Category Archives: genetic modification

The science guy has changed his mind about GMOs

Magic City Comic ConFoodFacts.com has a serious question, worthy of your consideration. Is changing your mind a testament to your ever-evolving, constantly-learning, exceptional intellect, or, rather, is it the inability to make up one’s mind? We’re constantly posing this question during any political season, as every word every candidate has ever uttered is questioned over and over again. It is a serious question for other arenas as well and needs to be considered in science. Bill Nye, for example, is in the news right now for this precise discussion. The science guy has changed his mind about GMOs.

“The first principle [of science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics, 1965.

When Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) publicly changed his mind recently about genetically modified organisms − he now says they “are an important, and perhaps, essential component of modern farming” − many were quick to pounce.

Besides attacking his reasoning and his credentials, some of his critics even alleged – with absolutely no evidence or justification – that Bill’s change of position must have involved a payoff by Monsanto.

The simple, innocent truth, however, is laid out plainly in the recently published revised edition of Bill’s book “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation.” In a new chapter, Bill explains that after publishing the first edition of the book, in 2014, he “has spent a great deal of additional time investigating the issues surrounding GMFs (genetically modified foods).” His investigation, he explains, included a deeper exploration of the scientific literature, as well as a visit to our company.

“I was not there to be charmed,” he comments on that visit. “I was there to see if Monsanto scientists had hard data to address the issues about GMFs and the ecosystems in which they grow. I now believe they do.”

In other words, Bill dug deeper into the issue and then recognized he’d been mistaken. And then he had the courage to admit it.

Who else has trod this path? Well, lots of people. After all, to err is human, and scientists and those who, like Bill, study and write about science, are human. For science to move ahead, therefore, it’s critical that the people who pursue it be willing to recognize and correct their mistakes. Otherwise science – and humanity – get stuck.

I know I’ve made mistakes as a scientist – for example, in being slow to recognize the seriousness of climate change. When the data documenting this trend became overwhelming, however, I studied it – and shifted my position – because I knew that for a scientist, the real sin is not in making a mistake, but in refusing to acknowledge it. That’s all Bill has done in this case.

And that puts him in some very good company.

Thomas Edison, for example, famously had to work his way through thousands of failures to achieve some of his great technological inventions.

“I have not failed,” he once said. “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

That attitude is typical among great scientists. They know that, as Niels Bohr said, “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”

Albert Einstein was one such expert. As a recent article in Scientific American shows, the greatest physicist of the 20th century made several important mistakes. But as the article also shows, he was not unwilling to admit it, most notably in connection with his general theory of relativity, introduced in 1915.

Consistent with the prevailing belief of the time, Einstein assumed then that the universe was static – neither expanding nor contracting. That circumstance, however, was a problem for him, because gravity dictated contraction. So the great man inserted into his calculations a “cosmological constant” – a fudge factor he thought was needed to ensure a universe in balance.

Some years later, however, evidence began to mount that the universe was not in balance, that it’s actually expanding. So Einstein withdrew the constant – and called it “the biggest blunder he ever made in his life.”

My final example of mistakes made and acknowledged concerns Stephen Hawking, the British astrophysicist who comes closest, perhaps, to being Einstein’s successor in today’s world. Hawking, who helped create modern black-hole theory among countless other contributions, is best known to the public as the author of A Brief History of Time and the subject of the movie, “The Theory of Everything.”

Like Einstein, Hawking has admitted some big mistakes. My favorite concerns time:

A few decades ago, some of the world’s leading theorists speculated that if the expansion of the universe were to reverse itself and things would begin to contract, time’s arrow would flip. Instead of pointing forward, it would run backwards, like a movie in reverse. People, if they still existed, would live from the grave to the cradle.

Now, as spectacular as that thought is, what is almost equally spectacular to me is that for a while, Stephen Hawking believed it. Yes, the man who is arguably the smartest person in the world thought time would reverse – which I gather means the Beatles would reunite, the Great Depression would quickly be followed by World War I, and my St. Louis Cardinals would have another chance at winning the 1985 World Series, which they would have won the first time but for a terrible call by the umpire.

But I digress. As The New York Times reported years ago, Hawking has now “announced that he had changed his mind. Recent research had led him to conclude that time would still march forward, even if the universe began to contract, he told a conference in Chicago on astrophysics.”

Never changing one’s mind does seem to be a limiting concept – one which assumes that after a hypothesis is made or an opinion is given, there will be no change, no discovery and no greater depth of knowledge on the given subject. That strikes us as a sad thought. On the other hand, we are talking about GMOs. Food for thought.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-robert-t-fraley/bill-nyes-change-of-heart_b_9055296.html

Is there another side of the GMO debate?

gmo_tomato-300x207There’s always a different way to look at a topic. There’s always another way to solve a problem. There’s always a different side to consider in an argument. That’s true for everything. They’re all sweeping statements, but FoodFacts.com knows that the world isn’t necessarily a black and white place. It’s why we try to stay neutral on most subjects – there may be a new point of view we have yet to discover and that might be important. So we do need to consider this … is there another side of the GMO debate? We have to admit, that’s a hard one for us, but there may be some points to consider. Here’s a view through a different lens.

Over the next two years, McDonald’s will stop buying chickens raised with antibiotics that are also used in humans These antibiotics are not used to treat disease in animals—rather, they are added to animal feed because they cause animals to grow more quickly using less feed.

