Healthy? “Organic” & “milk” products are phoney-baloney

betty ming liu Food, Health 28 Comments

Since we care about our food, I MUST share two articles that left me feeling very emotional. One is about the ugly reality of so-called “organic” labels and the other tackles the problems with our cow milk-based culture.

Both pieces appeared in The New York Times, the paper of record — so this is not me or some other grouch on a rant. The two well-reported journalistic works raise questions about our core beliefs. If you don’t have time to read them — one piece is very long — then you might like my summaries below.

And for those of you interested in writing tips, this post is my practice of a core skill: the ability to concisely condense material. The actual Times stories are already a summary of each journalist’s research and reporting. Now I’ve taken it to the next level. So if you look at their actual pieces and compare it to the nuggets I’ve highlighted, you’ll get an idea of how this process works.

All right, now. Here we go….

“Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?” explains that a majority of America’s organic companies are actually owned by makers of some of our most familiar junk foods. The Big Food operators have been buying smaller companies started by “real” organic entrepreneurs. The strategy gives Big Food a quick way into the $30 billion-a-year organic industry. While organics only account for 4 percent of all food industry revenues, it’s a fast-growing market because consumers willingly pay top dollar for items viewed as more pure and healthy.

But in truth, these powerful Big Food companies not only own the market, they’re shaping the laws that define what “certified organic” means.

To get an idea of the players, check out this list from the story:

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Heart, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be Pepsico, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Health Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.

Over the past decade, since federal organic standards have come to the fore, giant agri-food corporations like these and others — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars among them — have gobbled  up most of the nation’s organic food industry. Pure, locally produced food from small family farms? Not so much anymore.

The industry is regulated by a 15-member National Organics Standards Board which decides — by a two-thirds majority vote — what extra ingredients can go into products labelled as “certified organic.” Today, 250 nonorganic additives are deemed okay, up from 77 in 2002.

According to the Times story, Big Food board members usually vote as a block. In December, six board members wanted to greenlight a new additive that is actually a herbicide called ammonium nonanoate (!). They were ultimately voted down, but you might like to learn the names of the six Big Food, Big Organic players for future reference: General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market and Earthbound Farms (which had two votes on that issue).

This board was formed in 1997. The 15 members were supposed to include four farmers, three conservationists, three consumer representatives, a scientist, a retailer, a certification agent and two people from companies that process organic food.

But stuff happened. There’s never been a true consumer advocate on the board. And by the time the rules became law in 2002, three of the early board members, all small independent companies, were acquired by General Mills.

Then, as newly-minted Big Food subsidiaries, these members voted to allow synthetic ingredients into  supposedly all-natural, organically-manufactured goods. As for the three little guys gobbled up by General Mills: Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen and Small Planet Foods.

Today, one of the farmer seats is held by strawberry grower Driscoll’s, but the Driscoll’s vote is held by an executive, not a real farmer. The seat held by the Organic Valley brand, which is a cooperative of 1,400 farmers, voted with the corporate board members to add DHA and ARA to fortifying milk products. As for your organic eggs, forget the fantasy of free-running chickens. Your certified organic eggs come from hens that the board says can be crammed into two square feet of living space.

The eye-opening story, which is packed with more details, makes me grateful for my local farmers market where I buy veggies, fruits and eggs from Hudson Valley farming families. Real people, real food.

Let us also take note of the diminishing list of still-independent companies mentioned in the Times article: Eden Foods, Clif Bar & Co., Amy’s Kitchen and Lundberg Family Farms. Let’s hear it for the underdog — and the smaller dogs.

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If  you’re ready for a little bit more thought-provoking intensity, there was the second article that I ripped out of the Sunday Times….

“Got Milk? You Don’t Need It” is an opinion piece by cookbook guru Mark Bittman. After 30 years as a food writer, he’s finally discovered that cow milk isn’t really good for him.

He grew up drinking a glass of milk at every meal. Of course, that’s totally normal in this country, where  the U.S. Department of Agriculture is still recommending that we drink three, eight-ounce glasses of “nature’s perfect food” every day — 1.5 pounds per day. And we wonder why we have an obesity problem.

Not only that….Bittman cites the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which says that the lactose found in milk is a form of sugar. In analyzing an ounce of skim milk, lactose accounts for 55 percent of its calories, “giving it ounce for ounce, the same calorie load as soda,” according to the story.

And the situation gets worse. The government and dairy lobby are pushing milk in a country where up to 50 million people are lactose intolerant, says Bittman. This group includes 90 percent of all Asian Americans as well as 75 percent of all Americans of African, Mexican and Jewish descent.

Yes, there’s lactose-free milk, but that’s not the point. Milk is milk, and remains our major source of saturated fat.

And three months ago, Bittman said he quit milk to see if he could cure his chronic heartburn. In 24 hours, it was gone. P.S. — Bittman mentions that the heartburn treatment industry is a $10 billion business. Duh.

