This summer I had the honor of being interviewed by journalist Alice Stockton-Rossini for a story she was doing on GMOs. It is interesting to listen to the divergent and - I think - misguided, points of view of the Biotech Trade Association representative, as well as a farmer who uses GMO seeds. It's a mistake to close your ears to what others are saying. Please take a listen: http://www.wbgo.org/journal
Response to “Genetically Modified Foods: What They Are and A Look At The Debate” (AP - May 13, 2014)
While it’s true that genetically engineered ingredients have been present in the foods Americans have eaten for years - since the early 1990’s, in fact - to compare the process to selective breeding is incorrect, and just what the biotechnology corporations want consumers to believe. Genetic engineering is a process that cannot occur by itself in nature, it is always done in a laboratory, it is not necessarily a precise procedure and, most importantly, it does not combine the genes of the same species together. The articles’ author compares the breeding of a docile dog with the process of genetic engineering (aka GMOs), however nothing could be further off-base! A cock-a-poo, for example, is bred from a poodle and a cocker spaniel, two like species. When a plant is genetically engineered, in a lab, it is usually with the genes from another species altogether, often with the vehicle for the genetic modification being a virus or bacteria used to “infect” the plant. Clearly not the same thing at all.
There are many foods besides the usual culprits (soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets) that consumers need to be aware of when it comes to GMOs. Here are some examples:
Sweet Corn: Originally most genetically engineered corn was utilized for animal feed, however since 2011 roughly 40% of the sweet corn planted in the U.S. is genetically engineered, a very quiet but marked increase. This includes the corn you might find at supermarkets, farmers’ markets and farm stands. If it isn’t organic or labeled GMO-free, be aware.
Meat. Chicken and Fish: While it’s true that there aren’t any genetically engineered meats or fish on the market, if you aren’t eating 100% grass-fed (beware of grain finished) or 100% organic meat, you’re likely eating GMOs. This is because the animals themselves eat GMO feed. And what the animals eat is passed along the food chain.
Dairy Products: rBGH, or bovine growth hormone, can still be found in many dairy products - such as ice cream, cheese, butter - unless the package is clearly marked “No rBGH.” This, too, is a genetically modified product.
Food allergies occur when the body has a reaction to a novel protein that it doesn’t recognize. Did you know that 89% of GM soy in the U.S. contains foreign genes from bacteria and petunias? With the incidence of food allergies skyrocketing - coincidentally since around the time GMOs started to appear in our food supply - one would think the FDA would step up to the plate to review their policies. At the very least, Americans deserve the long-term testing and research to know the food they eat is safe. The FDA has its own, outdated, agenda when it comes to GMOs. There is a term they use - “G.R.A.S.” or Generally Regarded As Safe - whereas they rely on the research supplied by the producing corporation verifying the safety of a product. This decision has stood since 1992 when it comes to GMOs.
There is a large and increasingly vocal portion of the country that believes genetically engineered foods need to be labeled as such. In the interim, the pro-active “Non-GMO” label has sprung up and it is thriving. With 66% growth in 2012, it is the fastest growing label in the natural food sector, with no signs of abating. While a mere two years ago GMOs were a mere whisper, now you can hear about the issue loud and clear. The challenge is getting the concise information out there to the public. In the meanwhile statewide initiatives to label foods as containing GMOs, here in New Jersey and in over half the other states in the U.S., are moving forward and they will not stop until the job is done.
Author of the Upcoming GMOs: What You Need To Know
May 21, 2014
Actually, a case can be made that they do.
In a February 27 article, Fox News highlights a new study from the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability about staple crop production in the United States midwest. With keywords such as agrobiodiversity, genetic modification, intellectual property and crops, it doesn't take too long to figure out that what we're taking about here are acres of corn and soybeans being subsidized by the Federal government in the American heartland.
