GENET archive


CONSUMERS & FOOD: McDonald's GMO dilemma: why fries are causing such a fuss

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE:  The Guardian

AUTHOR:  Marc Gunther


DATE:    05.12.2013

SUMMARY: "Plenty of GMO food probably already makes it on to your plate, and the scientific consensus is that it's safe to eat. So why are activists so opposed to genetically modified potatoes?"

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"Do you want fries with that?" Not if they're made from genetically engineered potatoes, say activists who oppose GMOs.

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch is asking McDonald's, the world's biggest buyer of potatoes, not to source a genetically engineered spud that was developed by its biggest supplier, the J.R. Simplot Co.

"This potato is anything but healthy," writes Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, in a letter (PDF) to Don Thompson, McDonald's CEO. Altering the plant's genes, she writes, could unintentionally affect other characteristics of the potato, "with potentially unforeseen consequences for human health". The letter has been signed by 102,000 people.

Other NGOs, including Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety, also oppose genetically engineered food. The Consumers Union wants that food labeled. All of them argue that US government regulation of genetically modified crops is inadequate.

This is a problem for McDonald's ? and for anyone who believes that genetic engineering has the potential to increase crop yields, help solve environmental problems or deliver healthier foods.

Simplot's new potato varieties, which have been branded as Innate potatoes, are designed to deliver both environmental and health benefits. They reduce black spots from bruising, which cause a portion of each year's potato crop to go to waste as unmarketable. They are also intended to make fried potatoes safer by lowering levels of asparagine, a naturally occurring amino acid that reacts with sugars at high temperatures to produce acrylamide, a potential carcinogen.

"Through the endless possibilities of Innate technology, we aspire to create better fruits and vegetables, farming and human health," Haven Baker, Simplot's vice president of plant sciences, told Biotechnology Fortified, an independent non-profit blog about genetic engineering.

A pivotal moment from GMOs

The brouhaha over Innate potatoes, which are awaiting regulatory approval, comes at a pivotal moment for genetically engineered food in the US. State-by-state battles over mandatory labeling of GMO food has pitted some NGOs and businesses against biotech companies, grocery stores and food and beverage firms like Coca-Cola and Kellogg's.

Meanwhile, companies seeking regulatory approval for genetically modified salmon and apples have run into opposition not just from NGOs, but also from conventional apple growers and retailers like Whole Foods Market. If the GMO potatoes, salmon and apples all fail in the marketplace, companies will be loathe to invest further in plant biotechnology.

As it happens, this isn't the first time a biotech company has tried to improve the lowly potato. In l998, Monsanto introduced NewLeaf potatoes, which were engineered to repel a pest called the Colorado potato beetle. (Michael Pollan planted some, and wrote a long story about his experience.) Several years later, Monsanto withdrew from the potato business after anti-GMO activists persuaded McDonald's and Frito-Lay to tell their suppliers, including Simplot, not to grow NewLeaf potatoes.

This time, McDonald's may be inclined to accept the new-and-improved potatoes because of the environmental and health benefits they promise to deliver. The company declined an interview request, but a spokeswoman told The Guardian that McDonald's decision would be guided by "food, industry and regulatory experts". If that's so, the decision should be straightforward, given the broad scientific consensus in the US that the genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat.

What's more, McDonald's supply chain already includes other food made from genetically engineered crops. There are the soybeans that go into its oil, the corn that sweetens its Coke, and the soy and corn that feed the cows that become burgers. About 93% of the soybeans and 85% of the corn grown in the US are genetically modified, according to the USDA.

Why all the fuss?

Why, then, are the Innate potatoes attracting so much attention? Critics worry that the potatoes are modified using a technology called RNA interference, or RNAi, to effectively silence the genes that instigate browning. "There is so little known or understood about this technology," says Dana Perls, food and technology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth US. "We need to slow down."

More broadly, critics claim that neither companies nor government regulators can be trusted to thoroughly assess the safety of biotech foods. "As of now, there's no requirement for an independent third-party assessment of the risks to human health of this new RNAi technology," Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, told me. "This is new science and we need regulation that is appropriate."

But Simplot's Haven Baker says the USDA will conduct a thorough environmental review and that an FDA review now underway is expected to deliver "an important endorsement of food safety." "Simplot's extensive testing shows these potatoes have the same nutrients, taste, and appearance as conventional potato varieties, which have been proven safe over many years," Baker says.

