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Archive for the ‘genetically modified food’ Category

5 Important Food Lessons From This Past Week

Over the past few days, several important food-related stories captured top headlines.

Rather than dedicate a lengthy blog post to each, here is the Small Bites’ Cliff’s Notes version.

What’s the deal? What are the important takeaways? Here’s your cheat sheet:

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2011: A Year to Remember (and Forget!)

It wasn’t until I started compiling stories for this post that I realized just how much had taken place this year on issues of food, agriculture, and nutrition. While by no means a definitive list, I think it covers the most substantial events.

So, if you’ve been spelunking in Antarctica for the past twelve months — or just want a short trip down memory lane — let’s review 2011, the year where:
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4 Nutrition & Food Must-Dos for the New Year

I’ve never been particularly enthused with New Year’s resolutions, particularly ones that relate to nutrition and food. Too often, they involve unsustainable habits and substantial lifestyle changes that are somehow supposed to take place overnight. Never mind the completely arbitrary notion that January 1 is the best day to begin new ventures.

That said, I do enjoy setting goals — and encourage others to do so. The ideas below are not intended to be started fanatically on January 1. They are, however, actions I encourage everyone to take on (some of you may already do these things; if so, keep it up).

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Speaking With…: Mary Waldner of Mary’s Gone Crackers

As much as I enjoy calling out Big Food’s deceptive tactics and worrisome practices, I also like to recognize companies that offer real food and a refreshing “what you see is what you get” approach. Among that small group of all-stars is Mary’s Gone Crackers (apart from crackers, they also offer cookies, pretzel-sticks, and “crumbs”).

I have been a staunch fan since my first bite in 2008, and have been spreading the word about them since. Any time I have brought these to an office, meeting, or get-together, many people express curiosity and, after trying one, immediately ask, “Wow, where can I buy these?”.

While the crispy crunch, unique flavor, and dip-withstanding texture are definite pluses, my favorite aspect is the whole-food, organic, non-GMO ingredients. Did I also mention the entire Mary’s Gone Crackers product line is wheat and gluten-free?

With October being non-GMO month, I wanted to speak with creator Mary Waldner about her goals with the product line and get some insight into production and sourcing issues.

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A ‘Healthy’, School-Approved Snickers Bar!

As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I am currently in San Diego for the American Dietetic Association’s annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE). Over the past two days, I took you on mini virtual tours of the vendor expo, where we visited the Sugar Association, the High Fructose Corn Syrup folks, Subway, Coca-Cola, and other “what are you doing at a nutrition conference?” booths.

While plenty is ‘blog-worthy’, one particular Mars, Inc. product caught my eye: Marathon Smart Stuff Powered By Snickers bars.

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Numbers Game: Answer

2008_03_21-GMFoodsThe United States grows 53 percent of the world’s genetically modified crops.

Source: Human Genome Project Information website

Argentina comes in second (17 percent), followed by Brazil (11 percent) and Canada (6 percent).

Of course, we can expect this figure to stay the same or increase as long as the US government continues to subsidize corn and soybeans, two crops that are almost exclusively genetically modified.

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Numbers Game: Is This What They Mean By World Dominance?

imagesThe United States grows _____ percent of the world’s genetically modified crops.

a) 38
b) 53
c) 69
d) 42

Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Monday for the answer.

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Numbers Game: Answer

crop05-6soybean0.2 percent of corn and soybeans grown in the United States are certified organic.

The most ironic part?  The people consuming most of these genetically modified byproducts (mainly corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, and soy protein isolate) aren’t even aware they are eating them.

Soybean consumption is not limited to vegetarians!  Most fast-food hamburger buns contain some sort of soy byproduct, and most fast-food french fries are cooked in soybean oil (or a combination oil that includes soybeans).

Whole, organic corn and soybeans are not the issue.  After all, it is certainly possible to buy bags of frozen organic sweet kernel corn as well as organic canned soybeans (or organic edamame).

Processed byproducts are the true red-flag-raisers.

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You Ask, I Answer: Genetically Modified Beans

beansI’ve been trying to eat more organic and “real”  food (as well as staying away from soybeans) since seeing the movie “Food Inc.”

Are beans like pinto  beans, black beans, and kidney beans genetically modified?

Should I buy organic?

Susan (last name withheld)
Grand Rapids, MI

While I understand your concern about soybeans, there is no need to completely shun it from your diet.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of genetically-modified soybeans are used to make processed food.

