Renewable Farming

Fast-food diet “devastates” gut bacteria: Who’s really responsible?

Dr. Arden Andersen, who holds a post-doctorate degree in public health, looked right in the eyes of his farmer audience at a Des Moines seminar a couple of winters ago: His accusation went something like this: “How are you going to explain to your grandson who develops diabetes at age five, your granddaughter who can’t have children, that you were responsible for a cascading health disaster resulting from what you are raising in your fields and applying to your crops?”

Five seed corn representatives seated at one table looked at each other shook their heads and walked out of the seminar room. Most farmers simply sat there with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

Arden doesn’t pull punches. A physician, not a politician.

So, slowly, evidence of health damage from the U.S. diet keeps accumulating with scientific studies and not-so-scientific observations. 

A widening array of “healthy food” websites picks up these reports and dramatizes them — while the typical American consumer shrugs them off as “activism.”

Example:  A news item on the website cites an experiment by Prof. Tim Spector of Kings College in England, who recruited his son to test the effect of McDonalds’ food on gut bacteria. Results are published in Spector’s book, The Diet Myth. 

Bottom line is that after 10 days of hamburgers, chicken, fries and Coca-Cola, the son’s digestive tract lost nearly 1,400 species of bacteria, or roughly 40% of the spectrum of beneficials which are normally there.  Recovery of those species was slow.

McDonalds is often picked as a high-profile target for such demonstrations, such as the movie SuperSize me.

However, all the fast-food chains have rigid standards for the bread and beef and chicken on their menu. Something must be ingrained into those foodstuffs very early in the food chain long before they arrive at restaurants. Even before they leave the field. Suspects:

1. Inserted genes, which may generate immune reactions in humans and animals.

2. Chemical residues, especially glyphosate and its breakdown compounds. Glyphosate is a very effective bactericide.

Prof. Spector and his son conducted a rather simple analysis: Fecal cultures and counting the plated-out species. This technique could offer a fairly straightforward way that a livestock feeder such as a hog producer could evaluate animal response to a change in feed.  We’ve heard dairymen telling us they can tell when their cows move from non-GMO to GMO silage. The milk check changes, vet bills notch up. But simply having a lab check the spectrum of microbes in animal poop once a week could yield some useful data. There’s a lot of sense in the old adage that all disease begins in the gut.

Back in 2013, medical researchers were noting a sharp increase in hospitalizations of children with “inflammatory bowel disease.” These diagnoses include Crohn’s disease, which we’ve seen in our own local schools. One student — told that several years of drug treatment for Crohn’s had run its course and the next step is surgery — abruptly altered his diet to all organic, fresh and whole foods. His symptoms disappeared and did not return.

And before that, one of our farmer friends, Howard Vlieger of Maurice, IA worked with Australian scientist Judy Carmen to compare hogs fed GMO rations vs. non-GMO rations through an entire five-month finishing cycle. Evidence of stomach and gut inflammation showed up in the postmortems after normal slaughter of the animals.  Judy Carmen’s website carries the entire study along with other work she and her colleagues have done.