Health & Safety

By • January 23, 2018

This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

It’s that time of year when millions of people will resolve to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle in 2018. If you’re one of the many who resolved to improve your diet this year, let me give you some friendly advice – don’t focus on cutting GMOs out of your diet.

 

This year, focus on what matters most when it comes to your health, like ingredients, portion size and a balanced plate. Opting for non-GMO foods should not be a part of any nutrition plan. 

 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the cabbage soup diet or the werewolf diet? These diets sound ridiculous, right? Well, choosing a non-GMO diet simply for health reasons might be just as ridiculous. There are only 10 foods on the market today that are actually genetically engineered. Those foods or crops include cotton, canola, corn, soy, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, squash, apples and potatoes. If this surprises you, keep reading because the reality is that many products with a non-GMO label do not have a GMO counterpart. For example, Hunt’s tomatoes are labeled non-GMO, but there are no genetically engineered tomato products on the market today. The popular non-GMO label is paired with a beautiful butterfly, which makes it look like a symbol of health and wellness. The truth is that the butterfly is a marketing ploy designed to scare you into purchasing a product that offers no increased health benefit.

 

 

Instead, I encourage you to focus on what matters most when it comes to your health and personal nutrition. Here are a few strategies to get you started:  

1.Read the ingredients.

The first ingredient listed is always the most abundant in the product. So, if that product lists organic sugar as the first ingredient, this does not mean it will be significantly heathier for you. Organic sugar still has calories and doesn’t offer any health benefits compared to sugar made by genetic engineering. It’s also important to remember that genetic engineering is used to produce certain foods and is not an ingredient.

 

 

2.Consider your portion size and cooking method.

It doesn’t matter if you’re eating a potato that was genetically engineered or one that was produced with traditional breeding methods – if that potato has been fried and drowned in salt, it will still contain a high amount of fat and sodium because of the cooking method. However, a small baked potato packs a punch of potassium and fiber.

3.Balance your plate.

Did you know that you should make half your plate fruits and vegetables? The good news is that genetically engineered foods still contain the same amount of nutrition as their non-GMO counterparts. For example, the Arctic® apple still contains the same amount of fiber and calories compared to its non-GMO counterpart. The same is true for genetically engineered zucchini squash and papaya. These fruits and vegetables produced with genetic engineering can help bring balance to any plate.

4.Know your numbers.

When is the last time you had your blood pressure or cholesterol checked? These are actual risk factors that could impact your health.

So, instead of jumping on the latest fad diet or resolving to give up GMOs in 2018, focus on what matters most about your health. We should let science be our guide and not fear-based marketing. 

By • January 18, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an interview posted on the Food Processing Technology website with Neal Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, creators of the Arctic Apple, that discusses GMOs in the US food marketplace.

The growth, sale and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has become an incredibly controversial practise. With dozens of arguments for and against the tampering of crops’ genetic codes, many find it hard to know where to draw the line on biotechnological engineering.

Alternatively, the problems that could be solved by tailored food genes are limitless, and genetic modification of food products has the potential to change the world as we know it.

The Arctic Apple, on sale in the US from Canadian company Okanagan Speciality Fruits, is a genetically modified (GM) apple that doesn’t brown when sliced or bruised. President of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Neal Carter discusses the product’s creation, and developing opinions of GM products in the US marketplace.

Elliot Gardner: So how did you develop a non-browning apple?

Neal Carter: It’s all done through genetic engineering – we’ve used the apple’s own genes to turn off the reaction. The specific gene is called polyphenal oxidase (PPO) and it’s an enzyme that in Arctic Apples more or less doesn’t exist any longer. Its 95+% turned off, so an Arctic Apple is basically a non-browning apple.

EG: How have you managed to ‘turn off’ the gene?

NC: It’s not simple! In lay terms, what we have done is identify the PPO enzyme, isolate the DNA from that enzyme, and then reinsert it back into the apple genome, so that means you essentially have two copies of this DNA segment. What that does is create a gene silencing effect. When the apple sees this extra copy of the DNA associated with the browning gene it figures that something isn’t right, and the enzyme is chopped up. The whole plan and strategy here is to harness the plant’s own self-defence mechanism to turn off the gene.

EG: Is there still a stigma in the US about using or consuming GM products?

NC: It’s a controversial topic, no doubt about it. But it’s only a very vocal minority of people who are actively against GM crops, and we will likely never convert those people, but there are many people who are either neutral, or who don’t know much about them at all, so we have a significant undertaking ahead of us as we educate consumers around this product.

