Do you really know what you’re eating?

March 25, 2008

True or false? With approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, biotech companies are planting fields of corn, rice, and other food crops genetically engineered to grow drugs and other chemicals. The risk of contamination to the food supply from these so-called “pharma crops” is minimal.

False. Pharma crops can get into the food supply when their seeds are inadvertently mixed with seeds of food crops during planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, and processing. Or when the crops cross-pollinate with food crops. The ease of contamination was shown in 2002 when one biotech company allowed corn plants engineered to produce a veterinary drug to grow in a Nebraska soybean field. The harvest contaminated a grain elevator, and 500,000 bushels of tainted soybeans had to be destroyed.

True or false? An estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are added to the food and water of livestock and poultry that aren’t sick. That’s almost 25 million pounds of antibiotics or nearly eight times the amount used for treating humans.

True. This practice by CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) has serious consequences for human health. Bacteria that are constantly exposed to antibiotics develop antibiotic resistance. This means when humans get sick from resistant bacteria, the antibiotics prescribed by doctors don’t work.

True or false? The use of overcrowded, unsanitary CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) is a necessary evil of an American food system designed to produce enough food to feed the whole population.

False. Meat and dairy farmers are successfully shifting away from massive, overcrowded CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) that create pollution and public health problems. Smart pasture operations are a modern alternative, taking advantage of low-cost grasses on well-managed pastures to maximize productivity and reduce farm pollution

True or false? According to a ruling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), meat from animals that are fed large quantities of corn and other grains can still qualify for a “grass fed” label.

False. The USDA rule stipulates that meat labeled “grass fed” must come from animals fed solely on grasses, hay, and other non-grain vegetation. This rule will help consumers choose meat from smart pasture operations that are better for the environment. In addition, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report found that meat from grass-fed cattle contains higher levels of beneficial fats and is often leaner than meat from CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).

True or False? Currently, industrial agriculture produces the bulk of our nation’s food. But there are viable alternatives.

True. UCS promotes a vision of sustainable agriculture that works in harmony with the environment while continuing to be highly productive. This holistic and scientific approach treats the farm as an integrated whole composed of soil, plants, animals, and insects–with interactions that can be adjusted and enriched to solve problems and maximize yields.

Surprised at these answers? Agricultural biotechnology has entered a new age. With USDA approval, biotech companies are planting fields of corn, rice, and other food crops genetically engineered to grow drugs and other chemicals. You might be surprised to learn that hundreds of pharmaceuticals drugs and chemicals–from blood thinners to hormones to plastics–have been identified as so-called “pharma crop” candidates. But this practice could pose serious risks to our health, environment, and the economy.

It will take strong federal oversight to keep our food safe. Please sign the petition urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prohibit the genetic engineering of outdoor food crops for the production of pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals. Go to:  http://ucsaction.org/campaign/protect_our_food

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