Saturday, June 30, 2012

Is Monsanto's GMO Corn Creating Superbugs and Harming Human Health?

Monsanto's genetically modified Bt corn is having its roots munched by super-rootworms and other superbugs, putting corn crops at risk, and yet more evidence is found of the dangers to human health.
Digital Journal reported in March 2012 that scientists were warning the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) about Monsanto's "rootworm resistant" corn. Reuters reported at the time that Monsanto's rootworm-protected products were losing their effectiveness.

The strain of corn, engineered to kill the larvae of beetles, such as the corn rootworm, contains a gene copied from an insect-killing bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Despite the warnings to the EPA, Monsanto insisted that the steps necessary to prevent such an occurrence - which would have entailed less of the corn being planted - were an unnecessary precaution, and the EPA apparently naively agreed.
And now, according to a recent NPR report:

“The scientists who called for caution now are saying ‘I told you so,’ because there are signs that a new strain of resistant rootworms is emerging…[A] committee of experts at the EPA is now recommending that biotech companies put into action, for the first time, a ‘remedial action plan’ aimed at stopping the spread of such resistant insects …

"The EPA’s experts also are suggesting that the agency reconsider its approval of a new kind of rootworm-killing corn, which Monsanto calls SmartStax. This new version of Bt corn includes two different Bt genes that are supposed to kill the rootworm in different ways. This should help prevent resistance from emerging, and the EPA is allowing farmers to plant it on up to 95 percent of their corn acres. But if one of those genes is already compromised… such a high percentage of Bt corn could rapidly produce insects that are resistant to the second one, too.”

It is becoming more and more clear that genetically engineered crops are the most dangerous aspect of modern agriculture today. There is a rapid emergence of super-weeds, resistant to glyphosate in Roundup Ready crops, and now there is an emergence of Bt-resistant insects. Add to that the emergence of a new organism which is capable of producing disease and infertility in both animals and plants, there is a wide variety of evidence pointing to harm to human health.

About Bt Corn
Monsanto's GM Bt corn is equipped with a gene from soil bacteria called Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis. This produces the Bt-toxin in the corn. The pesticide breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them.
This Bt corn was introduced into the food supply in the late 1990's and problems have been occurring ever since. Monsanto and the EPA swore that the genetically engineered corn would only harm insects. They stated that the Bt-toxin produced inside the plant would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system. They said it would not have any impact on the health of consumers. Unfortunately they have been proven wrong, because not only is Bt corn producing resistant "superpests", researchers have also found that the Bt-toxin can badly affect human health.

In 2011, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found Bt-toxin in the blood of:
- 93 percent of pregnant women tested
- 80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies, and
- 67 percent of non-pregnant women

Authors of the study speculate that the Bt-toxin is likely consumed in the normal diet of the Canadian middle class, as genetically engineered corn is present in the vast majority of all processed foods and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Scientists also suggest that the toxin may have come from eating meat from animals fed on Bt corn. Apparently most livestock raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) or so-called factory farms, are fed on this corn. This raises the scary possibility that eating Bt corn might, in fact, turn your intestinal flora into a kind of "living pesticide factory", which essentially manufactures Bt-toxin from within your digestive system on a continual basis.

If this is the case, scientists believe that this could reasonably result in:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Food allergies
- Childhood learning disorders

And apparently all these health problems are in fact on the rise. While the discovery of Bt-toxin in human blood is not positive proof of the link, it certainly does raise questions. There is also evidence showing that Bt-toxin in GM corn and cotton plants is toxic to mammals and humans and that it triggers immune system responses. 

In a government-sponsored research in Italy, mice were fed Monsanto's Bt corn and they showed a wide range of immune system responses, including:
- Elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, which are typically associated with allergies and infections.
- An increase in cytokines, which are associated with allergic and inflammatory responses. The specific cytokines (interleukins) that were found to be elevated are also higher in humans who suffer from a wide range of disorders, from arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, to MS and cancer.
- Elevated T cells (gamma delta), which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases.

In other research, rats were fed another of Monsanto's Bt corn varieties, MON 863. The rats experienced an activation of their immune systems, showing higher numbers of basophils, lymphocytes, and white blood cells. These can indicate possible allergies, infections, toxins, and various disease states including cancer. There were also signs of liver- and kidney toxicity. Bt-toxin from soil bacteria has been used by farmers for years, and because of this biotech companies claimed that Bt-toxin has a "history of safe use in agriculture". However there is a major difference between spraying it on plants, as farmers did in the past, where it biodegrades in sunlight and can be washed off, and genetically altering the plant to produce it internally.
Bt crops have the Bt-toxin gene built-in, so there is no way to wash it off. It cannot biodegrade in sunlight. 

