Back on Sept 6, the New york Times published an article about the FDA. It was a simple article, about simple folks, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg and others. And the NYT related how the new policy about arsenic is about to be amended. (NYT and FDA) The sad truth to the matter is that the arsenic contamination is there, they screwed up, they will never admit to it, and so the FDA is blaming the arsenic problem on Mother Nature. (FDA Crapola) The FDA decision, arsenic levels are such that it won't kill you. Don't eat rice everyday.
I just have a hard time with that. The FDA and the USDA are the agencies responsible for this mess. In case you are not aware of where the arsenic is coming from and how it got there, let me explain. Although arsenic is a naturally occurring element, and is present in minor trace amounts throughout most of the world, it has not ever been present in the amounts seen now. Back in the forties, in an effort to produce more eggs and chickens in smaller spaces with fewer workers for greater profits, corporations began feeding chickens inorganic arsenic compounds. The result was that the chickens got sick less. The horrendous overcrowding and unsanitary conditions were havens for bacterial infections and arsenic helped fight the inevitable. Arsenic will not kill the chickens in small doses when administered for short periods of time. Let's say the 6 to 8 week lifespan of a chicken. a bit longer for egg laying chickens. It mattered little what it did to the resulting product, again, the FDA decided that the level of arsenic in chicken meat and eggs was not enough to kill you, as a human eating the eggs or chicken with residual arsenic. And that was using the outdated very basic testing methods of the forties. So farmers pumped the chickens full of arsenic. And some of it was retained by the chickens, and a lot of it was crapped out as arsenic tainted manure. Chicken manure is a great fertilizer and so the chicken farmers sold it to rice farmers as the states that had lots of chicken ranches seemed to congregate in states where rice is grown. After 70 years of dumping inorganic arsenic on their fields, rice growers have found that their crops are so contaminated with arsenic as to be toxic to humans.
Well, the FDA says it's okay. Sort of. They have come up with a solution to all of the problems, as of right now the FDA doesn't have a standard of acceptable levels of arsenic in rice and rice products. A whole lot of consumer groups are pressuring the FDA to set standards for arsenic. And the FDA probably will, and of course, they can use any numbers they want, they are after all, the regulator making the decisions. Simple huh? FDA thinking is a lot like that of my ex, it isn't toxic unless they say so.
It does raise some questions in my mind though. It always has, it isn't new. The FDA has these rules about stuff in our food supply. The chemical manufacturers use those rules to quite effectively make money. The rules are simple, if you make a substance that does wondrous things to food, and it doesn't kill people outright at low doses, then the FDA will approve it for use in food and then everyone can make money. The reality of this concept is that it is all true no matter how irrational it sounds. This little bit of far fetched fantasy, where regulators want businesses to make money at the expense of the health of the populace, happens all the time.
The list of chemicals the food industry uses as additives in our food supply that are regulated and the FDA classifies as GRAS is at a little over 3000. The list of chemicals that are not regulated is a bit over 10,000. That list is called EAFUS. GRAS means Generally Recognized As Safe. EAFUS means Everything Added to Food in the US. Right now, 700 of those chemicals are registered with the EPA as Class II Carcinogens. Meaning that consumption of the substance has been linked to a cause of cancer, and that there have been significant studies done showing the link. But the stuff won't kill you outright in small quantities. So it is safe for use in food. The reasons these chemicals are used is longer than the additive list itself, they make bread fluffier, retard spoilage, mask the metallic flavors of other chemicals, and they make things more colorful. Well, actually, the real reason these chemicals are put into our food is because they make more profits for the giant corporations that process our foods. That's what it is all about. And the FDA recognizes that, and some of their leaders have made decisions about additives and have then left the agency to go work in the real world of big agribusiness. Some at jobs that pay as much as a thousand dollars a day, and they don't even have to show up and do anything. (Hull jr.) The phenomena is called "The Monsanto Revolving Door" and it is a real thing, and it happens both ways, the presidential administrations like to appoint agribusiness leaders to work in FDA and USDA positions of power with the authority to make decisions about certain policies and to approve specific additives to our food.
All of that is just the prelude to what I consider the real horrors of our society. And the arsenic problem in rice is just one more example of the ineptitude and mismanagement of our regulatory agencies. The FDA might be right, the 27 micrograms per serving found in some rice products won't kill anyone. However if you eat it everyday (and I eat brown rice 5 to 8 times a week) then the arsenic does in fact accumulate in your system causing some very nasty problems. Setting allowable levels at unrealistic and unhealthy quantities is not a solution. Stopping the contamination by outlawing the use of arsenic in chicken feeds is a start. Believe it or not, the intentional introduction into our food supply of inorganic arsenic does not stop at rice, or chicken meat; it also is used as a feed additive to pork as well. And the really really weird part is that in areas where chickens are raised and rice is not grown, the chicken manure is swept up with all the debris from huge chicken ranch warehouses and then fed to steers as cheap feed. Thus introducing the arsenic into beef as well. What's the daily limit for safe intake of arsenic? And does that count any arsenic that you might eat from chicken, pork, beef, or apples and apple products, or grapes, or, well, we don't know where else it is coming from. Arsenic is one ingredient of some older and very popular insecticides and the residues might be just about everywhere.
What no one has ever done any research on is the cumulative effect of not just arsenic, or potassium bromate, or MSG or any of the others in the dreaded 700 chemicals that are in our food; but what happens when you eat ALL OF THEM ON A DAILY BASIS. Sure, we know that potassium bromate won't kill you if you eat one slice of bread, and you would have to eat a hundred loaves to die from it; but what happens when you eat one slice a day, eat one serving of rice, eat some of the foods that contain some of the deadly 700 every day. What happens then?
I've said it before, here it is again. The FDA is not interested in regulating chronic toxins. Any company that manufactures additives for use in our food system is allowed to do so, as long as money flows. And because they ALL do it, they are pretty much insulated from any liability for harming anyone. (Because they Can)
These are the actual reports showing the amounts of arsenic in rice and rice products including baby food. The Consumer Reports testing is a year old, the FDA report was released last week.
(FDA Report on Arsenic)