Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Few Thoughts on School Lunch

I've been packing the Kiddo's lunch every day for about a year now, coincidentally, since the biggest meat recall in history. So, you can imagine my surprise when the Kiddo herself told me all about the corn dog and beef burritos she ate at school.

I decided it was time to have a chat with school. Again. As I explained my prior request that my child not be given beef or hotdogs, the administrator simply acted polite while looking at me as if I had two heads.

You know, having two heads is a rare, but naturally occurring mutation. Nothing like, say, goats that excrete spider silk material with their milk, pigs that contain worm genes or glow in the dark, or salmon that grow twice as fast as normal because they have eel DNA. Some of which, could end up in our food supply WITH NO LABEL on it according to the proposed FDA ruling.

Of course, if I tried to explain this to the school, no doubt they would be calling Child Protective Services on me for being nuts. Because it does sound crazy. Like something out of a bad science fiction movie. Only scarier because it's real.

No worries, though, the FDA is going to examine each new engineered animal and oversee the whole thing completely. This is the same FDA who is understaffed, underfunded, ineffective and can only examine less than ONE PERCENT of food and drug imports to the U.S.

Of the ONE PERCENT of imported food and drugs, here's just some of what was found:
  • Melamine-tainted pet food
  • Prunes tinted with chemical dyes not approved for human consumption
  • Frozen shrimp preserved an antibacterial that can cause cancer
  • Poisonous swordfish
  • Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical
Now, if you were at the FDA, wouldn't you think, "Hey, if one percent of all this is dangerous, we better check out the other 99 percent!" So, where's the staffing for that, much less every single genetically-engineered animal which can get loose and breed with non-GE animals? You have until November 18 to let the FDA know what you think.

The school sent home this handy dandy form for me to complete, where I explain what foods my child is not allowed to be given and WHY. I am a bit stuck on the why.

We're a ways off from "worm chops" showing up as an entree, but I have a few more current reservations over good old beef, even if it is not cloned (which the FDA has ruled as safe and won't be labeled either).

The form gives me just two lines in which to explain my thoughts on the subject. Here goes:
Because of the largest recall of beef ever using downer cattle with unknown ailments that was fed to school children prior to the recall. Because of an ever-increasing contamination rate of the deadly E. coli 0157 that will only get worse with the rising grain costs spurring the practice of feeding cattle ethanol distiller grains which makes them bang their heads against the fence repeatedly, and may result in these magnesium-deprived animals being hard to tell apart from true madcow-infected animals. Because it's not likely an infected cow would get tested anyway since only .11 percent (that is POINT-11, not 11 percent, or only 110 cattle out of 100,000) of cattle are actually tested for mad cow due to cost cutbacks, and a recent ruling banned a farmer from testing all of his cows for the disease as it would cause an "unfair market advantage" to actually be selling beef known to be safe.
Hmm. That isn't going to fit on the handy form's two lines. How about:
Because I said so, damnit. And I am not crazy.


Chloe said...

Knowing why a child isn't allowed to eat something in a school is probably a good idea. Especially if that child has a severe allergy to a food. Can you just request that your kid not eat anything from the cafeteria? It's really kind of gross stuff. Brown-bagging it is the way to go. Though you know your kid is probably going to end up like Lane from Gilmore Girls.

Rachel said...

I find this interesting. I'm sure if you had religious reasoning - Kosher or Halal or if you were Hindu - Kiddo's school would respect that. If you were vegetarian, I presume they'd try to respect that. So why is ethical eating such a hard one for administrators to (ahem) swallow? Perhaps they find it confronting? I ask because I don't understand myself.

Expatriate Chef said...

I wish I knew, but you have nailed the mystery of it all. It's like the whole country has been completely brainwashed when it comes to food and what is healthy and should be normal. The push back I get is that "the other kids" won't eat better. Then, when you try to explain issues like the meat-related ones, it's like I'm being paranoid, except the news stories are right there in Washington Post and New York Times. Kinda crazy.

Susy said...

So true. Mr Chiots and I have switched to all pastured local meats from farms we can visit and when we tell people they look at us like we're crazy (funny since this is how people used to do it). Like it's weird to know that your meat actually came from an animal that's happy & healthy and not from a styrofoam packet at the grocery store shipped from miles away being contaminated throughout the whole process).

It's like being given a choice between eating road kill that's been there for a while or a fresh chicken - which would you choose? Give me the fresh chicken please. Most people oddly choose the roadkill.

Expatriate Chef said...

Maybe they just like the packaging! :)

Janet said...

I think "because I said so" is an excellent reason, but you could always attach a news clipping or two just for fun.

Anastasia said...

Would pork with increased omega 3s be so bad? What about "EnviroPig" that has decreased phosphorus in their manure (thus polluting less)? I'm not necessarily saying we should have these, but I'm curious about reasons behind the "yuck factor". So you know where I am coming from - I'm in a bioethics class about biotechnology right now, and we have been talking about public perception.

Regarding possible gene flow from GE animals to non-GE, I agree that it is a possible problem that should be addressed - possibly regulations about proper containment, etc - but think the issue isn't as bad as it seems. Plants are a lot more prolific than animals, and gene flow from GE to non-GE crops hasn't been nearly as much of a problem as some people had feared. If you'd like to learn more, I wrote a post about gene flow recently, some of which is applicable to animals.

Expatriate Chef said...

@Anastasia, I'll read you post. I have an open mind.

It's not so much the yuck factor. It is primarily about the consumer's right to know, which is being taken away here.

Second, it is a history of failure of regulatory agencies to put consumer safety above business interests.

Third, I have a huge respect for nature's plan. I don't think we understand it well enough to manipulate it, though, I am not opposed to such technology for medical applications.

But not on a massive scale, not for food, and not in a way that limits diversity. Much of the gene pool has been lost to overly selective breeding for factory farm production already.

I don't think we understand the grand scheme well enough, honestly, and I think there will be problems. I don't advocate for GE crops, either. You can't patent an organism that is part of nature, really, you can't isolate it from the whole like that.

Jennifer said...

I wasn't sure how else to contact you, but I saw this article on the front page of CNN and thought I'd send it your way, it's about school lunches at a private school in KC, MO: