Monthly Archives: August 2012

Monsanto’s push to block the labeling of genetically modified ingredients

FoodFacts.com has been reporting quite consistently on GMOs because we understand the concerns our community has expressed in this regard. Today, we visited the Monsanto blog and found some very interesting information we wanted to share with you.

Proposition 37 will be coming up for vote in the state of California this coming November. If voted in, the proposition will require manufacturers clearly label genetically modified items on their products ingredient lists. As you might imagine there are many voices in the food industry trying to sway consumer opinions regarding Proposition 37, and, of course, Monsanto is at the top of that list.

Their blog expresses their support for No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme. That’s a coalition of California farmers, food producers, grocers and retailers that have joined forces to oppose Proposition 37. They refer to the labeling of GM ingredients as a “warning label” … FoodFacts.com understands it differently. GM ingredient labeling is information consumers are currently denied and therefore, are not making food choices based on all the available product information. We have fairly clear labeling of other ingredients and nutritional information that allow grocery shoppers to understand whether or not a particular food product fits their dietary requirements. So we’re not quite sure how labeling GM ingredients qualifies as a “warning”.

From the Monsanto blog: “Consumers have broad food choices today, but could be denied these choices if Prop 37 prevails … Interestingly, the main proponents of Proposition 37 are special interest groups and individuals opposed to food biotechnology who are not necessarily engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply. They are gearing up a campaign of misinformation.” This also confuses us. Labeling in no way denies consumers food choices. It simply allows them to make more educated decisions about the foods they purchase.

More from the blog: “Hundreds of organic or certified non-GM products are available for consumers who prefer these products. This approach offers choices for all consumers and does so without the risk of confusing consumers who are satisfied with the products they know, trust and can afford.” While it’s true there are a wide variety of organic/certified non-GM products out there, the quantity of those available products pales in comparison to the non-organic/non-GM products stocked on grocery shelves.

“Leading proponents of Proposition 37 blatantly describe foods containing GM ingredients as untested and unsafe. This is simply untrue. Beneath their right to know slogan is a deceptive marketing campaign aimed at stigmatizing modern food production. While we respect that some people may choose to avoid GM ingredients, it is wrong to mislead and scare people about the safety of their food choices. The California proposal would serve the purposes of a few special interest groups at the expense of the majority of consumers.” Monsanto seems to believe that because there have only been links found between health and safety concerns of GM ingredients that there really aren’t any. Those links, in their opinion, need further investigation in order to warrant any action.

Sadly, FoodFacts.com found the language used in the blog fairly similar to the rhetoric regularly used in politics worldwide. It is peppered with phrases designed to sway the opinions of readers to their side of the argument. We know this argument will heat up in the months to come as November is right around the corner. And in addition, we’re sure that other states will base similar propositions off of the results of the Proposition 37 ballot in California. Please read more here: http://monsantoblog.com/2012/08/14/taking-a-stand-proposition-37-the-california-labeling-proposal/

Wal-Mart on board to sell Monsanto GM Sweet Corn

FoodFacts.com has been trying to keep up with the latest news regarding genetically modified food products and ingredients so that we can bring that news directly to our community. Today we learned that Wal-Mart has officially agreed to sell genetically modified sweet corn to its customers.

The world’s largest retailer with consumer reach and influence throughout the industry has effectively taken a public stance on the sale of genetically modified fresh food. While public awareness of GM products is at a high and consumers are becoming more and more conscious of the GMO debate, Wal-Mart has placed the subject matter front and center in its produce aisles.

The first crops of genetically modified sweet corn from Monsanto are being harvested right now. This is the corn Wal-Mart will be stocking in their produce departments. It is the same sweet corn that both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods refused to purchase and sell to their customers.

But according to company representative Dianna Gee, Wal-Mart looked at the GMO issue from both sides and “and after collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product.” Sadly it appears that the petition they received from Food & Water Watch with almost half a million signatures from consumers emphatically opposed to Wal-Mart’s plans to sell the Monsanto sweet corn couldn’t sway them.

