We are what we eat - we've been told that by our moms since we were a kid. But just when you think you're eating a healthy diet comes a new book that proves otherwise and may, in fact, cause some nausea. Called "Sorting the Beef from the Bull," the title says it all! This book is a collection of food fraud tales from around the world. And explains the role of science in uncovering some of the biggest food scams.
Here are some examples:
Remember 3-4 years ago when burgers and ready-to-make meals sold in the UK contained horse DNA? Well, it wasn't just the UK - horse meat has turned up in Florida with some 16% of meat having undeclared meat - mystery meat.
Another study in 2006 found that at least 22 percent of the processed meats they tested (like sausage and salami) were not what they appeared to be. For instance, 11 of the 28 supposedly "beef" sausages actually contained chicken... and ONLY chicken.
Pink slime is still added to our hamburger, including in our children's lunches sold at school.
And there are actually chicken eggs that aren't from chickens that are sold in China. How?
With coloring agents and moulds, sodium alginate and calcium chloride become the tools for making a fake egg – complete with yolk. Wax and plaster are combined to provide this sham’s shell and then the bogus eggs can be placed into cartons and sold at market. Profits are double to quadruple those of traditional chicken farmers. Oh, and a little bonus is that any leftover ‘egg white ’ mixture can be dyed green or purple and with a little added juice (just a splash), you’ve got yourself some fake grapes as well! No chicken can do that! Fake eggs started appearing in China in the mid-1990s and continue to crop up from time to time. The fraudsters have moved onto the next market before the customer knows they’ve been swindled. But some fakes are so good that people are even cooking them up and eating them. The health consequences of eating these eggs are unclear; though most of these ingredients are already used in food products, they are not used in the quantities found in the fake eggs.
There are soy-based products that taste and act like cheese. Fish paste is flavored and fashioned to look like crab. A week-old cut-up apple has been dipped in chemicals to make it look like a freshly cut apple. And gelatin, sugar and some other additives are mixed together into fried egg-shaped sweets for the delight of children. So why is one fake egg acceptable while the other is not? Because it is about how it’s sold to the consumer – it’s about what it says on the packaging.
We must make our purchasing decisions based on the information we receive and if we’re being lied to – whether it’s myrtle leaves in our oregano, horse meat in our beefburgers or a ham and cheese pizza that’s actually turkey and cheese substitute – it’s cheating.
Last year 70% of chickens sold in the US were found to be contaminated with arsenic - because an animal drug containing it had been added to their feed by farmers. Although the FDA ended up ordering chicken farmers to use less arsenic-based drugs, the meat on the market now still contains the poison.
So what do we do?
We buy organic meat as much as possible - know where your meat and eggs are coming from! Local ranchers sell beef and pork, and you can even participate in the auctions at the Spokane or Kootenai county fairs and buy your meat from a 4H kid. Our daughter sells her steer each year this way. Owning 1-3 chickens is easy, they require very little work or space, and will give you fresh eggs daily. Buy your vegetables at the farmer's market, and grow your own as much as you can. This way, you know exactly where your food is coming from.
By Dr. Susan Ashley, M.D.