You cannot avoid consuming it. Scientists also say that the plant-produced version of the toxin is thousands of times more concentrated than the spray used by farmers in the past. Two years ago, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) actually called on all physicians to prescribe diets without genetically modified (GM) foods to all patients. They also called for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), long-term independent studies, and labeling, stating:

“Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. …There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation…”

Yet more evidence to support the avoidance, if possible, of all genetically modified foods. - Anne Sewell, Digital Journal

Can Pesticides Cause A Rare Sleeping Disorder?

Cigarette smoking, head injury, farming, pesticide exposure, and a lower level of education may be risk factors for idiopathic rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD), researchers report. They also note that, despite RBD being a prediagnostic marker of parkinsonism and dementia, they found some important differences in risk factors.

"Until now we didn't know much about the risk factors for this disorder, except that it was more common in men and in older people," said lead author Ronald Postuma, from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in a press statement.

"Because it is a rare disorder, it was difficult to gather information about enough patients for a full study. For this study, we worked with 13 institutions in 10 countries to get a full picture of the disorder."

The 347 patients with RBD were 43% more likely than 347 individuals without RBD to have ever smoked and 41% more likely to be regular smokers. They were also 59% more likely to have suffered a head injury resulting in unconsciousness.

Education and occupation affected RBD risk as well, with RBD cases having fewer years of education than individuals without the disorder, at 11.1 years versus 12.7 years. Farming as an occupation was 67% more common among RBD patients than controls and RBD patients were more than twice as likely to have been exposed to pesticides through work.

Postuma and team note in Neurology that in addition to being risk factors for RBD, head injury, occupational pesticide exposure, and farming have all previously been linked to Parkinson's disease. Conversely, however, while abstaining from caffeine has proved protective against Parkinson's disease it had no affect on the risk for RBD. Similarly, smoking has had a protective effect in studies of Parkinson's disease but was found to be a risk factor for RBD.

This suggests that, "within established neurodegenerative diseases, RBD may mark a unique subtype that may differ in pathophysiology and risk factors," the team concludes. - Lucy Piper 

Will Farmers Begin Using Natural Compounds As An Alternative To Antibiotics?

Natural compounds may offer an alternative to certain antibiotics in the future for treating young animals that are susceptible to bacterial infections, according to research conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food and Feed Safety Research Unit in College Station, TX, have invented a new method that involves using chlorate (sodium or salt) and nitro compounds to significantly reduce or eliminate intestinal bacterial pathogens in animals such as piglets and calves. Nitro compounds are organic substances that contain one or more nitro groups, which consist of three atoms – one of nitrogen and two of oxygen – that act as one.

Chlorate and nitro compounds have proven to be effective against the foodborne pathogens salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7. Salmonella alone causes more than 1.3 million cases of human foodborne disease each year, at a cost of $2.4 billion. Salmonella and certain E. coli strains also cause considerable losses to the swine and cattle industries due to enteric or intestinal diseases of newborns.

Microbiologist Robin Anderson and his colleagues at the College Station unit demonstrated the effectiveness of a chlorate-based compound in earlier research by mixing it into water or feed and giving it to cattle. The compound, which was highly effective in reducing E. coli., has been licensed by a private company. Chlorate also reduced salmonella in turkeys and broiler chickens.

In addition, scientists looked at using certain nitro compounds as a method to control food-borne bacteria. Salmonella or E. coli bacteria were treated with or without chlorate and with or without nitro compounds. Chlorate was found to have significant bacteria-killing activity against E. coli and salmonella. However, chlorate has not been approved for commercial use in food animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When the nitro compound was added, the activity was enhanced 10- to 100-fold. Nitro compounds alone had significant bacteria-killing activity, which was more persistent than that of chlorate.

Anderson and his team concluded that nitro and chlorate compounds together offered the best treatment – a combination that could offer an alternative to certain antibiotics that are commonly used to treat diarrheal infections in young animals. - National Hog Farmer 

Will The University Of Tennessee Teach Students Organic Farming?

The University of Tennessee’s Organic and Sustainable Crop Production program was ranked as one of the top six organic programs in the country by the Organic Farming Research Foundation, which monitors the U.S. land grant system.

The foundation recently ranked institutions on their level of commitment to organic agriculture, using an eight-point system that considered if the institution offered certified organic research land, a student organic farm and organic major and minor areas of study, among other factors. Six campuses received the full eight points in the 2012 Organic Land Grant Assessment, with the University of Tennessee as the newest addition to the organic arena, according to a publication from the foundation.

