Jun 062011
 

Some tempered good news: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last month that the USDA must produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for genetically modified sugar beets, prior to granting them permanent approval for commercial use. A full press release is posted at the Center for Food Safety website.

However, GM sugar beets planted last winter are still in the ground. Moreover, the USDA on April 7 announced a pilot program that could allow agribusiness firms to directly influence the content of Environmental Impact Statements. The Federal Register notice states:

“The pilot project will explore two voluntary mechanisms: (1) A petitioner-submitted environmental report based upon which APHIS would develop an EA or an EIS; and (2) an EA or EIS prepared by a contractor, funded by a cooperative services agreement between the petitioner and APHIS.”

(Note: The “petitioner” is the firm seeking approval for a product.)

So, although the court ruling mandating an EIS seems like progress, the independence of the EIS itself does not seem assured.

In the meantime, until full, independent, objective safety studies are available that counter the limited animal studies showing negative outcomes such as liver and kidney damage, I strongly believe that the best defense against GM foods is to avoid them whenever possible. Buying organic is one way to avoid GM foods, but if that’s not possible, avoidance of processed foods or careful label-reading can help.

No, GM foods are not specifically labeled as such. But the main GM components of the food supply — what I like to call the Four Horsemen of GMOs — are:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Cottonseed
  • Canola

That damns a lot of processed foods right there, because they may contain all sorts of derivative products: high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, soy lecithin, soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil are among the most common. If a food package lists any of these ingredients and doesn’t say non-GMO, chances are that it contains GM ingredients.

Other GM products may include papayas, alfalfa sprouts, and, yes, sugar beets. It’s a jungle out there. But there are ways to make a difference.

Mar 052011
 

I do not advocate any particular diet — the “right” diet seems to vary widely based on ethnic origin, lifestyle, and individual biochemistry. As an extreme example, “The China Study” makes a compelling argument for a vegetarian diet, yet the Inuits historically ate almost entirely meat and remained free of most degenerative diseases.

What can be said, almost with certainty, is the following: Eat real food, organic when possible. By “real” food, I mean food that is recognizable as food. I have a strong opinion about this: If an ingredient list reads like a chemistry experiment, perhaps it is one, and perhaps you are the test subject. Put it back on the shelf. In sending this simple message with your food choices, you encourage food producers to provide more real-food options.

On the organic front, it is true that organic food may not be more nutritious than conventional food, and it is almost always more expensive. But what it does not include — pesticides — can make a big difference in your health. Even grains and beans, if they are conventional, were likely sprayed with pesticides. And standards for pesticides on imported products are more lax than for U.S.-grown produce…. If you can’t afford to buy all-organic, this list identifies the most contaminated fruits and vegetables (aka worth buying organic) and the less contaminated (save your money and go conventional).

Another reason to buy organic is that, due to labeling laws, it remains one of the only ways to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods. These foods have slight differences from the natural foods that your body recognizes — and initial animal studies show significant 1 effects 2 as a result. Yet, these GM ingredients permeate nearly all processed foods and even some conventionally grown, apparently “real” foods, such as corn. The “four horsemen” of GM foods are corn, soy, cottonseed, and canola (EDIT: plus sugar beets and alfalfa). If you look at ingredient lists, you will see these offenders in many forms, such as high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, cornstarch, and even lecithin (an emulsifier that is usually soy-based). Other GM foods include some Hawaiian papayas and, soon to come, alfalfa.