There is growing interest in healthy and balanced diet in the U.S. and the rest of the world. People understand they need to adopt healthy dieting habits such as eating fresh food which is rich in nutrients and vitamins and reducing consumption of high calorie fatty and processed food, for the sake of their own health as well as that of their children. But it is difficult to stay healthy even with all the precautions because of the low quality of most food products. There is no guarantee now that even healthy food items we buy such as fruits, vegetables, fish or meat safe and nutritious. While it is important to increase awareness about healthy food among consumers, it is even more important to monitor food producers and farmers to ensure high quality of food products.
It is widely claimed Americans are poorly educated on healthy dieting habits which is why they are often overweight and have health problems such as cardiovascular diseases. Many people believe unhealthy dieting habits can be reduced through easier and wider access to information on balanced diet. But our efforts go to waste if any food item we eat has harmful ingredients and additives. The modern food industry is highly commercialized which means farmers and food producers aim for profit maximization no matter what methods they may have to employ. This explains why farmers use pesticides and nitrates to increase volume and speed up growth when growing fruits and vegetables. Pesticides may kill pests and increase volume but they contain toxic ingredients which can be damaging to human health. Many studies have found a direct link between long-term exposure to pesticides and instances of chronic disease including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (Mostafalou and Abdullahi 158). Many popular fertilizers contain nitrates which are harmless in small dosages but harmful to human digestive and nervous systems through continuous exposure over time. The health costs of pesticides and nitrates for children may be even higher than adults because children have weaker immune systems. In other words, children biological defenses against health risks are still developing and not as strong as adults.
Our food also contains harmful ingredients because food manufacturers use unhealthy preparation methods. Most of the food products sold today are either processed or preserved, and have additives for longer shelf lives, better taste, and more appealing colors. Some additives are natural and have been used for long time but most are artificial such as stabilizers in dairy products, emulsifiers in mayonnaise, and curing agents in meat. Even though most food additives are considered safe, very few research studies have been done to prove safety claims. Some additives such as benzene and citric acid should be avoided due to their negative health effects. The most harmful additive may be artificial food dyes that are often found in cereals, sodas, candies, and other processed foods. Studies have shown artificial food dyes may increase risk of cancer, hypersensitivity, and behavioral deviations (CSPI 2-5). The problem becomes even more serious because many products with artificial dyes are targeted at children who are already at greater health risk.
The issue of genetically modified food is often debated today. Genetically modified food involve using genetic engineering to introduce changes into the food DNA. These genetic changes enable crops to be more resistant to pests and fare well under unfavorable weather conditions. Thus, genetically modified food offer great promise in reduce global hunger levels by increasing food volume as well as improving food quality. Despite their economic benefits, they also raise safety concerns. The potential negative effects of genetically modified food include allergic reaction to foreign proteins, antibiotic resistance, greater risk of cancer, and greater risk of chronic diseases due to toxic metals (Bakshi 213). Moreover, the nutritional value of genetically modified products is often less than that of natural products. Even if the negative health effects of genetically modified products are insignificant, we rarely receive all the necessary nutrients from them.
Food in older times was safer and more nutritional as compared to modern times. Fruits and vegetables were grown without nitrates and pesticides and only organic fertilizers such as animal and vegetable matter were used. But due to absence of synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering techniques, crops were less resistant to pests and adverse climate conditions. This led to high levels of hunger, malnutrition and health infections. Even though natural additives such as salt, vinegar, and herbs were used to preserve foods, the food could only be preserved for shorter periods of time as compared to today. Food might have been scarce in the past but it was safer and more nutritional. Modern agricultural technologies may have increased quantity and diversity of food as well as improve the taste but it is less safer and nutritional.
It is often debated whether Americans should be more educated about healthy diet. Even though nutrition education is important, we often do not even suspect the harmful substances in so-called healthy food we eat. We may avoid processed and preserved foods by reading labels but we don’t have much defense when buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Pesticides, nitrates, many artificial additives, and genetically modified food have been proven to have health costs, especially, for children. Thus, farmers and food producers should stop pursuing profit only and realize their ethical responsibility towards fellow citizens. The farmers and food producers do have the right to earn profit but they also have social responsibilities. Thus, they should try to find a balance between their desire to earn profits and their responsibility of providing safe and nutritional food products to consumers. As consumers, we can take measures such as being more careful about what we purchase and not be fooled by marketing tricks that are often designed to emotionally influence us. Consumers can also put pressure on their elected representatives to introduce tougher laws in order to raise the quality and safety of agricultural and food products.
- Bakshi, A. (2003). Potential adverse health effects of genetically modified crops. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 6, 211–225.
- CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) (2010). Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- Mostafalou, S. & Abdollahi, M. (2013). Pesticides and human chronic diseases: Evidences, mechanisms, and perspectives. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 268(2), 157-177.