Monsanto maintains that there are important reasons for genetically modified sweet corn – overall, sweet corn accounts for less than 1 percent of all corn acreage in the U.S., but is also responsible for 40% of all corn insecticide treatments. This new genetically modified sweet corn can reduce insecticide use on sweet corn by up to 85%.

The strong opposition to genetically modified foods maintains that there have been more reports that GM foods might be hazardous to our health, than those that prove those foods have no affect on our health. While studies continue on an ongoing basis, there are various pieces of information that cannot be explained that may, in fact, point to our consumption of genetically modified foods. For instance, food allergies have doubled since 1996. Obesity has increased widely throughout the United States.    We have no concrete way of knowing if these situations are in any way connected to genetically modified foods. Food manufacturers are not required to label their ingredients as genetically modified. And it all leads to concerned consumers who are very confused about how to avoid this unwelcome entry into our food supply.

And now, sadly, Wal-Mart will be adding to that confusion. And keep your eyes and ears open for the other retailers that may follow suit. It appears that Safeway and Kroger are avoiding answering the question of whether or not they may be purchasing the Monsanto sweet corn as well.

FoodFacts.com will stay on top of this new Monsanto produce product and report to our community anytime we hear of another retailer introducing the sweet corn on their produce shelves. Read more here: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-08-04/news/ct-met-gmo-sweet-corn-20120804_1_sweet-corn-food-allergies-patty-lovera

New research linking preservative with ADHD

FoodFacts.com wants to call our community’s attention to a new study from the Journal of Attention Disorders. So many times we read about a possible exacerbation of attention difficulties from various food preservatives and additives and this new study has found something that might appear to be more than a possible exacerbation.

Sodium benzoate is a preservative found in many different food products and beverages. It has long been recognized as generally safe in small amounts. And it has been recnogized to have harmful effects in certain circumstances. Its use is to prevent spoilage. And you’ll see it most often in acidic products like soda, jelly or jam or sauerkraut. Possible problems have been allergic reactions and the suggestion that it is a trigger for hyperactivity in children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. In addition, it is known to actually form benzene when combined with ascorbic acid. While the amount of benzene formed appears to be low, it does appear that the amounts of benzene formed in some beverages would be an actual health concern, since benzene has been linked to elevated risks for leukemia and other blood cancer. So, generally, sodium benzoate is a preservative that is – and has been – of concern.

This new study focused on college students who habitually consumed high levels of beverages containing sodium benzoate, and those who did not. 475 students took part in the study in 2010. They were each asked about their consumption of beverages containing sodium benzoate. They were all assessed for symptoms of ADHD.

The study clearly found that consumption of beverages containing sodium benzoate had a significant association with symptoms for ADHD.

There were 67 students who displayed symptoms of ADHD who reported consuming more than 35 servings per month of beverages containing sodium benzoate. These students scored a 4 or more on the symptom scale used. On the lower end were students consuming 17 servings per month of beverages containing sodium benzoate, who had the least amount of symptoms.

While further research is certainly needed, this study displays a recorded link between ADHD and sodium benzoate.

FoodFacts.com encourages our community, as always, to read labels carefully. While sodium benzoate is a common ingredient in sodas, it is present in other food products as well. Stay alert for the presence of this preservative on ingredient lists regardless of the food category.

Olympic juice

FoodFacts.com has heard an awful lot about athletes gorging on unhealthy fast foods after their meets end throughout the 30th Olympiad. Hey, we all need a “treat” after the hard work is done. And when an athlete needs 7,000 calories a day, or thereabouts, to maintain their body weight … that treat might be different than it would be for the rest of us! But we were really enthused and curious about some other information we found about our athletes’ diets.

It turns out that many of our athletes are finding energy benefits from beetroot juice … and it’s really not just a fad (although the benefits need to be explored quite a bit more). And it raises questions for the rest of us non-olympic (and maybe non-athletic) folks.

Studies conducted in the last two years have shown that, in fact, beetroot juice can increase athletic performance in certain sport situations. The knotty part of the beet is where the juice can be extracted. Studies are suggesting that there can be up to a 3 percent improvement in performance … well, at least in the world of elite sports. Probably doesn’t apply to most of us, but for them that is absolutely huge. So maybe the rest of us could benefit as well.

