Pesticides in produce, soil, and ground water are pervasive throughout the world. Concern among consumers has driven the organic food industry to substantial increases in sales each year.
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and 73 percent of conventional grocery stores in the United States . The global market for organic food and drink reached $23 billion in 2002. Increasing demand in North America contributed to a 10.1 percent increase, as North America has surpassed Europe and is now the largest market for organic foods. In fact, 39 percent of the U.S. population now uses organic foods.
The organic fiber market, including clothing and home textiles, has also grown exponentially with an increase of 23 percent in 2003, accounting for about $85 million in U.S. Sales. Continued growth is predicted for the global organic food industry with over 59 million producing organic products.
Alterations in the human diet have been significant in the developed countries over the last 30 years. To accommodate convenience, marketing, extended shelf life and large scale production, numerous methods of food processing have evolved. Such methods include preparation, mechanical processes, separation, isolation and purification, thermal processing, biochemical processing, genetic engineering, irradiation, synthetic vitamin fortification and the addition of natural and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
Conflicting studies show both the safety and health risks involved with the many aspects of commercial food production. For example, thermal processing has been shown to reduce the allergenicity of various food proteins as the high temperatures cause significant alterations in protein structure. However, multiple studies have also concluded that the thermal processing of peanuts actually enhances the allergenicity.
Various methods of food processing can have an effect on protein molecules, which may be targeted by the immune system. High levels of heat can cause a disorganization within the structure and lead to denaturalization of the proteins. Chemical modifications of the protein may also occur at high temperatures. In addition, there may be interactions with other constituents within foods which can have a major effect on the allergenicity of the processed food. With such modifications taking place on the molecular level it is possible that the body may reject a food component which has been changed from its native conformation. Furthermore, it is difficult to rely on IgE binding studies of food proteins since they have a poor specificity and sensitivity for assessing the allergenicity. Yet these studies are commonly used for the evaluation of the safety of new foods. (1)
The culmination of various forms of food adulteration and modification may be responsible for the sharp increase in food sensitivities. Since inadequate attention has been placed on studies addressing food sensitivities, little is known about the broad range of symptoms and their link to specific foods. However, numerous studies have consistently shown that avoidance of certain foods can elicit a marked decrease or resolve in related symptoms, even though the reaction is not a true allergy with an IgE mediated response. In fact, food sensitivities have become a prevalent health issue and further research is necessary to determine the possible causes contributing to the increasing number of sufferers.
The recommended diet to promote health includes fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, lean meats and poultry, as advised by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. The Association continues to recommend a predominately plant-based diet that includes eating five servings of fruits and vegetables and six servings of non-refined, whole grains daily. Recently, the recommendation has included two weekly servings of fatty fish, such as tuna or salmon. Minimizing refined and processed foods and thoroughly washing produce is also recommended.
(1) Assessing the Effects of Processing on IgE Binding, Jean-Michel, Food Allergy Laboratory.