a medical librarian's adventures in evidence-based living
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Genetically Modified Crops include Bt (Bacillius thuringiensis) Cotton & Corn, and Herbicide-Tolerant (HT) Soy, Cotton, and Corn. Almost All Soybeans Grown in the United States are Now Genetically Modified.
If you received this post via email, click here, to get to the web version with all the links, & to watch "Genetic Roulette"
GMOs in the Grocery Store? What Does It Mean, Exactly?
A little back-story, to get you started.
“Genetic modification” refers to the manipulation of DNA by humans to change the essential makeup of plants and animals. The technology inserts genetic material from one species into another to give a crop or animal a new quality, such as the ability to produce a pesticide.
These DNA transfers could never occur in nature and are not as precise as proponents make them sound.
Some genetically modified crops have been engineered to include genetic material from BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural bacterium found in soil.
Inserting the Bt genes makes the plant itself produce bacterial toxins, thereby killing the insects that could destroy it. The first GM crop carrying Bt genes, potatoes, were approved in the United States in 1995. Today there are Bt versions of corn, potatoes and cotton.
Roundup-Ready crops — soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa and Kentucky bluegrass — have been manipulated to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broadleaf weedkiller Roundup.
The Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says that, in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of all soybeans and nearly 93 percent of cotton were GM varieties.
You’re eating genetically modified foods almost daily unless you grow all of your food or always buy organic."
The pros & cons of GMO food are more than I could begin to tackle in a single blog post.
To get a handle on the concerns with the pervasiveness of GMOs in our food supply--YOU, dear reader, should you choose to accept this assignment--will have do some homework. But, no worries. All the assignments are listed below.
Frankly, the whole GMO issue is something I haven't paid all that much attention to.
That's is--until recently.
The published research into the potential adverse health effects of GMO-foods is on the scant-side, because companies like Monsanto don't have to give out their seeds to be tested. Corporate patent laws protect them from scrutiny.
But, reports from respected physicians, veterinarians, botanists, agriculture researchers, policy makers, government scientists, and farmers present a whole laundry list of worrisome side effects:
Livestock illnesses & malnutrition caused by eating GMO soy & corn (Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus, Purdue University)
Pet illnesses, especially of the GI tract, from consuming corn or soy pet food
Birth defects in birds & amphibians; cancer, endocrine disruption, DNA & developmental damage to mammals exposed to low doses of glyphosate (that's the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide, Round-Up which is used as part of the whole package when farmers use Round-Up resistant seeds) (Check out the 2011 Report "Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?--a report by 8 international scientists)
Increases in animal infertility, reproduction disorders, & birth defects.
Increases in human food allergies & digestive disorders, like leaky gut--especially in infants & children. (Dr. Michelle Perro)
Increases in inflammation caused by GMO allergies & the toxins "genetically embedded into GMO plants"
Animal liver & kidney toxicity from GMO corn
Possible autism spectrum connections
Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder from Bt-embedded plants, which causes "honey bee dementia"
Intestinal permeability caused by the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is genetically implanted into seeds to kill insects. Bt may also be responsible for changing healthy human microflora in the gut.
Autoimmune disorders caused as a response to ingesting an "unnatural gene-modified food"
Infants & children are more sensitive to GMO's in food & formula because of their fast growth rates, high metabolisms, & low body mass. Consider the widespread exposures to GMO-soy formulas like Similac Soy, Gerber Soy, Enfamil soy, & Walmart Soy. Sadly, the WIC soy formulas are all GMO. Non-GMO or organic brands are fine.
So, how is it possible that there is so little published research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human & animal health, considering that GMO-seeds now totally dominate the farming industry?
Turns out, the FDA allowed Monsanta to conduct its own research prior to approval of GMO seeds in the 1990's. That's right! No independent investigators. Monsanto did their own research in-house. And none of the studies were long-term, which would be necessary to show any connection to cancer, birth defects, or reproductive disorders. In fact, there was only one human feeding study conducted, prior to approval of Round-Up ready soy seeds.
The FDA policy commissioner at the time of GMO approval was Michael R. Taylor, who had previous ties to Monsanto as their legal counsel--and has had a revolving door of positions between Monsanto, King & Spalding, a law firm representing Monsanto, & the FDA. Right now, he's the FDA's "Food Safety Czar".
"As the system now stands, biotech companies bring their own research to the government body overseeing their proposed products. The agency may be the US Dept. of Agriculture, the federal Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency.
These government bodies do no independent studies on the safety and efficacy of the proposed products. Instead, they rely strictly on the research conducted by the companies.
