Lügen Lobbies Lebensmittel (Lies Lobbies Food)
|Subtitle||Wer bestimmt, was Sie essen müssen (Who determines what you need to eat)|
|Author(s)||Ingrid Reinecke and Petra Thorbrietz|
|Publisher||Rowohlt Taschenbuchverlag, Reinbeck|
(This book exists only in German at this time.)
Ingrid Reinecke was a Greenpeace activist and is now working for a foundation. Petra Thorbrietz has received several prizes including the Österreichischer Staats- und Förderungspreis für Wissenschaftspublizistik (Austrian national prize for scientific writing).
This book, published in 1998, deals with the major problems caused by the very strong food industry. Billions in profits make it possible for international companies to regulate consumer behavior and the decisions made in politics. This book was published a few years before Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, which examines the situation even more critically.
Lies Lobbies Food focuses primarily on the situation in the EU. It is filled with facts and examines the food industry with a critical eye. The numerous examples provided show just how drastic the situatio
n is. The message is clear and well-founded: “Move away from processed foods and instead cook your food at home.” And “Choose locally produced organic food whenever possible.” However, the authors don’t challenge or pressure us. They leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions.
The chapter “What You Can Do” does however include some ideas and tips on actions that individuals can take. The authors also examine areas where EU policy has wreaked great havoc. At the end of the chapter, there are six ideas for both political and individual action that needs to be taken. The authors INGRID REINECKE and PETRA THORBRIETZ describe a situation that hasn’t changed much in the 15 years since they wrote this book.
The images I have added to this book review serve to break up the text and provide space for additional comments. The book itself does not contain any images. The images here are from Wikipedia, I took them myself, or they are from the public domain.
Note: The chapter titles and all quotations in italics are translated from the original German.
Contents and my remarks
Farmer Sacrifice — The Abolition of Agriculture
European Morals — Chacun à son goût (Everyone has their taste)
Rotten Arguments — From the Field to the Dump
Matters of Taste — On Dry Soups and Ready-Made Dishes
Power Politics — The Dictatorship of Standards
Label Fraud — The Swine Internationale
Chain Reactions — The Trade and Its Consumers
Bacteria off the Assembly Line — If it Doesn’t Make You Sick, It’s Fresh
Code of Eating — Consumer Protection as a Barrier to Trade
What Can You Do? — The Power of the Consumer
The individual chapters have a type of “subtitle” that always starts with “or:” Each chapter is divided into several topics. I have linked numerous terms to Wikipedia (in italics, linked in October 2013). Entries on Wikipedia often lack objectivity. Representatives of specific industry groups also write many articles, and an account from the opposing point of view is often not possible. In addition, many important entries do not exist. For example, there is no entry for “The Hormone Scandal.” An entry on the Anbauverband der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökologischer Landbau, AGÖL (Farming association of the organic farming working group) is missing, but its successor organization (2002), Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft, BÖLW, (Organic food industry association) is described briefly (German version only). Other entries are strongly influenced by the establishment, which is described in the book. Otherwise Wikipedia just gives a general overview of the subject. Links not in italics lead to articles of my own or are anchor texts.
If you want to learn more about the topics addressed in this article, we have recommended a few books on the food industry at the end of this book review.
“Those who don’t defend themselves will end up eating a poor diet. In line with this motto, the book shows readers what food has to do with politics and what we can do to work against new lies from old lobbies. What you eat, how you eat, and what ultimately ends up on your plate is less a question of your taste, but is determined by political and industry interests. And what is served in Germany or Austria and in France or Italy is no longer determined by national authorities, but instead by the European Union and must comply with the laws of the world market. In our age of globalization and corporate consolidation, this means that a very few large companies ultimately determine what you eat.”
Summary of a short review (not by me)
Amazon doesn’t have a review of this book, but at Vegetarismus.ch/heft/99-2/lobbies.htm (in German only) you will find the following: “ ‘After reading this book, you will know why the EU pays subsidies for live animals to be transported across all of Europe. Or why cucumbers are no longer crooked (because they must comply with EC/UN quality standard FFV-15) and why asparagus from Greece now costs only half as much.’ What we end up eating is a question of political and industry interests. This book shows the EU’s power structure and lack of control mechanisms.
It is clear that the EU in its present form is incapable of caring for the well-being of its citizens (and even less for the welfare of the animals). Lobbies and commissions lacking transparency set the terms and direction to be taken. An example of this was a note from a commission member on BSE (mad cow disease) that was leaked to the press. It contained the following statements: ‘We have to downplay this matter by disinforming the public!’ Ironically, this EU official was also responsible for consumer protection ...
This book also covers ‘milk lakes’ and ‘meat mountains’ as well as soilless cultivation and irradiation of food. One note on eggs is that 300 million ‘organic eggs’ are sold in the EU annually, but only 50 million actual organic eggs are produced. A generous estimate is that at least one third is falsely labeled.
It’s a book well worth reading, and the appendix contains a lot of important contact information and additional tips (sic) for consumers.”
