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Next Up, Alfalfa Allergies? USDA greenlights Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready Alfalfa

January 28, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Anyone familiar with the AllergyKids Foundation knows that the recent introduction of genetically engineered proteins into our food supply is of concern to our organization. With the introduction of this new technology in the 1990s and the novel, patented proteins that these agricultural products now contain, foreign proteins and novel allergens now exist in our food supply that weren’t there fifteen years ago. And today, these novel proteins and allergens are now found, unlabeled, in the food that we feed our children.

And while correlation is not causation, the body of a child with food allergies sees food proteins as “foreign” and launches an inflammatory response to drive out the “foreign invader.” With the introduction of foreign proteins into our food supply in 1994 through the genetic engineering process, novel and foreign proteins have been introduced into our food that weren’t there when we were children.

So when it recently came to our attention that the USDA had been considering two potential decisions on the introduction of a new biotech crop, Monsanto’s genetically engineered RoundUp Ready alfalfa, which is used as a livestock feed and given to our nation’s dairy cows and cattle, we got involved and wrote a letter to the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Given the pervasive planting of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. since their introduction just over fifteen years ago– 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010 – the option of an outright ban of this new crop was not on the table, according to Whole Foods and others in the industry. Instead, the USDA presented the industry with only two options that they were considering– deregulation and deregulation with restrictions.

According to the New York Times, this announcement came on the heels of a December 2010 statement in which the USDA shocked the farming industry by saying that it may impose geographic restrictions on the cultivation of biotech alfalfa, the controls meant to limit the crops’ cross-pollination with conventional and organic varieties. In other words, it appeared that the USDA considered the cross-contamination issue to be the equivalent of the second-hand smoke of agriculture.

So this week’s decision marked a stunning reversal of the more measured approach that Vilsack appeared to be taking in December, when the USDA talked about considering the impact of the GM crop on other sectors of agriculture. But that was before he faced an uproar by the GM industry and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal for playing nice with organic farmers

And while we don’t agree with the New York Times statement in which they claim, “There is no question about the safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa, which uses well-established bioengineering techniques,” (since according to a 2002 government meeting of the Food Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Food Advisory Committee in which the committee’s acting chair, Edward N. Brandt, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., said “Of course, we haven’t worked into this some kind of test for allergencity, per se”), we do share the economic concern that “organic farmers have long complained that biotech pollen could drift into their fields, causing them to lose exports to regions wary of genetic engineering, like Japan and Europe.”

So what’s the potential impact? Sam Fromartz, author of Organic Inc. sums up some of the consequences that we may see in our food supply as this bioengineered livestock feed is introduced:

1. Less organic forage crops. Why would any farmer plant organic alfalfa when he knows a farmer nearby is planting GM alfalfa? Not only will his costs be higher in terms of cultivating an organic crop, but the possibility now exists that the crop will not be organic once it’s harvested. So why bother?

2. Fewer organic dairy farmers. Organic dairy farmers plant alfalfa in fields where their cows graze, but they may also buy hay for winter. With fewer sources of organic forages, costs for organic dairy farmers will rise. What’s the smartest decision here: Reduce your risk by avoiding the organic market altogether. Or maybe buy your organic forage crops from China, as we’ve seen with soybeans.

3. Higher prices for organic consumers. If the supply of organic forages falls, the cost will rise. Organic dairy farmers will either be squeezed and go under or organic milk prices will rise. The impact: higher prices at the checkout counter for moms and dads buying organic milk for their kids. (Or maybe we’ll see more imports of organic milk powder from nations with stricter GM controls to keep the market going.)

4. Less investment in organic meat. Organic meat has been a fast growing sector of the market, but why would anyone invest in this business if you could be disqualified by contaminated feed? The rational business decision would be to ignore the U.S. and invest in organic operations outside the U.S. — Uruguay anyone?

5. Fewer conventional export opportunities. The contamination of rice fields by GM test plots in Louisiana led to multimillion dollar law suits. Why? Conventional rice farmers lost markets in countries that didn’t want to import GM rice. The same could be true of forages — that is, unless the U.S. is successful in getting the rest of the world to buy GM crops as the State Department is trying to do.

And we’d like to add one last potential impact:

6. The alfalfa allergy. Given the fact that according to the Food Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Food Advisory Committee, tests have not yet been developed to determine the allergenicity of the novel proteins created in the bioengineering process used to create genetically engineered crops like Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready alfalfa, it would not come as a surprise to see a sudden surge in the rates of alfalfa allergy in children and adults, much like the sudden increase seen in the number of Americans developing the soy allergy, shortly after Monsanto introduced their genetically engineered, RoundUp Ready soybeans in the late 1990s.

What? No more bagels?

