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“Sugar is Sugar” says the Corn Refiners Association (But is it?)

September 15, 2010 •  4 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

I’m sure you’ve seen it. The new campaign for high fructose corn syrup in which the Corn Refiners Association, reflecting on changing consumer sentiment around high fructose corn syrup, have decided to rebrand and rename their product, petitioning the FDA for a name change, calling high fructose corn syrup “corn sugar”.

The ad campaign is brilliant. Worried, they ask? We are, too, they claim. Only their concern doesn’t stem from the epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes and corn allergies that we are seeing, but rather their concern stems from a 20 year low in the sale of high fructose corn syrup and the impact it is having on the profitability of members of the Corn Refiners Association (listed here).

Due to a rapid decline in sales, the Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking that manufacturers have the option of using “corn sugar” as an alternate name for high fructose corn syrup on product labels because “corn sugar” more accurately describes the composition of the ingredient.

High fructose corn syrup is a liquid sweetener alternative to sugar. Its introduction into the food supply in 1983 was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food and reaffirmed that decision in 1996 based on industry funded science that was submitted to the FDA.

Because of its value as a versatile ingredient that adds taste, texture, freshness, and sweetness to food, high fructose corn syrup is not only used as a sweetener but also as a preservative and stabiliser in food products to enhance and prolong their shelf life on grocery store shelves, driving profitability for the food industry.

As stated by the Corn Refiners Association, high fructose corn syrup, unlike sugar, drives profitability for members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and fulfills non-food roles in the following ways:

• Maintains freshness in condiments
• Enhances fruit & spice flavors in marinades
• Aids in fermentation for breads and yogurts
• Retains moisture in breakfast bars & cereals
•Makes high fiber baked goods and cereals palatable
• Maintains consistent flavors in beverages
•Keeps ingredients evenly mixed in salad dressings

Can sugar do that for the food industry? Not at all.

But high fructose corn syrup does a lot more for members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. It enhances profitability, increases margins and preserves products on grocery store shelves, reducing the costs associated with the labor-intensive exercise of restocking. Sugar can’t do that. Mother Nature didn’t design her to be that profitable.

But despite those differences, “sugar is sugar”, claims the Corn Refiners Association.

And gas is gas, but the odors my kids emit aren’t the same thing that I put into my car to get them to school. To claim that would be irresponsible, and to claim that high fructose corn syrup, by any name, is the same as sugar is irresponsible, too.

So while the industry funded spokespeople and scientists who serve as consultants may promote the consumption of this product, based on industry funded science, in an attempt to drive profitability for the members of the Corn Refiners Association who produce it, the fact of the matter is that this corn product is not being used by Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart in the products that they manufacture and sell in other developed countries, especially products marketed to children.

So while the corn industry may encourage us not to worry our little heads about their product, using chiseled “farmers” as spokespeople urging us that, after all, it’s just “corn sugar” (and a few other ingredients that get spun into it in a laboratory), the reality is that corn allergies, obesity and diabetes have become increasingly prevalent since its introduction twenty years ago.

And while correlation is not causation, no long term human studies have been conducted on the impact that the novel proteins and allergens now found in our corn are having on the health of our children. So while the corn industry may claim “no evidence of harm”, as a result, American eaters might want to follow the lead of eaters in other developed countries and exercise precaution, opting out of the manufactured demand that the latest ad campaign is trying to create.

And rather than eat a product that was introduced in 1983 and engineered in a plant to drive profitability for Cargill, ADM and members of the Corn Refiners Association, you may want to exercise precaution and opt for sugar, as its presence in the marketplace proceeded the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and corn allergies that we are now seeing in our children.

Genetic Roulette? Changing the DNA of the Salmon We Eat

September 14, 2010 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore September 13 2010

When the FDA announced it found the genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon safe just before Labor Day, news headlines and even Alaska Senator Mark Begich called it a “frankenfish.” A closer look at AquAdvantage makes it seem unlikely that Mary Shelley could have ever dreamed up anything as wild as the fast growing GE salmon. Even more worrisome is the science used to justify the salmon’s safety, which Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen calls “sloppy,” “misleading,” and “woefully inadequate.”

