Tag Archives: Food Safety

‘Customer Complaints? Here’s How To Deal With Them’: Advice From USDA

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The following is a press release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued today a best practices guideline to help the meat and poultry industry respond to customer complaints that are determined to be associated with adulterated or misbranded meat and poultry products.

“FSIS has placed renewed emphasis on industry responding to customer complaints of foreign materials in meat and poultry and, as required, reporting those incidents to the agency within 24 hours once the determination has been made that the product is adulterated,” said FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg. “We will continue to work with industry and offer guidance to assist them in complying with agency regulations.”

Update of 2012 Regulation

In 2012, FSIS announced a regulation requiring all establishments to report to the agency within 24 hours when they have shipped or received an adulterated product and that product is in commerce. While this requirement has been in effect for several years, recalls associated with foreign materials in product increased in recent years. FSIS intensified efforts and made presentations in 2018 to industry explaining that product containing foreign materials is adulterated even when a physical food safety hazard is not present. Additionally, the agency hosted two industry meetings to discuss an industry-drafted document of best practices for responding to foreign material customer complaints, which was published in August 2018.

FSIS began working on the guideline announced today in mid-2018 to provide reference material on best practices and recommendations on how to receive, investigate and process customer complaints.   While FSIS specifically developed this document to address foreign material customer complaints, establishments can apply the information to other customer complaints of adulterated or misbranded products in commerce. When an establishment needs to recall adulterated product from commerce, the establishment must identify the cause of the product adulteration and take steps to prevent recurrence in its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, which federal inspectors review.

Agency’s Current Position

The guideline reflects the agency’s current position, and FSIS encourages the industry to begin using it now.  FSIS welcomes public comments on the guideline. The agency will accept comments for 60 days and will then update the document in response to suggestions, if necessary. Comments may be submitted via the federal eRulemaking portal at: http://www.regulations.gov; by mail including CD-ROMs sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Mailstop 3758, Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700 or by hand-or courier-delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2018-0034

A downloadable version of the draft guideline is available to view and print at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/compliance-guides-index/retail-guidance.

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Big Sugar, in the Form of Cereal Makers, Get Sued

 

Several major processed food manufacturers in the U.S. have been hit recently with lawsuits charging their products– primarily breakfast cereals – are not anything like as ‘healthy’ as the manufacturers claim because too high a percentage of the calories in their products are from sugar.

The website foodnavigator-usa.com has reported that “a flurry of lawsuits recently [were] filed against Kellogg, General Foods and Post Foods”, but the site suggests the plaintiffs with “face an uphill battle” trying to win against companies that have powerful holds on their markets and exceptionally deep pockets.

The recently revealed news that half a century ago the sugar industry paid university researchers to produce ‘study findings’ favorable to their mainstay product has added pressure on producers of sugar-heavy foods.

FoodNavigator said that, “with the heat temporarily off fat, sugar now is Public Enemy #1,” quoting defense attorneys “after the three CPG [consumer packaged goods] giants were hit with class action lawsuits over the sugar content in leading cereal brands from Raisin Bran Crunch to Cheerios.”

Filed in the Northern District of California, the suits accuse the defendants “of falsely advertising their cereals as healthy, wholesome and nutritious when they are in fact high in sugar – excessive amounts of which,” they claim, “are linked to everything from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to cancers, cognitive decline and liver disease.”

The website notes that, while there are no specific regulations that disqualify companies from describing a product as ‘healthy’ or ‘nutritious’ based on its sugar content, the plaintiffs argue that “federal regulations enshrined in California state law require that labels are ‘not false or misleading’. They further allege violations of California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws, and seek redress under the state’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Big Sugar, like such other ‘bigs’ as Big Pharma, Big Oil and, once upon a time, Big Coal, have a history of addressing such lawsuits as if they were pesky flies: Swat at them long and hard enough – wearing down their resistance and consuming their ability to fight back – and ‘big’ will prevail.

But the biggest of the bigs – Big Government – has brought down Big Coal, and is working on putting a leash on Big Pharma.

