Hello FCS Professionals and other readers interested in the world of food and consumer science! We gathered almost one month ago when life was much less complicated for our annual Beyond the Basics conference. When I’m able to take a break from my new role as teacher (and let’s face it–referee) for my kids I’ll be posting recaps of the conference speakers. First up is our keynote speaker, Dr. Julie Miller Jones. Enjoy!
The roadways were clear and ninety plus members and guests gathered on Friday, February 21 at the Edina Country Club for the 3rd annual Beyond the Basics conference! This year’s theme was Food: Safety, Supply & Sustainability and did not disappoint!
The morning began with a light breakfast of mixed fruit, assorted pastries, juice and coffee. Colleen Zenk, FCS Professionals member and organizer of this event welcomed all and gave an overview of the day. Attendees were notified of an upcoming webinar from the Food Safety Partnership of Minnesota that was held Wednesday, March 4 from 9:00-noon. Click here for more details. Next it was time to introduce keynote speaker, Dr. Julie Miller Jones, with her presentation, “The Consumer, the Food Supply, and the Food Safety Dilemma.”
Dr. Jones set the stage by examining our current environment. About half of the leading causes of death are diet related however we are scared about the wrong things! People are very concerned about pesticides, GMOs and chemicals and over-emphasize a risk that simply is not there while under-emphasizing the risks posed by diabetes and obesity caused by a poor diet. Consumers have very conflicting viewpoints as well which adds to the dilemma—for example wanting more local, organic free-range yet wanting to use less land!
What about our current food safety challenges? The FDA and WHO lists their priorities for food safety risk as:
1. Microbial contamination
2. Nutritional imbalance
3. Environmental contaminants
4. Naturally-occurring toxins
5. Pesticide residues
6. Food additives
This is opposite of what you hear from bloggers, celebrities, and the people making noise in the world. Their main focus is food additives/pesticides etc. Consumers are confused between toxic vs. hazard. She reminded us that everything has a toxicity! It is all about dosing. Water at a certain level is toxic to humans.
Consumers want a short list of recognizable ingredients, a long “free from” list, minimal processing, sustainability & transparency, and certifications (such as organic, non-GMO). But are these things actually better and healthier? 96% of dairy illnesses come from consuming raw milk which is “minimally processed”. Bread without some sort of preservative easily forms carcinogenic mold. She gave an example of three foods: Impossible Burger, Vegan Cheddar Cheese, and Organic Potato Chips. The potato chips had the shortest ingredient list: potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt. Is it the healthy choice?
Each April the Environmental Working Group (EWG) promotes their “Dirty Dozen” list. These foods are said to contain the highest levels of pesticides and should be avoided if they are not organically grown. But is this true? Researchers have found that there was no observable effect level (NOEL) in the “Dirty Dozen.” The ten most frequently detected pesticides on any of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities were FAR BELOW Reference Doses (rFd). Dr. Jones noted that April is the EWG’s biggest fundraising month of the year–which coincides with when they advertise the Dirty Dozen. So what is the difference between conventional and organic products? Pesticide residue is lower in organic foods but very low in regular produce and at this point it is unclear if it matters to health. Toxic metals in organic grains show a lower cadmium level, in produce no difference. Bacterial contamination risk is no different between the two if the manure is treated. With organic practices there is a lower risk of resistant bacteria.
Dr. Jones is supportive of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a solution. IPM combines conventional and organic farming technologies. “By studying their life cycles and how pests interact with the environment, IPM professionals can manage pests with the most current methods to improve management, lower costs, and reduce risks to the environment.” IPM tools include: altering surroundings, adding beneficial insects/organisms, growing plants that resist pests, disrupting the development of pests, disrupting insect behaviors, and use of pesticides.
From a nutritional standpoint, Dr. Jones is very concerned about the low/no-carb trend with regard to neural tube defects in infants. The fortification of grains with folate has lead to a fifty percent reduction in spina bifida cases, and a thirty percent decrease in other neural tube defects since introduced. It has been said that fortification was in the top ten most important public health measures of the past decade. Organic vs. conventional milk, grass fed vs. grain fed beef was also discussed.
Locally grown and minimally processed is “in” when it comes to our food–but is it always better? Not always! There are many factors to consider–it may actually be more environmentally sound to consume frozen peas than fresh from the farmer’s market when considering food waste management and fuel costs. Dr. Jones stressed, “Making a rule and having it apply to everyone is silly!” In some cases, one method is more environmentally sound than in others. Her example, “Which is better– cloth diapers or disposable?” If you live in California where water is in short supply—then it’s disposable! But in another region where water is plentiful–then cloth.
Dr. Jones concluded with some simple advice:
- Reduce waste – less waste with many processed foods and additives
- Plan well – concentrate on what can be controlled
- Make healthy choices
- Consider GMO as a technology
- Be skeptical of simple solutions
- If there is a simple answer, the article may have a bias or use only a few of many criteria.
Dr. Jones took time to answer many excellent questions from attendees. Thank you Dr. Julie Miller Jones for providing such a wonderful start to a fascinating day of learning!