Posts Tagged ‘Food safety’


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.


Update: Just Label It campaign reaches one million comments

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In what could amount to a victory for consumer protection and corporate transparency, the Just Label It campaign has successfully reached its goal of one million comments in support of its petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  which called on the agency to label all genetically engineered (GE) foods, including the controversial GE salmon.

Image credit: Just Label It

Americans do not currently have the right to know if their food is genetically engineered. But polls show that over 90 percent of them believe all GE foods should be labeled. Their reasons vary—including concerns over health and the environment, religious beliefs, and attitudes toward personal freedom—but the majority of Americans are united in their desire to be able to make informed choices regarding their food. Since its launch last October, the Just Label It campaign has provided resources and information on GE foods, including this infographic and this video by Food, Inc. director, Robert Kenner. Combined with the petition to the FDA, these efforts may help give Americans the right to know what’s in their food.

For more information on the Just Label It campaign and to learn more about GE foods, go to

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Food & Water Watch Campaigns to Remove GE Corn from Walmart

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By Jameson Spivack

Food & Water Watch recently launched a campaign to stop Walmart from selling Monsanto’s new breed of genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn. Monsanto has developed sweet corn that produces its own pesticides and resists herbicides.

Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn, which may be sold at Walmart, has never been tested for human safety, and would not require labels distinguishing it as GE. (Image credit: Food & Water Watch)

This is the first time Monsanto has marketed a genetically engineered crop for direct human consumption. There have been no studies about the potential health risks of the genetically engineered traits used in the corn. It also does not require labeling, so there is no way for shoppers to know if the corn they are buying is genetically engineered.

Food & Water Watch hopes to convince Walmart to prevent this harmful crop from appearing on its shelves through extensive campaigning. It has already collected over 70,000 petition signatures, made over 3,300 calls to Walmart customer service, and mobilized community support for the initiative. It has even created a social media project titled “Walsanto Watch” that chronicles the fictional romance between Walmart and Monsanto.

The group’s efforts will culminate in a national day of action in March, just before the April 1st deadline it has given Walmart to commit to not selling Monsanto’s corn. Walmart is the largest food retailer in the U.S., making its selling practices influential to farmers, sellers, and consumers alike.

To sign and share the petition, click here.

Jameson Spivack is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

To read more about genetically engineered food see: Why GMOs Won’t Feed the World, Labels Matter, The GMO Debate Continues, The Debate Continues: The Economist Hosts Debate on the Compatibility of Biotechnology and Organic Agriculture, Understanding Consumers’ Responses to Genetic Engineering, and Food & Water Watch Wants You to Know Your Fish.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Helping Young Researchers to Put Food First

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The Institute for Food and Development Policy – Food First is a California-based organization that works to identify and address inequalities in the national and global food system—such as lack of access to affordable and healthy food— that cause hunger. One way it does this is by fostering the food activists of tomorrow—the students of today who are interested in working to make a better food system for the future.

“The future of food system planning, food advocacy, food sovereignty, food justice, is really in the hands of young people,” says one intern with Food First. But many young people can’t afford—or don’t know how— to get involved. Food First’s intern program allows young people to work with an internationally known organization on the local level, introducing them to the skills and knowledge they will need to be effective future food activists. Check out the Food First website—and the video below—to find out how you, too, can help to support these young activists, and help to create a more just food system for the future.

Young Researchers Community Scholarship Fund from Food First on Vimeo.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


In Case You Missed It: The Week in Short

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This week we were pleased to launch the Catalan version of  State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet in Spain with an event in Barcelona.


(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The event was the final in our Spring 2011 European tour which included  launches in Denmark, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, and  Italy. Nourishing the Planet is  excited to now be writing from Cape Town, South Africa where we will begin an unprecedented series of launch events in sub-Saharan Africa.

Here are some other highlights from the week: this week’s Nourishing the Planet TV episode explores how biogas stoves take advantage of what is typically considered waste to provide a clean and safe source of energy. Biogas units use methane from manure to produce electricity, heat and fertilizer, emitting  significantly less smoke and carbon monoxide than other sources of fuel and reducing the amount of time that women spend gathering firewood.

Check out this interview with David Waltner-Toews, Professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, and founding president of the Network for Ecosystem Sustainability and Health. Waltner-Toews is an expert in  the epidemiology of food and waterborne diseases, zoonoses, global change and emerging diseases, and ecosystem approaches to health, and in this interview he discusses radiation in food in response to the radiation leaks from Fukushima power plant in Japan.

