Food in the News

GM Alfalfa was in the food supply before USDA approval

“A food-safety advocacy group demanded on Friday that the U.S. government investigate how a Washington state alfalfa crop became tainted with a genetically modified trait that was illegal when the seed was purchased.”
Reuter’s , September 27, 2013

According to a recent article in Reuters, a Washington State farmer has filed suit against Monsanto.  Seems that his 2011 crop of alfalfa was rejected by a Japanese purchaser after it tested positive for GM material.  The odd thing is that the alfalfa in question was grown with seeds purchased from Monsanto in 2010, before GM alfalfa was approved for sale by the USDA.

Is anyone surprised?



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Tomatoes engineered for flavor

NY Times 2013

A friend recently forwarded me this article by Kenneth Chang in the NY Times which discusses efforts by scientists at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation to built a better tasting tomato that can still be mass marketed.  In this case, the methods to be used are plain old selective breeding, backed up by high tech methods of assessing consumer reaction to changes in taste, with the goal of optimizing positive taste reaction.

It surely does qualify as news that scientists have finally begun to consider taste when they set to work to improve our food, not just industrial food goals like weight, color,  shelf life, resistance to bruising, and  tolerance to herbicides.

However, it does seem that science has failed to internalize the message of the “eat local” movement.  In this study, the goal is to find a tastier tomato that can still be “grown in large quantities, picked green and shipped long distances before being gassed with ethylene to ripen”.  And the methods used to study consumer preferences are uncomfortably similar to those used by junk food manufacturers to find the so called “bliss spot”, that perfect combination of chemical flavors that hooks consumers (for a really shocking insight into the process of junk food design, check out Michael Moss’ book “Salt Sugar Fat”).

The message that consumers are slowing beginning to learn is that foods grown with care and skill, without chemicald or pesticides, picked when ripe and eaten soon after, these foods taste best and are the most nutritious and healthy.

Until scientists learn this as well, consumer beware in the supermarket.

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Lets talk about GMOs

Please join us for a Conversation about


We at Cafe Presse and Le Pichet feel that it is very important to know what is in the foods we eat.  Therefore, Cafe Presse will be hosting two meetings to talk about the upcoming vote on Initial 522 which would require labeling of GMO foods.  Do you have all the information you need to make an informed decision?  Lets talk about it!

Where:  The back room at Café Presse 1117 12th Avenue Seattle, WA 98122

When:  Tuesday, June 18:  5:00 P.M. to 6:30 PM – Light apetizers and beverages will be provided.


Thursday, June 20: 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 AM – Pastries and coffee will be provided.

Come learn what GMOs are, what foods they are in,  why the labeling of genetically modified foods is important, and what you can do to help.

Suggested Donation $5.22
(all donations will be given to Yes on 522)

Space is limited.  RSVP to 206-709-7674

For more information call 206-709-7674 or visit or


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More bad news for bees

Photo New York Times 2013

It’s not easy to be a bee
The news on the bee front is going from bad to worse.  As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, bee populations throughout the world and particularly in Europe and North America, have been under pressure for the last decade.  Now come reports of more bad news.  New figures show that bee populations in the United States are declining at a faster rate than ever.   And at the same time, the European Union, under pressure from chemical manufacturers in France and Germany, failed to pass a 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which many researcher believe play a role in declining bee population.

Worse year ever?
In a recent article in the New York times, author Michael Wines notes that, although the official U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers will not be out until May, many beekeepers are reporting losses of between 40 and 50% of their hives in 2012.  This compares with losses of about 30% in 2011.  FDA bee research director Jeff Pettis said that he was confident that the May USDA report would show colony losses well in excess of the 2011 losses.

Bees can’t kick the habit
There are many theories as to what is killing the bees, everything from GMO corn syrup in sugar water used to feed commercial bee colonies, to electromagnetic fields generated by electronic devices like cell phones, to the increased use of herbicides made possible by herbicide-resistant GMO crops like Roundup Ready corn.

But many researcher feel that the most likely cause is a new class of pesticides derived from nicotine that are designed to be incorporated into every cell of the protected plant.  These pesticides, known as neonicotinoid or  systemic pesticides, were developed in the late ’80s and ’90s but have only come into widespread use since 2000 (the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world).  The unique characteristic of systemic pesticides that that they are not designed to kill pests immediately, but to build up in their system over time, distorting the DNA of pest insects so that not only the exposed insect, but also its offspring, are compromised.  For an in-depth report on the available scientific data linking neonicotinoid pesticides to bee mortality, check out this article in the Guardian UK.

Europe passes on ban
Last week, the European Union failed to pass a 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that was intended to give researcher a chance to study the effect on bee populations of the removal of these pesticides from the environment.  Representatives of nine European Union nations, led by France and Germany, voted against the ban.  Intense lobbying by European pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer is thought to have played a role in the decision.


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GM Foods in the Spotlight

Photo National Public Radio 2013

Its not easy being GM
Two recent articles, one featured on National Public Radio, and the second on New York Times Op-Ed page, both look at the trials and tribulations of the approval process for  new GM products.

