A century ago, the total population of the world was pegged at just over one-and-a-half billion. The beginning of the 21st century saw the world teeming with a population of almost six billion. Eight years since, almost another billion has been added to this figure (Population Reference Bureau, 2007). The cultivable and grazing land of the world have however experienced dramatic decrease in area due to a combination of factors such as such land being taken over for development of industries and residential complexes, erosion, improper land use practices etc.
This stark contrast between the growth of mouths to feed and the reduction of area on which food can be grown or raised, has forced agriculturists, livestock and poultry farmers and food manufacturers as well as the governments of the world to seek new means of increasing production or yield. For example, the world produced a total of 1,573. 22 million tons of cereal during the period 1979-81, whereas in 2004 alone, the total production was 2,270. 36 million tons.
Similarly meat production increased from 136 million tons during the period 1989-91 to 260 million tons in the year 2004 alone (FAO statistics, 2008). Increase in yield and production is achieved through the application of fertilizers, hormonal growth boosters in the form of steroid, and a wide variety of other chemical, biochemical and organic products. It also becomes imperative that crops, livestock and poultry are protected from diseases and pests. This necessitates the application of antibiotics and different types of pesticides.
The food thus produced has to be transported over large distances and delivered to sales outlets in towns and cities. Preservatives are therefore added to prevent the food from going bad. Again, due to the intense competition in the markets, food manufacturers tend to mix other additives in the food to make them more attractive, tasty and nutritious. For quite some time now, there has been a growing concern about the effects of such food on the people who consume them.
What health implications do food additives, steroids, antibiotics and pesticides have on the human body. As people grow more conscious about the quality of life and health, they refuse to take the food-promoting advertisements of the food manufacturers at face value. “Every day we are bombarded with information about food products that are healthy, all natural, have no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, low fat, no fat, no cholesterol, sugar free, vitamin fortified and provide 100% of your daily vitamin requirements.
Are these foods as healthy as the advertising tries to make us believe they are? ” (Farlow, 2008) Moreover, consumers are also apprehensive that many food manufacturing companies simply do not reveal all the additives and chemicals or all the processes that go into manufacture or production of food. The aim of this paper is to examine objectively the possible effects of cultivating, processing or raising methods and the addition of different kinds of additives on the health of consumers.
For the purpose of organizing such an analysis the paper will examine the individual effects of the following four broad categories of efforts to maximize food production or make them more saleable on the health of the people who eat such food: i. Effects of Steroids and Fertilizers ii. Effects of Antibiotics and Pesticides iii. Effects of Food Additives iv. Effects of Genetic Manipulations Effects of Steroid and Fertilizers Steroids have been commonly used to boost production in livestock.
In Europe, United States and Canada, cattle are often treated with naturally occurring or synthetic hormones as a very cost-effective way to enhance lean muscle growth and to increase the efficiency of feeds. This steroid treatment to improve meat production has been practiced for decades and was thought to be safe as the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) expert committee on food additives (JECFA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had opined that the residual content of such steroid in the meat were at levels that did not pose any risk to consumers.
In the United States, it is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that food from livestock that are given steroids and medicated feeds are safe for consumption by human beings. The FDA had approved many naturally occurring steroids such as estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone. Recent studies however cast doubts on the assessments of the JECFA and the FDA. Andersson & Skakkebaek (1999) has found that the estrdiol levels mound in the meat of animals treated with the steroid could be high enough to have harmful effects especially on the health of pre-pubertal children.
The health implications could be disastrous, and could merit the same protests those against drug usage in the field of sports. The European Union has banned the practice, but it is still legal in the United States. “A recent study by Danish scientists suggested that hormone residues in U. S. beef may be linked to high rates of breast and prostate cancer, as well as to early-onset puberty in girls. Hormone residues excreted in manure also wind up in rivers and streams. A 2003 study of male minnows downstream from one Nebraska feedlot found that many of them had unusually small testes.
