Why Do I Need to Read a QR Code to Know if My Food Is OK?

The United States is the last major nation to require that food packaging contain information about genetically modified ingredients. The problem is that the labeling can be in a QR code which requires a smart phone and software to read the code. Why do I need to read a QR code to know if my food is OK? The pieces of the puzzle here are QR codes, genetically modified organisms and the new law.

GMOs

What are GMOs or genetically modified organisms? The University of California in San Diego comes to the rescue.

When a gene from one organism is purposely moved to improve or change another organism in a laboratory, the result is a genetically modified organism (GMO). It is also sometimes called “transgenic” for transfer of genes.

There are different ways of moving genes to produce desirable traits. For both plants and animals, one of the more traditional ways is through selective breeding. For example, a plant with a desired trait is chosen and bred to produce more plants with the desirable trait. More recently with the advancement of technology is another technique. This technique is applied in the laboratory where a gene that express the desired trait is physically moved or added to a new plant to enhance the trait in that plant. Plants produced with this technology are transgenic. Often, this process is performed on crops to produce insect or herbicide resistant plants, they are referred to as Genetically Modified Crops (GM crops).

Humans have been modifying plants by selective breeding for thousands of years. The results have been better foods, prettier flowers and the loss of biologic diversity as single varieties that produce well crowd out the rest. An example in history is the Irish Potato Famine. Farmers grew just a couple of varieties of high producing potatoes which turned out to be easily infected by a fungus that destroyed potato crops on the entire island. The same concern is valid with GMOs when they come to replace the use of diverse plant species.

But Are GMOs Bad for You?

The primary concern about GMOs is that their extensive use will decrease genetic diversity and that by pollination their doctored genes will spread throughout adjacent plant communities. Additionally if you happen to have an allergy to something in the new genetically modified food you may have a real problem when everything you want to eat contains that set of genes.

How Do You Know?

A first rational step in this situation is to provide consumers with information. Does the food you are about to purchase contain GMOs? One of options in the new law is that the producer can put the appropriate information on the contain in the form of a QR code, a two dimensional bar code. But you need a smart phone and the appropriate software in order read these codes. Most consumers will think, why do I need to read a QR code to know if my food is OK and they will not bother.

How Has the Internet Changed News Reporting?

Once upon a time people who wanted the news subscribed to the morning or evening news paper or both. They listened to the news on the radio and later they tuned into the local and national news on the television. Those news sources still exist but the internet has changed news reporting. The Pew Research Center looks at what they call the modern news consumer.

Wave after wave of digital innovation has introduced a new set of influences on the public’s news habits. Social media, messaging apps, texts and email provide a constant stream of news from people we’re close to as well as total strangers. News stories can now come piecemeal, as links or shares, putting less emphasis on the publisher. And, hyper levels of immediacy and mobility can create an expectation that the news will come to us whether we look for it or not. How have these influences shaped Americans’ appetite for and attitudes toward the news? What, in other words, are the defining traits of the modern news consumer?

Today 70% of Americans follow the local and national news and 65% follow international news. 81% of Americans get some of their news if not all of it from websites, apps or social networking sites. The immediacy of internet news reporting has changed expectations of the modern news consumer and how the news is reported.

Television news is still the most common source of news. As print media have lost ground their readers have gone to online apps. The most people watch the news on television and those who read the news now are twice as likely to get their news online.

Has Technology Disrupted the Truth?

The Guardian says that technology disrupted the truth.

Social media has swallowed the news – threatening the funding of public-interest reporting and ushering in an era when everyone has their own facts. But the consequences go far beyond journalism.

The newspaper discusses at length the lies used by those who promoted the exit of Britain from the EU and how any comment by anyone was presented as news without any vetting of the facts. This is reminiscent of Rupert Murdock saying that the news is basically entertainment. When asked why he had purchased both the London Times and the daily with the nude woman on the second page he replied that both periodicals provided entertainment for different sorts of readers and many, in fact, purchased both. The difference with the internet is that news arrives faster, often with no attempt at fact checking. It can be the electronic equivalent of gossip in the town square.

Google quotes Bill Gates:

“Paper is no longer a big part of my day. I get 90% of my news online, and when I go to a meeting and want to jot things down, I bring my Tablet PC. It’s fully synchronized with my office machine so I have all the files I need. Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO”

And they note the results of the speeded up version of the news via the internet.

However, as the methods of providing news have changed, so have the providers. While in the past, journalists and reporters would present stories to the public that were extensively researched and fact-checked to ensure accuracy and maintain accountability, now there is an increasing pressure to distribute news stories as quickly as possible to avoid being pre-empted by the blogs. Unfortunately, the quality of the news is suffering.

