Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Book Review: Genetically Modified Foods - A Short Guide for the Confused

Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused by Andy Rees does a good job of illustrating the potential risks to consumers, farmers, and the environment if we continue to allow genetically modified products to be grown.

The book begins with an overview which gives a history of genetic engineering, who actually benefits from GE (and it's certainly not the farmers), as well as details on the testing and regulation (actually the lack thereof) of GMO's. Some of the key points for me were:

- There have been studies showing potentially negative effects from consuming GM foods. ANewcastle study showed GM DNA trasnferring to gut bacteria in humans after one single meal. Monsanto's 90-day study of rats fed MON863 resulted in smaller kidney sizes and raised white blood cell count. In a 1999 ten-day study, rats fed GM potatoes developed gut lesions; damanged immune systems; less developed brains, livers, and testicles; a proliferation of cells in stomach and intestines which signalled increased potential of cancer, partial atrophy of the liver, and more.

- Most of the animals for non-organic meat, fish, and dairy are GM-fed.

- According to the Grocery Manufacturers of America, an estimated 70-75 percent of products on US grocery shelves contain GM ingredients. And, of course, they are not required to be labeled as such.

There is a section describing "the players" involved in GM foods. The ones you would expect were the biotech and agrochemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Cargill, etc. but there were a few surprises for me, for example, The World Bank (the world's largest multilateral aid organization) has been financing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of GM projects in developing countries - and guess who their project parners are: Mondant, Aventis, and Syngenta.

A very interesting section of the book is where Rees exposes the truth about the claims made by the biotech lobby.

- Have you heard the one about how genetic engineering is no different from the traditional breeding processes used for thousands of years? Give me a break! The transfer of genes from one species to another is totally different from saving seeds of plants that are strong in the qualities you want to preserve. Scientists have reported that there is no evidence that species have EVER crossed during the billions of years that life has existed on earth.

- Another argument - GM foods must be safe because we have been eating them for several years with no ill effects. (Of course, GM foods are not labeled so how could we know what effects they are having!) What we do know is that in the US, food-derived illness has doubled over the past 7 years - coinciding with the introduction of GM foods. In the UK, there was a 50% increase in soy allergies when GM soy imports began.

- How about this? GM crops will help feed the hungry of the world? Here's what delegates from 20 African countries stated in 1998 to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organizations: "We strongly object that the impage of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinatioal corporatons to push a technology that is neither safe, nor environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us . . . On the contrary, . . . it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves." Also, if the biotech corporations care so much about the poor, why are they patenting seeds making the farmers totally dependent on them - not to mention that GM yeilds are no more or often lower than sustainable agriculture provides - and sustainable agriculture is more accessible to the poor.

- Which brings me to the myth that GM crops will increase farmers' incomes. No studies have shown GM crops to yield more than non-GM crops - and they often give less of a yield. In fact, GM crops have been very detrimental to farmers - they often get lower market price for GM crops, GM seeds cost more, and many farmers have been hurt by GM contaminiation - and of course the big problem is that consumers don't want GM. Other countries don't want them and in every survey they have done, the American people don't want it either (hence the reason for no labeling of GM products).

And there's a lot more - like the myth that GM crops will reduce pesticide and herbicide usage, GM crops will help the environment, etc.

Then the book outlines the risks and dangers of GMOs - both to consumers, farmers and the environment. It talks about antibiotic resistance, new food toxins and allergens, the big L-tryptophan fiasco that killed 37 people, paralyzed 1,500 others, and disabled 5,000 in the US - and resulted in L-tryptophan being taken off the market altogether even though it was the GE version only that was causing harm. It talks about the possible effects on infants and children. Believe me - this section will give you nightmares.

And there's lots more - I highly recommend reading this book - or if you're not a reader, check out the video "The Future of Food" which is excellent as well.

Now - to be practical - how do you avoid GMO's.

- BUY ORGANIC - everything - grains, legumes, fruits, veggies, animal products - it's the best way to protect yourself.

- In the US, some chains are working to remove GMOs from their brand products: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats. Talk to them and find out if they have done that yet and let them know you support them.

