by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GM(Genetically Modified)

May 12 2015

Milan Food Expo: The Coldiretti Pavilion

I especially enjoyed the pavilion of Coldiretti, an association of Italian farmers.

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“No party” can—and is supposed to be—read two ways: no fun, or no political clout.

The pavilion houses a farmers’ market promoting the products of its members.

Coldiretti doesn’t have much use for GMOs, but for reasons we don’t often consider in the U.S.

2015-05-02 15.54.56In case you can’t read the photo:

What is good for the GMO multinational corporations is bad for Italy.

Because they cancel our extraordinary diversity.

Because they suffocate many to reward one.

Because the seeds of the earth belong to those who work it.

Because food certainties belong to “free research.”

Whatever you think of such views, I’m hoping the Milan Food Expo will get visitors thinking about these food issues and more.

Apr 27 2015

Chipotle goes GMO-free: a brief comment

Chipotle’s announcement that it will only be sourcing GMO-free ingredients is eliciting much press (see the article in the New York Times, for example).

Here’s what I’m telling reporters:

No, this is not a safety issue.  GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick.

Yes, this is a matter of trust.  Chipotle customers are offended that GMO foods are not labeled and that they have no choice about whether to eat them.

The GM industry has fought labeling since 1994 when the FDA first approved GM foods for production.  Even then, there was plenty of evidence that the public wanted these foods labeled.  But the industry is still pouring million of dollars into fighting labeling initiatives.

This—and the rise in sales of organic foods—are a direct result of the industry’s own actions.

Apr 22 2015

Vermont’s new GMO labeling regulations

Vermont has issued GMO labeling rules.  They seem straightforward.  Here are the ones that I think matter:

1.  Unpackaged GMO foods must post labels

  • Raw: “produced with genetic engineering.”
  • Processed: “produced with genetic engineering,” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.”

2.  Packaged GMO foods must be labeled by the manufacturer

  • Raw: “produced with genetic engineering”
  • Processed: “produced with genetic engineering,” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” (<75% GMO) or “may be produced with genetic engineering (if they aren’t sure).”

3.  If the food is GMO, it cannot be labeled “natural”

4.  The font can’t be any smaller that of Serving Size in the Nutrition Facts label

It’s hard for me to imagine why the biotechnology industry, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and so many food companies think that saying “may be produced with genetic engineering” means the end of civilization as we know it, so much so that they pour millions of dollars into fighting it.

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Now they are taking Vermont to court to try to block implementation of these rules.

Otherwise, the rules go into effect July 1, 2016.

That will be fun to see!

 

 

 

 

Mar 21 2015

WHO’s cancer working group: Roundup is “probably a human carcinogen”

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has just published a report from 17 experts from 11 countries who concluded that glyphosate (“Roundup”) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The IARC Working Group found evidence that

Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides…In male CD-1 mice, glyphosate induced a positive trend in the incidence of a rare tumour, renal tubule carcinoma. A second study reported a positive trend for haemangiosarcoma in male mice.  Glyphosate increased pancreatic islet-cell adenoma in male rats in two studies. A glyphosate formulation promoted skin tumours in an initiation-promotion study in mice.

Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption. Soil microbes degrade glyphosate to aminomethylphosphoric acid (AMPA). Blood AMPA detection after poisonings suggests intestinal microbial metabolism in humans. Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations. Bacterial mutagenesis tests were negative. Glyphosate, glyphosate formulations, and AMPA induced oxidative stress in rodents and in vitro.

Organophosphate pesticides and herbicides have long been known to be toxic to mammals, but experts have been undecided about whether they cause cancer.

Glyphosate is the herbicide used in conjunction with glyphosate-resistant genetically modified crops.  These are widely planted in the United States (HT means herbicide tolerant).

In addition to causing widespread selection of resistant weeds, glyphosate may also cause cancer.

Add this to the list of scientific reasons for concern about widespread production of GMO crops.  Roundup is used on plants other than GMOs, but GMO corn, cotton, and soybeans use the most.

Note: The FDA has just approved new varieties of GMO apples and potatoes.  These do not use Roundup.

Next: watch Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, attempt to cast doubt on IARC’s scientific judgment.

Addition, March 22:  As an example of the level of the general discussion of GMOs and glyphosate, see this short video clip from French TV (in English) with Patrick Moore.  Mr. Moore, a former director of Greenpeace, has controversial views on climate change and GMOs.

Additions, March 23:

DTN/The Progressive Farmer quotes a Biotechnology Industry Organization representative as pointing out that IARC took the Séralini study seriously, immediately casting doubt on the quality of its literature review (but I can’t find any mention of this study in the IARC report).

