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Shredded Wheat: 100 Percent Whole Grain With a Touch of Weed Killer

One of the most wholesome breakfast cereals is the latest food product to test positive for glyphosate residue.

The maker of one of the most popular breakfast cereals in America is being targeted by a national consumer group, which argues in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that Shredded Wheat is not nearly as “natural” as it claims to be.

Specifically, the Organic Consumers Association charges that samples of Shredded Wheat analyzed at an independent lab in California tested positive for glyphosate—better known by the Monsanto trade name Roundup—the most heavily applied weed killer in the history of U.S. agriculture. Shredded Wheat is made by Post, which is named as the defendant in the suit.

“On the back of its cereal box, Post says Shredded Wheat is made of ‘100% Whole Grain Wheat’ and that the product is ‘made with nothing but goodness,’ ” OCA’s international director, Ronnie Cummins, says in a statement. “But tests prove Shredded Wheat contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Glyphosate is not only very unnatural—it is a known toxin, linked to a long list of potential and serious health problems.”

Testing found Shredded Wheat contained 0.18 parts per million of glyphosate, far below the level deemed acceptable by federal regulators. But the ubiquitous agrochemical has increasingly become the subject of intense scrutiny and public concern, ever since the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared it a probable human carcinogen last year. The OCA suit against Post follows a similar lawsuit filed just last month against Quaker Oats after lab tests found traces of glyphosate in the company’s Quick 1-Minute Oats.

Indeed, the results of a study released by the nonprofit group Alliance for Natural Health in April found glyphosate in almost half of the store-bought breakfast food items tested. The study was limited—just 24 foods were tested—but it suggested that concern over glyphosate’s pervasiveness in our food supply may be well founded and that, cumulatively, Americans may be consuming more of the chemical than previously thought. Glyphosate is most commonly associated with GMO crops such as corn and soybeans, which make up 80 percent or more of such crops planted in the U.S., but the chemical not only turned up in products made with those ingredients but in unexpected foods, such as cage-free organic eggs and dairy-based coffee creamer. Likewise, glyphosate is not heavily used on wheat, yet as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Post contend, the chemical is cropping up in Shredded Wheat.

All this might not be cause for alarm if the public could be assured that glyphosate is safe. But even as companies like Monsanto engineered a wholesale revolution in American agriculture right under our noses, unleashing both a new generation of GMO crops and a tidal wave of glyphosate that those crops are designed to withstand, federal regulators and their counterparts in many countries have more or less relied on the industry’s claims that glyphosate poses little risk to human health or the environment.

Yet in the wake of IARC’s decision to classify glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, the European Union is now poised to allow its license for glyphosate to lapse, with France announcing this week that it would not vote to permit continued use of the chemical. If the license isn’t renewed, that would trigger a six-month phaseout of glyphosate in the EU. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to hedge on releasing its own evaluation of the cancer risk associated with glyphosate, and Monsanto is currently suing California to prevent the state from adding glyphosate to its own list of known carcinogens.

That such confusion exists over the possible public health effects of a chemical that’s been in use for decades and has become the No. 1 herbicide in the U.S. seems shocking. Add to that the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to come up with a legal definition for the word “natural” on food labels, leaving an unsuspecting public to believe that foods marketed as, say, “100% all natural” must be required to adhere to some sort of enforceable standard—when nothing could be further from the truth—and you have a recipe for the sort of outrage that’s likely to fuel more Shredded Wheat–style lawsuits, possibly for years to come.

  • Food
  • Lawsuit Contends Pig Farm Didn’t Fix Polluting Ways—but Did It Have to?

    The Humane Society and a local nonprofit are suing a North Carolina pig farm for failure to report ammonia emissions.

    In what would seem a rare—if qualified—victory over the livestock industry in one of its bastions, a federal court in North Carolina has ruled that a lawsuit against an industrial pig farm in the state can proceed. The suit, brought by the Humane Society of the United States and a local nonprofit group, alleges the giant farm, with a capacity of more than 8,000 pigs and operated by the Hanor Company of Wisconsin, has been violating federal law by failing to report its ammonia emissions.

    That this is news just goes to show the sorry state in which we find ourselves when it comes to regulating factory farms. Yes, North Carolina is an epicenter of factory farming; in some counties, hogs outnumber people 30 to one. Getting a judge there to issue any sort of ruling against the livestock industry would seem about as heroic as persuading the local town council to offer a vegetarian alternative at its annual Fourth of July barbecue.

