Q: I am trying to pay attention to food labels and ingredients, like you suggest. But I hear that the U.S. government wants to ban labeling that tells us where our meat is from. How can this be?
Frank H., Pierre, South Dakota
A: We all remember Mystery Meat — that gray-brown lump of gravy-covered stuff that got dished up in school cafeterias across the country. Unfortunately, Congress seems determined to bring it back, in an updated form. Your elected House representatives voted to repeal the COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) Act. If your elected representatives in the Senate ratify the legislation, you won’t know where a large amount of your beef, pork, chicken and ground meat comes from. Whaddaya think McBurgers will be made of then?
How did this happen? In 2002, Congress passed the COOL Act (it came into full effect in March 2009). A Consumer Federation of America survey found that 90 percent of Americans love it. Several countries in the E.U. have comparable legislation. But a complaint was lodged with the World Trade Organization claiming that Canada and Mexico weren’t getting a fair shake because they have to ID the country of origin on their meat sold in the U.S. The WTO agreed, and it might allow those countries to impose $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. That’s what caused our representatives to collapse under pressure.
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We believe you have a right to know where your meat comes from. Livestock-raising practices differ around the globe: Some may be risky, with heavy reliance on chemicals, antibiotics and polluted water or feed. And some may be better than meats raised in North America! Recently, China began requiring third-party verification that U.S. pork products were ractopamine-free (that’s a suspect chemical used here to produce leaner pork), and Russia, a huge buyer of U.S. pork, banned it completely because of that additive. Clearly, knowing the source of the food you eat is important. So if you care like we do, write to your senators and encourage them to preserve the COOL Act.
Q: My brother lives in Steubenville, Ohio, where there’s a fracking boom. I’m worried about his family’s health and safety. What can I tell him?
Jamie K., Findlay, Ohio
A: It’s starting to sink in with a lot of people that fracking’s practice of pumping tons of toxic liquid chemicals into the ground at extremely high pressure may have long-term, far-reaching effects on everyone. The Ohio Environmental Council has stated that “regulations in Ohio remain woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting human health and the environment from the radiological and chemical risks associated with fracking waste.”
A recent study done in northwest Pennsylvania, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and published on July 15, 2015, found that people who lived in ZIP codes that had an average of 0.79 wells per square mile (there were 18) had a 27 percent increase in cardiology inpatient treatments when compared with folks who lived in counties without fracking wells. The study also states: There was a distinct and further “association between well density (wells per kilometer) and inpatient prevalence (hospitalization) rates for the medical categories of neurology, dermatology, oncology, urology and neonatology.” So we’re talking heart, brain, skin, cancer (all kinds), guts and babies.
And then there are earthquakes. Fracking cites near Youngstown, Ohio, were shut down in 2014 after “clusters” were reported. In 2013, Oklahoma (where fracking is now booming) experienced 109 earthquakes. Now the state averages about 10 small earthquakes per day. That’s 3,650 a year; on a single day this year — June 26 — there were 25. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that victims injured by an earthquake possibly triggered by fracking operations can sue oil/gas companies.
So, Jamie, tell your brother to keep the family a safe distance from the wells, have his drinking water tested, and make sure everyone has good health insurance and gets regular checkups.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.