About the authors
Page 255: PETRA THORBRIETZ, born 1954, Dr. rer. pol., studied journalism and wrote her dissertation on networked thinking in journalism. She worked as an editor for Natur (Nature, German magazine), Wochenpost (Weekly post, German newspaper), and Die Woche (The week, German newspaper). THORBRIETZ has also written for radio and television. She was awarded the Österreichischer Staats- und Förderungspreis für Wissenschaftspublizistik (Austrian national prize for scientific writing) and the prize from the Darmstädter Schader-Stiftung (Darmstadt Schader foundation) “for the implementation of socio-scientific results in practice.” There is an entry on Petra Thorbrietz (in German only) on the German version of Wikipedia with a listing of her awards.
“INGRID REINECKE, born in 1954, has worked as a photographer, secretary, and Greenpeace campaigner. She established the traveling exhibition “Essen aus dem Genlabor” (Food from the genetics lab) and is an editor of the Brandt Report.” You can go to Anstiftung-Ertomis.de/die-stiftung/team to see her picture and contact information.
The two German authors report in a very forthright manner about the negative side of the agricultural policy dictated by the EU. They explain why the food that ends up on our plates is not so much a question of our own taste preferences, but more so a question of economic and political interests. (p. 10)
“An ever decreasing number of companies determine what the around 370 million citizens in the EU are eating. Hardly any other industry has undergone such an intense consolidation process as has the food industry.” Similar to Salt Sugar Fat, which is written about the United States, this book describes the actions of multinational corporations in detail, in many cases from the production of seeds to the sale of finished products. These corporations also determine which pesticides and seeds are used, and where possible, the role tht genetic engineering plays.
Quality and health do not receive priority. Instead, the industry focuses on producing processed and prepackaged products such as convenience food, functional food, and novel food in mass. An important statement from 1998 (p. 12): "Only four percent of agricultural products in Germany arrive on the market in their natural state; the rest disappears into the industrial food machines. The future of food, as seen by the food strategists, has little to do with nature. Removed from the ground, food becomes a shapeless mass of raw protein, fats, and carbohydrates with a range of designs.”
The book also addresses problems that industrialized nations cause in developing countries. One example is how the EU and United States systematically destroy the livelihoods of small farmers through subsidized food deliveries.
It is quite shocking to see the extent that false advertising is committed by the industry. Such offenses are numerous, but can you imagine how many offenses there are that haven’t ben reported? It’s far worse than the nice picture of a romantic farmhouse placed on packs of eggs from battery hens. At least that can be brought to court today.
But, according to Martin Wille, head of the Behördliche Lebensmittelüberwachung (German food regulatory administration similar to the FDA) in North Rhine-Westphalia, his administration was notified about label fraud in 1994. Sample inspections in Düsseldorf stores and markets revealed that 24 of 26 wholesalers that were examined falsely labeled more than half of their goods (p. 17).
In the section titled “The Subsidized Paradise,” the authors explain how the EU used subsidies to change the system so that food is now mostly produced by large corporations, regardless of consumer demand. The EEC in 1957 wanted to increase the per capita income of farmers and at the same time obtain cheaper food. At that time, representatives from Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux states agreed on a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Using examples, the book shows why CAP brought about large increases in volume and lowered prices. And the authors explain the unnecessary and harmful effects, which have only increased in recent years. This is partly due to gross political errors. The book emphasizes the consequences for human health and the environment.
In 1950, there were 18 million active farmers in the six founding countries of the EU. But by 1994, the number had decreased to only 4 million. However, 40 years ago a chicken laid 140 eggs a year. And today a chicken produces about 300 eggs in its lifetime, which is an average of only 15 months.
Large surpluses were and are produced and end up on the world market with high subsidies. This causes the demise of farms and impoverishment of farmers in other countries.
“In Africa, for example, highly subsidized frozen beef was thrown on the market at dumping prices, which put the regional livestock industry under pressure, an industry that at the time was being supported by European development assistance. In 1991, the EC paid almost 2,000 million marks in export subsidies to sell meat in West Africa for only 50 million marks.”
Please pause a moment to grasp the meaning of this statement.
Development aid is an important issue. Sir Hans Wolfgang Singer demonstrated the deteriorating trade balance for periphery countries. The subsidy policy of the United States and EU destroy businesses in developing countries. And when subsequently Africans began to try to make it to Europe by any and all means, this subject was not considered.
Even in Europe, 80% of the subsidies went to only 20% of farms. The next topic in the book is “Big Farmers against Small Farmers.” It deals with agriculture commissioner Mansholt’s plan to liquidate farms that have been labeled unproductive. An egg farm with 10,000 egg-laying hens was considered too small and therefore uneconomical.
The radical reform attempt called the Mansholt plan was finally politically rejected, but only officially. The political organization simply continued to only support farms above a certain size and the Minister of Agriculture Josef Ertl coined the slogan “Wachsen oder weichen” (Grow or go). But eventually politicians also put a stop to Ertl’s program.
Nevertheless, the EU increased the use of artificial fertilizers fivefold to 282 pounds (128 kg) per 2.5 acres (1 hectare). That was later reduced to 220 pounds (100 kg). But the new varieties, such as short-stemmed grains, required an ever increasing amount of fungicides and other chemicals.
REINECKE and THORBRIETZ provide examples to show how these false incentives in Europe led to massive overproduction. Years earlier, it had led to similar negative results in the United States. Nevertheless, over the years a “zigzag course between protectionism and free trade” developed. "The costs of the agricultural policy in the EU increased sixfold from 1970 to 1986” (p. 31).