    But let’s take a closer look at what the Hanor Company is fighting here. Hanor is saying that a Bush-era regulation exempting the largest factory farms, known as “confined animal feeding operations,” from reporting their emissions of nasty pollutants such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds, which come from the enormous amounts of animals waste generated at these facilities, still applies some 11 years after the fact—and Hanor may be right. The presiding judge didn’t buy that argument this time around but may when the lawsuit goes to court.

    So what’s in dispute is whether factory farms are legally obligated simply to report the amount of air pollution they’re spewing into the air, not whether they’re required to do anything about all that pollution.

    Any number of unsuspecting Americans innocently chowing down on poolside hot dogs this summer might be surprised to learn that despite the rampant proliferation of industrial-scale factory farms across the country (a 250 percent increase in the past 25 years), the federal government has done little to nothing to address the staggering amount of pollution these facilities generate. While the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the nation’s factory farms produce three times the amount of solid waste people do, it doesn’t even have an idea of where all those facilities are.

    The Humane Society, along with a number of other animal-rights and environmental groups, has been badgering the EPA for years to get off its duff and do something about the inevitable pollution to both air and water that results when an industry has to find some expedient, low-cost way to get rid of more than 500 million tons of animal manure each year. The groups have hauled the agency to court a number of times—so far, to no avail.

    Meanwhile, CAFO operators tend to pool all that animal waste into big lagoons and let nature take its course. The industry asserts that, after a while, bacteria take care of all the potential pathogens, and the manure is turned into fertilizer that can be sprayed onto fields. Yet, not only has the ensuing deluge led to reports of all that nutrient-rich runoff pouring into rivers and lakes to create algae-choked dead zones, but certain harmful pollutants can become airborne, threatening the health of nearby residents in what are often small, economically disadvantaged rural communities. As one local North Carolina resident put it to Bloomberg Businessweek last year, “EPA needs to do what it should do, because we’re living with this on our land.”

  • Food
  • Iowa Senator Wants to Make Sure the U.S. Military Runs on Meat

    Iraq vet Joni Ernst wants to block the armed forces from adopting Meatless Mondays.

    One U.S. senator’s crusade to block the military from signing on to Meatless Mondays appears to have hit the skids—for now.

    Iowa Republican Joni Ernst tried to tack a provision onto the Senate’s military spending bill that would have required the armed forces to provide service members with enough meat to “meet or exceed the nutritional standards in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” The Des Moines Register reported on Monday. Ernst’s measure would also have explicitly barred military facilities from adopting Meatless Mondays or any other program that would take meat off the table, even if it was for just one day a week. Last year, The Humane Society and the Coast Guard began a partnership to reduce meat consumption by 10 percent at the Coast Guard Academy by 2017.

    As of Thursday, the Senate appears to have declined to take up Ernst’s amendment. But you can bet that Ernst isn’t going to let the issue drop. Keep in mind: This is the freshman senator who made headlines, during her campaign, for a commercial in which she bragged, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” a twisted reference to cutting “pork” in Washington.

    Ernst also spent 23 years in the National Guard, and she served in Iraq, so she has—predictably—wrapped her opposition to Meatless Mondays in the American flag. She makes it sound as though going meatless once a week was tantamount to swapping out troops’ standard-issue rifles for water guns.

    “The push for ‘Meatless Mondays’ in our military is misguided at best, and goes against dietary guidelines,” Ernst told the Register via email. “Our men and women in uniform should have the option to consume the protein they need, including meat, on a daily basis.”

    Surely Ernst knows better than that. The senator’s home state is the biggest producer of pork in the country and the second-biggest producer of red meat. According to, Ernst’s campaign received more than half a million dollars from agribusiness—the same folks who fought tooth and nail against proposals that would have encouraged Americans to consume less meat, not more, in the new federal dietary guidelines.

    Lobbying by industry groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the North American Meat Institute largely succeeded in torpedoing those proposals. Despite all that, the final guidelines, issued in January, generally follow current science-based recommendations that call for diversifying our protein intake to include plenty of plant-based sources as well as seafood while cautioning against consuming too much red meat and processed meat, which all too often combine good-for-you high-quality protein with not-so-good-for-you things like saturated fat.

