Archive for the ‘Food safety’ Category

Oct24

GM Crops Causing a Stir in Washington State, Mexico, and Hawaii

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Courts, councils, and voters across North America are weighing in on genetically modified (GM) crops this month.

Research on the health effects of GM crops is woefully inadequate. (Photo Credit: The Daily Mail)

In Washington state, voters are beginning to cast ballots in favor of or opposing Initiative 522, which would mandate that all GM food products, seeds, and seed stocks carry labels in the state. According to the initiative, polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public, typically more than 90 percent, would like to know whether or not the food they buy has been produced using genetic modification.

Initiative 522 is making big headlines. On October 16, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the initiative’s top opponent—the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—for allegedly violating campaign disclosure laws by concealing the identities of its donors. The lawsuit accuses the GMA, a D.C.-based food industry group, of infringing the law by soliciting and receiving contributions and making expenditures to oppose Initiative 522 without properly registering and reporting as a political committee, and of concealing the true source of the contributions received.

Days after Ferguson sued the group, the GMA agreed to name the companies that contributed to the $17.1 million campaign to defeat the initiative. High on the list are Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and NestleUSA, each having contributed more than $1 million. A more extensive list of donors, published by the Seattle Times, names General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup, The Hershey Co., and J.M. Smucker Co. as additional donors.

The fight to require labels on GM foods in Washington state is reminiscent of last year’s fight over Proposition 37—which also proposed mandatory GM labels—in California. According to California Watch, food and agribusiness companies, including The Hershey Co., Nestlé USA, Mars Inc., and Monsanto, contributed $44 million in opposition of Prop 37, while those in favor contributed $7.3 million. Although 47 percent of Californians voted in favor of Prop 37, it ultimately failed to pass.

Opponents of GM labeling have argued that the labels would imply a warning about the health effects of eating those foods, although no significant differences between GM and non-GM foods have been officially established. They also argue that consumers who do not want to buy GM foods already have the option of purchasing certified organic foods, which by definition cannot be produced using GM ingredients.

The initiative’s proponents, on the other hand, argue that GM labeling is about people’s right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families. These groups argue that U.S. companies, which are already required to label GM foods in 64 countries around the world, should be required to provide the same information to shoppers back home.

“As things stand, you can find out whether your salmon is wild or farm-raised, and where it’s from, but under existing legislation you won’t be able to find out whether it contains the gene of an eel. That has to change,” wrote Mark Bittman, a food columnist for the New York Times. “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced. This is true even if food containing or produced using GMOs were the greatest thing since crusty bread.”

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Oct16

21 Awesome Policies Changing the Food System!

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Today we celebrate World Food Day in commemoration of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a chance to renew our commitment to sustainable and equitable agriculture as a means of ending world hunger.

Around the world, governments and organizations alike have made huge strides towards achieving the principles on which the FAO was founded. Governments on every continent have taken significant steps to change food systems for the better, making them more sustainable, healthy, and accessible to all. Today, we showcase just 21 of the many recent policies and laws enacted by governments worldwide that are helping to change the food system, promote sustainable agriculture, and eradicate hunger.

1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 with a focus on improving the nutrition of children across the United States. Authorizing funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs, this legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs and promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth. Read more about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and 15 innovations making school meals healthier and more sustainable on the Nourishing the Planet blog.

2. The Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) was founded in 2011 to help improve the provision of services to farmers in the country. It focuses on adapting its policies to local needs, developing sustainable production systems, and providing farmers and consumers with education, techniques, and services to help supply Rwandans with better foods. The RAB has received praise for its efforts from organizations like the Executive Board of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa.

3. Beginning in 2008, the Australian government committed $12.8 million for 190 primary schools across Australia to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Hoping to encourage healthy and nutritious eating habits in young Australians, the program works with primary schools to teach students how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh food.