Following McDonald’s lead, Costco, which sells 80 million rotisserie chickens per year, made the same announcement just a few days later. Then in April, Tyson Foods, one of McDonald’s major suppliers of chickens, announced they would phase out use of human antibiotics in its chickens by September 2017.

Chain Reaction, responding to growing public pressure, created a report card in September grading 25 restaurant chains on their policies of using meat from suppliers that use antibiotics. Only two restaurants, Chipotle and Panera, received an A. Chic-fil-A got a B, and McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts got C’s. Everyone else, including Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Starbuck’s, failed because they have not publicized any antibiotic policy.

Around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used not to treat diseases in humans, but to add to animal feed to promote growth. Overuse of antibiotics has without a doubt contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and eliminating them from routine use makes perfect sense.

However, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a different story. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that any GMO has ever harmed a human ever, there is undeniably an aura of fear surrounding these so-called “frankenfoods”—a thoroughly unearned nickname.

In April, Chipotle announced their “G-M-Over It” campaign, claiming, “When it comes to our food, genetically-modified ingredients don’t make the cut.” In doing so, they became the first national restaurant chain to go non-GMO—though they admit their soft drinks still contain high fructose corn syrup, which is nearly all made with GMO corn.

Studies have been done in animals. Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal geneticist at the University of California Davis, studied the health of over 100 billion animals who consumed well over a trillion GMO meals over a 29-year period since GMOs were introduced into their feed. She and her team found no evidence of “unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity”

While Chipotle has been spending time and money eliminating GMOs from their food, there was an outbreak of E. coli at their restaurants, which sickened more than 50 people—20 of whom required hospitalization—in nine states since October. And the chain is currently still dealing with an outbreak of norovirus in one of their Boston franchises, which caused over 140 people to become acutely ill.

Just last month, after 20 years of evaluation, the FDA approved the sale of the AquAdvantage salmon, the first genetically-modified animal approved for human consumption. The salmon was created by taking a growth gene from Chinook salmon and a gene promoter from an ocean pout and adding them to the Atlantic salmon. These genes allow the fish to grow much more quickly without changing any other traits, meaning potentially more food to feed hungry people faster. No other “foreign” DNA was used, the fish are all female and nearly 99 percent are sterile, and they will only be raised in land-based aquaculture farms, so mixing and reproducing with wild salmon will be nearly impossible.

Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi are among 60 supermarket chains that have all stated that they will not sell the AquAdvantage salmon.

FoodFacts.com is not a fan of GMOs. We don’t fall somewhere in the middle on this issue. But like we said, we do feel it’s important to look at every available side. It IS vitally important that human antibiotics aren’t used in animal feed because we’ve got a tremendous problem in in regard to antibiotic resistant superbugs. It IS vitally important for Chipotle to address the foodborne illness outbreak stemming from their restaurants because the more restaurants like Chipotle adopt safer food handling practices, the more other restaurants will follow suit. But we don’t think that makes Chipotle’s efforts to remove GMOs from their ingredients a smaller endeavor by comparison. We don’t think it’s any less important to remove GMOs from the food supply than it is to remove human antibiotics from animal feed. And we don’t think the absence of foreign DNA in AquAdvantage salmon will make us feel any more comfortable about eating it.

But these are reasonable, valid points to make … even if we don’t agree with them. Being an educated consumer means understanding as many sides of an issue as humanly possible. It help us solidify our position on an issue. In this case, it reminds us, yet again, that we don’t want to consume GMO ingredients and we think we have a right to refuse them in our foods.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/19/the-year-the-food-industry-gave-in-to-anti-gmo-fear-mongering.html

American GMO Lobby targets a 14-year-old Canadian teen with a social media following

Why would a 14-year-old Canadian teenager be the focus of the GMO lobby in the U.S.A.? FoodFacts.com always thought that things like this sounded a little farfetched. Could a lobby group actually feel threatened by a young teenager?  We’ve just learned the answer is yes.  The American GMO lobby targets a 14-year-old Canadian teen with a social media following.  Read on.

At the time, Rachel Parent was 14 years old and had a growing social media following. Her message to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food was attracting attention – including from those who promote GMOs in the U.S. Their internal emails reveal they were discussing how they could counter her message.

“To think at this point, I was on their radar and I had no clue,” Parent said.

The strategizing was revealed in emails, along with thousands of other pages of documents released in a freedom of information request by US Right to Know(USRTK), a non-profit advocacy group funded by the Organic Consumers Association concerned with the safety of GMOs.

The documents shed light into the increasingly nasty and divisive public relations war over GMOs.

“It’s mostly scientists that they attack, but Rachel is a standout. The agrichemical industry is plainly quite threatened by this teenage schoolgirl, so that’s why they’re after her,” Gary Ruskin, the co-director of USRTK said.

The documents show that professors and academics were contacted by companies like Monsanto and the industry trade association’s public relations firm to provide expert opinion and offer credibility in a complicated debate.

But not all the academics revealed their connection to Monsanto or the agrichemical industry.

One professor at a renowned American university volunteered as a science expert to help spread a pro-GMO message. His name is Kevin Folta, chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida.

But to understand why Kevin Folta focussed on Rachel Parent, is to understand his relationship with Monsanto and the agrichemical industry.

Folta began corresponding with Monsanto in 2013, according to emails released by USRTK. From there a relationship began with Monsanto, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the trade association, the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI).

“I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like….I’d be happy to write the op-ed on making decisions on facts,” Folta wrote in an email in October 2014 to Monsanto.