With the public becoming increasingly aware of the damage excess sugar can to do consumers of it, Big Sugar could be in for a comeuppance, too. Maybe not immediately, but soon.

Dr. Cristin E. Kearns
Documents that Dr. Cristin E. Kearns calls the “sugar papers” in her office in the Library at the Center for Tobacco Control and Research on the U. of California  Parnassus Campus. 


 Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for STAT News

 

 

42 States Getting $21.8 million To Implement Food Safety Rule

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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.

Report Exposes Food Industry Cover-up

 

The following is a press release issued earlier this year (2016) by  The Cornucopia Institute, whose web site says the organization is “promoting economic justice for family scale farming”.
The web site’s ‘About’ section includes this statement: “The Cornucopia Institute engages in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural issues, The Cornucopia Institute provides needed information to consumers, family farmers, and the media.”
You can expect this blog, now that we’ve discovered this organization, to pay close attention to its activities.

Carageenan_report_cover

Toxic, Carcinogenic, Degraded Carrageenan:
Widespread Contamination Present in the Common Food-Grade Ingredient

A just-issued report by The Cornucopia Institute summarizes research on the common food additive carrageenan, exposing the industry’s hidden data demonstrating that all food-grade carrageenan contains a carcinogenic contaminant—low molecular weight poligeenan.

Carrageenan, harvested from specific species of red seaweed, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products, including cream. The controversy over carrageenan has existed between food industry representatives and public health researchers for years, but it is now flaring up again over its use in organic food.

Cornucopia’s report, Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer, and Diabetes, will be formally released in Washington, on April 25, at the upcoming meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board. The board will be debating whether to remove carrageenan from its list of approved materials for use in organic food.

Cornucopia, a farm policy research group, has made available the full set of data that was originally published online ten years ago by the Marinalg Working Group. The data show widespread contamination of food-grade carrageenan with poligeenan, both of which cause chronic and acute intestinal inflammation and can cause cancer.

Marinalg, the trade-lobby group representing carrageenan manufactures, had posted the illuminating research on its website, but later removed it since it has aggressively lobbied food safety regulators for continued approval of the use of carrageenan in food.

“This type of subterfuge by powerful agribusiness might have been successful at the FDA, or before European regulators, but we are optimistic that, carrying out the mandate of the U.S. Congress, the National Organic Standards Board will weigh the current evidence and protect organic consumers by banning this dangerous material,” stated Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia co-director.

The “smoking gun” data was originally published to meet the demands of a 2005 European Commission recommendation that no more than five percent of food-grade carrageenan fractions should have a molecular weight below 50 kD due to the well-known health concerns associated with low molecular weight carrageenan.

Carrageenan producers have long claimed that food-grade carrageenan and poligeenan (a known carcinogen) are two distinctly different substances. The industry still denies that food-grade carrageenan contains poligeenan, however, publicly funded scientific research has long found otherwise.

“Now, the industry’s own data has revealed that all twelve food-grade carrageenan samples tested did in fact contain poligeenan in varying quantities up to 25%,” said Linley Dixon, PhD, Cornucopia’s Senior Staff Scientist.

Carrageenan is such an efficient inflammatory agent and carcinogen, it is widely used to study the molecular signals involved in cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Publicly-funded researchers have published dozens of studies on the harmful health effects of consuming food-grade carrageenan, but the industry has aggressively responded by funding its own studies, many of which Cornucopia critiques in the new report.

Dr. Dixon stated, “Marinalg’s cover-up of this scientific data demonstrates how damaging the results could be to the carrageenan industry.”

University of Illinois researcher, Joanne Tobacman, M.D., who has published widely on the subject said, “The carrageenan industry has tried for decades to retain using carrageenan in food products because of its biological reactivity with ingredients. This same biological reactivity is what makes carrageenan harmful. Food-grade carrageenan inevitably contains some lower molecular weight forms naturally.”

Dr. Tobacman continued, “Additional lower molecular weight forms are produced by processing, heat, acid, intestinal bacteria, and chewing.”