Despite other pressing issues that genetically engineered crops bring to the table that are not the topic of this blog post - such as mass spraying of pesticides, mono-cropping and mandatory labeling, to name just a few - the fact that corn and soy are heavily subsidized by the government, and are then used as ingredients in the overwhelming majority of processed foods that we eat absolutely does serve as a contributing factor to the scourge of obesity in this country.
With 88% of the corn in this country genetically modified to either withstand the mass-spraying of pesticides such as glyphosate (Roundup), or contain the pesticide Bt in its DNA, if you eat processed food, or anything with corn syrup, chances are overwhelming that you're eating GMOs. Consider the following quote about high fructose corn syrup from my upcoming book, GMOs: What You Need To Know, to be published later this year:
"This substance has been linked to the scourges of obesity and type 2 diabetes that plague our society.(4) Shockingly, according to the USDA website outlining the myriad usages for corn, “(g)overnment programs have been instrumental in the development of...HFCS.”(5) All for the expansion of the American corn market."
Furthermore, if you
"...eat processed foods, like cookies, cakes or ice cream...Read the label: if it’s not an organic product, and if it contains corn starch (modified food starch), corn flour, corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), you can almost assume that it was made with genetically engineered corn." (Copyright © 2014 Michele Jacobson, CCN. All rights reserved.)
Can GMOs contribute to weight gain? Since studies show that high fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, and high fructose corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn - horrifyingly, subsidized by the government - then, yes, I would say they can.
Fox News, I would say you got my attention this time. Now, back to writing that book. Stay tuned!
The best part about this marketing ploy is that little children will be able to read the letters
G-M-O on the cereal box and ask their parents what they mean. Perhaps General Mills has shot themselves in the foot after all.
Otherwise, it's meaningless.
According to the the General Mill's Cheerios website, Cheerios does not contain any genetically modified ingredients. The primary ingredient in original Cheerios is oats, which is not a genetically modified crop. In addition Cheerios contains small amounts of sugar and corn starch, both of which could be GMO, but in this case, says General Mills, are not. Good for them. So what has changed here, except for the fact that they are now advertising this information?
- They are not getting certified in any way by a third party verification system, such as the NON-GMO Project.
- They freely state that it is possible that the original Cheerios may contain trace amounts of GMOs.
- They are not changing the ingredients - full of GMOs - of any of the other eleven varieties of Cheerios, i.e. Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, etc.
Please also take note on the Cheerios website (link below) that they refer to their belief in the "safety of biotech crops." Does this statement make you have a deep trust for this corporation and their commitment to a world without genetically modified foods?
When General Mills makes a real change and not a savvy advertising pseudo-labeling ploy, I will be impressed. For now, I would love to see them slap the letters G-M-O on their box in any way, shape or form and let those children ask for an answer.
I'd be happy to explain*.
*Sure, it's a great idea to explain GMOs to your kids! Also explain to them that a cereal without GMO ingredients is fine to eat, but make sure to avoid the other eleven varieties of Cheerios. Then perhaps we'll see some real change!
The Cheerios website link: http://cheerios.com/en/Articles/cheerios-and-gmos
You guessed it: biotech is at it again. As the FDA has begun its crack down on trans-fats in America (finally), biotech has announced that it now has a genetically modified soybean that contains oil which mimics the traits of olive oil.
(See NY Times article In a Bean, a Boon to Biotech)
Even beyond GMOs, I have so many issues with this that I don't know where to begin. Let's start with the following quote from the article:
“Monsanto’s beans have a second genetic modification that lowers the level of saturated fats, which are also bad for health.”
First of all, saturated fats are NOT bad for your health, trans-fats are. Saturated fats are natural fats, which your body knows how to assimilate and process. It is an outdated American myth that saturated fats are bad for your health.
Second of all, for Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer to be tampering with the genetic make-up of a whole food such as the soybean in this way is horrifying. Soybean are a major protein source for much of the world, and for vegetarians in particular.