“He’s literally a mouthpiece for them…Monsanto says jump, and Kevin Folta says ‘how high’?” said Ruskin.

When asked, USRTK also said third-party academics were enlisted by the pro-GMO labelling side.

The documents show Folta wrote articles, blog posts, contributed to industry website GMOAnswers.com, attended public hearings, forums and events to explain and defend GMO technology; he also lobbied Congress and other government agencies.

During these appearances and in his writings Folta has repeatedly referred to himself as an “independent scientist.”

The documents reveal that Monsanto, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Ketchum reimbursed Folta’s travel costs. After the emails were released, Folta admitted as much in his blog posts.

In August 2014, Monsanto also gave Folta an unrestricted $25,000 grant telling him in a letter it “may be used at your discretion in support of your research and outreach projects.”

Folta wrote in a blog post that he planned to use the grant for an “outreach program, which covered the costs for me to travel and teach scientists how to talk about science.”

“Kevin Folta is one of the principal attack dogs of the agrichemical industry. He maintains extremely tight communications with Monsanto and the agrichemical industry’s PR firm Ketchum,” said Ruskin.

Folta vehemently denies these claims, telling Global News in an email, he is not an agribusiness GMO advocate. He said he speaks publically, writes, and joined the public relations campaign to defend GMO technology which he believes is safe, reiterating he speaks freely expressing his own scientific opinions.

“I don’t care about the companies. They don’t sponsor my work, I never received anything from them personally, I don’t care about them,” he wrote.

“Because I am effective at communicating the science, activists have tried hard to connect me to being some sort of pawn of these companies. It is nonsense.”

Charla Lord of Monsanto told Global News in an email, “the relationships between the public and private sector are critical and have existed for decades,” said Lord. “We see public-private collaborations as essential to the advancement of science, as well as to educating and sometimes correcting misinformation the public has about plant biotechnology.”

Trish Jordan, also of Monsanto Canada told Global News that Monsanto does not ask academics to keep their relationships with the company under wraps.

“No, absolutely not. We fully understand that transparency is expected. It’s a goal of ours,” Jordan said.

“Holding Activists Accountable”

In a 2013 email, a Monsanto executive contacted scientists and professors from various universities suggesting topics. That email proposed Folta write about “Holding Activists Accountable.”

The email to Folta went on to say: “Demonstrate how activists’ messages and tactics regarding Genetically Modified (GM) crops and plant biotechnology undermine worldwide efforts to ensure a safe, nutritious, plentiful and affordable food supply using responsible and sustainable agricultural practices.”

“The key to success is participation by all of you – recognized experts and leaders with the knowledge, reputation and communication experience needed to communicate authoritatively to the target groups. You represent an elite group.”

The email also suggested Folta show how “activist campaigns… spread false information that goes unchallenged and results In further erosion of the public’s confidence in agricultural innovation.”

Later that year, while attending a roundtable in Washington, D.C., Folta was asked by public relations firm Ketchum to make a video about Parent.

The email request to Folta read, “How do you agree/disagree with 14-yr old GMO Labeling activist Rachel Parent, who is, in her own words ‘not anti-science’ but ‘for responsible science and ethical progress?’”

But, the email added, “we try to refrain from personally attacking folks, so don’t worry too much about Rachel specifically.”

Nine days later, a video appeared online that was quite specific, entitled, “How do you agree/disagree with 14 year old GMO Activist?”

The video discussed Parent’s activism, her belief that all GMO food products should be labelled, and addressed her apparent lack of scientific knowledge.

“So when I think about answering Rachel Parent, who’s the activist child – well, young woman – who’s running the website ‘Kids Right to Know…The things I just adore about Rachel is that she’s clearly very articulate, clearly intelligent,” Folta said in the video.

“The problem that I have is when Rachel starts to let non-scientific thinking really kind of cloud her final decision-making process.”

Parent said she finds the tone of the video “almost degrading.”

She also defended the information on her organization’s website as scientifically sound.

“People can say whatever they want about me, but as long as I know what I am doing is right, their opinion doesn’t matter.”

Ketchum, the public relations firm for the industry trade association, said the question for the video about Parent was submitted by a user of GMO Answers.com. According to Ketchum, since 2013, GMO Answers has responded to “more than 1,000 questions by top experts in their field” from people submitting questions from around the world.

‘I have an idea. I can provide content’

Eleven months after the video was posted, Folta volunteered his own strategy to Ketchum: a website to counter Parent and her organization’s website, Kids Right to Know, according to an email obtained by Global News.

“There was a discussion this morning about kidsrighttoknow.com, the junk information site piloted by Rachel Parent as a figurehead,” Folta wrote in an email to a Ketchum employee.

“Today, I purchased kidsrightotruth.com and want to populate this. I have no time, but I have an idea. I can provide content.”

“Can you see if ketchum might have some interest in actually hosting the site w/GMOanswers etc and maybe helping me with someone to do the design? I can provide content.”

The response from the Ketchum employee: “Kevin, I’ll kick this around to our team and see what they recommend!”

According to Ketchum, the website is not in development, “no, Ketchum is not working with Kevin Folta to design or host a website.”

“It was definitely eye opening,” said Parent. “On one hand I was really surprised and disappointed that a professor from a university would want to target and discredit our website, which is really dedicated to youth.”

“And on the other hand, I was pleased to know that Kids Right to Know is making an impact… so it was a bit of bitter sweet.”

