By Esther Vivas
It is necessary, at least metaphorically speaking, eat with fear. Ask ourselves why we eat what we eat, how it was produced, what it contains, where it comes from, who cares about it being like this. And before so much control food, which people are in front? The book answers these questions The food business. Who controls our diet? (Icaria editorial), which I have published recently, uncovering the darker side of the agricultural and food system. Why those who want us to eat without fear, ultimately, want us to do so with a blindfold.
Here are some reflections that we find in the work The food business. Who controls our diet?
Where does what we eat come from and why?
[p.33] It is estimated that food travels an average of 5,000 kilometers from the field to the plate, with the consequent need for hydrocarbons and impact on the environment. These traveling food They generate almost 5 million tons of CO2 per year, contributing to the exacerbation of climate change (González, 2012).
Food globalization, in its race to obtain maximum profit, relocates food production, as it has done with so many other areas of the economy. It produces on a large scale in the countries of the South, taking advantage of precarious working conditions and almost non-existent environmental legislation, and sells its merchandise here at a competitive price. Or it produces in the North, thanks to agricultural subsidies in the hands of large companies, to later commercialize said subsidized merchandise on the other side of the planet, selling below cost and creating unfair competition for indigenous production. Herein lies the reason for the kilometric foods: maximum benefit for a few; maximum precariousness, poverty and pollution for the majority.
In 2007, more than 29 million tonnes of food were imported into the Spanish State, 50% more than in 1995. Three-quarters were cereals, cereal preparations and feed for industrial livestock, most of which came from Europe and Central and South America. Even typical edibles, such as chickpeas or wine, we end up consuming from thousands of miles away.
87% of the chickpeas we eat, for example, come from Mexico, in the Spanish state its cultivation has plummeted (González, 2012). What's the point of this international food rush from a social and environmental point of view? None.
Does what we eat make us sick?
[pag.159-161] If we talk about food and health, it is also necessary to refer to the negative impact of some food additives (flavorings, colorings, preservatives, antioxidants, sweeteners, thickeners, flavor enhancers, emulsifiers ...) on our body.
It is clear that from the origins of food there are methods to preserve it, and it is essential that this be so. If not, what would we eat? But the development of the food industry has generalized the use of synthetic chemical additives to adapt food to the characteristics of a kilometer-long market (where food travels enormous distances from the field to the plate), consumerist (enhancing color, taste and flavor). aroma of what we eat to make it more palatable and attractive) and that artificially sweetens the food with products that leave much to be desired.
From aspartame and monosodium glutamate
It is not a question of putting all the additives in the same bag, although it does indicate the impact that some can have on our body, especially synthetic additives compared to natural ones. The book Food additives de Corinne Gouget (2008) points specifically to two: aspartame, coded in Europe with the number E951, and monosodium glutamate, with E621.
Aspartame is a non-caloric sweetener used in soft drinks and food Light. Some studies have pointed to the negative consequences it can have on our health. The Ramazzini Foundation for Oncology and Environmental Sciences, based in Italy, published in 2005 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives the results of an exhaustive work where, based on experimentation with rats, he pointed out the possible carcinogenic effects of aspartame for human consumption. The report concluded that aspartame is a potential carcinogenic agent, even with a daily dose of 20 milligrams per kilogram of weight, well below the 40 milligrams per kilogram of daily intake accepted by the European health authorities (Soffritti, et al. ., 2006). The Ramazzin Foundation ruled that it was necessary to review the guidelines on its use and consumption. However, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) ignored these findings and, following the usual pattern with critical scientific reports, disavowed the work. Let's not forget EFSA's close ties with the food and biotechnology industry and how, for example, its president at the Spanish Food Safety Agency is Ángela López de Sa Fernández, a former Coca-Cola director.
Monosodium glutamate, for its part, is a flavor enhancing additive widely used in cold cuts, hamburgers, spice mixes, sachet soups, sauces, French fries, sweets.
