Category Archives: Food Research

Government to Study GMOs; Scientists Have Favorably Done So For Generations!

 

gmo-label

Not everyone is familiar with the term GMO – Genetically Modified Food. Even fewer have more than a vague idea what the term means. The FDA – the US Food and Drug Administration – wants to see that changed, and has budgeted $3 million to “fund a campaign to promote genetically modified organisms in food” and “tout ‘the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts’ of biotech crops and their derivative food products,” The Washington Post reported recently.

The paper noted that a few weeks ago, “more than 50 agriculture and food industry groups” recently signed a letter “urging the funding to counter ‘a tremendous amount of misinformation and agricultural biotechnology in the public domain’.”

The paper added, “Some environmental groups and House Democrats have derided the provision as a government-sponsored public relations tool for the GMO industry,” and that “an attempt by Democrats to redirect the project’s funding to pediatric medical projects was unanimously voted down by Republicans.”

All this is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “much ado about (practically) nothing.” The agricultural community has been genetically modifying seeds, and the composition of assorted plants, for generations – as long as such procedures as grafting have been known. Anyone who studied high school-level science should know that.

True, the sophistication of modifications has advanced in recent years as favorable qualities are bred in and not-so-nice ones are bred out. But opponents of GMO foods would have you believe that more harm than good has been done along the way. ‘T’ain’t true.

We benefit in a wide range of ways from genetic modification of our foodstuffs – far more than we truly benefit from some of “advances” in the art of food processing. (There is, more than likely, no legitimate nutritional value in extruded foods, yet they exist in abundance in our food stores.)

The GMO argument has become a political battleground – and that’s a shame. Because when politicians start throwing “facts” around. Keep in mind that Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics” – and it’s the latter, which can be misleading based on the sources you use, and don’t use, that politicians most love to employ in favor of their favorite arguments.

Think about the wonders of how genetically modifying foods benefits you when you next look at an apple display in your favorite food store (or another one!). All those varieties didn’t just come to be: Most of them were created, via genetic modification of one sort or another.

Nuts To Peanut Allergy: New Treatment Is Working

peanuts

The National Institutes of Health has announced that a recent experimental treatment demonstrated a way that a skin patch could reduce allergic reactions to peanuts – one of the most common food allergies.

A treatment called oral immunotherapy has been shown in recent tests to be able to reduce, by feeding small amounts of a food to which one is allergic, allergic reactions to a point the ‘patient’ can, after repeated treatments, consume reasonable amounts of the allergenic food without having a negative reaction to it.

Another approach to dealing with the same issue, called epicutaneous (on the skin) immunotherapy, or EPIT, is being studied, as well.

A phase 1 study of the oral immunotherapy approach demonstrated the safety and tolerability of a wearable patch developed by DBV Technologies. The patch, named Viaskin, delivers small amounts of peanut protein through the skin.

An ongoing trial to further evaluate peanut EPIT is sponsored by NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and conducted by the NIAID-funded Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR). Researchers randomly assigned 74 peanut-allergic volunteers, ages 4 to 25 years, to either a high-dose (250 micrograms peanut protein), low-dose (100 micrograms peanut protein), or placebo patch. Each day, the participants applied a new patch to an arm or between their shoulder blades. After one year, the researchers assessed the treatments’ success. Success was defined as being able to eat at least 10 times more peanut protein than they could eat before starting EPIT. Results were published online on October 26, 2016, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.The low-dose and high-dose regimens offered similar benefits (46% and 48% success, respectively, compared with 12% in the placebo group). Treatment success was higher among the younger children, ages 4 to 11 years, than the older ones, where there was minimal benefit.

Nearly all study participants followed the EPIT regimen as directed. None reported serious systemic reactions to the patch, although most experienced mild skin reactions, such as itching or rash, where the patch was applied.

The clinical benefit seen in younger children highlights the promise of this innovative approach to treating peanut allergy,” says Dr. Daniel Rotrosen, director of NIAID’s Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation. “Epicutaneous immunotherapy aims to engage the immune system in the skin to train the body to tolerate small amounts of allergen, whereas other recent advances have relied on an oral route that appears difficult for approximately 10 to 15% of children and adults to tolerate.”