If approved, AquAdvantage will be the first genetically engineered animal to directly enter the U.S. food supply — a fact that raises the stakes of the FDA’s approval process, as it sets a precedent for all future GE animals. Because of a regulatory decision in the 1980s that no new laws are needed to regulate genetically engineered foods, the FDA is actually regulating the GE salmon as a drug. The next step in the approval process will be a series of public meetings held September 19-21. Already, a number of groups, including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Organic Consumers Association have written to President Obama, urging him to discontinue the approval process for the GE salmon. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Policy Advisory Board of the Organic Consumers Association, but I was not a part of the decision to sign onto this letter.)

The company that developed the GE salmon, AquaBounty Technologies, claims the fish grows to market weight in 16 to 18 months instead of the usual 30 required for farmed Atlantic salmon. The fish was created by inserting genetic material of both Chinook (the largest variety of Pacific salmon) and ocean pout (an eel-like fish) into the genome of Atlantic salmon. The commercialized fish will all be females, making them unable to breed. AquaBounty’s intellectual property will be further protected because the fish will be sterile, as they will all be triploids (fish with three complete sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two).

How to Make Frankenfish

To create the fish, AquaBounty begins with eggs of GE Atlantic salmon females and fertilizes them with irradiated sperm of another similar fish species, Arctic char. The eggs are then pressure-treated, causing them to produce diploid offspring (i.e. fish with two complete sets of chromosomes), with both sets of chromosomes originating from the GE female salmon. The all-female GE diploid salmon will then be treated with 17-methyltestosterone, a hormone that turns the fish into what AquaBounty calls “neomales” — genetically female fish that produce milt (sperm) instead of eggs. The milt from the GE neomales will fertilize the eggs of non-GE Atlantic salmon, and the resulting fertilized eggs will be treated with pressure to produce the final product, a line of all-female triploid GE Atlantic salmon.

According to AquaBounty’s plans, the GE salmon will begin their lives at a hatchery in Prince Edward Island, Canada and then transfer to a grow-out facility in Panama. Unlike most salmon, which begin their lives in freshwater before transferring to saltwater, the GE salmon will live their entire lives in freshwater. The good news is that currently there are no plans to raise the GE salmon in open net pens in the ocean, a method of salmon farming that has resulted in massive damage to wild salmon populations as well as frequent escapes of farmed salmon into the ocean.

Questionable Science

While farmed salmon have been an environmental catastrophe in countries like Canada and Norway, it seems that environmental concerns over AquAdvantage take a backseat to safety concerns. The science AquaBounty provided the FDA was sloppy in a number of ways, and yet the FDA accepted it and declared the fish safe. Because the approval of AquAdvantage salmon will set a precedent, it is important that the FDA set its bar for solid science high, signaling to any company that wishes to commercialize a genetically engineered animal that it must completely prove its safety if it hopes to put its product on the market. Instead, according to Hansen, “the FDA appears to have set its bar an inch from the ground.”

AquaBounty tested its GE salmon and controls for physical and behavioral problems, differences in blood test results and hormone levels, and allergenicity to humans. Although the commercialized fish will all be female triploids, they often tested both males and females and both diploids and triploids of non-GE and GE salmon to determine whether any problem that showed up was due to the genetic engineering or due to the extra set of chromosomes.

However, in many of the tests, AquaBounty used sample sizes as low as six fish, much less than the minimum of 30 needed for the results to have statistical significance. Hansen said a small sample size might make sense if the animals were elephants, but there is no reason why AquaBounty should not have tested more fish. Moreover, in one of the tests, the six fish in each study group were selected from larger groups of 100 to 200 fish, and the report did not specify that they were chosen randomly. Additionally, AquaBounty admitted to culling deformed fish prior to selecting fish for inclusion in its studies. The company justified this by saying that culling is standard practice in the industry. That may be so, but for the purpose of comparing deformities between GE and non-GE salmon, the culling and sampling practices reduce the reliability of the results.