The latter, very consumed by the little ones. In 2005, Jesús Fernández-Tresguerres, professor of experimental physiology and endocrinology at the Complutense University of Madrid, one of the 35 members of the Royal National Academy of Medicine, published in the Annals of the Royal National Academy of Medicine the results of a long work where he analyzed the effects of monosodium glutamate intake on appetite control. The conclusions were devastating: its intake increased hunger and voracity by 40%, and prevented the proper functioning of the appetite-inhibiting mechanisms, thereby contributing to the increase in obesity and, from certain amounts, it was considered that it could have toxic effects on the body (Fernández-Tresguerres, 2005). Some have come to refer to this substance, informally, as "the nicotine in food."
Beyond aspartame and monosodium glutamate, other additives have also been shown to be harmful to human health and have ended up being withdrawn from the market. In 2007, the European Commission banned the use of the red dye 2G (E128), used mainly in sausages and hamburgers, considering, after a reevaluation by EFSA, that it could have “genotoxic and carcinogenic effects” for people (Agency Catalan Food Safety, 2008). The previous toxicological evaluation had been carried out 25 years ago.
Other studies have indicated how the mixture of some colorants, often used in soft drinks and sweets, combined with the intake of other additives present at the same time in these products would cause child hyperactivity. Thus concluded a study on food additives published in the journal The Lancet, in 2007: "Artificial colors or the preservative sodium benzoate (or both) in the diet cause an increase in hyperactivity in children aged 3 years and in children between 8 and 9 years" (McCann, D. et al. , 2007). The wonderful and harsh French documentary Our children will accuse us by Jean-Paul Jaud, reminds us, as its title indicates, of the responsibility we have.
Who is in charge of the food safety agencies?
[pag.96-98] The European Food Safety Agency presents itself, as stated on its website, as "the cornerstone of the European Union in risk assessment on food safety". The Agency was created in 2002, after a series of scandals, such as the mad cow scandal, in the late 1990s. Its goal: to improve food security and to restore and maintain confidence in the food supply. As indicated, its commitment is to "provide independent and objective scientific advice." Insurance?
Conflict of interests
The European Court of Auditors does not seem to agree very much with these statements, as can be seen from its report on the conflict of interest in certain Union agencies, and in which it states that the European Food Safety Agency, along with three others audited European agencies, "does not adequately handle conflict of interest situations." And he adds that these “risks of conflict of interest are embedded in the structures of these agencies (…) and in the dependence on research carried out by the industry” (European Court of Auditors, 2012). Clearer the water.
As an anecdote, the conclusions of the report of the European Court of Auditors contrasted with the praise of an evaluation, which a short time before, had been carried out by the private audit Ernst & Young, contracted, obviously, by the European Food Safety Agency itself.
Criticisms of the Agency's lack of neutrality are not new. The Corporate European Observatory and Earth Open Source organizations published in February 2012, coinciding with the institution's 10th anniversary, a report that raised blisters. In this work, they questioned the independence of the Agency and pointed out the close ties of its experts with companies in the sector (Holland, Robinson and Harbinson, 2012).
And what consequences does this have for consumers?
An example is found in the regulation of food products. When a company wants to introduce a new substance or product on the market, it has to submit to the European Food Safety Agency and the corresponding institutions of the European Union a dossier on the risk assessment of these products.
At the request of the Commission, the Agency's scientific panel examines this dossier and publishes a scientific opinion on the matter, based on which the representatives of the member states take a decision.
What is the problem? The Agency bases its evaluations mainly on studies carried out by the same industry, which expects to obtain substantial benefits from the commercialization of these products. Independent scientific reports are not taken into account. Consequently, the mechanism undoubtedly favors the interests of large companies in the sector to the detriment of social ones.
In this way, substances and products that we find on the market, such as aspartame, a non-caloric sweetener, or bisphenol A (BPA), in the plastic of food packaging, according to independent scientific reports, would negatively affect health. These studies have never been duly assessed by the European Food Safety Agency.
The situation is not new. How many reports praising the virtues of tobacco financed the tobacco industry and today have remained a dead letter.