New Technologies Offer Hope in Creating a More Transparent and Sustainable Food System

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Author: Dr. Mercola | Published: April 2017 

Modern-day food practices are reliant on a series of unsustainable methods — including fossil fuels and chemical-dependent genetically engineered (GE) organisms — that pollute Earth’s valuable resources such as our air, soil and water, as well as damage public health.

Our current food system, heavily treated with crop chemicals, is linked to myriad health problems including food allergies, gluten intolerance, gut and neurological dysfunction, immunodeficiency disorders and more.

Making healthy food choices is incredibly important, but can be a daunting task due to the extreme disconnect many of us have with the food we eat, as illustrated in the featured documentary “Digital Food.”

‘Food has Become a Black Box’

Food journalist Michael Pollan, who’s authored many books and articles explaining how nature and culture intersect on our plates and in our farms and gardens,1 says not knowing where our food comes from creates a vicious cycle of unhealthy choices that results in sickness and disease not only for humans, but our planet too.

“Food has become a black box,” says Pollan. “When you’re buying a pound of hamburger, you know very little. You don’t even know what kind of animal it is.”

Most of the time, consumers have little to no details about the food they eat, including how the animal lived, where it came from, what it ate or how long ago it was slaughtered, says Pollan, who through his many thought-provoking books has educated millions about the downfalls of our current food system.

“It’s always been my conviction that the more people know about how their food is produced, the better choices they will make,” says Pollan.

“That can be very disruptive to the food industry,” he adds while being interviewed in the featured film, which explores the potential new technologies have in bringing transparency to our food system.

Two Children in Every US Classroom Have Food Allergies

About 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes to buy processed food. What’s worse, new research shows that, astonishingly, more than half — nearly 60 percent, in fact — of the food Americans eat is ULTRA-processed meaning the food could be purchased at a gas station.

The implications of this, in terms of public health, stretch far and wide. Researchers estimate that about 15 million Americans now have food allergies.2

This condition, which can be deadly, affects 1 in every 13 children in the U.S. or two in every classroom, resulting in an economic burden of roughly $25 billion per year, according to Food Allergy Research & Education.3

Food allergies among children increased about 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.4

This steep increase in food-related illness has caused consumers to lose faith in the food system and, as a result, to grow very fearful, says Julian Baggini, author of “The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think.”

“They’re worried about being poisoned and about their health,” says Baggini in the film, adding that there’s this interesting tension between the desire for cheap and plentiful food and at the same time, also a desire for clean, healthy food that’s produced sustainably.

Silicon Valley Sets Its Eyes on Food Technology

In an attempt to help consumers regain their trust in food, companies such as San Francisco-based Nima Labs, featured in the documentary, are working to develop new technologies that allow consumers to avoid foods or key ingredients such as gluten that may trigger an allergic reaction.

Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor, both of whom suffered food allergies and sensitivities for years, founded Nima Labs in 2013. Tired of wondering whether a food was safe to eat, Yates and Sundvor created a portable device that allows consumers to test liquid and solid foods for gluten in about two minutes.5

The Nima Starter Kit, costing around $300, allows users to insert a tiny sample of food into a capsule that uses chemical measurements to determine if there is 20 parts per million (ppm) or more of gluten in your food sample.

“The sensor combines an electronic sensor with antibody-based detection in a disposable capsule. This process turns a complicated eight-step laboratory food testing process into an easy three steps,” according to the company’s website.6

“Nima also syncs to an app that will record test results and restaurant reviews for future reference and community sharing.”

Please note that this is merely a review of technology featured in the documentary, and I have not investigated its validity.

The device is one of many new technologies aimed at empowering consumers to make healthier and more confident food choices. Other emerging technologies include devices that measure anything from calories to pesticides to antibiotics, notes the film.

The Preference for Health Food Isn’t Just a Trend; It’s a Lifestyle

More than ever before, consumers have a heightened awareness regarding the food they eat, as well as an increased preference for organics and grass fed beef and dairy.

In the U.S., the organic sector grew 11.5 percent in 2016, while grass fed increased about 50 percent. As a result, for the first time in nearly 20 years, the amount of GE crops grown around the world has decreased in terms of acreage.

This preference for health food isn’t just a trend; it’s a lifestyle — and for good reason.  Studies suggest that organic fruits and vegetables may contain as much as 18 percent to 69 percent more antioxidants than pesticide-treated produce.

As antioxidants play a critical role in the prevention of diseases and illnesses, these higher levels of nutrients, in combination with a lower toxicity level, make organically grown foods a superior choice.

One of the strongest selling points for eating organic foods had been to reduce your exposure to pesticides and insecticides. Now, a recent study demonstrates that organic foods hold more benefits for your future health and the health of your children.

The study conducted by the European Parliamentary Research Service reviewed existing research and made several determinations.7

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