Another alarming practice — one Hansen felt qualifies as misleading — was AquaBounty’s reliance on 2007 data (the best year for the GE fish and simultaneously the worst year for non-GE fish) and its characterization of 2005 data (the worst year for the GE fish) as an outlier to be ignored. By using 2007 data for many of its studies, AquaBounty was able to compare its best group of both diploid and triploid GE salmon against the group of non-GE salmon with the highest frequency of physical deformities (compared to each of the other years of testing, 2003-2006).

On the other hand, in 2005, the GE fish exhibited an unusually high frequency of physical deformities (only 7.9 percent of triploid GE salmon and 17.2 percent of diploid GE salmon were judged to be free of any malformations), and AquaBounty provided several justifications for ignoring this data, suggesting that perhaps the small sample size (38 fish) of GE triploids was to blame. Hansen says if that were true, we would not also see such poor results in the diploid GE fish, which had a sample size of over 1,500 salmon.

The problem could have been environmental, offered AquaBounty. Maybe the problems were caused by nutrient deficiencies, exposure to antibiotics, contaminants in feed, parasites, or water temperature. Yet, if that were the case, notes Hansen, we would also see a high rate of malformations in non-GE fish in 2005, and we do not. Both the diploid and triploid groups of non-GE fish performed well in 2005, with 98.7 percent and 89.0 percent showing no malformations, respectively. Hansen also dismissed AquaBounty’s assertion that the extra chromosomes in the triploid salmon were responsible for the 2005 data, as both the diploid and triploid GE salmon performed poorly, but the non-GE triploids performed quite well.

Despite the problems noted above, the FDA concludes from the data that, “Analyses of the behavior and gross external abnormalities of market size (1,000-1,500 g) AquAdvantage Salmon show no demonstrable differences from the comparator fish population.” One last flaw Hansen points out is the study’s examination only of adult fish, and not of fish in all life stages, beginning with the egg. The FDA, perhaps worried about this, and certainly worried about AquaBounty’s heavy culling of fish in early life stages (not to mention their lack of data on fish that were culled), called for a Durability Plan that includes “monitoring, data collection, and reporting of abnormalities observed under commercial production and grow-out conditions at the Panama facility where AquAdvantage Salmon will be reared” after the fish are approved and commercialized. Hansen feels this is insufficient, comparing it to allowing the fox to guard the henhouse and report if any chickens are being eaten.

Another area where the science is flawed is in AquaBounty’s examination of hormone levels in the fish. Of 73 fish tested (30 GE and 43 control), every single fish had growth hormone levels that fell below the detection limit. Hansen criticizes AquaBounty’s conclusion that there was no detectable difference in levels of growth hormone between GE and non-GE fish, comparing it to a cop with a radar gun that cannot detect speeds below 120 mph concluding the is no evidence of exceeding the speed limit. Additionally, only six of the 73 fish had detectable levels of T4 (a thyroid hormone), and only 17 had detectable levels of insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF1), a hormone that is potentially harmful to humans. Even with the small amount of data, the GE salmon that had detectable levels if IGF1 tested nearly 40 percent higher on average than the non-GE salmon with detectable levels of IGF1.

One last area to consider is the allergenicity testing of the GE salmon, as fish allergies are one of the eight most common allergies in the United States. For this, AquaBounty used sample sizes of six, testing GE diploids and triploids against non-GE diploids. They began by sending 18 blinded salmon fillet samples to a lab that treated them with liquid nitrogen to produce “frozen salmon-fillet homogenate.” Then they unblinded the samples and tested each individual sample with sera from humans with salmon allergies and measured the magnitude of the allergic reaction to determine the “allergic potency” of the sample. AquaBounty then converted the data into an undefined estimated measure it called “relative potency,” a term the lab was unable to define when asked by the FDA.