"We don’t have the whole picture. That’s no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically-engineered crops,” wrote Doug Gurion-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a February 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed piece.
“They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.”
Honestly, the whole corporations-versus-consumer-versus-the-FDA-&-the-USDA controversy is so shrouded with secrecy & accusations that it's hard to get a bottom line on the real risks of GMOs to our health & our environment.
My bottom line: I'm not a GMO fan. I'm concerned. I'm going to make every effort to avoid the stuff. Why wait until it's too late?
Why Not Watch Jeffrey M. Smith's Documentary, "Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives" and Decide About GMO's for Yourself?
Do Not Miss This One!!! It's a worthwhile investment of 1 hr and 24 mins. And besides, it's free online from Sept. 15-22nd only. So don't put this off for too long.
You'll find the link to this disturbing documentary,here. Sorry, I couldn't insert it into the post.
The Lab Rat & I watched "Genetic Roulette" last night. It's a new documentary that "reveals the serious health impacts of genetically engineered foods in our diets." No coincidence that its release is timed to the upcoming California Proposition 37 to label GMOs in food.
We were spellbound--glued to our chairs. Now we "get" what GMO seeds are all about--as well as their potential for harm to humans, animals, & the environment.
Scientists, veterinarians, physicians, policy makers, & farmers, together make one heck of a convincing case against GMO foods-& the biotech invasion into the food industry. But, decide for yourself.
I admit it--I was a little skeptical that it might be sensational pseudo-science. I was wrong (unless someone I respect & trust can convince me otherwise).
Frankly, I was unaware of the health ramifications & the lack of scientific oversight of the GMO industry--by the FDA or the USDA before viewing this documentary. This is one complex story.
Do yourself & your family a favor & watch this film--and then decide for yourself how closely you want to start reading food labels.
There's an accompanying phone app & a shopping guide that you can download to check out which foods are non-GMO. The Lab Rat just checked out his Wheat-a-Bix & then went through the fridge reading labels.
Mark Bittman gets to the bottom of the consumer's "Right to Know" Proposition 37--making GMO food-labeling a law. This quick-must-read explains the big Food-Labeling Fight in California. Big-Agra vs Consumers
How many of us want to know if our food is genetically engineered?
A whopping 91% of Americans--crossing all political party lines. (65% of California's are for Prop 37, 20% against, 15% undecided)
Who's fighting the Proposition 37 in California's Nov. 6th election with tens of millions of $$$?
Monsanto & whole lot of food manufacturers. Why? Because "as California goes, so goes the nation."
"Prop 37 isn’t a ban on foods containing genetically engineered material; it’s a right-to-know law.
Big Food is worried that this is the thin edge of the wedge, and I (Bittman) hope they’re right. If we win the right to know what’s in processed food, we might be inclined to demand to know how other food is produced. (You might think of Prop 37 as the anti-ag-gag law.) If genetically engineered food is so terrific, persuade us; if it’s not, well, fine. In any case, it should be up to us to buy it or not, but first we have to know what it is.
I (Bittman) want to know — quite technically, in all the detail available — how my food is produced, and I’m far from alone. We’d be able to make saner choices, and those choices would greatly affect Big Food’s ability to freely use genetically manipulated materials, an almost unlimited assortment of drugs and inhumane and environmentally destructive animal-production methods."
The Murky Money Story Behind the Funding for the Stanford Organic Food Study
I believed the article's disclaimer: "The authors received no external funding for this study." But, who funds Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, & who funded the researchers' study?
"A simple look at FSI's 2011 annual report shows that it is funded by Cargill and others who have a strong financial interest in Monsanto, McDonalds, Walmart, and other businesses that profit from industrial food practices.
Before you head out to the market, check out this slide show (in Watson's Huff Post article) to see how the Stanford Institute that funded the study gets its money and to see some of the other reasons to choose organic when you can. Tell us which ones you would take with a grain of salt."
Check out: "Uneasy Allies in the Grocery Aisle," by Stephanie Strom, September 13, 2012, New York Times. Get a better handle on the key players fighting the GMO-Labeling California ballot issue, Proposition 37.
If you do not see the Temper Tantrum video on your screen, click here.
"The trick is to get the child past the peaks of anger. Once you do that, what's left is the sadness, and sad children reach out for comfort.
The quickest way past the anger--is to do nothing.
Don't shout, don't hit, don't try to comfort the child. But, when a child is screaming it's hard to do nothing.
[W}hen children are at the peak of anger and they're screaming and they're kicking, probably asking questions might prolong that period of anger.
When I'm advising people about anger I say, 'There's an anger trap. Even asking questions can prolong the anger--and the tantrum.'
