Wednesday 28 September 2011

Do you want some neurotoxins with your greens?

Well you might just get them whether you like it or not.

We all know that fresh is best but when it comes to frozen vegetables, I've always been confident that the difference between the two in terms of their vitamins and mineral content is negligible.

However, my sister, bless her, just destroyed that fanciful notion.  

Clearly I must be the last to know or was too busy eating rubbish to pay attention.
I was opening up a bag of frozen spinach a couple of nights ago when my sister rang. I told her what I was making and she asked me to look on the back of the packet and see where the spinach was produced.

It said, Made in New Zealand using local and imported products.

She then asked me the brand and I said McCains (founded in Canada, has 55 production facilities in 12 countries, and sells in 110 countries).

I felt kind of smug thinking how could the combination of McCains and NZ be wrong. It wasn't a no name brand after all.

She then told me to throw the bag in the bin. 

As if.

When she uttered the words likely carcinogen I decided to rethink my dinner plans and ask a few more questions.

The fact is, I was not going to be eating New Zealand produce.
If you look at most frozen food packets (anywhere in the world) you have no real idea where the food comes from. It doesn't say. In most cases companies bring the product from China, repackage it, in this case New Zealand and then put it on our shelves with no testing required.
It gets to us via the back door because New Zealand has lax laws. And with no testing we do not know what we are really eating.
Unfortunately,  China appears to have some very questionable growing practices. In fact you can google the horror stories slowly filtering out of China - vegetables being grown in human excrement and watermelons exploding after being sprayed with a growth accelerant. Even the Chinese middle class have started growing their own vegetables, because they don't trust the mass-produced produce.

So, if the Chinese won’t eat the food why are we?
A recent study done by the National Toxics Network tested bags of frozen vegetables from McCains, Heinz and Birdseye, plus Coles and Woolworths home brands. Most were imported from China or New Zealand, and a few were Australian home-grown.
Twenty percent of them came up positive for four nasty chemicals.

The four chemicals found in the vegetables are all pesticides that have been banned.

The worst chemical found was procymidone in the McCain’s Winter Vegetables - a product made in New Zealand from local and imported products.
This chemical has been shown to cause birth defects. The regulator recently updated label instructions to make sure that pregnant women, or women of child-bearing age, don’t come into contact with the chemical. They’re worried about the fact that it can actually stay in the food.
Even more worrying is the fact parathion methyl, an organophosphate, was also found in the same bag of vegetables. It was banned in Australia from July this year, with a two year phase out.
The fact that parathion methyl was found in the same food with the procymidone is concerning because with food residues it’s not necessarily an additive effect - one plus one doesn’t necessarily equal two. Here one plus one can equal ten.
In the Heinz chopped spinach, clearly marked as a product of China, omethoate was found – it’s an organophosphate and is under investigation here.
That’s an extremely dangerous group of chemicals that work by poisoning the nervous system.  
The chemical Permethrin was also found on an Australian product Birdseye Broccoli Florets. Permethrin is a neurotoxin. The US Protection Agency has said it’s a likely carcinogen. It’s also turning up on the international list for concern on hormone disruption - its toxic effects are more profound in children than in adults.
Both McCains and Heinz have left Australia for New Zealand. In fact the only processor of frozen vegetables left in Australia is Simplot - they make Birdseye products. So why have they all left?
Apparently in order to remain competitive their production facilities have to move overseas. Many of the Woolworths Home Brand and Select labels and Coles Smart Buy products are all clearly from China.
At the end of the day these foods are coming onto the Australian dinner tables and people just like me do not even give it a second thought. It's probably safe to eat poison in small quantities right? I am sure that is what these companies and even the regulators would tell us.
Going to the supermarket and buying anything is a leap of faith these days.
In fact it's a lucky dip.

I better work on extending that vegetable garden and putting into practice everything my parents and grandparents have been preaching for years (and out of convenience and supposed lack of time, I ignore) - join the slow food movement and stick to eating food grown in your own local community or better still in your own backyard because at least you know how its grown and that it is actually food.