    The new guidelines went so far as to conclude that teenage boys and men were typically consuming too much protein and that they should swap out some of that meat for vegetables.

    Ernst’s railing against the military’s interest in possibly pursuing more plant-based meals smacks of an outdated association between red meat and “red-blooded Americanism.” The senator’s arguments are rooted in the same sort of erroneous thinking that has food companies latching on to protein as the one macronutrient—as opposed to, say, fat or carbs—that’s able to translate into marketing gold. In recent years, food companies have taken to hawking protein-packed products like “brogurt” to a nation of Call of Duty warriors convinced they’re not getting enough of the stuff when they probably are. Yes, we all need protein to survive, but federal research has found the average American man is consuming almost twice as much protein as he needs every day, while women are consuming one and a half times as much.

    All this would appear to be lost on Ernst. As Paul Shapiro, an executive with The Humane Society, told the Register: “It makes me wonder if her interest is in promoting agribusiness interests in her state or whether she’s really interested in the health and fitness of the military. The fitness of our military is an extremely important concern, and the evidence is very clear that incorporating more plant-based meals is good for fitness, it’s good for health.”

  • Food
  • American Cities Are Starting to Win the Battle Against Soda

    Philadelphia is taxing sugary beverages to raise money for education programs, but there are undeniable public-health upsides to the policy.

    Against steep odds and unrelenting opposition from the powerful beverage industry, Philadelphia is poised to become the second—and largest—U.S. city to adopt a sugary-drinks tax on Thursday. Most Americans could be forgiven for wondering whether that’s a good thing—after all, industry front groups like the American Beverage Association have spent millions of dollars to fight these kinds of taxes. Soda groups poured $4 million into Philly to oppose the measure, and that’s on top of the more than $8 billion a year companies such as Coke and Pepsi spend on advertising.

    When you stop to think about it, that’s a staggering amount of money to spend marketing products that have come to be seen as practically inextricable from our national identity—more American in some ways than apple pie. They wouldn’t seem to need so much advertising to fuel their popularity. But apparently it takes a lot of cash to sustain the illusion that there’s something happy, wholesome, and innocent about guzzling down copious amounts of glorified sugar water, and obscuring that such liquid candy is Americans’ leading source of empty calories and a prime culprit behind our runaway obesity crisis (latest headline: “40% of U.S. Women Are Now Obese”).

    It’s soda makers’ nonstop barrage of feel-good advertising that arguably contributes to the public’s unease about soda taxes. When a soda company equates its flagship product with, say, friendship—as in Coke’s wildly successful “Share a Coke” campaign—taxing soda comes to feel just plain “wrong” in the public mind, like requiring a permit for your backyard barbecue or charging a toll for kids to run through sprinklers.

    Put that way, it seems downright amazing that Philadelphia could even be on the verge of passing its 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and that other cities, such as Oakland, California, and Boulder, Colorado, are forging ahead with campaigns to pass such taxes as well. It might not be easy, but it goes to show you that good ideas can prevail over the big money spent by companies to protect their own self-interest.

    Taxing sugar-laden beverages is a good idea, no matter the beverage industry’s disingenuous attempts to tar such taxes as regressive “grocery” taxes targeting low-income families and small businesses. A wide consensus of medical and public health experts advocate taxing sugary drinks—including the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization—while independent analyses have routinely confirmed that imposing a soda tax is among the most cost-effective ways to combat the country’s burgeoning obesity epidemic.

    The tax on the table in Philly is half of what Mayor Jim Kenney initially proposed, although it will still be higher than the country’s only other municipal soda tax, the 1-cent-per-ounce tax in Berkeley, California. Had the Philadelphia City Council adopted Kenney’s original 3-cent-per-ounce proposal, it would have prevented an estimated 36,000 cases of obesity over the course of 10 years, according to an analysis prepared by researchers working as part of the nonprofit Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost Effective Study—CHOICES—which is affiliated with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. For every dollar spent implementing the tax, there would have been a savings of $84 in health care costs.

    A separate CHOICES study looking at a possible 1-cent-per-ounce nationwide soda tax found that such a tax would cut consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by 20 percent while yielding more than $23 billion in health care cost savings. A team of researchers at Columbia University and the University of California, San Francisco, also found the benefits of a 1-cent-per-ounce tax far outweighed the cost, preventing an estimated 95,000 heart attacks, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 premature deaths over the course of a decade as well as cutting the risk for diabetes and saving some $17 billion in medical costs.

