There are many factors associated with large-scale food production that influence consumer attitudes. Dating back to 1938, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) was instituted to assure consumers that food had a sufficient quality standard and that it was not made with spoiled ingredients (Murano, 2003, p. 187). Many consider the FFDCA, to be the basis of modern food law and a statute that regards health as a standard of identity within the nutrition industry (Murano, 2003, p. 185). As noted in the press release, Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring exposed the use of pesticides by food manufacturers. Undoubtedly, pesticides are extremely toxic substances that cause a variety of teratogenic, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects (Murano, 2003, p. 194). In response to the damaging effects of cancer causing pesticides, United States Congress passed the Pesticide Residue Amendment in 1954 (Murano, 2003, p. 187). Moreover, the Delaney Clause (named after creator James Delaney) enacted in 1958, established a “zero tolerance” standard in respect to food containing pesticide residue (Murano, 2003, p. 186). However, problems pertaining to general food standards and pesticide use were only the tip of the iceberg for consumers.
As industry and technology evolved, so did food production and preservation. Consumers demanded and insisted on: food that would stay fresh longer, food that was lower in fat and food that was tastier. Today there are over 20 different types of food additives that are heavily utilized in food preparation (Murano, 2003, p. 198). For instance, products from leading nutrition companies practice the use of curing agents, flavorings and nonnutritive sweeteners to name a few (Murano, 2003, p. 198). It is no wonder that so many individuals are concerned with their food’s healthiness! This concern brings me to my next point: that of health claims.
According to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA), food manufacturers can express, imply or characterize the relationship between their product and a disease/health-related condition, only if the relationship is one that is scientifically beneficial (Murano, 2003, p. 198). This fact has led to an increase in people who want and seek healthier nutrition. Recently, organic food has been developed to realize and satisfy this desire of consumers, whose intent is to consume wholesome food.
Organic foods were established under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (Murano, 2003, p. 208). During production, these foods do not come into contact with pesticides, genetically modified crops, irradiation or sewage acting as a fertilizer (Murano, 2003, p. 208). Furthermore, this standard outlines certifications that must be present on the labels of organic food. This certification guarantees that there are at least 95% organic ingredients with a maximum of 5% pesticide residue tolerance (Murano, 2003, p. 208). However, USDA organic authorizations are quite expensive and most small farms (which operate in the same “organic” manner) cannot afford the label. For example, farmers Don and Andrea Cascun from New York State operate a small farm in which they take every precaution to ensure their livestock and crops are grown naturally (De Laurentiis, 2013, para. 6). Unfortunately, most grocery stores purchase organic food from large factory farms, as they are able to offer bulk discount prices. The Cascuns’ food may not be labeled “organic”, but it is definitely grown all-naturally (De Laurentiis, 2013, para. 4). Another issue that arises when examining organic food, is the criteria used to classify a product. What is considered as organic? “Under the North East Organic Farming Certification regulations, an organic chicken could be raised in cages and given only a few minutes to roam on pasture as long as it's fed certified organic feed” (De Laurentiis, 2013, para. 3). Moreover, although organic food processing is checked to be GMO free, the actual final product is not tested and therefore potential GMO contamination could occur (GMO-awareness.com, 2011).
According to the official GMO awareness website (2011):
GMO contamination can happen any number of natural ways: via cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops, from trace amounts of GMO ingredients found in animal feed, from seeds traveling by wind or by migratory birds that take root in the soil of an organic farm, and from ingredient suppliers that co-mingle various sources. (GMO-awareness.com, para. 5)
This entire discussion and all of the extensive debates conclusively boil down to one question: are organic foods more nutritious for us? Simply put, no. According to clinical trials piloted by Mayo Clinic (2014), “the researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are not significantly different in their nutrient content” (Picco, para. 5).
Food production and health issues are not a recent phenomenon in the nutrition industry. Dating back to 1938, legislation regarding food handling and standards was enacted to ensure consumer satisfaction. With the recent development of food additives, preservatives and genetically modified crops, buyers have turned to “organic” food for a more nutritious option. Although organic foods do have real health benefits (such as the discontinued use of pesticides and GMOs), conventional food is equally nutritious and much easier on the pocket book.