Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Are What You Eat:  Oregon’s efforts towards a wholesome food system

Concerns about our food system have been plaguing consumers the last few decades.  As a result, we’ve been seeing a budding awareness and concern regarding our food.  Foodies have emerged from the woodwork, infiltrating all of the major cities.  Urban gardens and farmers’ markets are popping up at the most unlikely of places, and frequently.  And many of the portions of the patchwork that makes up the rural areas of this country are now cultivating organic, sustainable produce and livestock- most of which are facilitating educational opportunities for a steadily growing population of twenty-somethings that are interested in making some changes in this world through agriculture.  All of these factors are a direct result of consumers having a strong interest in forming a deeper connection to their food. 

Yet, not all of us are capable of growing our food- even those of us that are tend not to be completely sustainable.  Most of us visit a grocery store or cooperative.  We buy bread, we buy milk, we buy cereal.  Some of us simply read the labels assertions on the front of the box- bold prints claiming “All Natural”, or “Enriched with Vitamin D”.  But, most of us use the nutritional facts posted on the foods.  We want to know the ingredients.  We want to know the fat and calorie content.  We want to know whether the product contains allergens.

But most importantly: We want to know.

This isn’t a new concept.  The interest consumers have had in being informed about what they’re eating is what initiated the nutritional labels in the first place.  The process of regulating the labeling of food began as early as 1906 when the Food and Drugs Act was passed.  

But here we are, in 2012, pleading with the FDA to label a variety of food that has yet to be tested to be proven safe- Genetically-Modified Organisms (a.k.a. GMOs, or Genetically Engineered/GE).  Dennis Kucinich-D, a former Representative of Ohio, sponsored H.R. 3533- Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, which would demand genetically engineered foods be labeled accordingly.  And, while it’s comforting seeing political representatives fighting for consumer rights, it is undecided how long (if ever) that bill will take to be put into action.  Until then, consumers have decided to take their rights into their own hands.

While many cities have groups of activists educating others on GMOs in their communities, there are some counties, cities and states that are actually making legal progress in labeling and banning initiatives.  The United States is currently one of the few industrialized countries that allow GMOs within their food system, particularly unlabeled.  While some see this as the United States simply being behind the trend, others, like Clint Lindsey, have voiced a concern that many may not be thinking about.

Lindsey, a bean and grain farmer in Corvallis, Oregon, exports a large percentage of his wheat crop to Asia.  He is not alone.  In the Pacific Northwest, roughly 80% of the wheat crops we grow are exported.  Many of the countries receiving this wheat have limitations on GMO crops entering their country, and will halt these imports if they are found to be contaminated.  In this regard, contamination from Genetically-modified seeds could alter more than the ecology and biodiversity of the area’s crops, it could severely affect the regional economy. 

On May 30th I attended a meeting in Eugene, Oregon that offered a panel of speakers concerned about the physical, environmental and economic implications of GMOs within our food supply.  While farmers like Lindsey spoke to the audience about their concerns regarding contamination from these GMO crops, Ingrid Edstrom, FNP,M.Ed, with Infrared Breast Health, LLC, is concerned about health implications involved in consuming pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.

Edstrom has been performing state-of-the-art thermography scans on women’s breast tissue and documenting the results and has noticed a dramatic difference between women that have been consuming organic foods and women that have been exposed to chemicals, either through their food or in concentrated levels in their work or home environment.  Her discoveries are a mere glimpse into the hidden health issues of our food supply.  She urges those she encounters to consume organic foods as much as possible.
The panel of speakers offered a wide variety of information to educate consumers about how to make conscious decisions about their food, as well as being aware of things that are easily hidden and overlooked within our food supply.

A statewide labeling initiative has recently been introduced by GMO-free Oregon, as well as measures in different Oregon counties, such as GMO-free Jackson County and Right to Seed Heritage and Sustainability, that have the intention of banning GMOs from being grown and cultivated on local farm land. 
Now is a time for consumers to see the support their health practitioners, farmers, and entrepreneurs are offering, and join them to promote a wholesome, transparent food system.

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