Sorting through these claims and counter-claims about the risks and benefit of genetic engineering is difficult, even for an informed layman. That's one of the problems with the GMO debate: It gets emotional very quickly and often comes down to questions of trust. Here the anti-GMO forces have an advantage. They can position themselves as consumer advocates ? public interest groups, if you will. By comparison, the companies that favor GMOs are seen as self-interested and lacking credibility. Government regulators also, generally, don't inspire trust.

Still, the fact remains that Americans consume genetically engineered food every day, and no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented among humans. If McDonald's is guided solely by science, it should embrace Innate potatoes. But business doesn't work that way. For better or worse, consumer attitudes will factor into the company's decision.

So is the customer always right when it comes to GMOs? We'll soon find out.

                                  PART 2

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AUTHOR:  Dr. Shuvendu Sen


DATE:    22.11.2013

SUMMARY: "I won?t stir the curd. For, some curds are so hardened in texture that stirs don?t work. It?s like throwing pebbles in a mighty ocean where ripples don?t matter. The GMO furor has been one such."

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I won?t stir the curd. For, some curds are so hardened in texture that stirs don?t work. It?s like throwing pebbles in a mighty ocean where ripples don?t matter.

The GMO furor has been one such.

Ever since the first Genetically Modified organism (GMO) got implemented in 1996 and GM foods slowly made their way into commercial markets, controversies have raged like a hurricane let loose.

Debate is an understatement here. There is no standard podium to stand and argue. Papers, counter papers, organizations, counter organizations are spewing venom at each other with unbridled ferocity.

Freedom of thought is one thing. But lawless freedom can never be the norm. More so in scientific pursuit. It?s healthy and just to have a million opinions. But when facts become tampered we are in trouble.

On one hand, we have the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidences, airing the same conclusion: ?that consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.?

On the extreme other we have advocacy groups like Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Organic Consumers Association, and Center for Food Safety bellowing concerns that potential risks to health and the environment relating to GM have not yet been adequately investigated.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine goes a step further. According to their own research evidences ?several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.?

Caught in the crossfire of such ridiculously contradictory scientific and pseudo-scientific evidences, the common man and woman walk headless. They have absolutely no clue where to go, whom to go, what to or not to eat.

In other words, the quintessential question goes answered. Who?s going to educate the public? An absurd situation where the very beholders of all these experiments are kept in the lurch.

Japan makes a point here. According to the Consumers Union of Japan truly independent research in these areas is being systematically blocked by the GM corporations which own the GM seeds and reference materials.

Indeed, independence in research has been studied by a 2011 analysis into conflicts of interest which found a significant correlation between author affiliation to industry and study outcome in scientific work published on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products.

I am not refuting the good statistics. Yet beneath the talkative assurances lies the overhanging silence. Why completely ignore the logistics of the European Union and other countries and not employ more patience before dumping genetically tampered foods on its citizens? What not have independent research methodologies to address the pros and cons of GMOs?

How about reaching out to the community a bit more than handing out the usual olive branch?

Heather Cunningham, Clinical Nutrition Manager, Raritan Bay Medical Center, NJ, makes a valid point. According to her, ?There continues to be new information almost daily on GMO?s and their effects on health. It ultimately becomes the individual?s decision on whether or not consuming or not consuming these foods is a priority to them and their lifestyle. Consumers should have the information on which products are genetically modified so they can make those decisions for themselves and their families.?

Science in the hands of politics has always been the obedient boy.

But when it comes to human health, exceptions must be made.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE:  Food & Water Watch

AUTHOR:  Genna Reed


DATE:    22.11.2013

SUMMARY: "After nearly 20 years of mass-producing mainly herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops that have not delivered on their environmental promises, the genetic engineering front has moved toward nutritional and aesthetic improvement of food. Two of these new products up for approval are Okanagan Specialty Fruits Arctic Apple and J.R. Simplot?s Innate Potato."

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After nearly 20 years of mass-producing mainly herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops that have not delivered on their environmental promises, the genetic engineering front has moved toward nutritional and aesthetic improvement of food. Two of these new products up for approval are Okanagan Specialty Fruits Arctic Apple and J.R. Simplot?s Innate Potato.