The new GMO soybeans are allegedly to benefit the consumer, as opposed to farmers, as the inherent oil will be "longer-lasting, potentially healthier and free of trans fats." Furthermore, the article states, "It almost mirrors olive oil in terms of the composition of fatty acids."
Wow. Don't throw out your olive oil yet, folks. While I personally don't reach for soybean oil as my cooking or consumption oil of choice, soybean oil in and of itself doesn't contain any trans-fats to begin with. It is only once it goes through the hydrogenation (or partial hydrogenation) process, which is done to increase shelf life in processed foods, that trans-fats are created. This is clearly a move on the part of biotech to capitalize on the FDA's oncoming ban on trans-fats! It's also savvy marketing to use olive oil - the king of healthy oils - as a comparative for health benefits.
The article also states that the new GMO soybean oil will be marketed to restaurants. If restaurants adopt this new GMO oil, then consumers will never even know that they’re eating it! I can see the proud advertising by-line now: “All our frying is done with trans-fat free oils!”
Clever or cunning? You be the judge.
Wegmans' Supermarkets has announced a new line of meatless alternatives: Don't Be A Piggy, Don't Have A Cow, and Don't Be Chicken; mock sausage, beef and chicken, respectively, obviously. Personally I find the names a bit...offensive..however I'm all for a healthy meat substitute. I wondered what they were made of, doubting they were non-GMO. What a surprise: their website clearly states that the "soy is not genetically modified," but the complete ingredient list is not posted. I'd like to know if this is preying on the publics' misconception that only soy is potentially a GMO, or if Wegmans is the real deal and has truly created a product - while maybe not organic - is really GMO free.
Below is the product blurb from the Wegman's website, clearly stating that the soy is non-GMO "for those concerned." But, hey - I'm concerned about other GMO ingredients, too! It turns out I had cause to be.
So I drafted Wegman's the following letter, in good faith:
"As a nutritionist and GMO labeling advocate for NOFA-New Jersey, I am concerned about the presence of GMOs, especially in soy. Can you provide me with an ingredient list for your new line of meatless alternatives: Don't Be a Piggy, Don't Be Chicken and Don't Have A Cow? Your website states they are made from GMO-free soy, but I am wondering if they have any corn, etc. in the ingredients, and if this, too, is GMO. I hope so, for it seems a terrific product!"
Let's see what, if any, response I receive. For now I would be wary of this product.
First update: Within minutes of putting this blog post on Twitter, I received a response from Wegman's (via Twitter). It said:
The link was to their website which provided some information on their stance on GMOs and GMO labeling. It said the following:
"Our Position on GMO Labeling
For those who are especially concerned about purchasing non-GMO products, labeling is already in place – just look for Certified Organic products (example A; example B used on seafood). This is your guarantee that the products weren’t grown from GMO seeds or produced with any GMO ingredients. Organic options are now available in every product category, and for ease of shopping, we bring many of them together in our Nature’s Marketplace department. We also operate our own organic farm and partner with local growers on some of the growing methods we have adopted at the farm.
You’ll seldom find GMOs in the Produce Department. However, a few of our local growers select genetically engineered green squash and sweet corn to help resist insects.
We support transparency in labeling. We also understand that some consumers want to know if a product contains GMOs. But in order to label a product as GMO-free, you’d need testing and tracking of ingredients along the entire supply chain, which is costly, or development of reliable testing for highly processed ingredients, like corn syrup. (Corn syrup, soybean, canola, and corn oil are four of the most common ingredients made from GE crops.) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization all have stated that these products are safe for consumption."
While I appreciate Wegmans broaching the topic on their website and making some attempt to inform their consumers, this statement seems a bit slippery to me. The FDA is increasingly being challenged on its outdated position that GMOs are considered "safe." In addition, more transparency on Wegman's part regarding the snowballing GMO labeling movement in the U.S. would have made them more proactive and progressive.
11/18/2013 - Second update:
While I have yet to receive a reply from Wegman's, I did go to their store to do some investigating. Here's the ingredient list from the back of "Don't Be Chicken."
