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Organic Foods Are the Only ‘Clean’ Packaged Option for Consumers

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Organic Foods Are the Only ‘Clean’ Packaged Option for Consumers
A supermarket's organic section with fresh and packaged foods. Keith Brofsky / UpperCut Images / Getty Images

Unlike organic packaged foods, conventional packaged food contains thousands of poorly regulated food chemicals, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

"Although many consumers choose organic to avoid toxic pesticides, few know that federal rules dramatically limit the use of synthetic substances in organic food," said EWG nutritionist Dawn Undurraga, one of the authors of the report.


It is widely known that certified organic fruits and vegetables have far lower pesticide levels than conventionally grown produce, thanks to federal regulations. But many consumers do not realize that fewer than 40 synthetic ingredients are allowed in organic packaged foods like salad dressing, cereals and snacks.

By contrast, at least 2,000 chemical preservatives, colors and other chemicals are used in conventional packaged foods, EWG found.

What's more, many consumers are unaware that food manufacturers don't need approval from the Food and Drug Administration for many of the chemicals added to conventional packaged foods.

"The same companies that manufacture food chemicals are allowed to declare them safe," said Melanie Benesh, EWG legislative attorney, a report co-author. "It's like the fox guarding the hen house. For those consumers seeking 'clean foods' free from toxic chemical additives, organic is really your only option."

Substances added to organic food must be approved by government and independent experts every five years. Those substances approved for use in organic foods must be proven safe for consumption, with no adverse impact on the environment.

Since 2008, 72 substances have been rejected for use in organic food.

Many of the chemicals used in conventional food have been linked to serious health problems like cancer, including sodium nitrate and butylated hydroxyanisole. Many of these chemicals are not reviewed by independent experts but are instead deemed "safe" by chemical companies, food companies or industry trade associations.

Moreover, companies are not required to periodically rereview these additives so that new scientific research or changes in the diet may be considered.

"Consumers rightly assume their food is safe," Benesh said. "But many food chemicals with connections to cancer and other serious health concerns have been deemed safe by chemical and food companies, not by the FDA."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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