Annett Wszelaki, commercial vegetable extension specialist at the Department of Plant Sciences at UT, says the program was started in 2007 in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Center for Profitable Agriculture.

“Since 2008, the number of organic fruit and vegetable producers has more than doubled,” Wszelaki said in an e-mail.

The university conducts monthly workshops on farms on a wide range of topics. On June 11, the workshop, themed “Ketchup on the Latest in Organic Tomato Production,” was held at the Beardsley Community Farm in Knoxville, Tenn.

“We had about 20 participants and they got to try their hand at tomato grafting, as well as learn more about general organic tomato production,” Wszelaki said in an e-mail.

The workshops are targeted toward commercial growers and agriculture professionals, such as farmers markets and roadside stands, according to Wszelaki. She says the workshops are in their third year and have seen success.

“There has been a great response and appreciation for the information,” Wszelaki said. “We work with season extension, minimum tillage, variety trialing, biological control, cover cropping and anaerobic soil disinfestation.”

The next workshop is scheduled for July 9, with the theme, “Grape Expectations,” and will be held at Delmonaco Winery in Baxter, Tenn. In 2010, an organic internship program was created to train students in all aspects of produce farming. The program trains students interested in potentially becoming organic farmers in business planning, production and marketing, according to Wszelaki. The program also created a campus farmers market to help incorporate the entire university community.

“We have educational exhibits each week, as well as a variety of vendors, and music and children’s activities. We hope to continue to grow the market and make it a recruiting tool for the university as well as a gathering place for the university and Knoxville community,” she said.

In addition, the university initiated food safety trainings in 2009, and has since trained more than 500 growers and workers and more than 50 extension agents in worker health and hygiene, writing food safety plans. The program has also helped prepare these individuals by conducting mock audits, according to Wszelaki.
Other projects include a season extension project with Washington State University and Texas A&M.

“We are looking at how biodegradable mulches behave (break down) and perform, both inside and outside of high tunnels. And also, the performance of varieties of high-value crops (lettuce, tomato and strawberry) inside and outside the tunnels,” Wszelaki said.

The study is in its third year and has revealed several developments of the use of these hoop-shaped temporary frames covered in clear plastic, according to publications from the project.

Vegetable Of The Week - Parsnips

Vegetable History: 
A root vegetable, the parsnip is a member of the umbelliferae family whose other members include carrots, chervil, parsley, fennel, celery, and celeriac. The parsnip may be unfamiliar to you, yet its long history recites that it was cultivated during Roman times. During the Middle Ages tastier and fleshier varieties were developed. A variety of wild parsnip grew over much of Central and Southern Europe and has been introduced into the British Isles and Northern Europe, but the cultivated varieties are sweeter and appear more plump. - Veg Paradise 

Parsnips have been cultivated by humans for at least 2,000 years. In ancient times parsnips and carrots were often referred to by the same name (pastinaca was used by Pliny to describe both). The writings of Apicius indicate that the Romans held the parsnip in some esteem. For centuries in Europe they were a ubiquitous and nutritious staple food. Before sugar was widely available parsnips were used to sweeten dishes such as cakes and jams. Their popularity declined following the introduction of the potato, and this decline continued as sugar became more readily available. The parsnip is now not commonly eaten outside N. European countries. - Eat The Seasons

Health Benefits: 
Several research studies from scientists at University of Newcastle at Tyne found that compounds in Parsnips have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer function and offer protection from colon cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. - Nutrition & You

Parsnips have high folic acid which plays a role in reducing heart disease and may help prevent dementia and osteoporosis bone fractures. - How Stuff Works

Parsnip is superior to the potato containing as it does vitamins C, E, K and B6. It also contains Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, along with high quantities of potassium, which is an energy booster and good for the immune system. - Herbs, Taste & Test

Parsnips can be beneficial for your health because they are rich in fiber. One cup of sliced parsnip contains 6.5 g of fiber, with this nutrient comprising about 27 percent of the total carbohydrates in parsnips. Fiber is beneficial for a number of reasons, as it promotes healthy digestion, helps regulate blood sugar levels, provides feelings of fullness and may help reduce your cholesterol levels. - Live Strong

It is also prescribed as a natural remedy for people suffering from respiratory diseases, such as asthma. It can help relieve kidney problems, such as kidney stones, because of its diuretic properties. - Yahoo, Parsnips

The plant is recommended for treating kidney diseases, for controlling obesity and cellulite. To those suffering from anemia or asthenia, the natural consumption of parsnip is recommended as food. Also, it is recommended for states of convalescence or for stimulating growth. - Live & Feel

Fruit Of The Week - Passion Fruit

Fruit History:
While the origin of the Passion Fruit plant is unknown, it is generally believed to be native to Brazil where 16th Century Spanish Catholics named it "Flor de las cinco llagas" or "flower of the five wounds" after its distinctive purple flower. Today, about 400 years later, passion fruit is grown nearly everywhere in the tropical belt but known by a variety of different names. Its common name is Maracuya in Ecuador and Brazil, Parcha in Venezuela, Lilikoi in Hawaii, and Chinola or Parchita in Puerto Rico.

