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08/14/2006 02:08 PM     print story email story      

Hospitals Finally Move Toward Organic Food

The tradition of serving low-grade, tasteless and nutritionally deficient food at hospitals is finally beginning to change.

More than 2,000 hospitals in the U.S. now have access to natural and organic foods, thanks to a deal between MedAssets, a leading group purchasing organization for the health care industry, and United Natural Food (Nasdaq: UNFI), the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor to the natural and organic foods industry.

The deal, which is the first contract between a major health care buyer and organic food distributor, reflects the growing demand in the health care industry for healthy food options. MedAssets purchased over $200 million worth of food and supplies for 2,400 hospitals in the U.S. in 2005.

Says Jamie Harvie, Healthy Food Coordinator for non-profit Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition working to reduce the environmental impact of the health care industry, "Hospitals are starting to recognize that how our food is produced and distributed affects the health of people and communities. Hospitals are demanding food that is not only more nutritious, but is also grown in ways that are better for the environment and equitable for farmers and farm workers."

To date, steps that hospitals have taken include: purchasing milk produced without bovine growth hormone, and poultry and meat produced without antibiotics; supporting local communities by hosting farmers' markets and sourcing local produce; and serving fair trade coffee, organic produce and locally grown foods.

Some examples of hospital programs:

* Catholic Healthcare West has an education program about the ecological impacts of the food system and is eliminate rBGH use in dairy.
* Kaiser Permanente: is creating guidelines for sustainable food sourcing that includes local, antibiotic/hormone-free meats and dairy, and serving fresh fruit for desert. It has farmer's markets at 25 of its medical facilities.
* Dominican Hospital (Santa Cruz, California) buys produce from a local organic farm and has a vegetable and flower garden on-site.
* Good Shepherd Medical Center (Hermiston, Oregon) has eliminated fat fryers, serves organic produce and rBGH-free milk, and is eliminating food additives. Instead of beef, the hospital serves naturally lean bison.
* St. Luke's Hospital (Duluth, Minnesota) serves only fair-trade coffee, rBGH-free milk, and wild salmon, and has a locally grown organic salad bar.

Facts relating healthy food to hospitals:

- Poor nutrition is a risk factor for four of the six leading causes of death in the U.S. - heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

- Nearly 40% of the nation's top health institutions have fast food franchises on their medical campuses

- Long-term, low-level pesticide exposure is linked to an array of chronic health problems including cancer, birth defects, neurological, reproductive and behavioral effects, and impaired immune function.

- An estimated 70% of all U.S. antibiotics are fed to swine, poultry and beef cattle - not to treat sick animals but to promote growth or to compensate for raising the animals under crowded conditions. This practice increases antibiotic resistant infections transmitted to people, mostly via contaminated food.

- Because of concerns to human health and animal welfare, rBGH - a hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production - has been banned in Canada, Australia and Western European countries.

- Typical food items now travel from 1,500 to 2,400 miles from farm to plate, contributing to global warming, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.


Green Guide for Health Care

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