Center for Science in the Public Interest urges the EPA to take this seriously.

Consumer Reports is concerned about the vast amounts of glyphosate used and thinks the government should monitor it.

Nov 5 2014

Yesterday’s elections: plenty of good news for the food movement

This was a big election for the food movement:

  • Soda taxes in Berkeley and San Francisco
  • GMO initiatives in Colorado, Oregon, and Maui
  • The reelection of particularly fierce opponents of food stamps
  • Minimum wage laws

Soda taxes

Hats off to Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico ProAg who stayed up half the night to file her story at 3:00 a.m.  As usual, she cuts right to the chase.  Here’s her comment on the Berkeley win:

Voters approved Measure D, a penny-per-ounce tax, by a three-to-one margin after a bitter campaign battle, with the beverage industry spending more than $2.1 million to oppose the initiative. The pro-tax campaign was bolstered by more than $650,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vote for the tax in Berkeley was a whopping 75%–a clear, unambiguous win.

The vote in San Francisco passed the tax by a majority—54.5%—but a 2/3 vote was required because the measure specified where the funds would to.

And here’s some commentary

Dana Woldow, who has covered these elections closely on the website Beyond Chron, has this to say about the Berkeley win.

Xavier Morales, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, told me that entities across the state have just been waiting to hear what happens in Berkeley and SF to advance their own local plans for a tax, and that there are ongoing discussions at the state level regarding the feasibility of a soda tax bill to help reduce diabetes, heart disease and stroke. “Other cities in the Pacific Northwest have also been watching both San Francisco and Berkeley with great interest,” he said.

Sara Soka, campaign manager for Berkeley vs Big Soda (the Yes on D campaign)says:

What happens in Berkeley doesn’t stay in Berkeley…Berkeley’s public school system was one of the first to voluntarily desegregate in 1968. It’s led in public school food policy, smoke-free areas in restaurants and bars, curb cuts for wheelchairs.  All these positive changes are now mainstream.

Michael Jacobson, director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, a long-time supporter of soda taxes, says:

Berkeley voters have shown it can be done.  A community’s health can trump Big Soda’s insatiable appetite for profit…This is a historic victory for public health and a historic defeat for the increasingly disreputable soda industry. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association can no longer count on spending their way to victory.

San Francisco’s Choose Health SF

This isn’t about one soda tax. This is about a national movement that was kicked off tonight, and we are proud to have raised the conversation about the health impacts of soda and sugary beverages, and exposed the beverage industry’s deceptive tactics.

GMO labeling and no-plant initiatives

At a cost estimated at more than $60 million, the GMO industry and its food industry friends managed to defeat labeling measures in Oregon and Colorado.

In Maui, voters passed an initiative to block cultivation of GMO materials on Maui, Molokai and Lanai until cleared by environmental and safety studies.

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation released this statement quoting Val Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization:

The effort was a misleading, fear-based campaign to put a “scarlet letter” on genetically modified foods. “We commend the citizens of Colorado for protecting the environmental benefits, food abundance and lower prices that have been delivered by seeds and crops improved through biotechnology.”

Reelection campaigns

These have to do with representatives whose positions on food stamps are especially awful.   The position of one, Florida Republican Steve Southerland, was so dreadful that he was singled out by Food Policy Action for targeting.

During discussions of the farm bill, Southerland led attempts to cut food stamps and force beneficiaries to work.  Food Policy Action’s Tom Colicchio and Ken Cook issued a statement:

This is a big win for food advocates and Florida families. Congressman Southerland has repeatedly made policy choices that are harmful to families and small farmers. Today, we proved that voters care about food issues, and they will hold their elected officials accountable on Election Day.

 New York City Coalition Against Hunger notes these election results:

  • Steve Southerland (Florida 2), arguably the greatest Congressional opponent of SNAP/Food Stamps, lost his re-election bid.
  • PA Governor Tom Corbett who – soon after becoming Governor – wanted to slash Food Stamps benefits – lost big.
  • In contrast, Thad Cochran, who is perhaps the GOP’s strongest supporter of SNAP/Food Stamps, won re-election to the Senate by a wide margin in Mississippi.

It quotes executive director Joel Berg: “Cutting SNAP and other safety net programs is bad policy, bad morals, and, as last night’s results show, bad politics.”

Minimum Wage Laws
Voters in four red states (SD, AR, AK, NE) passed raises in the minimum wage by wide margins, even though they defeated Democratic candidates.

My comments on all of this

  • To the question, will soda taxes reduce consumption, I would answer: the soda industry thinks so to the tune of $11 million in San Francisco and Berkeley.
  • To the question, will GMO labeling hurt the GMO and food industries, I would answer: the industries think so to the tune of about $100 million so far.
  • These expenditures—and the bullying that go with them—are sufficient to explain the voter turnout.