Since soy is a subsidized crop, the production of soybean oil, soy flour, and soy protein isolate is extremely cheap.

Next time you are at the store, take a look at processed “junk” food and you are bound to see some, if not all, of these ingredients.

If you see the words “non-GMO” or “not genetically modified” on a package of tofu or tempeh, you can trust those soybeans have not been tampered with.

While it is absolutely possible to have a healthy diet without a single soybean, tempeh (fermented soy) is chock-full of nutrition and healthy compounds.

Companies like Lightlife and Turtle Island offer non-genetically-modified varieties.  If you like how it tastes, certainly continue to consume it!

While genetically modified kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans certainly exist, they are not as rampant as genetically modified soybeans.

Buying organic is a fairly good precaution — organic food can not, by definition, be bioengineered.  I say “fairly good” because there are some loopholes.

I do want to point out that many conventional (meaning “not organic”) beans are NOT genetically modified.

However, since there are currently no mandatory labeling guidelines for genetically modified food, consumers are kept in the dark.

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You Ask, I Answer: Genetic Modification, Tempeh

tempeh_smokystrips_detailYour post on genetically modified foods was very distressing to read, and that interview you linked to even more so.

Are fruits like seedless clementines genetically modified?

[You mentioned that 91 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified].  I have always been so suspect of soy, anyway.

Is tempeh soy-based?

– Dennise O’Grady
Bay Head, NJ

The issue of genetically modified foods is simultaneously disturbing, frightening, and… extremely new.

I have a feeling that as we progress through this current decade, we will begin to learn more about the possible health effects of diets high in genetically modified organisms.  The frustrating angle, of course, is that we are not always made aware whether a certain food is genetically modified or not.

FYI: late last night, Dr. Marion Nestle uploaded a must-read post about the latest studies on genetically modified foods.

Onto your questions.

While clementines (seedless mandarins, for all intents and purposes) sound like a genetically modified dream, they are not (yay!).

It turns out clementines grow without seeds simply by being planted in isolation from other citrus fruits.

As for tempeh: yes, it is soy-based.  Specifically, tempeh is made up of fermented soybeans.  That fermentation process, by the way, makes it nutritionally superior to tofu.

The key with tempeh is to be familiar with the various brands.  I can tell you that Lightlife tempeh products (their “Fakin’ Bacon” tempeh strips are glorious!) and Turtle Island tempeh products (love their sesame garlic marinated tempeh strips) do not contain genetically-modified soybeans.

What’s very ironic is that most people who are consuming high amounts of genetically-modified soy aren’t necessarily eating tempeh or tofu.

Remember — soy by-products (like soybean oil, soy protein isolate, and soy flour) are commonly used in a variety of processed foods, from chips to shelf-stable pastries to protein bars.  That’s where most of the genetically-modified soy is going.

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You Ask, I Answer: Organic vs. Genetically Modified

soy millkI was at the store buying soy milk the other day.  I saw several brands that were organic, but [their ingredient lists] did not specify [the use of] non-genetically modified soybeans.

Is that because organic soybeans are never genetically modified?

In other words, does “organic” automatically mean NOT genetically modified?

– Rebecca Baerth
Chicago, IL

Wonderful question!  Not surprisingly, the answer is a little convoluted.

From a technical standpoint, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 states that the term “organic” can not be used in reference to foods that are genetically modified.

However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  1. When the Organic Foods Production Act was drafted, genetically modified crops were nowhere near as prevalent as they are now.  It is estimated that 91 percent of soybeans grown in the United States in 2007 were genetically modified.  In 1990, there were absolutely NO genetically modified soybeans grown in the United States.
  2. Testing for genetic modification — and labeling products as “non-GMO” — is completely voluntary

Since testing is voluntary, there is a possibility that organic products — especially those using soybeans — are contaminated with non-GMO crops.

Therefore, if avoiding genetically modified foods is important to you, the absolute best way to ensure that is by purchasing products that are labeled non-GMO.

Hopefully, the Food & Drug Administration will take a cue from other countries and impose mandatory testing and labeling in regards to genetic modification.

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Numbers Game: Answer

edamame_podIn the year 2000, approximately 51 percent of soybeans grown in the United States were genetically modified.  This year , 91 percent of US-grown soybeans are of the genetically modified variety.

Keep in mind that genetic modification is very different from traditional breeding practices.  With genetic modification, it is possible to introduce a gene from a chicken into a wheat plant.

