Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Food Irradiation Plot: Why the USDA Wants to Sterilize Fresh Produce and Turn Live Foods into Dead Foods

There's a new plot underway to sterilize your food and destroy the nutritional value of fresh produce. The players in this plot are the usual suspects: The USDA (which backed the "raw" almond sterilization rules now in effect in California) and the American Chemical Society -- a pro-chemical group that represents the interests of industrial chemical manufacturers. The latest push comes from USDA researchers who conducted a study to see which method more effectively killed bacteria on leafy green vegetables like spinach.

Read the full article here: Straight to the Source

USDA Promoting Irradiation of Foods and Ignoring Consumer Concerns

They say the process destroys E. coli and other potentially deadly microbes that chlorine doesn't kill in fruits and vegetables. But consumer groups are concerned.

Before bagged leafy greens wind up on your plate, they are washed, often three times, in a potent chlorine bath. But new research shows the steps that California companies rely on to protect consumers do not kill dangerous bacteria inside the leaves, whereas zapping them with radiation wipes them out.

The debate over how to protect consumers from E. coli and other potentially deadly microbes has intensified since the fall of 2006, when at least 200 people across the nation became ill and three died after eating tainted spinach grown in San Benito County.

Irradiation, which involves bombarding food with high-energy gamma or electron beams to disrupt the DNA of pathogens, has its supporters and critics. But the new research suggests that it may be the only way to penetrate leafy greens and kill bacteria hiding inside.

Although some hamburger meat, poultry and spices are irradiated to kill bacteria, its use on fruits and vegetables to enhance food safety is not permitted in the U.S. Some produce is irradiated for insect control and shelf-life extension. The Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to allow the practice for killing pathogens, which would make it much more widespread.

No health problems have been associated with eating irradiated food. But some consumer groups say its safety is unproven, and have raised concerns about radioactive waste and accidental radiation releases.

Presenting their findings Thursday at the American Chemical Society's annual conference, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists said irradiation could be key to destroying pathogens in hard-to-reach places inside and on the surface of fruits and vegetables.

"Irradiation kills E. coli where chlorine doesn't," said Brendan Niemira, a microbiologist at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Center in Pennsylvania who led the research. "We used pretty aggressive levels of chlorine and found they weren't very effective at all. But when you have E. coli inside a leaf, and you irradiate it, the E. coli dies."

Every year, 1 in 4 Americans suffers a food-borne illness. About 14% of cases are linked to fresh produce, and spinach and lettuce are the biggest known culprits, causing 23 outbreaks since 1995. Most of those outbreaks were traced to California, the leading producer of greens.

Some food safety experts say that the ionizing radiation could damage leaves and that consumers won't buy bags of spinach with a radiation logo on the label. Irradiation also could increase processing and handling times.

In the spinach outbreak 19 months ago, the E. coli was traced to a cattle ranch in San Benito County, and was probably carried to the spinach field by feral pigs or by water.

The bagged spinach had been triple-rinsed at a Natural Selection Foods/Earthbound Farm plant in San Juan Bautista. The company now tests all greens for pathogens when they arrive at the plant and after they are processed.

Industry leaders such as Earthbound Farm have been searching for foolproof sanitation methods. But they are wary of irradiation. One obstacle is that irradiated foods cannot be certified organic under USDA standards.

Full Story:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fifty-Three Percent of Americans Say They Won't Buy Genetically Engineered Food

NEW YORK (AP): According to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 53 percent of Americans say they won't buy food that has been genetically modified. But CBS News investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports that it's not that easy to avoid. While most packaged and processed foods do contain genetically modified ingredients, the labels don't have to say so.

Robyn O'Brien teaches her kids to keep a close eye on the labels of the foods they eat.

"In terms of labeling," she says, "they're not always comprehensive and thorough."

What concerns parents like O'Brien is not what's listed, but what is not. Particularly foods made with genetically modified organisms - or GMOs.

