by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GM(Genetically Modified)

Jun 5 2018

FDA says Golden Rice does not contain enough beta-carotene to merit a health claim

The FDA has concluded its “consultation process” on Golden Rice.  This, you may recall, is rice bioengineered to contain genes for beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) consulted with the FDA to make sure that the agency had no objection to this rice being used in human or animal food products.

The FDA’s letter to IRRI concluding the consultation includes this statement:

Although GR2E [“Golden”} rice is not intended for human or animal food uses in the United States, when present, it would be a producer’s or distributer’s responsibility to ensure that labeling of human and animal foods marketed in the United States, meets applicable legal requirements.  Although the concentration of ß-carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim, the ß-carotene in GR2E rice results in grain that is yellow-golden in color.*

The FDA’s analysis of the science concludes that this rice Is unlikely to be toxic or allergenic.  It also concludes that although the rice contains higher amounts of ß-carotene than non-modified rice, people in the U.S. are unlikely to eat much of it and in any case the amounts would decline due to storage, processing, and cooking.

In any case, the amounts are not high enough to merit a nutrient-content claim.

This rice has long been promoted as a means to solve problems of vitamin A deficiency in the developing world.  Will it?  We are still waiting to find out.

*What does “too low to warrant a nutrient content claim” mean?

The FDA’s rules for nutrient content claims (go to pages 91 and 92) say:

  • “High,” “Rich in,” or “Excellent source of” means that a standard food portion contains 20% or more of the daily value for that nutrient.
  • “Good source,” “Contains,” or “Provides” means 10% to 19% of the daily value per standard serving.
  • “More,” “Fortified,” “Enriched,” “Added,” “Extra,” or “Plus” means 10% or more of the daily value than an appropriate reference food.

The daily value for beta-carotene is complicated because it is a precursor of vitamin A; 12 micrograms of beta-carotene are equivalent to one vitamin A unit.  The standard for adults and children is 900 vitamin A units or 900 x 12 for beta-carotene = 10,800 micrograms.

One serving of Golden Rice must provide less than 10% of that amount (1,080 micrograms).

For comparison, one small carrot provides about 4000 micrograms of beta-carotene.

May 15 2018

Have some glyphosate with your food? Broccoli, at least, is glyphosate-free

Journalist/author Carey Gillam of US Right to Know has an article in The Guardian about glyphosate (Roundup) in food based on emails obtained in a lawsuit.

The emails concern FDA’s testing of food samples for residues of glyphosate, the herbicide widely used with genetically modified crops.  The agency has not yet released the test results.

But the emails contain some interesting information.  For example, FDA chemist Richard Thompson writes that he had to use broccoli to establish testing standards.

I used broccoli because it’s the only thing I have on hand that does not have glyphosate in it. I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal, and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount in all of them.

How much?  We won’t know until the FDA releases the data.

Glyphosate is widely used for growing GMO corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and other ingredients of highly processed foods.  It is not surprising that residues remain in products made from GMO ingredients.

Should we be concerned?

One agency, IARC, judges glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, but industry scientists strongly dispute this decision and are fighting it in court.

We need better data for sure, but in the meantime it is hard to believe that glyphsate residues are good for us.

These findings are another reason to avoid ultraprocessed foods and eat your veggies.

May 9 2018

USDA’s proposals for GMO labels

One picture is worth a thousand words.

Here is my favorite of USDA’s proposals for the front-of-package icon for GMO foods.

Translation: “be” means “bioengineered.”

Here are the options USDA proposes (thanks to FoodNavigator.com):

You can’t make this stuff up.

You have about 60 days to file comments.  By all means, do so.

Feb 21 2018

The ongoing debates over glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup)

What do we know about the carcinogenicity of glyphosate?

The International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) said it was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, the glyphosate herbicide used widely on genetically modified crops, was not happy with this decision and has been doing all it can to cast doubt on that research.

Some of its efforts are documented in this report:

Republicans on the House science committee have repeatedly tried to get IARC to admit its judgment was based on inadequate evidence.  The chair of the committee wrote IARC complaining about its report and asking for someone to come and testify about it.  IARC declined.  In yet another letter the committee said it would stop funding IARC, to which IARC asked that its immunity be respected.

How to understand all this?  A lot of money is at stake.  In this diagram, HT means herbicide tolerance (e.g., Roundup glyphosate):

 

 

Dec 11 2017

USDA’s case studies on front-of-package labeling

The FDA is responsible for food labeling but in the peculiar way things get done in federal agencies, the USDA governs front-of-package labeling for organics and also gets involved in labels for non-GMO, no-antibiotics and those for country-of-origin.

It has just published a report on all this:

The report is a good place to learn about the labeling laws passed in 1990, and it has an interesting case study on GMO labeling:

It has a lot to say about organic labeling:

Do such labels influence what the public buys?  Yes.  (That’s what the USDA is worried about)

Does the public understand what the labels mean?  Not really. (The USDA worries about this too)

The USDA derives many conclusions from this study, but boils them down to this statement:

There are fundamental tradeoffs in how information is presented to consumers. If it is presented simply, then important nuance or complexity may be missed. On the other hand, if standards and labels attempt to convey complexity, then consumers may just be confused. Policymakers and marketers will need to consider these tradeoffs in the future when developing new process-based labels.

What the USDA does not discuss is the fundamental issue behind fights over food labels.  They work well to discourage people from buying products that may not be good for them or do not meet their values.  That’s why the food industry opposes them so strongly.