Research has shown that besides the initial contamination in food-grade carrageenan, stomach acid in the human digestive tract can convert a percentage of carrageenan that may otherwise be safe into the most dangerous, carcinogenic form.

Tobacman’s findings, along with others in her field, demonstrate the molecular mechanism by which food-grade carrageenan causes inflammation, cancer, insulin resistance, and an immunogenic response in humans.

Cornucopia’s report details many flaws in some of the industry-funded studies used by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) as justification for the continued use of carrageenan in food. In addition, the report provides a rebuttal to the industry’s critique of publicly funded research (the majority of US studies were funded by the National Institute of Health).

“In the past, a successful tactic by many financial interest groups, including the tobacco and fracking lobby, has been to attempt to discredit reputable, publicly funded research, and to fund their own flawed studies to create the impression that there is scientific debate,” Dr. Dixon stated. “The carrageenan industry has used both of these tactics and, to top it off, hidden its own counterproductive results as well.”

Cornucopia’s Kastel added, “If these scientists were accountants working for a corporation they might be accused of ‘cooking the books’ due to their protocols and the selective data they chose to discuss in the publication of these studies.”

Through experimentation, many people have discovered a correlation between carrageenan in their diets and a myriad of symptoms such as diarrhea/irritable bowel syndrome, and more serious inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. For many, when carrageenan is removed from the diet symptoms quickly dissipate.

As part of its investigation over the last three years, The Cornucopia Institute has received 1,337 questionnaire responses from individuals reporting they had suffered adverse health effects after consuming carrageenan. One respondent, Charlene Beebe of Townsend, Montana stated, “My husband has been ill with ulcerative colitis for 20 years, and has been in remission since we removed carrageenan. Unknowingly, I began buying cream with carrageenan in it for a few weeks now and he started bleeding and had a terrible gut ache for weeks now. I since found out the cream contains carrageenan and about fell through the floor. I am furious!”

The Cornucopia Institute’s report is being released as the National Organic Standards Board reviews carrageenan for continued use in organic foods. In addition to health concerns, the report points out that carrageenan is not “essential.”

“For every organic product containing carrageenan, an organic alternative exists, produced by one or more competitors,” said Kastel. “That has allowed the marketplace to prove, conclusively, that carrageenan does not meet the legal threshold as an ingredient in organic food based on a lack of essentiality.”

Leading organic brands, like the farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, have removed carrageenan from many of their products in response to customer concerns. “The co-op has recognized the informed concerns of organic shoppers by labeling their sliced deli meats as containing ‘no binders, fillers or carrageenan’.”

Even some toothpaste brands have shunned the carcinogen.

“When the CEO of the iconic Dr. Bronner’s brand became aware of the research on carrageenan, their CEO, David Bronner, researched the alternatives and found that xanthan gum performed just as well in their toothpaste,” Kastel said. Dr. Bronner’s, known for its line of soaps along with other bodycare and food products, is a prominent leader in the fight to maintain organic standards and advocate for GMO labeling.
Cornucopia’s Kastel said, “We commend organic companies that operate under the ‘Precautionary Principle’ and strongly encourage members of the NOSB to protect organic consumers and their children as well.”

Like other regulatory bodies, the carrageenan industry is aggressively lobbying the NOSB, urging the board to retain the ingredient in organic food. However, efforts by the industry to cover up the harmful effects of carrageenan are being fully challenged setting the stage for a showdown in Washington, DC on April 25, where public interest groups and organic consumers, widely known for their passion and discernment, are likely to make their voices heard as well.

 

USDA Spending Big to ‘Grow’ New Farmers

 

This long post is a reprint of a press release issued today by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a function of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While it is of little direct interest to consumers, this release does provide a lot of information about the efforts the U.S. Government is making to ensure the country has ‘crops’ of farmers and ranchers down the road – and that, incidentally, they will be well-trained, too!

AMES, Iowa, Aug. 17, 2016 – In a meeting with new and beginning farmers at Iowa State University today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The investment is made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP.

