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Busting Monsanto’s ‘Better’ Broccoli

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”.

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9 Comments

  1. Tanya said on September 28th, 2011

    Unbelieveable! This is so ironic that it would be comical were it not so sad.

  2. laffin said on September 28th, 2011

    I’d like to be happy that Monsanto didn’t mess with the broccoli by doing it’s genetic engineering voodoo but I know that it’s only a matter of time before they do.

  3. Chelsey @ Chew With Your Mouth Open said on September 28th, 2011

    “Faulty broccoli” that made me chuckle. Monsanto is the devil. However, I am not shocked at all to hear they had a booth at the expo. So sad.

  4. DaveD said on September 28th, 2011

    Andy, is there any product Monsanto can make for which you would be happy?

  5. Lauren Slayton said on September 28th, 2011

    So was FNCE all eye rolling or was there anything useful, helpful and new?

  6. Andy Bellatti said on September 28th, 2011

    Well, my last blog post on FNCE (either Fri or Sat) will have odds and ends/likes & dislikes/suggestions. I don’t want to spoil the post here, but there were three sessions I enjoyed, vendors I was happy to see, and fellow RDs I met for the first time who I was very happy to connect with. I’m a member of HEN (Hunger & Environmental Nutrition), so they are concerned with very similar issues.

    There were disturbing things, though. If you go to my Twitter feed and look at tweets from Monday, Sept 26, you’ll see some interesting photos and also why I was disgusted during a session sponsored by the International Food Information Council. Horrible. I’ll touch upon it on the Fri or Sat post as well.

  7. Karl Haro von Mogel said on October 5th, 2011

    Hi Andy, I wanted you to know that I have responded to some of the claims that you have made in the version of this post that appeared on Grist. All said, it was not only poorly researched, but also appeared to contradict your food philosophy as expressed on your own blog. Rather than just debunk it, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to talk about the chemistry of these broccoli compounds, how the breeding works, and give my own analysis of the broccoli trait. You can read it on Biofortified here: http://www.biofortified.org/2011/10/busting-bellattis-bad-broccoli-breath/
    And just to be clear, no, I do not work for Monsanto.

  8. Andy Bellatti said on October 5th, 2011

    Karl,

    I read your post earlier this morning. Frankly, I was very turned off by the title and rather disappointed by much of the tone.

    It seems you completely missed the point of my original post. My concern has nothing to do with the genetic traits or breeding science of Beneforte. Rather, I was pointing out the irony that Monsanto — which has contributed significantly to environmental pollution — is shilling an “enhanced” broccoli product with “twice the antioxidants” to help the body fight the very pollutants they are largely responsible for causing an increase in over the past fifteen years.

    When I write that the focus on glucoraphanin is myopic, I meant in relation to this particular product, not in general. I think glucoraphanin is wonderful from a health perspective, and have pointed out the health benefits of flavonoids and antioxidants in many of my posts. So, I don’t understand how me recommending chia seeds and hemp seeds (as you point out in your post) for their respective healthful compounds is hypocritical.

    I say that in this specific example, the focus on the glucoraphanin is myopic because it is clearly an attempt to distract from the fact that the company behind it has damaged the environment in a myriad of ways. We don’t need “super broccoli”; regular broccoli is already healthful enough (and, for the record, I stand behind the statement that a vegetable is healthful simply by virtue of being a vegetable). If anything, this statement perfectly aligns with my food philosophy (if you familiarize yourself with the blog, you will see that I would never, for example, condone drinking Kool-Aid that has twice the vitamin C of an orange, just like I don’t think it’s necessary to buy “value-added broccoli”).

    Yes, I realized after reading your post that in one of my paragraphs, glucoraphanin is spelled incorrectly (I have since fixed it). It’s one of the things that commonly happens when one edits their own work on a computer. I was disappointed to see that as one of your ‘talking points’. It was an oversight in editing, nothing more (considering that the other 3 mentions were spelled correctly, I don’t think that one misspelling was such an important matter).

    As for my ‘food policy activist’ title — it is one I wear proudly. I’m not sure why you see it as a detriment to my nutrition profession; if anything, I find it has been an asset.

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