Nov 28 2017

The glyphosate (“Roundup”) saga continues

Glyphosate (Roundup), the controversial herbicide used with crops genetically modified to resist it, has been in the news a lot lately.  I’ve been collecting items:

♦  An analysis from In These Times: How Monsanto Captured the EPA (And Twisted Science) To Keep Glyphosate on the Market.

Glyphosate is a clear case of “regulatory capture” by a corporation acting in its own financial interest while serious questions about public health remain in limbo.  The record suggests that in 44 years—through eight presidential administrations—EPA management has never attempted to correct the problem.

♦  Reuters has an article about the problems posed for Monsanto by dicamba drift.  Widespread use of glyphosate has created a crisis in weed resistance.  To overcome it, Monsanto has genetically engineered crops to resist a more powerful and longer-lasting herbicide, dicamba.  Unfortunately, dicamba is volatile and drifts onto neighboring crops.

♦  As the New York Times reports:

Because genetically modified crops allow dicamba to be sprayed later in the year, after crops emerge from the ground, and in hotter and more humid weather, the chemical is susceptible to what is known as “volatility”—it can turn into a gas and drift into whatever happens to be nearby.

♦  The New York Times also wrote about problems getting glyphosate approved in the European Union.  The EU’s actions are head spinning. First, the EU rejected a European Commission proposal to renew glyphosate’s license for five years:

Opposition from France and Italy doomed a European Union vote…to reauthorize the world’s most popular weedkiller, glyphosate, a decision that came hours after Arkansas regulators moved to ban an alternative weedkiller for much of 2018…Taken together, the decisions reflect an increasing political resistance to pesticides in Europe and parts of the United States, as well as the specific shortcomings of dicamba, whose tendency to drift has given pause even to the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, which has otherwise largely acceded to the wishes of the chemical industry.  Dicamba has damaged more than 3.6 million acres of soybean crops in 25 states, roughly 4 percent of all soybeans planted this year in the United States.

But now the EU’s food safety committee has approved the five-year license renewal.  Even so, this saga is not over yet.  France declared it would ban glyphosate “as soon as alternatives have been found,” and within three years. Italy says it will ban glyphosate by 2020.  The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution asking the European Commission to phase out glyphosate by 2022.

♦  While all this is going on, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute had good news for Monsanto.  It published a study finding no increase in cancer risk among people whose work involves glyphosate applications.  But nothing is simple:

However, among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users (RR = 2.44, 95% CI = 0.94 to 6.32, Ptrend = .11), though this association was not statistically significant.

Finally, Just Label It has been collecting articles about glyphosate.  Examples:

♦  Medical Journals: Monsanto Glyphosate in Pee, Bad for Health: New research in the prestigious medical journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) reports on the startling evidence that glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto’s weed-killer, Roundup—is not only getting into our bodies but has been doing so at increasing levels for decades.

♦  Ben & Jerry’s to launch glyphosate-free ice-cream after tests find traces of weed killer: Company pledges products will be free from ingredients tainted with controversial herbicide after the survey found traces in its European ice-creams. The company also pledges to source only organic dairy for a new line. 

♦  Glyphosate persists – and European topsoils are contaminated with it: A new research study from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and two Dutch laboratories shows that 45% of Europe’s topsoil contains glyphosate residues, demonstrating the over-reliance of the EU agricultural model on this harmful herbicide. Contrary to manufacturers’ claims, glyphosate persists in soils, not only affecting soil fertility and crop quality but also posing risks to human and environmental health. 

How to make sense of all this?

The health issues are confusing, not least because of this industry’s efforts to cast doubt on the science.  The issues are unlikely to be sorted out soon.

The weed resistance problem is so serious that glyphosate is becoming unusable, only to be replaced by herbicides that are much worse.  Dicamba drift is killing conventional crops, organic crops, and home gardens.

The remedy? Sustainable agricultural methods for all crops, and the sooner the better.

Addition:  Gary Ruskin of US Right to Know reminds me of these documents.

♦  Carey Gillem’s article on Monsanto’s manipulation of glyphosate science

♦  The Monsanto Papers archive on glyphosate

 

Sep 22 2017

Weekend reading: Carey Gilliam’s Whitewash

Carey Gilliam.  Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.  Island Press, 2017.

Image result for whitewash story weed killer

I did a blurb for this book (only the last sentence is on the back cover):

Whitewash, says Carey Gilliam, is what Monsanto, Monsanto-paid scientists, and the Monsanto-influenced EPA are trying to do for the herbicide glyphosate (“Roundup”)—make it  appear benign in the face of evidence that glyphosate may be carcinogenic,  strongly promotes weed resistance, and causes genetically modified crops to require even greater use of toxic chemicals.

Gilliam’s deep dive into this industry’s manipulation of science gives us even more reasons to advocate for organic and sustainable agricultural systems.

Aug 17 2017

Cane versus beet sugar–A difference?

As a result of yesterday’s post, readers asked questions about sugar.  Here’s one:

Q: Is there a difference between cane and beet sugar?

A: It depends.

Both are 99.95% sucrose.

But the plants are different.  Sugar cane is grassy; sugar beets are a root vegetable.

The sucrose is extracted and refined by different methods.

And that remaining 0.05%: chefs say it makes a difference in cooking properties.

The San Francisco Chronicle did some comparative baking and then ran blind taste tests.

These showed big differences, with cane sugar a clear winner.

Who knew?

Just for fun, here’s another difference: sugar beets are about 95% GMO; sugar cane is non-GMO.

Related image

Also for fun, here’s cane-plus-beet versus high fructose corn syrup:

You know the drill.  Everyone would be healthier eating less sugar—no matter whether it comes from cane, beets, or corn.

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