Despite her age, now 16, Parent has become the face for the GMO labelling battle in Canada. A Consumers’ Association of Canada – Decima Poll shows close to 90 per cent of Canadians want mandatory GMO labelling.

Health Canada and U.S. health and agriculture officials say GMOs are safe and scientific studies back that up. Industry, however, is concerned consumers are making decision based on fear, not facts.

Opponents, including Parent, disagree and believe the scientific research government regulators rely on is often funded by the same companies that benefit from the sale of GMOs.

She argued there is science that proves GMOs do pose a health risk, so labelling is needed.

Folta spoke about the unfounded concerns about GMOs during an appearance on a Global News morning show in Winnipeg in 2014, saying they are “very safe and very effective.”

As for the University of Florida, U.S. colleges place great importance on the independence of their research.

The university said in an August statement that “Folta has no relationship with Monsanto in research or teaching.”

As for the $25,000 grant given to Folta, Monsanto told Global News, “We were happy to support Dr. Folta’s outreach program to increase understanding of biotechnology….We funded Dr. Folta’s proposal through an unrestricted grant to the University of Florida. An unrestricted grant to a university is much like a gift: it can have no strings attached.”

According to the university’s statement, the funds were reallocated to “the campus food pantry.”

The university said its decision to reallocate the $25,000 grant from Monsanto “came when his (Folta) home address and other personal information appeared among comments on Facebook. Obscene, inflammatory posts also appeared on Craigslist, presumably with the intent to incite local violent action.”

Folta also made a clear distinction that neither his research nor department was ever sponsored in his blog.

“When people would ask me about Monsanto, I’d simply reply, “I don’t work with them,” or “They don’t sponsor my research,” wrote Folta. “Both statements are true. More importantly, both statements are the most telling questions a scientist can answer — Who are your collaborators? Who pays for your lab’s work?”

Folta admitted in a Sept. 2015 blog post there were “many things I could have done differently.”

He said many of the released emails and quotes have been taken out of context, and the focus is no longer on the science but on his actions. Folta has also stopped his blogging and curtailed his social media activity.

As for Parent she continues her quest to get GMO ingredients in food labelled, and she knows she faces some serious opposition.
“We are still going strong with our message of right to know…we’re just appealing to simple transparency,” said Parent.
Global News requested an interview with Kevin Folta for this story, but was told by Folta the university denied the request.

A bright, concerned and well-spoken 14-year-old in another country appears to be too much for American GMO proponents to handle … at the same time that they are far too accommodating with other voices that take up for their cause. If the GMO lobby wants consumers everywhere to believe that there are no problems with GMOs and that they aren’t hiding anything, it would make sense that things like this wouldn’t be happening at all. If they had no reason to be concerned about the results of transparency, they’d be more transparent. They aren’t. There’s a reason.

Great work, Rachel Parent. You keep right on educating your peers. Kids – and adults for that matter—do have the right to know.

http://globalnews.ca/news/2414720/documents-reveal-canadian-teenager-the-target-of-gmo-lobby/

FDA issues guidance for voluntary GMO (or bioengineered) labeling

gmolabelbill650This summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an anti-GMO labeling bill (otherwise known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 and nicknamed the DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know Act – by its opponents). We’re still waiting for the Senate to weigh in. In the meantime, though, the FDA issues guidance for voluntary GMO (or bioengineered) labeling.   FoodFacts.com thinks we should all read about this new guidance.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Nov. 19 issued guidance on the voluntary labeling of food products or ingredients that indicates whether they were derived or not from genetically engineered plants. The FDA prefers such labeling terms as “not bioengineered” over such terms as “non-GMO.” The guidance also gave examples of potentially misleading labeling terms.

The FDA recommends terms such as “not bioengineered,” “not genetically engineered,” and “not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology.” However, the FDA will not take enforcement action against a label using the acronym “GMO” as long as the food is not derived from a genetically engineered plant and the food’s labeling is not otherwise false or misleading.

The FDA discourages any “free” claims such as “GMO-free,” “GE-free,” “does not contain GMOs” and “non-GMO.”

“The term ‘free’ conveys zero or total absence unless a regulatory definition has been put in place in a specific situation,” the FDA said and added substantiating such “free” claims presents potential challenges.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) commended the FDA for rejecting the argument of those urging mandatory GMO labeling that genetically engineered foods are somehow materially different, as a class, than food derived from traditional breeding techniques.

“FDA states correctly, in our view, that the determination of whether labeling should be required should not be depend on the process used to produce a food, without regard to its effect on the food,” NGFA said. “Instead, a material difference designation should be reserved for if and when a biotech-enhanced trait alters the functional, nutritional or compositional characteristics, allergen city or other attributes of a food or feed, which biotech ingredients, as a class, clearly do not.”

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) commended the FDA for the science-based guidance. This guidance, which importantly stresses that the FDA only has purview to require mandatory labels in the case of material difference, addresses consumer interests with a clear outline of recommendations for food companies wishing to label their products.

“The FDA’s approach to voluntary labeling of food products would provide American consumers with truthful information in a clear manner that respects regulatory processes already in place,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling, a farmer from Newburg, Maryland, U.S. “In maintaining a science- and process-based approach to mandatory labels while laying out a thoughtful, conscientious path for voluntary labeling, the FDA stood firmly both with the people who grow our food and those who buy it. A voluntary labeling system, like the one outlined, provides information that would allow consumers to make choices based in facts and not in fear.”