The GATT agreements became effective in 1995 and the successor organization, the World Trade Organization (WTO) could not or did not want to prevent, for example, that Nelson Mandela was not able to export wine to the EU.
|The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 countries in 1947. The next GATT treaties were developed in the Tokyo Round from 1973–1979 and the Uruguay Round starting in 1982, but they weren’t signed until April 16, 1994. They were seen as temporary measures; however, they served as the basis for the establishment of the WTO and afterwards as its overarching treaty.|
Thanks to subsidies from the EU, in 1996, for example, Europe exported 42,500 tons of cheap meat, causing the whole Southern African region to suffer. The number of cattle slaughtered there decreased by almost 40%. At the same time, the EU supported the beef market there as a development program. In this way, the EU improved sales of European intervention meat and destroyed large parts of local production in Africa. But other economically weak countries were also impacted.
This chapter deals with fake papers of origin. In the mid-1990s Bernhard Friedmann, President of the European Court of Auditors, warned that in his estimation, scammers ripped off more than 10% of the EU budget funds annually. Subsidy fraud is popular because 90% of the EU budget goes to subsidies, half of which flows into agriculture (p. 39).
“Customs stamps are stolen and forged, shipping documents and invoices are tampered with, false animal health certificates are submitted, officials are bribed and goods are falsely declared, or changed out at night. While the southerners prefer to illegally move wine, olive oil, and fruit, the North focuses on the illegal livestock trade” (p. 39).
We read that the EU pays eight billion euros per year in subsidies to sell food products that were produced with support funds. An interesting statement:
“The president of the European Court of Auditors Bernhard Friedmann reported a case in which 1,000 trucks with Polish meat and cattle traveled to Africa. For weeks, a customs office in southern Spain confirmed that these transports left the EU according to law. But it turned out that this customs office hadn’t existed for years” (p. 42).
It is quite possible that this shipment was returned to Poland with fake papers of origin for additional subsidies. This most interesting kind of fraud does not even require transports, only the relevant papers. Here is an example of an Irish Delivery:
“Officially, 10,000 tons of beef from the EU inventory were to be sent to Italy for processing and then were to be sold — with particularly high subsidies — in countries of the former Soviet Union. But at least 200 tons of this meat ended up on the British market in unprocessed form” (p. 43).
The lack of internal borders gave rise to new “transnational scammers.” An effective shared criminal law system is lacking, a fact which well-organized scam networks skillfully exploit. We then read on pages 46 and 47 how even individual countries use extortionist tactics against each other. Just in 1994 alone, there is a list of 1,597 “irregularities” that were identified. The number of unreported cases is taken up in section “Loopholes and Data Networks.” The EU is working to counter fraud with the UCLAF (Unit for the Coordination of Fraud Prevention), IRENE, PRE-IRENE and “green telephones” (see EUR-Lex). Finally, the EU wants to sanction not only individuals but also companies.
On page 54 there is a particularly interesting example involving live cattle from Eastern Europe. A company was supposed to export these to Italy for slaughter and then transport the meat via Malta back to the East. But what happened was quite different. They used export funds to sell inferior, re-declared meat to Gabon. Where the real meat was not clarified. But just the unauthorized export refunds for the “export” to Gabon amounted to 24 million euros.
The section “Surplus in Abundance” looks at several aspects including the lack of critical media coverage of the chemical industry. The film Vergiftet oder arbeitslos (Poisoned or unemployed) by media scholar Bernward Wember was kept in the TV station’s “poison cabinet” until the film was finally aired in 1982 (p.56).
Millions of tons of fruits and vegetables that are unsalable surplus get buried in the ground. This contaminates the soil and groundwater because of the decay process and chemicals. And the produce was originally good food.
“In 1995 the European Court took stock of the disposable economy. In the financial year 1992/1993 a total of 4.3 million tons of fruits and vegetables were taken from the market. Two percent went to charities in hospitals and schools, 14 percent was processed into animal feed, 24 percent was fermented to make industrial alcohol, but 60 percent was thrown away.”
Destroying the produce seems to be cheaper than organizing its distribution — and millions of euros can be made. In the section titled “Mushy Tomatoes and Canned Cabbage” the authors describe how EU-sponsored raw produce leaves through the back door of a juice factory unprocessed, to then again receive the euro blessing at the delivery gate the next day (p. 63).
Matters of Taste
This chapter explains what the change to move “away from our own stove” entails in terms of disadvantages for our health.
However, statistical figures on the implications of the shift toward ready-made products are not available. You can really only estimate the consequences if you carefully examine the developments in the health sector.
People like to emphasize the higher life expectancy. However, we owe this to the major advances that have been made in medicine. It has more than compensated for our poorer habits in regards to lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, and stress.
Image from Wikipedia under the entry for junk food in Danish.
We are now at a turning point. The younger generation in the United States already has a lower life expectancy than the previous generation.
The following remark made by the person who uploaded the photo shows how well the “bliss point” is hit:
Magnus Manske: "It’s been years since I stopped by for a meal at Pinks Hot Dogs, so I decided I needed to come back here. Naturally me and Megz ordered one of their ‘Super Special’ hot dogs. All I can say, is they were so good that my heart will probably never forgive me, and they're also quite challenging to eat without getting too messy. I still think my favorite hot dogs in Los Angeles are from the street vendors who sell them bacon-wrapped hot dogs, apparently the city is cracking down on those vendors though ...
something to do with health concerns or something to do with permits or some shit like that ...