January 27, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

Submitted by Julie McGinnis, MS, RD, of Gluten-Free Lifestyle, gluten-free 8 years

So, you or your child has just been diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) or gluten intolerance (GI). What? No more bagels? bread? pizza? Ahhh! Well, the good news is that you can find pretty good replacements for all these foods in gluten-free form; however, the bad news is that eating out, traveling and finding exact matches for your favorite foods can prove to be more difficult.

These days the gluten-free world offers many great things; bread that actually toasts, bagels, and in some progressive areas pizza and pasta out in the restaurants. When shopping it is easy to fall prey to buying a lot of junk food gluten-free items that may taste good but offer no nutritional value. Many of the gluten-free flours used in main stream products lack nutritious flours and contain mostly starches. These flours are not fortified like wheat flour so try to choose products made with flours that are nutrient dense like buckwheat, brown rice, sorghum, coconut and contain a higher percentage of whole grain to starch content. These flours provide protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals. It is important to eat a healthy diet and restore nutrient status in your body. GI and CD often deplete the body and leave many with less than optimal health.

For a complete list of safe and forbidden foods and information about gluten-free body care products and prescription medications please visit www.theglutenfreegirl.com. Today, there are many gluten-free blogs that have wonderful recipes and meal ideas. The Gluten Free Bistro has a blog (www.theglutenfreebistro.com/blog ) that converts many of Martha Stewart’s recipes to gluten-free and they supply restaurants in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico with whole grain, nutritious pizza crusts and pasta. In addition, the Bistro Blend All Purpose GF Flour used in all the products contains 76% whole grain flours and is only 22% starches. This ratio is the first of its kind in the market place and is available for purchase on the website along with their pizza crust. Please visit their website (www.theglutenfreebistro.com) for more information and for more great recipe ideas. The future is bright for those starting their gluten-free lifestyle now and you can look forward to enjoying many great foods.

A Texan Talks About What Eating Less Meat Might Do

January 26, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

Submitted by Wendee Holtcamp, a Texas-based freelance writer

HOUSTON – Three years ago, I stood atop the Franklin Mountains at dusk, gazing over El Paso, Texas and gritty Ciudad Juárez, its third-world neighbor south of the border. I had just taken a gondola ride up the mountain, but as the lights in the houses of some 2.5 million people flickered on, I started to feel uneasy.

There I was: Comfortable, warm and happily digesting a hamburger, when right across the Rio Grande people lived in desperate conditions with rampant crime. Something about this juxtaposition of indulgence and poverty made me edgy.

Already, our planet’s 6.8 billion people include 1 billion hungry and 1.6 billion overweight, and scientists’ best predictions have the population rising to 9 billion by 2050 before leveling off. How will we feed so many people without utterly ravaging the Earth?

Here’s the dilemma: As people improve their lot, first they start consuming more food, primarily grains and tubers, and then diets shift to energy-rich vegetable oils, sugars, and meat. Raising these foods on large scales – particularly meat – requires more land, water and energy, and it creates more pollution than grain crops or veggies alone.

“We are in essence eating the world’s tropical rainforests and savannas,” University of Minnesota ecology professor David Tilman told me. But it doesn’t have to be this way. “There is no reason for even one more acre of rainforest to be cut. If we farmed them properly, the lands that have already been cleared could fully meet global food demand for at least the next 50 years,” he said.

Tilman and colleagues modeled how our diet will affect the world by 2050, warning that agriculturally-driven environmental change will rival that from a warming climate. If trends continue, people will be exposed to more pesticides, and we will run out of fresh water for irrigation. Increased fertilizer use will salinize soils and raise the number of aquatic low-oxygen “dead zones.” The loss of natural ecosystems to agriculture will exceed the land area of the United States, leading to biodiversity loss and species extinctions. They conclude that food demand could be lowered “if the trend toward diets rich in meat were reversed.”

Perhaps I was feeling guilty over my hamburger. It’s easy to bemoan runaway population growth, but as an American I contribute disproportionately to global consumption, and hence environmental degradation. In a New York Times essay, University of California-Los Angeles professor Jared Diamond calculated that Americans consume 32 times the resources than those in developing countries. Food plays a huge role in this.

For more than 25 years now, I have lived in Texas, land of the longhorn, home of famous BBQ beef. My ex-husband gently swayed me from teenage vegetarianism back into carnivory. We raised two kids, now teens themselves, who prefer a helping of cow, pig or chicken with every meal, thank you very much.

Ah meat, it’s a national obsession: Meat Lover’s Pizza, lunch meat, hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled ribeye, fried chicken. Americans eat twice the recommended daily allowance of protein. The result? We “eat like an SUV,” say University of Chicago scientists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin. The average American diet adds an extra ton and a half of CO2-equivalent emissions per capita annually compared to a vegan diet. That’s significant when the annual total for an average American is 4 tons.