    In light of all that, countering big soda’s multibillion-dollar marketing juggernaut with a penny-per-ounce tax—or more—on the industry’s demonstrably unhealthy products comes to seem like something of a no-brainer.

  • Food
  • A Major U.S. City Is on the Verge of Passing a Soda Tax

    Philadelphia is a step away from having the most aggressive sugar-sweetened beverage tax in the country.

    Could it be? A major American city is on the cusp of passing a landmark tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

    Momentum behind taxing the sort of sugary drinks that have been fingered as a major culprit in America’s ongoing obesity epidemic has been growing for more than a decade, but so far the only such tax passed by any U.S. city has been in Berkeley, California—population 117,000.

    Compare that with Philadelphia—population 1.5 million. This week, a preliminary vote by a committee of the Philadelphia City Council gave the OK to a new soda tax, and it seems all but certain to pass the full council in a vote scheduled for next Thursday.

    While the tax of 1.5 cents per ounce is half the 3-cents-per-ounce tax originally proposed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, it would still best Berkeley’s tax by half a cent per ounce. Moreover, the tax has been expanded to include not just sugar-laden beverages such as full-calorie sodas and energy drinks, but beverages containing artificial sweeteners as well, such as diet sodas, which have increasingly come under scrutiny for their link to weight gain and other health ills.

    Perhaps more notable than the idea of a major American city being on the verge of passing the biggest soda tax in the U.S. is how Philadelphia got here—and in particular, how Kenney packaged his proposed tax to make it more palatable to tax-wary citizens.

    Berkeley’s successful—and impressive—campaign to pass its soda tax largely centered on well-worn health-related arguments, the sort of nanny-state finger wagging that has often derailed well-meaning public health campaigns. Against the odds—and millions of dollars spent by the soda industry to torpedo it—Berkeley’s pro-tax coalition prevailed, with politicians promising to use the revenue to fund programs designed to counter the effects of overconsumption of sugary drinks.

    Contrast that with the Philadelphia approach, in which Kenney has campaigned for his soda tax by promising to use the estimated tax revenue of $91 million per year to dramatically improve residents’ lives—not by funding healthier eating initiatives but through a litany of entirely non-soda-related things, such as expanding prekindergarten programs, renovating rec centers and libraries, and improving city parks.

    In April, a New York Times reporter asked Kenney about the health benefits of his proposed tax. Even then, he wouldn’t take the bait. Instead of talking about skyrocketing obesity rates or type 2 diabetes, he responded, “There’s really serious health benefits in pre-K.”

    It’s a tack the mayor’s office appears to be keen to stick with, even as it looks increasingly like the tax will pass, despite an estimated $4 million campaign funded by the beverage industry to defeat it. That campaign included—no surprise—the willful branding of it as a “grocery” tax.

    Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, told ABC News that the tax “will fund the largest investment in education and neighborhood programs in decades.” According to Hitt, over five years, the tax will provide “over $400 million to pre-K, community schools, and improvements to parks, rec centers, and libraries.”

    Other advocates for commonsense soda taxes in other cities would do well to take note of Philly’s apparent success.

  • Food
  • It’s Not Your Imagination: Celebrities Hawk Pretty Much Only Junk Food

    Psy’s was the exception to the rule when it comes to celeb endorsements of snacks, beverages, and other products.

    There are probably few parents out there who haven’t cast a suspicious eye on the influence pop stars have over their teenagers’ lives—but smart parents may want to look beyond the headlines of the supermarket tabloids and worry a little more about what kinds of junk food those celebrities are hawking on the supermarket shelves.

    Even if you take a rather cynical view of celebrity culture, the results of an ingenious study published this week in the journal Pediatrics are kind of shocking. Although they could only have dreamed back in middle school that getting a Ph.D. might one day lead to this, researchers from New York University’s Langone Medical Center compiled a comprehensive ranking of today’s music celebrities most popular among teenagers, some 163 bold-faced names in all, ranging from, Shakira, and Juicy J to Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Flo Rida, and Blake Shelton. They then analyzed the nearly 600 product endorsements associated with those celebrities from 2014 all the way back to 2000, focusing on endorsements for foods and beverages.