The FDA obtained the actual data tables from the test and concluded that, “The allergic potency of triploid [AquAdvantage] salmon is not significantly different from that of [the control group of non-GE] diploid salmon.” Again, Hansen took issue with this conclusion in light of the small sample size in the study, the unblinding of the samples, and the fact that the allergic potency of all but two GE salmon were higher than the highest value of allergic potency for non-GE salmon.

Hansen felt that, while the use of actual human sera to test allergenicity was useful, it was insufficient given modern scientific techniques available to assess allergenicity. Scientists are aware of many proteins that cause salmon allergies and they could easily have analyzed the molecular structure of the fish to determine if those proteins were present. Although there was one attempt to do this for one protein, the testing technique was so crude and flawed (some of the data submitted was upside-down!) even the FDA did not accept it.

Why Consumers Should Be Concerned

Given the flawed science used to justify the safety of AquAdvantage salmon, what happens now? Currently, the FDA is preparing for its public meetings: The first meeting on Sept. 19th will review the science; the second meeting on Sept. 21st will cover labeling issues and offer an opportunity for public comment. FDA will also accept written comments until November 22.

There are a few more issues for consumers to consider should the GE salmon come to market. Under current law, genetically engineered foods are not required to be labeled as such. In fact, the only labeling one can expect on a genetically engineered salmon fillet is country-of-origin labeling, which is required on most (but not all) seafood. Since all of the AquAdvantage will be produced in Panama, an uncommon location for farmed salmon, consumers can be on the lookout for — and avoid if they wish — salmon from Panama. The exceptions will be salmon sold in fish markets and processed salmon, such as smoked salmon, which do not require country-of-origin labeling.

Hansen noted two reasons why consumers may wish to avoid the GE salmon. First, he notes that reports of increased inflammation in the tissues of the GE salmon may result in increased antibiotic use. Second, consumers who care about animal welfare may wish to avoid the salmon because even in the flawed tests that were performed, the GE salmon exhibited higher rates of physical deformities than non-GE salmon.

The bigger picture, of course, is the standard AquAdvantage salmon will set for future genetically engineered animals. Even if the AquAdvantage salmon proves to be safe in the long run, if sloppy and dishonest science is all that’s required to pass a product through the U.S. regulatory system, what other disasters lie in our future?

If you have concerns over the genetic mutation of animals (ethical concerns, environmental concerns or health concerns), please let others know, encourage the FDA to delay the approval of genetically engineered salmon and learn more here, so that together we can restore the integrity of our food supply.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

Straight Out of a Sci-Fi Movie: Salmon Engineered to Eat (All the Time)

September 8, 2010 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Now I’m not sure about you, but these headlines about our food supply are getting pretty tough to stomach. From egg recalls large enough to feed every American two scrambled eggs to meat recalls warning us about e. Coli in our hamburgers, I can’t help but yearn for simpler times.

But the latest food headline sounds like it’s out of a sci-fi movie: “Genetically Modified Salmon Safe to Eat, FDA Report Says”. A fish designed to eat year round. And it comes with an “on switch.”

Could things get any stranger?

Now if you’re anything like me, you may not have been aware that about fifteen years ago a new technology was introduced into our food supply called “genetic engineering” since it hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention in the U.S. media. But from corn to milk to fish, the United States started manipulating the DNA of our food using all kinds of wild sounding tools and technology beginning in the mid 1990s in an effort to drive profitability for agricultural companies.

Using instruments like “gene guns” that sound like they are out of a sci-fi movie, scientists began to manipulate the DNA of our food supply and insert things like new proteins and insecticides into the genetic makeup of about 90% of our soybeans, 60% of our corn and even some of the animals that we eat.

No long term studies were conducted as to what the implications might be of eating this “technofood” with manipulated DNA, so most developed countries (like all of Europe, Australia, the UK, Japan and others) exercised extreme precaution and either did not allow these biotech ingredients into their food supplies or insisted on labeling them so that consumers could make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their families.

