Wednesday, 16 January 2013

horse meat, burgers, asthma, eczema and salt

Listening to the radio yesterday evening proved to be very infomative about the food that we eat. I turned on to Radio 4 at 9 pm and heard the news. It said that horse meat has been found in burgers, including Tesco burgers. This is up to a third of the meat in burgers being horse meat.

I think I heard someone mention 'cross contamination'. This is not cross contamination, this is systematic fraud. Horse meat is intended for pet food and is unfit for human consumption. Horse meat in itself is not a bad meat to eat, but you need to understand that meat that is intended for human consumption is handled according to certain standards, including hygiene standards, and meat that is intended for pet food is handled with much lower standards. Horse meat is not intended for human food, and will have been handled to much lower standards. And don't think it is just horse muscle tissue that is in burgers. It's going to be lots of stuff, including the genitals. Officials have said that human health is not in danger, but how do they know that?

It's not surprising so many people have become vegetarians. They must be glad they did.

The irony is that most people would not eat a cow's heart. And yet they eat cow's heart every day in their burgers. If I was in a restaurant in France and cow's heart was on the menu, I might have some. If horse meat was on the menu, I might have some. If I thought it was quality meat and not something that died riddled with disease and has spent a week in a skip outside an abbatoir because it was originally intended for pet food.

I don't eat cow's heart or horse meat because I don't eat burgers. Yet I wouldn't turn up my nose at cow's heart or horse meat. Most people would turn their nose up at them, yet they eat them every day in burgers.

After the news was the Inside Health programme. They talked about a few things, but most interesting to me was the research linking junk food to asthma and eczema, and experts talking about salt and all the uses that salt is put to in junk food. I was aware that excessive salt intake leads to heart attacks and strokes, and I was aware that most of the salt that people get is from junk food. I wasn't aware that salt is used to bind to polyphosphates in meat and fish products to create a jell that binds them. Without lots of salt they would just fall apart.

Bon Appétit!

My Lidl Pony
 I found this on a forum:-

Horse is a perfectly edible meat, but plays no part in the legitimate meat processing routes in the UK or Ireland - so where was this horse meat from and how can anyone be sure that it was slaughtered and stored in accordance with current regulations?

he or she makes a number of important points below:-
  • where were the horses from?
  • were the horses healthy or did they die of old age or disease?
  • were they slaughtered in accordance with regulations?
  • was the resultant meat stored at the correct temperatures in accordance with regulations?
  • was it cheap knock-off past its use-by date horse meat from a country where horse meat is eaten?
If anything was not done properly with the last four points it could mean that there are public health concerns due to the risks associated with contaminated meat.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

global food waste and factory farming

I read a letter in today's Daily Mail that expresses the most important points that I have been trying to make in this blog. Food waste is an issue prominent in the news recently, and Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming wrote that feeding so much grain and soya to farm animals is another way that we waste food. I would have liked to place a link to this letter (Feed the world) in this post but couldn't find one, so I shall link to a post in his blog that has the same message.

I shall give a few of the facts stated in the letter
  • a third of the world's cereal harvest is fed to farm animals
  • 90% of the world's soya beans are destined for factory-farmed animals
  • for every 6kg of plant protein such as cereals fed to livestock, we get back, on average, only 1kg of meat or other livestock products
  • for every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in meat and milk
  • factory farms are food factories in reverse, they waste food rather than make it
There were two letters in New Scientist recently that interested me. The first was a response to a review of a book 'One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world?' by Gordon Conway. The review said that we need to double global food production by 2050 (Separating the wheat from the chaff by Fred Pearce New Scientist 13/10/12).

Alistair McCaskill wrote a letter (10/11/2012) saying that if today's population stands at 7 billion and is forecast to rise to 9 billion by 2050, why would it take a doubling of food production to feed this extra 2 billion? Fred Pearce answered, and said we have to allow for rising demand - especially for meat.

Clive Semmens replied to this (01/12/12) by saying that it would be much better to try to reduce consumption - especially of meat - in the more affluent. That would be good for the global environment and for health too. He went on to say that he's not advocating vegetarianism, merely moderation.

This is exactly my point of view. It seems to me that trying to double global food production is just not going to work. It doesn't matter how much genetic modification you have, it's simply not going to happen. Making meat more expensive by taxing it and refusing to allow the opening of more factory farms will help enormously. We tax ice cream and put VAT on it because it is a luxury. We should recognize that meat is just as much a luxury.

That is not going to harm poor people. Firstly, the really poor are the 1 in 8 of the global population who go hungry. Secondly, if meat is twice as expensive but people eat half the amount it isn't going to cost them, and it won't affect them aversely in nutritional terms - just the opposite. The same is true of cheese and butter. Meat, cheese and butter are not and can never be cheap calories or cheap protein.

Maize, soya, wheat and anchovies are the cheap calories and protein. That's why they're fed to animals, after all. The almost billion people who go hungry would be quite happy to have extra calories and extra protein from whatever source. They have the knowledge of how to make these things taste wonderful, whether it's traditional Mexican cuisine or the traditional East Asian cusines. The more affluent of the world might desire burgers and other processed foods, but they should be encouraged to move away from the flavours of fat, sugar and salt. I know what I would rather eat, especially now that we know what goes into beefburgers, and I'm not just talking about horse meat.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Life on benefits: starving?

I've just been reading this article in today's Independent. Charlie Cooper tries getting by on £175 a week. He says poverty made him eat lots of pizza. It's a pity that poverty didn't make him go to supermarkets with a notepad and pencil and make him write down the price per kilo of different foods. If he had done so then he might have come to realize that healthy rice and pasta are much cheaper than unhealthy pizza.