While no one can actually put their finger on it right now, beetroot juice seems to increase bloods and oxygen flow to muscles. In addition, it also somehow allows muscles to use the increase in oxygen more efficiently. It appears that when someone drinks beetroot juice regularly they expend less oxygen during exercise. This was evident in the study when participants who drank the juice for a week before hand were able to run significantly longer on a treadmill than those that drank a placebo juice.

It’s important to note that the juice seems to have an effect on short term exercise or athletic activity. In the studies undertaken, it appears that longer term activity is not affected in the same manner as short-term activity (i.e. marathon vs. sprint). Strenuous and short athletic activity is where beetroot juice appears to exercise its benefits. In addition, don’t expect to drink a glass of beetroot juice and experience increased energy. It needs to be consumed regularly to make any kind of a difference. So if you want to give this a try, you’ll need to drink the juice on a regular basis to see if it makes any kind of impact in your activity. It also may not be palatable initially and you may need to get used to the taste. It has been noted, however, that tart cherry juice may have a similar (if not exact) affect. And it probably tastes better.

FoodFacts.com is enthused by the idea that juicing might actually provide our athletes with the energy they need to excel, and by this discovery, might provide the rest of us a healthy way to boost our own energy levels and help all of us get moving more and more often! Read more here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/looking-for-fitness-in-a-glass-of-juice/?src=me&ref=health

One bad apple might spoil the whole bunch

And we have until September to try to stop it. FoodFacts.com wants to encourage our community of concerned food consumers to take action against genetically modified apples. You can do so by reading this blog post and following the Federal Register link you’ll find below to submit your comment on this issue. First, though, here’s the scoop on “arctic apples”.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits has developed a new genetically engineered apple that resists browning. When you slice a natural apple, it turns brown fairly quickly. A solution to this has always been that if you’re including apple slices in your children’s lunch boxes, or arranging them on a fruit plate, is to brush them with a little lemon juice. This slows down the browning process and you really can’t detect that bit of lemon flavor. It’s always worked. So why does this company think that consumers actually need a non-browning apple?

It appears that U.S. consumption of apples is down considerably since the 1980’s and Okanagan Specialty Fruits really believes they’ve solved the problem. By making sliced apples look better to serve or sell, people will buy more of them. It appears that consumers are more likely to purchase apple slices than they are whole apples. These slices are marketed as healthy, ready-to-eat snacks and have been made popular by fast food chains who now offer them as menu items. These slices don’t brown or bruise because they are often coated with vitamin C and calcium that prevent it and also help them stay crisp. Unfortunately that can alter the taste. Additionally, supermarkets can reject whole apples because of minor bruising which is common when the fruit is handled. So it’s assumed that the development of a non-browning, non-bruising apple would help industry sales.

The browning and bruising is a perfectly natural phenomenon and doesn’t make the apple rotten, just unattractive. It’s caused by the apple’s production of polyphenol oxidase. The genetic engineering of this new apple (the arctic apple), is accomplished by inserting a DNA sequence from four of the apple’s own genes that govern the production of polyphenol oxidase. And, voila, no browning.

The important point about the arctic apple is that it is not welcome by the U.S. Apple Association,  the group that represents the apple industry. They are pretty convinced that it’s not in the industry’s own best interest to market a natural fruit that’s been modified genetically. For generations, the apple has carried an image of good health with it and they are concerned that the new GMO version could change the apple’s reputation and adversely affect consumer opinion. And their concerns extend to consumer opinion abroad, as well – about 28% of apples in the U.S. are exported.

Okanagan has applied for regulatory approval of arctic apples with the U.S. Agriculture Department and the application is open for public comment through September 11th, 2012. Click through here and add your comment to those already submitted by over 800 concerned consumers and farmers: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/07/13/2012-17144/okanagan-specialty-fruits-inc-availability-of-petition-for-determination-of-nonregulated-status-of

Learn more detailed information about arctic apples here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/business/growers-fret-over-a-new-apple-that-wont-turn-brown.html?pagewanted=all

FoodFacts.com would also appreciate our community members sharing this blog post within your own networks. Let’s get the word out and educate others about what may soon be coming to a grocery store near you!