To read the entire interview, please visit the Food Processing Technology website. 

By • January 17, 2018

The following is an excerpt of a column in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader describing how changing food tastes, including GMOs, are driving consumer choices. 

What’s in the food on your table? Where did it come from? How was it grown? Tom Martin talks with Nancy Cox, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.

Q: How is agriculture responding to consumer expectations of all kinds of information about food?

A: Consumers are very interested in all aspects of the healthfulness of food. If it’s derived from an animal, for example, was the animal handled well, sustainably, humanely? So the food industry that’s connected to the university and scientific community has a lot of challenges in explaining the advantages of their food stuffs and what is healthy and what’s not proven to be healthy.

Q: Another major concern among consumers revolves around genetically modified organisms. Can you touch on this and tell us where the science stands today?

A: Certainly. The concept of genetically modified organisms first came about when genes were inserted into plants for a certain characteristic. One of the most famous ones of those is Roundup Ready soybeans. A gene would be inserted into the soybeans that would make them resistant to Roundup so you could spray those soybeans with Roundup and it would kill all the weeds and preserve the soybeans. It was a great agronomic production practice. It made you use less herbicide because you could control the weeds better.

That said, consumers had a very negative reaction to the concept of altering the genes in an organism that they or animals were going to eat. The technology has generally been proven to be very safe, but it’s a big challenge for the consumer to understand that the way scientists do.

The whole GMO story has been a lesson in the divide between the scientific community and the consumer and I think it taught the scientific food production communities a big lesson about not developing technologies that were unacceptable to consumers.

Now, we don’t just insert a new gene into a plant, we cause that plant to change its own genes to make a different characteristic. There’s a technology called CRISPR. It’s not GMO anymore, but we’re still altering genes. How are consumers reacting to that? So far, a lot better. But it’s not that different from the original GMO technology, which was not that different from the way we’ve always done plant breeding.

To read the entire interview, please visit the Herald-Leader website. 

By • January 14, 2018

This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

 

From refreshed educational content and sparking more interactive conversations, GMO Answers this year took its commitment to communicating science and engaging with consumers to new heights. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)

 

GMO Answers is dedicated to answering consumers' questions about genetically modified foods and encourage ongoing conversations about science and biotechnology. In 2017, we introduced more innovative and interactive ways to engage with you about these important topics. This year was filled with a lot of new experiences and several “firsts” that built on our mission to create a much better educational experience.

1. Introduced new platforms, better experience

GMO Answers revamped GMOAnswers.com to offer more multimedia content, enhance the site’s search functionality and provide refreshed educational resources, while continuing to answer any questions related to GMOs and biotechnology. You can now more easily find rich, dynamic content – including videos and interactive tools – that explain the science behind GMOs.

Along with a refreshed website, we relaunched our Medium page, where we’ve featured blog posts from nearly 30 volunteer experts and contributors this year on a wide range of agricultural and scientific topics. Check out our most popular post about the GMO potato!

2. Developed more interactive opportunities

As part of this year’s “Get to Know GMOs Month,” GMO Answers launched its first ever GMO Innovation Contest, an interactive social media video contest! The contest challenged anyone to submit a 15–30 second video answering the question: If you could use biotechnology to solve any food problem around the world, what would it be and why? Following a host of submissions, GMO Answers awarded high school senior Porter Christensen the first place prize for his entry demonstrating how genetically modified, nutritionally-enriched white corn may help solve widespread vitamin A deficiency in East Africa.

Check out highlights from all the participants in our recap video!

 

 

 

On Earth Day this year, GMO Answers wanted to take a deeper look at plant science and biotechnology’s positive impact on agriculture and on farmers, so we hosted our first Facebook Live with volunteer expert and sixth generation Florida farmer Lawson Mozley! Check out his discussion on the technology behind food production.

3. Offered better ways to communicate the basics & benefits of GMOs

Communicating the basics about GMOs is crucial to understanding how your food is grown. Since 2013, GMO Answers' volunteer experts have answered more than 1,400 questions – a level of engagement far beyond what we ever expected. As a more interactive way to answer these questions, we’ve featured some of our volunteer experts in videos discussing GMO basics. Here’s fourth generation, family farmer Katie Pratt explaining what GMOs are and Registered Dietitian Connie Diekman talking about their safety.

