Critical Condition

How our nations food supply is undermining the health of the United States.

It seems that who ever inscribed the Georgia Guide Stones when they scripted reducing the worlds population to be in balance with nature may be a real reality today. Here in the United States we are doing a real fine job of doing just that. Let’s explain some of the hard cold facts that directly or indirectly point to the food so many Americans consume contributes to the early demise of so many of us. Whether it is cancer, diabetes, obesity, or all the other related diseases associated with the processed and industrialized food that are in the American diet today too many are dying off too soon. 

When the United States experiences over 48 million people suffer each year from food borne illness and of that over 130,000 people are hospitalized annually signals that the food we eat really isn’t that safe after all. Now, when there are thousands that die each year because of contaminated or unsafe food is a reality we can’t ignore any longer. So what does our illustrious congress do they passed the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

This Act was the first step in the right direction our congress has taken in many years. But, they didn’t go far enough to revolutionize the farming industry to negate the fact that food borne diseases are still occurring at ever increasing alarming rates. The attempt of the Modernization Act to put the focus on prevention of food borne diseases is still a long way off.  The plus side is, it is the first time how ever that the Food & Drug Administration has had a legislative mandate to require a preventative based control all across the nations food supply. In the past the FDA approach has always been a system that in so many instances only responded to outbreaks rather than ushering in preventative measure before an outbreak occurred. 

How ever over the last few decades new animal-to-human infectious diseases have emerged at an unprecedented rate. According to the World Health Organization, the increasing global demand for animal protein is a key underlying factor. Swine flu is not the only deadly human disease traced to factory farming practices. The meat industry took natural herbivores like cows and sheep, and turned them into carnivores and cannibals by feeding them slaughterhouse waste, blood, and manure. Then they fed people “downer” animals–too sick to even walk. Now the world has mad cow disease.  

In 2005 the world’s largest and deadliest outbreak of a pathogen called Strep. suis emerged, causing meningitis and deafness in people handling infected pork products. Experts blamed the emergence on factory farming practices. Pig factories in Malaysia birthed the Nipah virus, one of the deadliest of human pathogens, a contagious respiratory disease causing relapsing brain infections and killing 40% of people infected. Its emergence was likewise blamed squarely on factory farming.  

The pork industry in the U.S. feeds pigs millions of pounds of human antibiotics every year just to promote growth in such a stressful, unhygienic environment, and now there are these multi-drug resistant bacteria and we as physicians are running out of good antibiotic options. As the UK’s chief medical officer put it in his 2009 annual report: every inappropriate use of antibiotics in agriculture is a potential death warrant for a future patient. In the short term we need to put an end to the riskiest practices, such as extreme confinement, gestation crates, battery cages and the nontherapeutic feeding of antibiotics. All of these are still very much the way our industrialization of Americas food supply is processed. 

To realize what has happened with our nations food supply we have to revert back to when the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement was signed. Back then in 1993 the ramifications of what that treaty implied is still being felt by every independent farmer across the United States. Up until that time the independent farmer had been steadily disappearing. The real issue is that between 1960 and 1970 the family farmer, the small independent ones, were fast approaching extinction. During that decade the United States lost over 900,000 individual farmers roughly at a rate of over 100,000 per year. This was the beginning of the end for the family farmer and the evolution of the corporate and conglomerate farms all across the United States. With the demise of the independent farmer having been bought out and consolidated by corporate and conglomerate farms little did this country realize that the quality of food planted, grown, harvested and consumed would be of lesser nutritional value than the food produced by the local independent farmer of the 1950’s. These corporate farmers are so focused on mass industrialization of food there is no way that the food now produced and consumed will ever be as nutritional as the food of earlier generation of farmers. The corporate and conglomerate farms only intentions are to produce mass quantities of food. It is this food that is harvested has very little of the nutritional value of the foods that were grown and harvested by the local family independent farmer of just a generation ago. 