It's difficult for them to process information--they're overwhelmed. And to respond to a question that the parent is asking them may be just adding more information into the system than they can really cope with.
It's better to keep things simple. Issue short commands like, sit down, go to your room.
Understanding that tantrums have a rhythm can not only help parents know when to intervene, but also give them a sense of control."
If you received this post via email, click here to get to the web version with the links & the temper tantrum video!
Anyone Can Have a Temper Tantrum
OK--so, you don't have kids, or your kids are all grown. You have zero interest in tantrums. Why read this post?
Because---the advice you'll find here can apply to your boss, your spouse, or your friends. Anyone who's overwrought, frustrated, tired, hungry, angry and needs to vent! Sure, with adults there's no kicking or screaming--but sometimes it's not a far stretch to substitute the word "venting"--for a "tantrum".
Toddler Tantrums Deconstructed
Would I be so ga-ga about research on tantrums if I weren't a grandparent--and dealt with a few toddler melt-downs myself? Probably not!
But, you don't have to be a parent or a grandparent to experience the "horror show" of a full-blown temper tantrum. Think grocery store lines, airplanes, or restaurants.
It's happened to all of us--and it can make us feel as helpless as the screaming & kicking child who's having the tantrum. And by the way--all kids have tantrums.
"Small kids just have tantrums. Some have lots of them. Tantrums may be traumatic for parents, but they're mostly normal behavior. So science hasn't paid much attention to them--until now." (NPR)
But, if psychologists Potegal & Green are right--and I sure hope they are--there's both parental power & a sense of control when you know that all tantrums follow the same pattern--and if you know exactly when to ignore them, and when to intervene--a tanturm becomes easier to endure.
"[W]hen looked at scientifically, tantrums are no different than thunderstorms or other natural phenomena. Studying them as scientific subjects, rather than experiencing them like parents can cause the tantrums to stop feeling traumatic and even become interesting." (NPR) Really????
My Temper Tantrum "Ah Ha" Moment!
When I heard the NPR story yesterday morning I had an AH HA moment!
Isn't a toddler's temper tantrum something we can all relate to?
When we're REALLY REALLY UPSET or REALLY REALLY ANGRY (of course, I never am) we just want to have our say--and have someone listen to it--and not interrupt us.
We don't want anyone to shut us up.
We don't want any sympathetic coddling.
We don't want to hear anyone's advice or solution to our problem.
We don't want to hear logic.
We don't want to be comforted.
We just want to be heard, to vent, & release anger & frustration
Only when we get our proper say, are we ready for hugs, comfort, & to listen to reason.
BTW--it only took me about 30 years of marriage to learn to just close my mouth & listen when my husband was having the equivalent of a grown-up's temper tantrum. Plenty of time to talk & comfort after he's had a chance to vent!
Thanks to Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota, & James Green of the University of Connecticut, who studied & recorded over one hundred temper tantrums--there just may be an easy technique for dealing with the terrible two's & meltdowns.
How crazy is this? Potegal & Green devised a onesie with a wireless microphone. Then they convinced parents to put the onesie on their kids--& hit the GO button, so they could record all that tantrum screaming, crying, wailing, & whining.
Potegal & Green say most temper tantrums follow the same pattern--the build up is quite quick--to a peak of anger--but then the child exhausts himself & what's left is a child who wants to be comforted.
The Play-By-Play Analysis of a Tantrum
NPR: (commenting on the video) It looks like the tantrum is escalating. But, in fact, what the new theory suggests is exactly the opposite.
Green: (speaking about the child in the video) Once she's thrown herself on the floor and thrown something, or in this case, knocked the chair against the wall, we're probably on the down slope of this tantrum. She's spent a lot of energy; screaming, yelling and now doing these physical behaviors.
NPR: The scream was a peak. No one can stay that angry for long - it's exhausting. I asked Green what sounds he expected next from Katrina (the child in the video).
Green: Probably something...like crying or whining. There's been so much energy expended. The child knows that they've been out of control. That leads to a sense that they'd like some comfort from their parents.
NPR: This tantrum from scream to whimper took only a minute. But, Green & Potegal argue that no matter how long tantrums last or how often they occur, they follow the same pattern.
The Three Phases of a Tantrum
Phase I: Yelling & screaming. Associated with a high degree of anger. That's how tantrums start, especially if there's a goal the parent has in mind that's different from what the child has in mind.
Phase: 2: Physical actions. Throwing oneself on the floor or throwing something. This signals the downslope of the tantrum. The child has spent a lot of energy, screaming, yelling & physical behaviors.