This week, we are asking consumers to tell USDA not to approve the genetically engineered apple, designed not to brown when exposed to oxygen. In its new Environmental Assessment, the USDA does not address many of the concerns of the nearly 73,000 comments sent in during the previous comment period. USDA is not doing itself any favors by ignoring the public opposition of this GE apple. Already, the biggest food chain in the world, McDonald?s, and one of the most popular baby food brands, Gerber, have affirmed that they have no plans to use these apples once they are commercialized.

As for spuds, J.R. Simplot ? one of McDonald?s major potato suppliers ? has designed a potato meant for the frozen French fry market, that will not bruise or turn brown and is less likely to produce the chemical acrylamide when fried (some studies have linked acrylamide to cancer). Since McDonald?s has pledged not to use GE apples, Food & Water Watch ? along with more than 100,000 petition signers ? is asking the company not to use J.R. Simplot?s new potato in its French fries either.

Both the GE apple and the GE potato have been produced using a new form of genetic engineering known as RNA interference (RNAi). This method uses genes from the same species in order to trigger a silencing mechanism that stops a certain protein from being produced. This technology has only been used on a few crops thus far and USDA has not yet properly evaluated the risks. In fact, regulators are only just developing risk assessment requirements for this procedure, with the EPA holding a Scientific Advisory Panel on this topic for insect-resistant crops in January 2014.

There is mounting evidence that the RNAi technology can have effects on nontarget genes, resulting in the silencing of unintended pathways. A 2012 Cell Research study confirmed the belief that ingesting RNA material from certain plant-based foods can have unexpected effects in mammals. Humans should not have to serve as the guinea pigs for this technology, exhibiting genetic side effects from food that regulators tell us is ?substantially equivalent? and ?generally recognized as safe.? This is especially worrying, since any unintended health consequences caused by eating food that has undergone RNAi will not be labeled, and therefore not tracked by any regulatory agency.

There is clearly a lot of work to be done in examining the risks of these potatoes and apples before they are pushed out into the marketplace without labels. Join us to show federal regulators that we will not sit around silently while risky, untested foods proliferate in food.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE:  The Advertiser

AUTHOR:  Elizabeth McLain


DATE:    05.12.2013

SUMMARY: "If I asked whether you?d like a nice, delicious cup of Roundup (yes, the weed-killer), what would you say? If I told you that almost every time you eat corn, soy, rice or wheat you are eating Roundup, would you still want to eat those things?"

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If I asked whether you?d like a nice, delicious cup of Roundup (yes, the weed-killer), what would you say? If I told you that almost every time you eat corn, soy, rice or wheat you are eating Roundup, would you still want to eat those things?

The truth is that about 90 percent of the corn, soy, rice and wheat grown in the United States is genetically modified to be Roundup resistant. Most European countries consider genetically modified food unfit for human consumption, even for people who are starving in Third World countries. But we are eating it here every day.

We also feed genetically modified corn and grains to the animals we raise for food. We shoot them up with growth hormones and antibiotics. We raise them in such awful, crowded and inhumane environments that they are given antibiotics to fight diseases that are rampant under such deplorable conditions. We drink water from plastic bottles polluted with phthalates and bisphenols. We line cans containing food with the same chemicals. The effects of all these things are passed on to us in our food, causing such things as early puberty in our children and unprecedented antibiotic resistance.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms are defined as ?any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.? GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, as well as tools for scientific research, drug treatments, even flower colors.

The genetic manipulation of crop seeds ? namely corn, soy, rice and wheat ? began commercially in 1996. Seeds were genetically altered to be resistant to diseases, but more importantly, to be resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) and other herbicides. By making the plants resistant to Roundup, an entire field can be treated, crops and weeds alike, killing weeds without killing the crops.

Why are GMOs dangerous?

One way Roundup kills plants is to chelate the plant?s minerals, making the minerals unavailable for use in the plant?s growth processes. It also chelates minerals in the soil, rendering them unavailable to the crops that depend on soil-based minerals to grow and thrive. So in addition to eating the chemical that was sprayed on the plants, we are eating nutritionally deficient food when it is grown in this way. As a result, many of us are nutritionally deficient in important minerals. Roundup also has an estrogenic effect on our bodies. It disrupts the endocrine system, whichmanage all our hormones ? including brain, digestion and sex hormones.