Here is a typical example of a corporation preying on the consumers' lack of education!
WHY WOULD WEGMAN'S MAKE A POINT OF ADVERTISING THAT THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS NON-GMO SOY WHEN IT ALSO CONTAINS CONVENTIONAL CANOLA OIL? (One of the top 5 GMO products!) THEY ARE CLEARLY TRYING TO PASS THIS OFF AS A GMO-FREE PRODUCT!
Also take note of the Organic Cane Sugar; a quality ingredient, yes, but one- along with the Non-GMO soy - that misleads the consumer into believing that this product is Non-GMO. Wegman's, I would like to see you come clean on this issue. While it's true that you never state that this product is Non-GMO, the information you put forth is clearly misleading to the consumer.
To the consumer, your best defense is to be informed! The top 5 GMO crops are: corn, canola, soy, sugar beets and cotton (i.e. cottonseed oil). You can avoid GMOs by purchasing 100% certified organic foods and/or products that are labeled Non-GMO. To educate yourself further on this topic, start with my article: 5 Things You Need To Know About GMOs Right Now!
Last night I read the Scientific American article (Are Engineered Foods Evil?, by David H. Freedman), including the editorial (Science Agenda, by "the Editors") at the front of the publication. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a print copy of the magazine.
I was prepared for the stance of Freedman's article, as most tech or scientific articles will be PRO-biotech. What really surprised me was how discombobulated it was. The author shunned Seralini and his research on rats and tumors caused by GMOs, then later in the article seemed to give him some credit. Freedman compares "selective cross-breeding" with "DNA-insertion" as if they are the same thing, with DNA-insertion merely being a neater process. Cross-breeding and DNA-insertion are absolutely NOT the same thing, and the author makes no attempt to explain the differences. This is a sloppy and confusing article.
Freedman claims that third world countries refuse genetically engineered crops and blindly follow Europe's path of "No-GMO's" -- how about a more in-depth look at why Europe has decided they do not want genetically engineered foods? Compared to the U.S., Europe has been the voice of sanity in a world gone mad with genetic engineering.
But, truly, this article was unresearched. It is widely known that the FDA does NOT test the safety of GE foods; it relies on the biotech industries' own testing or outsourcing. Furthermore, I would like to see Freedmans' research on the decreased amount of pesticide usage due to GMOs; it's the first time I've heard mention of that. This article seems unsubstantiated. I've done a great deal of research on the topic. Truly, I'd like to see Mr. Freedman's.
In conclusion, I think it is of the utmost importance to continue with the quest for public GMO education and mandatory labeling. If we - and pro-active organizations in lieu of the federal government - do not continue to do the work that we are doing, the public will continue to be unaware of what they are eating. Actually, it isn't merely what is IN the food we eat at this point, it is how our food has been tampered with at the genetic level. I, for one, believe this is a terrible thing. I believe it is our RIGHT to know precisely what we are eating, I think food should come from the earth and not a laboratory, and I think we should be told if it is otherwise. At that point, individuals are free to make their own decisions about what they take into their bodies.
Click this link to read: "5 Things You Need To Know About GMOs Right Now!"
The fact that the Biotech Industry Trade Association has taken a public stance is very significant; it means that they have realized they have to "fight back" against a movement that now has significant momentum! With over half of the states considering legislation to label GMOs - an amazing acceleration of events! - Monsanto and friends indeed has their PR work cut out for them.
Here is an abbreviated version of the article, which appeared in the NY Times, for anyone who missed it:
Seeking Support, Biotech Food Companies Pledge Transparency
"With pressure growing to label genetically modified foods, the developers of biotechnology crops are starting a campaign to gain support for their products by promising new openness.
The centerpiece of the effort is a Web site that is expected to go into operation on Monday to answer virtually any question posed by consumers about genetically engineered crops. The site, GMOAnswers.com, is also expected to include safety data about the crops similar to that submitted to regulatory agencies.