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Oct10

Ask Trader Joe’s to Support Labeling of GM Foods

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By Carol Dreibelbis

On November 6, California citizens will vote on Proposition 37. This ballot initiative would require labeling of raw or processed foods made with genetically modified (GM) materials and prevent GM foods from being labeled as “natural.”

Trader Joe’s currently refuses to support labeling of GM foods through Proposition 37 (Photo credit: www.SumOfUs.org).

Mark Bittman, a food writer for The New York Times, explains that Proposition 37 is not just a ban on GM foods: “it’s a right-to-know law.” He continues, “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced.” Bittman points out that Proposition 37 has received bipartisan support in California as well as across the country (91 percent of American voters support the labeling of GM foods).

Despite widespread support for Proposition 37, Trader Joe’s—one of the largest organic retailers in the country—currently refuses to support the ballot initiative, even though Whole Foods Market and other competitors have already shown their support for the labeling of GM foods. At the same time, agribusiness companies like Monsanto are funding hefty campaigns to defeat Proposition 37.

Even if you are not a citizen of California, you can have a say in this election. If you would like to find out more about Proposition 37 and encourage Trader Joe’s to support the initiative, you can read and sign this petition by SumOfUs, a movement for corporate accountability.

According to Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney, the election in California will have ripple effects across the country: “If manufacturers change national labeling practices to conform to California law, the effects will show up on every grocery shelf in America.”

Click here to ask Trader Joe’s to support labeling of GM foods.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Similar blog posts:

  1. New Study on Monsanto Maize Raises Serious Concerns about Safety of GM Foods
  2. Benbrook Study on GM Crops and Pesticides
  3. New Harvest’s Jason Matheny Shares Perspectives on the Future of Meat Alternatives
  4. The Challenges of Organic: Scott Updike of the USDA National Organic Program Speaks
  5. Monsanto Receives ‘F’ on Sustainable Agriculture Test
  6. Food & Water Watch Campaigns to Remove GE Corn from Walmart
Sep21

New Study on Monsanto Maize Raises Serious Concerns about Safety of GM Foods

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By Rachael Styer

A new study released by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen in France and the independent research organization CRIIGEN is the first peer-reviewed lifetime feeding trial of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) Maize NK603 and the widely used herbicide Roundup. Previous studies regarding the safety of GMO foods for human consumption observed the effects of low-level consumption of GM foods by rats for only 90 days, a period of time roughly equivalent to a rat’s adolescence.

Rats consuming low-levels of Monsanto’s maize NK603 suffered mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage (Photo Credit: Linda Eckhardt)

Seralini’s study examines the health effects of GM maize consumption on rats over a period of two years, a rat’s average lifespan, and the results of the study are startling. Rats consuming low-levels of maize NK603 and the popular herbicide Roundup (individually or combined) suffered from mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage, conditions that typically led to premature death. Fifty percent of male rats and 70 percent of female rats fed on the substances died prematurely, compared to 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively, for the control group. To hear the experts discuss the study’s results further, check out this video interview posted by the UK’s The Grocer.

While GM foods have been touted as an efficient and effective way to feed a growing global population, the results of Seralini’s study suggest that perhaps those seeking a solution to problems of global hunger should focus their efforts elsewhere. Patrick Holden, the Founder and Director for the Sustainable Food Trust, expressed this sentiment in a press release about the study: “GM crops hold out the promise of helping to meet the triple challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population increase, but if they have negative effects on health we need to recognize this as quickly as possible and apply our energies in other areas.”

Consumer concern over the safety of GM foods is nothing new. Since the early 2000s, retailers have responded to consumer demand by labeling non-GM products in their stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brands. And the controversy over whether GM food labeling should be mandatory is playing out in California as voters and lawmakers debate the merits of Prop 37, a ballot initiative which would require food sellers in California to label most products containing GM ingredients.