Phase 3: Crying & whining. This signals the end of the tantrum--what we see after intense physical behaviors. And it can sometimes take only a minute to go from screaming to a whimper. Only now is the child ready to be comforted--and she's ready to listen to mom or dad.
But, no matter how long it takes, from start to finish, all tantrums follow the same pattern!
3. Access Potegal's & Green's article in Emotion here.
Look Right Here for BPA-Free Cans or Containers
The Go-To Safe Brands: Eden Beans, Muir Glen Canned Tomatoes (started in January 2011), & Foods Packaged in Tetra-Paks or Glass
Just the facts, folks.
BPA is bad news. I'm not going to get into all the nasty details of how this endocrine disruptor can be damaging to pregnant women, fetuses, babies, & children--or how, as a hormone disruptor it's been linked to breast & prostate cancers, attention-deficit disorder, behavioral problems, & even diabetes.
That's all old news.
But, here's the new deal, you might have missed. BPA isn't just in plastic bottles--it's also in the linings of many cans--to prevent corrosion. In fact, until recently, it was found in the linings of practically all canned tomato products. That's now changed, because Muir Glen Organics recently started using BPA-free cans for its tomatoes. Learn more below.
Here's what my friend Fran recently sent me from 7 Foods Experts Won't Eat(and just so you know--Dr. Fredrick vom Saal is THE BPA expert in the US).
Why You Should Avoid Canned Tomatoes (until recently, that is!!)
The Situation: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people’s body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals.
“You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young,” says vom Saal. “I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”
The Solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe’s and Pomi. (and Muir Glen tomatoes canned after 1/11)
Muir Glen Canned Tomatoes
Last Friday afternoon I waited on the phone for 45 minutes in order to talk to a Muir Glen customer service rep to find out if Muir Glen tomatoes are really BPA-Free.
To date, there is nothing on their label to indicate that they are BPA-free. So I wanted to hear it from a company representative.
Here's the scoop:
All Muir Glen tomatoes packaged since January 2011 are now in BPA-free cans.
The company won't put the BPA-free labels on their cans until all the old stock is off the shelf.
So, how will we know if our cans are BPA-free, until the new labeling goes into effect?
1. The lining will be orange, not white.
2. The expiration date will have a 2014 on it. But..most of my cans have an expiration date of Mar. 2013, & they've all been orange on the inside--which means they're BPA-Free. The 2014 date will give you 100% assurance that the can is BPA-free--but there are 2013 expiration-dated cans that are also BPA-free.
3. Here's another clue. If the can has a white-enameled lining with BPA, it will say so on the label, right near the nutrition facts. Something like: contains enameled lining.
Eden Brand Beans
All Eden Brand Beans come in BPA-free cans. Learn more about that here.
Tetra-Paks or Glass
All food packaged in glass containers or in Tetra-Paks do not have BPA. Some researchers have concerns about the linings of Tetra paks--but, I haven't seen any research on that subject.
Here's the new research from JAMA, November 23, 2011
On November 23, 2011, right before Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans were going to open up cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, green beans, Durkee's Onion Rings, pumpkin pie filling, & cranberry sauce---one of the top-dog medical journals, JAMA, busted canned soup for it's sky-high BPA levels. You can read a snippet of the article here.
But, hey, if you had read my Consumer Reports post on canned foods, none of this would have been a big surprise.
If you want a quick summary of the JAMA findings--head over to the New York Time's article written by Anahad O'Connor on November 22, 2011.
"People who ate one serving of canned food daily over the course of five days, the study found, had significantly elevated levels — more than a tenfold increase — of bisphenol-A, or BPA, a substance that lines most food and drink cans.
The new study, which was published [on November 23, 2011] in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to measure the amounts that are ingested when people eat food that comes directly out of a can, in this case soup. The spike in BPA levels that the researchers recorded is one of the highest seen in any study.
“We cannot say from our research what the consequences are,” said Karin Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study.
“But the very high levels that we found are very surprising. We would have never expected a thousand-percent increase in their levels of BPA.”
Dr. Michels noted that all the participants were fed amounts of soup that were smaller than what people probably would consume on their own.
“One serving of soup is a not a lot,” she said. “They were actually telling us that that wasn’t even enough for their lunch.”
But she also pointed out that the findings were probably applicable to other canned goods, including soda and juices.
“The sodas are concerning, because some people have a habit of consuming a lot of them throughout the day,” she said. “My guess is that with other canned foods, you would see similar increases in bisphenol-A. But we only tested soups, so we wouldn’t be able to predict the absolute size of the increase.”
Bring Your Own Popcorn to the Movies!
