Monday, July 6, 2009

The Unhealthy Truth Part II

This is Part II of my review of The Unhealthy Truth, written by Robyn O'Brien. You can read the first part of my review here.

After discussing her own story, and the 'allergy epidemic', the rest of the book is devoted to genetic engineering, chemicals in food and how to modify your diet to avoid the worst problem items.

The arguments for and against genetically modified foods are found throughout the rest of the book. O'Brien points out that in many other countries, food containing more than 1% genetically modified ingredients must be labeled as containing GM foods - unlike in the United States (or Canada) where no such labeling exists. She has a point in saying that consumers of GM foods are part of a giant, largely unregulated, science experiment right now, and that they should at least be made aware that they're participating! Though even if consumers decided that they didn't want to be eating corn that contains it's own pesticides, they may not have much choice. According to a USDA figure, 96% of the soy grown worldwide is genetically modified, 80% of the corn, and 86% of the US cotton crop. Throughout the book, interesting stories and tidbits of information can be found. For example, I didn't know that GM crops often have "yield lag" where the yield is actually less than that from traditionally bred seeds.

The Monsanto corporation is also sprinkled liberally throughout the book as one of the leaders in genetically engineered food, and other innovations in food technology. After reading about some of the connections between Monsanto, the FDA and the US government, it's no longer clear who is in charge of ensuring food safety. One of the big items talked about is Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH. Given to cows to help increase their milk production, rBGH seems to have a detrimental effect on the cows receiving it; resulting in more antibiotics and shorter life spans. From the book "cows hopped up on rBGH typically live for only about two years after they start receiving the drug. By contrast, cows who aren’t injected with rBGH live on for four to 10 years." Interestingly, milk is NOT something of which there is any shortage in the States, so rBGH increases the supply far beyond what the market can support - hence there are subsidies and some farmers are paid to dispose of their milk. This isn't a concern in Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia or New Zealand - all of whom have banned the use of rBGH. The use or rBGH may be why milk is on some of the "must have organic" lists coming out of the States, but doesn't often show up on Canadian lists. Other food issues tackled are the use of artifical colouring and the preservative sodium benzoate in soft drinks, and a brief expose of aspartame. You can read about some of the articles she's quoting such as the Southampton Shocker and a three-part investigation of aspartame online.

The information on GM foods and food additives is interesting, but I was most interested in the easy ways to change my diet advertised by the book. Unfortunately, the book falls down in this area. She begins by suggesting that you start small, you don't need to go all organic, chemical free at every meal - which is a good tip. As she mentions, you can't let "the perfect be the enemy of the good". Her list of diet-changing tips includes things like "use half the powder in your package of KD" (eventually moving to real cheese) and "eat fresh vegetables". There are a handful of recipes, but I was hoping for more.

Is the book worth reading? I'd say yes, it's an interesting book, and well-written. I'd borrow from the library rather than buy it though, I don't think it's the kind of book you'll need to re-read or reference often. For those people who are suffering from food allergies or sensitivities, this book could change the way you look at food. In fact, you may not realize you have a food sensitivity until you try cutting out some of the common offenders mentioned. I'm going to make the effort to cut out artificial colouring (good thing I'm almost done the Lucky Charms!) and I'm already working to reduce my pop consumption.

For me, I think the most valuable piece of advice in the book is the list of tips on determining expert/study credibility. According to the novel, 100% of studies that were funded by the food industry found that aspartame was safe or had no detrimental effects on humans. Of the studies not funded by the food industry, 92% found one or more problems with aspartame. Numbers like this make me want to know the details behind the studies we see in the papers every week.

  1. Whenever you read or hear an "expert opinion", consider the funding source. Google the name of the doctor, organization, or medical institution and add one or more of the following terms: "disclosure", "speakers bureau", "grant", "consulting fee", or "funding".
  2. Insist on full disclosure. If the expert is not forthcoming in disclosing his or her funding, insist upon it. Take it up the chain until you get it from someone at his or her organization. Then share the information: on your Web site, with your friends, in your blog, in e-mails.
  3. When considering these experts and their opinions, weigh the influence that patents, royalty fees, speaking arrangements, television appearances, and the like might have on their reputation and financial success. ... Start to picture them like those race car drivers who have their sponsorships and endorsements blazoned across their uniforms.

No comments:

Post a Comment