But here in the U.S., we took a different approach: we simply assumed that these foods were safe and didn’t label them.

And now 15 years later, no long term studies yet conducted, and with the jury still out (especially on the role that these foods and their novel proteins and allergens play in the epidemic increase in food allergic reactions), the U.S. is about to introduce the first genetically manipulated animal into the food supply: salmon. A salmon designed to double its weight in record time.

With the insertion of an “on switch” gene into the DNA of salmon, scientists at a company called AquaBounty Technologies have manipulated and patented the genetic makeup of salmon and engineered it to eat year round so that it can grow twice as fast. As a result, salmon producers will be able to grow salmon more quickly, driving profitability and capitalizing on the growing demand for fish.

But in the midst of our nation’s growing health crisis, what will eating this mutating salmon with an insatiable appetite do to our widening waist lines? The answer is, we simply don’t know.

Sure, genetically manipulated foods have been on the market in the United States for the last 15 years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, but no long term studies have ever been conducted to see what their health impact might be, and unlike other developed countries, no labels were ever put on these products to alert American eaters of these new ingredients in their food supply.

As a result, there has been a fair amount of controversy around this new technology which created some tension back in 2002 at a government meeting of the Food Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Food Advisory Committee in which the committee’s acting chair, Edward N. Brandt, Jr., MD, PhD, said “Of course, we haven’t worked into this some kind of test for allergencity, per se…..” prompting an almost allergic reaction from renowned allergist, Dr. Fred McDaniel Atkins, who said, “To me, the logical problem is that we are going to take that stuff and feed it to the public without their informed consent.”

Yes, Dr. Atkins, that is a problem, a very big problem when you consider that the Centers for Disease Control has reported a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalization due to food allergic reactions since the introduction of genetically engineered foods whose labeling was never required in the US.

Now I’m all for fish, as it is full of Omega-3s that contain anti-inflammatory benefits as well as an ability to affect insulin sensitivity, making it an important part of a well-balanced diet. But given that the United States Department of Agriculture currently has no organic guidelines in place for seafood and the jury is still out on what the long term impact might be on our country’s ever expanding waistlines and increasingly allergic children of eating genetically manipulated salmon that contains an “on switch” triggering an insatiable appetite, I am going to sit this experiment out and not only get to know the details about the salmon that my family eats and how it is grown, but also opt for fish like tilapia, cod and halibut whose DNA haven’t yet been manipulated to eat year round.

To learn more about food that has been genetically altered and steps that you can take to protect your family, please visit The Non GMO Project .

Can Coke and Pepsi Save Us from High Fructose Corn Syrup?

September 4, 2010 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

On November 6, 1984, a bomb went off in the food industry that forever changed the course of consumption: Coca Cola and Pepsi announced plans to stop using sugar in soft drinks, replacing it with high-fructose corn syrup. With the drop of two press releases, U.S. sugar consumption decreased by more than 500,000 tons a year driving sugar prices so high that it wrecked the market for sugar and replaced it with a thriving marketplace for high fructose corn syrup.

The industry wide move was made in response to the high price of sugar which had begun its upward projectory shortly after the War of 1812 when the U.S. imposed high tariffs on sugar in order to please sugar plantation owners in the newly acquired Louisiana territory (remember that history class?).

For decades, the government’s tariffs not only propped up the price of sugar but also the value of the plantations on which it was grown and the slaves that worked them. And then further distorting the marketplace for sugar, in 1934, the U.S. government went on to impose sugar import quotas.

So by the time 1984 rolled around, sugar had become an exorbitantly expensive sweetener in the United States and corporations like Coca Cola and PepsiCo were tired of paying the inflated price for this product ingredient.

So in a consolidated effort to manage costs and drive profitability for their shareholders, both corporations announced in November 1984 that they were going to replace high priced sugar with cost-saving high fructose corn syrup in their beverages. It was an unprecedented move that not only rocked the sugar industry, but also dramatically changed the history of food.

