31 January 2012

USDA, Ammonia & McDonalds



Your health insurance:
USDA, a government organization whose mission is to protect humans from the vast dangers that can affect food. Clearly, this entity does not value our health as much as they claim to if they allow Ammonia (a household cleaning product that is very toxic to humans) to be used in hamburger meats all across America.

Ammonia is a colorless gas that has a foul odor, and is a commercial cleaning agent. It irritates the eyes, mucus membranes (respiratory and digestive tracts) and to a lesser extent the skin. And if mixed with bleach a very toxic and very poisonous gas will result.

This same USDA that sets regulations and "protects" food is allowing a substance--one of many--that have harmful effects on humans to be apart of the fast food hamburgers that so many of us eat regularly.

This pink gloopy substance that is part of the "ground beef" (if you can call it that) process has been taken out after years of use. The USDA mentioned that Ammonia was part of the process of production and not an ingredient and therefore left it off the label.

How are we as consumers to trust such an entity that is supposed to be protecting against harmful substances in food when the entire time such substances are as much of an ingredient as the "ground beef" is in your McDonald's hamburgers?! How are we to trust that there are not other harmful substances in the many other foods that we consume? Transparency is needed if consumers are to trust! But apparently we're the fools.

Who is to say that an extra dose of Ammonia won't slip in unannounced and cause irreversible health effects?! It does happen! Food recalls are a prime example of how contaminated food products have leaked into mainstream society, cause some illnesses, raised some concerns about health and, you guessed it, as a final result the government steps in to halt the widespread distribution of that specific food. Government doing what it does best; stepping in to treat the symptoms and not prevent the upstream risk factors.

I am not saying that the government can prevent all of these unfortunate leaks into the public, but it can at least focus on prevention rather than solely treat symptoms. It is possible. With a little rallied effort by the leadership of the USDA to step in and make a stand that the use of certain harmful substances will not be used to eliminate potential life-threatening parasites, viruses, bacteria, etc in our foods. They should encourage food scientists to find healthier, more life-sustaining alternatives in the treatment process.

It is possible! It can be done, but not without a concerted effort from the leadership of such an organization as well as you and I. We as a society need to stand for values, standards and ideals that don't fluctuate but that encourage, promote, protect and prevent the onslaught of unethical decisions based solely on monetary motivations.  McDonald's stopping the use of this pink-gloopy substance is a step in the right direction, and I applaud them, but many more steps need to be taken in that same direction if we are to reach our goal.

29 January 2012

Health & Politics

up·stream (ŭp’strēm’)
adj. Towards the source of a stream or river; against the normal direction of water flow.

Imagine walking along a riverbank with a friend. Suddenly, you notice someone drowning in the river, flailing his arms and screaming for help as he is swept downstream.

You jump into the river to pull him to safety, but as soon as you reach the shore, you see someone else in the river, screaming for help. This happens again and again.

Exhausted, you shout for your friend to help you. Instead of jumping into the river, your friend begins running up the river bank. When you ask her what she is doing, she replies, “I’m going upstream to find out why these people are falling in, and to keep them safe on the riverbank!”

"If we don't change the direction we are headed,
we will end up where we are going."
                                                        -Chinese Proverb

In Public Health we are constantly fighting the current misunderstandings of the time. There seems to be many vast health disparities that have resulted from such misunderstandings. This story relays the mission of Public Health and upstream politics. To understand and get to the root cause of any health disparity--whether it be socioeconomic, environmental, or personal--our mission is to move as far upstream as possible.

Upstream causes deal with interventions that are beyond the individual's control. These interventions focus on implementing new laws, policy and programs to help assist individual's health behaviors and choices. We have all seen how effective focusing on upstream factors can be, just take a look at the Tobacco industry and how effective they are at advertising to adolescents. The day of the Marlboro man and Joe Camel are long gone. There are other ways the Tobacco industries target audiences that require further implementations, but we'll address that another day.

If we are to effectively reduce these health disparities that plague our societies day in and day out, then theory-based health prevention programs require our attention.