In addition to health and safety, GMOs’ impact on the environment has always been a topic of concern among our audience. We addressed these concerns on this year’s World Environment Day, highlighting the release of the 2017 PG Economics study, which found that crop biotechnology has significantly reduced agriculture’s environmental impact and contributed to preserving the earth’s natural resources, while boosting the global economy by allowing farmers to grow more, high-quality crops.

And to show more simply how GMOs benefit the environment, we created a fun, animated video!

 

 

 

4. Dispelled trending GMO myths

Finally, GMO Answers has focused on busting the myths surrounding GMOs. Do GMOs cause a decline in pollinators? No. Is there a difference in nutritional value between GMO and non-GMO foods? No difference. Do GMOs cause allergies? Rest easy because the scientific and academic community concluded that genetically modified crops are safe to eat, have the same nutrition and composition as non-genetically modified crops and have no links to new allergies, cancer, celiac or other diseases.  

 

 

Understanding the science behind GMOs and searching for the facts is crucial now more than ever as even some of today’s top health news outlets perpetuate fear about GMOs over the facts. As we head into 2018, GMO Answers is strengthening its commitment to fight fearmongering and communicate factual, science-based information about biotechnology, so stay tuned for what’s to come in the New Year! 

 

 

By • January 11, 2018

The following is an excerpt of a blog post by Marc Brazeau on the website Food and Farm Discussion Lab about his predictions of what topics will be hot for GMOs in 2018. 

GMOs 2.0: A TURNING POINT

No, I’m not talking about CRISPR and other gene editing techniques. I suspect those will make other people’s lists of what to watch for in 2018, not mine. CRISPR will continue to march forward throughout 2018, but I don’t see any big change in trajectory from 2017, or 2016 or 2015 for that matter. Gene editing will continue to be important, but I don’t foresee much change in the story.

No, what I’m talking about is a new generation of GE foods that have finally been commercialized. These are crops that cut against common anti-biotech tropes and a biotech salmon that breaks new ground and could change the narrative in a fundamental ways.

The first wave of GE crops were the herbicide tolerant and insect resistant commodity crops. Bt corn and cotton, RoundUp Ready corn and soy. Those traits are now in alfalfa, sugar beets, and canola. While the benefits of those traits were immediately obvious to farmers, they are more opaque to consumers. They have left the space open to a critique that holds that biotech in ag has had no benefit for consumers and merely helps farmers, while helping Monsanto and the rest of Big Scary Ag sell more chemicals. Nevermind that Bt crops have led to the shuttering of insecticide factories or that increased sales of RoundUp have meant decreased sales of paraquat, dicamba, 2-4D and other herbicides which used to be more popular, the GMOs allow farmers to “drench their crops in toxic chemicals” narrative was too sexy to sideline.

GMOs 2.0 all cut against that false, but persistent narrative.

Visit the Food and Farm Discussion Lab (FAFDL) to read the entire post. 

 

By • January 11, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an interview between the science website Futurism and Scott Kennedy Hamiltion, director of the documentary film Food Evolution about the scientific consensus on GMOs. 

You’ve probably heard the same conversation, in one way or another, for years: Some say genetically modified organisms (GMO) are harmful, while others say they’ll help us feed the growing billions of humans that populate our planet. People’s positions on the subject seem cemented, bound by the hard stays of emotion, and nearly impossible to change. It’s even more resonant at this intractable moment in the United States, where the division between the two sides on issues from the economy, to gun control, to healthcare — really, just politics in general — seems insurmountable. The further we move from facts and the truth, the harder it is to come to rational conclusions on these subjects. 

But to Academy Award-nominated documentary director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, there’s a way to dislodge even the most dogged opponent in these conversations: with science.

Kennedy’s latest film, Food Evolution, revisits the GMO conversation, imbuing it with science and revealing the truth through a haze of propaganda and misinformation. He recently sat down with Futurism to talk about the film, what it tells us about other controversial subjects in American society today, and what the food of the future will be like.

To read the entire interview, please visit the Futurism website. 

By • January 08, 2018

The following is an excerpt of a speech given by former Greenpeace activist (and now GMO supporter) Mark Lynas detailing how parties on both side of this issue can come together more:

  1. Environmentalists accept the science of GMO safety, and scientists in return need to accept that politics matter in how scientific innovations are deployed.
  2. We drop national GMO bans and instead allow fully informed choices to be made by consumers in the marketplace via rigorous labelling and full traceability.
  3. We all get over the Monsanto obsession but make a much more serious effort to start getting off the chemical treadmill and moving farming onto more sound ecological principles.
  4. We agree to support public sector and non-corporate uses of genetic engineering where these can clearly contribute to environmental sustainability and the public interest.
  5. We support all forms of agriculture that aim to find ways towards greater sustainability. Let a hundred flowers bloom.
  6. We stop the name-calling. Let’s avoid using the term anti-science in particular. Anti-GMO activists are not opposing the scientific method in general, they are opposing a particular technological innovation.
  7. Let’s make ethical objections to genetic engineering explicit and in the process recognize real-world trade-offs about where we do and don’t use this technology.

