Modern food production methods and organic food production are both very controversial topics. When looking at the two, one needs to discuss various aspects as both have benefits and drawbacks. Many people have differing views on the respective topics and these will be looked at in further detail. Chemical additives are harmful but have benefits too, as do preservatives and the use of genetic modification.
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The organic food industry is definitely growing ‘with anywhere up to 70% of the population buying organic food products on an occasional basis, and almost one quarter of the population buying organic food items on a weekly basis.’ (Collins, 2010) This is proof that people are more aware of health risks and benefits from the foods that they eat and proof that there is growing interest in the topic.
The food industry is very large and a growing part of it is the production and maintenance of organic foods, but what makes it a practice that people want to get involved with?
Example of a Blank Questionnaire
What do you understand the meaning of ‘organic’ to be?
Do you prefer to purchase organic foods over mass produced foods?
Do you think the world food shortage would be in even more of a crisis without modern mass food production methods?
Do you find it important to include organic foods in one’s diet?
Do you find modern mass food production methods concerning, if so, why?
Do you make a conscious effort to purchase foods that have been produced in an environment that does not use insecticides, pesticides etc? If not, why not?
Thank you for taking your time to fill in the questionnaire, your information will be very useful J
Information Found and Completed Questionnaires
Positive benefits to be had from consuming organically produced food:
1. Buying organic foods can help in the preservation and conservation of the natural environment. This results in a reduced level of pollutants in the ground soil, thereby resulting in richer soil with stronger topsoil, thereby preventing soil erosion and also leading to healthier crops.
2. There is research to indicate that organically produced food items can be more nutritious and is therefore healthier for us than conventionally produced food. The principal reason for this is the lack of pesticides and insecticides used in the production of organic foods. This enables the crops being grown to increase their production of photochemicals such as antioxidants and vitamins, thereby raising the crops’ resistance to bugs and weeds.
3. The lack of pesticides in our food can also aid our health, as studies have indicated that such pesticides are linked to health conditions ranging from headaches to birth defects and even cancer.
4. Organic farming, due to the lack of chemicals in the production cycle helps to support biodiversity, encouraging a much wider range of plants and animals, leading to a healthier, more balanced ecosystem.
5. Organic processed foods do not contain hydrogenated fats, contrary to processed non-organic foods.
6. The farming methods involved in the process of organic farming help to ensure that animals’ diet is kept wholly natural and they themselves are kept and raised in a free-range environment.
Negative benefits where organic food is concerned:
1. Firstly, due to the lack of artificial preservatives and the fact that organic food is not irradiated, it may have a tendency to go off much more quickly than non-organic produce, especially in the case of fruits and vegetables.
2. In general terms, organic food items tend to be much more expensive than non-organic produce
This source is based on fact and is very recent (2010). It is an important source as it makes the understanding of organic foods very clear, by helping one understand both the benefits and the shortcomings of organic food and its production. This source is reliable as it is based upon fact and not opinion and the facts are well established. As the article is recent, the information is up to date and can be trusted as it was established recently.
Organic food means food grown without most artificial fertilisers or pesticides and in a way that emphasises crop rotation, making the most of natural fertilisers and ensuring that the life of the soil is maintained. Animals are kept in ways which minimise the need for medicines and other chemical treatments.
This source is reliable as it originates from a company that focuses on global problems and interests. The source explains in detail the meaning of organic food and the production of it, it is very useful in understanding the concept of organic foods.
Specific chemicals found in food
Hormonal growth promotants – used to enhance meat production (growth) in livestock
Antibiotic resistance – the use of antibiotics in animals and its impact on antibiotic resistance in humans
Additives in food – what they are and why they are used
Additives are used in foods for a number of reasons, including:
1. Preserving the food to make it safer for longer on the shelf or in the fridge
2. To improve the taste or appearance, for example, by the use of flavours, thickeners and colours.
Other contaminants found in our food
Benzene – present in some flavoured drinks
Bisphenol A – low levels in plastic baby bottles are safe
Chemicals from plastic packaging and wrap – low levels not a health risk
Dioxins – by-products from industrial and thermal processes
Lead – levels in some cornflour led to a recall in 2004
Melamine – information for consumers
Reuse of plastic bottles
Semicarbazide – low levels found in some glass jar seals
Sudan 1 – cancer causing, non-food red dye found in some chilli powder
This source provides interesting information as it provides details on the additives, preservatives and contaminants found in modern food that has been mass produced. The information is recent and up to date, however the source author is anonymous and therefore its reliability is questionable. One is not certain who the source originated from and what their knowledge or credentials on the topic are.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Derived from cornstarch, usually a combination of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent sucrose. Treated with an enzyme that converts glucose to fructose, which results in a sweeter product. Used in many mass-produced foods including soft drinks, baked goods, jelly, syrups, condiments (like ketchup), fruits and desserts.