Because EPIT appears to cause few, if any, systemic reactions and appears to be well tolerated, it may be possible to administer it for longer periods of time. The CoFAR study will continue to assess the long-term safety and effectiveness of peanut EPIT in this group. Additional studies in larger groups of children will be needed before the patch could be approved for wider use.

Consumers Want ‘Clean’ Food Labels; Now Professionals’ Tool Helps Them Define What Is, Isn’t, ‘Clean’

 

Every so often (every fifteen minutes or so, it sometimes seems!), a new food-related ‘buzz word’ catches the ear of consumers – sometimes almost at the same time it attracts the attention of food industry professionals. Not long ago, the ‘new’ word, or phrase, was ‘clean labels‘ – meaning, among other things, labels free of multi-syllable, unpronounceable words naming ingredients no one without a science degree can understand.

Consumers want ‘clean’ labels – and the products behind them to be healthier, less likely to initiate or compound health issues, than too many existing products are, or appear to be.

Complex additives are put into food products for an assortment of reasons, including flavor enhancement (salt and other spices being good examples), an ability to hold various ingredients in a liquid, semi-liquid or solid formula (emulsifiers and stabilizers), and shelf life-extending (salt again, as well as other things). Some of these reasons have seemed to make sense to product producers, but increasingly, they make less if any sense to consumers. That, and the fact that consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, ‘greener’ foods, are leading causes of the clean label movement.

The tool at https://gocleanlabel.com/about/ was created by a professional for professionals, but consumers, too, can use it to learn more about the clean label movement and, more specifically, to answer questions they have about specific ingredients. Questions such as ‘what is this’ and ‘what is it meant to do’. You also can use it to identify still-being-used materials that are, or aren’t, ‘clean’.

Both food processors and retailers are making strong steps to ensure fewer potentially harmful (or simply unnecessary) chemicals are added to foodstuffs. Undoubtedly, there are people who feel the industry isn’t moving fast enough – people who would, in effect, throw the baby out with the bathwater: Good chems out with not-so-good (or absolutely bad!) ones.

Ultimately, members of the consuming public need to take a greater interest in educating themselves about food additives, and learn how to make reasoned decisions about what they’re OK with putting in their bodies, and what they’re not.

I am working on a feature (for fooddive.com) about the new nutrition label that has been developed by the FDA. It is tentatively scheduled to become mandatory on a majority of food products (all except those produced in relatively small volumes) in 2018. But there’s already some push-back from at least one organization, and you can expect more push-back as a result of what we can only imagine will be dramatic, drastic changes of direction by the incoming presidential administration.

The thrust of my piece concerns the fact that changes to the nutrition label, while very much a separate issue from the overall additives one, reflect the fact that both industry, which had a hand in shaping the proposed label, and government are struggling – and that is not too strong a word – to deal with increasing scientific knowledge about foods and with changing consumer expectations.

As a courtesy to the readers of this blog, I will post a short note when my fooddive.com feature on that topic is published. (FYI, I write regularly on ingredients for fooddive.com. And as I’ve done for most of the past 40 years, I also regularly scan food trade publications – and now, web sites, too – around the world for both industry trends and consumer attitude shifts for this blog, which originated in the mid 1970’s as a column for trade publications in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.)

(By the way, between them, this blog and my other one, YouSayWHAT.info, have been read in no fewer than 80 countries in the last year!)

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

tiangong-2

China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet csavignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth — including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rock slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

“In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.”

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China sent two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua recently visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavorable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F) winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only into the world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off in China it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts were using the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research.”

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least into new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth – including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rocky slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

“Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China will send two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in  the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavourable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F)winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only intothe world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off inChina it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts would use the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research”.

 

Food Allergies Can Lead To Asthma: Study (And Again on the Anti-Gluten-Free Movement!)

 

This item is a bit outside the course of what this blog normally covers, but it is food-related, and it does provide information about a subject people in the food trade and/or with an interest in children’s health should pay attention to.

