Food in the News

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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Where did the flavor go?

Image New York Times June 2012

It looks so nice;  why doesn’t it taste better?
“Plant geneticists say they have discovered an answer to a near-universal question: Why are tomatoes usually so tasteless?”

This is the question posed by a recent New York Times article by Gina Kolata.

“The unexpected culprit is a gene mutation that occurred by chance and that was discovered by tomato breeders. It was deliberately bred into almost all tomatoes because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious scarlet when ripe.”

Why am I not surprised?
The selectively bred tomatoes described above were actually missing a gene, with the result that they ripened to a predictable, uniform red color.  The resulting genetic makeup was then breed into almost all commercially grown tomatoes for a very simple reason:  consumers prefer evenly red tomatoes.

However, in a recent paper published in the journal Science, researchers report that the same gene that is missing in the tomatoes that ripen up so nice also effect the  production of sugars and aromas that are very important for the tomatoes flavor.

“That mutation has been introduced into almost all modern tomatoes. Now we can say that in trying to make the fruit prettier, they reduced some of the important compounds that are linked to flavor.”


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Is our food too clean?

Image New York Times June 2012We are what we don’t eat?
In a recent New York Times article, Jeff D. Leach suggests that our increasing distance from the soil in which our food grows may be behind not only increasing rates of allergies and food sensitivities, but perhaps also increases in chronic diseases and in the severity of effects we experience from food born illnesses.  Mr. Leach, who is a science and archaeology writer and the founder of the Human Food Project, says the solution to these problems could be as simple as getting to know some old friends we have lost touch with over time:  the micro organisms that once covered our food. Continue reading


GMO Labels to be put to vote in California

Photo New York Times May 2012

GMOs are everywhere…at least in the USA
Although many people are not aware of it, almost all the processed food sold in the US contains Genetically Modified Organisms.  This according to an article by Amy Harmon and Andrew Pollack in the New York Times.  If that makes you nervous, it may (or may not) help to know that the USDA has said that GMO foods, such as soy beans, wheat, corn, tomatoes and alfalfa,  are safe for human consumption, saying that they are effectively identical from a health standpoint to their non-GMO cousins.

Not So Fast
At the same time, many scientists beg to differ, saying that there is not yet enough data to determine whether or not GMOs pose a health threat.  Continue reading

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Arsenic found in factory chickens

If you still need a  reason to switch to organic or no-chemical chickens, I recommend you read the April 5, 2012 New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof.  He sites two new studies, one from John Hopkins University and the other from the Arizona State University, that found evidence indicating that  factory poultry are routinely fed caffeine, banned antibiotics, the active ingredients of Benadryl and Tylenol and even arsenic.  These chemicals and many others were detected by researchers who tested feather meal  from factory raised chickens.  Although these chemicals were found in low levels, there is some fear that, since arsenic is a drug that tends to build up in the body over time, their presence in factory chickens may pose a health hazard

As comments at the end of the article point out, it is not only through their meat that chemicals fed to chickens can enter the human food chain.  The bi-products of factory chickens are routinely returned used in other areas of industrial farming.  Feather and bone meals are used in livestock and fish feed.  Chicken droppings are spread on fields as fertilizer and often end up in groundwater and rivers via run off.  It is easy to see how these chemicals can end up in our food and water.

Perhaps more horrifying than the impact on the food chain are the reasons why farm chickens are fed these chemicals.

Caffeine?  So that the chickens will not sleep but instead stay awake to eat and thereby grow faster.

Benadryl?  To calm down chickens stressed out by factory farm conditions (and maybe by all the caffeine).

Antibiotics?  Well consider the living conditions for chickens on a factory farm.

Arsenic?  To make chicken meat, which would otherwise be grey due to poor quality food, look pink.

Anyone for a chicken nugget?



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