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An 11-year-old ate a burger. It was fatal for him, but OK according to the FDA.

It's a four-letter practice the FDA lets food companies get away with.

An 11-year-old ate a burger. It was fatal for him, but OK according to the FDA.

What is the Food and Drug Administration meant to do? According to them:


But there's a four-letter acronym that allows food companies to pretty much add what they want to foods without FDA interference. It's known as "GRAS" and refers to food additives "generally regarded as safe."

Horrifyingly, this practice has allegedly led to at least one death — that of 11-year-old Miles Bengco, whose story is featured after the video below. He thought he was eating just a burger, but his family didn't know it had an additive related to mold in it, something they otherwise would have avoided given his pre-existing respiratory problems.

But first, here's how the GRAS loophole works:

From the Center for Public Integrity's shocking report about food additives and the FDA:

One out of six ain't bad?

Five years ago, the Government Accountability Office said in a 70-page report about food additives that the "FDA's oversight process does not help ensure the safety of all new" food ingredients. The report criticized the fact that companies can deem new added ingredients to be "generally recognized as safe" without even telling the FDA, leaving the agency in the dark about many ingredients that end up in foods and beverages.

The GAO recommended that the FDA take six actions to improve federal oversight of the GRAS system. Five years later, the agency has acted on just one of them.



Now about Miles Bengco's death:

Photo courtesy of the family of Miles Bengco.

He was just eating a burger with his family. What went wrong?

Here's the lawsuit's clear description of what happened to Miles (click to enlarge):

Because of the loophole that allows companies to fast-track their products to market without FDA approval of additives that are "generally recognized as safe" (which can sometimes simply mean no one has ever proven or tried to prove they weren't), Quorn Foods processed and sold burgers with mycoprotein (a mold derived from fungi). While most people can eat mycoprotein and be fine, people with pre-existing conditions like asthma won't tolerate it well. Predictably, the company is denying responsibility.

So, who should have been looking out for Miles Bengco? Didn't we all assume the FDA would be?

Much like with the lupin mentioned in the video — that's potentially dangerous to those with peanut allergies — it's way better for the FDA to have a chance to intervene and require clear labeling.

And who will be next to suffer the consequences?

So ... how do we change this?

Recently, a group of organizations that fight on behalf of consumers submitted an official comment to the FDA that implores them to fix the GRAS loophole. Will the FDA listen? It's a long shot, admittedly.

If only there was evidence that people bombarding governmental agencies to change something works!

Oh, wait ... remember that time John Oliver got loads of people to bug the FCC until they protected Net Neutrality? We could try to do the same thing by tweeting and writing the FDA!

If we all wanted to, we could tweet the FDA here or write them letters at this address about the importance of knowing what's in our foods. We could even tweet or retweet something like:

And THEN, we could all share this and urge our friends to do the same.

Wouldn't that be a better way for this story to end? ;)

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In 2015, Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price had a life-changing epiphany.

Price, who founded Gravity with his brother in 2004, was out hiking in the Cascade Mountains with his friend, Valerie. She told him her landlord had raised her rent by $200 and she was struggling to get by on her $40,000 a year income. Price, who was making $1.1 million a year as CEO of Gravity, was struck by her story. Not only did he feel for Valerie—a military veteran working two jobs and barely making ends meet—realized that some of his own employees might be facing similar struggles.

And they were. One employee frankly told him his entry-level salary was a rip-off. Another employee had secretly been working at McDonald's outside of work hours to make ends meet. So Price decided to make a drastic change by investing in his employees.

He researched how much money the average person would need in order to live comfortably and settled on $70,000 a year. In one fell swoop, he dropped his own salary to that amount, while also making it the minimum salary for anyone who worked at Gravity.

The move drew media coverage—and dire predictions from pundits. On Fox News and other conservative outlets he was called "foolish," a "socialist" and a "lunatic of lunatics." Rush Limbaugh called the company policy "pure unadulterated socialism" that was "going to fail" and should be a case study in MBA programs on how socialism doesn't work. Talking heads predicted that his employees would end up in the welfare line.

Six years later, Price has proved the haters wrong—by a lot.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less