A recent study, reported on last month in BMC Pediatrics, noted that, “Childhood food allergy is associated with impaired quality of life, limited social interactions, comorbid allergic conditions, and significant economic cost; Importantly, a severe allergic reaction resulting in anaphylaxis can be life threatening, and food allergens are the most common cause of anaphylaxis and anaphylaxis-related mortality in children and adolescents; Recent estimates have reported food allergy prevalence figures between 4 and 8 %, however, these studies are limited in size and scope or rely on participant reporting rather than healthcare provider-based diagnosis.”

Put another, simpler way, the researchers found evidence that food allergies can contribute significantly to the development of asthma. (Yeah, I know, why didn’t they just say that??)

This may be putting the solution in front of the cure, but it would seem to me – no expert in such things! – that studies such as this one, which represent significant advances in medical science and knowledge, point to a need for [1] greater testing tools to ascertain what, if any, foods very young kids may be allergic to, and [2] approaches to dealing with, and curing, childhood allergies to prevent both life quality and budget busting costs down the road.

And, at the risk of sounding like I’m on an anti-gluten-free bandwagon (which I sort of am!), the food industry needs to stop fostering trends that, truth be told, truly are against the interests of a majority of the audience(s) they serve.

The cut-out-gluten case is a, um, case in point: As we reported recently, only a fairly miniscule portion of the U.S. population (with similar percentages likely elsewhere) has celiac disease – “About 1 in 100 people — about 1 percent — have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested,” according to The Celiac Disease Foundation; and, from the same source, “About .4 percent of people have a doctor-diagnosed wheat allergy, according to a 2006 study; In those people, a true allergic response to wheat (which contains gluten) can include skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.”

But as this blog pointed out recently, people without or with little risk of celiac disease could be doing themselves a disservice by going ‘gluten-free’. And, by implication, the ever-increasing number of companies declaring their processed food products to be ‘gluten-free’ are both deceiving and even putting at risk some of their consumer clients.

I find it both disturbing and disheartening that companies either fail to explore or disregard scientific

studies that strongly suggest they should stop wasting money on removing gluten from products and focus, instead, on making their products truly healthier for those who’ll consume them.

They should ignore what the latest ‘pair of dimes’ says, and go with the truth: Gluten-free is not, for most consumers, a solution to anything. And it’s truly detrimental for many of them!

42 States Getting $21.8 million To Implement Food Safety Rule

fda_logo

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is awarding a total of $21.8 million to help 42 states implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce safety rule. The rule, which the FDA finalized in November 2015, establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.

“As efforts for a nationally integrated food safety system advance, this funding will play a vital role in establishing programs at the state level to educate growers and provide technical assistance to ensure high rates of compliance with the produce safety rule,” said Melinda Plaisier, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at the FDA.

In March 2016, the FDA announced the funding opportunity, which was available to all states and U.S. territories, to begin the planning for and development of a state produce safety program.

The cooperative agreement between the FDA and the states provides awardees with the resources to formulate a multi-year plan to implement a produce safety system, develop and provide education, outreach and technical assistance, and develop programs to address the specific and unique needs of the growers in their farming communities.

State agencies are important because they have a better understanding and knowledge of the specific growing and harvesting practices in their areas and many have long standing relationships with produce growers and produce associations.

States and territories were classified into five tiers of funding eligibility based on the estimated number of farms growing covered produce within their jurisdictions. The funding opportunity is for five years, subject to the availability of funding from Congress. Further information on state awardees can be found here.

“The states were key partners to the FDA as FSMA’s produce safety provisions were being developed. [Friday’s] funding announcement demonstrates the FDA’s commitment to keep working closely with the states as we begin to implement the provisions,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA. “A robust federal-state partnership in produce safety will help protect American consumers from food-borne illness and benefit public health.”

Larger farms will need to comply with certain aspects of the produce safety rule requirements beginning in January 2018, with smaller produce operations having additional time to comply. The FDA intends to continue to work with growers to ensure that they understand the provisions and expectations for their implementation.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.