Beware of the poison in imported food
Posted on June 9th, 2017

Courtesy The Daily Mirror

One of the national government’s positive missions has been to grow the food that we need in Sri Lanka instead of busting up millions of dollars to import junk food or processed rubbish. As a tropical paradise, Sri Lanka has been blessed by being Asia’s rice bowl till recently. In addition we have hundreds of varieties of nutritious vegetables, grains and fruits and we need to be aware of the need not just to eat well but to eat wisely.

This week the country was stunned by charges that the state’s premier trading company the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment (CWE) has imported and sold a huge stock of plastic Basmati rice from Pakistan. The allegation, which has gone viral on social media, has not been denied or confirmed by CWE Chairman T.M.K.B. Tennekoon, who says samples have been sent for testing by the Medical Research Institute (MRI). But the National Movement for the Protection of Consumer Rights has called for an immediate probe by the Director General of Health Services and alleged that the plastic Basmati may be a part of the wholesale racket by Sri Lanka’s rice mafia. The Association says the cultivation of rice, which has been part of Sri Lanka’s culture and civilization for thousands of years is being destroyed by this rice mafia which has thrown hundreds of thousands of once proud farmer-families into the mud holes of history.

While the spotlight now is on rice, we also need to focus on other food items. According to United States-based physician and nutritionist Dr. Al Sears, we need to monitor what chemicals go into our food. Even when there’s science to prove the health risks of new ingredients, the authorities drag their feet and it can take years or even decades before they pull harmful additives out of the market.

He says that when a processor wants to add a new chemical to food, the authorities do not require testing. The food company just sends a notice to the officials. The notice says that the ingredient is generally recognized as safe” or as safe.

Dr. Al Sears says for example, in the US it happened with partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats (Margarines). They were considered safe for years. But in 2013 the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) withdrew its safe status after these fats were linked to serious heart disease. Yet the FDA still permits trans fats at low levels in foods.

Artificial food colourings are another example. At least six of them were considered safe for years and later banned by the FDA. Two others — Red No. 3 and caramel colouring used in colas — have been found to cause cancer in animals. But the FDA still has them listed as safe.

There’s another so called safe ingredient we need to reflect upon, Dr. Al sears says. It’s widely used in food products in the US even though it’s banned in the European Union. It’s called carrageenan. This common food additive is extracted from red seaweed (Chondruscrispus). It’s sometimes called Irish moss. Carrageenan has no nutritional value. It’s used as a thickener and emulsifier. Food companies add it to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk, almond milk, chicken stock, deli meats and other processed foods.

There are two forms of carrageenan — degraded and food grade. In animal studies, the degraded form has been proven to cause tumours. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.

But food grade carrageenan is not much better. Tests show that the food grade type also contains some of the degraded form — in some cases as much as 25%, Dr. Al Sears says. The food grade version can become degraded. When we eat food-grade carrageenan, it can break down and become degraded in the gastrointestinal tract. It also becomes degraded with exposure to heat, bacteria and mechanical processing.
Even the food grade version has been shown to cause inflammation and colon cancer in animals. It causes the same kind of inflammation that is the root cause of many serious diseases.  In Sri Lanka, the Consumer Protection Authority responsible for food safety, needs to play a much bigger role in making the people aware of unsafe or dangerous substances in some of the imported junk foods or processed food we are importing and giving even to children.

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One Response to “Beware of the poison in imported food”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sri Lanka should return to its tradition of eating farm or ocean – fresh foods rather than the emerging trend to eat processed, preserved and packaged foods.

    The emerging trend of buying pre-packaged food from Supermarkets has become hugely popular in Sri Lanka, but although it is convenient and often has led to increased quality in many products, the nutrional value and freedom from harmful additives and preservatives has also increased.

    The fault is NOT in the idea of Supermarkets and packaging that increases the efficiency of bringing food from its source to the table, but in preserving freshness and freedom from non-toxic additives and the harmgul and largely unnecessary processing of the foods.

    What we really need is the creation of a system of a large number of SMALL LOCAL food delivery units operating between the LOCAL farm or the sea and the LOCAL markets, instead of a fewer VERY LARGE processing and marketing units, often relying on imported foods.

    We see this emerging as a TREND in the USA where each supermarket now has a growing ORGANIC food section that relies on sourcing products from LOCAL FARMS and FISHERMEN. People are willing to lay a small PREMIUM for these ORGANIC FOODS over the prices of the corresponding products from LARGE CENTRALIZED food producers. At the same time, farmers markets and open markets are proliferating as people begin to buy fresh, mostly organically grown food, from the farmers themselves in a “fair” atmosphere which adds an enjoyable neighborhood social dimension to the routine of buying food for one’s family.

    If advanced nations are rediscovering the benefits of their lost societies in this way by joining the advantages of the old to the advantages of new technologies, should we in Sri Lanka be far behind, when we still have the advantage of our rural areas still preserving our older traditions?

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