Many believe HFCS to be addictive. Coupled with the prevalence of HFCS across so many products, many believe this contributes to a subconscious desire for everything we eat to be sweet.
High consumption of fructose may contribute to weight gain, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease, particularly in men. In addition, the fructose may alter the magnesium balance in the body, resulting in accelerated bone loss.
Substances that impart sweetness to foods but supply little or no energy to the body; also called non-nutritive or alternative sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K and Saccharin) cause behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergies, and are possibly carcinogenic.
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid and a form of glutamate. Used to intensify meat and spice flavorings in meats, condiments, pickles, soups, candy and baked goods.
MSG causes common allergic and behavioral reactions including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression and mood swings; also a possible neurotoxin.
Artificial food colours are described as one of the most dangerous additives. More than 90% of food colourings now in use are manufactured. The numbered colours, called synthetic colors, are made from coal, tar or petroleum.
Artificial food colours have been linked to allergies, asthma, hyperactivity and are a possible carcinogen.
Nitrates & Nitrites
Nitrates and nitrites (potassium and sodium) are naturally present in a number of foods, but are also used as color fixatives in cured and processed meats (i.e. bacon, bologna, frankfurters) and in some types of smoked fish (i.e. salmon, tuna).
Nitrates and nitrites combine with natural stomach saliva and food substances to create nitrosamines, powerful cancer-causing additives.
Hydrogenation – the process of adding hydrogen gas under high pressure to liquid oils to turn them into solids at room temperature – increases the shelf life and flavour stability of foods containing polyunsaturated fats.
Sodium Benzoate – used as a preservative, effectively killing most yeast, bacteria and fungi. It is used primarily in foods such as preserves, salad dressings, carbonated drinks, jams, and fruit juices. It is also found naturally in cranberries, prunes, greengage plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves and apples.
Moderately toxic by ingestion, this chemical has caused birth defects in experimental animals. Known to cause nettle rash, and aggravate asthma.
Calcium Disodium EDTA (Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid)
Used as a food additive to prevent crystal formation and to inhibit colour loss. EDTA is often added to foods – particularly meat, poultry and fish – to help retain moisture and soft texture.
It may cause intestinal upset, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine. This additive is on the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic, teratogenic, subacute and reproductive effects.
Sulfur Dioxide- A gas formed when sulfur burns, this preservative is used to preserve a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, alcoholic drinks, dried fruits.
Sulfur dioxide, as with other sulfites, may cause allergic and asthmatic reactions.
This source is relatively recent and provides great insight into what goes into mass produced food. The information is detailed and is easily understandable. The source provides not only the substances added to food but also where one may find them and their consequences. The information is fact and is extremely detailed which is why the information is reliable.
Description: Genetic modification occurs at least through the use of the following techniques:
1. Recombinant DNA techniques using vector systems
2. Techniques involving the direct introduction into an organism of heritable material prepared outside the organism including micro-injection, macro-injection and micro-encapsulation
3. Cell fusion (including protoplast fusion) or hybridization techniques where live cells with new combinations of heritable genetic material are formed through the fusion of two or more cells by means of methods that do not occur naturally.
Description: Genetic modification shall mean modern biotechnology used to alter genetic material of living cells or organisms in order to make them capable of producing new substances or performing new functions.
This source describes in great detail how Genetic Modification occurs and what it is. The source is somewhat recent and the information is therefore not outdated. This information is very helpful and important when looking at Genetically Modified food as it used in mass produced foods. The source’s information is based on fact and is therefore trustworthy.
What are some of the advantages of GM foods?
The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:
Pest resistance Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Growing GM foods such as B.T. corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.
Disease resistance There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.
Cold tolerance Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings
Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places
Nutrition Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries.
Pharmaceuticals Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes
What are some of the criticisms against GM foods?
Environmental activists, religious organizations, public interest groups, professional associations and other scientists and government officials have all raised concerns about GM foods, and criticized agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Concerns about GM foods fall into three categories: environmental hazards, human health risks, and economic concerns.
Reduced effectiveness of pesticides
Just as some populations of mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT, many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to B.T. or other crops that have been genetically-modified to produce their own pesticides.
Gene transfer to non-target species
Crop plants engineered for herbicide tolerance and weeds will cross-breed, resulting in the transfer of the herbicide resistance genes from the crops into the weeds. These “superweeds” would then be herbicide tolerant as well.
Human health risks
Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. Extensive testing of GM foods may be required to avoid the possibility of harm to consumers with food allergies.
Unknown effects on human health
There is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on human health.
On the whole, with the exception of possible allergenicity, scientists believe that GM foods do not present a risk to human health.
Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process. Yet consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is the inevitable wave of the future and that we cannot afford to ignore a technology that has such enormous potential benefits.
his source provides an incredible amount of insight into Genetically Modified foods. The source provides information that is vital when one is forming an opinion on whether or not Genetically Modified foods are as bad as people make them out to be. The source’s information is fact and not based on opinion. The source is well cited and is therefore trustworthy. The only drawback is that the source is outdated. Information may have changed and new discoveries may have been made, however the source cannot be disregarded as the information it provides is noteworthy.
Radurization is the process of pasteurization by the use of radiation. It primarily used to treat foods that have high moisture content and a high pH. The microbes that are targeted are mainly spoilage organisms. Meat and fish are the foods for which this process is mainly used. For dryer, acidic foods, yeasts and molds can be denatured.
This source describes what radurisation is and the process thereof. The source provides the necessary information and is somewhat reliable. The source is not dated, however one can assume that the process of radurisation has not been altered or changed dramatically in anyway. The source is useful and is based on fact.
Taken from: ‘Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language’
Organic: grown without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides.
(Geddes & Grosset, 2002)
This source is taken from a dictionary and therefore can be trusted as the source is based completely on fact, is not biased and is simply a definition. The source is up to date as the definition has not changed over the years and the information provided is important.
Processed foods contain a lot less nutrients and are loaded with empty kilojoules.
This source was taken from a lifestyle magazine and I therefore not entirely reliable, however the information is not ignored as it is an opinion and it is important to acknowledge what people feel about certain topics to assess their validity. He source is recent and important as it is an example of what people feel about mass produced foods.
Analysis of questionnaires: All results are given as a percentage in favour of the statement:
People that understand the meaning of organic food:
People that prefer organic foods:
People that believe the world food shortage would be in even more of a crisis without mass food production:
People that find organic food important in their diets:
People that find mass food production methods concerning:
Analysis of information:
I expected some of the results gained. I was not aware however, of the percentage of people that are unaware of organic foods. I expected many people to agree that the world food shortage would be in even more of a crisis without mass food production; this expectation was supported as 93% of the people believed this to be true. I am aware that organic foods are costly and are not always easily available; because of this I was expecting a low amount of people to consciously purchase organic foods. I was interested to see that 40% of people felt it was important to include organic foods in their diet, however only 33% actually purchase organic foods. This shows one that organic foods are overpriced and not always accessible. People purchase foods that are available and are economically viable, even if almost half of them (47%) believe mass food production methods are concerning.
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There are possible reasons why people, who believe mass food production methods are not always safe, yet continue to purchase them, do not resort to organic foods. Firstly, the price; the organic food industry is not established fully in the modern day society and there is no actual research to show that it has added benefits. Food company’s claim that there are benefits and because of this, some people view it as a fad and this is why it is overpriced. Organic foods cost more to produce and therefore cost more to buy. Secondly, they are not always available in every shop. Not many people buy organic foods and because of this, shops do not cater for it because there is not a high demand and they will not make a profit by providing organic foods. Thirdly, people believe that mass produced foods, with their additives and chemicals, provide them with all they need and do not find organic foods necessary.
This survey information is reliable to a certain extent. By including a wide range of people (differing in age, sex and financial status) I believe there is a good range of information that has been discovered. However these people are not professionals and the information is simply based on their opinions and somewhat limited knowledge on the topic. Therefore the information is useful but cannot be used solely to form an opinion on the topic.
The information I required does match the information I acquired. The information states briefly that organic foods are naturally grown foods; free of most artificial pesticides etc. the information also states that organic foods are expensive and not always economically viable or accessible. However, the main difference is that the information is more detailed and research based when compared to the survey information gathered which is based solely on opinions.
Discussion of my Findings
The results of the questionnaire show one numerous things. It is clear that the majority of people are uninformed about organic foods and their purpose. The majority of people do not find organic foods important and are satisfied with mass production methods.
The information gained from my sources is very interesting and provides great insight into the debate of organic versus mass produced foods. There are many pros and cons to both aspects, many of which I was not aware.
Organic foods ‘means food grown without most artificial fertilisers or pesticides and in a way that emphasises crop rotation, making the most of natural fertilisers and ensuring that the life of the soil is maintained. Animals are kept in ways which minimise the need for medicines and other chemical treatments.’ (Dunham, 2008). Organic foods have many benefits, which outweigh the weaknesses. The production conserves the environment and encourages richer soils which results in healthier crops. The crops are more nutritious as they are able to produce vitamins and nutrients to their full potential as they are not inhibited by pesticides, insecticides or other chemicals. Without the use of pesticides and insecticides, the produce is better for one’s health as there is proof that these additives can contribute to birth defects and cancer. The production of organic foods aids the balance of a healthy ecosystem as biodiversity is supported. The animals live in a free range environment that is less stressful than that of other animals in pens or stockyards. The animals are hormone and steroid free which is good news as human who consume meat that has been contaminated with hormones, are affected by them. (Collins, 2010).
