Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing the most blog-worthy moments from the American Dietetic Association’s 2011 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE), which wrapped up yesterday. Okay, how is this for “did April Fool’s get moved to September?”: Monsanto had a booth there. Yes, at a nutrition and health expo. Among their souvenirs: Monsanto-branded soybean-based chapstick. I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute.
One of the company’s featured products this year was Beneforté broccoli, which quietly launched last October (most attendees, including myself, were not aware of its existence until they saw it featured at the Monsanto booth). This broccoli is not genetically modified (i.e.: no pesticides were engineered into its genes), but rather a hybrid of commercial broccoli with a variety native to southern Italy.
Advertised with a “naturally better broccoli” tagline, the selling point pitched at Registered Dietitians was that “it boosts the body’s antioxidant enzymes at least 2 times more than other broccoli.” Specifically, one serving of Beneforté broccoli “naturally contains 2 – 3 times the phytonutrient glucoraphanin [a type of glucosinolate] as a serving of other leading broccoli varieties produced under similar growing conditions.”
“Similar growing conditions”. There’s an interesting tidbit. For all we know, then, Beneforté’s glucoraphanin content could pale in comparison to that of organic broccoli. Of course, this obsession with glucoraphanin is a silly and myopic distraction. Broccoli, by virtue of being a vegetable, is healthful and does not need to be improved upon. None of the myriad of chronic health issues affecting millions of Americans are due to “faulty broccoli” with low levels of glucoraphanin.
The biggest irony of this product lies in Monsanto’s claim that Beneforté “help[s] maintain your body’s defenses against the damage of environmental pollutants and free radicals.”
Environmental pollutants? As in, the ones that have have increased exponentially as a result of genetic engineering? According to a 2009 report by The Organic Center, titled Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years, “the most striking finding is that G[enetically] E[ngineered] crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996- 2008).”
As the Environmental Working Group points out, herbicides “cause a litany of health effects, including cancer, birth defects, and disruption of the endocrine (hormone) system.” And we’re talking about an additional 383 million pounds solely attributed to bio-engineered seeds like the ones Monsanto offers. Let’s also not forget Monsanto’s “global pollution legacy”, as the folks at SourceWatch so brilliantly put it.
There is no reason for broccoli to become a “value added” food product. Let’s treat it with dignity and appreciate its worth as a vegetable. And, above all, let’s not allow Monsanto to get away with gimmicky healthwashing. Despite what they may want you to think, supporting organic, sustainable agriculture — and, whenever possible, your local farmers — is much more important for your health and that of the planet than purchasing trademarked “naturally better broccoli”.