My Ziploc Bag of Contraband "Barbecue" Popcorn - Is It OK to Bring Your Own?
On Saturday, I worked all day--drove home, downed a quick bowl of soup, popped some popcorn in my hot-air popper to take to the theater--and headed out to see a movie. The plan was to see The Way, but it was sold-out.
We saw The Descendantsinstead. All four of us gave it a thumbs up. But, I still want to see The Way.
Here's how to make your own Barbecue Air-Popped Popcorn
Use a hot air-popcorn popper.
As the popcorn comes out, mist it with water (yes, it really works & it's not soggy) from a water spray bottle, and at the same time sprinkle on Bone Suckin' Sauce Seasoning & Rub (or the seasoning of your choice) It works a lot better than spraying the popcorn with cooking oil spray (which is what I used to do), with none of the fat! The water just evaporates on the hot popcorn.
If you don't like barbecue flavor--just sprinkle on finely ground Morton's Popcorn Salt, or nutritional yeast. Plain popcorn is pretty boring, in my opinion.
But, this is supposed to be about bringing your own popcorn.
My husband thinks it's unethical. After all--I do have to "sneak" it into the theater.
But, I say, it's not like I'd eat the theater's popcorn, if I didn't bring my own. Are you kidding?
A medium combo (cola & bag of popcorn) at Regal has 1,610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. That's roughly the saturated fat of a stick of butter and the calories of two sticks of butter. To get the low-down on fat & salt content of the movie popcorn you're cluelessly munching, click here.
Chef AJ's Popcorn Experiment--Sugar, Salt, & Fat are the Evil Trifecta
Here's why we love our movie popcorn so much!
Make yourself a big bowl of air-popped popcorn. Notice how you can't keep eating it after you're full.
Now add salt to the bowl & notice how you'll eat more than if it were just air-popped
Now add butter & salt to the bowl & notice how you'll eat even more of it.
Now make some Kettle Corn--with popcorn, salt, butter, & sugar, and notice how it's impossible to stop. Sugar, Salt & Fat--the deadly Trifecta.
With Three Tips--I've Got Three Questions for You:
1. What do you think about the Green & Potegal temper tantrum research? Anyone agree with my adult "temper tantrum" comparison?
2. Do you have concerns about BPA in canned food--or do you kind of ignore the whole thing? I still bought canned tomatoes, so I'm glad Muir Glen made the switch.
3. Do you bring your own popcorn into the theater?
Consumer Reports' latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). Find the full article by clicking here.
"Children eating multiple servings per day of canned foods with BPA levels comparable to the ones we found in some tested products could get a dose of BPA near levels that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies.
The lack of any safety margin between the levels that cause harm in animals and those that people could potentially ingest from canned foods has been inadequately addressed by the FDA to date."
-Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy, at Consumers Union-
That long-loved-favorite green bean casserole you planned to make for Thanksgiving... Forget about it!
You don't want to feed your family any extra doses of BPA--and that's exactly what they'll get from a dish made with Del Monte Fresh Cut Blue Lake Green Beans (the canned food that ranked #2 in CR tests for the highest level of BPA) and canned Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.
Back in May 2008 when the "BPA-Thing" first surfaced, all the news was about getting rid of our Nalgene bottles, plastic baby products, and other hard plastics. But cans are the real insidious problem. Here's what I wrote back then:
Until the FDA starts labeling plastics and cans so we know which ones have BPA why not do what Dr. Fred vom Saal and every other scientist who studies BPA has done.
Stay away from cans. Eden Organic Beans are the only ones documented to not have BPA.(*but the consumer union found trace amounts in these) TheEnvironmental Working Group says cans, more than plastic, are the predominant way we are getting exposed to BPA. They're lined with an epoxy that contains BPA that can leach out when heated during processing. In the presence of acids like tomatoes, and alcohol even more is leached out. Think canned beer. Organic Graceis maintaining a very helpful list of which manufacturers have BPA in their cans. It's continually updated, so keep checking back. That means no soft drinks, no canned beer, no cans of V-8, no canned soups, no canned tomatoes, you name it! By the way, Japan eliminated 95% of the BPA from their cans 10 years ago. But stay away from cans from China-it's in theirs.
The Results of the Consumer Reports Tests on Bisphenol A in Canned Products
The canned products with the highest levels of BPA:Del MonteCanned Green Beans (54.5-102 ppb of BPA), Progresso Vegetable Soup 67-134 ppb of BPA), and Campbell'sCondensed Chicken Noodle Soup 54.5-102 ppb of BPA). The Consumer Union tested a sampling of canned foods, like tuna, baby formula, beans, meats, vegetables, and juices. Every product was tested 3 times for accuracy. For a pdf of the complete Consumer Reports test results of food products click here
Why should I care? What's a dangerous level? Now don't zone out on these numbers! I've really worked hard on these conversions to make sense of them. The food safety experts at the Consumer Union put the upper limit for daily exposure of BPA at .0024 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight.
