Gross TheDenverChannel.com reports on a discovery a local mom stumbled upon. Walmart-brand ice cream sandwiches don’t melt, or rather, they look pretty much solid even after being left out overnight. I bet you can guess why! Yep, it’s not what most people think of as ice cream. To reduce cost, they’ve substituted cord syrup, guar gum, and cellulose gum for the milk-based products we’d normally expect. Yuck.
Bad news for beef lovers. Another study has shown that the most environmentally harmful animal in the American diet is beef. Compared to pork, poultry, or eggs in a per-calorie comparison, beef was worse in every measure – water, land, fertilizer. It’s useful information for those who are considering cutting meat from their diet for environmental reasons…a huge first step would be to just minimize how much beef and dairy you consume. There’s no way I’m cutting beef out of my diet entirely…I’m too much of a steak lover for that! Including more poultry and pork looks like a good move though.
Perhaps the greatest problem astronauts face has been solved – Lavazza has designed an espresso machine which the Italian Space Agency intends to send up to the International Space Station! Astronauts can now enjoy a shot of espresso in the mornings, though due to the microgravity environment, they’ll be forced to sip it from a plastic bag rather than a ceramic cup. But hey, small price to pay for the ability to drink espresso while enjoying one of the most magnificent views in the solar system!
This is mildly encouraging…Congress has taken the first step towards requiring labeling of genetically modified salmon. Will the amendment progress and ultimately become a law? Doubtful…but one can hope! Read more here: Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Salmon Wins Support in Senate Committee.
There’s a new category of genetically modified crops on the horizon that utilize a technique known as RNAi, or RNA interference. For a recap of what RNA does, check out wikipedia, but in summary: it’s primarily a messenger, carrying instructions from DNA to control the synthesis of proteins. RNAi is an attempt to interfere with this process; an insect (the corn root worm, in this case) takes up small siRNA (small interfering ribonucleic acid molecules) from a corn plant, which then turn off the production of critical proteins in those pests, killing them. It’s a pretty amazing technology, and one that’s also being explored in the fight against cancer, to interfere with cell division of cancerous cells.
So there lies the concern. The medical field is looking at ways to help the human body absorb those siRNA molecules. The food industry wants the opposite, for there’s justifiably a lot of uncertainty and concern about the effect this may have on the body. Some scientific studies have indicated that the body might be absorbing this, most find no evidence of that. It seems much of the uncertainty comes from the difficulty in detecting these very small molecules in the first place. There is also uncertainty about what other insects may be harmed by this (one study found that ladybugs were one victim). On the plus side, this has the potential to reduce or eliminate two techniques currently employed – spraying crops with Roundup (that then gets into our food supply), or using corn that is genetically modified to produce BT Toxin (which we then consume).
Monsanto is convinced they’ve studied the issue enough, and have applied for approval to sell this new corn variant. There still seems to be quite a bit of valid scientific debate over that subject…but if history has taught us anything, it’s that big business will win out over science and public health concerns.
With all the news about GMOs…what do you really know about them? Ignoring the health concerns for a moment, it’s good to look at some facts about how widespread they are, and that’s what this article at the WSJ does. Some key points:
- GMO crops have grown, on average, by 10 million hectares a year since 1996 (when they were introduced).
- Most of the world’s GMO crops consist of four types of plants: soybeans (48%, by acreage)), corn (33%), cotton (15%), and canola (5%).
- Five countries are responsible for about 90% of GMO crops. US (40%), Brazil (23%), Argentina (14%), India (6%), and Canda (6%) – leaving other countries at 11% total.
- In the US, most major crops are GMOs, more than 90% of our top crops like corn, soybeans, and cotton. I think that goes a long way towards explaining opposition to GMO labeling!
- Over 75% of GMO seed designs are owned by 10 companies (some of those are GM, some are non-GM but still considered proprietary). Selling seed is a $34.5 billion business.