Establishing a uniform standard for voluntary labeling has been a key part of the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) push to reduce consumer confusion about which foods do and do not contain ingredients derived from biotechnology.

“ASA is happy to see the guidance from FDA today that affirms that voluntary rather than mandatory labeling is the correct science-based and health policy,” said ASA President and Texas farmer Wade Cowan. “This concept has been at the heart of our work on a legislative solution that would provide more clarity to consumers, and we’re encouraged to see that part of the process move forward.”

In its guidance, the FDA said it also has problems with the “O.” that refers to “organism” in “GMO” (an acronym for genetically modified organisms) since most foods do not contain entire organisms.

The FDA gave examples of a statement that may be truthful but still misleading. For one example, a statement saying a particular ingredient in a food product was not bioengineered might be misleading if another ingredient in the food product was bioengineered.

A statement may be false and misleading if it suggests or implies that a food product or ingredient is safer, more nutritious or otherwise has different attributes than other comparable foods because the food product was not genetically engineered, according to the FDA.

Any type of non-bioengineered or non-GMO reference on a product’s ingredients list also may lead to problems with the FDA. For example, “soybean oil” should appear on the ingredient list without any non-bioengineered or non-GMO reference. Such information could appear on the display panel or an information panel. For example, the principal display panel on a bottle of soybean oil could say, “Made from certified non-GE soybeans.”

The FDA said it uses the terms “genetic engineering” and “bioengineering” to describe the use of modern biotechnology. The FDA said modern biotechnology means the application of in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection of plants. The term “modern biotechnology” alternatively may be described as “recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology,” “genetic engineering” or “bioengineering,” according to the FDA.

The House of Representatives in July, with strong bipartisan support, passed its version of a national standard for food and feed labeling for those who voluntarily wish to label their products as either containing or not containing biotech-enhanced ingredients, a bill the NGFA strongly supported. The focus is now on the Senate.

Lawmakers are considering using the omnibus spending package as a vehicle to preempt states from mandating GMO labels on foods that contain ingredients made through biotechnology. Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass the fiscal 2016 spending bill, while the first state labeling law takes effect in Vermont next July.

So it seems that the government prefers the term “bioengineered” over GMO. It also appears that they think it would be misleading to infer that foods containing bioengineered ingredients are somehow less nutritious, safer or otherwise different than their natural counterparts. Except, by their nature, they are.

The actual act of labeling these ingredients and differentiating them from non-GMO ingredients tells us that something about them is, in fact, different.

Does “bioengineered” sound less ominous than genetically modified? FoodFacts.com isn’t quite sure that one is more comforting to consumers than the other. We also don’t understand why letting American food consumers know what’s actually in their food is such a big issue.

Click here for more on the FDA guidance.

http://www.world-grain.com/articles/news_home/World_Grain_News/2015/11/Guidance_available_on_voluntar.aspx?ID=%7BA7A7C340-810B-4CEC-BF05-3A353B80B6E6%7D&cck=1

The FDA approves Frankenfish … GMO salmon on the market in as little as two years

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Here in America, there are some crops we can pretty much guarantee are GMO. Our corn, our soy, cottonseed, canola and sugar beets are predominantly genetically modified. In the absence of real GMO labeling, this is helpful information for those who are consciously avoiding consuming genetically modified foods. Unfortunately, the FDA just made that a little more difficult by approving genetic modification in a completely different arena.  GMO salmon may be on the market in as little as two years.

This is big: The Food and Drug Administration approved the first genetically modified animal designed to be food. It’s an Atlantic salmon that also contains genetic material from Pacific-Chinook salmon and, well … this thing — an eel-ish creature known as ocean pout. The AquaAdvantage, as it’s officially called, has for years had its critics (for starters, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s), and that number is likely to keep growing now that the debate isn’t just academic and the fillets could soon be for sale at your local seafood counter.

AquaBounty, the biotech company behind this Frankenfish, says the salmon will be available in two years, and, controversially, there will almost certainly be no label identifying the fish as GM. As the company’s CEO Ron Stotish explains, “When you’re the first and only, labeling is a dangerous decision. We’d like to label it as a premium product, but we’ll probably introduce it as ‘Atlantic salmon.’” AquaBounty says the advantages of this particular fish are that it grows twice as fast and only needs about 75 percent as much food as most conventional salmon.

In addition to the ongoing debate around food that’s been genetically modified, critics are also concerned that these salmon could escape into the wild. The company says that’s not very likely, but it’s implemented “several layers” of safeguards just in case — the fish are raised in sealed-off facilities in Canada and Panama, and the fish that are not used for breeding are always sterilized. Haven’t these people ever seen Jurassic Park?

While GMO salmon isn’t coming to your grocery store fish counter tomorrow, it is on the foreseeable horizon, with some estimates placing the market arrival of this new breed of fish at about 24 months. And once it does show up, GMO salmon isn’t going to be identifiable at that fish counter. The small sign sticking up from the ice next to those filets of fresh salmon won’t read New Salmon Product from AquaBounty. And we’ll never actually know what we’re eating. So even if you don’t like the idea that your salmon is part “eel-ish,” FoodFacts.com wants you to remember that it won’t matter. Because somehow or another according to AquaBounty and the FDA, we’ll all forget about it, stop caring about what we’re eating, or suddenly be perfectly fine with companies pretending to be Mother Nature without actually knowing or understanding whether or not there are ramifications or consequences. We need to stay vocal about this and remind them that there assumptions are incorrect.

http://www.grubstreet.com/2015/11/geneticall-modified-salmon.html?mid=facebook_nymag

Monsanto Roundup “probably” causes cancer

FRANCE-BEE-FLOWERMonsanto doesn’t have many fans in the FoodFacts.com community. The corporation forever connected by name to genetically modified crops made resistant to the pesticides they produce is back in the news.