What do you think?  Are you careful about where you buy your food from? Love to hear your thoughts as this is a problem which affects us all and not just contained to frozen foods.

Have you seen Food Inc - well worth watching - you can see the trailer here.


  1. I saw something on telly recently about this very thing. Lots of our vegies come via NZ (and China) because they don't have the same laws we have about this type of thing.

    I try to eat fresh vegies and rarely buy frozen and this is even more reason not to buy frozen.

  2. That is absolutely hideous news, Lilly. It seems like there are few if any trustworthy companies. I need to have my own farm in some part of the world with clean air and water - auggggggh!!!! Where would that be?!?
    How poisoned ALL of our bodies must be from the world we live in, sigh.

  3. I'm not as careful as I should be, in light of all this horrifying news!

  4. You know what the most distrubing thing is we waste billions of tonnes of food a year in western countries when the rest of the world is starving. The reality is, we can all afford to eat less and consume less. The money we do have should be used on better quality organic produce. We are worth it and its BS to say we cannot afford to eat properly.

    We also can only do the best we can but really companies are so greedy they could care less of the impact they have. As long as they get it on the shelves try and dodge the regulations as best they can and someone buys it who cares. These toxins may not kill us but who knows what damage they may cause over the long term. Oh but its ok because then the big pharmas just give us pills to counteract the poisons. Vicious bloody cycle. How deceitful it all is but others would see it as just good business.

    Another piece of advice is to only buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season - this whole concept of food being available year round is ridiculous. What do they do to make this happen?

    I have said this before to you on a previous post I think - someone told me to go into the supermarket and ask myself this question, would my great grandmother (or even grandmother for some of you spring chickens) have been able to buy these products. If the answer is NO then do not buy it. I follow this principle now with the occasional splurge.

    And it is up to us what we put in our mouths and what we feed our families. Research and read packets. When you think about it isn't it odd when we read, Made in New Zealand from local and imported products - how do you make spinach from other products if it is not dodgy. Spinach is grown not bloody made.

    I am sure there are sites we can got to that list safe brands, I must check this.

  5. I forgot to say if Heinz is in New Zealand too does that mean the same with canned goods. Daresay it does. We have two choices be proactive or just not care and face the consequences if there are any. The really odd thing is I bet if I said that if a petrol had something in it that would harm our cars we would not use it. Why is it we do not treat ourselves as well as our cars? Garbage in, garbage out. I will shut up now, lol.

  6. Lilly,

    We were once a country with our own seasonal produce. Nothing with fancy packging, but stuff being sold at small vegetable shops, where everything was in baskets for you to check, (break the beans for freshness and crispness etc, smell stuff and so on). Today, thanks to the so called globalization, we have big companies, having large tracts farmed for them, and growing stuff for them. And so suddenly ordinary corn has disappeared and American sweet corn is all over the place. Mangoes are now found in some shops throughout the year. Fruits sold look suddenly polished. And yes, although frozen foods is not such a big thing yet, it is coming. We still buy most of our veggies at the corner fellow who sits with his baskets. But yes, Chinese pears , and various varieties on non Indian apples have made an appearance.

    I am going to send a link to your post to everyone. So many think that anything, polished, with a shiny label and fancy packaging must be good.

    This chain has happened in my lifetime, and I wonder how the next generation will manage.

  7. It's all driven by that bottom line and the CEO's bonus. Just read that Target has demanded a 5% cut on all invoices. It's not food but one can assume that attitude runs throughout Westfarmers, including Coles.

    We lost our quality when us as consumers went for the cheap. It started with battery hens, basa from Vietnam, Vannamei prawns from China...

    As for veggies, I only buy the stuff in seasonal from fruit & vege section at Coles. I'm assuming that if it's green, it's grown locally but then I could be wrong.

  8. I do TRY to be careful about where our food comes from but I haven't been as careful about the frozen veggies. Holey Moley! Thanks so much for the warning! Exploding watermelons? Wait till I show Art!

  9. @ Young Werther, you hit it on the head. Cheap must be good. Are there any farmers markets to you locally?

