birdseye, Edgels and Chiko Rolls), SPC Ardmona (Canned fruit and vegetables), Goodman Fielder (flour products), Kerry Foods and The Windsor Farm all closing plants and moving their production to low cost countries like India, the Philippines or China, where labour is cheaper but the food controls are lax.
So where will it end? If we took the foreign owned or manufactured foods off the shelves in an Australian supermarket, this is how it would look.
If we only left the wholly Australian owned and manufactured food on the supermarket shelf
The Australia First party is campaigning for a change in food labelling here in Australia, with a three tier system but it's not that simple. They want a green label for wholly Australian owned and made, a yellow label for imported content or ownership and a red label for fully imported food products.
The problem is we have businesses today who are Australian owned and use both Australian and imported components to make a food product here in Australia. A company might make a wholly Australian product and pack it in a container made in China. Many popular brand name companies import their products and only pack them here. Coffee and cocoa based products all come from overseas, so is iced coffee and chocolate milk wholly Australian if the milk came from Australian cows? It's quite complex to judge what really is an Australian product.
There is a new and far more sinister threat to our food today. As we move to less polluting energy systems, many countries are considering nuclear power as an option. While the amount of pollution from a nuclear power station is a tiny fraction of the pollution from a coal fired station, that tiny fraction is millions of time more lethal and remains so for over 250,000 years. A small failure at the station can have disastrous consequences. A meltdown of the radioactive core can contaminate the water table and send highly radioactive material into the atmosphere.
Radioactive dust from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster precipitated out in the rain over several Scandinavian countries and the UK. It can still be traced today, 20 years later, as elevated levels of radiation in pastures (and therefore local milk, meat and produce). After Japan's Fukushima meltdowns, Radiation levels rose in the USA, on the opposite site of the Pacific Ocean and right across the USA to the East Coast!
Peaches, a tomato and corn grown in 2013 in the Fukushima prefecture after the disaster
Today we have yet to determine the level of contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan, way back on the 11th of March 2011. Three of the six reactors melted down but the contamination is still continuing today. Fukushima was a largely rural area of Japan renowned for it's rice and Wagyu Beef production. There are contaminated areas there, thousands of times more radioactive than the maximum "safe level".
Just as there are areas that need to be prohibited from producing any food at all, it's important that we start to recognise the real value of our food growing areas and protect them. Here in Australia, these same areas also contain coal and other minerals that could yield a faster profit than farming. However mining to extract that wealth would leave the land contaminated and infertile.
Australia's fertile Hunter Valley is under threat. It lies on top of coal and Coal Seam Gas deposits.
In Queensland the Darling Downs, one of the most fertile and productive food growing areas in Australia is under threat from Coal Seam Gas mining. In a process called "fracking", they pump toxic compounds deep into the ground to break up the layer that contains the gas and the pressure forces out the gas up nearby bores. It can also force these chemicals, as well as the gas, into the water table, where it contaminates the water, permanently.
Alarmingly, almost every fertile area in Australia lies over a Coal Seam Gas (CSG) deposit!
In the 1960s, when initial testing indicated that an organo-phosphate defoliant was safe to use, the US military decided to defoliate the jungles and crops of Vietnam. Their strategy was to reduce the cover for their enemies and force villagers into the cities to prevent them offering assistance to the Vietcong. The defoliant was shipped into Vietnam in barrels marked with Orange bands, so became known as Agent Orange. During the Vietnam war, in Operation Ranch Hand, the US military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of this defoliant in Vietnam, often at 50 times the concentration used back home in agriculture for weed control. By the end of the war 12% of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed.
During the Vietnam war approximately 20 million gallons of a residually toxic defoliant, known as Agent Orange was sprayed on Vietnam's jungles and farmland.
Unfortunately what the biologists didn't realise, was that the defoliant contained Dioxin, which is an organo-phosphate toxin, considered the most toxic man-made compound ever invented. Like some types of plastic, dioxin is one of the few chemicals that never break down. Unlike plastic, it is highly toxic in the smallest quantities.
When both Vietnamese and returned servicemen from the Vietnam War started to report strange illnesses and an unusually high incidence of uncommon cancers and birth defects amongst their children, alarm bells rang but it took many years before the symptoms became obvious enough to point to a common link. US Food and Drug Administration researcher Jacquiline Varrett proved that only one part per trillion caused birth defects in embryos. When it was diluted 1 million times, it was as still as toxic as Thalidomide (a supposedly harmless sedative prescribed to pregnant mothers in the 1950s, to combat morning sickness. It later proved to cause serious birth defects)
The main reagent in Agent Orange, 245-T is banned in some countries but sold here in Australia as a weed killer, under the name "Round Up". Other agricultural insecticides are also suspected of similar side effects and many are banned in some countries but not in others. This is why it is important for consumers to be informed where the product comes from. Many manufacturers dodge this by adding a comment like "Packaged in Australia" or "made from local and imported ingredients".
I don't want to know where it was packaged - I want to know what was packaged!
And what sort of ingredients it contains - melamine contaminated milk from china, dioxin rich fish from the Mekong river?
Indonesia's Lethal Food
We have become so engrossed in perfect looking food that producers are compelled to add additional substances to enhance the colour or flavour. Apples are sprayed with wax and polished, yellow dye is added to biscuits and cakes so they look more appealing. Even laying hens are fed special feed with artificial additives to give orange-yellow yolks to their eggs. We keep so many, so close together, that they could infect each other, so we dose them up with antibiotics. A biologist was telling me that today, if a turkey escaped from a turkey farm, it could not survive in the wild any more. They have such a low immunity that they would probably die from contact with other birds.
An example of a few adulterated foods
Manufacturers cannot fit all the information onto their product labels in many cases. Then there is the problem of protecting secret formulas from their competition. There is no simple answer that will satisfy the consumer and the manufacturer. To accommodate both, we sue a numeric system for additives. Additives are given a number and those numbers are listed on the food labelling. It is supposed to keep us, the consumer informed but how many of us take the additives codes booklet to our supermarket? The numbers can vary from country to country and some countries regard it compulsory to list certain additives, while others rely on the manufacturers discretion (a real worry when you think of Canada and their asbestos exports!)
Below is a list of links where you can find the codes for the various food additives:
Australian authorities are only testing about 5% of produce coming into Australia and they are not testing for a range of chemicals that we know have been used in other countries but are toxins, banned here. So there is real grounds for concern and we need to ensure our consumers are protected from this sort of exposure.