In order to build upon the strong foundation of programs available to new and beginning producers, Vilsack also announced a series of Fall Forums that USDA will host in the coming months to highlight the progress made on the top issues facing the future of agriculture and set the stage for the next Administration to continue to support a strong future for American agriculture. The series of USDA Fall Forums will be hosted in partnership with leading universities across the country. Each forum will focus on a pressing agricultural issue, including land tenure and the next generation of agriculture, climate change, export markets, local and regional food systems, and groundbreaking agricultural research. High-ranking USDA officials will lead the forums and facilitate discussions with regional stakeholders to lay the groundwork for the next Administration to build on the progress USDA has made over the past seven years.

“Looking back on the past seven years, I am extremely proud of what USDA has accomplished for rural America. Even as this Administration ends, the important work of USDA will continue for the next generation and beyond,” said Vilsack. “We see new and beginning farmers and ranchers as a critical force in sustaining food security, food safety, and many other aspects of agriculture that will become even more challenging as our global population grows. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and the forums that we are planning, will be important steps in helping young people, returning veterans and others access the tremendous opportunities in the agriculture sector.”

With the average age of the American farmer exceeding 58 years, USDA recognizes the need to bring more people into agriculture. Over the course of this Administration, USDA has engaged its resources to provide greater support to the farmers of the future by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach, education, and technical support.

Through lending assistance programs, like the Farm Service Agency’s new microloan program, USDA prioritized support for new farmers, providing improved access to credit, land, and equipment. USDA has also provided greater access to quality crop insurance coverage to over 13,500 new and beginning farmers and ranchers with special crop insurance benefits designed just for them. Thanks to this program, beginning farmers and ranchers have saved more than $14 million in premiums and administrative fees. More information on USDA’s assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers can be found at www.usda.gov/NewFarmers.

BFRDP, administered through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), has been a key part of this effort and supports educational programs to assist beginner farmers and ranchers who have less than 10 years of experience in the industry, including veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers. The program supports workshops, educational teams, training, and technical assistance throughout the United States.

This year’s awards will be made in 27 states and the District of Columbia to help fund a range of projects by partner organizations, like the Iowa-based National Farmers Organization (NFO) that will use $588,948 in funding to assist 900 beginning organic dairy and grain producers over the next three years. NFO will provide workshops, mentoring and other assistance in 11 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

New Mexico State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts will partner to use $598,030 to provide education, mentoring and one-on-one technical assistance to American Indian Pueblo beginning farmers. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, based in North Carolina, will use $513,959 in funding for Farm Pathways, a program to deliver whole farm training, farmer-to-farmer networking and farmland access.

2016 grants include:

  • Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, Fairbanks, Alaska, $369,500
  • Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation, Brinkley, Ark., $481,080
  • ALBA Organics, Salinas, Calif., $600,000
  • Colorado Economic Development Office, Denver, Colo., $239,970
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $597,598
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Washington, D.C., $150,000
  • North-South Institute, Inc., Davie, Fla., $330,828
  • The Kohala Center, Inc., Waimea, Hawaii, $564,000
  • Jannus Inc., Boise, Idaho, $597,867
  • Angelic Organics Learning Center, Caledonia, Ill., $600,000
  • National Farmers Organization, Ames, Iowa, $588,948
  • Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Overland Park, Kan., $380,433
  • Wolfe`s Neck Farm Foundation, Inc., Freeport, Maine, $573,256
  • Third Sector New England, Inc., Boston, Mass., $249,657
  • Tufts University, Medford, Mass., $599,796
  • Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, South Deerfield, Mass., $595,533
  • Future Harvest Inc., Cockeysville, Md., $597,599
  • ECO City Farms, Edmonston, Md., $352,095
  • Minnesota Food Association, Marine St. Croix, Minn., $159,626
  • Land Stewardship Project, Minneapolis, Minn., $384,649
  • Stone Child College, Box Elder, Mont., $265,179
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont., $238,441
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont., $231,679
  • Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Asheville, N.C., $600,000
  • Foundation for Agricultural and Resources Management, Medina, N.D., $513,959
  • New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M., $598,030
  • National Young Farmers Coalition, Hudson, N.Y., $574,150
  • Just Food, New York, N.Y., $593,930
  • Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Columbus, Ohio, $566,141
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $599,715
  • Southside Community Land Trust, Providence, R.I., $596,517
  • Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., $595,133
  • Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn., $470,083
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $600,000
  • National Immigrant Farming Initiative, El Paso, Texas, $541,950
  • Greenbank Farm Management Group/Organic Farm School, Greenbank, Wash., $598,850
  • Viva Farms, Mount Vernon, Wash., $599,999

Abstracts for this year’s funded projects can be viewed on NIFA’s reporting website.