How the internet has changed news reporting is by speeding it up at the expense of quality.

How to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

There are new wonder drugs that did not exist a generation ago. These medications treat diseases that previously had no cure. New prescription drugs can prolong life. But all these wonder drugs come with a price. This article is about how to reduce prescription drug costs. WXYZ in Detroit wrote about prescription drug prices rising and how to reduce prescription drug costs.

The problem of rising prescription drug prices is rampant. Some 32-million people were hit with price hikes in the past year, according to a Consumer Reports survey. And it’s not just for big brand names or specialty drugs. Even prices for longtime generics drugs are increasing.

Too many people simply don’t fill their prescriptions when the cost is too high. Thus they may not be getting medicine that they need. What is the answer? Here are a few thoughts on how to reduce prescription drug costs.

Talk to Your Doctor

Tell your physician that cost is an issue with you for prescription drugs. He or she can often choose an alternative that costs less. For example many trade name drugs have generic equivalents. A generic drug is the same medicine without the trade name. Generic drugs are available for most medications after patent protection for the original drug expires. Medications that are sold as a combination of two drugs commonly cost more than if you buy the medications separately. Talk to your doctor and say that cost is an issue and that you need help to reduce drug costs.

Shop Pharmacies

If you prescription drugs are too expensive shop around from pharmacy to pharmacy and tell the pharmacist that you could be a regular customer but price is an issue. They may also suggest generic equivalents to what you are taking if you doctor has not done so. Tell your pharmacist that you need to reduce prescription drug costs.

Small Quantities First of All

If your doctor gives you a two month supply of a brand new and expensive drug ask the pharmacist to only fill enough for a few days. That way if you find that the medication does not agree with you the cost will be less.

Coupons and Discounts

The world of selling drugs is competitive. When someone offers discounts or coupons for a certain drug find out from your doctor if that drug is an appropriate substitute for what you are taking. You can find coupons online at sites like GoodRX.com.

High Volume, Low Cost

There are pharmacies online that make their profit from a small markup and high sales volume. The fact that they have no bricks and mortar stores helps keep their prices down. HealthWarehouse.com is an example. In this case, however, be aware that there fraudulent actors in this arena. Online pharmacies should display the VIPPS symbol which refers to a verified internet pharmacy practice site.

Do You Really Need All of Those Pills?

Some physicians tend to prescribe a new medication each time you have a new complaint. This sort of prescription drug accumulation can result in a lot of expense and it can result in side effects as drugs interact with each other. Periodically ask your doctor if you really need all of the pills that he prescribes. And do this when you ask for help in reducing prescription drug costs.

How to Prevent Zika Virus

If you are a professional golfer who was going to compete in the summer Olympics, how to prevent Zika virus is not to go to Brazil. According to ESPN one of the highest ranking golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy decided not to go to Brazil to compete in the Olympics because of fears of the Zika virus.

“After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” McIlroy said in a statement. “After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realize that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else.

“Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take.

The virus can be contracted from a mosquito bite in Brazil where the disease is rampant. It can then be spread by sexual contact. McIlroy and his wife want to have children. He is not willing to accept the low risk of getting the disease and then passing it on to his wife thus risking the birth of a child with microcephaly. How to prevent Zika virus is not only an issue for those going to Brazil for the Olympics as the virus has already spread to the USA.

Are Mosquito Repellants Enough Protection?

The Zika virus was discovered in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. It spread across the globe over the decades arriving in the Americas in Brazil in 2015. According to Reuters:

By 2016 cases have been reported in Suriname, Panama, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, Venezuela, French Guiana, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Ecuador, Barbados, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Curacao, Jamaica and the United States.

This is a disease primarily spread by mosquito bites. So, do mosquito repellants help prevent Zika virus? To the extent that your only risk of catching Zika is a mosquito bite please use insect repellants when you are in a region where the insect has been found. According to the CDC fact sheet on Zika the maps show mosquito distribution in the USA where Zika would be possible.

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Condoms to Prevent Zika Virus

Zika is also a sexually transmitted disease. If you think you are safe from Zika virus when you live in the Northern USA think again. Cleveland.com reported Ohio’s first sexually transmitted Zika case.

A 61-year-old Lucas County woman infected with Zika virus by her husband is the state’s first sexually-transmitted case of the mosquito-borne virus.

