Should We Care about Modified Vegetables?

June 3, 2014 in Food Economics, Foodland Chronicles, Health Claims, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

A new wave of my personal research all started when I attended an online seminar called Pesticides and Food; Eating Safely and Sustainable, presented by The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health. I learned some interesting new facts during the hour presentation; among them were:

  • GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) exposure is sub lethal to humans, but it kills honeybees. This was not comforting to me. I know that we humans are not all exactly the same. Some of us react at lower doses of substance ‘X’ than others; some people, especially children or the weakened may experience some ill health. The knowledge of the dying honeybees was a ‘wake up’ call for me; an unwelcome wake up call.
  • Pesticides work on the nervous systems of insects. Science is uncovering correlations of pesticides to an increased incidence of Parkinson’s disease, possibility to ADHD, and even cognitive performance. Ouch!
  • Pesticides and herbicides damage the entire ecosystem and biodiversity. Studies have shown that ‘best practices’ can help considerably. Large farming production methods bring problems – high use of GMO, pesticides and herbicides. Some of the presenters of the Harvard Forum suggested that changing the farm bill is part of the answer to reducing the use of these harmful chemicals. There is no question that Big Food/Big Agriculture will fight this tooth and nail; let’s not forget Monsanto and all the chemical producers.
  • The national organic standard allows farmers to use natural pesticides. These pesticides degrade more quickly and are made from natural products instead of manufactured chemicals.
  • There are considerable costs for paperwork and the process with government certifications to use the organic label.  It’s very difficult for small farmer to sustain the costs and still make a profit.
  • Pesticides often get absorbed inside fruit. Washing is good, but some is inside. Do wash, but know there’s still some inside.
  • One of the problems with big agriculture is their procedure. For example, they spray on a certain day, whether they have any evidence of a problem.  It’s just the procedure; no evaluation involved – no infestation necessary.
  • One problem with the use of herbicides is that we’ve created newer and stronger super weeds. Chemicals or even machines can’t vanquish them; then expensive hand weeding is necessary. The chemical solution? Use more and stronger herbicides. Unfortunately (or fortunately, from another perspective), Mother Nature has arranged things so that the chemical approach is not sustainable. Keep reading.
  • Part of our problem is that we Americans want our produce blemish-free. Maybe we will need to change our repugnance for harmless blemishes in order to obtain a lesser load of pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs which prove harmful.
  • Consider using your organic food-buying dollar wisely. One way to do that is to use EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to help you decide if you want to spend the extra money on a product or not. This is a very helpful concept. When purchasing produce listed on the Dirty Dozen, it makes more sense to spend your organic dollars.  But at the bottom of the list, and maybe those in between fruits and vegetables, you may opt-out of the more costly organics. I made a list of the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists and put it into my wallet; now I can refer to it while shopping.
  • If you can’t afford to purchase organic produce, some studies say that the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables out weigh the risks of pesticide exposure. A big part of the reason to eat the fruit or veggie is the even greater risk in what you will probably eat instead – especially if it involves animal proteins and the GMO-laden and processed foods, and the medicines they have been given.

One reason that I’ve historically bought into the benefits of genetically engineering of fruits and vegetables was that a greater harvest would feed more people. The idea of genetically engineering food crops to use less pesticides and herbicides has not been successful. Unfortunately, as the Mother Nature comment implies, the practice of inserting the genes that make a plant resistant to some specific herbicide has set off a vicious cycle in which weeds mutate into so-called ‘super weeks’ requiring yet more glyphosate (Roundup) and other potent herbicides. Insects, like plants also mutate to resist specific pesticides, as harmful bacteria have been doing to resist antibiotics. Certainly, it is to the (short-term, short-sighted) benefit of the chemical companies for their customers to use more and more of these chemicals. Unfortunately ‘extreme levels’ of harmful chemicals are now reportedly being found in genetically engineered plants; soy, for example. Why should it be surprising that removing the resistance to a  toxic chemical without killing it would enable more of that toxin to lodge in the tissue of the plant?

Big Food is being impacted by the growth of the organic food sector, as evidenced by a long report called: Organic Marketing Report – the organic sector is taking too big a bite out of their market. In an effort to protect their market, they are asking their members to come forward and explain how healthy (or at least harmless) GMOs are. Consumers are buying organic foods for many reasons, including: lack of pesticides and herbicides; lack of hormones; absence of genetically modified foods; lack of food colorings, flavors, colors, preservatives; absence of antibiotics.

Big Food claims that the movement toward organic products is based upon misperceptions and is exploited by organic marketers backed by the organic food industry. If you want to read the unbiased report published and backed by independent researchers (maybe unbiased – maybe not; I note that the professors are all emeritus, why?), then you can read it by clicking on Organic Marketing Report in the first paragraph of Elaine Watson’s April 21, 2014 article; The organic food industry has been engaged in a ‘multi-decade public disinformation campaign’, claims report.