This week’s innovation features Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, which includes a variety of methods to reduce chemical inputs, such as planting pest-resistant crop varieties, waiting to plant for several months during “no-host periods” to reduce opportunities for pests to reproduce, and using organic controls, such as insects that eat pests. Farmers using IPM are able to reduce pests and improve their harvests without the cost–both financial and health-wise–of chemical pesticides and other inputs.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


New UN Report Illustrates the Potential of Agroecology to Feed the Hungry

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By Evelyn Drawec

Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and the author of the foreword for State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, is calling for some new thinking—and action—regarding world hunger. In his new report, Agroecology and the Right to Food, De Schutter argues that agroecology is the best strategy for tackling hunger.


De Schutter argues that agroecology is the best strategy for tackling hunger. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The twenty-one page report details agroecology’s ability to provide food for the world’s hungry, outlining policy recommendations that nations can implement in order to help shift their agriculture systems to more sustainable methods.  According to De Schutter, agroecological methods will be increasingly important as climate change takes a bigger hold on sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world. “Agroecology also contributes to mitigating climate change, both by increasing carbon sinks in soil organic matter and above-ground biomass, and by avoiding carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions from farms by reducing direct and indirect energy use,” says De Schutter.

De Schutter also calls for incorporating individual small-scale farmers into the policy process as a way to disseminate their knowledge and help lift them out of poverty. As illustrated by De Schutter, “We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”

Evelyn Drawec is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.


Sustaining the Momentum in Reforming Factory Farming Practices

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By Alex Tung

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted efforts to limit the industrial farming practice of confining animals in close quarters.  The movement is gaining momentum in big animal agriculture states, including Ohio and California.

The public has become increasingly aware of the ongoing debate between industry and animal rights advocacy groups, especially on whether “allowing animals to express natural behaviors” is a necessary criterion in determining animal rearing practices. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Previous Nourishing the Planet blog posts have discussed the recently passed bill on cage-free eggs in California, and also FDA’s judicial guidance for the industry on antibiotic use in animal agriculture.  Popularity of documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Fresh have brought the knowledge of what goes on behind the doors of factory farms into the mainstream. The public has become increasingly aware of the ongoing debate between industry and animal rights advocacy groups, especially on whether “allowing animals to express natural behaviors” is a necessary criterion in determining animal rearing practices.

Industry groups including the United Egg Producers state that their standards are sufficient and there is no scientific evidence that quality of life for animals affects the quality of the product.  On the other hand, independent certification systems such as Certified Humane place emphasis on animals having access to natural components in their environment.

While paying attention to the way we treat animals is important, there is potential that the debate on animal rights may hinder the process of change in the industrial farming system, as it remains unclear when scientific evidence condoned by both sides will surface.

But serious and undeniable effects of industrial agriculture remind consumers and producers that change cannot wait.  There are, as said by hog farmer Irv Bell, “bigger things at work.” Lessons from avian flu, swine flu and foot-and-mouth disease have shown us that animals placed in close proximity in confined quarters are a welcoming breeding ground for new diseases.  According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), production of livestock and feedstuffs is responsible for some 80 percent of all agricultural greenhouse gases, with emissions several times higher in developed than in developing countries. And the selection of a few livestock breeds for mass production to maximize production of meat and dairy is directly linked to the loss of livestock biodiversity – on average, two domestic animal breeds go extinct every week.

Positive examples in alternative livestock rearing systems such as rotational grazing and improved manure management show us that it is possible to raise livestock sustainably.  To learn more about efforts towards humane, sustainable animal rearing practices, see Mexican Activists Pushing for Factory Farm Regulations, Innovation of the Week: Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities , Livestock Keepers’ Rights: Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya, Creating a Roadmap for Environmentally Sustainable Meat Production and Consumption, The Keepers of Genetic Diversity: Meeting with Pastoralist Communities in Kenya and Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry.

Alex Tung is a food and agriculture research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.


In Case You Missed It: The Week in Short

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Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack

Another busy week for Nourishing the Planet.  We received over 200 intriguing and thoughtful responses to our question, “where would you like to see more agricultural funding directed?” We will be posting them daily as long as you continue to respond. For a quick update on the week’s news check out this interview with plant geneticist Pamela Ronald and her husband, organic farmer Raoul Adamchak, co-authors of the book Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food. Watch video from our visit to ECOVA MALI. Read about the 2010 President’s Forum with African Leaders and the new Food and Drug Association (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act that could protect consumers from unsafe foods. Nourishing the Planet also had an op-ed published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger!


