Arriving late to the Elmwood Theater Saturday night for the film Food Inc, Michael and I were stuck in the front row with our necks craning to see the screen. Believe me. It was worth it. Even if you’ve already read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation, seeing images of downed cattle, abused chickens, and mistreated factory workers up close brings the subject home on a visceral level.
But in addition to needing a reminder of why I should avoid fast food and support our farmer’s markets, I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to see if the film addressed any issues of plastics in the environment and in our food supply. And it kind of did, in a very subtle and ironic way. One of the interviewees in this film is Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm Organic, the third largest producer of yogurt in the U.S. A glimpse of the Stonyfield plant as well as a walk through the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, CA showed row after row of plastic containers. And it makes you wonder:
Why do producers and consumers of organic products, who are concerned about pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics in our food, ignore the packaging encasing the food after it’s produced? How can Muir Glen canned tomatoes, for example, be certified organic when the lining of the can contains BPA?
And avoiding packaging that contains BPA is not enough! That’s just one ingredient we happen to know about. How about what we don’t? We demand full disclosure of ingredients from food companies. How about possible ingredients leaching from the containers? Plastic is not just plastic. It often contains additives that affect its strength, flexibility, color, and even resistance to bacteria. And there’s no labeling law requiring disclosure of any of that.
When our current Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976, 62,000 industrial chemicals were grandfathered in, meaning they were never required to be tested for safety. Since then, another 20,000-30,000 chemicals have gone on the market. And in 30 years, only 5 have been banned. The law is so weak, that the EPA has not even been able to ban asbestos.
How do we know that the chemicals added to plastics are safe if they are not required to be proven safe before entering the market? How can we make decisions if we don’t even know what these chemicals are??!!
And how can manufacturers of organic products tell us they want to protect the environment and “save the earth” when they are relying on plastic wraps, plastic containers, plastic bottles, and plastic bags without question?
I want to see safe product packaging added to the criteria for organic certification. I want producers to ask what “food grade” really means and for manufacturers of plastic products to be required to reveal all of their additives. I want all manufacturers to follow the principal of Extended Producer Responsibility and plan for a practical cradle to cradle life cycle for their products and packaging BEFORE putting them on the market.
So what can we do? Today, I’m going to share my thoughts with the following organizations:
3) My senators
5) Stonyfield Farms. To Stonyfield’s credit, they have extensively researched their packaging and are working on finding a more sustainable solution. You can read what they have to say about their plastic yogurt containers here:
Still, I didn’t see anything in their packaging statement about what chemicals are in the plastic, so I’ll be writing to them as well.
Several Bay Area farmers markets have already taken the initiative to purge themselves of plastic. I’ll be writing about them later this week. And I plan to pursue the issue of organic food in plastic packaging on an ongoing basis. Plastic may be the lighter weight alternative. But unless we are told what chemicals are in the plastic, how can any of us know if it’s safe?