You can read more at the WSJ article linked above. I’m a huge fan of using science to improve our lives, but believe it cannot be selective science like GMOs are. What I mean is, new seeds are designed, but long term health effects are not adequately studied before the seeds are introduced to market. Instead, seeds are put on the market, making us all guinea pigs, but without adequate control of the variables, any health concerns that may someday surface cannot be accurately tied to any single crop. There can be no accountability, and with neither accountability nor laws requiring extensive testing, there is no incentive for companies to be sure their products are human-safe. While some GMO efforts are likely benign, the idea of engineering corn to produce poison to kill insects for example (read up on BT Toxin)…and then telling us it’s OK for us to eat that poison…that’s a real stretch.Oh, and that picture of a blue strawberry? That’s not photoshop, that’s GMO at its finest, and you can read more about that here.
High levels of glyphosate (the weed-killing chemical in Roundup) have been found to be present in genetically engineered soy beans (all tested samples were grown in Iowa). It’s not terribly surprising, for one of the main reasons crops like soy are genetically engineered in the first place is to be resistant to Roundup, so that they may be sprayed with that to control weeds. The chemicals get on the food, the food ends up on your plate…simple as that. It’s not something you can just wash off either, as glyphosate is absorbed by the plant, it’s inside your food.
The study (here’s a link to the source) found levels of Roundup to be 9mg per kilogram, which is double what Monsanto themselves deemed ‘extreme’ way back in 1999 (link). The level deemed ‘safe’ by governments is 20mg/kg in the US…but the interesting thing is that it used to be 0.1mg/kg until it was raised in 1999. Europe did the same, raising the ‘safe’ limit from 0.1 to 20mg/kg in 199. Brazil raised their ‘safe’ level from 0.2mg/kg to 10mg/kg in 2004 (but only for soybeans!). There is justifiably concern that the ‘safe’ levels were not raised based on scientific evidence, but rather for business reasons.
The study looked at a total of 31 soy samples, some were GM (qty 10), some were conventional soybeans (qty 10), and others were organic soybeans (qty 10). Without exception, all GM samples showed high levels of glyphosate, and none was detected in the non-GM samples.
So why is this a big deal? Well it’s not a chemical that has been scientifically shown to be safe…and quite the opposite, there are concerns that there may be a link between glysphosate and digestive issues, obesity, autism, Alzheimer’s, depression, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, and cancer. Note that none of that is proven, just that there does appear to be some biological disruption caused by glyphosate, and that sort of biological disruption may explain the above. There’s a bunch of health-related information at this link or this one.
This trend of shipping untested product like this and making us all human guinea pigs is really disturbing. The reality is that if there IS any link here ever proven, it will be impossible to hold anyone accountable. Hence no incentive for people to do real, scientific testing beforehand.
It probably goes without saying, but…I recommend buying organic food whenever you can!
If you love the convenience of Keurig K-cups, but recognize the wastefulness of these, then you might want to check out refillable K-cups like this Ekobrew. The stainless steel construction should help it last a long time, and you can fill it with any of your favorite ground coffees. It can be bought for $17 at Amazon, or there’s also a plastic version available for just over $8.
As you probably heard already, researchers in Europe have managed to grow meat in laboratory conditions, starting out with cow stem cells. They even went a step further and cooked and ate the meat, reporting ho-hum results – the lack of fat was an issue. As my grandfather used to say, “The fat is where the flavor is.” Indeed. So flavor aside, it proved to be a pretty decent substitute, reportedly. The potential here is huge…meat production is widely criticized as not only inhumane, but a significant contributor of greenhouse gas. As the population grows, demand for food will grow with it, so this has the potential to greatly help offset that demand.
What I found really interesting though was a question on FastCompany – Would vegans and vegetarians eat synthetic meat? It’s an interesting conundrum (YES! I’ve been wanting to use that word in a post for a while now). There’s also the aspect of food safety…with concerns like Mad Cow Disease, growth hormones, pink slime, etc, the idea of a tightly controlled lab environment for your food supply has its appeal.
Others are working on the synthetic meat problem too, and with backers such as Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, and Peter Thiel throwing their support at these projects, I think it’s only a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, you’ll be ordering a test tube burger at McDonald’s within the next decade.