One of the world’s most widely used herbicides – and the most commonly used one in the United States – can “potentially” trigger cancer, based on health chiefs of the United Nations. The WHO (World Health Organization) cancer division has revealed that popular ‘Roundup’, created by Monsanto, contains a toxic ingredient “categorized as potentially carcinogenic to human beings”.

Amateur garden enthusiasts and professional farmers have been advised to “think it thoroughly” about using the most popular herbicide after the report was released in the Lancet Oncology Medical Journal on Friday. The report exposed glyphosate was “categorized as potentially carcinogenic to human beings”.

The report also announced there is “certain evidence” that the carcinogenic ingredient can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The largest seed company in the world, Monsanto, replied clinical data doesn’t support these conclusions and called the WHO to hold an immediate conference that describe the findings.

The report was published on the official website of IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), the France-based division of WHO. Global regularity affairs’ Vice-President of Monsanto, Philip Miller, said: “We have no idea how the IARC might reach a conclusion with such a dramatic departure from all conclusions reached by supervisory agencies across the world.”

This is certainly not the word to which any company wants their name attached. But let’s face it, the name Monsanto isn’t connected to much that’s good. FoodFacts.com knows that this latest information won’t come as much of a surprise for many consumers. We’re sure we’ll hear more about this one. In the meantime, it’s another nail in a very overdue coffin for the company most famous for bringing us genetically modified seed.

http://www.zinereport.com/21569_who-warning-popular-weedkiller-can-probably-cause-cancer/

Rogue GMO wheat making its way to U.S. farms

GMO-wheat1We’re pretty familiar with the the big five GMO crops that are permitted in U.S. farming. Corn, soy, sugar beets, cotton, and canola and products containing these ingredients are pretty much guaranteed to be genetically modified. There are still some crops, though, that have not been approved for genetic modification. Wheat would stand out in that category.

So, how did that genetically modified wheat end up in a field in Oregon? Investigators still don’t know, but now they’ve found GMO wheat in Montana, too.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) say that they cannot figure out how genetically engineered wheat appeared, as if by magic, in a farmer’s field in eastern Oregon in the spring of 2013.

Having “exhausted all leads,” the agency has now closed the investigation. But that announcement was almost overshadowed by a new mini-bombshell: More unapproved GMO wheat was discovered this past summer at Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Mont.

It was discovered when workers tried to clear a small field using the weedkiller glyphosate. Some wheat plants survived, because they carried the glyphosate-tolerance gene that Monsanto Corp. had inserted into its GM varieties.

There were field trials of such wheat at that research station from 2000 to 2003, but all the grain from those trials should have been removed or destroyed. If some unharvested GMO grain remained in the field, it could have grown unnoticed in the intervening years.

Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, which represents wheat exporters, downplayed the Montana discovery. “We don’t expect any reaction” from wheat buyers, he says, because the GM wheat was found at a research station rather than a commercial field.

The 2013 discovery, on the other hand, rocked wheat markets. The genetically modified grain was never approved for sale, and it’s unwelcome in countries that buy U.S. grain. Since it was found in a commercial wheat field, foreign buyers worried that GM wheat might have contaminated the entire American harvest, just as unapproved GM rice did in 2006. Japan and South Korea stopped buying U.S. wheat for a time.

Tests relieved those worries. GM wheat was never found anywhere else — not in commercial seed, nor in shipments of grain. Normal trade resumed.

But these tests only deepened the mystery. Where had this wheat come from? Investigators from APHIS interviewed farmers and took samples of wheat seed throughout the wheat-growing areas of Oregon and Washington, looking for clues.

They also carried out genetic analysis of the wheat that was found in the farmer’s field, hoping to match it with a specific variety of wheat, and thus with a particular field trial in which that type of wheat was grown. (Monsanto carried out numerous field trials of GMO wheat until 2005, when it canceled the program.)

No clues emerged. The genetic tests showed that this GM wheat was a genetic mixture of different types of wheat. Wheat breeders create such mixtures in the course of their work, but seed companies don’t sell them or carry out field trials of them.

Monsanto’s chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, floated his own hypothesis in a teleconference with reporters last year. “The fact pattern indicates the strong possibility that someone intentionally introduced wheat seed containing [Monsanto's new gene] into his field,” he said at the time. He speculated that this could have been an act of sabotage carried out by anti-biotech activists who somehow had acquired genetically engineered seed.

USDA investigators declined to endorse that scenario. “We were not able to determine how it took place,” says Bernadette Juarez, who led the APHIS investigation.

Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed science at Oregon State University, said the rogue wheat — and other cases in which genetically modified crops have wandered far afield from their designated research plots — show that APHIS needs to monitor field trials of genetically modified crops more carefully.

People also need to realize that plant genes are likely to persist in the environment once they’re planted in open fields, she says.

“Any time a new trait is put into the environment, there’s really no way of retracting that gene or bringing it back and saying, ‘We’ve changed our mind,’ ” she says.