- Be aware that GMOs are hidden in many products. Many types of dairy products, jams, juices, cereals, cooking oil, sweeteners, diet foods, wines, beers, etc. are produced with GM-enzymes. Many additives (e.g. vitamin B2 and Riboflavin) can be produced from GMOs and may be used in baby food, breakfast cereal, etc. Food supplements, vitamins, and medicines can contain GMOs. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer to find out.

- Print a GM-free shopper's guide from: http://www.truefoodnow.org/shoppersguide/

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

E Coli Contaminated Spinach

So they've finally figured out where and how the contaminated spinach came from.

It seems that an unidentified beef cattle ranch in the California Salinas Valley leases some of its fields to spinach growers. E coli in the several cow pies matched the e coli found in the contaminated spinach.

Federal regulators are concerned about the practice of raising cattle near fields that grow salad greens and hopefully will develop stricter guidelines such as minimum distance, upslope and down slope between pasture and fields.

In the meantime, keep these facts in mind taken from Organic Bytes issue #93 put out by the Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org):

- Despite a number of inaccurate media reports, the recent spinach E.Coli outbreak has not been linked to any organic products. The outbreak has now been directly linked to a factory farm feedlot located adjacent to conventional spinach fields in California.

- This was the 25th E.coli outbreak in the California Salinas Valley in 11 years, demonstrating, once again, that industrial farms and feedlots and their toxic runoff are inherently dangerous.
Studies show that factory-farmed cattle have 300 times more pathogenic bacteria in their digestive tracts than cattle that are allowed to openly graze in pastures.
- If you are concerned about E.coli, organic food is the way to go. The USDA national organic standards require organic farmers to carefully compost their fertilizer--made up of animal manure and plant matter--up to 160 degrees, so as to kill any harmful bacteria.
Organic farmers can only apply this composted manure four months prior to planting.
- Conventional farms have no regulations specifying when they can and can't apply manure and are not required to destroy the harmful bacteria in the manure prior to spreading. In addition, it is perfectly legal to spread highly toxic sewage sludge on conventional farms, while this practice in banned on organic farms.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

French Toast

I made another couple of loaves of that yummy bread from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. That bread is amazing. We had some for dinner with Split Pea Soup and the second loaf I used for French Toast this morning. It was the best French Toast I've ever made. That soft, fresh bread just soaked up the batter.

Here are a couple of French Toast recipes from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook - one regular and one vegan. I make the regular recipe with rice or soy milk and eggs from our hens. If there had been any French Toast left over, I was going to put French Toast sandwiches in the girls lunches tomorrow.

Sesame French Toast
This is especially good made with whole grain raisin bread. Freeze the leftovers and warm in your toaster when ready to eat.

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (dairy or nondairy)
Pinch ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/2 cup sesame seeds
6 slices whole grain bread

In shallow bowl, beat together eggs, milk, cardamom, and vanilla or almond extract. Preheat griddle or skillet to medium heat. Spread sesame seeds on a plate. Dip bread into egg mixture, coating both sides. Lay bread on sesame seeds and turn to coat both sides. Place bread on lightly oiled, hot griddle or skillet. Cook each side of bread until golden brown. Repeat with remaining slices. Serve with applesauce, unsweetened jam, chopped fresh fruit, and/or yogurt or cottage cheese.

Makes 3 servings

Vegan French Toast
You can have French toast without eggs or dairy. The flaxseeds give an eggy feeling to the toast and supply omega-3 fatty acids.

3 tablespoons flaxseeds
1/3 cup water
1 cup soy, rice, or almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
8 slices whole grain bread

Grind flaxseeds to powder in coffee grinder or blender. Whisk or blend ground seeds, water, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Make sure they are well blended. Pour into shallow dish. Dip bread into flax mixture, coating both sides. Place bread on oiled, hot griddle or skillet. Cook each side of bread until golden brown. These are stickier than regular French toast so you may need to add more oil to the pan when you turn. Repeat with remaining slices.

Makes 4 servings

French Toast Sandwich
This is a great idea for a take-out breakfast when you don’t have time to eat at home. It’s also a yummy snack.

Spread a slice of French toast (regular or vegan) with peanut butter, almond butter, tahini, or cream cheese. Spread a second piece with apple butter, applesauce, mashed bananas, or jam. Press together into a sandwich.

Makes 1 serving

There's also a good vegan French Toast recipe in Vegan with a Vengenace that's made with chickpea flour.