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Wearing Your Politics on Your Plate

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Scott Canon's front-page Kansas City Star story shows many ways our food choices make political, health and environmental statements. EWG's food research has contributed to the debate.

First, were your grains grown on family farms or corporate agribusiness outfits? Canon quotes the Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy saying that family farms are going out of business every day, and EWG farm figures show that big farms are getting bigger over time. Over the nine years we've tracked government subsidies to farms, the top ten percent of agribusinesses have taken 72 percent of the federal funds that aim to help family farms. Two-thirds of America's farmers don't receive any crop subsidies at all.

Second, do you want pesticides with that? If it's not organic, your grains or produce were probably grown with the aid of bug- or weed-killers. It's a personal choice, of course, and Canon points out that imported food may contain pesticides that the US has banned for health reasons. EWG offers consumers who want to know what they're eating a free, wallet-sized Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce that lists the twelve most- and least-pesticide heavy produce items.

Canon also discusses fish farming. EWG published one of the key studies showing that farm-raised salmon has significantly higher levels of cancer-causing, banned PCBs than wild caught salmon. We recommend that consumers eat wild salmon whenever possible, and if they eat farmed salmon to broil, bake or grill it so the fat (where toxins accumulate) drains off.

There's one food and health issue that Canon might cover in his next expose: mercury in seafood. Toxic mercury goes out smokestacks into the ocean, and onto our plates via the fish we eat, with bigger fish like tuna containing more mercury than smaller fish like shrimp. Women of childbearing age in particular who want to stay under the government's safe level may want to use EWG's Tuna Calculator to see how much tuna they can eat each week.


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