    Of the litany of foods these celebrities were paid handsomely to endorse, how many do you think might qualify as remotely healthy? Half? A quarter?

    How about just one. Apparently, once upon a time, South Korean rapper and YouTube phenom Psy (of “Gangnam Style” fame) appeared in a spot for pistachios. Pistachios would seem to rank as a healthy snack choice, especially when you consider all the other junk that celebrities who regularly garner Teen Choice Award nominations are selling to America’s overweight teens—everything from Pop-Tarts and Doritos to McDonald’s and Cracker Jacks.

    As the authors note, “None of the music stars identified in the study endorsed fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.”

    But they’re not shy about taking big bucks to endorse full-calorie soda and other sugary drinks. Among all the food and beverage brands, PepsiCo ranked No. 1 for its use of teen-targeted celebrities; more than two dozen appear on the star-studded list of pop sensations who are paid well to show some love to Pepsi’s products. Sugar-heavy beverages like soda have been linked to an increased risk for obesity and related diseases.

    All in all, 81 percent of the food products endorsed by celebrities were deemed “nutrient poor,” and 71 percent of the beverages were sugar sweetened.

    “Because of our nation’s childhood and teenage obesity public health crisis, it is important to raise awareness about how companies are using celebrities popular with these audiences to market their unhealthy products,” Marie Bragg, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Research has also shown that food advertising leads to overeating, and the food industry spends $1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone.”

    Yet as Bragg and her coauthors point out, voluntary restrictions on advertising junk food to kids only tend to apply to marketing to children under 12—even as teenagers have proved to be highly susceptible to ad claims and celebrity endorsements, and teenagers exhibit more impulsive spending behavior. Meanwhile, one in three American teenagers is either overweight or obese, and according to the American Heart Association, obesity is the No. 1 health concern among parents, eclipsing drug abuse and smoking.

    What about the pop stars who are raking in the dough to be shown swilling soda in front of the camera or popping Mike and Ike candy?

    As study coauthor Alysa Miller of NYU’s Department of Population Health puts it, “The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role models. Celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society’s struggle with obesity—and they should endorse healthy products instead.”

  • Food
  • FDA to Food Companies and Restaurants: Hold the Salt

    The Food and Drug Administration is recommending the food industry make significant cuts in sodium.

    When it comes to taking action to rein in the staggering amount of sodium in the average American diet, better late than never, right?

    The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it was proposing what the agency calls “practical, voluntary sodium reduction targets” across the entire food industry, which would apply to both food makers and restaurants. If the industry gets on board, the FDA expects to slash the amount of sodium Americans consume by roughly a third, from the current heart-attack-inducing average of 3,400 milligrams per day that 90 percent of Americans eat to 2,300 milligrams per day by 2025.

    Although a small but vocal number of medical experts have questioned whether current science supports such a substantial reduction in sodium consumption, most others agree that the evidence that too much sodium in our diets can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke is overwhelming.

    In an article published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association to coincide with the FDA’s new sodium reduction targets, Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls the evidence linking sodium intake with blood pressure “incontrovertible.” He notes that the vast majority of American adults—two-thirds—either have high blood pressure or are at risk for developing it, and that as the leading cause of death from heart attacks and strokes, hypertension is responsible for more than 1,000 deaths a day in the U.S.

    Even as a majority of Americans say they try to watch the amount of sodium in their diet, “the deck,” as the FDA puts it, “has been stacked against them.” That’s because most of the sodium we consume—an estimated 75 percent—has already been added to the processed foods or restaurant meals that make up the majority of what we eat. It’s there well before we reach for the saltshaker.

    That’s true even for brands marketed under a halo of healthy wholesomeness with labels such as “organic,” “natural,” and “gluten-free.” A cup of Amy’s Organic Quinoa, Kale & Red Lentil Soup, for example, contains 780 mg of sodium—more than two-and-a-half times the amount in a large order of McDonald’s fries. A cup of Organic Valley low-fat cottage cheese has 450 milligrams of sodium, while an Udi’s Gluten-Free Three Cheese Ravioli Skillet Meal clocks in at 1,010 milligrams—nearly half the daily intake experts recommend.

    It’s no wonder that, as Frieden puts it, “although sodium reduction has been proposed as a public health strategy in the United States for more than four decades, there has been no progress reducing consumption.”