When NAFTA was signed this opened up a new opportunity for foreign countries to export food into the United States. The cost to the consumer for imported foods became less expensive than  food domestically grown. But there again, the nutritional value of food imported into this country is still far inferior in nutritional value.  A major contributor to all sorts of ailments and illnesses that are associated with inferior food quality has resulted. All of this has left the American consumer at the mercy of the large corporate farms and governmental policies that wield so much influence in the way our food is produced and imported. Since 1994 the percentage of food that is imported has continually risen at a rate of over 2% annually, so that today the United States is importing almost 30% of all food consumed in the United States. With no apparent change in policies the average American citizen by the year 2020 will be forced to consume over 50% of food that is imported. 

The real danger here is that only 50 years ago Americans were among the healthiest of populations. Small independent farmers grew, produced and supplied the population over 85% of all the food consumed. Not only that the quality of food produced was superior in nutrition to that of the food produced today no matter where it comes from. Another disturbing trend is that the percentage of US disposable incomes spent of food prepared in homes in 1960 was 22%. Today the percentage of disposable income spent on food that is prepared in homes has fallen to less than 3%. This means that more people are spending more for processed fast food which translates to the biggest reason why the overall population in the United States has the highest rate of obesity, heart problems, cancer and other health related problems associate with inferior nutritional quality food. 

These are all unwelcome trends that have developed since the mid 1960’s. Today not only in the United States but in most countries that import food into this country continually are using farming methods that are environmentally suspect, farm laborers are continually being more exploited and here the United States government’s tax dollars are continually funneled into the coffers of the large corporate farmer. Now we have to contend with the fact that the rising cost of oil which continues to fatten major oil companies profits at the expense of the American consumer is making it more difficult for Americans to afford quality food. The whole US economy will continue to suffer with fuel prices on the rise. Another point to consider is the extent that the Chinese are now exporting most of the fish and shellfish that is consumed in here. With little oversight and regulations that are here to protect the American consumer, in China there are very little regulations in processing of their exported food. Consequently the American Consumer is now faced not only with inferior quality of food but a major health issue is also at stake. 

The advances in technology, the increased usage of pesticides, the lack of rotation of crops, the importation of more food sources and the tax dollars in subsidizing the now large corporate farmer all have had a hand in the reduction of quality of food. The almost extinction of the honey bee, the increasing rates of obesity, cancer and other health related illnesses due to the lack of nutrition in our food supply have undermined the safety, the health, and the security of the United States.  

When we factor in all these contingencies as well as the escalating pollution that is now seeping into all waterways, rivers, lakes, oceans along with blatant deforestation [the Amazon Rainforest is one of man's most notorious crimes against nature] we have a pretty grim picture of how our food supply is going to continue. The ingenuity of man to supply the worlds population with adequate food we have begun to genetically alter with eradication methods more food sources to compensate for the destructive nature of corporations and governments in regards to providing food. 

We will never bring back the small family farmer but what we must do is ensure that the large corporate farmer utilizing the farm techniques that produced the quality of nutrition in the food 50 years ago is the same today. The technology is here so that the United States consumer can be reassured that there will be abundant, more nutritious, and more affordable food available for every American. No longer can monetary gain take president over the sanctity of life. Like fresh clean water, healthy food has to be a basic right for all. Elimination of the sources of pollution that is so destructive to our planet will ensure that there is enough space, time and more clean water for planting, growing, harvesting and producing all the nutritious food sources needed for man and animal. 

It is long over due to rewrite and completely reverse the course that this country is headed in regards to the way our food is grown, imported and consumed. Now is the time to end the NAFTA treaty and establish the Equal Trade Agreement. In this way this country will be able to ignite more economic growth and ensure that the American public will once again have the nutritious available food that the United States produced over 50 years ago. A healthier nation will be the end result. We have to follow the advice of the American Public Health Association and declare a moratorium of factory farming and eventually phase them out. The bottom line is how we treat animals really does have global public health implications. The Food Modernization Act has to be revised and incorporate a reform of our food imports and our current farming practices.    

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