Passion Fruit was introduced into Hawaii in 1880 and it quickly became popular in home gardens. It naturalized in Hawaii's almost perfect climate and, by 1930, could be found wild on all the islands of the Hawaiian chain. In 1951, the University of Hawaii chose passion fruit as the most promising crop for agricultural development and undertook a program to create an industry for production of quick-frozen passion fruit juice concentrate. By 1958 the plantings had expanded to cover 490 hectares and the industry was rather well established.

Long-term success was not to be however. Viruses damaging the vines, high labor costs, and the rapidly increasing value of land combined to wipe out this young industry. Today, there are no more commercial passion fruit plantations left in Hawaii but the fruit's unique flavor remains deeply rooted in the taste preferences of the Hawaiian people. Large quantities of passion fruit juice and concentrate are shipped to Hawaii every year. It is thought, as a matter of fact, that Hawaii may well have the highest per capita consumption of passion fruit juice in the world.

Australia is another area of high passion fruit consumption, again, due to history and familiarity. Passion fruit flourished there before 1900 in what had been banana fields. It attained great importance until 1943 when the vines were devastated by a widespread virus. Although some plantations have been rebuilt, they can not produce enough passion fruit to satisfy the demand and imports make up the balance.

It is in South America that most of the world's passion fruit is currently grown. Starting in the mid 1950's, passion fruit cultivation became widespread in Colombia and Venezuela. Later it spread to Ecuador. Today, South America, and particularly Ecuador, is the main exporter of passion fruit concentrate to the Western World.

When compared to huge crops like banana (estimated 45 million MT per year), the production of passion fruit is miniscule...only an estimated 640,000 MT. The market for fresh fruit is almost nonexistent in the U.S. although this may change as consumers reach out for new, different, and more exotic fruit and produce. In Brazil however, fresh passion fruit is immensely popular. The demand is so strong that although they grow much of their own fruit, they have had to import additional supplies, primarily from Ecuador, in recent years. In Brazil, the fruit is used in fresh beverages made both at home and in "stalls" or juice stands popular throughout the country. - Passion Fruit Juice

Health Benefits:
The fruit is a very good source of dietary fiber. 100 g fruit pulp contains 10.4 g or 27% of dietary fiber. Good fiber in the diet helps remove cholesterol from the body. In addition dietary insoluble fiber by acting as bulk laxative helps protect the colon mucous membrane by decreasing exposure time to toxic substances in the colon as well as binding to cancer causing chemicals in the colon. - Nutrition & You

A 2008 study found that subjects who took passion fruit extracts and who suffer from asthma, got relief from symptoms of coughing and wheezing by 76 percent. The antioxidants found in passion fruit is believed to block histamine, reduce allergy and inflammation; passion fruit therefore has the health benefit of reducing the symptoms of asthma. - Tommy Fassbender

 Native Americans used the fruit and vine leaves to make sleeping medicine. Through scientific research the leaves have been found to contain somniferous (sleep inducing) compounds that help the body to relax and sleep easier. Similar sedative-like properties in the flowers are used to treat nervous-related gastrointestinal ailments as well as to calm nervous disorders and over-excitement in children. - Fruit Health Benefits

Passion Fruit contains high potassium, the fruit can play a role in lowering blood pressure. High Sodium diets are a preventable cause of high blood pressure and this fruit contains low sodium. Try to limit your intake of sodium to no more than 2,300 mg per day. Even less is recommended for people who may already have this condition. - Olde Cashmere

Sano, Sugiyama, Ito, Katano, and Ishihata (2011) investigated the vasorelaxing effects of the major polyphenols found in passion fruit seeds. Vasorelaxation refers to the widening of blood vessels resulting from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the blood vessel walls. This widening of blood vessels leads to a decrease in vascular pressure which is important for a healthy cardiovascular system. The researchers found that both piceatannol and scirpusin B offered potent vasorelaxant effects in rat aortas (aorta is the the large artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart). While both of these compounds offered cardiovascular health benefits, scirpusin B exerted a greater vasorelaxant effect. - Heal With Food

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are You Eating Antibiotic Free Meat?