The woman’s husband traveled to a country with active Zika transmission, according to a release from the Ohio Department of Health. It’s the state’s 15th travel-associated case, and the woman’s husband’s case brings the state total to 16.

There are now 755 travel-associated Zika cases nationally, with another 12 cases acquired through sexual transmission, according to the CDC. No one in the U.S. has been infected with the virus locally through the bite of a mosquito.

In this case how to prevent Zika virus would have been to use insect repellant when traveling to an endemic area and condoms when coming home!

What to Do When the IRS Calls You

There is a new scam in the Wilmington, Delaware area according to WillingtonBiz.com. Hackers posing as IRS agents are engaged in identity theft.

The latest scam affecting the Wilmington area involves hackers calling residential phone numbers, impersonating IRS agents. In the automated call, a robotic voice issues the following voicemail: “This is an alert to notify you that the IRS has filed a lawsuit against you. Please call (719) 217-4004 for more information.”

When the confused and alarmed person returns the call to find out what is going on, the criminal at the other end of the line initiates a conversation aimed at building credibility. By sharing information that is either publicly available or that has been compromised as a result of a data breach from a different organization, the hacker establishes trust with the target of the scam.

The fact of the matter is that the IRS will never contact you by way of an automated call or email. What to do when the IRS calls you is to hang up. If the IRS is interested in you and your taxes you will receive a registered letter. Furthermore the IRS will never ask you for a credit card number over the phone.

What to Do If the Hackers Call You

The IRS has information on their web site regarding this problem. Go to the IRS.gov site for information about continued scams.

The Internal Revenue Service today issued a warning that scammers may try using the April 18 tax deadline to prey on hard-working taxpayers by impersonating the IRS and others with fake phone calls and emails. Even after the tax deadline passes, taxpayers should know the telltale signs of a scam and tips to protect themselves from a variety of phone scams and phishing emails.

“We’ve seen continuing activity in these scams throughout the filing season,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “As the tax deadline nears, these criminals may try and trick honest taxpayers over the phone or via email, and people should remain vigilant. After the tax deadline, watch out for these scammers promising a refund or threatening you with an unexpected tax bill.”

If you believe that you have been targeted by hackers and scammers send an email to phishing@irs.gov. You can also send complaints to Complaints@tigta.treasury.gov. But whether you complain or not do not provide these people with any personal identifying information.

Identity Theft

The goal of these scammers is your personal financial information. Identity theft has become a common crime in our electronic age. In our article Who Is Stealing Your Identity were reported an FTC settlement regarding people who selling sensitive info.

A constant concern of consumers today is identity theft. We have written about identity theft protection and identity theft related to gift card fraud. Now a blatant new scam has come to light. LegalNewsline.com reports an FTC settlement with three parties who were selling sensitive consumer information.

The common thread in each of these cases is scammers looking for your credit card, banking or other personal info in order to commit financial crimes. What to do when the IRS calls is hang up because it never is the IRS calling.

Do You Read Food Labels?

Do you read food labels? If you read the new labels that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires you may be surprised. Changes in food labeling require more information for the consumer and presented more clearly according to the Chicago Tribune.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Food and Drug Administration announced major changes to food labeling that could have a significant impact on what people eat and drink – or at least how often certain products are consumed.

For example, you might still enjoy that ice cold Coca-Cola, but you could decide it’s more for special occasions when you see that a 20-ounce bottle contains 65 grams of added sugar that represent 130 percent of daily value. Daily value is how much a given nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet.

Most food manufacturers have until July 26, 2018, to roll out the new labels.

If you read the new labels on food and beverages you will see how much sugar is added to the natural product such as with fruit juices or milk. Labels will show serving size, calories and the proportion that given ingredients are in a normal healthy diet. And the print will be bigger allowing everyone to read the label without a magnifying glass.

Clearly Identifying What a Product Really Is

Additional FDA rules include naming ingredients accurately. One example is evaporated cane juice. Sugar cane is one of the sources of sugar. Evaporated cane juice is, in fact, sugar. The FDA is identifying products like this and encouraging companies to provide accurate labeling, in this case sugar instead of evaporated cane juice.

Why Is This Important?

Organizations like the American Diabetes Association are happy with the changes as they will make for diabetics and people at risk for diabetes to have accurate information in order to adjust their diets. Did you know, for example, that the 65 grams of extra sugar added to a bottle of Coca Cola constitute 130 percent of daily value? For the average person this just contributes to obesity but for a diabetic too much sugar can be life threatening.

How Much Fat Is in Your Potato Chips?

