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Archive for May, 2011

On Wednesday, consumer advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the FDA for their failure to address the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed. Factory farms  include antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs in animal feed to fight against the myriad of illnesses that cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys suffer from as a result of their CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) lifestyle (horrendous living conditions, restriction of natural behaviors, use of  unnatural feed and growth hormones). The antibiotics can also help increase production in food-producing animals which is an obvious plus for farmers. The major concern with this practice is that humans and animals will eventually become resistant to these drugs and then they will no longer be effective when they are really needed. The FDA itself has acknowledged that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics contributes to antimicrobial resistance in humans and has urged the meat industry to phase out antibiotics in feed. The FDA issued a draft guidance for the industry and recommends “judicious use” be applied. Specifically, the “FDA recommends that all antimicrobial drugs for animals and people be used only when necessary and appropriate.”
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For months I kept asking my hubby what he wanted to do for his 40th birthday. Go out to a fancy dinner, rent out a private room for a party, or take a trip? No, no, and no. Finally, the decision:

“I want to have everyone over for dinner and barbecue ribeye steaks and lobster tails.”

When I heard this I remember thinking, “wow, I would never choose to cook for myself and 40 friends on my own birthday. He must really love cooking.”

Hubby has always enjoyed being in the kitchen or standing over a smoking grill. We subscribed to several cooking magazines, but it wasn’t until we began getting Cook’s Illustrated that something changed. If you’ve never seen Cook’s Illustrated before, it is a thin publication that features no actual photographs of food, only artists’ drawings. Sounds rather dull until you read it. Every recipe is tested, and tested, and tested, until they have the perfect crepe, stir-fry, or pineapple upside-down cake. They also have a member’s website which has an extensive array of recipes, technique videos, and equipment reviews.

Hubby's lobster tails grilling. Photo by Ananda Dalidd

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This is going to sound completely obvious, but the reason we use Cook’s Illustrated recipes day in and day out is because they always turn out great. Not good, but great.
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Depending on what survey you look at, anywhere from 70-96% of Americans want labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. In the absence of such labeling, how do you know if something has GE ingredients? Chances are if it contains soy, canola oil, corn or sugar beets, it has an extremely high likelihood of being GE. What about fresh produce? The only way to know for sure is to buy certified organic produce.
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Have you seen the Meatrix yet? It is a highly creative cartoon in which Leo, the pig, meets Moopheus, the sunglasses and trench coat-clad cow, who decides to take the red pill to find out the truth about factory farming.

“The Meatrix is all around you Leo. It is the story we tell ourselves about where our meat and animal products come from.”

- Moopheus

The question is, are you taking the blue pill and living in the fantasy where meat is cheap and everything else doesn’t matter? Or, are you going to take the red pill and learn the truth?

From antibiotics and air pollution, to waste and workers, The Meatrix website does an excellent job at highlighting all the issues surrounding factory farming. Visit the site to learn more and find out how you can join the sustainable food movement.

Have you seen this symbol on foods recently?
What does it mean and how is it different than certified organic products?

In 2009, 93% of soybeans, 93% of canola, 86% of corn, and 95% of sugar beets (in 2010) grown in the United States were genetically modified. Stop for a moment and absorb that information; these are staggering numbers. In the US, a certified organic crop must be grown from non-GM (genetically modified) seeds. One of the major concerns with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is cross-contamination. When you have a soybean farm on one side of a road using GM seeds and an organic farm on the other side, you can begin to understand how organic crops can easily become contaminated.

The Non-GMO Project was started to create a set of practices for manufacturers and growers to follow to avoid GMO contamination.  The seal means that an independent third party has tested all ingredients (which grow in GM form) in a food product to ensure it falls below a 0.9% contamination level (in line with laws in the EU). According to the Non-GMO Project website:

“…what our seal means is that a product has been produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance, including testing of risk ingredients…The Non-GMO Project is the only organization offering independent verification of testing and GMO controls for products in the U.S. and Canada.”

- Answer to the question, “So what does ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ mean?”

The label appears to be catching on. Big players in the industry are participating in the project including: Whole Food’s 365 brand, Annie’s Homegrown, Barbara’s Bakery, Bragg, Eden, Garden of Eatin, Grimmway Farms,  Kettle Foods, La Tolteca, Lundburg Family Farms, Nature’s Path, Nutiva, Organic Valley, San-J, and Yogi. All of these companies and many more are either in the process of becoming non-gmo verified are have already been verified. See full list of brands here.

