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Shop healthy. Avoid diseases.

Bernard-Henri Louvat
CEO & Founder of Tera. I am a serial technology entrepreneur and I occasionally write articles for our blog. Drop me a line at blouvat@hellotera.com if you feel like it!

What is Conventional Agriculture? A Dark World

Welcome to the world of conventional agriculture, where the practices employed in livestock production, fish farming, and crop cultivation have sparked intense debates and raised significant concerns. With the aim of providing a comprehensive understanding of these topics, we will explore the potential health risks associated with consuming meat and dairy products from hormone-treated animals, the impact of chemicals and heavy metals in fish on human health, and the implications of pesticide use and GMOs in our food system.

As we unravel the complexities of conventional agriculture, it becomes increasingly clear that informed consumer choices and regenerative agricultural practices play vital roles in ensuring a healthier and more sustainable future.

Agriculture Growth Hormones & Antibiotics

The use of growth hormones and antibiotics in factory farming and the dairy industry raises significant concerns regarding the potential health risks associated with consuming products derived from these practices. 

Let’s begin with the use of growth hormones in dairy production. Posilac, a synthetic growth hormone developed by Monsanto, was approved by the FDA in 1993 for use in dairy cattle. However, the EU and Canada have banned its use due to concerns about its implications. 

Additional growth hormones, such as rBGH and rBST, are specifically designed to increase milk production in dairy cows. Unfortunately, milk obtained from hormone-treated cows contains elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which has been linked to increased risks of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. 

Furthermore, the use of rBGH has been associated with an increased incidence of mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland) in cows, leading to the administration of high levels of antibiotics. It’s important to note that rBGH milk is not required to be labeled, making it difficult for consumers to identify and avoid such products.

Moving on to factory farming, it is alarming to learn that almost 99% of farmed animals in the US are raised in these intensive systems, which amounts to approximately 250,000 farms. The crowded and confined conditions in factory farms facilitate the rapid spread of diseases among animals, necessitating the use of antibiotics. 

However, consuming meat from these animals can lead to the ingestion of antibiotics, contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Astonishingly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for more than 2.8 million infections and 162,000 deaths annually in the United States, posing a grave threat to public health.

In the realm of cattle and sheep agriculture, growth hormones have been permitted by the FDA since the 1950s to promote accelerated growth. However, the EU took a different stance and banned the use of hormones in animal farming in 1981. 

This decision was prompted by concerns about potential adverse effects on human health, particularly in prepubescent children. Worries encompassed a wide range of issues, including endocrine, developmental, immunological, neurobiological, immunotoxic, genotoxic, and carcinogenic effects.

Agriculture factory farmed cow

Mercury & PFAS in Fish

Mercury, a highly toxic heavy metal, poses a threat to our health as it is released into our water through the combustion of coal. As fish live longer, they accumulate higher levels of mercury over time. Traces of this poisonous metal can be found in nearly all fish and shellfish, with some seafood also containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs), additional contaminants that further compound the issue.

The concentrations of mercury and POPs increase along the food chain as smaller fish are consumed by larger fish. Consequently, large predatory deep-ocean fish, such as tuna, tend to have the highest levels of these contaminants. To minimize exposure to mercury, it is advisable to avoid consuming large fish such as shark, swordfish, tuna, tilefish, and king mackerel. However, it’s important to note that the overall health benefits of consuming fish far outweigh the risks associated with mercury. 

Another group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or “forever chemicals” are also present in fish and shellfish. These chemicals are persistent in the environment, including bodies of water, and fish serve as carriers, transferring PFAS to humans upon consumption. Even small doses of PFAS can have detrimental health effects, including cancer, liver damage, reduced fertility, harm to the immune system, and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. Shockingly, PFAs have been detected in the bodies of 99% of Americans.

In addition to the concerns surrounding mercury, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) in fish, there are also potential risks associated with consuming farmed fish. While farmed fish can provide a convenient and readily available food source, there are several issues to consider.

One concern is the use of antibiotics and chemicals in fish farming. Due to the crowded conditions in fish farms, diseases can easily spread among the fish population. To prevent and treat these diseases, antibiotics and other chemicals are often administered. This can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the potential transfer of these antibiotics to humans when consuming farmed fish.

Farmed fish may also be fed diets that are not their natural or optimal food source. For example, some farmed fish are fed diets containing high levels of fishmeal and fish oil, which are derived from wild fish stocks. This practice raises concerns about overfishing and its impact on marine ecosystems. Furthermore, the nutritional composition of farmed fish can differ from wild fish, potentially affecting the levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

Environmental impact is another significant consideration. Fish farms can generate pollution through the release of excess feed, fish waste, and chemicals into surrounding waters. This can lead to water pollution, habitat degradation, and the spread of diseases to wild fish populations. Sustainable and responsible aquaculture practices are crucial to mitigate these environmental concerns.