Not that it would stop me from ordering one if I see a vendor ...”
Cooking at home has become the exception, and only 4% of agricultural products actually end up in unprocessed form in the kitchen. Canned, frozen, and prepackaged foods, including instant soups, are not only a problem because of the reduced vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, but also because of the additives they contain.
“The raw food materials are broken down into their chemical components in distillers and then ‘reassembled’ on a conveyor belt assembly line into new artificial products. As well as losing their natural nutritional value, many additives are mixed in to facilitate processing. These include thickening agents, foaming and anti-caking agents, antioxidants, enzymes, flavorings, preservatives, alkali, acids, salts and colors” (p. 73).
Note: The term “distillers” is not quite correct, or too simplified, but the statement as a whole is true.
The authors then turn to the problem of flavorings and state that 12,000 artificial flavorings are currently on the European market. These and other various “technical agents” such as synthetic resins (plastic) don’t have to be included on the label in the EU.
Note: Plastic harms animals and nature, sometimes to a very large extent.
REINECKE and THORBRIETZ provide quite clear and vivid descriptions of some of the production processes. In the section titled “Why cook?” we read that even top chefs in restaurants and hotel chains sometimes use precooked and prepackaged portioned convenience foods and therefore serve dishes such as Piatto di Pesce raffinato (a refined fish dish).
A high-end restaurant on the Hamburg Alster (river flowing through Hamburg, Germany) apparently had the following dish on their menu: “Seeteufelkotelett und Scampi vom Grill auf einer leichten Tomatensauce mit frischem Salbei” (Grilled monkfish cutlets and scampi on a light tomato sauce with fresh sage), and it was prepared it from premade components supplied by steakhouse king Eugen Block (founder and owner of a restaurant chain and other related companies in Germany and other European countries). The chef merely has to heat up the food and arrange it on a plate. The industry calls this “Lebensmittel mit eingebauter Dienstleistung” (Food with added service) (p. 77).
The food industry is always looking for or purposely setting new trends, for example, ethnic food, fit through food, and functional food. And they have naturally also tried to stretch the meaning of the term “health food.” With ready-made meals and prepackaged food for the sick, infants, young children, and athletes, the industry has found interesting target groups.
Cheap additives such as vitamins, minerals, flavors, and preservatives in these kinds of food are a real problem. In addition, unhealthy amounts of vitamin E are added to food — even though “people already gets enough of this vitamin.” They also include other information, for example, that too much calcium blocks absorption of iron and too much iron blocks the absorption of zinc (p. 83).
Note: This is reminiscent of the principle of optimum instead of maximum because even “good substances” and/or important substances can be harmful in too great a quantity.
“The Berlin Federal Institute for Consumer Health Protection and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV, Berliner Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinärmedizin) sees a special tactic in this: ‘Manufacturers are increasingly trying to bring their biologically active products on the market as dietary supplements in order to avoid expensive drug approval processes” (p. 84).
Note: In 2002, the government dissolved the BgVV. The larger part of the BgVV was integrated into the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and a smaller part into the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL).
In the section entitled “Red and round,” the authors discuss developments in cultivation. The EU did not yet require the origin and production method to be labeled on the food packaging at that time. Today, at least some minimal information is required as this article on labeling and nutrition from the European Commission website shows.
Biophysicist and food expert Fritz A. Popp has found through biophoton measurements that the energy balance of plants is changed if they come from greenhouses. The authors provide a quote made by Federal Minister of Economics Günter Rexrodt in 1997: “Today about 40 percent of all food products on the market are made using genetically engineered enzymes, starches, vitamins, and additives.” The authors also list common additives such as amino acids, vitamins, sweeteners, enzymes, and sugar substitutes such as glucose syrup and fructose, which are also found in candy, licorice, jam, and pudding mixes (p. 95).
In this context, it should be noted that xylitol and birch sugar are both very effective against cavities (tooth decay). Xylitol and birch sugar are common names for a stereoisomer (isomerism) of pentanepentol, a sugar alcohol, which is also used as a sugar substitute (E 967). Xylitol has a similar taste and sweetness as compared to sucrose. Nobel Laureate (1902) Hermann Emil Fischer (1852–1919) discovered xylitol as a sweetener in 1890. Xylitol is a relatively expensive sugar substitute but has anti-cariogenic effects; in other words it is effective against plaque bacteria. For some animals such as dogs, cattle, goats, and rabbits, xylitol is very toxic even at a dose of 0.1 g per kg of body mass and is fatal at 3–4 g.
Along with sorbitol, birch sugar (xylitol) is a natural sugar alcohol that can be found in many vegetables (including cauliflower) and fruits (plums, strawberries, and raspberries), but usually makes up less than 1% of dry matter. See also sweeteners made from stevia that habe been positively received.
The genetically modified soy plant has existed since November 1996, and its beans are used in more than 30,000 foods. The Novel Foods Regulation for such genetically modified products was created in order to achieve greater economic potential. Labeling is required only at a certain percentage and not at all for additives such as flavorings and enzymes. “According to this regulation, only five to ten percent of the foods produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) require special labeling” (p. 100).