While proponents of genetic modification point to a genetically modified crop’s ability to be immune from disease, herbicides, droughts, and low temperatures, there are plenty of questionable consequences.

From an environmental standpoint, for instance, it is possible for pollen from genetically modified crops to combine with weeds and create herbicide-resistant weeds.  This, in turn, requires the development and use of new herbicides, which often have a detrimental effect on wildlife (both flora and fauna).

Looking at the issue from an economic angle, a higher amount of genetically modified crops means that a small handful of companies now own a larger number of patented seeds.  Consequently, small farmers can be run out of business simply by being charged much higher prices for these seeds.

That’s not all.  There are already plenty of notorious cases where biotech companies like Monsanto have sued farmers for “growing” their patented seeds (I say “growing” because most times the patented seeds are simply blown onto another farmer’s land by the wind.)

The most troubling aspect of genetically modified foods is that biotechnology companies are not required to test their genetically modified crops for safety.  Many submit laboratory tests, but on a completely voluntary basis.

It also doesn’t help that many of these tests aren’t very effective at evaluating the safety of consuming genetically modified crops.  If companies choose to conduct “consumption studies”, they are short-term and done only on animals.

There are no studies examining the long-term effect of consuming genetically modified crops on humans.

Unless a product specifically mentions the use of non-genetically modified soybeans, you can assume any soy product you are eating has been genetically modified (this includes products made with soybean oil or soy protein isolate).

Current food labeling regulations do not require that genetically modified foods be identified, so consumers are mostly playing a guessing game.

If you are an avid carnivore who has never touched a soybean in your life, don’t be too quick to assume you aren’t affected.  Genetically modified soybeans are fed to the majority of cattle in the United States.

Many biotech companies dismiss safety concerns about genetically modified crops as “hippie hysteria”, apparently ignorant to the fact that organizations like the British Medical Association have expressed concern.

While the BMA acknowledges that there is no reason to believe genetically modified crops are inherently dangerous, they point out “there is a lack of evidence-based research with regard to medium and long-term effects on health and the environment.”

They also note — and I love this point — that “there should be an end to assumptions that GM crops are necessary to feed the starving, given the complex food distribution, social and economic factors that lie behind such hunger.”

Adding to that are many studies which have concluded that genetic modification does not always result in higher crop yields.

To summarize, our current knowledge of the long-term effects of genetic modification on human health is minuscule.

On that note, I highly recommend you read this interview conducted by the Organic Consumers Association with Dr. Judy Carman, director of the Australian Institute of Health and Environmental Research.

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Numbers Game: Gene Farming

soybeansIn the year 2000, approximately 51 percent of soybeans grown in the United States were genetically modified.  This year , ______ percent of US-grown soybeans are of the genetically modified variety.

a) 71
b) 83
c) 91
d) 98

Come back on Tuesday for the answer — and to find out what exactly the big deal is about genetically modified crops.

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Red, White, and Blue — And Good For You

With patriotic spirits soaring over the past few days, I thought it would be perfect timing to discuss U.S. Mills’ cereal and instant oatmeal products — easy and very tasty ways to increase your whole grain and fiber intake.

Three quarters of a cup of Uncle Sam’s original cereal offers 10 grams of fiber (all derived from the ingredients, not added on for fortification), 7 grams of protein, and 0.5 grams of sugar in a 190 calorie package.

I do wish, however, that this cereal included ground flaxseed (as opposed to whole) for even more of a nutrition boost.

In any case, throw in some sliced bananas, add your milk of choice (dairy, soy, rice, etc.) and you have a filling, wholesome breakfast.

Their instant oatmeal with non-genetically modified soymilk, meanwhile, makes for a wonderfully convenient vegan breakfast.

Simply add water and enjoy…

160 calories
50 milligrams of sodium
(that’s 220 fewer milligrams than the same amount of Quaker instant flavored oatmeal)
5 grams of fiber
6 grams — a mere teaspoon and a half — of added sugar (50% less than Quaker flavored oatmeals)
7 grams of protein

… per packet.

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In The News: Unmasking the Monster

Thank you to New York University dietitian Mary Dye for pointing me to Vanity Fair‘s article on infamous agro business bully and genetically modified food darling Monsanto.

Regular readers of Small Bites may remember Monsanto from an earlier post on recombinant bovine growth hormone.

This exhaustive and brilliantly researched piece paints a stunningly accurate picture of Monsanto’s repercussions on farming, the environment, and the overall food supply.

Enjoy (?).

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