Category Archives: Organic

3 Ways You Can Fight “Superbugs”

super bugs

Not an actual photo of superbugs

Hospitals are begin confronted by one of their greatest fears.  The emergence of bacteria we cannot kill.  You’ve probably heard of the most common “superbug”, MRSA.  These new bugs make MRSA look downright warm and cuddly.

“Superbugs” develop as bacteria mutate in response to repeated exposure to common antibiotics.  The more they’re exposed, the faster and more powerfully they mutate.  Modern medicine can’t keep up.

Over half of those who acquire an infection from an invincible “superbug” will die.  Officials who call “superbugs” THE health crisis of the coming century are no longer speaking in hyperbole.

The good news is you can help slow the development of “superbugs”.  Here’s your three weapons:

  1. Don’t get sick.  More specifically, don’t be sick in a hospital.  As of now these new superbugs are limited to hospitals.  But like MRSA before them, eventually they’ll find their way into the community.  As always, wash your hands regularly.
  2. Avoid antibiotics, unless necessary.  Most of the illnesses we get are a product of viruses, not bacteria.  But when we’re feeling miserable we beg our doc for something to help.  A needless antibiotic is what we get.  If your doc says you or your child won’t be helped by an antibiotic, listen.
  3. Eat organic! (Or close) A whopping 80% of all the antibiotics we use go to healthy livestock.  They eat antibiotics, you eat them, you eat antibiotics.  It’s completely unnecessary.  Buy organic meats or, if your grocery offers the choice, pick meat that doesn’t use antibiotics. (Publix supermarkets have “Greenwise” selections that are sans antibiotics).





Fat Mouse Pushes Organic Farming Agenda

Courtesy New York Times

Courtesy New York Times

The mice pictured above have the same diet.  EXACTLY the same.  And they performed the same amount of activity.  A lab mouse is easy to manipulate that way.

So, why is one mouse obese? Perhaps it’s a gland problem.  Or maybe our fat mouse is cursed with a slow metabolism.

Fortunately, this being a lab experiment, we know exactly what has led fat mouse to gain weight.  And, presumably, a searing jealously of the skinny mouse.  Our fat mouse was been exposed to an “obesogen”.

An obesogen is a chemical that causes our bodies to retain fat at an inordinate rate.  Unfortunately, they aren’t only found in labs.  We humans are essentially covered in them.

Obesogens, a term first coined by biologist Bruce Blumberg, can be found in plastics, furniture, machine reciepts, and, oh yeah, our food.

It seems a lot of the pesticides and herbicides used in industrial farming can have the endocrine-disruptive behavior of an obesogen.  Another reason emerges to eat organic as much as feasible.

Obesogens aren’t the main cause of America’s obesity epidemic, the easily accessible abundance of processed junk food still holds that title. But ongoing studies like the one performed on our two mice are revealing our chemically enhanced environment is doing us no favors.


Why Dr Oz is a Genius. And Why He’s a Dummy.

In last week’s Time magazine, Dr Oz wrote a piece entitled “Give Frozen Peas a Chance”.  The purpose of the article was to highlight the nutritional benefits of “ordinary” food.  No need to pay high prices for fancy organic items, he says, when a box of frozen spinach packs a punch.

In the article, Dr Oz was at once brilliant and slightly stoopid.

Why Dr Oz is a Genius

Dr Oz reminds readers: Eating vegetables, even the frozen or canned variety, is a good idea.  It’s a brilliantly simple notion. Buy and prepare veggies the way you prefer.  The bigger role they command in your diet, the better.

Why Dr Oz is a Dummy

The good doctor goes to great lengths to highlight the fact organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally produced.  This idea has never been claimed by any legitimate organic advocate.  A carrot is a carrot.  Organic or not.

The difference between organic and conventional is the use of chemicals.  Chemicals that hurt the environment and hurt our bodies.  Avoiding these chemicals is the sole reason organic is a better option for our health and the health of our planet.  Whether that’s worth the price is another debate.

Dr Oz knows this, or should, yet it’s not mentioned in this article.  A dumb omission from a smart guy.

Another ‘Big Food’ Trick: The Health Halo

Halos are usually an indication of good.  The whole angels and demons thing.  Unfortunately, a health halo turns an indication of saintliness into devil horns.

A health halo is the act of using a healthy characteristic to make an unhealthy product seem more worthy of your dietary rotation.  They’re another tool in Big Food’s bag of tricks.  Let’s look at an example:

That’s a sugary soda touting its antioxidants.  You’re likely aware antioxidants are good for you.  Even if you’re not sure why.  A food manufacturer will use that to fool you into thinking sugar-water is healthy.  Or, at least, better than Sprite.  Make 7 Up yours.

Another more sinister, and more common, example:

I LOVE these chips.  But for the taste, not the organic seal.  Organic is all the rage these days (I’m a big supporter).  In fact, organic sales grew nearly 8% in 2010 compared to only 1% growth in total US food sales. Food manufacturers have taken notice.