FoodFacts.com is well aware that once genetically modified seed is planted, the environment certainly does play a role in the spread of the crop. Cross contamination is a concern for organic farmers across the country. But it GMO wheat is no longer being developed, its appearance on more than one occasion is certainly puzzling. And it is certainly cause for concern. Professor Mallory-Smith certainly summed it up. There’s no going back after introducing genetically modified crops into the environment. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/09/26/351785294/gmo-wheat-investigation-closed-but-another-one-opens

Food manufacturers quietly making the move away from GMO ingredients

GMO signWhile many states are attempting to adopt initiatives like the Vermont’s recently passed GMO labeling legislation, it appears that many food manufacturers are quietly attempting to make changes to their ingredients to meet consumer demands.

There have been other companies that haven’t been quiet about their non-GMO intentions. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream publicly pledged to remove GMO ingredients from their products over a year ago and has worked hard to keep that pledge.

In fact, in the face of complaints from some of their customers, the much-loved Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch has been reworked to become Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch. That flavor reformulation was a direct result of the company’s very public pledge. Heath Bars, manufactured by Hershey, DO contain GMO ingredients. Ben & Jerry’s couldn’t leave the Heath Bars in the ice cream if they were going to remove all GMO ingredients.

Ben & Jerry’s has taken a vocal stand in recent years in support of states looking at legislation that would require manufacturers to disclose food that is made with genetic engineering. And Vermont recently passed law will require labeling starting in 2015. Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield launched a campaign to help fill the coffers of Vermont’s crowd-sourced defense fund set up to combat lawsuits over its labeling law.
The news that Ben & Jerry’s is taking a stand on a controversial issue is no surprise; it’s part of the company’s calling card. But some other mainstream companies are carefully — and much more quietly — calibrating their non-GMO strategies.

General Mills’ original plain Cheerios are now GMO-free, but the only announcement was in a company blog post in January. And you won’t see any label on the box highlighting the change. Grape Nuts, another cereal aisle staple, made by Post, is also non-GMO. And Target has about 80 of its own brand items certified GMO-free.

Megan Westgate runs the Non-GMO Project, which acts as an independent third-party verifier of GMO-free products, including Target’s. She says her organization knows about “a lot of exciting cool things that are happening that for whatever strategic reasons get kept pretty quiet.”

The Non-GMO Project has certified more than 20,000 products since it launched in 2007, and Westgate says this is one of the fastest growing sectors of the natural food industry, representing $6 billion in annual sales. But just because they’re testing the water doesn’t mean most mainstream companies are ready to start publicizing their changes.

Nathan Hendricks, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University, says big food producers are trying to gauge what direction consumers are headed in. “Ultimately,” he says, “these big companies aren’t just friends with Monsanto or something. They want to make a profit, and they want to be able to do what’s going to make them money.” So they’d better have a product line in the works if consumer sentiment starts to shift more heavily toward GMO-free food.

But even as they create GMO-free products, many of these corporations are fighting state initiatives that would require them to give consumers more information about their ingredients.

They often fight those battles through the powerful Grocery Manufacturers Association, or GMA, a trade group with hundreds of members. It has just filed suit against Vermont over the state’s GMO labeling law.

Even Ben & Jerry’s, so vocal in its anti-GMO stance, has a conflict, of sorts. It may have eliminated GMOs, but it’s still owned by Unilever, which put a lot of money toward fighting labeling legislation in California and belongs to the GMA. That might make things sticky for Ben & Jerry’s CEO Solheim.

But he equivocates. “You know,” he shrugs, “in big companies a lot of things happen behind closed doors. I think we’ll leave that conversation behind closed doors.” But Solheim says a unique agreement between the ice cream maker and Unilever allows Ben & Jerry’s to continue its social mission independent of its parent’s choices.

One reason these large companies might be quietly working to make GMO-free food now is because finding ingredients can be a major challenge. More than 90 percent of all the soybeans and corn grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. Most of those GMO crops go to producers of eggs, milk and meat who feed their animals with them, but GMO soy oil and cornstarch are used in a lot of food manufacturing, too.

To ensure non-GMO ingredients, the supply chain has to remain separate and pristine. Crops need to be grown far enough away from genetically engineered seeds to prevent cross-contamination. Harvesting equipment needs to be either used only for non-GMO crops or cleaned extensively before switching. The same is true for processing and manufacturing facilities and transport receptacles like shipping containers.

That’s why Westgate says a natural foods brand like Kashi, owned by Kellogg’s, is transitioning more slowly than many fans would like. She points out that Kashi told consumers it would take a couple of years to switch over all of its ingredients. It’s a matter of changing contracts with growers, finding farmland where non-GMOs can be grown successfully, and reworking recipes so the flavors that customers have grown used to aren’t drastically changed, like what has happened with Ben & Jerry’s new toffee.
Right now, non-GMO food fetches a premium. Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt says that premium is likely to come down if this part of the agricultural sector gains more traction and an efficiency of scale can kick in.

Ultimately, the consumer is king. And the question of whether or not consumers will want non-GMO products is still up in the air.