Many U.S. grocery stores now offer at least some meat or poultry that is raised without antibiotics, sometimes even at below-average prices for all meats of that type, but shoppers must become savvy about reading labeling to get products that live up to “no antibiotics administered”-type claims, according to new research from Consumer Reports.

The declining effectiveness of antibiotics has become a national public-health crisis, leading doctors and scientists to call for much more careful use of antibiotics so that disease-causing organisms don’t become immune to them. But since approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the meat and poultry industry to make animals grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions, both supermarkets and consumers can have a major impact on this problem through their purchasing decisions.

To determine whether supermarkets are making products raised without antibiotics available to their customers and how consumers feel about them, we polled consumers, contacted companies directly, and in March and April 2012 sent 36 "secret shoppers" into 136 grocery stores in 23 states. The shoppers reported back on more than 1,000 raw meat and poultry products that carried a claim about antibiotics or were labeled as organic. Just to be clear, shoppers’ findings represent a snapshot of offerings on the day they visited a particular store, and may not be indicative of products offered on other days or at other branches. We also conducted additional labeling research in 2011 and continue to analyze the claims in the market.

What Shoppers Found: 
Big differences among retailers. Whole Foods, for example, guarantees that all meat and poultry sold in its stores is never treated with antibiotics. Shoppers also found wide selections of meat and poultry raised without antibiotics at Giant, Hannaford, Shaw's, and Stop & Shop. At the other extreme, shoppers at Sam's Club, Food 4 Less, Food Lion, and Save-A-Lot stores could not find any such meat or poultry.

What our poll found: In a nationwide poll conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 57 percent of consumers indicated they had meat and poultry raised without antibiotics available at their local supermarkets. In that poll, 61 percent of consumers also indicated they would pay 5 cents or more a pound extra; and 37 percent indicated they would pay a dollar a pound or more extra for meat and poultry raised without antibiotics.

But the data our secret shoppers gathered on the prices of “no antibiotics administered” products at the 119 stores that carried them indicated they can actually be found at lower prices than you might expect. In March, the national average price for all chicken breasts, including conventional, was $3.17 per pound. Yet our shoppers found chicken breasts that had been raised without antibiotics at QFC for $2.99 per pound and on sale at Whole Foods for $1.99 per pound. The most expensive such product that they saw was organic rib-eye steak for $19.99 a pound at several Kroger stores. The least expensive products without antibiotics were whole chickens at Publix and Jewel-Osco, and chicken drumsticks at several Trader Joe’s locations, all for $1.29 per pound.

Getting the biggest bang for your bucks also requires being able to decipher the sometimes-confusing array of labeling with claims that antibiotics weren't used to make sure you’re choosing products that actually make meaningful claims.

Labeling To Look For:
Adherence to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic rules, which prohibit antibiotic use on livestock, must be verified on-site by an independent accredited certifier, so you can have a high level of confidence that any meat or poultry labeled “USDA Organic” comes from animals that never have been given any antibiotics.

No Antibiotics Administered and variations
"No antibiotics" claims show up on labeling in many variations, such as "No antibiotics added" or "Never ever given antibiotics." This labeling is helpful but provides even more reliability when accompanied by a "USDA Process Verified" shield, which indicates the company paid to have the agency verify the claim. Backing by a private certifier, such as Global Animal Partnership for Whole Foods' meat, is equally reliable.

Labeling Not To Rely On
“Natural” may sound as good or better than organic, but according to the USDA, it means only that the final product contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. Antibiotics might have been used in raising “natural” meat and poultry unless you also see a claim on the labeling indicating that they were not. While "natural" is approved by the USDA, it is not meaningful when it comes to antibiotics being prohibited.

The USDA specifically says it never authorizes the use of “antibiotic-free,” so this claim has no clear or consistent meaning in the marketplace and should not appear on packaging.

No Antibiotic Residues
This is not a USDA-approved claim. Antibiotics can be heavily used in the growing process for pigs and chickens, but must be withdrawn for a period of days or weeks prior to slaughter, so that residue levels fall below Food and Drug Administration tolerance thresholds. Technically, meat carrying this labeling could be free of antibiotic residue, despite use of drugs earlier in the animal’s life.

No Antibiotic Growth Promotants
This potentially misleading claim also is not approved by the USDA. Even though an animal may not have been given antibiotics for growth promotion, it still could have received them on a daily basis to prevent disease, which is the main use for the drugs in crowded growing facilities. - Consumer Reports

Will Organic Farm Insurance Be Included In The 2012 Farm Bill?

