“Marketing” A Change for Organic Foods In Maine

 

This week I would like to start a discussion of the history Maine has with the organic food industry as that will likely be the key topic for my research paper.

The simple fact that Maine is such a large and traditionalist state creates a problem for this industry as I have previously mentioned in other posts because there is no real drive to sustain the industry when the general opinion of the food industry itself in Maine is typically a positive one. Ignorance is bliss essentially.

However, though some people may not realize this, Maine has had a supportive role in the organic foods industry for a long time. This is shown in the widespread tradition of farmers’ markets throughout the state.

Most of these farmers that sell their produce directly from the ground or their own personal slaughterhouses bypass many of the harmful steps of production that are associated with typical big food companies. There are obviously still some risks associated with the consumption of these goods as they may still have some form of harmful agent incorporated into their growth, however, the chances are much less likely.

Originally, support of these farmers’ markets were viewed more as a way to keep the economy local and support local producers rather than big industries that were located in a different state or sometimes even, different country. Now though, people are realizing that by choosing to shop there, you are choosing a product that you are more confident in as far as the production of it is concerned.

It is much easier to trust your neighbors who you know and have at least some relationship with, particularly in a friendly state like Maine, than it is to trust a label on a bag at a supermarket.

This change in consumption methods has been notice and encouraged throughout the state and can be seen from the work of farmers’ market advocacy groups. Some of these groups include the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Food AND Medicine in the area.

There also has been a recent effort to change the way that people on welfare in the state do their grocery shopping. There recently was an initiative by Food AND Medicine to provide a 50% discount on all food bought from farmers markets in the Bangor area with EBT cards from people who are on the SNAP food program.

The article in the Bangor Daily News that covered this change reported that there was a 50% increase in the use of EBT cards at farmers markets since the introduction of the program. This was a tremendous success for Food AND Medicine and the people of the state. As anyone who does their own grocery shopping could attest, eating healthier is not always the easiest, and is most definitely not the cheapest method.

Organic foods are typically more expensive and are harder pressed to find in grocery stores. However, with this emphasis put on farmers markets, at least during the realistic summer months, Maine people now have access to healthy produce that is produced locally, but most importantly, is cheaper than the unhealthier alternatives.

I think that if we are going to have a serious discussion of the welfare system in the state of Maine, we cannot leave out this experiment and the success that it has clearly had. This program also eliminated a portion of the fraud that is also typically associated with EBT cards because it provided the card-holder with wooden tokens rather than cash after the card was used at the market. These tokens were then traded in for produce from the farmers there at the discounted price.

I believe that we need to strive to increase this method of shopping, in particular with people on the welfare system, and that it would greatly increase the overall health of the state and decrease the amount of abuse of the welfare system in Maine.

 

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Blog Audit

In looking back over the posts from the past two months, I am reminded once more of the problems that I started writing about at the beginning of this assignment. The largest one that I find to be the continuous trend in all sectors that feed into the category of healthcare is government involvement.

Either it is too excessive and its policies allow private sector industries to take advantage of the opportunities presented and harm the american citizenry, or it is too relaxed and does not do its job of presiding over these industries and keeping its people safe.

At the beginning of this project, I was hoping that I would be able to stay away from getting too “political” with my posts and focus more intensively on the facts. But I have learned that the facts are only made so by the extent to which the government decides to get involved. This makes it impossible to even have a discussion about something as seemingly non-political or biased as the food industry without having to bring up the governments role in legislation for farmers and meat producers.

At first, I was worried that I would become too emotionally involved with my opinions on the government’s involvement with the healthcare system in general. I did not want to write anything that would come off as too “extreme” or polarized that could potentially be brought back to light later in my life should I choose to do something like run for public office where the effects could be harmful. However, my research has opened my eyes to an entirely new facet of analysis of government involvement in healthcare from an entirely non-healthcare-related standpoint.

This kind of emotional involvement I actually find to be helpful as it gives me the determination to continue with I am doing and be passionate about it, while at the same time, not clouding my work with political opinions. If I am biased about anything I blog about, it’s that I believe every American has the right to a good health, as most politicians and people in general would also advocate. However, what they fail to understand or realize is that the paradigm of politics is that by changing or adding policy in one region of the government (let’s use farming as an example) can have an incredibly strong affect on an entirely different region of the government (healthcare in this case).