There are a few negative obstacles for organic foods. As there are no preservatives or additives in the food, it tends to go off and expire sooner than mass produced food. Organically produced foods are a lot more expensive than mass produced foods as the demand for them is not that high. They are not easily accessible in most places for the same reason. (Collins, 2010)
Mass produced food is fast, cheap and easily available. However there are many additives in food that is produced on a mass scale. There are hormonal growth promotants so livestock such as cows and sheep grow a lot more so there is more produce which means more profit. There are antibiotics present in livestock which, when consumed by humans may make the human resistant to antibiotics or may encourage an allergic reaction. The preservatives make the food last longer and improves the taste. This aids the food crisis in the world as the food that now has a longer shelf life, can be distributed globally without it expiring. There are contaminants in the food that have cancer causing abilities. The packaging of mass produced foods is also more harmful than organically produced food’s packaging. The packaging is harmful to the environment and the consumer as it is, for the most part, not biodegradable or recyclable. Water bottles if reused are carcinogenic and many forms of packaging are harmful. (Anonymous, 2009).
There are three main additives in mass produced foods. There are flavour enhancers, colouring agents and preservatives. The flavour enhancers such as MSG, HFCS and artificial sweeteners have many negative benefits. These artificial flavours and sweeteners, used a great deal in the production of ‘child friendly’ foods such as sweets and cold drinks are thought to be addictive. They encourage people to believe that all they eat must be sweet. The colouring agents such as artificial colourants and nitrates/nitrites are for the most part very negative to one’s health. They are mostly (90%) synthetic and have many negative side effects. Preservatives and preservation methods such as hydrogenation, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA and sulfur dioxide are also very harmful. Side effects include asthmatic reactions as well as ‘intestinal upset, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine’. (Beechers, 2007).
Another aspect prevalent in mass produced food for the future is genetic modification. Genetic modification is biotechnology that is used to alter the genes of live cells so they can produce an entirely new substance or perform a new purpose. Genetic modification is very controversial and people are very opinionated about the topic as it goes against and seems to challenge nature. (Matthiessen, 2008).
There are however advantages of genetic modification. It encourages pest resistance without the use of pesticides. His is an advantage as there will not be the harmful effects of pesticides present, however it discourages biodiversity by denying ‘pests’ of a habitat and food. There is disease resistance genetic modification where scientists are attempting to produce plants that can fight certain fungi and bacteria without weed killers. There is a cold resistance genetic modification where plants have been genetically altered to be resistant to cold temperatures. (Whitman, 2000).
There are also many negative aspects to genetic modification. There are three main concerns; human health risks, economic viability and the environmental hazards. Pesticides will lose their effectiveness and there is the concern of gene transfers between plants where it is unplanned and uncontrollable. Studies have not established the unknown effects on humans or the ‘allergenicity’ of genetic modification. (Whitman, 2000).
Genetic modification has many benefits that have the potential to alleviate many problems such as hunger and malnutrition on a global scale, however there are many challenges it faces. ‘Safety testing, regulations, labeling and international policies’ to name but a few. (Whitman, 2000).
Another aspect prevailing in mass food production is radurisation. This is ‘pasteurisation by radurisation’ it treats foods with a high moisture content and pH level. Foods such as fish and meat. The effects of this are not well established and this is why it is a controversial practice.
Organically produced foods and mass produced foods both have their place. Both have pros and cons respectively and one must make a personal decision on where they stand with regard to their food choices. One can have a balance of both or one may be in favour or highly against one or the other.
Opinion on the Validity of my Results
My results are valid as there is a wide range of sources used, with many facts and opinions taken into consideration. I believe they are reliable when looked at as a whole. One must take into account each aspect and discuss each one thoroughly before taking a stand. I believe the majority of my results are reliable as their sources and analyses are trustworthy and detailed.
How Would I do the Investigation Differently?
If I were to do the investigation again, I would conduct a survey in which I questioned people in the food industry. People who work in different positions at grocery stores and from a wide range of stores. I would also ask people to fill in their questionnaires personally. In my case I telephoned my interviewees and asked the questions over the telephone. I believe I would have gained better insight had they done them personally.
The organic food industry is growing, as is the mass food production industry. Both have a place in our society as they are both viable options for providing foods. However I believe one cannot survive without the other. It is clear that the world food shortage would be in a greater crisis if it was not for mass production methods. However if these methods were the sole way in which food was produced, there would be a higher amount of negative things such as birth f=defects, cancers, hormonal imbalances etc. there must be a balance between the two and I believe it is a personal choice that one must make as to where they stand with regard to purchasing foods, whether it be 100% organic, all mass produced or a balance of both.
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