So you’ll now see everything in organic form.  But an organic unhealthy food remains, alas, an unhealthy food.  They’re using the organic “halo” to make my delicious chips seem healthy.  Bastards.

Where’s the (organic) Beef?

By now you’re likely seeing increasing organic options at your grocer.  Organic grapes, blueberries, spinach, apples, and celery can easily find their way into your cart.  But, chances are, your canvas shopping bag goes home with one product lacking the organic symbol.  Meat.

Why?  Well, if you’re buying organic produce it’s not because you don’t care.  It’s because organic meat is hard to find (unless you’re at Whole Foods or Trader Joes).  Why is it hard to find?  Simple, it’s harder to produce.

Organic produce has one basic requirement, no pesticides or herbicides.  Meat has several.  Including: no antibiotics, no hormones, animals must be treated humanely, no non-organic feed, and grass-fed.   And, most importantly, the following of all those requirements must be certified by an inspector.  That’s alot of costly inputs to manage.

So what to do?  Well, you can regularly shop Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (or other like-minded grocers) for your meat purchases.  Or, you can closely examine labels on the options in your grocer’s meat section for something similar to this:

That’s from my local grocery, Publix.  Notice there’s no organic symbol.  What it does say, and what you should look for are: No antibiotics, No hormones.

I’d also prefer to see grass-fed for beef.  A vegetarian diet simply means it wasn’t fed any animal products.  This product could have been fed non-organic feed.  In fact, it likely was.  Alas, you can’t always get what you want…

How easy it for you to find organic meat in your neighborhood?

GMOs: What’s all the fuss?

As I said on Monday, GMOs have become a hot button topic.  But why?  What is all the fuss about GMOs?  Here are the three main points/counterpoints in this debate.

Point: With little studies available we don’t know what GMOs will do to our bodies.  Since GMOs have only been around for a dozen years, we don’t know what effect this experimentation will have on our health.  And since all studies for safety are conducted by the GMO creators, the data cannot be trusted.

Counterpoint: N0 evidence exists against safety.   Pure and simple argument from GMO manufacturers.

Point: The use of GMOs is designed to allow for increased use of pesticides, further damaging the enviornment and our health.  Avoiding agricultrual toxins is difficult enough, creating mutant, chemical-resistant seeds that allow for increased pesticide/herbicide does not help.

Counterpoint: Some GMOs are designed to be resistant to crop-killing bacteria, allowing for less pesticide use.   

Point: The lack of labeling for GMO products, eliminates a consumers right to choose.  The only way to tell if a product is non-GMO is by buying organic.  The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t require GMO labeling.

Counterpoint: The ubiquity of GMO use makes labeling unproductive and unfair.  Since the most used crops are near or above 90% GMO use, labeling would be unneccesary.

My Take

Personally, I’m most concerned about increased use of agricultural chemicals due to GMO use.  While it’s possible eating GMO food products may be bad for you, I think the more pressing concern is the amount of pesticides and herbicides in the enviornment.

I believe it is certainly appropriate to require GMO labeling on products so consumers have a choice.  Until that occurs here are some guidelines and resources to avoid GMO food products:

5 Facts about GMOs

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, have become a flash point in the organic/anti-food industry fight.  So much so that a group of activists visited a Chicago Whole Foods Market recently wearing hazmat suits to protest the grocery’s stocking of products made with GMOs.  Such a severe response begs the question, “Um, so what are GMOs?”

Five Facts about GMOs

  1. GMOs are seeds in which genetics have been purposefully adulterated in a lab to produce a plant with a specific characteristic.  This is different from selective breeding.    Selective breeding is “mating” two strains of plants to produce a hybrid with desired characteristics.  For example, breeding a strain of super juicy tomatoes with cherry tomatoes to produce small, juicy delights.  This kinda stuff has been happening for centuries.  GMOs first appeared in 1998.
  2. The primary goal of GMOs is to alter plants to be more resistant to pesticides.  They’re designed to make conventional farming easier.  By creating a plant that is resistant to pesticides and herbicides, farmers can use more chemicals and only kill weeds and bugs, not their crop.
  3. GMOs are amazingly common. Over 70% of processed foods are made with GMOs.  Some of the most common crops are almost exclusively GMO products:
        1. 93% of soy  
        2. 86% of corn
        3. 88% of cotton
        4. 93% of canola seeds
  4. Farmers sign binding contracts to use GMOs.  The same companies that make the chemicals farmers use on their crops develop GMOs.  Therefore, to use conventional farming methods farmers are forced to use a specific GMO.  Farmers then become beholden to price changes.
  5. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not require products to be labeled as containing GMOs.  This the center of the fight over GMOs in the United States.  Check back for this week’s Friday Focus for a full discussion of the debate over GMO use and labeling in the US.