The big news from the normally lethargic U.S Senate Wednesday is that the chamber is actually voting all day long. That's good news for Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley whose amendment to the farm bill was approved 63-36 by the Senate in one of Wednesday's first votes. His amendment, which makes it easier for organic farmers to get crop insurance, was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, of Maine.

“Oregon is a leader in organic farming, and our farmers deserve crop insurance that reflects the high value of the crops they produce,” Merkley said in a statement after the vote. “There are more than 500 organic farms in Oregon, and that number is expanding rapidly. Today’s vote is an important step toward a crop insurance model that works for this growing segment of Oregon’s farmers.”

Organic farmers currently pay a higher premium for crop insurance than non-organic farms, but when they need their insurance, they receive reimbursements at the same lower rate as non-organic farms. In the 2008 farm bill, Congress directed the federal Department of Agriculture  to collect data and establish the appropriate price for the various organic crops.  However, in four years, USDA has only done this for four of the dozens of organic crops on the market.

The amendment that the Senate has now attached to the larger farm bill requires USDA to set appropriate payment levels for organic farmers within three years. Dozens of amendments are lined up for consideration and possible votes Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Merkley said his amendment is an "important step" in helping more than 500 organic farmers in Oregon.

The measure from Merkley and Snowe was one of the early votes on a day of when the Senate is expected to plow though more than a dozen amendments. Lawmakers hope to finish work on the sprawling farm bill by the end of the week. Other amendments scheduled for consideration later in the day include two sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

One would establish a pilot loan program to support healthy foods for the hungry while the other would provide incentives for government to purchase "locally produced foods."

Under federal law, organic producers must pay a 5 percent premium when purchasing insurance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But if they file a claim, they're only compensated for their losses based on the price of a non-organic product, which is often much lower. 

Farmers are not required to purchase the insurance, Merkley said, but having the opportunity to obtain protection is considered a critical tool for many farms, agriculture officials say. - Charles Pope, Oregon Live 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Would You Eat Horse Meat?

“Horse meat is often described as tender, lean, slightly sweet to the taste, and somewhere between grass-fed beef and really good elk or venison in taste. It is prized by mothers as baby food in places like Italy and Japan, and especially sought after by athletes as a lean, high-protein, red meat perfect for building body condition.”

So proclaims Sue Wallis, chairman of the International Equine Business Association and CEO of Unified Equine, whose plans to open a slaughter plant in Rockville, MO, feature heavy promotion of horse meat as “safe, nutritious and delicious” (including  a Facebook horse meat recipe page) and all while sidestepping one of horse meat’s less appetizing virtues as a foodie experience: Cancer.

Contaminated horse meat has existed for years, but so far, neither the USDA or FDA have done much to address it, either by alerting consumers or using the government’s muscle to keep tainted horses and horsemeat out of the food supply.

Origins of a Public Health Hazard
Americans don’t eat horse meat, so its health hazards have long been confined to export markets. Last year, 130,000 U.S. horses were slaughtered, their meat sold as has been happening since the late ’70s to restaurants and consumers overseas.

That it has been produced for the last five years in Canada and Mexico instead of the U.S. has complicated an otherwise straightforward food-safety concern: the prevalence of a legal drug in the U.S. horse population that causes fatal cancers in humans. The U.S. official response has been classic: out of sight, out of mind.

All that is about to change, however, thanks to a handful of U.S. Congressmen and lobbyists who started agitating to reopen U.S. horse slaughter plants even before the last three facilities closed in 2007. They succeeded in November, 2011, laying the groundwork for Ms. Wallis’ announcement of the plant she is working to open in the tiny, dirt-poor town of Rockville (2010 population:166), ostensibly within the next few months.

Beware the Trojan Horse
The 2011 reinstatement of USDA funding for horse meat inspections has been completely mischaracterized in the news media as an act of Congress instead of the Trojan-pony political scandal that it was. The media has also been negligent in failing to investigate the Trojan horse that the horse-slaughter industry has historically been, and will again become, if the USDA approves inspections of the plant that Ms. Wallis and a few silent investors are now trying to ready in order to grab the horse meat business back from EU plants just over our borders.

The cowboy poetry-writing Ms. Wallis is riding difficult terrain. For starters, her company, Unified Equine, doesn’t yet own the Rockville plant, which closed in 2011 after a recall of 14,000 pounds of beef due to possible e-coli contamination. Unless the USDA agrees to inspect horse meat there, the plant will most likely remain shut, leaving Ms. Wallis to seek out other possible locations to slaughter horses. She may also have to rustle up some new investors, given signs that her main business partner, the Belgian meat packer, Chevideco, appears to have dropped her.

