Never Forget: You Have The Right To Know What You’re Eating

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Never Forget - You Have The Right To Know What You Are Eating
You Have The Right To Know What You’re Eating. Graphic © Background image © (under license)

The increasing demand for food to feed the growing masses is an on-going challenge faced by today’s society. The steadily increasing population on Earth – closing in on 8 billion fast – means that there is a constant demand for food production, a demand that will continue to increase as population increases. At the core of this demand is a need to improve food production – and that often leads to unethical, potentially dangerous ways to make sure we produce enough food to feed billions of humans. This can be summed up in a few terms: pesticides, antibiotics, and genetic modification. [1]

Use Of Pesticides In Agriculture

If you take care of plants, you will most likely be familiar with the use of pesticides and herbicides. Both are made up of chemicals designed to protect your plant or crop from unwanted insects or weeds that may damage or hinder their growth. However, the bottom line is clear: pesticides and herbicides are still made up of chemicals that are hazardous to human health.

In order to be effective, pesticides are created to be toxic; in extremely small amounts they are “considered safe for humans”, but how safe exactly? Can something that is made to kill a living organism really be safe for human consumption? According to a study by Damalas and Eleftherohorinos in 2011, while the use of pesticides is widely regarded as essential [is it? really?] to global agricultural production, strict regulations in terms of sale and use are still needed to reduce human exposure to these toxic chemicals. Ingesting significant quantities of pesticides and herbicides can cause dangerous side effects like nausea and vomiting, difficulty of breathing, mental confusion, loss of consciousness [2][3][4] – however the full consequences of the “cocktail effect” of continual assimilation of microdoses of numerous chemicals is not known. The “synergistic effects” of these chemicals has simply never been studied. Think about it: A pesticide is scientifically tested until the “safe” [again, really?] exposure level is evaluated. But the stacked exposure that we are getting to perhaps 20 or more of these chemicals simultaneously is not researched. Can you see why this might be a problem?

Antibiotic Use On Livestock

On the other side of fence, livestock is constantly bombarded with antibiotics in order to “improve” their health. Here’s the truth: antibiotics, “vitamin shots”, and other similar medical procedures all aim to prolong an animal’s life – not necessarily improve their quality of life. When you go to local wet markets or slaughterhouses, you see overweight (and old!) animals that have been pumped with so much antibiotics and steroids to get the most value per kilo of the animal. In farms where livestock like chicken, cows, and pigs are raised in tight, inhumane quarters, sickness runs rampant. Farmers often turn to antibiotics to prevent the animals from dying out. [5]

An important study was published in 2012 by Landers, et. al., highlighting a dangerous effect on humans of antibiotic use on animals – antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a public health crisis. Viruses and bacteria are getting stronger and more resistant by the minute, seemingly immune to medicine that once used to work against them. And while pointing a sole finger at farm animals is not the answer, we need to take into account that food and water intake is a major risk factor that all humans are exposed to. The more you eat meat that is laden with antibiotics and chemicals, the likelier it is that you will develop antibiotic resistance (not to mention that effects of medicine build up will have you on your body). [6]

Genetically Modified Organisms

If there is a final frontier in the problem faced by food production, it’s genetic modification. The concept of genetically modifying crops before they are planted has faced decades of criticism. A review on the impact of GMOs was published in May 2000, addressing issues faced by the practice, namely alteration in nutritional quality, possible toxicity and carcinogenicity, and antibiotic resistance. When we alter genomes in any organism, we risk influencing the entire biologic system, similar to a domino effect. There is so much more to genetics to uncover and tinkering around with genes (especially when it is meant to feed the world population) can have unintended consequences. One wrong placement in a genetic line can for example turn a plant into a very dangerous allergen, since allergenic proteins are often included when transferring genes from one organism into another. [7][8]

Food production is a constant source of debate because of the exponentially increasing demand proportional to the increasing world population. While completely avoiding GMOs, pesticide-treated crops, and non-organic meat can be difficult, it is better to be aware of what your food goes through before it hits the supermarkets’ shelves; that way you will be making an informed decision on what you feed yourself and your family.


[1] The World Bank. Population, total.

[2] Damalas, C. & Eleftherohorinos, G. (2011). Pesticide Exposure, Safety Issues, and Risk Assessment Indicators.

[3] Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. OSH Answers Fact Sheets: Pesticides – Health Effects.

[4] PennState Extension. Potential Health Effects of Pesticides.

[5] PETA. Factory Farming: Misery for Animals.

[6] Landers, T., et. al. (2012). A Review of Antibiotic Use in Food Animals: Perspective, Policy, and Potential.

[7] Uzogara, S. (2000). The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century: A review.

[8] Virginia Cooperative Extension (2000). Scientific Basis of Risks Associated with Transgenic Crops.

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