Although maybe they mean well, the U.S. government doesn't always have the best interest of the people or the planet in mind. Other countries aren't perfect either. Still, consider that we're one of the few countries hanging on to BPA and GMOs. Plus, when our government does decide to swing towards change, it takes a remarkably long time for them to get their act together. For example, it took 15 years for the government to institute healthier school lunches. From lackluster chemical reform to sneaky hazards in the food supply to gigantic super germs - keep reading to see which massive U.S. government fails may be putting your family at risk. Also, learn about how you can start to initiate positive change when the government clearly won't.
Supporting Harmful Chemicals
The USA is sorely behind when it comes to chemical caution. The European Union along with nine other countries, including Japan, Mexico and Argentina have banned phthalates. Flame retardants and other chemicals like BPA and triclosan, which are still used in the U.S., are also banned or under major consideration for bans in other countries. When it comes to chemicals that Americans are exposed to, you’ve got two choices.
- You can assume that chemicals are safe until proven to be dangerous.
- You can assume that chemicals pose a danger until proven to be safe.
In almost all cases, your U.S. government goes with the first choice, “Chemicals are innocent until proven guilty.” This means that even when the evidence against chemicals is scary, if there’s any uncertainty about the evidence, the federal government sides with chemicals not caution. Most recently we’ve seen this happen with BPA, as the FDA made the decision not to ban this chemical from food products due to lack of supporting risk evidence, even though The Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and various other health-minded organizations in the U.S., along with numerous studies agree that BPA poses more than a passing health threat. The government cares little about what consumers want. Case in point – one of the only chemical victories we’ve seen in recent years came about because the chemical industry told the FDA to ban BPA in baby products. Chemicals are also a financial burden on the American people with exposure to chemicals costing the U.S. about $76.6 billion in 2008 alone. The government may act like chemical exposure is a small issue, but the CDC has a handy National Chemical Exposure Report (pdf) that shows that chemical exposure is extremely widespread. In fact almost all Americans carry a slew of chemical toxins in their bodies, due to slack regulation and chemical build-up over time.
Gloved Hand Holding a Petri Dish – Image from Shutterstock
Breeding Super Germs
In general, the more antibiotics and antibacterials we use, the less efficient they become when we really need them and they’re found everywhere – in medication, cleaners and food. Recently it looked like the FDA might be doing something to curb the problem of massive antibiotic use in food. Even though it took a judge to kick the FDA into action we still had high hopes that the FDA would do the right thing and ban antibiotics in livestock, unless actually necessary. Our hopes sadly missed the mark as the FDA instituted another major fail by suggesting that livestock owners use less antibiotics voluntarily, which probably means that nothing will change and super germs will be more equipped to take over. Lest you think super germs are a funny joke, be aware that major health organizations, and even the FDA themselves take super germs very seriously. According to a presentation from the 2000 Emerging Infectious Diseases Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, antibacterial cleaners are not only decreasing antibiotic efficiency, but they’re not even useful. All antibacterials will do is encourage the growth of antimicrobial drug–resistant species as time passes. Cleaners and antibacterial soap are the least of your concerns though. The Cornucopia Institute points out that 70% of the antibiotics used in this country go into livestock production (not counting actually sick animals). The CDC and the Institute of Medicine identify antibiotic resistance as one of the key microbial threats to health in the United States and both recommend decreasing the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in order to address this growing problem. It would be nice if the FDA heeded their own advice.
Polluting the Food Supply
When it come to food, we should feel lucky in the USA. Not only is food available in abundance but most of us have access to local and organic food. However, the U.S. government also has some extremely wacky and sometimes harmful food laws in place. From insanely gross food additives like rodent hair, maggots and flame retardants to pesticide laced genetically modified foods banned in other countries, the food supply here is disgustingly polluted. The FDA allows food manufacturers to put icky and harmful synthetic dyes and flavors in foods, ignoring research that says, “Hey, this stuff isn’t safe.” Drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus and other harmful contaminates and bacteria make it from processing plant to your local grocery store with surprising ease. Acids continue to show up in baby food as arsenic fortifies juice, baby formula and other products. As it stands now, the government does little to prevent any of the above.
Keeping Toxic Schools in the Mix
It’s bad news that schools today get a failing grade in environmental education. It’s way worse news though that government budget cuts and poor legislation keep most schools in this country extremely toxic and a danger to our youngest citizens. Healthy Schools Network recently reported that as many as 55 million U.S. children may be attending public and private K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions are present. The EPA paints an even grimmer picture, noting that at least half of all schools in this country have indoor air quality problems caused by toxic chemical and pesticide use, chemical spills, mold infestations, asbestos, radon, lead in paint and drinking water, heavy metals and persistent toxics, such as mercury, CCA and PCBs. Not a great place to send your kids to learn right? In order to solve this, what do government officials do? They cut funds from schools of course. Texas state lawmakers just recently cut more than $4 billion from schools while California lawmakers cut school funds by about $330 million. In fact, all over the USA, school budgets are the first thing to go, with most education experts estimating that districts won’t see budget levels return to pre-recession levels until 2013 (best-case scenario). These harmful budget cuts ensure that schools not only stay toxic, but will likely get worse.
Sanctioning Toxic Body Care
Body care is inanely toxic in this country and the government 100% supports it. Although the FDA says they regulate body care products, stating, “Under the FD&C Act, all cosmetic products and ingredients must be safe for consumers,” the reality is more sobering. First of all the FDA allows the body care industry to self-regulate and with apparently zero concern for consumers. In fact the FDA says it’s the responsibility of individuals who make and market body care products to ensure that products and ingredients are safe for the intended use. WTF? The result – FDA approved products on the market contain a slew of terribly harmful ingredients including phthalates, fake colors, lead, synthetic musks, toluene, coal tar, petroleum, parabens and more. Chemicals such as these have been linked to infertility, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, cancer, hormone disruption, allergies, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation to skin, eyes, or lungs and many other health problems. The FDA even approves known carcinogens, 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde as ingredients in baby care products. Worse, you can’t even trust body care labels, because no one is regulating those either. When it comes to body care, your safest bet is to stick with organic certified or NSF/ANSI 305 certified products.
What You Can Do To Fight Government Fails
When it comes to government decisions that affect you and your family, you may think that there’s no way to create change. That’s not true though. The recent pink slime in schools issue is the perfect example of how citizen action can, or can not, make a difference. Recently schools have started to ban pink slime meat in schools and it’s not because the government decided to stand up for kids, but because of parent and media involvement. What you may be surprised to learn though, is that pink slime is far from a new issue. In 2001 the FDA said manufacturers could use the ammonia treatment process on meat, and schools started serving it up to kids in 2004. And it’s not as if the media ignored it. Plenty of bloggers, journalists and even major films like Food, Inc. have railed against pink slime and other questionable school meat for years and nothing has changed. What was different about pink slime this year is that parents got involved. One mom created a major petition and tons of parents called their schools to complain. It’s an interesting story. Your kids ate pink slime meat for 9 long years, 5 years of which, the story was covered in the media. Fast forward to 2012 and it took just weeks of citizen involvement to solve most of the pink slime problem.
The moral: When parents and other citizens read up on the issues, stand up for kids, start petitions, revolt, blog about the issues, vote on the issues and speak up, real change can happen, but you have to get involved. Sitting idly by means your kids ate pink slime for nine years, because the government was a-okay with it. One or two parents alone and a few media sources can’t do it all. Americans have to stand together against issues we think aren’t safe for our families. The links below can help you get started.
Lead image by Flickr User griffithchris