Livestock contributes 18 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide, according to the oft-cited United Nations report, Livestock’s Long Shadow. Much of that value comes from rainforest deforestation, and most of the rest comes from cow burps and liquefied manure. Some have criticized the report, but report co-author Dr. Pierre Gerber says, “We fully maintain the 18 percent.”

The U.S. EPA estimates that 6 percent of our greenhouse gases come from all agriculture, but we also have a disproportionate number of vehicles and smokestacks. Nicolette Niman, vegetarian rancher and author of Righteous Porkchop, argues that it’s misguided to blame American beef for rainforest destruction.

Tilman disagrees. “What we eat in the U.S. has global impacts, whether or not we directly consume beef from Brazil,” he says. “We use about half of our farmland to grow grains for animal feed. Were we to eat less meat or eat more environmentally efficient meat, we would export more grains, and this would decrease the demand for crops that are an underlying driver of tropical deforestation.”

A 2009 study commissioned by Compassion in World Farming and conducted by European academics determined that we can feed 9 billion people without any further habitat loss using organic, humane methods, with no factory farms. This challenging task would require reduction of meat consumption, particularly in developed nations.

This brings to mind a childhood memory. One harvest day, I watched Dad place an Araucana rooster on a stump, and with one fell smack, off came its head. True to story, the headless chicken flopped around, blood sputtering. It enthralled and revolted me in equal measure. I decided not to eat our chickens. Dad was not thrilled. “It’s so much healthier than store-bought chicken,” he pleaded, to no avail. I still wanted meat, but only from a package.

I retained that mental disconnect between animals and meat for most of my life. Then last year, reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I connected my diet to problems with animal welfare, pollution, worker injustices and the power of Big Ag. I made a vow to avoid factory-farmed meat. Given the high price of sustainably raised and humanely harvested meat, this single mom now eats mostly vegetarian.

“It makes sense from all perspectives – health, environmental, animals – for Westerners to reduce their meat and dairy consumption,” says Niman. “Farmers and ranchers who are raising higher quality meat can command a premium and be rewarded for their good work.”

I may not be able to personally change agricultural policy, slow global population growth, or invent technological innovations to curb global climate change, but I can modify my diet. With three meals a day, every day, it adds up.

© Wendee Holtcamp. All rights reserved

Houston-based Wendee Holtcamp specializes in writing about science and the environment. You can follow her on Twitter at @bohemianone and learn more about her work here.

The article first appeared on DailyClimate.org, as seen here, a nonprofit news service covering climate change

12 Cooking Tips for Families With Food Allergies: Insight From Food Allergy Chefs, Parents and Advocates

January 24, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Food Allergy-Friendly Kitchen Prep

If you’re new to food allergies, the task of safeguarding your home kitchen can be daunting. With a few straightforward considerations, however, you’ll be ready to cook allergy-friendly meals in no time.

1. Determine the severity of all food allergies in the household. This will help you figure out the degree to which you’ll need to safeguard your house from cross-contamination, according to Cybele Pascal. “If a member of your family is anaphylactic to even airborne traces of peanut, you will be sure to keep peanuts out of the house, and you will do everything in your power to be sure that nothing that’s cross contaminated by peanuts comes into your house. Other families are comfortable having an area of the pantry that is specifically labeled with ‘safe’ foods and utensils for the food allergic person.”

2. Consider a familywide allergy-friendly diet. Some parents find it easier to avoid cross-contamination by eliminating the allergen from the household, especially following the initial food-allergy diagnosis. “With my son, who has multiple food allergies, in the beginning, I just kept all the offending foods out of the house, and we all ate a completely allergy-free diet, which I found was the easiest way of handling it for me,” said Pascal. “Now, we do have some allergens in the house.”

3. Stock your kitchen with tools and cooking utensils that are easy to sanitize. The key to a safe kitchen is to minimize your chances for cross-contamination, and the right tools make it easier for you to do so. Both Maes and Pascal advise home cooks to steer away from wood cutting boards and cooking utensils; these items can’t survive the hot diswasher water, and their porous nature can absorb allergens. Instead, opt for plastic cutting boards and silicone or plastic utensils, which are easy to sanitize properly.

Cast-iron cookware is a mainstay in many kitchens; however, Maes points out, “Because these are often meant to be seasoned, particles from previous meals involving allergens can remain on the surface.” In terms of cookware, Maes recommends stainless-steel pans that are dishwasher-safe, such as those from All-Clad, and cast-iron pans dedicated to only allergen-free food. “I leave a label on [the cast-iron pans] when I’m not using them in case someone else is cooking in my kitchen.” Maes’ kitchen also includes dishwasher-safe glass bakeware, stainless cooking utensils, dedicated silicone cooking utensils and a separate labeled toaster for gluten-free bread.