Chevideco is the parent company of Dallas Crown, whose long rap sheet of zoning and environmental violations in Kaufman, TX, and decades-long abuse of the legal system at the local, state and Federal level, ended up costing U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars before the slaughter plant was finally closed under state law. The loss of Chevideco would be a huge blessing to U.S. taxpayers, but it would be a setback for Unified Equine, which has no experience in commercial meat packing, no capital or assets, no web site and no office, officers or staff to speak of, save Sue Wallis herself.

This is also true of the International Equine Business Association, one of many organizations Ms. Wallis has founded that lobbies for the return of U.S. horse slaughter and supplements her salary as a Wyoming state legislator. Wallis’ various executive titles keep her busy: devising food-safety protocols and humane certification standards; sharing horse meat recipes on Facebook; writing a 98-page brochure (“Americans Eat Horses”) intended for distribution to USDA head, Tom Vilsack, the members of Congress and “the American people;” and talking to the press. No mention of cancer in all of that, of course.

Drugs, Cancer and the Media
Ms. Wallis’ talent for PR is notable, garnering five to ten news articles per day over the last two weeks, most of which echo her “high-protein, low-fat” health claims (along with other promises of jobs and “humane processing of horses”) without doing much fact-checking.

Good fact-checking is essential when it comes to horse slaughter, especially the long list of drugs present in U.S. horse meat, including Phenylbutazone, which causes cancers that are fatal to humans, particularly babies.

Phenylbutazone (or “bute”), is a painkiller used legally by more than 85% of U.S. horse owners to treat everyday soreness and inflammation, but banned completely in food-producing animals, including horses, by the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies in Canada, the UK, and the EU. Interestingly, in 1949 it was used to treat gout and rheumatoid arthritis in humans, but was later banned when its carcinogenic effects were discovered. 

In their report, Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Dr. Nicolas Blondeau and Dr. Ann Marini describe Phenylbutazone’s adverse effects on humans such as aplastic anemia and leukemia.

Their lengthy 2010 study, which appeared in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, analyzes the presence of bute in slaughter horses; the government’s inadequate drug testing methodology; and the USDA’s failure to ensure the removal of the vast majority of horses treated with banned substances from the food chain, among other topics.

Ms. Wallis and several horse industry professionals loudly challenged the report’s findings, arguing that safe withdrawal periods exist for every drug and that drug testing already conducted by slaughter houses can safely protect consumers.

Rebuttals from Dr. Marini appeared in Food and Toxicology, and in Horseback Magazine, stating that withdrawal times may exist for many drugs, but none exist for Phenylbutazone. She also stated that while it’s true that the U.S. does set safe levels for many contaminants in food, it does not establish safe levels for carcinogens.

No doubt, this is why bottles, tubes and other packages of bute all carry prominent warning labels and why the EU requires drug history “passports” for all slaughter horses within its borders from the age of 6 months, a program that will be extended to U.S. horses slaughtered for EU consumption in 2013.

It also explains why Bouvry Exports and Richelieu Meat, two Canadian slaughterhouses, recently stopped accepting U.S. Thoroughbreds—the only breed whose drug records can be traced, thanks to the Jockey Club registry. Still left intact, however, is the large loophole in U.S. regulations, through which thousands of truckloads of U.S. horses, including many Thoroughbreds have driven unimpeded for as long as there have been slaughterhouses either inside or outside the U.S.

The EU’s proposed “drug usage” passport may very well succeed in disqualifying the majority of American horses for slaughter when implemented next summer. The USDA may well act to protect the public instead of the slaughterhouses, and refuse Ms. Wallis the inspection she’ll need to do business in Missouri, or elsewhere. Or they can settle for the status quo leave the loophole intact, fund inspections and hope the media and the public don’t catch on.

UPDATE: At 12:10 pm, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ag Approps voted in favor of the Moran Amendment, which defunds inspections for horse slaughter plants for Fiscal Year 2013, beginning this coming Fall. Without USDA inspections, horse slaughter in the U.S. is essentially off the table. But the export of tens of thousands of U.S. horses will continue to Canada and Mexico, the drug loopholes intact. - Vickery Eckhoff, Forbes Magazine

Horse Meat Info & Nutritional Benefits:
Horses have long been domesticated as an animal for draft, ride and a food source, and are still very important in many countries. In some countries including Japan and Korea, horsemeat is considered a delicacy. Horse bones have also been used as a traditional medicine for bone diseases including bone fracture and arthritis in Korea. In recent years, horsemeat consumption has steadily increased with increasing number of horses being raised on Jeju island. 

