May 16, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Fed Up with Fructose, Climate and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Fed up with fructose.

Fed up with fructose.

Fed Up. As the film Fed Up comes to Baltimore this weekend, I’ll take a few moments to focus on fructose. The movie is the end-result of Katie Couric’s quest to make a film that explores the obesity epidemic. A recent USA Today story says this: “Those causes, according to the film, include food policy that subsidizes cheap corn syrup and unhealthy school lunches, misleading corporate marketing, and lack of public awareness.” Mark Bittman wrote about the film in his column, saying, “Here is a problem, a problem that vested interests have no interest in solving, and a problem that must be dealt with if we’re interested in our survival. It’s something worth fighting about. The problem at hand, of course, is the standard American diet.” Last week I had an interesting talk with our guest Richard Jackson about fructose. Sucrose, or sugar, as it is usually called, is made up of equal amounts of glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), however, is composed of about 55 percent fructose, about 40 percent glucose, and about 5 percent galactose. This combination turns out to be toxic to the liver, the only organ of the body capable of metabolizing fructose. When confronted by the high fructose load present in any beverage sweetened by HFCS—also used in most processed food—the liver converts the fructose to fat, which is stored in liver cells or hepatocytes. This can lead to fatty liver or steatosis in children and adults who consume large amounts of HFCS in sodas, cereals, or processed foods. And one doesn’t have to be obese to show these changes in the liver. Unchecked, these changes can go on to become non-alcoholic fatty liver and cirrhosis. More on this subject in coming weeks but for now, if you are concerned about your own health and the health of your children, stop consuming products containing more than a gram or two of HFCS per serving. Yes, that means any sugar-sweetened soda. For more information about HFCS, check out this article from Science News, suggested by our own RD, Allison Righter.

Sugar cereals. A timely companion to Fed Up is this story by Environmental Working Group about the incredible amounts of sugar in cereals marketed to children. Here’s an interesting fact from the report: “11 of the 13 most heavily sugared children’s cereals feature marketing claims like ‘Good Source of Fiber’ that suggest misleadingly that the products are healthful.” The twelve cereals in EWG’s “Hall of Shame” contained more than 50 percent sugar. The cabal between sugar producers (subsidized by the Farm Bill) and breakfast cereal makers is one of the great threats to the health of our children and a major contributor, along with the sugar-sweetened beverage industry, to the excess calories consumed by Americans.

Climate change threatening security. A non-profit, government-funded military research organization (The CNA Corporation) published a 48-page report this Tuesday predicting, as the The New York Times put it, “that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for American troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases.” We’ve been seeing for years how drought in the Middle East and Africa—much of which is probably worsened by climate change—has led to terrible political upheaval and violence. Let’s add political instability to the very long list of reasons to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Meat label. A study by the Animal Welfare Institute is claiming that about 80 percent of the labels on your meat—statements like “Humanely Raised and Handled” to “Sustainably Farmed”—are not backed up with documentation by the USDA. This TIME magazine story explains how this is possible. As disheartening as this news is, we were pleased to see that our friends at AWA are included in this list: “The third-party labels that AWI cites as trustworthy are Animal Welfare Approved, American Humane Certified, Certified Humane, Food Alliance, USDA Certified Organic and GAP, which verifies products sold at Whole Foods Markets.”

Child farmworkers. TIME magazine reports on a story from Human Rights Watch about “140 youngsters working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where most American tobacco is sourced.” The tobacco leaves, of course, are laced with pesticides, which the children are then exposed to in addition to nicotine. According to the story, “They reported nausea, vomiting, headaches and other health problems associated with nicotine poisoning, known colloquially as green tobacco sickness, which is common among agricultural workers who absorb the toxic substance through their skin.”

GMO labeling. This story in The Atlantic does a broad sweep of the issues surrounding GMO labeling. It’s a contentious issue for many reasons, spanning from the consumer’s right to know, the dominance of GMO production by a small number of large corporations evoking the cartels of the robber baron era, to the sheer magnitude of how to enact such a law.

More on honeybees. This Bloomberg News story addresses a topic that’s been much in the news—the role of the pesticides known as neonicotinoids on colony collapse disorder. While there’s still no absolute proof, it seems likely that pesticides have some role as the final straw in the vulnerability of bee populations, weakened as they are by tracheal mites, foulbrood bacterial infection, Nosema fungus, Varroa mites, and loss of habitat. For a little good news on colony collapse disorder, there’s this New York Times story; the rates of decline seem to be decreasing slightly, and no one knows why. As the entomologist in the story is quoted: “We’ve gone from horrible to bad.” Representative Earl Blumenauer (D–Oregon) has introduced a bill to ban neonicotinoids, HR 2692, The Save American Pollinators bill.

More on abx-resistance. The editors of the New York Times weigh in on the Rise of Antibiotic Resistance, and assert that the pharmaceutical industry must be encouraged to develop new drugs to supplement those that are losing their effectiveness. Here’s a criticism of the FDA’s stance on antibiotic misuse in agriculture: “The most urgent need is to minimize the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, which accelerates the development of resistant strains. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has issued voluntary guidelines calling on drug companies.” All of the two dozen or so drug companies manufacturing antibiotics for animal agriculture have signed on while at the same time predicting that the new guidelines will not affect sales! What could that possibly mean other than that the drug companies will comply with FDA Guidance 213, re-label their products to eliminate the use of low-dose antibiotics for growth promotion, while marching merrily along with pushing their drugs for use in disease prevention, as approved by the FDA, in the very same low dosage repeatedly demonstrated to promote the emergence of antibiotic resistance!

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