Today, over twenty years later, the jury is still out on the impact of this move. While members of the Corn Refiners Association fund ads urging us to believe that high fructose corn syrup is “natural” and presents little to no risk to our health, scientific evidence, unpopular in the corn industry, continues to mount that suggests otherwise.

As a result of this consumer concern, Coca Cola and Pepsi very often don’t use high fructose corn syrup in the products that they manufacture and sell in other countries, as reported in the June 2009 Consumer Reports magazine. They’ve simply taken high fructose corn syrup out of their products in other countries (or in some cases, never used it in the first place).

Now can you imagine if they were to do the same thing here in the United States and removed high fructose corn syrup from their beverages? What if Coca Cola and PepsiCo executed a strategy, much like they did in 1984, only in reverse, in a unified effort to remove high fructose corn syrup from their beverage lines in response to consumer demand?

Can you imagine how that press release might read?

Let’s consider what it might look like, just for a moment…..

~~~~~~~~

A Moment in Time –
New York City, New York and Atlanta, Georgia

In an unprecedented move to restore the integrity of the food supply, Coca Cola and Pepsi Co today announced that they will remove high fructose corn syrup from all of their beverages sold in the United States. The move is a surprising reversal of their 1984 decision in which both companies announced that they would include high fructose corn syrup in their beverages.

In response to consumer demand and in recognition that high fructose corn syrup is often not used in beverages in other developed countries, Coca Cola and Pepsi are removing high fructose corn syrup from their beverage lines in the United States beginning today.

With the move, Coca Cola’s CEO said, “Coca Cola has done a tremendous job of feeding the world as an established leader, creating an enormous opportunity to lead this change and restore the integrity of our food system.”

To launch the initiative, the corporations announced the “Make It Happen” campaign which has quickly caught fire, with both Coca Cola and PepsiCo attracting creative and intellectual talent from around the world as individuals, partners and providers sought to be part of the solution to restore the integrity of the food supply.

As part of the “Make It Happen” campaign and in a wave of collaboration never before seen in the food industry, Coca Cola and PepsiCo launched the “Do One Thing” initiative, recognizing that while no one can do everything, everyone can do one thing. The initiative urges its employees to suggest simple solutions to restoring the integrity of the food supply.

In an enormously well-received move, Coca Cola and PepsiCo have also called upon moms around the country to join them in taking action to restore the integrity of the food supply. Through social media tools that include Facebook chats, Twitter parties and email campaigns, PepsiCo and Coca Cola have invited mothers to join them in encouraging Congress to repeal the sugar quotas put in place in the 1800s and the sugar tariffs put in place in the early 1900s in order to help restore an equilibrium to the price of these sugar in the marketplace, once again making sugar more affordable than high fructose corn syrup for both consumers and corporations alike.

With the launch of the initiative, PepsiCo’s CEO said, “We recognize the role all of us can play in restoring the integrity of the food supply, and we value the power of moms and the important role that they play to help make this happen.”

With skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and allergies impacting the bottom lines of corporations and consumers, the launch of the “Make It Happen” campaign brings to light the depth of concern that consumers and corporations now share about the American food system and the industry funded science and the price distorting quotas, tariffs and subsidies upon which so much of it is built.

To learn more about the “Make It Happen” campaign, consumers are invited to visit www.makeithappen.com where Coca Cola and PepsiCo have created tools and resources for beverage drinkers to learn more, “Do One Thing”, take “Baby Steps” and also contact members of Congress encouraging them to restore the market price of sugar by removing sugar quotas and tariffs that have been in place since the War of 1812.

~~~~~~~~~~

Now while this may only be a dream, can you imagine if all of us were to actually do this? If we were to collectively lend our voices to efforts urging Congress to restore the health of our food system? Can you imagine the impact that it might have?

It conjures up the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true.”