To read Lynas' entire speech, please visit his website. 

By • January 05, 2018

The following is a blog post by GMO Answers Expert Wayne Parrott at the Processed Food Site about the potential downsides of non-GMO labeling. 

One day while walking home some 60 years ago, my uncle was approached by a street vendor, who explained that a fine boy like him could surely use a wrist watch.  He proceeded to show him his assortment of watches.  “Why are they so pricey?” asked my uncle.  “Because these have no jewels, unlike the ones the stores sell,” replied the salesman.   The explanation was good enough for my uncle, who went home, found his savings, and went back for the watch.  The excited boy then ran home to show off his purchase, “And I was even able to get one without jewels,” he bragged.

Consumers who still appreciate a fine mechanical watch over a digital version are undoubtedly familiar with the concept of jewels- namely bearings made out of ruby—that improve the function and longevity of watches.  And, as this ad from 1933 attests, the more jewels used in a watch, the greater its price.  Jewels make for a fine watch.


As my uncle’s misadventure shows, marketers have learned to never underestimate the power of claiming superiority due to the absence of something.  Nowhere is this trend more evident today than in the popularity of ‘-free’ labels, which have skyrocketed in the food industry.  Food singled out by its lack of given ingredients (artificial dyes, transfats, gluten, high fructose corn syrup, added sugars, preservatives, etc) are eagerly snatched up by consumers.  Most do so out of a conviction that these are healthier products.  A small number of these consumers even like to feel smug about it.  We’ve all met someone like that at one time or another.

 


Perhaps the most popular ‘-free’ label today is the GMO-free or non-GMO label.  However, are GMO-free products truly superior, or are they marketing ploys like a jewel-free watch?  Consider these questions:

  • What is a GMO? Most consumers admit they really do not know what a GMO is. In its current use, GMO (genetically modified organism) has no biological meaning, because both nature and humans have been genetically modifying our food for 1000s of years. Instead, GMO has become a legal term that describes how the latest modification was done, and says nothing about the type of modification made.
  • What makes a GMO product different?   GMO refers to a process, not a product.  GMO is not an ingredient.
  • But, is it safe? Yes, they are as safe as non-GMO foods.  Although there is no reason to single-out GMO foods for extra regulation, the precautionary nature of the regulatory system ensures they get extensive testing, while conventional food gets almost none.  Furthermore, because of our global economy, many other countries & groups, such as Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, and the European Union, repeat or review the safety assessments, meaning there is lots of redundancy in the safety system.  Nevertheless, there are always claims of harm from GMO foods.  Not one of these claims has stood up to close examination.
  • Is there an upside? Yes, there are several. GMO crops have been particularly efficient at increasing sustainability and decreasing the agriculture’s footprint on the environment. GMOs reduce losses from agricultural pests and decreasing the amount of insecticides used.  Other GMO crops have made it easier to implement farming practices that protect the soil from erosion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Returning to my uncle’s watch, more than sixty years later, the rest of family has not let my uncle forget his misadventure, and retell the tale at all family gatherings.  The tale is retold with particularly glee if the youngest generation is present, thus ensuring that they can retell the tale to future generations.  Sixty years from now, will people make fun of today’s aversion to GMOs?  I sure hope so.  So, the next time you see a non-GMO label, do not fall for the marketing ploy.  Like watches without jewels, being free from something does not automatically mean “better.”

Dr. Wayne Parrott is a Professor of Crop and Soil Science at the University of Georgia. His lab research focuses on molecular breeding with an emphasis on soybeans, switchgrass and white clover. He is a member of the university’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics. Wayne was recently recognized as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was selected for this prestigious award “for distinguished contributions to the development and implementation of plant transformation technologies and to the discussions of the science and regulatory processes associated with genetically modified organisms.” Perhaps no one in the world has been a more ardent defender of and advocate for genetically modifying agricultural crops for a more bountiful, nutritious and sustainable food supply.

To read the original post, please visit the Processed Food Site. 

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