The Wellness Blog 

Horsing around with our food chain

The recent horse meat scandal in Europe highlights the lack of accountability regarding food manufacturing processes. Extensive DNA  testing has now been carried out through the European Union and found one in twenty beef products to be tainted with horse meat. EU Health Commissioner Tony Borg said it was "a matter of food fraud and not of food safety". However, the pervasiveness of this one rogue ingredient in beef products should cause us to question what else we unwittingly eat.

As our food becomes increasingly processed and production of it more globalised, we are losing control as consumers to make informed choices about what we eat. Compartmentalising of food manufacturing where contractors are used to make elements of the final product diminishes accountability. Furthermore, it perpetuates ambiguity regarding the origins of our food. In some circumstances, labelling laws do not even require the end manufacturer to state each ingredients in their product. This is the case for foods containing ingredients such as 'spices' or 'natural flavour'.

Some additives used in food manufacturing do not require labelling as they are considered 'production aids'. Enzymes are one of the most common of these ingredients to escape labelling. This is despite trace amounts often remaining in the finished product, as may be the case in commercially-baked bread. Some enzymes are known allergens and others are animal-derived. Thereby having health implications and raising ethical issues for some religious groups and vegans.

Our growing reliance on importation also creates further complexities with food quality and safety. Legislation on agriculture and food production standards differ between foreign countries. Herbicides and pesticides banned in Australia are still freely used in countries we currently import from, exposing us to potentially toxic chemicals. Organic standards also different from country to country, contributing further to our inability to make an informed choice.

So how can we take control of what we consume? The key is choosing locally produced whole foods. Ditching the supermarket for markets, local grocers, butchers and specialty stores. Although, you won't find exclusively local produce at all these places, it does enable you to create relationships with owners and staff who are normally happy to share knowledge on how and where their stock is produced. Shopping at one of the many farmers markets around is a fantastic way of guaranteeing local produce.

Choosing in season also increases likelihood of encountering local produce. Growing your own gives you complete control over the way your food is produced. It is also a great way to educate yourself about what is in season and best-suited to your local climate.

Avoiding processed foods is probably the most simple strategy you can employ to demystify what you consume. Read labels and avoid products with a long list of ingredients.  It's not complicated but it does often involve a little more time, but once you have got into a routine, it becomes easier. The most important thing to remember is to keep it simple by buying predominantly "whole" foods.

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