Archive for the ‘Food Safety/Security’ Category

Limiting Arsenic Levels in Rice Products

August 20, 2017

Inorganic arsenic is an element that can be found in water, soil, and food. It is a carcinogen with links to skin, lung, bladder cancer, and other health problems. In January 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the limit from 50 ppb to 10 ppb in drinking water. However, similar standards have not been set for food products, especially rice.

Lead-arsenate insecticides were used in crops until the 1980s. Even today pesticides and manure containing arsenic are being added to soil where rice grows, increasing the level of arsenic in rice. Since rice is a staple in the diet of many groups in the U.S., this affects a significant portion of the population. Even children get exposed to rice based cereals at a very young age, increasing their lifetime risks of cancer and other health problems.

Source: Consumer Reports

Effective April 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) and Food and Drug Association (FDA) have proposed limiting arsenic in infant rice cereals. Even though this was a step forward, there are still very few regulations for limiting arsenic in other rice products. USA Rice Federation, representing rice growers claim there is not enough scientific evidence of a risk to set a standard. However, food companies such as Nature’s One worked with rice syrup suppliers to develop filtration process to eliminate arsenic in infant formula because of their concern for their customers.

As health care professionals, we must push for a change in policy to include a federal limit on arsenic levels on all rice products, because of its potential to cause many health concerns. Even though the use of substances containing arsenic has decreased over the years, the EPA, FDA, and U.S department of Agriculture (USDA) should push more to discontinue its use and grow types of rice that take up less arsenic.

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Fight Food Insecurity: Secure SNAP Funding in the Farm Bill

August 20, 2017

 

During the 2008 election, the Obama-Biden campaign pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015. Since this pledge, food insecurity in the U.S. has been on the decline, reaching 12.7% of U.S. households in 2015, which reflects a 1.7 million household reduction since 2014. Of these food-insecure households, 59% participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or the National School Lunch Program, which enable low-income Americans to afford an adequate nutritional diet. However, despite these steps toward ending hunger in children, 3 million households were unable to provide nutritious food for children in 2016.

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SNAP is not only one of the most influential programs to prevent food insecurity and hunger, it is also beneficial for increasing economic activity, generating farm production, and creating farm jobs. However, despite its economic benefits, the House Budget Committee has continuously proposed deep cuts to SNAP funding in the past five budget discussions. These budget cuts will terminate benefits to millions of Americans, especially people with disabilities, working families, and senior citizens. The most recent rendition of budget cuts contends a $10 billion cut to SNAP alone, out of a $200 billion cut to domestic social programs over 10 years.

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The budget for SNAP is largely dictated by the U.S. Farm Bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation that is due to be renewed by September 30, 2018 when the current bill’s major farm provisions expire. The fight against childhood hunger will face insurmountable challenges if funding for the SNAP program is cut as proposed. Each Farm Bill Reauthorization and Appropriation process provides public hearings as opportunities for concerned citizens to voice our opinions. Support and secure SNAP funding by attending these hearings, being vocal, and continuing the fight against childhood hunger.

Neglecting Micronutrients in Zaatari’s Food Policy

March 12, 2017

Civil war in Syria has driven an estimated 2.8 million refugees from the country in search of sanctuary, primarily among neighboring countries. Zaatari camp in Jordan, currently the largest Syrian refugee camp, is home to over 79,000 Syrians. 

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While all registered camp residents receive World Food Program food vouchers for the purchase of food items within the camp markets, studies conducted in the Zaatari camp have indicated a high prevalence of anemia in children and women (48.8% and 44.8%respectively). Displacement, lack of income, and poor access to nutrient rich foods are contributing factors to the poor nutritional status of some of the refugees in the camp.

According to WHO classification and in conformity of UNHCR operational guidance, anemia prevalence over 40% is classified as a HIGH public health significance and is an indication of need for preventive interventions with micronutrient supplementation, including iron, zinc, and vitamin A. 

UNHCR’s nutrition response intervention report of 2015 laid out a system for diagnosing and delivering targeted therapy for severe micronutrient deficiencies in both women and children within the Syrian refugee camps. Although medical personnel are trained to detect and manage severe micronutrient deficiencies, they still persist because there is no policy on universal supplementation or prevention.  