Anyways, to now reflect more intensively on myself, I have chosen to listen to my research and advice that I write about on here every week. I decided to go vegan, (at least for the most part), and have done so fairly effectively for the past month and plan to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. When I cannot eat vegan for extenuating circumstances such as a non-vegan-friendly menu at a restaurant or at another home for dinner, etc., I eat vegetarian. At the very least, I will not eat any meat and have switched my main source of protein from animal products to plant products.

In making this rather huge transition in my life, I find that I feel much better in my day-to-day activities both mentally and physically, just as almost any advocate for this type of diet will tell you. The fact of the matter is that I have more energy, an easier time waking up in the morning, focusing on various things throughout the day, and just feel better all around.

I have also found however, that this transition is a particularly hard one to make for a college student, let alone one from Maine. There are hardly any vegan restaurants in the entire state, and the more north you go, the less likely you are to find people that even know what a vegan is. I do not say that in a sarcastic tone, but rather as one of fact. It’s simply something that people in this area are unaccustomed too as it is very untraditional, and Maine is one of the most traditional and “oldest” states in the country, so this does not really come as much of a surprise to me. I think this is a huge part of the problem with the health of the state as a whole. When we were living in a time when GMO’s and artificial growth hormones were not even existent and you knew that your meat came from the butcher’s shop down the road where he slaughtered his produce earlier that day with his own hands, we did not have to worry about the problems we now do today. We are trying to eat the same way but with foods that are not at all the same as they were before the heavy industrialization of the food industry in America, and that can only lead to one thing- a decrease in America’s overall health.

We also have a much fewer selection of options for those people that do want to eat as healthily as possible. When I go grocery shopping, there are one or two aisles of “organic” produce, while the rest of the aisles are all of processed or artificial foods are unhealthy. This makes it much more difficult, and expensive, to eat healthy as the time commitment to make these meals is greater than a typical American’s meal that will likely take less time to make as it has simply been frozen and can be heated in the microwave and ready to serve within a few minutes. It is also more expensive in cost as much of these foods are slightly more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. This unfortunately makes shopping healthily impossible for some Americans who are very tight on cash as the cheapest options are usually the worst options for you health-wise. I have found that Maine is particularly not at all conducive to a vegan diet.

About a year ago my grandparents decided to go vegan and I literally laughed at them, never thinking I would categorize myself as a person who could be that “weird.” I most certainly did not ever think that I could give up meat as it was a cornerstone of almost every meal in my diet. However, looking all the way back to the beginning of this assignment, I suppose it was only a matter of time until my research finally got the best of me.

It also has changed my thinking about the pharmaceutical industry and America’s problems with prescription drugs. Doctors are prescribing kids who are my age or younger with medicine that’s side-effects include death simply to decrease their chance of an acne breakout. It blows my mind the amount of unnecessary and unhealthy medicine that America consumes. That is not to say that all medications or all doctors are harmful or unnecessary, of course, however, it is undeniable that America’s dependance on pharmaceutical drugs has become increasingly worse, and this is not even taking into account the amount of prescription drug abuse that takes place as well. I now look around at a more speculative view of most drugs and try to find alternative solutions to the health problems that I notice and in almost every case the answer can usually be stemmed back to a better diet.

This experience has definitely been an eye-opening one for me thus far. I hope to be able to continue with my diet as long as possible and am looking forward to the benefits down the road. I would encourage anyone who is interested, or even skeptical, in a vegan or vegetarian diet to try it. You may miss certain foods in the short-run, but the benefits you will feel from it in the long run outweigh them. Now looking at the future and the topic of my term paper, my research question will be the following:

How can areas of government policy outside of healthcare itself directly or indirectly influence the costs of maintaining the healthcare system in the state of Maine?

Do you know who is looking out for your best interest?

This week I would like to pose a question that should, but often is not, on everyones’ minds- who is in control of making sure that the food, drugs, and anything else we put into our bodies is safe for us as consumers?

Surprisingly enough, you may not like the answer.

According to a recent report from the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists), things are far from “okay” within the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting us- more specifically the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and organizations like it. 

A survey they conducted suggests that there is huge external influence on the factors that determine the changes the FDA regularly makes to policies on food and drug produce. What is particularly startling is that this study was conducted with sources from inside these agencies. It concluded that at least 25% of the people in these agencies believe that, corporate interests regularly force the agencies to change or remove policies that hurt their bottom line, even when those policies protect the public.” 

The survey of these 8,000 workers also concluded that 40% of them believe that these “practices harm public health in order to appease corporate interests.”