If you haven’t seen Nightline’s exposé of the soda industry’s tactics, now might be a good time to take a look.

And celebrate!

 

 

Aug 27 2014

On two views of GMOs: Michael Specter vs. Vandana Shiva and Gary Hirshberg

Michael Specter’s article “Seeds of Doubt” in the current issue of The New Yorker  is a critical profile of  India’s Vandana Shiva and her active opposition to genetically modified foods.  At the end, it offers this somewhat temporizing statement:

Genetically modified crops will not solve the problem of the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. It would be far better if the world’s foods contained an adequate supply of vitamins. It would also help the people of many poverty-stricken countries if their governments were less corrupt. Working roads would do more to reduce nutritional deficits than any G.M.O. possibly could, and so would a more equitable distribution of the Earth’s dwindling supply of freshwater. No single crop or approach to farming can possibly feed the world. To prevent billions of people from living in hunger, we will need to use every one of them.

Despite this peace offering, his article elicited a firm rebuttal from Dr. Shiva. It also elicited a rebuttal from Gary Hirshberg, chair of Just Label It. If you want to get into the weeds of the GMO arguments, all three of these pieces are well worth reading.

They raise and debate the same arguments I discussed in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, first published in 2003 and out in a second edition in 2010. As I explain in the book, the gist of the arguments comes from two apparently irreconcilable views of GMO foods:

  1. The “science-based” position: If GMOs are safe (which they demonstrably are), there can be no rational reason to oppose them.
  2. The “societal value-based” position: Even if GMOs are safe (and this is debatable), there are still plenty of other reasons to oppose them.

Specter holds the first position.  Shiva and Hirshberg hold the second. Those who hold the “science-based” position would do well to take societal values more seriously.

Seed patents, monoculture, weed resistance, and other such concerns trouble people who care about food systems that promote health, protect the environment, and provide social justice.

Labeling, right from the start, would have acknowledged the importance of such values. Until GMO foods are labeled as such, the same arguments are likely to go on endlessly, with no reconciliation in sight.

Additions:

Jul 21 2014

This week’s reading: The GMO Deception

Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber, eds.  The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk.  Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

I did a blurb for this one:

GMO Deception brings together essays by specialists in a wide range of fields united in skepticism about the benefits of GMOs for reasons grounded in in biology, social science, politics, and ethics.  If you do not understand why there is so much opposition to GMOs, nationally and internationally, this book is the place to start.

May 23 2014

GMO labels cost families $800/year: Guess who paid for the study?

Yesterday, Food Navigator reported that Cornell economists calculated that GMO labels would cost the average family of four a whopping $800 per year.

This seemed so improbable that I immediately wondered:  Who paid for it?

I clicked on the link to the study: Bingo!

The work on this report was supported financially by the Council for Biotechnology Information.

You won’t find the list of companies and groups that support the Council on its website, but Source Watch fills the gap.

I am increasingly alarmed by the increasing extent of industry research sponsorship—it’s become a huge issue in  studies of nutrition, diet, and health.

The influence of funding source on research outcomes is so predictable—many studies have now shown that industry-funded studies almost invariably produce results that favor the sponsor—that I’m batting nearly 100% on conflict-of-interest  checks, of which this GMO study is a particularly blatant example.

It’s not that industry pays investigators to find the desired answers to questions.  It’s more complicated than that.  It has to do with the way investigators ask and try to answer the research questions.  The industry favored biases get built into the study’s assumptions and controls, often (I think) unconsciously.

This study, for example, is based on an elaborate set of assumptions leading to the $800 per family estimate.  Other assumptions might give different results.   The authors do not discuss the limitations of their estimates, nor are they required to in this type of report.

But I’m willing to hazard a guess that independently funded studies would come to considerably lower estimates.

Moral: if a study produces surprising results that favor an industry position, look hard to see who sponsored it.

Addition, May 24:

A reader sent in further information about the Council for Biotechnology Information:

Council for Biotechnology Information

1201 Maryland Avenue, SW., Suite 900, Washington, DC 20024 USA

Phone: 202-962-9200 web site: http://gmoanswers.com

(CBI: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Council_for_Biotechnology_Information.

http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Council_for_Biotechnology_Information.

Experts: http://gmoanswers.com/experts. Founding members and supporting partners:

http://gmoanswers.com/about. There are also offices in Saskatoon (SK, Canada)

(http://whybiotech.ca)  and Mexico City (AgroBio Mexico: http://agrobiomexico.org.mx.)

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