Monday, January 3, 2011

What’s new in school food, food safety, arsenic, and hesperidin

An important bill on child nutrition was signed by President Obama in December. It gives schools extra money for meeting nutrition standards for breakfast and lunch, requires the USDA to develop new meal/snack patterns based on current science, allocates funds for school gardens and farm to school programs, enables the USDA to establish national nutrition standards for all food sold on school grounds (including vending machines), funds state and local organizations that promote healthy eating and fitness, funds projects to research and end child hunger and child obesity, promotes breastfeeding, and helps foster children get free meals. While food in our local Stinson-Bolinas schools is already healthy, and even organic, this bill bodes well for the rest of the country. Nutrition activists, parents and students will need to be vigilant in insisting that changes take place rapidly. $8 billion will be available over 10 years. Possibly Stinson-Bolinas schools could benefit from the farm to school programs.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was also signed by Obama in late December. This bill gives the FDA power to directly issue a food recall – previously a company could stall because the recall was voluntary. Companies must develop plans to prevent contamination, share them with the FDA, and show the FDA how effectively they carry out their plans. Any whistleblower in a company will be protected when providing information to the FDA. Inspection of foreign food facilities must happen more frequently. There is a long lead time for important provisions to go into effect, and the ability of the FDA to enforce the law will depend on funding. This funding could well be cut by the next congress. However, major industry groups are in favor of the bill because of the harm that recalls can do to sales. Stay tuned.

Arsenic in poultry and pig feed: A compound called roxarsone, containing arsenic, is routinely added to feed for poultry and hogs to control intestinal parasites and thereby promote growth. There have been a few media stories on this practice, including a recent one about two children in Utah who developed arsenic poisoning by eating eggs from their backyard chickens. Some large poultry producers, including Perdue Farms and Foster Farms, have stated that they do not use arsenic (however they may well use other antibiotics in their feed). Arsenic is a poison, and also a carcinogen. Until there is more action on roxarsone, I advise readers to buy organically raised poultry, and to feed backyard chickens organic feed. Also, be careful about the use of chicken manure in your garden, unless you are sure about the source. I find it disgraceful that the media and the FDA have paid so little attention to the widespread use of arsenic in our food supply. Vast amounts of chicken manure from confined animal feeding operations are spread on fields throughout the US, endangering workers and the public. Roxarsone is banned in the European Union.

Some good news – Hesperidin: When I watched a friend eat a whole organic Meyer lemon, peel and all, I felt she might be on to something. A recent study looked at the effects of orange juice on blood pressure, and found that both o.j. and a compound called hesperidin found in citrus fruits and peel lower diastolic pressure. The juice and hesperidin both resulted in dilation of blood vessels, compared to a placebo. Hesperidin, also found in green vegetables, is an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory agent with some effect in lowering cholesterol. You can get more hesperidin by making your own marmalade - cut oranges, tangerines or lemons into small pieces with the skin, soften them by boiling in a little water, then add honey or maple syrup and cook until your favorite consistency. Yum.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog

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