    The question is, what took so darn long?

    To be sure, industry opposition has played a part. Not surprisingly—but still rather shamelessly—the Salt Institute issued a statement in response to the FDA’s “war on salt” baldly accusing the agency of “malpractice” and calling the FDA’s action “inexcusable.”

    It seems worth pointing out again that the agency’s targets are voluntary.

    But in what has increasingly come to seem a “lead from behind” strategy on vital regulatory issues (such as, say, limiting the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry), the FDA has for decades resisted taking any action to curtail the amount of sodium in the American diet. The agency only appears to have done so now after industry leaders—including Mars, General Mills, Walmart, Campbell’s, Kraft, and Heinz—have either begun reducing the amount of sodium in their products or committed to doing so.

    The public advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been goading the FDA to do something about sodium since 1978. The proposal announced by the agency, which is now open for public comment, follows a legal battle CSPI launched against the FDA back in 2005 over its inaction.

    Meanwhile, as Frieden notes, across the Atlantic in the U.K., the government set voluntary sodium reduction targets in 2003. During the next eight years, sodium intake dropped 15 percent, as did deaths from heart disease and stroke—by some 40 percent.

    Too bad it’s taken the U.S. so long to catch up.

  • Food
  • Doctors’ ‘Drug of Last Resort’ Is Falling Prey to Antibiotic Resistance

    E. Coli bacteria that is resistant to colistin has now been documented in both a woman and pig living in the United States.

    A woman in Pennsylvania has been found to be the first American to carry a new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—one that was only discovered last November, halfway around the world in China. The news, announced last week, has once again sent public health experts sounding the alarm in an increasingly desperate attempt to get policy makers and the public at large to, well, get one simple message through our thick skulls: This is a crisis, people!

    To make matters worse, an entirely separate investigation turned up a similar strain in tissue taken from a pig slaughtered in the U.S. That discovery, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, ties the worrying new resistance directly to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production.

    Both the patient in Pennsylvania and the pig were infected with a strain of E. coli resistant to multiple antibiotics, including some potent drugs considered antibiotics of last resort, suggesting that this is another tick of the clock counting down to the day when even some of our most powerful antibiotics will be powerless to treat certain infections. The scientists who broke the news, in a report published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, wrote that it “heralds the emergence of truly pan–drug resistant bacteria.”

    That we’re here at all, facing the threat of bacteria that not only are immune to our antibiotics of last resort but are capable of passing on that resistance with relative ease via their genes, is largely the product of one thing: We’ve allowed the livestock industry to take what were once hailed lifesaving miracle drugs and essentially turn them into animal feed.

    Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to livestock—and the vast majority of those drugs aren’t even given to animals that are sick. Instead, they’re added to feed or water to make the animals grow bigger or to prevent disease in what are often the decidedly unhygienic conditions of your average factory farm.

    Now, with resistance to colistin—the drug doctors turn to when no other antibiotic works—present in the U.S., the high stakes have been raised. “It is extremely concerning; this is potentially a sentinel event” is how Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, characterized the discovery to National Geographic.

    CDC Director Tom Frieden hardly minced words when he told The Washington Post, “It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics—that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive care units or patients getting urinary-tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics. I’ve been there for TB patients. I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness. This is not where we need to be.”

    Yet, even as the warnings from the scientific community have become increasingly dire, the federal government—despite the CDC’s repeated warnings that we’re facing the end of antibiotics—has utterly failed to take meaningful action to rein in the livestock industry’s antibiotics free-for-all.

    A blue-ribbon panel convened by President Obama to create an “action plan” to stem the growing public health threat called for reducing the overuse of antibiotics in hospitals and clinical settings but didn’t set any targets for reducing the rampant overuse of antibiotics by the livestock industry. Meanwhile, the most recent available data confirm that tepid calls by the Food and Drug Administration asking the industry to—please, pretty please—consider voluntary reductions in the use of medically important antibiotics have apparently gone unheeded. Sales of such drugs rose 23 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to the FDA’s data.

    When will policy makers wake up and start to take this crisis seriously? Good question. As Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, told The Washington Post, “If our leaders were waiting to act until they could see the cliff’s edge—I hope this opens their eyes to the abyss that lies before us.”

