Tag 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.

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.

 

‘Free-From’ Beats GMO, Labeling Changers With A MUCH Clearer Message

free_from_event

A ‘Free-From’ event exhibitor

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.

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 couple of days ago. But this is, oddly, a view few American organizations or individual companies have addressed – and it’s one that’s taking off, elsewhere.

What has been said about the about-to-be-signed GMO bill is the fact that, as one observer said, “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 of the two major political parties having its election year convention as we speak, with the other’s conclave due within a couple of weeks, 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 “increase[ing] 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.

 

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.