Not every company is Ben & Jerry’s. Their agreement with Unilever is the exception and not the rule in food manufacturing. We do get that. And we do understand that the removal of GMO ingredients from product lines is expensive and complicated. It’s a long process and one that isn’t easy for food manufacturers to undertake. FoodFacts.com is pleased to learn that there are mainstream manufacturers taking the necessary steps towards the removal of GMO ingredients even though they aren’t making announcements. Is the “consumer king” though? While it is true that consumer voices are motivating changes in food manufacturing, we have to believe that if all of us matter so much to food companies, many of the problems inherent in our food supply probably wouldn’t exist in the first place.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/22/333725880/some-food-producers-are-quietly-dumping-gmo-ingredients

GMO-free original Cheerios coming to a grocery store near you

If you’re concerned about purchasing products containing probable GMO ingredients, you’ll want to make note of this story.

General Mills Inc. has announced that it has begun producing original Cheerios WITHOUT any genetically modified ingredients. The 73-year-old breakfast cereal is one of the highest-profile brands to make this change, responding to the growing number of complaints in regard to the use of genetically modified ingredients in packaged foods.

This change is only being made to original Cheerios. Other varieties, like Honey Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios are still being manufactured using the same ingredients. General Mills began working towards this change in the manufacturing of original Cheerios about a year ago and began the actual manufacturing process of the GMO-free cereal several weeks ago. They are stating that they expect the new product to be available to consumers “shortly,” once the products have made their way through the distribution system and onto shelves nationwide.

You’ll be able to identify the new GMO-free version of the cereal easily. These Cheerios will carry the label “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients.” General Mills does note, however, that the product could contain trace amounts due to contamination in shipping or manufacturing.

We know that the FoodFacts.com community is well-versed in the debate regarding GMO ingredients in our food supply. GMO critics are calling this major move by Cheerios a victory in the fight against the use of genetically modified ingredients. There are initiatives proposed in several states calling for the labeling of GMO ingredients in our food supply.

While many advocacy groups have petitioned major food manufacturers to change their policies and begin producing their brands without the use of genetically modified ingredients, most large companies have rejected these efforts. They argue that there is no proof of health concerns resulting from the use of GMOs. Most are also against GMO labeling, saying that this would be a costly measure and reinforces a misconception about genetically modified ingredients.

General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas stated that “There is broad consensus that food containing GMOs is safe, but we decided to move forward with this in response to consumer demand.” Because the primary ingredient in Cheerios is oats, a crop that isn’t grown from genetically modified seeds, the transition just required General Mills to find new sources of cornstarch and sugar.

“Even that required significant investment,” Mr. Siemienas said. He didn’t provide a figure, but said that the hurdles would make it “difficult, if not impossible” to make Honey Nut Cheerios and other varieties without GMOs.

GMO Inside, a campaign that advocates GMO labeling, said Cheerios is the first major brand of packaged food in the U.S. to make the switch from containing GMOs to marketing itself as non-GMO. Other companies have also said they plan to change. Whole Foods Market Inc. said it will require by 2018 that all food in its stores containing GMOs, disclose the fact on labels. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Kellogg Co.’s Kashi, which markets its cereals and snacks as having “natural ingredients,” have both said they are working on taking GMOs out of their food.

But it is a lengthy and expensive process. Kashi says only 1% of U.S. cropland is organic and around 70% of packaged foods contain GMOs.

This voluntary change by General Mills in the manufacturing of original Cheerios may encourage other large manufacturers to follow suit. While it may be difficult and expensive to source the ingredients and change their processes, a brand as large as Cheerios embracing what companies view as a difficult transition can certainly begin a trend in food manufacturing.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303370904579297211874270146

Congratulations Connecticut!

FoodFacts.com wants to extend our congratulations to the state of Connecticut for becoming the first state in the U.S. to officially pass a law requiring the labeling of all genetically modified ingredients on food products sold in their state! Great job Connecticut legislature!

Unfortunately, when we read further we discovered that, in fact, passing the law for Connecticut is only just the beginning. Those transparent labels we’re all so adamant about won’t be on food product’s on the state’s grocery store shelves just yet. Connecticut needs the company of its neighbors before it can actively enforce the law.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s office issued a press release explaining both the law and what’s required for it to go into effect:

House Bill 6527 – An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food, will require producers to label genetically-engineered food in Connecticut as long as four states from the New England region with an aggregate population of 20 million also adopt a labeling provision.

So neighboring states will need to pass similar legislation in order for Connecticut to realize the benefits of this newly passed law.

Health and nutrition-conscious consumers nationwide have been standing up for the consumers right to know if ingredients in the products they are purchasing are genetically modified. We are looking for the transparency that will allow us to determine for ourselves whether or not we want to consume GMOs.

Opponents of the Connecticut bill (and others like it) continue to point out there is very little scientific evidence that GMOs are dangerous to our health. They say that available information points to the idea that genetically modified crops are “generally safe” for human consumption and are not associated with any serious health problems.

While Connecticut is the first state to official pass a GMO labeling law (whether or not it can currently be acted upon), it’s not the first to propose one. California is still working on it after the defeat of Proposition 37. Vermont is halfway there. And New Hampshire, Maine, Massachussetts and Rhode Island are in discussions about similar bills.

While we’ll have to wait for Connecticut’s neighbors to take similar actions in order to see the results of their leadership, FoodFacts.com wants to applaud the groundbreaking actions taken by its legislature. Passing the GMO Labeling initiative in Connecticut took real initiative, courage and leadership. It required the state’s lawmakers to disregard possible backlash from food manufacturers and put the rights of its citizens ahead of other voices. We’re hopeful that the actions of these lawmakers will encourage others nationwide to do the right thing for consumers all over the country.

Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/06/connecticut-passes-gmo-labeling-law/#ixzz2VOcmejaI