  • Food
  • Poultry Industry: Safer for Workers, or Better at Hiding Accidents?

    A new government report echoes the horrific accounts of slaughterhouse working conditions exposed by advocacy groups.

    Eviscerating chickens has never been safer! At least, that’s what the poultry industry wants you to believe.

    After finding itself the target of a growing campaign to shine a public spotlight on the dismal treatment of its workers, the industry responsible for taking billions of live chickens a year and turning them into a stream of boneless breasts and bite-size nuggets appears to be falling all over itself to tout a new federal report. According to the industry reading of the Government Accountability Office publication, there have been dramatic improvements in workplace health and safety in the meat and poultry industry.

    Here’s the thing: That’s not what the report shows at all.

    Yes, whether by accident or by design, the feds have given the industry a statistical golden nugget that it can crow about ad nauseam in the press. Whereas a decade ago, the rate of illness and injury for meat and poultry workers hovered around 10 cases per every 100 full-time workers, the GAO report shows that today the rate has fallen significantly, to just 5.7.

    The North American Meat Institute characterized that as “a new, all-time industry low.” A joint statement issued by the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation, and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association happily clucked, “U.S. poultry processors are proud of the advancements in worker safety and the ongoing efforts for continued improvement. The incidence of occupational injuries and illnesses within the poultry sector’s slaughter and processing workforce has fallen by 81 percent in the last 20 years and continues to decline.” In its statement, the North American Meat Institute even went so far as to brag that “the data show” it’s safer to slice and dice animal carcasses on a swiftly moving processing line than it is to work in a plant that, say, bottles fruit juice and soft drinks.

    All this self-congratulatory backslapping would seem to obscure something critical—so critical that it’s right there in the (admittedly snooze-inducing) official title of the GAO report: Workplace Safety and Health: Additional Data Needed to Address Continued Hazards in the Meat and Poultry Industry.

    See that? “Additional data.” What sort of data is the GAO talking about? Oh, how about data that’s at the heart of what the GAO is purporting to analyze: namely, reliable data on just how many meat and poultry workers are being injured on the job each year.

    To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, sometimes we know what we don’t know, and sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

    As the GAO states, “workers and employers may underreport injuries and illnesses in the meat and poultry industry because of worker concerns over potential loss of employment, and employer concerns over potential costs associated with injuries and illnesses, according to federal officials, worker advocacy groups, and studies. As a result, the injury and illness rates discussed in the previous section may not reflect complete data” (emphasis most emphatically mine).

    This may be true for a lot of industries, but as nonprofit advocacy groups including Oxfam America and the Southern Poverty Law Center have chronicled, there is reason to believe it may be of particular concern in meat and poultry processing plants, which tend to employ a disproportionately higher number of undocumented or foreign-born workers who can more easily be intimidated into keeping quiet or risk firing. Couple that with the economic vulnerability that comes from working a job where the average take-home pay for full-time employment clocks in at just above the poverty line for a family of four, and it becomes no surprise when the GAO states—halfway into its report—that the extent of underreporting of injury and illness in the industry is, quite simply, “unknown.”

    What probably won’t make it into the industry’s bells-and-whistles press releases are the anecdotal reports of worker abuse compiled by the GAO that echo those compiled by nonprofit groups. “We were told about multiple incidents in which meat and poultry workers were punished for visiting the health unit [at their plant] too often or ignored by health unit staff when they sought further medical care,” the report states. One worker visited the company nurse more than 90 times before being referred to a physician. Another worker who fell off a platform was given an ice pack instead of being sent to a doctor for an x-ray—only to find out several days later he had a broken bone.

    “In an effort to maintain a clean safety record and avoid recording injuries in their [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] logs, some plant health units may repeatedly offer first aid treatments—for example, compresses and over-the-counter painkillers and ointments—rather than refer workers to a doctor,” the GAO report states.

    So despite the champagne popping, whether the industry has indeed become safer or whether it has just become better at hiding its accidents would very much seem to be a question worthy of more investigation.

  • Food
  • The Veggie Burger Jumps From the Freezer Aisle to the Butcher Case

    A new plant-based product from Beyond Meat promises to be more like beef than its competitors.

