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Saturday, June 30, 2007

SAFETY OF IMPORTED FOODS

SAFETY OF IMPORTED FOODS

Today it was reported that fish imported from China was contaminated with dangerous chemicals. Some of these chemicals found their way into the fish because of practice of farm raising. Others are added to keep fish from decaying rapidly. Much of the fish we eat today IS farm raised in large ponds in the case of catfish and in the ocean in the case of salmon and corvina, a fish commonly eaten here in Panama.

I used to like to eat catfish when I lived in the US and for years almost every time I purchased catfish in the supermarkets, it was contaminated with tiny roundworms which most people would not notice because they were not educated or trained in the field of public health as I am. Sometimes I would pull the worms out when I saw them. Worms in fish are not considered hazardous nor do they cause disease in humans, and their presence is not considered a reason to dump the batch and discard the product. They are allowed by the FDA’s HACCP Regulations for Seafood – the regulations which delineate seafood safety chiefly because the parasitic worms are killed with cooking. To whit, I am HACCP Certified after having gone through a rather vigorous instructional and training program. I mention this only to indicate that I have the credentials to write intelligently about the subject. The only thing I might lack is a bit of humility! But I believe, and you might agree that sometimes it is important to know that a person writing on a topic, especially when it relates to health, medicine, and science that the individual has the credentials to discuss the topic.

Be that as it may, why the worms? It is because the conditions of farm raising consist of raising very large numbers of fish in a confined environment and providing sufficient food to allow the fish to grow rapidly. Money is made in the growing of food products when certain conditions are controlled, namely, time, amount of space devoted to the process, and preventing animals, especially, to exercise. These conditions are quite controlled in the farm raising of fish, and also in the latter stages of cattle raising when they are placed in rather close quarters – not conducive to exercising – and fed almost continuously to “fatten them up.” I have spoken in an earlier Blog (Re: "E. coli contamination of beef, 10 June 2007) about the incident with the Washington Beef Company and their unsanitary practice of herding cattle in large feeder lot where during the rainy season in Washington State the cattle wallow knee deep in the mud and their own “shit,” might I be so bold as to use one of those barred-from-English-usage four letter Anglo-Saxon words. But reality will prevail here and what I have going for me and my readers is “The Truth.”

The same is true with the raising of poultry. Large numbers of chickens are housed in a relatively small area considering the numbers, little area to exercise, and force feeding to accommodate the time factor. Chickens are brought to market as fryers in a mater of weeks after hatching. The larger broilers require more time.

Egg production has been perfected in the US because the industry employs the White Leghorn breed of chicken which produces a white egg. These chickens live in very crowded condition and fed, fed, and fed. They usually can produce 300 eggs per year which is a number far greater than the red variety of chicken which lays considerably less. The amount of calcium which must be fed to the chickens is great to provide the chicken the ability to make shell. And still even then the shells of the average white egg is quite thin when compared to free range chickens. I might note that I used to observe the South Americans on Saturday morning at one of our local live chicken purveyors buying live chickens and they would buy ONLY red chickens, not white. Here in Panama, I see only brown eggs. I have yet to see a white egg even in the large supermarkets. People will not eat them.

When animals are grown in crowded conditions, the incidence of disease increases. But money and profits rule and the practice of raising animals in such conditions continues.

To return to the problems of raising farm-raised fish, the incidence of diseases increases under similar conditions. Farmers then provide antibiotics and other chemicals to control diseases as they also do with the raising of chickens and cattle. That is the reason why meats in the US are contaminated with antibiotics (to keep diseases down), and hormones (to make the animals grow faster) – remember the time factor.

Additionally, it is believed the Chinese are also using external chemicals, such as formaldehyde (the same chemical used in embalming) to minimize the decaying process. We know how fish which is not fresh begins to telegraph their age out of water with their smell.

Since moving to Panama, my health has improved considerably. I believe this is partly due to the improved quality of the food I eat. In Panama City, there is a very large fish market of locally caught fresh fish. I do not see Chinese fish there. I feel safe. Of course, it is also a matter of choice. One should regularly read labels, especially in canned and packaged foods and avoid as much as one can foods containing chemicals.

Some day I will describe how the farming of vegetables and grains are similarly affected by the farming process. It is not good. Who would have thought that a vegetable like spinach would be contaminated with E. coli, a contaminant from cattle feces? I talked in an earlier Blog how we eliminated the dysentery diseases such as Typhoid Fever and Cholera, solely by employing public health measures of separating the water supply from sewage in the early 1900's. We now need to return using these same principals with the raising of both animal and vegetable food products.

This is what I see today from my vantage point, here in Panama. Stay healthy folks. Eat well, exercise, harbor good thoughts, keep your spiritual house in order, and stay well. (How to Benefit from Stress, by Tauraso and Batzler).

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.

Director, Tauraso Medical Clinic

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