 
The current policy of securing food among refugees in Zaatari neglects important micronutrient deficiencies. While malnutrition is low overall (and thus a success of multiple aid agencies), micronutrient deficiencies are unacceptably high. We therefore propose inclusion of micronutrient packets and fortified flour to all families, and for this to be implemented as the standard in refugee camps. Jordan already has a national mandatory flour fortification program in place. We urge the World Food Program and the United Nations partners  who are heavily-invested stakeholders (UNHCR and UNICEF), to take a more sustainable approach, and focus on supporting the national fortification program to ensure that refugees have full access to fortified flour products.

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Sugar-Sweetened Beverages’ Low Taxes in Maryland May Be a Poison for Children and Adults

March 12, 2017

Other group member: Mujan Varasteh Kia

In 2015, 30% of the people in Maryland were clinically obese. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) is strongly associated with obesity which can lead to the number one leading cause of preventative deaths (1 in 4 deaths) due to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, and can play a role in preterm delivery.

A constructive SSB taxation policy can help to reduce many of the obesity-related health problems and alleviate the amount of money spent to treat these cases long-term. The goal is that “increasing [the tax] will discourage individuals, especially children, and teenagers, from excessive consumption of these beverages.” Currently, Maryland imposes a 6% sale tax on SSBs. No significant reduction in obesity has been recognized as a result of this taxation. It has been argued that the sales tax is too little to prevent people from reducing their bad habits which urges the need for a more substantial taxation to reduce soda consumption. In a study, they found that participants would buy fewer SSBs with 20% tax and would completely eliminate their SSB consumption if 50-100% tax was implemented.

Shortly after Mexico passed soda tax law in 2013, there was an average 12% decline in soda sales and a 4% increase in bottled water purchases. The soda industries have argued that soda taxation is not going to “change the behaviors that lead to obesity,” and that the public will find their calories elsewhere. However, in the studies they referred to the taxes were too small or they were applied in the form of sales taxes that could have gone unnoticed by the consumers.

Philadelphia was the first big city in the nation to pass a soda taxation policy in 2016. Despite the approximate $5 million advertisements against this taxation by The American Beverage Association, a non-profit campaign was created with the help of the former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg to support the soda taxation law. We also urge the Maryland state legislature to support and follow the same initiatives as those of Philadelphia mayor’s 1.5-cents-per-ounce levy on SSBs. These policies may not fully eliminate the obesity crisis, but even a small reduction in soda consumption will make a difference.

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Image credit: Philly.com

 

 

Regulation of the food industry is needed to ensure healthier foods and healthier food choices – A new law regulating salt reduction of commonly consumed goods comes into effect 30 June 2016 in South Africa

August 19, 2016

Hypertension affects a significant proportion of the South African population with the 2010 National Household Survey reporting a measured hypertension prevalence of over 40% in adults aged ≥25 years. Today, South Africa continues to have one of the highest hypertension prevalence rates in the world.

Excessive salt intake can cause raised blood pressure known to be associated with non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke and renal disease. On average, South African’s are reported to consume double the daily recommended salt limit. In 2011, the South African Minister of Health declared to set targets to reduce the populations’ average salt intake to 5g/day per person by 2020 by implementing a public health campaign and regulating the food industry. On June 30, 2016 lower salt targets became mandatory by food producers with stricter targets to be achieved by 2019. Commonly consumed foods targeted include bread, cereals, margarines and butter, savoury snacks, potato crisps, processed meats, sausages, soup and gravy powders, instant noodles and stocks.

Recommended daily salt intakeSource: Salt Watch

The South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) advised in official comment to the proposed law that an educational campaign capable of changing the salt habits of consumers was needed if salt intake was to be successfully reduced. To assist the public to make healthier food choices more easily, healthier options need to be more easily recognized. Most food labels declare sodium/salt content by mass not allowing consumers to easily identify the salt level of products at a glance.

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Source: Salt Watch – A tool to help consumers decide if a food is low, moderate or high in sodium by looking at the value in the nutritional information table on the product label

New food labelling regulations addressing this, formulated by the SAAFoST (as a representative on the Food Legislation Advisory Group (FLAG) contributing towards the formulation and revision of food regulations as published by the Department of Health), to be implemented by the food industry would empower the South African public to make healthier food choices more easily.

Colorado Can Do 5!

August 18, 2016

Colorado Can Do 5! is a hospital initiative set forth by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to increase breastfeeding rates in Colorado. This initiative is 5 different hospital practices and are half of the ten practices that the gold standard for hospital lactation policy, Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, calls for implementing. Colorado Can Do 5! asks hospitals to:

  1. Establish breastfeeding in the first hour after birth.
  2. Keep infants in the room with their mothers and not take them to the nursery.
  3. Only feed breastfed infants breast milk and no other supplementation.
  4. Not use pacifiers.
  5. Provide mothers with a telephone number to call for help with breastfeeding after discharge.
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Establish breastfeeding in the first hour after birth. Photo by Andreas Bohnenstengel

These five policies increased longer term breastfeeding rates in Colorado measurably.  This was a collaborative initiative between the Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition, and Colorado WIC. Hospitals were given a presentation and resource kit at 21 key birthing hospitals. The hospitals that implemented these policies saw an increase in breastfeeding duration which equal better health benefits for moms and babies, as well as, lowered health care costs.

A significant number of the hospitals that implemented these practices have, since, gone on to achieve the Baby Friendly Hospital designation! At the start of this initiative, there were two hospitals that had successfully achieved Baby Friendly. Now, eight hospitals have achieved Baby Friendly status and many more are on the way!

Baby Friendly is huge undertaking for a large hospital system. It forces perinatal health staff to undergo significant further training and requires very specific policies to be passed. However, now that the word is getting out about the importance of breastfeeding, expectant families are seeking out Baby Friendly hospitals to deliver their babies.

More Colorado hospitals need to make these vital changes to their policies and perinatal patient care. It’s good for moms. It’s good for babies. It’s good for hospitals.

The broad use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a public health threat for which policy is outdated.

March 4, 2016

UntitledA federal Biotechnology Policy written in 1992, and currently supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states that GMOs are not materially different from other products and propose there is a lack of consensus on whether or not GMOs cause harm to health sufficient to support a change to the policy.

For a bit of background, in 1994, the FDA approved the first genetically engineered food for sale, a tomato with a longer shelf life than conventional tomatoes. The economic advantage was undeniable: farmers could raise bacteria, draught and infestation resistant crops; pressure eased in transportation time to ensure freshness; grocery stores could make the product available to consumers for a longer period of time without rot.

NonGMOPressure is mounting by consumer groups such as the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and lawmakers Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, and Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, co-chairwomen of the legislature’s children’s committee to label GMO foods, and to ensure that children’s food in particular, such as baby formula and snack for young children, are GMO-free. January 7, 2016, Cambell’s Soup Company announced their support for mandatory national labeling laws – the first major American company to do so. Proponent claim that GMOs have been linked to increased cancer rates, heart disease, rare allergies and contributed to US antibiotic resistance. GMO crops such as soy and corn are the foundation of our nation: derivatives of these two products are in literally everything. Here is a 4 page list of corn derivatives alone! Consumers have a right to know what is in their food.

A1Yet backlash against labeling and use of GMOs is high. In fact, 4 of the 20 members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture confirmed that they work for Monsanto
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a company that produces “round up ready” products such as seeds that grow their own pesticides. Monsanto has dominated the seed market, making purchase of non-GMO seeds prohibitively expensive for farmers. Food and industry groups say they would be harmed by mandatory labeling requirements, which could be costly to impose and cast GMOs, present in more than 80 percent of the nation’s food, in a negative light. Yet, the OCA cited statements signed by 300 scientists and doctors saying
that there is “no scientific consensus on GMO safety”.

All of this hits a little too close to home. My son, from birth, vomited profusely after nursing. It continued until at 7 months, we nearly lost him as we could not find what was triggering this allergic reaction which was causing severe malnutrition.  As his mother, I finally realized I had to find  something that was in everything: corn. Specialists were stumped, however we confirmed my son’s allergy to trace amounts of corn. What I found through my research is a growing community of the corn and soy allergic. However many of these people have less or no reaction to non-GMO foods.

If Congress can pass policy supporting mandatory food labeling, perhaps we can spare another generation from the impact of genetically modified food and related negative health outcomes.

Duck Duck Goose…. or Chicken?