When female minnows in a laboratory were exposed to trenbolone–a synthetic hormone widely administered to cattle–they developed male sex organs. ” (Schlosser, 2006) Fertilizers tend to indirectly affect human health by interfering with the ecosystem and biodiversity. When applied inefficiently as in the cases of countries such as China, only 30 per cent of the fertilizers are absorbed by the plants while the rest seeps away to pollute ground water, soil and other elements of the ecosystem.
Nitrates and Nitrites from fertilizers are amongst the most common contaminants in drinking water (Lipton, et. al. 2006). The maximum allowable concentration of nitrates in drinking water is 10 mg per liter. Any greater concentration could be dangerous to all living beings including human beings who drink the water. High concentration of nitrates in drinking water is suspected to be a cause behind blue baby syndrome in infants less than six year old, and can also lead to miscarriage in pregnant women. Nitrosamines which form from nitrates have been assumed to cancerous.
Highly toxic metals such as uranium, mercury, lead and cadmium can damage to the kidney, liver and lungs if they are consumed indirectly through the medium of water, at very high concentrations. The direct impact of consuming food from plants on which fertilizers had been applied is however still a matter for speculation. “The process of accumulation in plants has not completely been explained yet, but it has been proved that animal nourishment drawn from plants with an increased amount of nitrogen has bad effects on their health.
” (Denic & Miltojevic, 2008) Steroids and fertilizers therefore are threats to human well being and life when they are used in an arbitrary and unregulated manner. Food producers and manufacturers can however conveniently oppose any such assertions as the effects of consuming steroids and fertilizers or their byproducts are manifested only over a long period of time and are very difficult to track and record in the absence of dedicated and meticulous research. Effects of Antibiotics and Pesticides
In many developed and developing countries of the world, livestock and poultry are regularly treated with antibiotics to prevent diseases and promote growth and production. However, in recent years dramatic escalations in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections have cast serious aspersions on the practice of treating food animals with antibiotics (Report to Congressional Requesters No. 04-490). The reason behind this concern is that when bacteria are exposed to low-dose antibiotics for a long period of time, they develop a resistance to the drug.
Since entire herds of farm animals are routinely treated with low-dose antibiotics as a general measure to ward off infections, there is maximum possibility that the bacteria develop antibiotic resistance in the treated farm animals. There antibiotic resistant bacteria survive in animal food and are transmitted to human hosts when they are ingested. The magnitude of the problem can be gauged from the fact that 30 to 70 per cent of all the antibiotics used in the United States is actually fed to farm animals (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2008).
This type of transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from farm animals to human beings was amply demonstrated in the latter part of the 1990s when the same strains of antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter bacteria, one of the most common pathogens behind human diarrhea infection were found in both chickens and humans. Both the bacteria were found to be resistant floroquinolones – the antibiotic used to treat human beings. The same antibiotic had been given to whole flocks of chicken through drinking water to protect them against respiratory diseases.
Scientists were able to trace the resistant bacteria found in human beings back to the poultry through molecular subtyping (Smith, et al. , 1999). When human beings succumb to infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria the costs in terms hospital stay, loss of man-hours and medicines is much higher than in the case of non-resistant bacteria. Moreover, research has found sufficient evident that “the net effect of using Growth Promoting Antibiotics (GPAs) was a lost value of $0. 0093 per chicken (about 0. 45% of total cost). ” (Graham, et. al.
, 2007) It is therefore clearly established that treating farm animals with antibiotics is taking an unnecessary risk with no gain whatsoever. The use of pesticides to treat plant diseases is however a different story altogether. Pesticides are used in a variety of ways in cultivation of crops and plants for the production of food. They are used to exterminate pests, rodents and molds that cause damage to crops, to prevent the growth of destructive weeds, to preserve or prolong storage life of crops after harvesting, and even in the case of farm animals to control insect pests.
