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 It is an outdated American myth that saturated fats are bad for your health.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.
: Within minutes of putting this blog post on Twitter, I received a response from Wegman's (via Twitter). It said: "@HealthyAuthor Hello, this information may be of help to you... http://cot.ag/1aYq9qs"
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 LabelingFor 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.
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
, 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.
For the past eight years the honeybee population has mysteriously been dying off in what is referred to as CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder. Over 30% colony loss has been reported each year since 2006. GMO maize planted in the U.S. -- virtually all maize, or corn, seed is now GMO -- is coated with a compound which is highly toxic to the honeybee, and is believed by many to be responsible for CCD.
Results of this theory, however, are controversial.
Superbugs are bugs which have outsmarted the genetic engineering that was supposed to keep them away. In other words, they’ve mutated, much like a virus, and are now resistant to the pesticide that was genetically engineered into the plant or even sprayed on the crop. An example of this in the United States is the corn rootworm. In India, it’s the pink bollworm, which has plagued Bt cotton. So what do the farmers do? They spray more and stronger pesticides. One of these is clothiadin, which is toxic to honeybees, and which also has been shown to remain in soil for up to 19 years.
So think about how this all works together. Honeybees pollinate plants. According to the USDA, one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80% of that pollination. Not only are the poor honeybees being knocked off by CCD, but now, as a extended result of superbugs, they’re dealing with clothiadin. How are plants going to be pollinated if, as a consequence of GMOs, we end up exterminating the honeybees?
You can’t mess with Mother Nature.
Things have been happening so fast since January, I can barely keep up!
Vermont: On March 1st, Vermont passed bill H.112 to institute GMO labeling. A similar bill was passed last year, but it was stalled at the eleventh hour when attorneys for the Biotech Industry Trade Organization told Vermont that if the law passed they would sue. So, the state balked, and the 2012 bill died. But Vermont has rallied and is back for another go-round, which is significant. If this bill goes to law, of course the Biotech companies will sue. But on what grounds?
Surprisingly, this is a 1st Amendment issue. The biotech companies ask: Why are we being compelled to label without any cause? They say they are being treated unfairly under the constitution. Why should they have to say something that they don’t want to say when there’s no proof, backed by scientific fact, that anyone’s been harmed by GMOs?
However the argument for GMO labeling is that even though there is scientific uncertainty related to health risks stemming from GMOs, it's gone beyond mere consumer curiosity. And the bottom line is this: the public deserves to have the information on the label.
Washington State brings a different set of GMO issues to the table. Washington exports whole foods -- such as apples and salmon -- to foreign countries that require GMO labeling by law. Think of the Arctic Apple and genetically engineered AquaBounty Salmon, most unfortunately careening their way towards legality in the U.S.A. Foreign countries -- specifically Pacific Rim countries -- are suspicious of these foods. So it’s become pivotal to Washington state’s economy to have a labeling law. One-third of the apples grown in Washington state are exported.
Vermont and Washington state are only two examples; there are currently 30 states with GMO labeling legislation in the works or pending.
Nationwide, the arena has not been silent either.
OSGATA vs. Monsanto: Back in March, 2012, 60 family farms from New York State preemptively sued Monsanto. They did this because they were worried that pollen from GMO plants would drift onto their fields, contaminate their crops and they would, in turn, be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement, something that Monsanto has done before. This case, however, was dismissed by the New York court.
This past January the case was picked up by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association -- OSGATA -- and an appeal was filed in the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. This is OSGATA vs. Monsanto. The plaintiff side has now grown to 300,000 individuals and 4,500 family farms.
Again, the plaintiffs are seeking preemptive court protection if Monsanto’s seeds blow onto their farms and contaminate their crops, and they are seeking to reverse the lower courts decision from last year. The argument was heard on January 10th and a ruling is being awaited. In the past 16 years, Monsanto has admittedly sued 144 family farmers over this type of issue.
(Read more for Walmart and Whole foods)
That’s with a Ph, as in Pharmaceuticals. This biotech process uses genetic engineering to insert genes of pharmaceuticals into host animals or plants that would not otherwise express those genes. This began somewhere around 2000, but now it’s rampantly under experimentation..
In animal pharming the host animals’ DNA is genetically engineered to express a pharmaceutical in the animals milk...hopefully. For example, a cow or goat can be genetically engineered to give milk that will provide medication. Specific examples include vaccinations, blood clotting medications, and medications that fight eye and lung infections. It’s a risky prospect for the animal because the genetic engineering disrupts normal gene function and DNA processes. Of course there are animal rights issues here, however the major concern is that food systems could become contaminated with pharmaceutical products. (I believe the test herds are now in China and Brazil.)
Pharming projects are also being conducted with plants, using corn and potatoes bioengineered with, for example, cystic fibrosis and antibacterial medications. The biotech companies are in France and Germany, but they work with farms in the U.S. The reason for this is that farming of genetically modified crops are illegal in many countries in the EU, and definitely in France and Germany where said biotech companies function. Thus, they turn to farmers in the states where GMO farming practices are legal, and partner up.
Major concerns with bio-pharming are, again, that food or feed crops may become contaminated with the pharmaceutical products, and also that the products may have negative effects on natural ecosystems.
I am actively researching this topic and will update this post shortly.
Proposition 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative
, was on the ballot November 6th in the state of California. It allowed citizens to vote directly on GMO labeling laws, bypassing the legislative process. Symbolically, this wasn't just a referendum for the residents of California. It was also a long-awaited jumping off point for a nationwide change in labeling laws. Had Prop 37 succeeded and been voted into law, the additional information provided on many food labels would not have been limited to California's populace; the rest of the country would have benefited as well. After all, foods don't get produced and packed for one state of the union alone.
Many point to the huge onslaught of advertising dollars that were increasingly thrown into negative ad campaigns prior to November 6th as the reason that Prop 37 was voted down. Indeed, $46 million dollars can say quite a bit, especially if the aim is to mis
inform and mis
guide voters. Considering that the supporters of Prop 37 spent a mere $9 million -- on informative, educational advertising -- the fact that the vote was as close as it was says a great deal for the efforts and intellect of both the grassroots efforts and the people of California. The final tally showed that Prop 37 was defeated 53% to 47%.
However, the alternative view is that Prop 37 was supported by 4.2 million Californians. In the end, though, this was not enough and, aside from negative advertising, here are some of the reasons why:
What Held Prop 37 Back?