How mercury travels through the food chain info graphic

Pesticides & GMOs in Agriculture

Pesticides play a significant role in pest control, targeting insects, weeds, fungi, bacteria, and other unwanted organisms. In the United States alone, the annual usage of pesticides exceeds a billion pounds, with residues persisting on non-organic fruits and vegetables even after washing. 

These chemicals pose chronic health risks, including cancer, birth defects, reproductive harm, and neurological and developmental toxicity. They can also harm the environment, polluting soil, water, and air, as well as adversely affecting non-target organisms such as plants, birds, wildlife, fish, and crops.

Herbicides, a type of pesticide, are specifically designed to combat weeds. The well-known herbicide RoundUp contains glyphosate and is still permitted for use in the United States, despite being banned in many other countries due to its potential links to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers. Moreover, RoundUp poses a threat to vital pollinators like bees, essential for ecosystem health.

The “Dirty Dozen” list compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) highlights the 12 most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables: strawberries, spinach, kale, collard and mustard greens, peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, bell and hot peppers, cherries, blueberries, and green beans.

Genetically modified (GM) crops raise additional concerns in the food supply. The majority of corn, sugar beets, and oilseed production in the United States involves genetically modified varieties. These crops often necessitate the use of stronger chemicals, including herbicides and pesticides, which can end up in our food. The long-term effects of consuming genetically modified foods are still inconclusive, and companies are not required to test for potential risks.

Despite the uncertainties, genetically modified crops account for over 75% of the food supply, as reported by the EWG. This raises important questions about the potential harm associated with their consumption and the need for further research to ensure the safety of our food.

Agriculture farmer spraying pesticides

What Can We Do to Change the Agriculture Industry?

As consumers, there are several actions we can take to minimize exposure to the harms associated with conventional farming practices. Firstly, opting for organic and grass-fed meat and dairy products can reduce the intake of growth hormones and antibiotics commonly used in livestock. Look for labels that indicate the absence of hormones, such as “No rBGH or rBST,” and choose products from animals raised in more natural and humane conditions.

When it comes to fish, selecting wild-caught varieties or sustainably farmed options can help avoid the potential risks of chemicals and pollutants. Look for certifications like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which ensure responsible fishing and farming practices.

To minimize pesticide exposure, prioritize organic produce whenever possible. Organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides, reducing chemical residues on fruits and vegetables. Additionally, thoroughly washing and peeling conventionally grown produce can help reduce pesticide residues, although it may not eliminate them entirely.

In the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), choosing organic products can also limit exposure since GMOs are prohibited in organic farming. By opting for non-GMO or GMO-free labeled foods, you can make choices aligned with your preferences.

Last but certainly not least, support regenerative agriculture! Learn more about it from organizations like Kiss the GroundFarmer’s Footprint, and more. Find your local regenerative farmer using the Regenerative Farm Map. Shop at your local farmers market and/or join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). Change starts with us!

It’s important to stay informed and educate ourselves about the food we consume. Reading labels, researching brands and companies, and supporting local and regenerative farmers and food producers can contribute to a healthier and more responsible food system. Engaging in advocacy for stricter regulations on farming practices and supporting organizations working towards sustainable agriculture can also have a broader impact.

By making conscious choices and demanding transparency and accountability from the food industry, we can collectively promote healthier and more sustainable farming practices while protecting our own well-being. Together, we have the power to shape the future of our food system.

The Tera App

Our app empowers consumers to effortlessly navigate the grocery store, aligning their selections with their health and environmental concerns. They can easily avoid harmful additives, chemicals, and food allergens while discovering organic certified and vegan products.

Moreover, for those seeking specific nutritional requirements, we provide comprehensive nutrition labels, enabling users to find meat, dairy, and seafood that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol while rich in essential vitamins and minerals. At Tera, we empower consumers to make conscientious decisions that prioritize their well-being and contribute to a sustainable food system.

At Tera, we are dedicated to expanding the range of preference options available to our users. We understand the importance of certifications such as “No rBGH or rBST”, “Marine Stewardship Council”, “Grass-Finished”, “Pasture-Raised”, and more in helping consumers make informed choices. That’s why we are actively working to incorporate these certifications into our app. Currently, we offer the organic certification, which allows users to quickly identify organic options and brands committed to pesticide-free farming practices.

Tera app whole foods organic grilled chicken breast stripes product page
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