In the section titled “Laboratory recipes,” the authors provide information about surimi. This originally referred to a type of imitation crab meat prepared made from minced fish meat and cooked with sugar and jellied. “Different species of fish that are processed in huge factory ships into flour, oil, and imitation meat are the basis for this product.” However, surimi is often produced from imitations instead of fish. In 1994, random checks found that this was the case for 70% of the products.
This substance is then enhanced with flavors, flavor enhancers, and other additives. It even is sold as expensive shrimp, squid, or crab meat. “This freeze-stabilized protein mixture has a long shelf life and is even used in sausage, cheese, pizza, soup, pet food, baby food, and potato chips along with other additives and flavorings” (p. 102).
(The following is not about Quorn.) In order to show just what can be done in the laboratory, Japanese chemists developed a protein-rich creation from feces that not even a butcher could distinguish from beef in texture, smell and taste.
The authors cover how the industry exploits the fact that most people in the Western world are satiated or even over-satiated. People don’t or no longer eat for nourishment, but instead to fulfill their desires. Sensation plays a much larger role than content, and there is fierce competition for customers. The industry tries to bring as many tasty products on the market as possible. Since just a few corporations are behind the numerous brands, it is in fact an oligopoly.
In 1997, ten brands made between 3 and 9.3 billion DM (German marks, former German currency) in sales in Germany — and the industry’s consolidation process has only continued (p.107).
Wikipedia: An entry on the retail food industry (German only) on the German Wikipedia site lists out the structure and performance data of the top 10 grocery stores in Germany, which together have a revenue of 140 billion euros. Edeka Group was number one in 2010 with more than 40 billion euros in sales. And in 2011 it had 42.7 billion euros in sales. Aldi, the largest discount store, had 24.5 billion euros in sales in 2008. Number two is the REWE Group with 25 billion and Lidl (Schwarz Group) with 14.7 billion..
Image from Wikipedia: Shopping area at Aldi
REINECKE/THORBRIETZ talk about southern Europe, where people eat more fruits and vegetables as compared to Northern and Central Europe. In Northern Europe, meat, butter, chocolate, cookies, and soft drinks are more in demand. That is a great added value for the food industry and the perfect opportunity for marketing.
Note: Some companies use the myths about the “healthy” Mediterranean diet to twist the facts. Just compare the average life expectancy for each country! For example, it is significantly higher in Switzerland than in some of the Mediterranean countries in Europe, not to mention the Mediterranean coast in Africa.
The authors describe the extraordinary case of Cassis de Dijon. This was a legal case where the REWE corporation successfully fought in European Court for the right to be allowed to distribute a product called Crème de Cassis. They won despite the fact that Crème de Cassis is a liqueur that does not contain the minimum percentage of 32% alcohol. The German government had filed a suit to prevent imports. The ruling put the “principle of mutual recognition” of goods into place for products sold in EU countries. And now the varying regulations of the EU countries are standardized. With just additives, there were 13,000 different legal provisions that had to be brought into alignment (p. 113).
And now Dutch beer may also contain the thickening and gelling agent propylene glycol alginate (alginic acid, E 405). The authors include numerous examples of problems related to this standardization. For example, the energy drink Red Bull produced in Austria can be sold in Germany, but that type of drink may not be produced in Germany. For this to be permitted, an analysis would need to be conducted to determine if ingredients such as taurine (2-aminoethane sulfonic acid), glucuronolactone, and niacin (nicotinic acid) are safe (p. 116).
Note: It is interesting that wine contains about 20 mg/l of glucuronolactone and since 2012 energy drinks may contain a maximum of 2.4 mg/l.
The book makes it clear that it is consumers who in many cases now have to decide for themselves what risks they want to take. German law protects the behavior “of casual consumers who are characterized by superficiality, low intelligence and an inability or unwillingness to absorb information.’ The European Court considers ‘only those consumers worthy of protection who prove to be responsible citizens, pay attention, and given their interest in and ability to absorb information take note of the information offered to them, for example, on product labels (...) and (...) make their purchasing decisions.’" This is still the case today (p. 117).
Various examples remind us that certain substances are considered carcinogenic in certain countries, but are permitted in other countries — no matter what the reasons for this may be. However, with this policy of mutual recognition, in 1993, for example, nectarines and peaches from France were allowed to have 150 times more residues of the substance iprodione than was allowed in Germany. After all iprodione is a fungicide and nematicide (p. 118).
In the section titled “Lobbies and Lies,” REINECKE and THORBRIETZ discuss how lobbyists and interest groups work for vested interests and disregard the common good. Finally, they explain the events surrounding Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the section “European Madness: BSE.”
The authors provide a very detailed account of the history of BSE. It is permeated with misjudgments made by regulatory agencies and false assurances and deceptions on the part of representatives of special interest groups. In 1990, Richard Lacey , a microbiologist from Leeds, warned the public of the deadly brain disease and called for the slaughter of all British cattle. The only thing that came of this is that critics labeled him a “crackpot,” “downfall apostle” and an “extreme leftist.”
Only much later, and as a result too late, did the government implement the measures he proposed. The consequences were fatal for many people. Lacey stood with Colin Blakemore, professor of neurophysiology, who alleged that the British government consulted only experts who “give agreeable answers.” Nutrition scientist Tim Lang from Thames Valley University spoke of fatal errors made in connection with BSE (p. 132).