Here's What Those Safe Limits Really Mean:
For a 50 lb. child: .054 micrograms/day (1 serving of Del Monte Green Beans (14.9 BPA mcg/serving) is 275 times the upper safe limit)
For a 130 lb. woman: .14 micrograms/day (1 serving of Del Monte Green Beans (14.9 BPA mcg/serving) is 106 times the upper safe limit)
For a 180 lb man: .2 micrograms/day (1 serving of Del Monte Green Beans (14.9 BPA mcg/serving) is 74 times the upper safe limit)
Want to figure out how much you or your child can safely ingest daily? First convert your weight from pounds to kilograms by clicking here for a handy converter. Then multiply .0024 by your kilogram weight. That's your upper daily limit for micrograms of BPA. If you look at the PDF of the Consumer Reports test results you'll find the BPA micrograms/serving for the products they tested--in the right-hand column. Click here for the table. Bottom Line: Stay away from cans!
What about babies & children? Formula & Juice? Bad news! Similac Advance Infant Formula liquid in cans averaged .85 mcg/serving of BPA and a 15 pound infant's limit should be .016 mcg of BPA/day! Powdered Similac in a can was a much safer alternative with no measurable levels of BPA. Juicy Juice Apple juice in a can had 2.3 mcg/serving of BPA--45 times times a 50 pound child's limit of .054 mcg/day of BPA. No worries--juice boxes to the rescue. No measurable BPA was found in the Juicy Juice boxes!
Was there any BPA found in the BPA-free cans? There aren't too many of these around, only Eden Organics beans and Vital Choice tuna, as far as I know. The tests on Eden baked beans found .15 mcg/serving. Bush's Baked Beans in "regular cans" had .6 mcg/serving. Vital Choice tuna in "BPA-Free" cans averaged 1.15 mcg/serving, which was more than in conventional cans of Starkist Chunk Light Tuna in water--which had only .2 mcg of BPA/serving.
Which packaging is safest? Good news here! Just ditch buying food in cans, until manufacturers wise up & eliminate the BPA-containing epoxy liners. Here's what was safe: Starkist Tuna in a pouch, Bird's Eye Steam Fresh frozen vegetables in plastic steam bags (even after microwaving there was no increase in BPA--big surprise to me), juice boxes. Although not specifically tested, I would assume that soup and tomatoes in the Tetra-boxes would be safe.
Comparing the FDA Safe Limits for BPA to the Consumer Union's Limits
The FDA currently puts the upper limit for BPA exposure to 50 mcg BPA/kg of body weight.(Consumer Union food-safety scientists say .0024 mcg BPA/kg of body weight).
For a 50 lb. child: 1100 mcg of BPA/day
For a 130 lb. woman: 2950 mcg of BPA/day
For a 180 lb man: 4100 of mcg of BPA/day
Why is this so much higher than the Consumer Union's? The FDA's upper safe limits are based on experiments done in the 1980's--rather than using the hundreds of more recent animal & laboratory studies that found serious health risks from much lower doses of BPA.
What has newer research found? Adverse effects have been shown at exposures of 2.4 mcg of BPA/kg of body weight/per day. Compare that to the FDA's "safe level" of 50 mcg of BPA/kg of body weight/per day--based on research over 20 years old.
92% of Americans have BPA in their urine. Hundreds of animal studies show potentially cancerous changes in the mammary and prostate tissue of animals when they ingest the same small amounts of BPA that humans ingest. Increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, reproductive problems, and behavior problems (including ADHD & autism) have been linked to BPA, as well as decreased testosterone levels in men (a study just published on 11/11/09 found sexual problems were 4-7 times higher in workers exposed to BPA), breast and uterine cancer in women. It's long been known as an "endocrine disrupter", which means it interferes with the body's hormonal balance. To read more about the risks, click here and here.
Bills are pending in Congress to ban the use of BPA in all food & beverage containers. BPA is restricted in Canada, Japan, Norway, and in some U.S. states. A congressional subcommittee found in 2009 that the FDA relied too heavily on the research sponsored by the American Plastics Council, and the FDA will soon decide if their current upper safe limits for BPA need to be revised.
"When you have 92% of the American population exposed to a chemical, this is not one where you want to be wrong. Are we going to quibble over individual rodent studies, or are we going to act?"
-Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network-
Want to read more?
The Consumer Reports December 2009 article Click here . You'll need to click on each section on the left.
The excellent Consumer Union's "Buy Safe, Eat Well Blog" about the article. Click here.
Nicholas D. Kristof's op-ed New York Times article "Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies" about the Consumer Reports article. Click here.
What am I going to do?
Cut down on canned beans. Start cooking my own beans in batches in my crockpot & freezing them.
I found chopped tomatoes in a Tetra brik box made by Pomi at Whole Foods.
Look for food packaged in Tetra brik boxes, pouches, glass jars, and in frozen bags or boxes.
I'm confident that consumer demand will soon ban BPA in cans--it worked for baby bottles.
"Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. (It's) an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. 'A mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that are ground together.' These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination."
"Food scientists have registered increasing concern about the virulence of this pathogen since only a few stray cells can make someone sick."
"Ground beef is not a completely safe product," according to Dr. Jeffrey Bender, a food safety expert.
"A test by the New York Times found that even customary safe handling (cooking & clean-up) instructions are not enough to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the kitchen."
"The (E. coli) pathogen is so powerful that Stephanie Smith's illness could have started with just a few cells left on a counter. In a warm kitchen, E. coli cells will double every 45 minutes."
Believe me, I had no intention of writing about contaminated meat this morning. I was all set to post either some new info on Vitamin D or Po Bronson's "Nurtureshock" or non-drug approaches to arthritis. Not happening. Even though I haven't had a burger in over a year--I think this is a story that needs to be shared.
If you love your burgers, you MUST read this morning's NYT's investigative piece about the meat processing industry's risky lack of proper inspection. It's a story of unsafe factory slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is unable to safely oversee and regulate.
The industry does not do careful testing of its products, and it gets away with unsafe practices under the cover of "trade secret" laws, skillful lobbying, and the strong arm techniques used by slaughterhouses.
Here's how it works:According to two large meat grinding companies, many big slaughterhouses will sell their meat only to grinders (including grocery chains & processors) if they agree to not test their shipments for E. coli. They fear that if E. coli is discovered "it will set off a recall of all the meat they've sold to other processors."
To be fair, if you still want a burger after you read the Times article, and want to be safe, there are at least 3 options that I am aware of:
1. Buy from Costco, which is one of the few big processors that tests trimmings for E. coli before grinding it into ground beef.
2. Buy local from a small-scale farm where the meat stays in the plant until the tests for E. coli come back. Click here to read more.
3. Avoid pre-ground beef that's made from trimmings. Ask your grocery if they make their own ground beef from whole cuts of meat. To be certain, have your butcher custom grind a whole cut of meat for your burgers.
Here's my Cliff's Notes summary of the very long NYT's article:
How Did a Burger Leave Stephanie Smith Paralyzed?
Back in October 2007, Stephanie Smith, a 22 year old children's dance instructor, eats a home-cooked grilled burger. Soon after, tolerable stomach aches and cramping begin--and she figures she has some kind of a stomach virus. This progresses to bloody diarrhea, then her kidneys shut down, followed by seizures that leave her unconscious. After nine weeks in a coma, she is unable to walk, and most likely never will.
The culprit: a frozen burger made by food giant Cargill and bought at Sam's Club.
Meat companies have been barred from selling ground beef tainted with E. coli O157:H7 since 1994 after the Jack in the Box restaurant incident that left four children dead. So, tell me how do you ban selling contaminated beef without instituting strict testing for E. coli at processing plants?
Tens of thousands of people are still sickened yearly by E. coli-contaminated meat--and the USDA says hamburger is the biggest culprit.
Although Stephanie Smith's illness was an extreme reaction, the NYT's interviews with government & industry insiders, and their examination of corporate & government records "shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble."
Neither the USDA inspection system, nor industry self-monitoring and testing can be relied upon.
Ground beef is not usually a chunk of meat run through a grinder--it's a mixture of various grades of meat from different parts of the cow and from different slaughterhouses--from S. Dakota to Uruguay to Texas--sometimes treated with ammonia or lactic acid to kill bacteria. Although these cuts are particularly vulnerable to E. coli, there is no federal requirement for meat "grinders" to test their ingredients for E. coli.
Large food processors, use a technique of grinding up meat scraps & fat trimmings from various slaughterhouses to make ground beef, for one main reason: it saves money--like 25%-30% over what it would cost if they just ground up a piece of whole meat from one cow! Stephanie Smith's burger cost Cargill $1 a pound--instead of $1.30 if it had used "whole meat".
The Feces Connection--What's E. Coli Doing On My Burger?