Can gradual exposure help eliminate food allergies?

FoodFacts.com is very sensitive to members of our community experiencing the effects of food allergies. We know – on the lower end of the scale – how frustrating it can be to not be able to eat the simple foods others are able to enjoy. And on the higher end of that same scale, the very real danger that exists from being exposed to even minor amounts of the allergen. It’s a difficult situation. And folks are constantly bombarding allergy sufferers and their family members with non-medical, unproven advice.

Especially when those well-meaning people are suggesting that you expose yourself or your allergic loved one to the very substance that provokes the allergy in the first place.
But there is new research emerging that is suggesting that those annoying suggestions may actually carry some amount of truthfulness. Treating food allergies through oral immunotherapy might actually improve tolerance to the specific food allergen and decrease the severity of the allergic reaction. It does sound somewhat crazy and scary, especially if the allergy sufferer is a child.

But that’s exactly the group that this study explored. 55 children, between the ages of five and eleven, who had mild to moderate allergies to eggs were the focus. They were each exposed to either egg-white powder or a cornstarch placebo mixed into their daily diets. The amounts of egg white or placebo were continually increased each day over a three years. After about 10 months, over half of the children were able to tolerate a little more than half an egg’s worth of egg-white powder with no allergic reactions. After 22 months, three-quarters of the children consuming the egg-white powder could now ingest up to 10 grams (about a whole egg). At the conclusion of the study 11 of the children were considered to be allergy free and were capable of eating eggs whenever they wanted to without experiencing any reactions.

It is unclear from the results of this study whether or not the oral immunotherapy was the sole cause of the improvements noted in food allergies. Food allergies in children are often outgrown completely or can improve over time, with reactions decreasing in frequency and severity. It’s also of the utmost importance to note that severely allergic children were not studied during this research.

While proving the efficacy of oral immunotherapy for people with food allergies would mean tremendously positive lifestyle changes for the food allergic among us, the concept is still somewhat frightening and dangerous.  While FoodFacts.com hopes to see more research and hear agreement amongst doctors that there will be oral immunotherapy programs prescribed under strict physician’s supervision, we’re still in favor of food avoidance and diet adjustment.

You can read more here: http://www.medpagetoday.com/allergyimmunology/allergy/33816

Diacetyl effects on the brain

Mmmm, buttery anything. There are very few folks we know here at FoodFacts.com who don’t enjoy the flavor of butter in sauces, baked goods, snacks and well, basically, anything. But did you ever wonder how that butter flavor found its way into many of the processed foods we find on our grocery shelves?

Some of them contain a flavoring ingredient called diacetyl. Diacetyl is a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation and exists in low levels in both beer and wine. When the levels of diacetyl go up, the buttery flavor and aroma result. But, diacetyl has been a controversial ingredient for quite some time. The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has suggested that diacetyl may be hazardous when heated and inhaled over a long period of time. Workers in factories that manufacture artificial butter flavoring have been diagnosed with brohiolitis obliterans, an uncommon lung disease that is quite serious. As a result many of this, many major microwave popcorn manufacturers removed diacetyl from their products.

Now there is a new study out that again involves the chronic exposure of workers in factories producing the ingredient. While it’s been removed from most major popcorn brand, you can still find it in margarines, snack foods, and baked goods. And this time, the results of the new study link it to intensifying the effects of a protein that’s present in Alzheimer’s disease.

In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid proteins clump together in the brain. These “bunches” of protein are actually a marker for the disease. Researchers realized that diacetyl has a structure similar to the substance that causes the beta-amyloid proteins to “bunch” in Alzheimer’s disease victims. So they studied whether it could act in the same manner as other substances on those proteins.

Sadly, it does appear that diacetyl increased the levels of protein clumping. Not a great relationship between the flavoring and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, it was found that diacetyl also intensified the protein’s toxic effect on nerve cells in a laboratory setting. The amount of diacetyl exposure that made that occur was the standard occupational level. This is another blow to workers in the flavoring industry. And on top of all that, more experiments conducted in the lab illustrated that diacetyl can penetrate the barrier between the blood and the brain which is what prevents harmful substances from entering.