Innovation of the Week: Handling Pests with Care Instead of Chemicals

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Between the years of 1975 – 1976, the Cambodian farmer, Name Name, like most farmers in the country during that time, grew vegetables and rice to feed the soldiers of the Lon Nol regime.

IPM combines various strategies and practices to grow healthy crops, reduce damage from pests and minimize the use of artificial inputs. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Using his bare hands, Name mixed the chemicals DDT, Folidol, Phostrin and Kontrin in order to keep the pests away from his crops. As a result, he suffered from strange and uncomfortable physical symptoms. Sometimes he was unable to move or feel his hands and lower arms, and he experienced pain in his lungs and heart. His short term memory was also affected. All of these symptoms often persisted for up to six months after exposure to the chemicals.

When the regime ended, Name went back to farming for himself and his family, and decided that he would do so without the use of any of the harmful chemical fertilizers that he realized are so dangerous to his health.

With training from organizations supported by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its Regional Vegetable IPM Program in Asia—in addition to some of his own research—  Name learned how to prepare botanical insecticides and organic composts from animal wastes and other materials already available on his farm. Now he is now able to avoid expensive and dangerous insecticides almost completely.

This alternative approach is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and it combines various strategies and practices to grow healthy crops, reduce damage from pests and minimize the use of artificial inputs. The FAO Regional IPM Program uses informal farmer training schools, facilitated by extension staff or other local farmers, to help train and implement field experiments.  Local farmers learn new techniques from each other— as well as develop their own methods through facilitated field experiments—to minimize the use of chemical inputs on their farm.

In addition to raising animals and growing vegetables and rice, Name also produces several varieties of mushrooms organically which he sells at local markets. Though he does not yet receive a higher price for his organic produce, his crops are marketed to an increasingly conscious consumer base as being chemical free. And Name hopes that as awareness about the dangers of many chemical fertilizers increases, so will the value of his crops.

For now, he is happy to be producing enough food to feed his family and earn a significant portion of their income, without endangering his own health, or the health of those that enjoy his crops.

To read more about how farmers can reduce the financial –as well as environmental and health—costs of chemical inputs, see:  and For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead, Tiny Bugs to Solve Big Pest Problem, In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.


Fearing the Food We Love

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Last year thousands of food products containing peanut butter produced by one company, the Peanut Corporation of America, were pulled from store shelves due to salmonella contamination. The company was responsible for supplying over 200 companies with peanut butter for these food products, many of which were ultimately marketed to children. Suddenly our favorite snacks—from sandwiches to cookies to candies— were potentially dangerous.

Right now it’s cheaper—and easier—for big companies to produce unsafe food. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times last week, highlighting the importance of food safety regulation. He points to the concentration and centralization of the food production industry as a major contributor to food safety violations.

Right now it’s cheaper—and easier—for big companies to produce unsafe food. And the companies that do spend the time and money to produce safe products have a hard time competing with the ones that don’t.

It’s not just foods made here at home that lack the regulation to protect consumers. Chinese companies have added lead-based whiteners to pasta, sold beverages made with industrial alcohol, and produced baby formula containing the toxic chemical melamine. Two years ago almost 300,000 Chinese infants were sickened from drinking this formula. In the United States, about 60 percent of apple juice is imported from China.

A recent bill, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act—which was approved by the Senate Health, Education, and Pensions Committee in November—aims to change all of that. The bill, if passed, will grant the FDA the authority to test more widely for dangerous pathogens and improve its ability to trace the source of unsafe ingredients so that irresponsible companies can be held accountable.  It would also hold foods imported from overseas to the same standards.

This bill has the support of advocacy groups like the American Public Health Association, the Consumers Union, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, among others.

Right now the bill is stuck in the legislative waiting room and has yet to reach the floor of the Senate for a vote this year. If it is not passed by the end of this session, it will be tossed and Congress will have to start all over again next year.

In the meantime, the rest of us will have to continue eying our favorite snacks with suspicion. As long as companies don’t see any incentive—financial or legal— to keep us safe, perhaps we should recognize that we don’t have any reason to trust their products. No matter how good they taste on a sandwich, as a cookie, or in a candy.