August 11, 2015

50 Billion eggs are produced each year in the US. Have you ever wondered what a mass chicken producer’s coop looks like? I’ll give you a hint: it’s nothing like this. chicken

It is much more concerning. Millions of chickens are crammed into small, wire cages often covered in feces, feathers, and rust (Factory Farm Conditions). So what’s the alternative? For egg lovers like me, it’s easy: raise your own chickens! Unfortunately, chicken keeping has traditionally taken place on farms and thus most cities have zoning regulations that prohibit residents from rearing livestock on land not zoned for agriculture. The laws have been slow to change due to concerns about regulations for chicken health, contamination from droppings, smell and noise concerns, and predator species (Chicken Concerns).

In Virginia Beach, VA, city council has yet to achieve a majority vote to allow backyard hens. As of 2011, all surrounding cities have adopted regulations to allow 4-6 hens on properties of at least 10,000 sq ft. My backyard in Norfolk has been home to Gertrude and Henrietta for the last 18 months. Every morning I let them out and collect their eggs. The quiet, docile creatures spend their days searching for last night’s dinner scraps while scratching in the dirt. Their droppings fertilize the soil that in turn neutralizes the smell. And like clockwork, every evening at dusk they return the coop where they are protected from predators for the night. Public health nightmare or sustainable living solution? You make the call- to your councilman. (Steps for Action).

The Warning Label Bill on Sugary Drinks in California: Is It a Solution in the Battle Against Obesity?

March 6, 2015

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In February 2015, a Californian lawmaker introduced a new bill that would require a warning label to be placed on sugary beverages in the state of California. Senate Bill 203 would mandate the placement of a warning label on cans and bottles of drinks that contain 75 or more in added sugar calories for every 12 ounces.

The warning label would read: STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

“Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest reason for the obesity epidemic in California. For this reason, we need this bill to establish the Safety Warning Act, to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about what they’re drinking,” said by Senator Bill Monning, one of the authors of SB 203.

Indeed, sugary beverage intake doubled in the last thirty years in California that contributed to the rise in obesity and diabetes.

However, CalBev, the organization representing soda companies in California, argues that obesity is a complex issue that cannot be simply resolved by limiting soda intake. “It is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain”, stated Bob Achermann, the executive director of CalBev.

While limiting sugary drinks may not solve the whole issue of obesity, addressing it in parts, like this soda bill, can be the beginning of the battle against obesity. The use of a warning label will enable individuals to make better choices with their drinks.

To lend your support for this bill, please visit the public health advocacy website to sign up.

Addressing a root cause of the most pervasive killers in Mongolia: an unhealthy diet

March 6, 2015

MyPlateIn land of blue sky, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise. The most prominent sources of mortality and morbidity among Mongolians are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and adult-onset diabetes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs “are estimated to account for 79% of total deaths” within the population. Hence, there is a desperate need to address one of the leading causes of the most pervasive killers in Mongolia – an unhealthy diet.

As populations all over the world are experiencing epidemic rates of overweight and obesity, online resources and tools can help to empower people to make healthier food choices for themselves, their families, and their children. ChooseMyPlate.gov is a website that has a plethora of tools and resources that could assist Mongolians in healthier meal planning. The photo above demonstrates the appropriate balance for a healthy meal using the five different food groups within a typical place setting. The site also has a Healthy Eating on a Budget section, which has tips for grocery shopping, preparing healthy meals, sample menus, and resources for professionals. For eating outside of the home, vegetarian restaurants are becoming more popular in Mongolia and a list of them can be found here. Finally, the SuperTracker helps people log food consumption and physical activity throughout the day to analyze what they can improve on to make their lifestyle choices healthier. A screenshot of this terrific resource can be found below.

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A call for action: Additional behavior change advocacy is needed on the national level and within the capital of Ulaanbaatar (where a majority of the country’s population resides) to incite healthier eating practices in Mongolia. There is a need for more behavior change advocacy programs by the Ministry of Health (MoH) targeted at the workplace level as well as within the school systems. The MoH could utilize the Network of Health Related Organizations in Mongolia to ensure a cohesive, nationwide approach.  Another critical resource for spreading the message of healthy eating will be the Business Council of Mongolia.  Furthermore, the WHO is well positioned to assist the MoH with the implementation of additional efforts and could also help reinvigorate the Association of the National Mongolia Network for Workplace Health Promotion.  A coordinated effort on behalf of the Mongolian population to help assist with addressing unhealthy eating behaviors and incentivizing people to integrate more fruits and vegetables into their dietary routine is necessary in order to quell the rise of NCDs among the population.