Charlie said that some of the time he went hungry. Many people do go without food. So what is the cheapest possible diet that is reasonably healthy? My calculations are that if you eat two thirds of a kilo of long grain rice and one third of a kilo of frozen mixed vegetables, then you will get all the calories that you need in a day, all of the protein, and also your 5 a day.

That would not be an ideal diet, and it certainly would be boring, but you could live off that indefinitely, and it costs 52p per day. I'm not suggesting that poor people should eat just this, but it's better than not eating anything.

One kilo of long grain rice costs 40p (from Lidl and others) and has 3,550 calories (kcals) and 70g of protein. Two thirds of a kilo costs 27p and has 2,367 calories and 47g of protein.

One kilo of frozen mixed vegetables costs 75p (from Sainsbury's) and has 310 calories and 23g of protein. One third of a kilo costs 25p and provides 103 calories and 8g of protein.

Two thirds of a kilo of rice and one third of a kilo of veg together costs 52p, provide 2,470 calories and 55g of protein. Men need 2,500 calories per day and women need 2,000. People need 55g of protein a day. This may astonish some people who think that to get enough protein you need to eat meat, fish, cheese or eggs. Rice and veg are low in protein but people really do not need as much as they think. People in Britain, including poor people, usually eat 85g a day.

Sainsbury's basics frozen mixed vegetables have peas, broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. Peas contain protein, and this protein balances the protein from the rice in terms of amino acids. So, you can be pretty sure that you're getting both the quantity and quality of protein that you need. As far as your '5 a day', you will be getting most of your vitamins and minerals. You don't need to have both vegetables and fruit, vegetables by themselves are good enough.

I think most people can afford 52p a day. What seems to be happening is that people spend their money on expensive rubbishy foods then run out of money and go hungry. If they ate more cheap healthier food then they wouldn't run out of money.

The cheapest pizza I could find is Tesco Everyday Value cheese and tomato pizza. It costs 60p, has 647 calories and 26g of protein. So it is more expensive and has fewer calories.

If someone had slightly more money, then I would suggest porridge for breakfast, a pasta dish for lunch, and a rice dish in the evening. Porridge and pasta aren't much more expensive than rice. Pasta and rice dishes are healthy, but the more cheese, butter and cream that you add the more expensive it is and the less healthy.

If you have more money then you can start adding fruit, some olive or rapeseed oil, and some animal protein. This may sound like a hypothetical exercise, to try and find the least amount of money that it costs to have a reasonably healthy diet. But it is not hypothetical at all. People are going hungry. And they can do something about it with a small amount of effort and information.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

smugness about science

A few days ago there were articles in a couple of newspapers about celebrities and their pseudo scientific ideas. There is a campaign group called Sense About Science. They did something on their site about celebrities and fads and some of the newspapers did articles on it, including this one in The Independent.

I don't think they've checked their facts though. It's as if they've already made up their minds that things like vitamin pills and fasting must be pseudoscience and they aren't interested in recent research. Don't get me wrong. I believe in science. I just can't accept the lazy smug attitude of some people who claim to have a monopoly of rationality.

After slagging off a lot of celebrities about their health tips, the campaign group commends Jennifer Anniston and Al Murray for what they think are their more rational ideas. Jennifer Anniston is praised for saying that fasting is 'bad for the body'. Al Murray is praised for saying that 'popping vitamin pills is a waste of time and money, apart from perhaps cod liver oil'. Ursula Arens and Lucy Jones, both from the British Dietetic Association, are quoted in support of each of them.

Is Sense About Science not aware of the research publicised by Dr Michael Mosley about fasting? As this news article shows 'Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight, as Michael Mosley discovered'. I have posted on Dr Mosley and intermittent fasting a while ago.

When it comes to vitamins, there is more and more evidence that vitamin D is very important in a number of different ways, and that it is difficult to get enough through a balanced diet or though exposure of skin to sunshine (some vitamin D can be synthesised though sunlight). In this news article it says 'Writing in Scrubbing Up, Prof Blair said: "Vitamin D can be found in some foods such as oily fish, eggs and mushrooms - but only 10% of a person's recommended daily amount is found naturally in food. Put bluntly, eating more fish and getting out in the sun a bit more won't make much of a difference to your vitamin D levels". I have posted on vitamin D a while ago.

There is vitamin D in cod liver oil, although that's not what it's mainly used for. Most cod liver oil has added vitamin D and it often has added vitamins A and E too. I prefer to buy fish oil and then buy my vitamin D separately. If anyone has the right to be smug, it would be someone like me who has been taking extra vitamin D for years. That seems perfectly rational to me. As each new piece of research comes along showing the value of vitamin D, I am pleased that I have been taking supplements for years. I'm glad I didn't listen to these people.

If it is unscientific to believe that vitamin pills are anything but 'a waste of time and money', why is it that so many foods are fortified with vitamins? Why aren't scientists complaining about that? Not only don't they complain about it, they think it is a clever thing to do.

Another thing I didn't like is this paragraph 'Gary Kemp, former singer with Spandau Ballet, came to the aid of medical science by declaring that acupuncture as performed by his chiropractor didn't do much for him and that "hardcore science" should be everyone's first port of call when dealing with a serious illness'. I don't know much about acupuncture. I'm not interested in alternative or complementary medicine and it's outside the scope of this blog. But my understanding of acupuncture is that it is a valuable method of pain relief. 'Hardcore science' has shown that this is true. I don't want anyone in pain to dismiss something that could help them because of the cynics.

Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science said "we have had more examples than ever sent to us of people in the public eye who clearly do check their facts". Well, Tracey, perhaps it is you who should check your facts.