News 4 Investigates spotlights food safety

How do you decide what's best for your family?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – When it comes to the food we eat there are lots of choices for consumers. “I’ll pay a little more but I know what I’m eating,” said Matty Nowinski, a shopper.

But how do you decide what’s best for you and your family?

Shopper Eugene Thomas Partridge, said, “We like the added health benefits.” And how do you know whether one food is healthier over another? “You never really know what you’re getting. So just stay in the middle,” said shopper Angela James.

So many choices. So many questions.

News 4 has put a spotlight on food safety and the hot issues in food today from the rising tide of imports to organics and foods that contain genetically modified organisms to hormones in beef and milk. The series, Your Food: What Do You Really Know gets answers to the myriad of questions facing shoppers.

Like eggs. Our choices used to be brown or white, large or small. Now there’s cage-free, free range, organic and grass-fed, just to name a few.

Does that mean the white conventional egg isn’t feeling the love anymore? “There’s no reason at all to shun conventional eggs,” said Kurt Kreher, a partner in Kreher’s Farm Fresh Eggs in Clarence.

And don’t think for a minute consumers are not looking at prices. “It’s more expensive to buy things that are healthier for you, and I just think that’s disgusting,” said Corrinne Greene while doing her food shopping.

All during November, News 4 Investigates will spotlight food safety, where your food comes from and how it’s grown and raised.

Shopper Carol Delano has a preference. “I like homegrown,” she said.

We’ll take a trip down the food aisle and sort through the maze of labels and claims. What does it all mean for consumers?

“I’m 38 years old and I haven’t gotten sick from things I’ve eaten,” explained Randy Hutton.

News 4 Investigates has been on the road traveling across the region, and digging for answers to some of your most pressing food safety concerns.

“I don’t want pesticides on my food and I don’t want hormones in my meat,” said Michelle King-Moore.

In southern Erie County, Dan Roelofs, of Arden Farm described the role of organic growers. “Certainly organic grown vegetables have been shown to be more nutritious,” he said.

And while they’re generally priced higher, are they worth it?

Richard Dorr, owner of Niagara County Produce at Transit Road and Millersport Highway in Clarence, has his own opinion.

“To me it’s phony,” he said. “They can buy the regular produce that looks better and holds up better, and is fresh because it’s local farmers.”

Like it or not, the organic market is growing. Wegmans is trying to keep pace with demand by experimenting and growing on its own organic farm in Canandaigua.

Is it possible to grow fresh vegetables year round in this climate?

“It’s all about what the customer wants and we’re going to make sure we take care of their needs,” said Eben Kennedy, Produce Group Manager for Wegmans.

In Niagara County conventional growers like Jim Bittner of Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton supply local stores with a steady supply of seasonal produce.

“What’s more important to people today than organic is local and knowing who the grower is,” he said.

Chautauqua County is home to a producer of grass fed ‘natural’ beef.

“We’re raising beef that we would feed our families,” said Susan Egan of Hanova Hills Farm in Forestville.

The meat is processed about an hour away in a plant where inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture watch before approving meat for the all too familiar USDA stamp of approval.

“They come in white suits and they go over, check for everything,” said Percy McDonald, owner of McDonald’s Meats in Girard, Pennsylvania.

Our search for answers took us to the Ivy League grounds of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. We’ll explore the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

“It sounds unnerving, right? Someone’s genetically engineering what you’re eating,” said Margaret Smith, professor of plant breeding and genetics.

From GMOs to irradiated beef, we’re asking the questions.

“People have been eating irradiated food for a long time and they probably don’t even know it,” said Robert Ralyea, a senior extension associate at Cornell University.

Plus, we’ll peel back and examine the science surrounding pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables. Is it harmful to people?

“People have looked at this for 50 years, said Marvin Pritts, a plant science researcher at Cornell University.

We’re also asking about product research being done at agricultural colleges across the country. Who’s paying for it?

“There should be a lot more disclosure from the schools,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch.

And as more food is being imported into the United States only a fraction is getting physically inspected at the border.

“We’ll never have 100-percent certainty that everything is safe. There will always be a risk,” said Robert Gravani, professor of Food Science at Cornell University.

Our month long examination of food will shine the light on some tricky choices for consumers.

Such as buying fish.

“They want to know where it’s coming from. ‘When it was caught? How it was caught? How did it get here?’,” said Kelly Schoeneck, Vice President of Meat and Seafood Merchandising for Wegmans.

And let’s not forget China and its long list of filthy food scandals.

“I’m leery of just about any food from China. There’s virtually no protection,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York).

Yet, U.S. government regulators have given the green light to chickens processed in China with no way for you to identify it.

“I don’t think the level of inspection and requirements there are stringent as ours,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

From growth hormones to antibiotics, from organic to conventional, from farm raised to wild caught fish, from domestically produced to imported. From the farm fields to your dinner table; News 4 Investigates has you covered the entire month of November.

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