Since BFRDP’s 2009 inception, the agency has invested more than $126 million through 256 projects across the country. Previously funded projects include the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association which trained 75 new farmers who established 68 new farms. A University of the Virgin Islands project trained 304 crop and small livestock farmers with less than 10 years of experience, increasing their agricultural knowledge and skills. Additional information about USDA support for new farmers and ranchers is available at www.usda.gov/newfarmers.

BFRDP also supports USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to develop strong local and regional food systems. Over the last seven years, USDA has invested close to $1 billion in 40,000 local food-related projects on farms and in communities across the country. You can find local and regional supply chain resources on the KYF2 website and use the KYF2 Compass to locate USDA investments in your community.

NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA’s integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter@usda_NIFA#NIFAimpacts.

This month USDA is celebrating historic progress over the last eight years to improve the quality of life and access to opportunity for all Americans. Learn more online in The People’s Department: A New Era for Civil Rights at USDA.

 

 

GMO Bill Heads To White House – Why?

GMO_bil_label

With both the Senate and the House of Representatives signed off on it, a much-discussed, somewhat controversial bill concerning the labeling of genetically modified foods is on its way to the White House for signing by President Obama.

The bill has been hailed by some in the food industry and soundly decried by others. And an ‘interactive feature’ in The New York Times last week gave consumers pause to consider how much better off, or wiser, they’ll be (or not) with this or any other GMO-oriented legislation.

The July 11 New York Times piece (cited above) pretty much sums up what consumers need to know, right now, or in the foreseeable future, on the GMO issue. (Spoiler: The issue isn’t as big a deal many would have you believe.)

The problem comes with the concept of genetic manipulation of food, and where it happens in the food chain. At first glance, if you were unfortunate enough to see a ‘modern’ bred-for-cooking chicken in the flesh, as it were, your first reaction no doubt would be, ‘nature would never make something that looks, and is, by design, as physically challenged as this poor creature is’. And you’d be right.

fat chickens

An unfortunately large number of the chickens bred these days for eating – so called ‘food chickens – are a far cry, physically, from their ancestors of half a century ago. They’ve been dramatically ‘modified’ by selective breeding – not by having their genes manipulated. The objective has been to satisfy the public’s desire for white, as opposed to dark, chicken meat, and the best white meat – in terms of quantity and solid volume, is found in the breast. So, chickens have been selectively bred to have enormous breasts – to a point, as The Times interactive feature notes, its “legs can barely support.”

An article linked-to at that point in the ‘interactive’ article goes so far as to describe the selective breeding of chickens – “modern chicken genetics” – as “a form of abuse”: Chickens today, the linked-to piece says, “stagger about, sometimes on splayed legs, or mostly just sit down.”

A good share of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically modified so it resistant to the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. This gene modification was necessary because Roundup is designed to travel down through a broad spectrum of plants, killing them all the way down to their root system. So, it can  keep corn fields pretty clear of weeds that grab moisture the corn needs, etc.

Some think the chemical (glyphosate) is toxic, possibly contributing to the development of cancer, in humans. There’s no real evidence to support that.

The point of the corn gene manipulation is to enable the plant to defeat the chemical’s objective, and it works. As or more important, though, is the fact that in the course of traveling down through a plant to its roots, the glyphosate apparently in no modifies the corn in a way that could be harmful to humans.