Don’t you just love those tasty potato chips? What you are enjoying is a vehicle for delivering salt and fat. Livestrong.com writes about the types of fat found in potato chips.

Potato chips are made from either thinly sliced potatoes that are deep-fat fried or dried potatoes that are processed into chips, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Potato chips can be cooked in a variety of fats. The most common types are sunflower, corn and cottonseed oils.

The cheapest oil is typically cottonseed oil which is high in saturated fats and can raise your cholesterol. This oil also commonly has measurable to high pesticide levels. When the label says “may contain one of more of” cottonseed oil is typically the largest part. New labeling will hopefully make it more clear just what kind of oil is in your chips. And how about all that salt? Too much salt raises your blood pressure and worsens existing heart failure. Do you read food labels? You should.

How Can We Prevent Food Waste?

When my daughter and her husband moved a couple of years ago they spent the last two weeks before the move eating all of the leftovers in the refrigerator and canned goods in the cupboard. They simply wanted to move fewer things from one home to the next. But they also prevented food waste because the alternative would have been to throw things into the garbage as the moving van drove away. This little story brings to mind the question. How can we prevent food waste? The Huffington Post writes about reducing food waste in America.

Food waste is a national epidemic. Approximately 40 percent of food in the U.S. gets tossed out. It’s is also an environmental issue: more than 97 percent of food waste ends up in landfills – 33 million tons of food each year. Food waste is a pocketbook problem, a poverty, hunger, and health problem.

Picture your fridge at home. What goes in after a trip to the grocery store, and then what goes straight to the garbage disposal, trash can, or-in the best case-the compost bin. Although my family has tried to reduce food waste, we are all guilty of letting perfectly good food spoil. In the United States, an average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1,500, uneaten each year, according to the USDA.

A bit of good news is that Starbucks has announced that rather than throwing out unused food items they will send unsold but still edible food stuffs to local food shelves. The company estimated that this effort could as many as 50 million meals by the time they reach a 100% donation rate.

Cheap Food but Full Garbage Cans and Empty Stomachs

Americans spend about six percent of their household budget on the average on food. This is down from around twelve percent as recently as 1982. Unfortunately even as cheap as food is about one in seven Americans do not have enough to eat while the average household throws out 40% of their food.

Doggy Bags Are Still OK

Restaurants as a rule do not encourage their customers to take uneaten food home with them. The so-called doggy bad is still OK. Ask for one.

Where Is the Nearest Food Shelf?

Starbucks is not the only one that can take unused but edible food to the neighborhood food shelf. FeedingAmerica.org helps you find your local food bank.

The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks secures and distributes more than 3 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs throughout the United States and leads the nation to engage in the fight against hunger. Contact your local community food bank to find food or click here to read about public assistance programs.

Visit this site and search for the nearest food shelf so you can help prevent food waste. In the meantime think before you shop. Buy what you need. Learn to save leftovers and create meals with them. On another family note my brother once noted that our Mother who started raising a family in the Depression Era created so many leftover means that it was hard to recall when the original meal was!

Is There Arsenic in Your Baby’s Food?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just published a disturbing notice entitled For Consumers: Seven Things Pregnant Women and Parents Need to Know About Arsenic in Rice and Rice Cereal. It turns out the FDA has been measuring the amount of arsenic in rice and especially rice cereal for babies. Here is a snapshot of what they say.

You may be surprised to learn that there is arsenic in rice.

In fact, rice is not the only food or beverage that contains arsenic. It’s also found in vegetables, fruits, and many other foods. The FDA has been monitoring the presence of arsenic in food as part of its ongoing oversight of the safety of the food supply. And now we’ve looked at arsenic in infant rice cereal.

Arsenic is an element in the Earth’s crust and is present in very small amounts in water, soil and air. Crops absorb arsenic as they grow. That’s how it gets into foods and beverages – it’s not an additive or ingredient -and it cannot be completely eliminated.

There are two forms of arsenic, organic and inorganic, with inorganic being the more toxic. The term “organic” in this case has nothing to do with types of farming. It’s about chemical elements. If arsenic atoms bond with carbon, the compound is organic. If there’s no carbon present, it’s inorganic.

Rice absorbs arsenic more readily than many other plants. It turns out that the problems for babies are (1) if all they are eating is rice cereal and (2) if that rice cereal has high levels of arsenic. The FDA has been measuring arsenic levels in rice testing more than a thousand samples of rice and rice products. And the FDA looked at infant rice formulas because infants eat three times as much rice per body weight as adults.

Why Is Arsenic Bad?

GreenFacts.org reports the effects of arsenic on human health.

