I was working as a financial analyst that covered the food industry. My day to day consisted of meeting with management teams, taking factory and store tours and cranking out reports on companies like Kroger, Safeway, Costco and Whole Foods. I wasn't a foodie, and I couldn't cook.
My job included crunching the numbers, learning business models and evaluating the costs of production and distribution of our food supply.
Because today, that experience has served a greater purpose: the ability to look at the current state of our food system, the financial engineering of the science behind it and the economically motivated decisions that food industry executives make to meet their fiduciary duty to drive shareholder return and sheds light on how these decision are affecting the health of our families.
And it's becoming increasingly obvious that we've got a broken economic model at work in our food system. Farmers are rewarded with taxpayer funded resources called subsidies for growing crops in a chemically-intensive, genetically and financially engineered kind of way to drive shareholder return for the chemical companies. While on the other hand, farmers that are growing things organically, which means by law without the use of synthetic pesticides and crops genetically engineered to require increasing doses of toxic weed killer, have to pay fees to prove that their crops are safe, then fees to label those crops with the "USDA Organic" seal and then they don't receive the same crop insurance and marketing assistance programs that the other farmers do.
Add to that the fact that American companies formulate their products one way for eaters over seas, without the use of artificial colors, genetically engineered ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, and it's enough to get anyone going. But the fact of the matter is that what we have to label as "organic food" here in the United States is more or less called "food" in other countries. Because overseas, it's the products that contain all of the novel ingredients like, genetically engineered ones, that have to be labeled.
So what's a consumer to do? Learn the Big 8. These are the ingredients which, by law and according to our very own United States Department of Agriculture, are not allowed into the production of foods that are made organically:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Artificial Colors and Dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5
- Artificial Growth Hormones
- Genetically Modified Ingredients
- Exceeding levels of Pesticides
- Finely Textured Lean Beef Trimmings ("Pink slime")
This can be tough to swallow. Especially if you really stop to think about it: our taxpayer dollars are hard at work growing our food in a chemically-intensive way, while farmers that are growing things without the use of these chemicals, things that even the President's Cancer Panel has urged us to avoid, end up costing the consumer more to buy. It's like we are being hit twice: once, subsidizing our chemically intensive agricultural system and twice, with the price of organic food if we choose to opt out.
It's a broken system we've inherited, but it doesn't have to be that way going forward.