While it is great for consumers to have another layer of protection under this seal, ultimately,  we deserve to have labeling of all foods that are genetically modified. If they can do it in Europe, they can do it here. When you start looking at the statistics – 93% of all corn is GM – you begin to see how much money and power is at work to prevent this from ever happening. However, even if GM labeling was required, it would not address the concern of GMO crop contamination. Having organizations and growers committed to keeping contamination at a minimum will be important for as long as GM crops exist.

We want to hear from you. Is a non-GMO seal such as this one important to you? Does it influence your buying decision?


Sources:
Non GMO Project
Food Navigator

Last week, the California Assembly Health Committee passed a bill requiring the labeling of all genetically engineered salmon entering and sold within the state. Interestingly, genetically modified fish is not on sale anywhere in the United States. This move was a preemptive strike against the possible FDA approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon.

In September 2010, the FDA found that there was not enough data to determine if AquaBounty’s GE salmon was safe for consumers or the fish themselves.  AquAdvantage , the fish under consideration, is Atlantic salmon that has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, which allows the salmon to grow twice as fast as a traditional Atlantic salmon. It also contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and reportedly requires 25% less food.

There are a whole host of concerns surrounding GE salmon which are outlined in CA Assembly Bill No. 88. One major concern is that the FDA’s current review of GE salmon does not adequately consider the potential environmental effects and health effects associated with genetically engineered salmon, including, but not limited to, risks to native salmon populations and other freshwater and marine species. The bill expresses that “accurate and truthful labeling to describe whether or not salmon is genetically engineered is the easiest and most protective practice to provide additional transparency in the state’s seafood supply chain so that individuals may protect their health and California’s environment.”

Also included as concerns in the bill:

  • Human health risks, including, but not limited to, potential allergenicity.
  • Religious-, ethical-, and cultural-based dietary concerns.
  • Potential job loss to wild salmon fisherman should consumers stop purchasing salmon altogether in an effort to avoid GE foods.

Unlike the European Union, as of today, genetically modified foods are not required to be labeled as such in the United States. The FDA has indicated that it will not require labeling of GE fish if approved which is in line with their position that labeling should not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods”. It seems, however, that the FDA’s position does not seem in line with public opinion. According to the bill,

“Public opinion polls indicate that 95 percent of the public want labeling of genetically modified foods and that nearly 50 percent of the public would not eat seafood that has been genetically engineered.”

Be Food Smart is based in California and we are surprised and encouraged by our state’s progressive position on this important subject. While the bill will not prevent GE salmon from being approved or possibly entering our wild fish populations, at least Californians will be able to make an educated purchase at our grocery stores and fish markets. The next step for the bill is the Appropriations Committee before being taken up by the full Assembly. Let’s hope it is approved and adopted in other states across our country. It we can’t have protection at a federal level, we need to look to our state government for solutions. We thank Assembly Member Jared Huffman for introducing the bill and the Center for Food Safety for co-sponsoring.

Sources:
CA Assembly Bill No. 88
Center for Food Safety
Food Navigator
Image: E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS

In September we reported that, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the FDA to allow the use of the term “corn sugar” as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) on ingredient labels. Instead of waiting for a ruling from the FDA, the CRA went ahead with a new ad campaign which uses the term corn sugar. This act has angered people in the sugar industry and on April 29th, a group of sugar farmers and refiners filed a lawsuit against the members of the corn refining industry. According to Food Navigator, “The suit…claims the industry’s corn sugar branding campaign for high fructose corn syrup constitutes false advertising.”

Watch the 30 second commercials here:

Corn Sugar TV Commercial – Maze

Corn Sugar TV Commercial – Question Mark

The United States uses more high fructose corn syrup than any other country in the world, but negative publicity over the last few years has caused many food manufacturers to switch to cane or beet sugar. The CRA maintains that HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to sugar and the name change will assist with consumer clarity. Hmmm…consumer clarity. That’s exactly what we were thinking!

The suit was filed in a Los Angeles US district court by Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Company and C & H Sugar Company; defendants in the case are ADM, Cargill, Corn Products International, Penford Products, Roquette America, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas, and the Corn Refiners Association.

Sources:
FoodNavigator.com
image: Emilian Robert Vicol via Flickr