We can hardly imagine how much revenue can be made through fraudulent labeling in export, movement, processing, and import. This is also the case because it is cheaper “to cart off live animals for slaughter or deboning to Italy, rather than to the nearest slaughterhouse” (p. 141).
Note: I believe that in the above quote the word “or” is a typo and that it should actually be "and." After all, the animals would not be alive for the deboning process.
The differences between “protected designation of origin” (PDO) – a regional protection, “protected geographical indication” (PGI) (production stage suffices here) and “traditional specialty guaranteed” (TSG), for “special characteristics” is discussed. The authors also cover the background of these designations and then provideexamples, for example, for Gouda cheese.
Greek feta, which is produced cheaply in Denmark from local cow’s milk and the whitener E 131, is even distributed in Greece. This product from Denmark flooded the market and destroyed the local economy of authentic feta made in Greece, which is produced from sheep’s milk and matured in brine.
Note: The substance E 131 is called patent blue V.
As this production process already existed, the Greeks were initially unable to receive protection, but after some effort, the names prosciutto, feta, and parmesan were finally protected. On the other hand, Emmental, Gouda, and Tilsiter remain unprotected generic terms. See designation of origin (p. 146).
The authors again turn to the topic of meat. In 1988, German citizens consumed an average of 15.8 kg of beef. In 1995, it was only 7.9 kg, a decreasing tendency. The government and industry therefore made plans in 1995 to develop convenience products containing meat additives and then in 1996 developed a new meat regulation. For the first time, a livestock transport regulation was also enacted. Nevertheless, thousands of tons of meat contaminated with the mutagenic agent chloramphenicol were placed on the market. This is a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
“250 million animals are transported for slaughter across Europe every year. Cattle that has been imported from another EU country and is then held in German stables for about 30 days may thereafter be resold as “German” cattle” (p. 150).
It is clear that a number of factors make effective control almost impossible. For example: “A sausage manufacturer does not acquire whole sides of beef, but meat in the size of stew cubes.”
At this point, the authors discuss the problem of organic products. The industry continues to successfully hold its position against this movement with integrated production (IP) (p. 156).
Note: REINECKE/THORBRIETZ call this “integrierter Anbau” (integrated farming).
IP does not cut out the use of agrochemicals, but applies them in a more cost-saving manner. This confusion has been economically profitable. In addition, the government has diluted the term “organic farming.” They require only 70% organic content for a product to be considered organic.
Organic organizations eventually introduced their own quality seals and quality assurance systems that are subject to more stringent quality requirements. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökologischer Landbau (German working association of organic farmers, AGÖL), for example, was well known and included Demeter, Bioland, Naturland, and ECO VIN.
I couldn’t find the an entry for Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökologischer Landbau (AGÖL) on Wikipedia, but I did find a short entry for its successor organization (2002), the Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (Association of the organic food industry, BÖLW). The link is in German only.
The term “integrated production” is cleverly described in the entry as “natural and animal friendly farming practices.” However, the following is noted under the section “Kritik” (criticism):
“The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), however, points out that integrated production has not resulted, for example, in the environmentally friendly production of fruit. In spite of inflationary proliferation of the IP label, the use of pesticides has continued to rise in many fruit-growing areas.”
Photo: under IP in Catalan.
The larva of the common green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea s.l.) eats pests (especially homoptera), such as aphids and larvae of spider mites. Red spiders, whiteflies, and others are also listed. IP does use this larva as a form of organic pest control, but this insect is more commonly used in organic farming, not for IP. IP generally uses chemical pest control, but in reduced amounts.
Unfortunately, retailers such as Spar, Tengelmann, and Edeka developed their own “organic” brands that do not follow the guidelines of true organic farming. In this list, the authors also include Migros, Switzerland’s largest retail company and its M-Bio and M-Sano brands. The latter does however adhere to the guidelines for integrated production (IP). Page 159 contains a table with a comparison of acreage and operations for 15 countries for the years 1989 and 1995. The following statement is quite alarming. “If the will of the commission prevails, then the terms ‘organic’ and ‘genetically modified’ will no longer be considered distinctly different.”
In this chapter, we read about the concentration of power in the retail sector. Big chain stores even constitute a danger for international multinational companies because they can produce their own brands cheaper and in this way push big brands from multinationals off the market. The authors list several chain stores including Metro, Edeka/AV, REWE, Aldi, and Tengelmann.
Note: Paradoxically, the companies with aggressive pricing policies make the biggest revenues.
The authors provide a good description of this development and of “shelf politics.” Two quotes from the book that underscore this development are as follows: “The food industry feels pressured by the ‘buying power’ of the retailers. While the two largest producers Unilever and Nestlé make about seven billion marks in Germany each year, individual retailers have profits of well over 30 billion. They use their power to negotiate very good terms and then gain even more shares of the stagnating market …”
“A good place on the shelf of a retail giant is expensive. According to press reports, the CPC-Gruppe (CPC group) in Germany, which owns companies such as Pfanni, Knorr, and Maizena paid ten million marks to a retailer group to get their mayonnaise listed.”
The authors address the danger of oligopoly (market domination by a few firms). Peter Trautmann, president of the Bundesverband der Ernährungsindustrie (German federal association of the food industry) warns of the following: “Even in the medium term, consumers will be negatively affected by the loss of diversity, the rise in prices, and the loss of jobs” (p. 166).