Also alarmingly, 30% of these workers believe that “many of the higher-ups at both the FDA and USDA “inappropriately” influence decision making, in addition to having previously worked in the food industry.”

How then have these people been allowed to attain these positions, and more importantly, stay in them?

The answer purely is power and government dominance over the industry. If someone from within one of these agencies should raise questions or go against the protocol of the FDA, there will be repercussions. Dean Wyatt was one such worker who was in charge of slaughterhouse inspections and believed that the standards suggested by the FDA were not beneficial and potentially harmful to the public. When Wyatt actually did his job and reported the infractions that he discovered, he was actually demoted from his position.

Wyatt describes the situation as the following: “Not only is there lack of support, but there’s outright obstruction, retaliation and abuse of power.”

Now to approach the pharmaceutical component of this situation, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which has been highly revered as an institution focused on protecting the public from diseases, in fact has been cited as doing the opposite on multiple occasions.

According to therefusers.com, Dr. Brian Hooker, PhD Scientist, discovered from “his more than 100 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests [that] have resulted in copious evidence that the vaccine preservative Thimerosal, which is still used in the flu shot that is administered to pregnant women and infants, can cause autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Hooker’s report clearly stated that the release of these documents “proves unequivocally that in 2000, CDC officials were informed internally of the very high risk of autism, non-organic sleep disorder and speech disorder associated with Thimerosal exposure.” This report was then analyzed by CDC epidemiologist Thomas Verstraeten, MD.

After these results were exposed and the public was made aware of this problem, Congress called for the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act 1997, which included the more intensive studying of the affects of mercury in drugs, particularly the affects it had on the development of autism in children.

Then in 1999, the FDA requested that all “vaccine manufacturers eliminate mercury from vaccines.”

You might be thinking now, “as unfortunate as that situation was some ten years ago, at least the problem was addressed and corrected, right?”  Wrong.

As this was merely a “request” by the FDA and, as we have seen already that the FDA has a history of not limiting the economic capabilities of its larger industries (the pharmaceutical industry being the largest), this request was simply not given a second thought as it would hurt their bottom line.

How could this have happened? Shouldn’t there be some form of system in place to prevent this obvious problem from harming the public?

The answer, as it was earlier as well, is simply another loophole in the system.

Under the FDA’s requirements, “ingredients that comprise less than 1 percent of a product do not have to be divulged on the label.” Put simply, because mercury and other damaging preservatives and ingredients in these drugs that were causing autism in children were small enough, they were able to simply slip under the radar of detection provided by the FDA.

If there that should be changed within the American Healthcare system in terms of reform, higher regulation of the pharmaceutical industry is most definitely at the top of this list. The government needs to be more accountable and less persuadable by big corporations that have extensive fiscal and lobbying influence in Washington. This is a problem that is not partisan, its American.

Pharmaceutical lobbyists endorse whatever candidates they believe will win so they will constantly have influence over these government agencies. They also are significantly more likely to achieve positions within these agencies where they can directly influence and have a hand in the policy-making process.

Not surprisingly, when you want to better understand the changes within what is “recommended” by these organizations to consumers, you will likely find a correlation between the change and who was in charge of the department that initiated it.

For instance, when the recommended amount of milk consumption increased from two to three glasses per day for people ages 9 and older, the Secretary of the USDA was an agricultural entrepreneur who was heavily invested in the dairy industry.

Interestingly enough, most food scientists and dietary doctors will now argue against the consumption of milk at all, stressing that it actually increases your chance of acquiring adverse health effects including prostate cancer (in men) and obesity to name only a couple examples. They recommend soy (more specifically almond) milk as an alternative to actual milk which is high in fat and completely unnecessary, even for bone health, after the the pre-adolescent age.

If the government “pulls the wool” over our eyes, how can we be expected to make healthy decisions and thus have less health problems, when they are causing a majority of them through misleading information and back-door deals with large food and drug industries? This is the agonizing “Catch 22” that we all currently live in.

In closing, I encourage all of my fellow Mainers to investigate deeper into their consumption habits with more skepticism. We should also keep these factors in mind when considering Mainecare reform and how people’s consumption of produce and drugs play into the healthcare industry in Maine. 

Reform starts at the top. This means holding the government and its agencies more responsible and requiring more transparency throughout the whole system, not just vertically, but horizontally, to all areas that “feed” into the healthcare system in America.