Phantom Menace of GMOs keeps organic industry off target by Mischa Popoff is an article that claims that the organic movement has become little more than a political movement, relying increasingly on imports, and if not intentionally aimed at taking farming back in time, then that outcome may be a side effect. (Author’s side comment: It seems that it is more than possible that farming can be done with less chemical intrusion. Just sayin.’) Answering Popoff’s criticism of organic farming Steven Hoffman wrote a rejoinder called GMOs are not the answer, just because organic isn’t perfect. Hoffman highlights the bad logic of Popoff’s challenge.

GMOs are certainly not my area of expertise. But having said that, it just makes sense to me that when we splice DNA from a species of bacteria into the DNA of a completely unrelated plant species in a laboratory that we’re taking a big step toward something unnatural.  We humans have only recently had the ability to do this type of splicing and have never done any long-term studies on the impact of GMOs on human health. Maybe we should slow down a little in this movement toward GMOs. This is especially true given the increasing evidence of harm from the chemical poisons, and the unsustainability of chemical warfare on adaptive biological organisms.

Compass Natural published the following quote and an article listing scientific articles that we may want to consider in our evaluation of using GMOs: “There are nine genetically modified (GM or GMO) food crops currently on the market: soy, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa. However, in November 2013, USDA recommended that GMO apples be approved for commercial production, and FDA may approve GMO salmon – the first genetically engineered animal ever allowed for human consumption – in late 2013 or early 2014.” Hey FDA and USDA, we hope you’re right in your decisions. Should scientific developments ultimately prove you made the wrong decisions, the time lag of such research, and of its acceptance, will likely make it difficult to hold you accountable when you are no longer in office.

The story of a fairly small company, Quinn Popcorn, is told in short, by Maggie Hennessy: You have to be an idealist if you’re going to change the food industry. They admit that they are not making a profit with their organic microwave popcorn product. Certainly we here at Dr. Grandma’s can relate to their story. We tried unsuccessfully for about five (was it 5 or 7?) years to make our whole grain business work. It failed, but we realize that we definitely were idealist, maybe a little early in the movement of natural and Non-GMO products. You may enjoy reading the short story in the link at the beginning of this paragraph to learn what a company goes through to provide a healthy product that competes with Big Food.

A must-read in the series of articles about GMOs is: The biggest fallacy about GMOs is that we need them to feed the world: WFP (World Food Processing). The WHP has been working on this issue since 1985. Plant proteins are a growing industry, and of course, many of those who embrace plant proteins, want them to be organic AND GMO-free. If the public ever demands mandatory GMO labeling, it will be a big push for the organic market. Big Food is so afraid of this possibility; they dumped millions into anti-GMO labeling campaign initiatives in California and Washington State – the initiatives failed. Big Food won; maybe not permanently, but for now. Oregon and Colorado are already being identified as future battlegrounds for mandatory GMO labeling.

I don’t have all the answers as related with organic farming and its related issues, but one thing I have learned through my research. If I were a mother presently feeding young children, I would definitely be trying to control the amount of highly processed foods in our family’s meals. When I was a young mother and dietitian, the issue of aspartame as a sweetener, was a popular question. I would answer the question, that I thought that it was probably not horribly harmful for adults, but in the case of children, who are laying down new tissues daily, I did not think it was wise to replace sugar with aspartame. We don’t want to offer items to children that have the opportunity to make changes in the growing body. Certainly that doesn’t mean that some of the chemicals in our food are perfectly healthy for adults, but it just means that the potential for harm is much greater in children.

The ‘natural’ label is still popular in spite of the large number of lawsuits being filed against food manufacturers. Unlike the use of the term ‘organic,’ which must meet strict USDA standards, the term ‘natural’ has no legal definition, it only can’t contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances and it must not be used in a “misleading’ way.

If you’re looking for a place to begin to make decisions for you and your family, you may want to consider the following:

  • There is no need to pay extra for a product that claims to be natural, as the term natural is not legally defined. Organic on the other hand has a strict definition and is legally defined.
  • Since GMOs are used in about 80% of the processed food sold in the U.S. today, maybe one of the steps that you decide to take, if you’re trying to cut back on GMOs in your families diet is to cut back on processed foods, especially highly processed foods.
  • Use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists when shopping to support good decision-making and budget management.
  • If it’s possible, grow some of your produce. It surprises me, what wonderful produce I get without spraying.  I’m lucky that the neighborhood horse ranch provides, the nutrients in the soil. I was shocked to learn that cherry tomatoes are on the Dirty Dozen list, as they seem to grow in my garden so easily, with no sprays and no added ‘nuthin’.

This organic/GMO issue is huge in the food industry – it’s promising to be a gigantic battle. Why? Because there’s big money involved.  I hope the right side will win; a side that supports sufficient food production yet carefully considers the issues to insure that that food is safe for humans, the insects we rely on, and the environment our grandchildren will live in. There’s so much argument and so much information right now, but maybe we can take some beginning steps to help insure our health and that of our family.