Next the authors discuss conflicts between the poor and the wealthy, for example, on the streets in France. In November 1995, 30 people were wounded, two houses burned, and many cars destroyed.
“Consumers have a ‘split personality’ and behave irrationally,” says hobby researcher Horst W. Opaschowski. “They will travel miles for a sale or special offer, but are willing to pay much more than the actual value for new trendy products. For example, it isn’t seen as a problem that cappuccino with vanilla flavor costs five times more than conventionally brewed roasted coffee” (p. 168).
In the chapter titled “Egg, Egg, Egg,” REINECKE and THORBRIETZ show us the kinds of trickery and deception that are used in the industry. For example, egg cartons are often sprinkled with straw to so as to create an illusion for customers. The vast majority of the 44 million German egg-laying hens, which are supposed to provide 300 eggs in their lifespan (now only 15 months), live in poor conditions in battery cages.
Free range chicken farms make up less than 1% of all farms. Floor pens, where 4.5% of all chickens are raised, the chickens scratch the ground “in closed halls in their own feces” and have no more space than a sheet of paper, A4 size (approximately equivalent to letter-size paper in the US).
Note: However, the authors’ calculation of 1,430 square centimeters seems to be wrong. An A4 size sheet of paper has 623.7 square centimeters. The comparison of the A4 size paper therefore refers to the room they have in a cage, which is about 450 to 550 square centimeters.
The comparisons provided by the authors of how such products are marketed using false images of a green and idyllic farm are correct and clear. Given the many complaints, courts had to ban this ploy. Actions against such by consumers are worthwhile if they are well organized. Nevertheless, “around 300 million ‘organic eggs’ get purchased annually, but only 50 million are actually laid." (Page 172)
REINECKE/THORBRIETZ demonstrate how lucrative label fraud is with the example of chicken baron Anton Pohlmann, who had to give up his business later because of various scandals.
Problems that get created because of the disinfectants being used are taken up, as well as the perfectly legal trickery with synthetic beta-carotene that gives egg yolks a brighter color. The authors also go over drug residues, parasiticides and as the combination process of companies to more than 200,000 birds. (Page 175)
After that the authors take up the long transport routes in section "The Long Haul." They address the gases used for the preservation during transportation of food such as argon, helium, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen. The EU banned the practice of declaring such on the label as packaging gas. They suggested the term "inert gas" before, but the general term "packaged in a modified atmosphere" prevailed.
The book provides information about the disgusting animal transports (livestock transportation). Example: 27 bulls were transported from Mecklenburg to Trieste. Four of them arrived dead and another three could only be emergency slaughtered.
The senseless subsidy economy allows such to happen. "Approximately 10 percent of animals die during transport, especially pigs." Although these animals often receive sedatives (sedation) or beta-blockers, the abnormal amount of stress hormones is detectable in the meat after slaughter. Behind all this is a strong lobby of breeders, livestock dealers, exporters and slaughterhouse owners. Although a 28-hour transportation is allowed without a break (with fans and water), sample inspections have brought numerous violations to light. (Page 181)
Bakteria from the Conveyor Belt
This chapter explains how devastating epidemics can be. An example is the EHEC epidemic in the summer of 1996, Japan. Large quantities of food can be rapidly contaminated because of industrial manufacturing. There are 20,000 cases of food poisoning from EHEC in the United States alone, with 200 to 500 ending in fatality. (Page 187)
The microbes campylobacter and yersinia are not limited to ground beef or other fast food products. Salmonella can also infect chocolate bars, bean sprouts and pepper chips. The EHEC pathogen, escherichia coli, is more likely found in herb butter and salami, note the authors.
Note: This is only partly true, because examiners found EHEC primarily on beef, raw milk, cold sandwiches, stuffed cabbage, roast beef, hamburgers, etc.
More than half of the reported salmonella illnesses in 1992 occurred in commercial kitchens. Nevertheless, the German Federal Institute for Consumer Health Protection (BgVV) maintains that it was due to the lack of hygiene at home.
A fact sheet of the five most dangerous pathogens" follows, with the most affected products indicated. Poultry products, eggs, ground beef (hamburger), raw milk and cheese seem to be in the lead. Only animal-based products are on the list. (Page 189)
Code of Eating
Public dependence on the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAK) is taken up here. "This committee, which was founded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), consists of government representatives from 152 countries, who develop international standards for food. These are the basis for the settlement of trade disputes before the World Trade Organization (WTO), a sort of international arbitration."
Next, hormone scandals in Europe and the subsequent "noodle war" are taken up. The authors cover the conforming of environmental regulations and consumer protection laws to the lowest common denominator. Environmental regulations are eliminated as “trade barriers.” The international trade rules.
The book shows the mismatch between industry and consumer groups using specific examples. Consumer organizations have pointed out that the panel should not act as a "scientific standardization body" and that this is an intolerable state of affairs.
CAK is clearly a front for special industry interests, a fig leaf. You find out about the secret plot to "allow certain hormones in animal feed in the future," partly without quantity restrictions. (Page 205)
Members of CAK assert that hormones in regular meat consumption are not harmful to health. This is "scientifically proven."