This truly revealing research is especially alarming to industry employees, whose exposure to the flavoring is long-term and raises the really disturbing possibility of neurological problems. In addition, FoodFacts.com does wonder if diacetyl really belongs in the GRAS category. If chronic exposure has this level of harmful effect on the brain, perhaps other studies need to be run on the flavoring that go further than those conducted in the past to determine its level of safety for the consumer. Read more here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120801132606.htm and as always, read labels!

Another great reason to go organic: pesticides in our produce

Earlier this summer, The Environmental Working Group released the eighth edition of its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This is a great resource for consumers and FoodFacts.com wants to make our community aware of its findings.

Researchers different fruits and vegetables to determine pesticide contamination. This year’s study provides information on 45 different fruits and vegetables. All the samples of these fruits and vegetables were either washed or peeled prior to testing. In this manner the study actually reflects the amount of pesticides present when the food is actually being consumed. The results are pretty sad and kind of frightening.

An apple a day, for instance might actually end up sending you to the doctor, instead of keeping the doctor away. 98% of non-organic apples tested contained detectable levels of pesticides. Lettuce samples reflected the presence of 78 different pesticides. All the nectarines tested contained pesticide residue. Grapes “won” in the fruit category, with 64 different pesticides found in samples tested. Strawberries and blueberries were both on the list as well.

Most disturbing, however, was pesticide testing for fruit and vegetable baby food. This year’s study included green beans, pears and sweet potatoes. Sadly, after analyzing about 190 baby food samples, 92% of the pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide. On the up side virtually none of the sweet potato baby food products contained any pesticide. On the down side, the pesticide iprodione which has been categorized as a probably carcinogen showed up in three baby food pear samples. The pesticide is not registered with the EPA for use on pears at all.

The EPW also publishes a list of produce that is least likely to test positive for pesticides. Those products include asparagus, cabbage, grapefruit, watermelon, eggplant, pineapple, frozen peas and sweet potatoes.

It’s important to note that this report is not designed to reflect the affects of pesticide exposure. It is specifically meant to measure the presence of pesticides in common fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle … and now the baby food aisle as well. Research is ongoing regarding the affects of those pesticides on consumers, which ones and in what amounts. But having an understanding of what pesticides are found and where, can help all consumers make better decisions at the grocery store. FoodFacts.com encourages you to read more about this fascinating report: http://www.ewg.org/release/ewg-releases-2012-shopper-s-guide-pesticides-produce. Information like this helps us all to understand what’s really in our food.

Foods you need to pay attention to

FoodFacts.com spends a lot of time educating our community on the foods we shouldn’t be eating, or at least that we should be trying to avoid. So we thought we’d explore some of the foods we might not realize are actually good for our health. There are some surprises out there … and if the following foods aren’t surprising to you, share them with friends and family, who may not understand their benefits.

Iceberg Lettuce
Generally this is the lettuce that isn’t flying off the produce shelves these days. It’s somewhat “out of fashion” in terms of salad preparation. But we really need to start a new trend. Half a head of iceberg lettuce contains more alpha-carotene than romaine lettuce or spinach. And it’s actually pretty tasty when used in a great salad recipe. Try it with a few different vegetables julienned with the lettuce and a tangy homemade dressing. And if you still like the texture of the leafier green lettuces, you can add iceberg into your regular salad preparation. Mix it up with romaine or green leaf lettuce to add an interesting crunch to your regular salad recipes. It also adds some iron, vitamin C and vitamin A to your already nutritious salad ideas.

Sardines
Yes, we’re talking about those tiny fish that can come in a can. There are so many things you can do with sardines and so many things they can do for you! Fatty fish, like sardines, are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. They help you build your HDL cholesterol (that’s the good kind), and they’re good for you brain. Not to mention that if you or someone you love has had a heart attack, they can actually reduce the risk of a reoccurrence that could lead to sudden death. That’s a pretty powerful little fish. They’re great with pasta or salads. You can pretty much rest assured that any food you might add chopped bacon to would be equally tasty with sardines. If you don’t have access to fresh sardines, canned will work just fine. But they do contain sodium, so make sure you adjust your recipes accordingly.