Small amounts of these pesticides, termed residues, are usually to be found in the food from these plants. What is more intimidating is that certain pesticides, though no longer in use, can persist in the environment, and residues of such pesticides can sometimes be found in the food grown in contaminated soil or in fish from contaminated water (Cornwell Centre for Environment, 1999). “Two and a half million tons of industrial pesticides are used each year around the world to suppress or destroy a variety of organisms considered a nuisance to human beings… Pesticides kill pests by damaging their cellular function, explains Dr.
Jesse Hanley, MD, public speaker, instructor, and co-author of Tired of Being Tired. We have enough in common with insects that we are damaged, too. ” (Puristat Website, 2008) Pesticides can be the cause behind a wide range of chronic diseases in human beings. These can include onset of Parkinson’s disease at an early age, shortening of attention span, memory-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s, reduced coordination; reproductive problems such as miscarriages; reduced infant development; birth defects; depression; and cancer.
Children are more affected by pesticides because for their size they consume more potentially pesticide-laced food and drinks than adults, their internal organs are more susceptible to pesticides, and the way they play increases their exposure to pesticides manifolds in comparison to adults. Children suffer from blurred vision, headaches, salivation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, wheezing, eye problems, skin conditions, seizure, coma, and even death due to exposure to pesticides. Mild to moderate pesticide poisoning mimics intrinsic asthma, bronchitis, and gastroenteritis (National Resources Defense Council, 2008).
The irony again is that the application of pesticides is actually a very short-term solution. They do not solve the problem of pests, simply because they do not change the conditions that are conducive for the proliferation of pests. When pesticides were first invented, 37 per cent of the crops were being destroyed by pests. Now, more than half a century later, 37 per cent of the crops are still being destroyed by pests (Puristat Website, 2008). It is therefore quite evident that while the use of antibiotics is an avoidable menace; any viable alternative to pesticides would be a wholesome relief for the world at large.
Effects of Food Additives The European Council (1998) defines food additives as “any substance not normally consumed as a food in itself and not used as a characteristic ingredient of food whether or not it has nutritional value, the intentional addition of which to food for a technological purpose … results … in it or its byproducts becoming directly or indirectly a component of such foods. ” In common parlance, food additives refer to those chemicals which have been used by human beings to improve the taste, appearance, colour, texture and life of food.
Salt, sugar and vinegar were the first of the food additives and have been used for centuries. The advent of manufactured food about half a century from now actually triggered the proliferation of thousands of food additives as we know them today. Though many people tend to look at food additives with an eye of suspicion, there are many advocates of food additives who would claim that the amount of chemicals that is ingested by a person as food additives is not adequate enough to cause any damage to health.
Recent studies however reveal some very worrisome results. A paper published recently by a team of doctors and researchers in the United Kingdom (UK) conclude that “artificial colorings and preservatives in food and drink boost levels of hyperactivity in pre-school children and urgent consideration should be given to removing them. The additives have a significant impact on the behavior of ordinary children and their elimination would be in the long-term interests of public health.
” (Heaton, 2005). The study found that significant changes in children’s hyperactive behavior could be achieved by removing artificial coloring agents and sodium benzoate, which is a very common additive, from their diet. Another survey in the United Kingdom has found that out of the best selling soft drinks in the country, ten had an additive content up to 70 per cent, many of which were linked to health problems in children such as insomnia, behavioral anomalies, asthma and rotting teeth.
Researchers suspect that even though the additives present have been certified as safe individually, their over effects could be altered when they are mixed together (Heaton, 2005). Tartrazine is a coloring agent that has been found to affect the behavior of children. It is used in many popular soft drinks to colour them yellow or orange. There are a lot of other additives which are potentially harmful to health. Hydrogenated fats or trans-fats are artificially produced through the process of hydrogenation, and are added to manufactured food to make them more solid and stable.