4. Invest in a smart selection of time-saving kitchen gadgets. Since preparing allergy-friendly food may entail a separate cooking process, head to your local kitchen supply store or restaurant supply store for products that can shave off some time. You don’t need to go overboard, however. “Your kitchen needs are no different from a non-food-allergic household,” says Pascal. “Except for the Magic Bullet, perhaps. This is a great way to make shakes for my food-allergic son.” Pascal also swears by her microplane, her mixing bowls from Crate and Barrel, and her Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Avoiding Cross-Contamination

A well-stocked kitchen isn’t enough to safeguard your family from foods that could trigger an allergic reaction. You’ll also need to study up on cross-contamination, which may mean relearning several aspects of cooking at home.

5. Sanitize your hands, thoroughly and often. “I can’t stress how important this step is,” says Pascal. “Wash your hands between each step while prepping and cooking, with warm water and soap, and dry them on a clean paper towel or fresh dish towel.”

6. Clean and sanitize food-preparation areas before, during and after the cooking process. “Wash down kitchen surfaces. Don’t just wipe or brush them off — clean them thoroughly. I’m talking counters, cabinet knobs, the faucet and the surface of that salt shaker,” Pascal says. “Be sure that all equipment, pans and utensils have been thoroughly washed and sanitized before you use them.”

7. Assign dedicated “safe” shelves in your kitchen cabinet, pantry and refrigerator. “I separate shelves in my pantry and in my refrigerator to designate which foods are allergen-friendly and safe for the food-allergic family members,” says Maes. “This [method] is great for caregivers who may not be aware what is safe for your children to eat.”

8. Also assign dedicated “safe” kitchen appliances and utensils. Pascal recommends using separate cutting boards, with at least one that’s designated for preparing allergy-free meals. “You may also wish to have separate pans and utensils,” she adds. “More expensive, but less risky. Be sure to label them and keep them in a separate area when they’re not in use.” Pascal also advises parents to label and separate eating utensils for food-allergic individuals.

9. For households with wheat allergy or celiac disease, purchase a separate toaster for gluten-free bread. “If you use the same toaster for both gluten-filled and gluten-free bread, you are at a great risk for contamination,” warns Maes. Both Maes and Pascal recommend a separate toaster for gluten-free bread; if you don’t have the space or budget, Maes notes that the safest alternative is to place gluten-free bread on a piece of foil during toasting to avoid contact with gluten particles.

10. Time and prepare your meals so that the allergic person’s food is completed first. “Prepare the food-allergic person’s food first, and then cover it and set it aside to be sure nothing migrates into it. Serve the food-allergic person first to avoid cross-contamination from serving utensils,” says Pascal.

11. Educate the whole family on sanitation best practices. If you choose to have food allergens in your home, make sure your whole household remains vigilant on keeping “safe” items free of allergens. “If you have an egg allergy and someone dips his or her knife into the mayonnaise and then follows it up by dipping into the mustard, the mustard has now been contaminated with egg particles for any future uses,” warns Maes. The same goes for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spreading jam on a piece of toast, or using any other condiment in the kitchen. “These minute amounts might seem insignificant; however, for someone with a life-threatening food allergy, they could spell disaster.”

Ensuring a Balanced Diet

12. Embrace whole, fresh foods. Since food-allergic individuals must cut so many foods out of their repertoire, many parents worry about proper nutrition and a balanced diet. Robyn O’Brien has a simple mantra to help: Eat Less Fake Food. Here’s O’Brien’s rationale behind this mantra:

We were feeding our kids blue yogurt, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese when we first found out that our fourth child had food allergies. And then to learn that processed foods contain new allergens and proteins (not found in kids’ foods in other developed countries) that aren’t listed on the labels — what mom has time for that? So we decided to try to Eat Less Fake Food. And it goes such a long way in reducing your children’s exposure to hidden allergens, chemicals and preservatives now in the food supply that weren’t there when we were kids. Since 70 percent of a child’s immune system is found in his digestive tract, by simply eating less fake food, you are doing so much to ensure the health of a child and not corrode those digestive pipes with food pumped full of chemicals

The FearLess Truth About Our Food

January 21, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

Posted by Robyn O’Brien, AllergyKids Foundation,

I had the honor of joining a brilliant man, ad visionary Alex Bogusky, as a guest on his television show, FearLess, where we discuss the recent flood of biotech proteins into our food supply, the lack of their labeling here in the US (despite the fact that they are labeled on foods in other developed countries), the surging allergy epidemic and what it means to the health of our families.

The show has been viewed by Congressional teams, CEOs and parents and serves as a wake-up call that we can all do our part to restore the integrity of our food supply and the health of our families.

Watch live video from Fearless QA on Justin.tv