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Food, Unglorious Food

Are genetically modified foods responsible for the rise in food allergies? And, did you know that Mac & Cheese in the U.K. is different than in the U.S. because of stricter food standards abroad?

In the musical, "Oliver!", hungry orphan, Oliver Twist, who is eating yet another bowl of gruel sings about "Food, Glorious Food." What I just learned recently about the U.S. standards for food makes me feel that the options for glorious food available in this country are getting more and more limited. Next time I'm in the supermarket, I may just break into song about "Food, Unglorious Food."

Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. These eight foods account for 90% of food allergies. When I was growing up, I never heard about food allergies. Now, it seems all too common. According to a study released in 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was an 18% increase in food allergies between 1997 and 2007. Today, 8% of children have a food allergy.

What is a food allergy? A food allergy is a condition in which the immune system incorrectly identifies a food protein as a threat and attempts to protect the body against it by releasing chemicals into the blood. The release of these chemicals results in the symptoms of an allergic reaction. So, the question is, what is in our food now that wasn't before? The answer is disturbing.

Beginning in the 1990s, new proteins were engineered into our food supply in order to maximize the profitability for the food industry. This makes perfect sense from a business standpoint, but it's unfortunate from a health standpoint. Milk is the most common allergy in the U.S. In 1994, in order to drive profits for dairy, scientists created a new genetically engineered protein and synthetic growth hormone to inject into cows to make them produce more milk. As a result, the cows got sick which meant an increase in the use of antibiotics.

Here's where it gets most disturbing. There were no human trials conducted. Governments around the world said that they were not going to allow this into their milk supply since it was not proven safe. Countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and all 27 countries in Europe did not allow it. But, guess what happened in the U.S.? We said that since it hadn't been proven unsafe, we'd allow it.

We didn't stop at milk. More than 80% of crops like corn and soy are genetically engineered. It is estimated that 60 to 70% of processed foods available in American grocery stores likely contain some genetically engineered ingredients. Scientists have engineered soy such that it is able to withstand increasing dosages of weedkiller. Soy is a top allergen. Corn has also been engineered. Scientists injected insecticide into the corn seed so that it releases its own insecticide. Cool from a science and business standpoint. Not so cool from a health perspective.it.

If other countries do not allow these genetically modified foods, how do global companies like Kraft and Coca Cola sell product to them? They make different products! That's right. Here's an example. Mac & Cheese in the U.K. has very different ingredients than the U.S. version. Because these countries mentioned above do not allow things like artificial growth hormones, food dyes derived from petrochemicals, and genetically engineered ingredients into their food supplies, global companies must make a different version to compete in the marketplace abroad.

Here is a look at the difference between U.S. and U.K. Kraft Mac & Cheese.

U.S. Version of Kraft Mac & Cheese:

Enriched Macaroni Product (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate [Iron], Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Cheese Sauce Mix (Whey, Modified Food Starch, Whey Protein Concentrate, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes], Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Contains Less Than 2% of Parmesan Cheese [Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Dried Buttermilk, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Blue Cheese [Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes], Sodium Phosphate, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Cream, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Enzymes, Yellow 5, Yellow 6).

U.K. Version of Kraft Mac & Cheese:

Macaroni (Durum Wheat Semolina), Cheese (10%), Whey Powder (from milk), Lactose, Salt, Emulsifying Salts (E339, E341), Colours (Paprika Extract, Beta-Carotene)

I'll take the U.K. version any day. No dyes and fewer (better) ingredients, Instead of using Yellow 5 and 6 to get the desired color, they use paprika extract and beta-carotene. Great idea. Why are we using dyes in our country?

I am completely blown away that we are allowing this to happen in our country. The U.S. has the highest rate of cancer in the world and we spend more on health care than any country. Clearly, we are doing something wrong. As voters, we should encourage the government to follow suit like the other countries. As consumers, we should demand the healthier version of food products. As eaters, we should opt for whole foods that do not contain hormones or pesticides, or that have been genetically modified. For ideas on how to stay healthy even with the less than desirable products on our supermarket shelves, read Eat This Way and Buy (Some) Organic

Usually I end my blogs with a question asking how you, the reader, will make a change. But, honestly, right now I am too disappointed with the U.S. government for not better regulating our food sources and with global companies like Kraft who are making different versions and selling us the crappy one. So, my question goes to them. Can't you see that your short-sighted quest for profit is actually costing you more money down the road in managing disease and health care in this country?

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Dina Colman is a health educator and writer. She has her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University and her Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education from John F. Kennedy University. She works with clients to help them live an integral life of health and wellness. She founded Four Quadrant Living, providing information and motivation for healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. This blog is from the Body quadrant. Contact Dina at dina@fourquadrantliving.com

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Terry Parris Jr. January 20, 2012 at 11:28 PM
That mac and cheese comparison is crazy.
Larry January 30, 2012 at 11:12 PM
The difference is that the food, seed, and chemical companies have their hands and money in our government, whereas these foreign governments are independent. This allows them to look after the health of their populations, not the well-being of the corporate profits. I'm sure these food manufacturers are doing just fine overseas, or they wouldn't be doing business there. Monsanto is one of the scariest companies involved - not only do they produce the weed killer (Roundup and others), they also produce the Roundup resistant engineered seed.

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