"My concern as a mother is, are these kids part of a human trial that I didn't know that I had signed them up for," O'Brien says.

Today, more than 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is genetically modified - had its DNA altered to increase production and withstand chemical weed killers like roundup. Nearly three-quarters of all corn planted in the U.S. genetically modified.

Experts say that means if it comes in a can or a box and the label lists soybean oil or corn syrup as ingredients, odds are that it contains GMOs. Overall, 65 percent of all products in your local grocery store have DNA-altered ingredients...not that you'd know it by looking.

"The industry that makes genetically modified foods fought so hard to make sure that it wasn't labeled," nutritionist Marion Nestle tells Keteyian.

Nestle, a former FDA advisor, says this was a fight that boiled down to one basic fear.

"They didn't want it labeled because they were terrified that if it were labeled, nobody would buy it."

Robert Brackett is spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

"I think that consumers have that information available to them if they want to look for it," says Brackett, "You can find it on websites. You can go directly to the manufacturer."

When pressed by Keteyian to explain his organization's role in providing information to the consumer, Brackett said, "Well, it's our responsibility to make sure that the foods that are put in the grocery store shelves are safe."

The FDA and bio-tech giants like Monsanto say there's no evidence that GMOs are anything but safe, but food safety advocates ask: how would we know, if the food is not labeled? ...

Full Story:

Scientist Team Creates First GM Human Embryo

Scientists have created what is believed to be the first genetically modified (GM) human embryo.

A team from Cornell University in New York produced the GM embryo to study how early cells and diseases develop. It was destroyed after five days.

The British regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has warned that such controversial experiments cause "large ethical and public interest issues".

News of the development comes days before MPs are to debate legislation that would allow scientists to use similar techniques in this country.

The effects of changing an embryo would be permanent. Genes added to embryos or reproductive cells, such as sperm, will affect all cells in the body and will be passed on to future generations.

The technology could potentially be used to correct genes which cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia and even cancer. In theory, any gene that has been identified could be added to embryos.

Ethicists warn that genetically modifying embryos could lead to the addition of genes for desirable traits such as height, intelligence and hair colour.

Full Story:

Friday, May 9, 2008

United Methodist Church adopts language on labeling of cloned animals and GE plants/animals

This is the text of an email I received from Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety. Jaydee has been working as a liason between the CFS and various religious groups in the country regarding food biotechnology policies:

Dear Bob,

The United Methodist Church General Conference, the only body that speaks for the entire worldwide denomination, adopted an amendment (See text in bold) to its policy resolution on “Genetic Science” that calls for the labeling of all genetically engineered crops, GE animals, and cloned animals. Final passage of the resolution of which this was a part was 836-26. It is not ‘official’ church policy until Jan. 1, 2009, but it is ok to say the United Methodists called for labeling of cloned animals on April 30, 2008. I believe they are the first US religious body (as opposed to coalitions or councils of churches) that has taken a position. Earlier, when we were petitioning the US FDA, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Ecumenical Eco-justice Network weighed in opposing animal cloning.

1. We support public involvement in initiating, evaluating, regulating, and funding of agricultural genetic research.
We believe the public has an important policy and financial role in ensuring the continuation of research that furthers the goal of a safe, nutritious, and affordable food supply.
We believe that the public should have input into whether a research effort, or its products, will serve an unmet need in food and fiber production and processing. We urge United Methodists to be active participants in achieving this accountability in all areas of the world.
We believe that the benefits of research applications should accrue to the broadest possible public, including farmers and consumers.
1. We support the sustainability of family farms, natural resources, and rural communities and urge that genetic research in agriculture and food products promote these goals.
2. We urge that genetically modified crops and genetically engineered or cloned animal products be labeled so that consumers have a choice in which kind of agricultural products they buy.

Jaydee Hanson

Center for Food Safety &

International Center for Technology Assessment

660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE #302

Washington DC 20003

Please consider the environment before printing this email