    The other thing I have noticed is that slowly, slowly Coles and Woolworths are just crowding the shelves with their own brands of food, cheaper than others, all from China. Soon there won't be much of a choice.

    It's like eggs they can say they are organic but there are actually no standards here as yet as to what makes it organic.

    Both my parents effectively lived off their backyard all their lives, right in the middle of suburbia. My father, bless him, had a thriving vege patch up until he died. And my mother has continued it on. That generation knew how to live off the land, without the need for chemicals and we had other distractions (and I thought it was rather quaint but not for me) and we would be lucky if our kids knew how any of it was grown, whether it be on a tree or in the ground. I was shocked when my grown up daughter told me she had never seen a cow up close or one being milked. My grandfather had a dairy farm so I saw them all the time.

    Like that Food Inc video says its all happened in the last 50 years. Interesting times.

    I would like to know what your Chinese friends are saying though too. They must know more.

  10. @ Ugich, you make a really good point. The fruit that looks the shiniest gets our attention. In fact it makes the organic fruit look shocking. We buy with out eyes our guess. I have a friend who scrubs every piece of fruit she buys because of something they put on the fruit to make the skin shiny, apples clearly. you are so lucky you have your local corner fellow. I wish we all had one of those and I hope that he does not get pushed out of business either.

    That is interesting that frozen goods are not so big where you are yet. Of course it just hit me that I use frozen berries all the time too I must look at that packaging and try and reform my shopping habits a bit.

  11. Lilly,
    Scenario in India too is getting bleak. Although our local veggie vendor brings fresh veggies from nearby farms , what pesticides in what quantity used there still remains unansewred .
    Also , some innovative ideas of using carbide powder ( an explosive otherwise) to quick ripen bananas and mangoes is used rampantly.
    many fruits dont taste as good anymore.
    Mass production and shiney fruits are becoming popular fast .
    Since I have been apprehensive of buying chemical laden greens n fruits , half the time I end up buying no fruits.

  12. @ Kirti, wow that is interesting too. An explosive to ripen bananas? Our banana crops got wiped out by floods and so we havent had too many around here for a while. What ones there were were way too expensive to buy so I havent missed them.

    I think I have had my head buried in the sand for too long and probably the damage has already been done. It's enough to make me reach for a gin and tonic, chocolate or a valium. But wait, thats all poison too, lol. Oh dear.

    I would stick to your local vendor, you can usually detect changes in the farming practices from the taste of the produce anyway. Thanks for your visit. Maybe we need to start an international bloggers food co-op!

  13. You do know that if any kid reads this they have just got the perfect excuse to tell their parents they will never eat their greens anymore, lol.

  14. You can't be that sure what is on fresh veg either

  15. @ Anton, ha ha, too true

    @ lom - yes makes it hard really to know what to do. We can only do our best.

  16. It really just makes me think its all too hard really. It just makes me think society is going backwards not forwards. Greed and gluttony, that is what it is about.

  17. First I laughed at the idea of exploding watermelons, then I was shocked at what was behind it. Ick! That's whey I shop Farmers Markets and in the organic food section at the supermarket. It's pretty scary stuff.

    LOVE the new look of you blog-- Very classy Lilly-- just like you.

    xoxo jj

  18. @ Joanna - well I clicked something on blogger in the design template and it just came up like this and now I dont know how to get it back....

  19. I saw Food, Inc., have read Michael Pollan's books, and everything I can get my hands on about food. I didn't know this about frozen veggies. I rarely buy frozen but there are a few that I do. Now I'll look them to see if their sourced. There will be a garden next summer and I will learn how to can. These are skills my grandmother had and practiced until she got caught up in quick, convenient prepared foods and just didn't teach her daughters or grands about gardening,etc. We will have to reclaim our food and our quality of lives - the world over! Thanks for this post.

  20. This is very important to me and I have posted about this topic several times. A good documentary to watch is 'the world according to monsanto'... it's not only pesticides we need to be conerned about.

    Thanks for posting this.


Thanks for your comments.