Here are some terms that are useful to know when talking about the food politics and the agricultural industry:
GMO [Genetically Modified Organisms] – This is an organism (ex: corn) that has been genetically altered to resist pests, weather, grow faster, produce more nutrients, etc. They have been on the U.S. market since 1994 and now are in a huge amount of the foods sold in grocery stores. 95% of the nation’s sugar beets, 94% of the soybeans, 90% of the cotton and 88% of the feed corn are genetically modified. GMOs are a controversial topic as critics are concerned about the safety of GMOs and its effects on the environment.
Food Lobbies – Food lobbying is very common in the food industry seeing as large corporations have a vested interest in government policies, regulations, and handouts. Due to their considerable wealth and influence, food lobbies can influence the decisions of policy makers in Washington to their advantage.
FDA [Food and Drug Administration] – The agency in the United States that is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through regulation of food and drugs. It has been highly criticized for having ties to the food and drug industry, being highly influenced by food and drug lobbies, and being too lax in their approval process.
Artificial Sweeteners – Artificial Sweeteners are substitutes for table sugar and are used in “sugar free” products. Some of them are surrounded by controversy, seeing as there may be a link to cancer. Seeing as they are regulated by the FDA, critics have said that the FDA is allowing products such as these onto the market without enough prior knowledge of their effects.
Organic – The label organic on food packaging indicates that 95% of the ingredients have no added hormones, chemicals, antibiotics or GMOs and is regulated by the FDA.
Processed Foods – Processed foods have been altered from their natural state whether through canning, freezing, dehydration, etc. While frozen vegetables can be considered processed due to no longer being fresh, a majority of processed foods have large quantities of salt, sugar, fat, chemical additives, etc. added. For example, cake mix, chips, granola bars, cereal, etc. are all highly processed and many are unhealthy.
PCBs – PCBs are a chemical compound that highly toxic and has been shown to cause cancer in humans. PCBs are no longer manufactured or widely used today but due to their prior use are still present in the environment. They can be found in highly concentrated water, which makes it more likely to be found in farmed fish and sometimes in drinking water.
BPA – This organic compound has been used in plastics since 1957 but its safety has been questioned, leading to many countries banning it. The United States only bans it in baby bottles. BPA has been shown to disrupt hormones by mimicking estrogen which can cause physical and neurological problems.
Dietary Guidelines – The USDA updated their dietary guidelines in 2012 to address the obesity epidemic. Critics of these new dietary guidelines say that they are too vague and the government does not address what foods to avoid due to the food lobbies influence on it.
E.Coli – This bacteria can cause food poisoning to the point of death in humans and has often been linked to the beef industry in the United States. This is due to the way cattle are grown – crowded and festering in their own feces. Therefore, bacteria is easily spread and contaminates the cattle.