If a large amount of arsenic is swallowed by humans, in a form that is readily absorbed, it can cause rapid poisoning and death. The gut, the heart and the nervous system are affected. Those who survive acute poisoning may develop pigment spots in the skin and damage to red blood cells, bone marrow (where blood cells are made), liver, nerves and brain. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause thickening and pigment spots in the skin, and cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder or kidney. Exposure in the workplace – mainly via the air breathed in – can cause lung cancer.

This is a poisonous substance if the amount you ingest or breathe in is too high. However, arsenic is in many foods but at very low levels. How much is still OK?

Acceptable Amounts of Arsenic and How to Obtain Them

Back to the FDA. The FDA is issuing guidance for those who make and sell infant rice cereal. The acceptable amount will be 100 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in rice cereal. FDA testing so far shows that 47% of products fall within this limit and 78% fall below 110 parts per billion. While the FDA is setting standards and policing this matter what can you do?

Rice Is Not the Only Food for Infants and Pregnant Mothers

The FDA has suggestions consistent with the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Feed your baby iron-fortified cereals to be sure she or he is receiving enough of this important nutrient.

Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for your baby, but it shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source. Other fortified infant cereals include oat, barley and multigrain.

For toddlers, provide a well-balanced diet, which includes a variety of grains.

Consumers can certainly eat rice as part of a well-balanced diet. Based on our scientific assessment, we think it would be prudent for parents and caregivers to feed their infants a variety of fortified infant cereals, rather than to rely solely on infant rice cereal. We also encourage pregnant women to eat a variety of foods, including varied grains.

Until the potential arsenic levels in rice and rice cereal dealt with feed your infant a balanced diet of several different grains and not just rice.

Do You Need Help with the Down Payment?

Do you need help with the down payment on a new home? You can get mortgages with little or no down payment but the mortgage insurance and high interest rates will make it virtually impossible to keep up with payments. ABC 33 40 in Alabama has a few suggestions on how you can get help getting a down payment.

Millennials are becoming a major force in the housing market. According to a Consumer Reports’ survey, almost three-quarters of Americans between 18 and 34 say they’d like to buy their own home. But high rental costs and student debt make it difficult to save for a down payment.

It’s best to put 20 percent down, so you can avoid costly mortgage insurance and trim your monthly payments. Consumer Reports says there are resources to help people get low- and zero-interest loans to help with up-front costs. These programs are intended to bring people into the housing market who really have the basics in place. They just need a little extra something to get them into housing.

What are some the resources that you can bring to bear if you need help with a down payment?

HomeReady

HomeReady is a service of Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association).

HomeReady® is designed to help lenders confidently serve today’s market of creditworthy, low- to moderate-income borrowers, with expanded eligibility for financing homes in designated low-income, minority, and disaster-impacted communities.

Fannie Mae says that this program can provide up to 97% financing on a home. And with HomeReady you can sublet to roommates and tenants and report the rent as income which will help with a better down payment requirement and interest rate.

Money from Mom and Dad

It is not uncommon for parents to contribute to the purchase of a home for their children. However, mom and dad should be aware of any tax consequences of gifts in this regard. The IRS answers frequently asked questions on gift taxes.

Gift taxes are pay by the giver and the current limit is $14,000 before a gift is taxed. Both mom and dad can give $14,000 which amounts to $28,000 total. Of course your folks can always contribute more to a down payment but they need to be aware of the tax consequences.

Best Credit Possible

We live in a world where more often than not your credit is more important than how much you have in the bank. We wrote recently about How to Get a Great Credit Score.

You need to use credit to get credit but you do not have to go into debt. This is about how to get a great credit score without carrying any debt or paying any interest. According to an article in Forbes you can do this without borrowing money.

One of the biggest credit score myths is that having an excellent credit score requires going into debt. For example, Dave Ramsey’s website says that “The only way to have a good credit score is to go into debt, stay in debt, and continually pay your accounts perfectly-without adding too much debt or paying too much off. In other words, stay in debt for as long as you can.” That advice makes it sound like you have to borrow money and pay interest in order to have a good credit score, and that is simply not true.

The author goes on to say that if you routinely use your credit card and always pay the balance in full every month you can get a great credit score in a short period of time and never carry any debt. So long as you pay your credit card balance every month before the due date you will never pay any interest.

If you need help with the down payment or more when buying a home make sure to get good advice and think things through before signing the papers. There are good deals when you buy a home and there are bad deals as all too many people found out when the housing market bubble began to collapse in 2008.


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