Saturday, September 15, 2007

Poison on the Menu?

You can’t unbake the cake. That is the message -- both literal and symbolic -- of a recent business story in the New York Times. Headlined “Globalization in Every Loaf,” the story centers on executives at the Sara Lee corporate headquarters, who are concerned about the safety of their cakes, and the rest of their product line. Food processors like Sara Lee increasingly rely on imported additives to bind, stabilize, preserve and thicken their products.

Such ingredients, from hundreds of countries around the globe, now face few barriers to entering the country and finding a place on our grocery shelves. Food imports to the United States have doubled in the past five years, while the number of FDA food import inspectors has fallen by roughly 20 percent, according to Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, and the author of the 2003 book “Safe Food.” She criticizes the government’s scattershot approach to food oversight, citing an alphabet soup of bureaucracies, each with pieces of the regulatory action.

Nestle has argued for the creation of a single agency that would be responsible for all aspects of food, from production to consumption. This is not a popular idea among food industry executives. They prefer the “Trust Us” solution. True, it would be bad for business to poison the customer, and companies like Sara Lee are trying to monitor thier international suppliers. David L. Brown, Sara Lee’s vice president for procurement, told the Times that they had started vetting foreign factories and helping them improve food safety standards. But he also noted, “the more variables you enter into, the more risk you have . . . .”

Leaving aside recent debacles like contaminated cat food and toxic toothpaste, is there a way to protect ourselves from further regulatory failings? How can we avoid spooning up counterfeit chemicals at the dinner table? Here’s one idea, originally proposed by Arthur Agatston, the Miami cardiologist who created the South Beach diet. He argues that highly processed food – the kind that comes laden with additives from all nations – is digested too quickly, which leaves us walking around hungry all the times. So eat real food. Process it yourself, in your kitchen and in your stomach. You’ll be safer and possibly even thinner. Then all you will need is a recipe for making your own toothpaste.

You can find one here:

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