Malnutrition

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To Eat Or Not To Eat – That Is The Question

Published October 3, 2011 by glaumland

These passages are from another paper I worked on during my class Trade and Agricultural Health for my Master’s degree. Food safety is a very important topic, as well as a timely one (there is a Listeria outbreak in cantelope from Colorado).

Background on Food Safety

Food safety has been a concern since the advent of ancient civilizations. Although many areas of the world had small populations of hunter-gatherer tribes, a few regions with temperate climates and resources of domesticable livestock and cereal grains found the establishment of agrarian
societies. These early farmers had to develop methods of collection, processing and storage to keep their food wholesome until the next growing season. With the advent of ‘new’ technologies like plowing, fertilizing and irrigation leading to excess food production, these societies moved away from subsistence agriculture to cultures with divisions of labor. Thus this agricultural revolution left some members of society free to be bureaucrats, soldiers, laborers, artisans, innovators and heads of large families.

Excess food production created a need to find methods for food storage and food preservation. After 10,000 BCE, people living in the Fertile Crescent found themselves with an abundance of cereal grains and in response developed technologies needed to keep food edible. That early cultures invented techniques for cooking, preserving and storing food is shown through archaeological evidence as well as writings from ancient civilizations including the Chaldean, Egyptian, Greek and Roman. [1]  Passages from Genesis 12 and 42 inform that while other parts of
the Middle East were experiencing famine, Egypt could be depended upon as a source of grain. Egyptians had developed silos to preserve their crops by keeping the grain cool and dry. Many other inventions and technologies, like pottery, fermentation, and smoking, were developed world-wide as the availability of food increased.

However, these ancient peoples learned that the presence of food did not necessarily lead to good health. After removing wholesome grain from storage, the Egyptians would make flour by
grinding the grain on stones in the open air. This led to a high level of contaminants and particulates in the food, and the Egyptians suffered from excessive tooth wear as well as dental infections and abscesses. [2]  In 500 BC in China, the Confucian Analects gave warnings about
fish, meat and grains that were improperly cooked or kept long enough to spoil. [3]

In more recent times, many developments in food storage and preservation were travel-related, where people needed food that they could carry with them for extended periods of time in different
climates.  Mainly this travel was due to exploration, war or trade. During the Renaissance period, brining became a common method of preserving food and salted food became the main staple of sailors and soldiers.   Nicolas Appert from Paris became the ‘father of canning’ and won a prize from Napoleon who was attempting to expand across Europe and needed a way for his armies to
carry wholesome food with them. [4]

The Spanish-American War lasted for only a few months in 1898, and of the 5642 related deaths, only 379 were due to combat; food poisoning was responsible for ‘thousands of deaths.’ [5, 6]  The US Army bought a 500,000 pound shipment of meat from Armour and Company of Chicago, IL. This meat shipment traveled to and from Liverpool England in 1897 and had been inspected and
stamped by the Bureau of Animal Industry. An army inspector discovered that in the boxes of this meat (which one general referred to as ’embalmed’ meat, having been preserved with nitrate of potash and boric acid and also had food coloring added) many of the tins had burst open and the rotted meat had contaminated the rest of the contents . [7]

Only a few years later, the meat-packing industry suffered a major blow following the release of the book ‘The Jungle’ by Upton Sinclair based on his undercover experiences in the Chicago slaughterhouses. Sinclair’s goal was to expose the corruption of capitalism, and his story was about a fictional immigrant family set in the real world of Chicago and the meat industry with its unsanitary conditions and inhumane treatment of animals and workers alike. ‘The Jungle’ shocked the world with its revelations, and American citizens demanded action from the government.
President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a leader in the progressive movement to reform political corruption and corporate powers, responded by passing the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and its companion,  the Pure Food & Drug Act. The Meat Inspection Act gave the government jurisdiction over meat-related commerce and applied standards for product inspection and plant sanitation. [8]

Many acts of legislation have been passed and many programs implemented to protect consumers from unsafe food. Perhaps the most important occurred in the 1960’s after the United States
entered the space race. NASA needed a way to provide food for astronauts that was nearly 100% pathogen free, so they turned to the Pillsbury Company, whose researchers worked on that problem plus the complications from providing quality food in situations with zero gravity. Pillsbury realized that their usual quality control programs could not provide the safety requirements; they needed control over the raw materials, environment, production and employees to meet these goals. This multi-step program, the Hazards Analysis and Critical
Control Points System (HACCP), was adopted by the FDA and is now the primary tool used in this country and provides a basis for food safety protocols world-wide. [9, 10]

Despite the progress made in food safety, transportation and storage, there are still many challenges facing the world. With the increase in industrial food production and international shipping, adverse events that used to occur locally (such as food poisonings at church dinners, weddings, etc.) now have the capability to have global effects. The access to nearly instant
internet communication allows any food-related event to be noticed very quickly. Products that are contaminated or potentially dangerous can be swiftly identified and removed from store shelves.

In today’s international food trade, produce and products are shipped world-wide and finally end up in local supermarkets and on the table. Although the importing of fresh and processed food from developed nations should lead to better nutrition and improved health, access to the modern
technologies that support these industries can be limited or cost-prohibitive in developing and least-developed countries. The breakdown of a local food safety system and bureaucratic corruption can prevent wholesome food from getting to the people, and may lead to fighting over limited resources and widespread malnutrition.

Malnutrition can be due to infectious and immunologic disease as well as limited access to food. A 1997 US survey (Morris) found, of the deaths where diarrhea was a contributing factor, that
89% of the victims were children less than 5 years and adults over 55 years of age. [11] Access to more food can be a two-edged sword – the resultant increase in infant and adult survivability means that there is an increase in the numbers of individuals with weak immune systems who
are more likely to propagate or succumb to an insult. The presence of an effective food safety system is necessary to protect all members of society.

International support for developing and least-developed nations is vitally important. Any progress made agriculturally will lead to additional advances in these cultures and countries. Not only will their citizens be healthier, more individuals will have time and resources to invest in other activities, leading to better physical and economic health within these communities. Historically it has been shown that societies that participate in the exchange of agricultural technologies are more likely to become involved in the exchange of other products, opening new markets and new trade
avenues. [12]

Food safety is no longer merely a local concern. Food-borne diseases can potentially threaten the global community, decreasing the health and economic productivity in any region that it touches. As the international organizations address global issues, food safety, especially freedom from
contaminants and pathogens, must be foremost in their goals.

Notes & Resources

1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_processing

2  http://www.world-foodhistory.com/2008/07/grain-in-egypt-1300-bc.html

3  http://www.enotes.com/food-encyclopedia/food-safety

4  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_processing

5  http://www.food-safety-and-you.com/HistoryofFoodSafety.html

6  http://www.spanamwar.com/casualties.htm#American

7  Zinn, Howard. A people’s
history of the United States: 1492 – present. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003) 309.
Retrieved from http://books.google.com.

8  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upton_Sinclair

9  http://www.enotes.com/food-encyclopedia/food-safety

10  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HACCP

11  http://www.enotes.com/food-encyclopedia/food-safety

12  Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. (New York, Norton, 1997) Kindle location 3305 of 8299.

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