Although the study already underwent the peer review process, its methods have drawn criticism from other experts; Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, claims the authors went on a “statistical fishing trip.” But, Michael Antoniou, a molecular biologist also from King’s College London and a collaborator on the paper, defended the study’s results while still acknowledging the need for more research. Antoniou commented to reporters, “I feel this data is strong enough to withdraw the marketing approval for this variety of GM maize temporarily, until this study is followed up and repeated with a larger number of animals to get the full statistical power that we want.”

What do you think? Do GMOs present a public health risk? Let us know in the comments!

Rachael Styer is a research Intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug01

CDC Reports Rising Rates of Foodborne Illness

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By Caitlin Aylward

The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that that the frequency of foodborne illness outbreaks have not improved over the past decade, despite the passage of the most recent Food Safety Modernization Act.

Eating grass-fed meat is one way to reduce your chances of contracting a food-borne illness. (Photo credit: American Cattlemen)

According to the CDC, an estimated one in six Americans became sick last year from foodborne pathogens. Of the 48 million Americans who contracted foodborne illnesses, 128,000 were hospitalized and 3,000 people died.

The most recent statistics from the CDC report that outbreaks of salmonella, vibrio, campylobacter, and listeria have all remained steady or increased in prevalence since 2007. Only incidences of E. coli have declined within this time period, and only marginally so.

Salmonella and E. coli are both foodborne pathogens that can lead to illness if contaminated fecal matter comes into contact with food. Poultry is the food most commonly associated with salmonella outbreaks, whereas E. coli bacteria are typically found in ground meat products. Both pathogens, however, are linked to the standard grain-based diets, as well as the factory farm conditions, in which cattle and poultry are raised.

Grain-based feeds can encourage the growth of dangerous E. coli bacteria in a cow’s stomach, whereas grass-based diets eliminate the potential development of these dangerous pathogens.

Moreover, livestock and chickens raised in factory farms are often packed tightly into feedlots, where animals stand in pools of manure, allowing foodborne pathogens to circulate throughout the facility and contaminate the feed. In modern slaughterhouses, the animals’ hides are also often covered in manure, making it difficult to keep contaminated fecal matter from coming into contact with an animal’s flesh. If farmers use raw manure for fertilizer, foodborne pathogens, such as E. coli or salmonella, can even contaminate produce.

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Jul27

The Raw Milk Debate

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By Keshia Pendigrast

According to a study released in the February edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raw milk and its products are 150 times more likely than their pasteurized milk counterparts to sicken consumers. Yet according to Food Safety News, over 10 million Americans demand access and the choice to consume unpasteurized, raw milk.

The legal status of raw milk around the country. (Photo credit: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund)

In 1948 Michigan was the first state in the United States to mandate that milk be pasteurized, and raw milk consumption was restricted to farm owners only. John Partridge, a Dairy Food Extension Specialist at Michigan State University, explains that “Pasteurized milk is when we cool milk down and then run it through a heat treatment system….to destroy the most heat-resistant pathogens.” These include pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, which can cause extreme sickness and, in some cases, death.

But processes such as pasteurization and sterilization of milk also reduce milk’s nutritional value. For instance, sterilization significantly impairs the bioactivity of vitamin B6, while pasteurization reduces milk’s Vitamin C content and also destroys Beta-lacto globulin, a heat-sensitive protein that increases intestinal absorption of vitamin A. “Raw Milk didn’t make people sick, campylobacter did,” said co-owner of ‘Your Family Cow Farms,’ Edwin Shank, in a recent interview for Bloomberg. “That’s an important distinction. Whenever it’s raw milk, people want to vilify raw milk and say don’t drink it. They don’t say the same thing about cantaloupe or spinach or peanut butter.”

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Jul06

New Harvest’s Jason Matheny Shares Perspectives on the Future of Meat Alternatives

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By Kevin Robbins

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, between 1970 and 2010 the number of cows raised for human consumption rose 32 percent to reach 1.4 billion, pigs rose 76 percent to reach 965 million, and chickens rose 273 percent to reach 19.4 billion. But despite its popularity, current levels and methods of meat production and consumption can have an adverse effect on human health, the environment, and animal welfare.