Bittman quotes his doctor, Sidney M. Baker, author of  “Detoxification and Healing:”

…we’ve evolved to drink human milk when we’re babies but have no need for the milk of any animals. And no matter what you call a chronic dairy problem — milk allergy, milk intolerance, lactose intolerance — the action is the same: avoid all foods derived from milk for at least five days and see what happens.

Yesssss! My classic Chinese medicine expert has been preaching this for years. Like Bittman, I can vouch for the health impacts of making plain-and-simple water my main beverage. Bye-bye, milk, except on special occasions and when I’m eating socially. If you want more info on my Jeffrey Yuen food regimen, click here.

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If you don’t have time to read the full, juicy stories at the Times website, these highlights will still give you plenty to chew on. Both issues are critical to our future — and future health. Thanks for hearing me out!    :)

Comments 28

  1. Betty,
    One thin that they have been doing with chichkens is shooting them full of hormones, estragen to be exact. This causes them to grow so fast that they live in their own filth. Then they shoot them full of anti-biotics. The result is that consumers have meat that is probably unfit to be eaten. One study in the Phillipines, where this practice was most severe, was that young girls were going through puberty and geting their period as young as 8 years of age! (http://www.goodbyepms.com/) .
    There is a great danger in over using anti-biotics. The danger is the creation of “super virus” which cannot be treated with anti-biotics. If we are eating meat that has been raised using excessive anti-biotics this could damage our bodies.
    There is another issue with beef cattle whch they have been raising using the male hormone testosterone. Some blame this for creating agressiveness in males who go out for burgers. And once again there is the still the issue with estragen since males are able to change estragen into testosterone.
    Your right gardening is hard work but it is the only way to know where your food is comming from. It is very nice to just go outside and pick something without having to go to the store. My grand pa had an Artesian Well so it was better water than the “city water” in the house. The best I have tasted. It was 43 degrees.My house is a disaster now after being left to grow wild for a few years. My dad did say he would come help me though.

  2. True that, Betty! I’m especially wary about chicken after reading so much about how they put antibiotics in chicken in order to make them grow faster!

    I still can’t get over the fact that GMO products require labeling China but not in the U.S. The corporations really have us under their control (and I know I sound paranoid when I say that, but it’s true!)

    Did you hear about the link between drug-resistant bladder infections and chicken antibiotics?

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_25830.cfm

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    Brian and bigWOWO, antibiotics are an increasing problem. And in many cases, there are other ways to deal with issues. My daughter has never taken an antiobiotic in her life. She has also been free of ear infections. Not bragging. Just sayin’ that sometimes the way we eat and live makes us more susceptible to certain problems.

  4. Betty,
    I hate to harp on this but that second articl really bugs me because it it makes a number of claims that ate entirely FALSE. The first thing is confusing fluid ounces with weight,. The second is compairing Lactose in milk to (fructose) sugar in coke. This is a BIG mistake! Lactose is a complex sugar…
    “Main article: lactose intolerance
    Lactose, the disaccharide sugar component of all milk, must be cleaved in the small intestine by the enzyme lactase in order for its constituents, galactose and glucose, to be absorbed. The production of the enzyme lactase declines significantly after weaning in all mammals. Consequently, many humans become unable to digest lactose properly as they mature.”
    Early-lactation milk contains colostrum, which carries the mother’s antibodies to the baby and can reduce the risk of many diseases in the baby.
    Coke doesn’t contain contains significant amounts of saturated fat, protein and calcium as well as vitamin C. Nor does water for that matter. Plus the ph is not correct either. In fact, you can be poisoned by consuming too much water. last year a couple went to prison because they poisoned their child to death buy making them injest too much water. This is what the torture called “the third degree” was, namely forcing someone to consume too much water.
    The second cause of death for children under 5 in the world is diarea. Simply feeding a spomeone with this problem will not solve the problem. They need sugar and salts to restore the proper balance.

    Since milk is produced as a food source for a neonate, all of its contents provide benefits to the growing young. The principle requirements of the neonate are energy (lipids, lactose, and protein), biosynthesis of non-essential amino acids supplied by proteins (essential amino acids and amino groups), essential fatty acids, vitamins and inorganic elements, and water
    bovine and human milk contains calcium, phosphate, magnesium, sodium, potassium, citrate, and chlorine are all included as minerals . The milk salts strongly interact with casein, most notably calcium phosphate. IIn addition to calcium, milk is a good source of many other vitamins. Vitamins A, B6, B12, C (though Pasturization kills 20% of this vitamin), D, K, E, thiamine, niacin, biotin, riboflavin, folates, and pantothenic acid are all present in milk.
    It is not sugar water.
    It is the perfect food for the neonate. Human infants thrive on it. And an Human adults have been able to trive on this food source. Their DNA has actually changed over time to they can handle bovine milk. For example, among the Dutch lactose intolerance is less that 1%. We have also learned to convert Milk into other products which allow it to be stored for longer period of times and change it. Through curdeling the casin and lastose are changed to other forms

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