(Full disclosure: For the better part of a year, in the mid-1970’s, shortly after Roundup was first marketed, I helped promote it by producing, at Monsanto’s expense, ‘user stories’ from farmers, municipal and state roadside maintenance authorities, NASA, the Orange Bowl, cemetery managers, wholesale plant growers, lawn care professionals, and many others from one side of the U.S. to the other. The articles were placed in trade magazine serving specific trades – and they were glad to get them, because Roundup was, and still widely is, considered to be something of a ‘miracle product’ that cuts labor costs by vastly reducing the amount of time it takes to clear away unwanted plants.

(A Monsanto sales rep I traveled with in Texas told me a story of an instance where a woman complained to him that Roundup was “killing my dogs, my chickens and my kids; Notice the priorities, there, he said.” His response: He pulled out a sample size of the product – a couple of ounces – and promptly drank it! “She all but fainted,” he laughed.)

Another issue, also pointed out in The Times’ interactive piece, is the fact that, with GMOs being talked about by some as posing health risks (no proof, so far) et cetera, some manufacturers are sticking ‘GMO free’ and similar labels on products – including ground oats, and water – where GMOs are not an issue!

Sadly, there is no ‘safe source’ of authoritative information on whether or not, ultimately, some GMOs might be found to be less than beneficial, without posing any risk to humans.

Chickens are routinely fed genetically modified grain – modified to help chickens ward off diseases. No one has ever suggested that GMO grain, or the breeding manipulations causing chickens to grown far faster and end up with far great breast weights than nature intended, is causing fried chicken eaters to gain weight or developed clogged arteries. Both have a far more direct relationship to the cooking fat that favorite food is cooked in.

People notoriously try to blame ‘something else’ on such conditions as having high blood pressure (cut your salt intake!) water retention (ditto’) or being too ‘bulky’ (you can see where this is going!).

In the grand scheme of things, as we can see that scheme today, GMOs are the least of the worries of people who consume way too much salt, and sugar (in the form of soft drinks, candy, etc.) and fail to exercise.

For the moment, it would be best to keep the GMO ‘threat’ in perspective: It ain’t one, that anyone’s been able to pin down.

The president can sign the bill, creating a new law, and the food industry can say – or it could, if the language of the bill were clear enough – ‘see, we’re doing what you want! Isn’t that wonderful?’

No, in fact, it isn’t.

I’ve worked (as a writer) on the fringe of the food industry for the better part of forty years. The technological changes in that time – what’s known now that wasn’t even imaged then – is mind boggling. Maybe there’s some reason why, in some instances, genetically modified foods might pose a risk of some sort to people. Maybe there isn’t. But none of what I regularly read about developments in the trade suggest there’s any reason why careful manipulations shouldn’t continue, when risk are clearly evaluated and taken into consideration.

A lot of what Congress does is wheel-spinning, or publicity-oriented. This bill may represent one, the other or both of those. What it doesn’t represent is a viable means of addressing what may, or may not,  be an issue worth getting excited about. Or wasting all the Congressional time and energy this bill has.

While some Congressional bills may require as few as two pages  – the one authorizing President Obama to give gold medals to the Apollo astronauts on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing – many spending bills and some others are notorious for filling 1,000 or more pages.

Multiply than times 500 or so – for 435 members of Congress plus other need-to-see’s. That amounts to 1,000 reams of paper – at 500 pages per ream – per bill. And that’s just the House version.

Every month, I attend meetings of county-level Board of Supervisors in Virginia meetings where the agenda, including multiple pages of explanatory files and charts, etc., is readily available on tablet-sized computers placed conveniently in front of each Supervisor. Small towns, as mine is (at 4,000 or so souls), and right-thinking counties really need to watch their expenditures, and it’s pretty obvious that using even a few reams of paper to duplicate, every month, something stored in an electronic file, is beyond wasteful: It’s an irresponsible use of public money.

Call me stupid, but I have enough faith that those who produce the food we eat, have no interest whatsoever in poisoning us. I can’t imagine any major (or even a minor) food producer introducing GMO ingredients into what they intend to market if they had the least suspicion the GMO aspect could put their customers – members of the shopping and consuming public – at risk.