“We have not done a very good job communicating about G.M.O.’s,” or genetically modified organisms, said Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, which will run the site. “We want to get into the conversation.”
The council’s members include Monsanto and five other big crop biotechnology and agricultural chemical companies — Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and BASF.
While there has been opposition to genetically engineered crops since they were introduced in the 1990s, the Internet has allowed critical voices to be heard more loudly. Hundreds of thousands of people in cities around the world marched in protest of Monsanto in May, an outpouring organized largely through social media.
In the United States, numerous states are considering legislation that would require foods made from genetically engineered corn, soybeans or other crops to be labeled. Connecticut recently enacted such legislation, and a similar bill in Maine is awaiting the governor’s signature. In both bills, the labeling requirement would not take effect until several other states have enacted similar mandates.
Biotechnology industry executives say that such labels would scare consumers away from genetically engineered foods by implying that the foods are somehow different or less safe.
Most of the corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets grown in the United States contain bacterial genes that make the crops resistant to an herbicide or to insects or to both. The Food and Drug Administration has said that genetic engineering per se does not make foods materially different in a manner that would require a label.
While Ms. Enright said the new Web site was not aimed specifically at opposing labeling, the industry was apparently hoping more transparency would ease concerns about the crops’ safety that underlie some of the demand for labeling.
Ms. Enright, who is also executive vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group, said the site would answer virtually any question. The answers will be provided either by biotechnology company employees or by outside scientists, nutritionists, farmers or other experts.
The site is also expected to make public information, like studies on animals, that the companies have provided to regulators, information that until now has not been readily available in a single place.
“We have been accused of purposely hiding information,” Ms. Enright said. “We haven’t done that but now we will open the doors and provide information.”
Ms. Enright said the crop biotechnology companies would also start offering tours of their laboratories to the public.
Whether the new effort will have any effect remains to be seen. Critics are likely to dismiss anything written by industry employees or others on the site as propaganda. Some are also likely to question the adequacy of the safety information provided, especially if it contains summaries of studies but not the raw laboratory data.
“I’m a bit skeptical, but we’ll see what they put up there,” Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, which promotes organic food and is opposed to genetically engineered food, said on Sunday. “Hopefully, they’ll make it easier for independent researchers to do research on these crops if they’re interested in being transparent.”
Ms. Enright said one sign of the new openness was the use of the term G.M.O. in the Web site’s name. The industry has shunned that term in favor of genetically engineered crops, which it views as more precise and less pejorative.
“We have to go where the conversation is taking place,” she said. “At the state level and the federal level, folks are talking about G.M.O.’s. So we are, too.”
(A version of this article appeared in print on July 29, 2013, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: Seeking Support, Biotech Food Companies Pledge Transparency. By ANDREW POLLACKPublished: July 28, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/business/seeking-support-biotech-food-companies-pledge-transparency.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1375190135-IgNPzIg2Jxu2XWQiuV1Y2Q
As an advocate for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, it is concerning to me that so many people are still in the dark about GMOs and the harmful effects they have on both our health and the environment. This is despite the abundance of information now available to the general public on the topic.
Consumers stand in supermarket aisles, carefully scrutinizing packaging to discern the calorie count, the fat content, the “carbs,” the sodium, and even if a food is gluten-free (whether or not that’s even a true requirement for their health), yet most are complacent - or even oblivious - to the fact that approximately 75-85% of processed foods in the U.S. have been made from ingredients that that are genetically modified.
Corn, canola, sugar beets, soy, cotton: these crops and their by-products, which find their way into our foods as oils, fillers and substances such as corn syrup, are overwhelmingly genetically modified in the U.S.A. What this means is that, prior to even being planted, the DNA in the seeds of these crops has been spliced with DNA from other species, largely for the purpose of being resistant to the mass application of toxic herbicides and pesticides. There’s no way around it: if you buy these foods, you eat this altered DNA. It’s food created in a lab, not in nature.