In his piece for NPR, Dan Charles looks at the different motives behind the development of so-called Golden Rice, which is  genetically modified to have high levels of beta-carotene.  While Agra-business has always claimed the GM grains were intended to increase farm yields in countries that desperately need to feed their people, many activists claim that the real goal is to market highly profitable proprietary seeds and pesticides.

Emily Anthes’ New York Times opinion piece argues that FDA approval of GM animal breeds such as the Aqua Advantage salmon and the Enviropig have been held up for political reasons.  She claims that these new types of GM farm animals offer real environmental and economic advantages that consumers should welcome.

But why don’t they want us to know?
An interesting parallel runs through each of these articles:  In the first, the International Rice Research Institute that develop Golden Rice is now in hot water because a study that it backed in China to test its ability to supplement beta-carotene in children, failed to disclose to all the participants that it is a GM product.

And Emily Anthes glosses over the fact that  the corporations that develop products like the Aqua Advantage  salmon also spent a mountain of money to defeat the California GM labeling initiative.  One wonders why, if we accept the idea that these products offer a clear advantage to consumers and farmers alike, why Agra-business wants to prevent their being  labeled as such?

Just asking.

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Mislabeled fish rampant in the U.S.

New York Times 2013

According to a New York Times article by Kirk Johnson, a recently released study shows that the fish being served on tables across America is chronically mislabeled, either through error or through misrepresentation.

The study was conducted by Oceana, a non-profit ocean protection group,  who looked at seafood being sold in sushi bars, stores and restaurants in 12 regions around the country.  Fish was purchased during normal operations, and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Continue reading

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GMO Labeling on the move

NY Times February 2, 2013

Labeling of GMO foods to be on ballet:
Good news on the GMO Labeling front:  Washington State Initiative I-522, which would require labeling of foods that contain Genetically Modified material, has qualified enough signatures to be put to a vote.  According to the Seattle Times, The initiative will be part of the general election ballet in November 2013.  Although the Washington ballot measure has some shortcomings (it would not apply, for example, to livestock fed GMO feed, and would also sharply limit the ability to collect damages for mislabeling, according the the New York Times), it would represent a huge leap forward in the fight to know what our food contains.  It would also make Washington State the first state in the US enact such a measure.

After Prop 37, a changing tide?
A recent article in the New York Times details how agra-business and food processors may have lost by winning in their successful bid to defeat Prop 37, the proposed California GMO labeling law.   Both companies that make GMOs and food processors that use them in their products spent a combined total of more than $40 million to defeat Prop 37, but in doing so, brought a lot of negative publicity on themselves and propelled the issue into the national debate.  Besides Washington’s ballot initiative, legislative efforts to pass GMO labeling laws are now underway in Connecticut, Vermont, New Mexico and Missouri.  More and more it seems that the effort to suppress GMO Labeling laws will require a very expensive and ongoing commitment.

Changing consumer attitudes
As important as efforts to change laws, however,  may be the changing attitudes of consumers toward GMO labeling.  Many consumers of processed foods labeled “natural” learned for the first time last November in California that these products in some cases contain GMOs.  And the perception that food processors were attempting to hide product ingredients also alienated some consumers.  Now, according to the New York Times report, some food processors are asking themselves if the effort was worth the publicity black eye.

The 800# gorilla in the room
One wildcard in the discussion is retail giant Walmart.  Last summer, Walmart was on the recieveing end of consumer complaints  over its decision to sell GMO sweet corn developed by Monsanto.  Since then, Walmart has become a part of an industry group discussing consistent, nationwide labeling standards…clearly, Walmart is motivated to have one set of rules govering their stores throughout the US.  Many GMO Labeling advocates hope that, if Walmart gets behind labeling, their sheer size will basically make labeling of GMOs defacto law.


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Guns and Cheese

America Blog 2012

Interesting image from a recent post on Americablog.  No comment necessary.






I-522 for GMO Labeling in Washington State

California voters declined to approve labeling for foods containing GMOs on November 6, 2012.  But now Washingtonians have a chance to be at the forefront of the drive to know what ingredients our food contains.

Washington Initiative 522  if passed would establish mandatory labeling of food produced through genetic engineering.  Whether not they think that GMOs are harmful, polls show that the majority of people want to at least know if they are in their food.  Learn more about I522 by visiting the Label It Washington website.

You can sign I-522 to put GMO Labeling on the ballot in Washington State at Le Pichet or Cafe Presse.  The signature gathering period ends later this month, so don’t wait; sign now.

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Landmark Election for GMOs

New day for GM Foods?
As noted in an earlier post, November 6 will not only be a big day in Presidential politics but also a landmark day in the history of Genetically Modified or GM foods.   California’s Proposition 37 , if passed by voters, will  do what no legislative body has so far done in the U.S.:  require foods that contain GM ingredients to carry a label that says so.   Americans have been eating GM food for 18 years and for the first time, we may have the chance to know it in advance.

 National Impact
As Michael Pollan points out in a recent New York Times article, this is a decision that has the potential  “to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too”.

Continue reading

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