All else aside, doing so would be illegal under existing law. The about-to-be GMO labeling law is highly unlikely to have any positive effect, but certainly could have some negative ones: Companies charged with mislabeling when the ‘facts’, between the complainant  and the accused, are, well, disputable.

 

What’s ‘Good’ For You? Or ‘Healthy’? It Depends Who You Are/Who You Ask!

healthy_foods

One of several New York Times charts symbolizing the healthy/not healthy issue.

When it comes down to it, Americans don’t have a firm grip on the concept of ‘healthy’ versus ‘not so healthy’ foods. And, sadly, because of conflicting advice from assorted vested interests, most people are far from approaching the level of understanding of why this food, while it may supposedly be ‘good’ for you in ‘this’ way, is far from good for you in another way.

The New York Times devoted a great deal of time and resources to researching this subject and, sadly, came away with head-scratching concerns on top of confusion why the what’s-good-for-you subject is so, well, incomprehensible.

The USDA doesn’t help: It recently came out with a revised standard for nutritional information on packaged food labels and the supposedly-improved ones truly aren’t – leaving consumers, as they have been for years, trying to make sense of terms and quantities they can’t comprehend.

An excellent explanation of why the U.S. has so resisted going totally metric – many domestic industries already employ that system exclusively – is laid out in this Time Magazine article from 2014. Some of the stated reasons may have made a certain amount of sense at one time, but they no longer do – just as, except for its currency, the British have been all-metric since the late 1970’s.

(I happened to leave, after five years there, as the change-over was starting. The thing that amazed me most was how quickly and adeptly lovers of Fahrenheit and other non-metric units switched over.  Yet even today, when I discuss something involving a measurement with a friend there, I have to do an electronic [or old-fashioned, paper-based] conversion to get ‘on the same page’ with them.

Our auto industry is all-metric. So is the military. So is the industry producing wine and ‘hard’ alcoholic beverages : 5ths and quarts disappeared some years ago, replaced by .75 liter (litre) and liter bottles. Beer producers are switching, too, albeit more subtly : Incrementally, they are making the percent-of-a-liter ID larger than the old standard ‘ounce’ measure on their bottles.

But because, except in a limited number of instances, it is impossible to produce a food package of a size that can be converted from ounces to milligrams/milliliters or vice versa in whole numbers, and because manufacturers insist on measuring sizes in quantities only vaguely approximating what people call a serving, comparisons of the value Brand A to Brand B  are, at best, an exercise in futility.

So, regardless of whether Brand A or Brand B is ‘healthier’ or ‘better for you,’ it’s pretty hard to tell from packaging and serving sizes.

The Times report noted that a survey of “hundreds” of nutritionists – members of the American Society for Nutrition – revealed “a surprising diversity of opinion, even among experts.”

Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the paper, “Twenty years ago, I think we knew about 10 percent of what we need to know” about nutrition, “and now we know about 40 or 50 percent.”

The Times report is long, detailed and, sadly, will leave many readers none the wiser – or not much the wiser, anyway – after they’ve plowed through the entire thing.

And when reading any such report, one has to keep in mind that it refers to ‘healthy’ and ‘good for you’ foods for ordinarily healthy people. To a concerning extent, though, the findings of such studies are meaningless for ‘special needs’ people like me: I have Stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), meaning many things that are ordinarily good for healthy people – things such as tomatoes, potatoes, beans and nuts – should seldom if ever pass my lips.

Diabetics have their own dietary issues, of course.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that some 29 million Americans have Type 2 Diabetes. That’s roughly 9.3% of the population.

Another 10% of adults have CKD.

So, right off the bat, close to one-fifth of the American population falls outside the ‘good/not good’ – ‘healthy/unhealthy’ measurements of most nutrition surveys. And that doesn’t count those with special dietary needs because they are way under-, or over-weight.

If you are fortune enough to in the larger group that can choose what you eat based on common measurements like those surveys and ‘experts’ produce, consider yourself fortunate. But keep in mind, it wouldn’t take a lot to push you into one of the ‘endangered’ classes!