Category Archives: GMO

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.

Seaweed-based stabilizer/emulsifier Banned for Organic Foods in U.S.

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It’s called carrageenan, and if you closely read content labels, you’ll notice it’s in a lot of things – as a thickener, an emulsifier (to help hold other ingredients in the appropriate mix), and as a stabilizer. It’s also said to increase shelf life – a feature of questionable value, given that food processors often are best-guessing the long-term viability of their products when they put ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ dates on them.

(I still have a too-large bottle of dry curry that is in the neighborhood of 20 [or more!] years old. While it no doubt is not as potent as it once was, it’s still a viable product in my kitchen – able to contribute both flavor and heat to dishes without resulting in, as an un-viable spice might, stomach distress or worse.)

The U.S.D.A.’s National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) ruled last week that, as of 2018, carrageenan will no longer be allowed in products labeled as ‘organic’.

Does that mean carrageenan is ‘dangerous’, or that it potentially poses some kind of threat to consumers? Not necessarily. For all intents and purposes, that ruling simply acknowledges that, because it is exposed, during processing, to chemicals that fall outside the definition of ‘organic’. Carrageenan will continue to be used as a product-building aid in processed foods not, as no ‘processed food’ could be, described as ‘organic’.

Carrageenan is derived from a type of seaweed harvested primarily in the Philippines, Indonesia and East Africa. During commercial processing, it is exposed to assorted chemicals so it ends up as a fine powder, in no way resembling seaweed one might encounter ‘in the wild’.

CivilEats.com has a highly informative article on carrageenan here.

I can’t help but wonder what what kind of ‘organic’ product would need a stabilizer or an emulsifier. So I also can’t help but wonder why the U.S.D.A.’s National Organics Standards Board agonized – as they apparently did, not over just months, but years – as to whether carrageenan should in any way be associated with something said to be ‘organic’.

I don’t, as my wife would say, git it.

Organics now represent in the neighborhood of 11% of all produce sold (at retail) in the U.S. And organics’ share-of-market is growing – just as, hardly coincidentally, processed foods sales are slipping down an icy slope. The reason is simple: Not just Millennials, but older generations, too, are fed up with ingredients labels full of ‘stuff’ they can’t even pronounce and have no clue what it is or why it’s there. A sizable number of them have taken stands against the likes of Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Blue No. 1 – synthetic colorings used to make food look better. They have, so far as we know, no effect on taste, but opposers of them contend they might affect us in some other, nefarious way.

(A quick aside: Why, pray tell, do forty or more shades of red exist, as food colorings? Or five or more shades of yellow? And not one of them a pastel!)

It is truly frightening to think of the tens of bunches of money being wasted on [1] developing all those odd colors and their counterparts in other food ingredients and [2] investigating and regulating same. Part of the problem is, of course, we have more people than viable jobs.

When I lived in England, from 1971-76, in the first of the offices I worked (for a year), every so often – I think it was weekly, but perhaps it was bi-weekly – an employee of a contractor came in and wiped down all the telephone handsets, probably aided by something less potent than the sprays restaurant servers use on tables between guests. On the first such visit I witnessed, I was astonished, and I was astonished again every time I saw this ritual repeated. It seemed perfectly pointless, and a waste of my employer’s money, to engage someone to provide this ‘service’.

Yet here we are in 2016, when a significant majority of U.S. supermarkets have a sanitary lotion dispenser available just inside the door – so no one should have to (heaven forbid!) touch a cart handle they haven’t subjected to a sanitary wipe-down after wiping down their own hands! (What have the most obsessed of those shoppers been doing/touching before entering their local food dispenser’s shop?)

It’s partly because some shoppers/consumers do think that way that the NOSB has banned carrageenan from ‘organics’. That seaweed—sourced ingredient probably poses no harm to humans, but better safe than sorry, right?

Litigation lawyers would, of course, disagree.

GMO Bill Passes in US; ‘Free-From’ Advances in Europe

Should you voluntarily follow a 'free-from' diet?

While the U.S. struggles with issues related to GMO labeling, gluten- dairy- and wheat-free issues, the U.K. and at least a couple of continental European countries are merrily moving along with a movement called, simply, ‘free-from’. It encompasses all of the above, and might extend to other ‘freedoms’ currently relevant or potentially relevant to food growing and onward up the food chain.

FreeFrom

Meanwhile, the U.S. congress passes, and sends to the president for his signature – ordinarily done with a handful of pens as ‘give-aways’ to selected recipients – a bill that, for all intents and purposes, does next to nothing to ensure products offered to the public are free of genetically modified ingredients.

I know, I touched on the GMO issue a few days ago. But this comparative issue, ‘free-from’, which we will be be looking at in more detail soon, is, oddly, a view few American organizations or individual companies have addressed – and it’s one that’s taking off, elsewhere.

Among the observations about the about-to-be-signed GMO bill is the fact that, as one legislator put it, “the devil is in the details,” and speculation is that it will take “years” for those details to be worked out.

In other words, no one should have high hope that this bill will move the ball very far soon – maybe not even before the next – hopefully one-term – president is replaced.

(While this blog tends to avoid issues of a political nature, it is worth noting, about now, with one the two major political parties having just wrapped up its election year convention and the other’s conclave just getting underway, that whichever of the hardly-lesser ‘evils’ is elected is more than likely to have serious impacts on food-related policies.

Trump has promised to disrupt treaties that affect how, and from where, food enters this country.

A Clinton campaign pledge has her increasing funding “to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems”; And she’ll create “a focused safety net to help family farms get through challenging times.”

But campaign statements and promises too often give way to different concepts once a politician [at whatever level] is in office. Time will tell how these two’s promises bear up.

But you can be sure that, one way or another, either would in one, two or another way, disrupt ‘business’ as usual as its being done in the food trade these days.