Jason Matheny is working to produce economically viable meat substitutes. (Photo credit: MercoPress.com)

New Harvest is an organization that supports research regarding economically viable meat substitutes and provides a forum for sharing related innovations. In the interview below, New Harvest founder Jason Matheny talks about the work of the organization and his perspectives on the future of meat alternatives.

Why did you start New Harvest and what is its primary focus?

I founded New Harvest in 2003 because there wasn’t an organization devoted to advancing technologies for new meat substitutes. There are several companies making plant- or mycoprotein-based meat substitutes, but there was no organization working on more advanced technologies, such as cultured meat, and no organization looking broadly at how to replace animal proteins with advanced substitutes. We fund academic research, conferences, and economic and environmental assessments. We’ll probably continue focusing on these areas, since it addresses an important need.

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Jun14

Eating Planet: An Interview with Ellen Gustafson

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By Marlena White

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Gustafson discusses the twin burdens of global hunger and obesity. (Photo credit: www.TED.com)

Ellen Gustafson is a social entrepreneur working for food system change to address issues like global hunger and obesity. She co-founded FEED Projects in 2007, which created a popular line of bags sold in department stores whose overall price includes a set-aside donation to the United Nations World Food Program to fund school lunch programs. In 2010, Gustafson launched The 30 Project in an effort to bring together key stakeholders to chart a healthier and more sustainable path for the food system. In an interview for the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s new book, Eating Planet: Nutrition Today—A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, Gustafson discusses how global hunger and the obesity epidemic are two symptoms of the broken global food system, and how consumers have the power to change things for the better.

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May30

Citywatch: Japan’s Earthquake

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

The world is still reeling and shaking from afterthoughts of what happened in March, 2011 when Japan was hit by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, which exposed how vulnerable all basic institutions have become when Nature acts up—something bound to happen anywhere or anytime in this era of climate change and global transmission of hard-to-treat infectious diseases.

The aftermath of Japan's 2011 earthquake. (Photo credit: CNBC.com)

Lessons from a tsunami are a terrible thing to waste, so last week, the Food Policy Research Initiative based at University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health hosted a symposium of Japanese food and agricultural experts and Toronto public health leaders to survey what others can learn from Japan’s response to the crisis.

Crises can provoke multiple breakdowns in government institutions and practices, keynote speaker Yoko Niiyama of Kyoto University told the crowd, so crisis preparation and management cannot just be about damage control.

The violent earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people and destroyed or damaged some 400,000 buildings in short order, said Niiyama, who has helped design government communication strategies. But the longer-lasting human aftershocks included everything from destruction of prime agricultural land from salted ocean water, to a nuclear horror show and release of radioactive radiation, to widespread mistrust of government information, especially as relates to the safety of the food supply.

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Apr11

New Government Proposal Threatens Food Safety

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to fully implement a high-speed poultry production model that allows industry and private companies to take over inspection at poultry production plants. The model includes cutting 1,000 USDA poultry inspection employees and replacing them with plant inspectors who have to examine 165–200 birds per minute (bpm), from the original 140 bpm. That’s the inspection of more than three chickens per second.

Poultry inspectors protest inspection proposal at USDA (Photo credit: Food Safety News)

The proposal, formally known as the HACCP Based Inspection Models Project, or BIMP, will improve food safety and save taxpayer dollars, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). But under the proposed rule, the USDA would shift federal inspectors away from quality inspection tasks, allowing slaughter lines to speed up production.

The FSIS is responsible for ensuring public health and food safety by examining all poultry for feces, blemishes, or visible defects before they are further processed.

About 1.2 million cases of food poisoning are caused by salmonella each year from contaminated chicken, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The program could pose a serious health risk by allowing a greater chance for contaminated meat to reach consumers. In affidavits given to the Government Accountability Project, current inspectors say the proposal speeds up assembly lines so much so that it hampers any effort to fully examine birds for defects.

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