Hydrogenated fats has however been found to be a direct cause behind heart diseases, many types of cancers and skin ailments. The bad LDL cholesterol increases and the good HDL cholesterol decreases with increased intake of trans-fats. Phosphoric acid is a highly acidic ingredient in cokes, and is used to cloak the excessive natural sweetness of the product. Phosphoric acid has been found to lead to osteoporosis, especially in teenaged girls. Aspartame is a widely used sweetener found in soft drinks, chewing gums, yoghurt, frozen desserts, etc.
Studies have revealed that it could be the cause of mood swings, headaches, diarrhea, sleep anomalies, memory loss, seizures and convulsions. Similarly, monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been linked with the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ that involves perspiration, dizziness and heartaches and even causes asthma. Other surveys and studies however tend to establish that consumers consider the use of food additives as dangerous mainly because they are ignorant of and unacquainted with what additives actually are.
The media has also been found to play a prominent role in the formation of negative attitudes towards food additives. In recent years the emphasis of the media has been on the adverse affects of food additives. Many of such reports have been found to be lacking in objectivity and in information based on scientific facts. They tend more to sensationalize to draw the attention of viewers and readers (Tarnavolgyi & Molnar, 2004) It is clear that food additives need to be used carefully and should be regulated and monitored strictly so that safety is ensured.
Effects of Genetic Manipulations “The term GM foods or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken through breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time consuming and are often not very accurate.
Genetic engineering, on the other hand, can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy”. (Whitman, 2000) Food can be genetically modified to lend them specific properties such as pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought/salinity tolerance, etc. However, genetic modifications could cause unintended harm to other species as in the case of high mortality rates found in monarch butterfly caterpillars due to pollens from the genetically modified B. t. corn (Nature, 1999).
Genetic modification could also induce reduced effectiveness of pesticides and cause gene transfer to non-target species. Conclusion The increasing world population demands a proportionate increase in production of food that is easy to cultivate and manufacture, cheap and durable in terms of enduring long-distance hauls, The food manufacturing industry has to resort to all available technologies to be able to meet the demand for convenient and nutritious food priced reasonable so that they are within the reach of all sections of people of the world.
As far as food manufacturing is concerned. It seems as though we are in a very transient phase where old methods such as using steroids, fertilizers, antibiotics and pesticides are giving way to new technologies such as genetic engineering. The problem is that we are yet to be fully at ease and confident of the new technologies that are emerging. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution sweeping across the world is bound to have a very positive impact on the food manufacturing industry.
However, when it comes to food, great caution has to be adopted and strict monitoring and evaluation has to be implemented in application of all methods and technologies for food cultivation, raising, processing and production to avoid any potential threat or danger.
Works Cited and Reference
- Bureau, 2007, ‘World Population Datasheet, 2007, Online. November 12, 2008 http://www. prb. org/pdf07/07WPDS_Eng. pdf
- FAOSTAT, 2008, ‘Production of Cereals and Share in the World’, Online. November 12, 2008 http://www. fao. org/statistics/yearbook/vol_1_1/pdf/b01. pdf
- Farlow, C. , 2008, ‘What Everybody need to know about Food Additives,’ Online. November 12, 2008 http://EzineArticles. com/? expert=Christine_Farlow
- Andersson, A. , M. , Skakkebaek, N. , E. , 1999, ‘Exposure to exogenous estrogens in food: possible impact on human development and health,’ University Department of Growth and Reproduction, Righospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Schlosser, E. , 2006, ‘Cheap Food Nation’, Online. November 10, 2008 http://www. sierraclub. org/sierra/200611/cheapfood. asp
- Lipton, M. , Sinha, S. , Blackman, R. , 2006, ‘Understanding the Links between Agriculture and Health’, 2020 Vision, Agriculture Technology and Health, Journal of Human Adaptation.
- Denic, M. , Miltojevic, A. , 2008, ‘Nitrates from Fertilizers – Environmental and Health Effects. ’ Online. November 15, 2008