Next an example is given from the United States on genetic engineering with rBST (recombined bovine somatotropin). Due to massive consumer criticism some milk producers and grocery chains there wanted to label their products as "rBST-free." But the manufacturer Monsanto immediately procured a judicial ban on such designations. This on the grounds that such labeling might suggest that other products were of lesser quality. (Page 208)
An example on pesticides in baby food: Germany allows only 0.01 mg/kg, Spain allows 0.4 mg/kg and even so Spain is allowed to export such baby food to Germany. Issues arising from regulatory bodies and judicial functions are explained. Such regulations don’t come about through scientific discourse, but instead through the consensus of a panel mostly consisting of industry representatives. Secondly, the code requires that the usual safety factors are subordinated to a "cost-benefit analysis!" (Page 210)
REINECKE/THORBRIETZ explain through examples, that the consumer associations mainly lack the money to be able to represent and prove their concerns at all. And:
"Where the state withdraws, the industry moves in. It creates a new generation of consumer advocates, for example, the Consumers for Health Choice. This association of companies in the health business consists of representatives for environmental medicine and health practitioners, food companies and individual celebrities. It was founded in 1995 and is active in at least five other European countries in addition to Germany. Its aim is to promote trade of food supplements (vitamins, trace elements or active ingredients such as the hormone melatonin) in the EU and defend them against restrictions." (Page 212)
What Can You Do?
In the last chapter REINECKE/THORBRIETZ prove that consumers actually have the final say through mutual enlightenment and refusal to buy. One alternative, for example, is limited meat consumption. This is exactly what happened in Germany in the 1990s, when sales were only about 40% of the amount of meat that was sold in 1988. This has enormous economic and political clout. For example burgers made from grains and vegetables were added to the assortment, because more than half of customers that were surveyed preferring a meat-free patty.
On the website Fleischhandwerk.de a PDF called "Eating Meat" (2007) has the following introduction: "Meat production in Germany has been rushing from one record to the next, for years now. With 7,508 million tons of meat of all kinds, expressed in carcass weight, it has reached the highest level in 2007 since the German reunification. The record level of the previous year was exceeded by a further 292,000 tons or more than 4 percent."
Image USDA (public domain).
The authors emphasize on page 216: "this high consumption of beef will never be reached again, the meat industry, farmers and politicians know that."
Pork increased the most. Poultry meat, previously discredited because of bird flu (avian influenza) picked up sharply. Import and export kept a balance. Germany produced little more meat than was consumed. In 2007, the per capita consumption of meat increased by 2.1 kg, to 61.6 kg as compared to 2006. This consists of 40.1 kg pork and 8.5 kg beef and veal. The latter would actually be healthier than pork. Meat consumption in the EU27 was an average of 65.4 kg in 2007. By comparison, the fish consumption in Germany amounted to 16.4 kg and increased by 900 grams. As a contrast see also Japanese cuisine.
Note: One statistic kept over the years shows that the statements in the book so far are true.
Beef and veal developed this way: 1950 - 9.0 kg, 1975 - 15.3 kg, 1985 - 15.1 kg (1988 peak), 1995 - 11.4 kg, 2000 - 9.6 kg, 2006 - 8.2 kg, 2007 – 8.5 kg. An article published in the FleiFood newspaper (German trade journal for butchers and their consumers) says that the widening gap between prices and individual earnings is to blame... and not new consumer choices.
In 2011, the carcass weight for meat was about 8.2 million tons in Germany, definitely more than in 2007. But in 2012, it was reduced again to about 8 million tons.
The authors introduce "Six Ideas for Political Action:"
- An international consumer protection agreement
- The EU as an attorney for the consumer
- Improved antitrust law
- Democratization of the EU
- Reduction of subsidies
- Strengthening of consumer information
This is followed by reasons, notes and examples.
Next they provide "Six Tips for Individual Action:"
- Trust your own taste!
- Buy as much as possible fresh food and little prepackaged or convenience food!
- Don’t let yourself be deceived!
- Discover vital nutritious food!
- Buy products from species-appropriate animal husbandry!
- Use your power as a critical consumer!
The authors’ argument sounds great, "political decisions start in the corner store and reach all the way to Brussels." They also describe the alarming increase of diseases, which is clearly attributable to improper diet.
The "Info Section" starting at page 225 provides the main facts concerning the loss of vitamins and nutrients in irradiated foods. Irradiation enables the industry to return spoiled food back into the sales channels. Irradiation kills microorganisms and modifies fatty acids and proteins even at low doses. The health risks are controversial.
Tables list the date of authorization for irradiation. The first entry dates from 1969 for anti-sprouting of potatoes in Spain. After that is tabulated information on food additives and "food exemptions", followed by a "BSE chronicle." (Page 238)
Organic seals and bar codes are explained and illustrated. At the end is a "seasonal calendar for fruits and vegetables,” as well as information and addresses of various, mainly political institutions, but also associations, which can be turned to.
Other Books on this Topic
Eric Schlosser: Fast Food Nation. The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, publisher: Houghton Miffin, 2001, 288 pages
"The thoroughly researched report by American journalist Eric Schlosser enlightens about the production conditions of fast food."
Marc Lappe, Britt Bailey: Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food, Common Courage Press, 2002, 175 pages
"Multinational chemical companies design a future, in which genetically modified soybeans, corn and cotton supply the world's growing population. This book exposes such scenarios as propaganda from the industry."