    The camera shows the dancing flames, the searing-hot grate, the raw pink patty sizzling until its baptism by fire yields the burnished, grill-marked, fat-bedewed epitome of an American icon: the 100 percent all-beef hamburger, topped in classic fashion with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup, and mustard. Except in this commercial—which from the get-go feels as if you’ve seen it a million times—there’s one really big twist.

    Behold the Beyond Burger, which has, quite purposefully, been engineered to beg an old question for an entirely new generation: Where’s the beef?

    Not asked as a fast-food put-down, mind you, but uttered with an undercurrent of awe and admiration—or, at least, that’s the inflection the burger’s creators are no doubt going for this week as the 100 percent meat-free patties from the enterprising folks at Beyond Meat debut.

    RELATED:  The Veggie Burger Boom Is Finally Making Vegetarian Food Cool

    Forget those desiccated hockey pucks that have long passed as veggie “burgers,” sold in the loneliest corners of your average grocery store’s freezer aisle. In something of a coup, these fresh, fleshy-pink patties are destined to be sold in the refrigerated section within a stone’s throw of the raw ground-beef patties to which, it must be admitted, they bear an uncanny resemblance.

    It’s the latest milestone in the quest to build a better burger. Not, mind you, a “better burger” like the oozing medium-rare behemoths piled high with an ever-wilder array of accoutrements and sandwiched between ever-fancier buns that continue to merit salivating coverage from an unapologetically carnivorous food press. But a “better burger” that sneakily parrots the taste and texture of real beef without all the guilt associated with devouring what you know is a fatty, heart-clogging, potentially cancer-causing source of protein whose production and slaughter opens a Pandora’s box of environmental and ethical concerns.

    Judging by the company’s promo material, the Beyond Burger certainly looks like a beef hamburger, whether in its virginal pre-grilled state or sitting pretty between a bun. But how does it taste?

    Given that the company is engaging in something of a slow reveal, debuting the meatless patties at a precious few Whole Foods in Colorado and Washington, D.C., before moving to wider distribution, I’m not going to be able to answer that question personally. The closest spot where I could buy a two-pack of four-ounce patties for the suggested retail price of $5.99 is about 900 miles away.

    But Tom Rich, vice president of purchasing and distribution for Whole Foods’ Denver region, sank his teeth into one, and he reported to The New York Times that it “tasted and felt and chewed like any other burger, and on some level, I just want to be able to eat the same way everyone else eats.” Coming from Rich, a vegetarian, that sounds like a bit of a pitiful lament.

    I get that. Honestly, among the various reasons why I’ve never become a full-fledged vegetarian, family barbecues rank right up there, alongside the true but nevertheless silly-sounding “I don’t like labels.” Let me tell you, though, that while a V.P. at Whole Foods living near Boulder might be able to get away with sneaking a couple Beyond Burgers onto the grill at his relatives’ next backyard shindig, that tack would never fly in my neck of the woods. There would be no social camouflage; everyone would want to know what the heck I was eating.

    Which begs another question: Why are food entrepreneurs spending so much time and money trying to perfect a fake burger? Just as our collective obsession with gourmet burgers—or, at least, salacious-seeming food porn dedicated to them—runs counter to a decided downward drift in our consumption of red meat, so too does the high-tech quest to dupe our palates with simulated beef seem at odds with our stated desire for more “natural,” less processed, less artificial food. Whether we’re talking about food scientists trying to engineer cultured meat in a lab or the plant-based proteins being pressed into patties by a company like Beyond Meat and enhanced with, say, beet juice so they seem to bleed, there’s serious money being spent trying to disrupt the American burger.

    But in working so hard to simulate this culinary icon, do we risk continuing to marginalize vegetarianism and veganism as second-tier, as never quite as good? The search for viable meat alternatives is undoubtedly important; it’s hard to overstate the deleterious consequences of meat eating, from its impacts on human health to its environmental damage to its moral implications. Yet even for the best fake burger, what you’re inevitably left with after the oh-jeez moment of “I can’t believe this is a veggie burger” is, well, it’s a veggie burger—it’s not beef. Somehow that inevitable comparison can come to eclipse what may be most important if we’re to move beyond our carnivorous ways and toward a healthier, more plant-based diet, which is to stop weighing our meals against some outmoded “meat-and-potatoes” American ideal. Instead, we should start exploring what’s delicious, distinctive, and—dare I say it?—deeply, wholesomely satisfying about so many vegetarian meals.

  • Food