From factory feedlot to factory slaughterhouse. The cheap meat used for ground beef is cut from the part of the cow that is most likely to come into contact with feces--which of course, carries E. coli.
Fecal contamination. Cargill bought the cheapest ingredient of its burger mix--the half fat-half meat trimmings--from a factory-sized packing plant the size of four football fields--with a tremendous potential for fecal contamination. The cows arriving from factory feedlots are often smeared with feces--and "workers slicing away the hide can inadvertently spread feces to the meat--and large clamps that hold the hide during processing sometimes slip and smear the meat with feces."
Cleaning the meat. Although slaughterhouses wash carcasses with hot water & lactic acid the practice isn't foolproof--and then there's further E. coli risk at the gutting station--when the intestines are removed.
The other "meat cleaning technique" is to warm trimmings, remove the fat in a centrifuge, and treat the remaining product with ammonia. And we eat this stuff? An Iowa State University study claims ammonia sufficiently reduces E. coli, but note that the study was financed by a company called, Beef Products, which uses this ammonia treatment.
Looking for feces. The slaughterhouse pace is brutal for workers, making it easy to miss carcasses with bits of remaining feces--and workers have complained that they don't always have the time to clean contaminants off their knives and gear.
The USDA & Meat Industry's Tension Over Testing
Metal detectors? In the case of Cargill, metal detectors scan the meat going into grinders--checking for stray nails and metal hooks--they don't want their grinders damaged!
Testing for E. coli O157:H7. As for Stephanie Smith's tainted burger--Cargill wasn't screening the meat before it went into the grinders--only testing it after it was ground up. After Smith's illness Cargill disclosed that although it had found E. coli there was no way to determine where the tainted meat had come from because the meat that went into the grinder had come from many suppliers--foreign & domestic.
After the 1994 Jack in the Box incident the USDA wanted to require some bacterial testing of ground beef--but the industry balked.The compromise: the USDA does 15,000 spot checks at thousands of meat plants & groceries--but it's not meant to be comprehensive. Many plants voluntarily do their own testing--but there's no standardization to the industry.
Costco is one of the few producers that chooses to do testing on its meat before it goes into the grinder. It's found E. coli coming from both foreign & domestic slaughterhouses, and it pressures its suppliers to fix the problem. Interestingly, Tyson won't supply to Costco--because they don't want their meat tested!
With the incidences of E. coli outbreaks increasing since 2007, it's clear there needs to be an industry standard. Some slaughterhouses test aggressively--and others don't. In a USDA survey of 2000 plants post-Cargill-outbreak, it turned out that half the "grinders" didn't test their finished ground beef for E. coli--and only 6% tested the incoming "whole" parts at least 4 times a year.
In August 2008 the USDA proposed guidelines urging that optimally every production lot should be sampled & tested before leaving the supplier & again before use at the receiver. Once more, the meat industry is balking--they want companies to devise their own safety plans!
What About the Consumer? How Serious Are E. Coli Illnesses? What About Kitchen Contamination?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) most E. coli illness resolves itself without serious complications. The youngest, the oldest, the immune-compromised are most at risk.
5-10% of E. coli illnesses develop into hemolytic uremic sydrome--a condition that affects the kidneys.
In the worst cases, like Stephanie Smith's, the toxin from the E. coli "penetrates into the colon wall, damaging blood vessels and causing clots that can lead to seizures."
In the Cargill 2007 outbreak in Minnesota, 11 illness were specifically tracked to the Cargill ground meat--four of whom developed hemolytic uremic syndrome--higher than expected. But, health officials estimate that 940 others were also sickened from the meat.
Although the USDA recommends cooking meat until it reaches 160 degrees, using a thermometer to test the temperature, & thoroughly washing cutting boards & counters with soapy water--it may not be enough.
The E. coli pathogen is so powerful that just a few cells left on a counter can be responsible for illness--especially because they can double every 45 minutes in a warm kitchen.
Dr. James Marsden, a meat safety expert at Kansas State University, urges consumers to use bleach to sterilize cutting boards--and admits that this is a very difficult process.
In a cautionary experiment, the New York Times prepared three pounds of ground beef dosed with a nonharmful strain of E. coli--that acts the same as the toxic O157:H7 strain. Even following all the safety instructions on the packaging, when tested, E. coli was still found on the cutting board that was washed with soap, and large amounts of bacteria from the meat was found on a kitchen towel .
Be an informed consumer. Understand what goes on in factory feedlots and slaughterhouses. The lack of safety, testing, and oversight is not worth the lower costs. Be sure to see the documentary, Food Inc. Click here for my summary.