Vinegar
Turns out that in this case the old wives tales about vinegar just might hold water. Vinegar has been shown to help with cholesterol issues, fight allergies and increase stamina. But, most importantly, a study has pointed out that when people consumed two tablespoons of vinegar with a high-carb meal, their blood sugar was actually lower by 23% than when eating the meal without it. That’s a pretty good reason to make your own salad dressing with those two tablespoons and eat that with your higher carbohydrate meal.

Blueberries
FoodFacts.com loves blueberries. They’re great for breakfast. Work well as a snack and make a pretty terrific dessert! The compound anthocyanin is a flavanoid (a type of antioxidant) that blueberries contain great amounts of. Flavanoids can protect against free radicals that cause cell damage and they are great for protecting your heart. Blueberries also seem to have a positive effect on blood pressure. So, especially during these summer months when blueberries are plentiful at the farmer’s market, go ahead and enjoy them, knowing that while you’re loving the taste they bring to your dishes, they’re loving your heart health in return!

Mushrooms
If you’ve ever been in a cooking class or gone to culinary school, you’ve learned that mushrooms are a “flavor enhancer”, as in, they really don’t have flavor themselves, but tend to brighten or pick up the flavor of other foods. That sort of leads folks to believe that they are kind of useless on their own. But they really aren’t. Mushrooms are actually are source of lean protein, without the cholesterol or fat. They are also low in carbs and contain fiber. They help burn cholesterol. They’ve been shown to be effective in preventing breast and prostate cancer and they’re great for a diabetic diet.

So that’s the FoodFacts.com list of five foods that you might want to pay more attention to in your diet. While a few of them might take some cooking creativity, we think all five are definitely worth their health benefits!

Is the government helping to make America fat?

So with all the constant talk about health problems in the U.S. – obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. – we probably all think that the government works hard, if not to actually do something about it in the form of specific laws, then at least to make sure that they’re not actually supporting some of the reasons the problems are happening in the first place.

In more than a few very interesting articles FoodFacts.com read this week, we learned that, in fact, our government is actually subsidizing ingredients that are linked with (and possibly directly lead to) more than a few of our nation’s health woes.

We’re all very aware that obesity in the United States is a tremendous problem. Just how big a problem it actually is, is reflected in the fact that almost one in five kids between the ages of six and eleven are seriously overweight. That puts them at risk for heart disease, diabetes and many other serious health problems. It’s clear that the government is urging citizens to do something about these problems – mayors in cities around the countries are coming up with “creative” tax ideas to hopefully dissuade people from indulging in sugar-laden beverages which are felt to contribute to obesity.

Sadly, on the other side of the coin, our government is spending over $1.28 Billion annually to subsidize the crops farmers are growing that are used for additives in the same foods and beverages they’re trying to talk us out of consuming. Both corn and soy farmers are receiving tremendous subsidies from Congress and the Department of Agriculture … the same corn and soy used to make hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn starch and vegetable shortening … to name a few.

A report released by the consumer advocacy group, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund is shedding light on this government policy. $277 Billion has been spent on farm subsidies since 1995. Of that huge dollar amount, $81.7 Billion were corn subsidies and $26.3 Billion were soybean subsidies. That’s 39% of the total amount to only two crops being grown in the United States. Sadly, those are the two crops found in almost every processed food on the market, and that are most often genetically modified.

The study actually states that “our own government policy is responsible for promoting obesity-fueling empty calories,” adding that “even as nutritionists and researchers tell us to cut down on junk food in order to end the childhood obesity epidemic, federal agricultural policy is busily underwriting the problem.”

This is information that every nutritionally-conscious American needs to know and understand. FoodFacts.com will keep an eye out for any developments regarding the unusual (and senseless) decisions our government is making that are actually exacerbating the obesity epidemic they’d like to curtail.

Read more: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/07/25/Billions-in-Tax-Dollars-Subsidize-Junk-Food-Industry.aspx#page1#ixzz22K8bF4Vw