A Korean study was conducted to determine the nutritional characteristics of horsemeat and bone meal in comparison with those of beef and pork presented by Dietary Reference Intakes For Koreans. Longissimus muscle and large metacarpal bone samples were collected from 20 fattened Jeju horses. Muscle samples were subjected to proximate analysis, assays for fatty acid profile and minerals, and bone samples to mineral assays. 

Horsemeat had similar levels of protein (21.1 vs 21.0 or 21.1%) and lower levels of fat (6.0 vs 14.1 or 16.1%) compared with beef or pork, respectively. Horsemeat had much higher levels of palmitoleic (8.2 vs 4.4 or 3.3%) and α-linolenic (1.4 vs 0.1 or 0.6%) acids than beef or pork, respectively. Linoleic acid was much higher in horsemeat (11.1%) and pork (10.1%) than in beef (1.6%). PUFA:SFA and n-6:n-3 ratios in horsemeat were 0.29 and 10.2, respectively. There were no big differences in mineral contents between horsemeat, beef and pork. For daily recommended mineral intakes of male adults (Dietary Reference Intakes For Koreans), phosphorus, sodium, potassium, iron, zinc and copper can be provided up to 24, 2.5, 6.7, 21, 26 and 40%, respectively, by 100 g raw horsemeat, but calcium and manganese levels are negligible. Horse cannon bone had much higher mineral contents especially in calcium (10,193 mg/100 g), phosphorus (5,874 mg/100 g) and copper (0.79 mg/100 g). Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and retinol contents were 0.20, 0.21, 1.65 mg/100 g and 30 µg/100 g, respectively. But ascorbic acid and beta-carotene were not detected. Our data demonstrated that higher levels of palmitoleic and α-linolenic acid in horsemeat than in beef and pork may be beneficial for human health. Horsemeat and bone meal are a good source of some minerals and vitamins. - Chong-Eon Lee, Pil-Nam Seong, Woon-Young Oh, Moon-Suck Ko, Kyu-Il Kim, and Jae-Hong Jeong

It seems if there is such thing as pasture raised horse that would be the better way to go if choosing to eat horse meat. Conventional horse meat seems to be full of industrial medical grade steroids & antibiotics. -Michael Organic 

Will Organic Food Get Further Legal Protection From Contamination?

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Rep. Richard Hanna of New York on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation, the Organic Standards Protection Act, to ensure that products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal comply with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

The legislation, endorsed by a variety of California agriculture and consumer groups, would protect the growing organic farming industry and its expanding consumer base by granting the USDA’s National Organic Program the legislative authority it needs to more effectively protect the integrity of certified organic products.

According to a report by the Organic Trade Association, the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5 percent growth. The organic food industry also generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010. The Central Coast ranked second in California in 2009 organic farm sales, generating more than $224 million in revenue. The 23rd District of California ranks 30th nationally in the number of organic farms.

“This bipartisan legislation is a win-win, for Central Coast farmers and businesses who consistently meet the highest standards for organic products and for consumers who deserve to know that all products on grocery store shelves labeled ‘USDA organic’ adhere to consistently high standards,” Capps said. “Failing to weed out imposter products puts our organic industries at a competitive disadvantage and could potentially damage the brand of organic products.”

“Organic farming is a growing industry in upstate New York, which is creating jobs and meeting an increasing consumer demand,” Hanna said. “This bill takes commonsense steps to make sure USDA has the tools necessary to protect the integrity of the organic seal and safeguard this booming industry from unscrupulous producers.”

“The Organic Trade Association supports the passage of the Organic Standards Protection Act which, if enacted, will give the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Organic Program additional tools to safeguard the integrity of the USDA Organic seal,” said Christine Bushway, CEO of the Organic Trade Association. “Consumers drive the growth in organic food and farming and maintaining their trust is critical to the future of this fast-growing job-creating sector of agriculture. On behalf of the 6,500 certified organic operations nationwide that OTA represents, we applaud the leadership of Congresswoman Capps to position organic to meet consumer expectations into the future.”

“CCOF supports the Organic Standards Protection Act to further ensure consumer confidence in high-quality organic products,” said Cathy Calfo, executive director/CEO of the California Certified Organic Farmers. “Our members include 2400 organic farmers, ranchers, processors and handlers whose competitiveness relies on a strong regulatory framework that is fairly enforced.”

According to a recent USDA Office of Inspector General report, the absence of investigative authorities has hampered the National Organic Program’s ability to protect the integrity of the organic label. Currently, the NOP does not have the authority to stop the representation, labeling or sale of organic products when they have been treated with prohibited substances or when conventional products are being sold as organic. Embargo and stop sale authority would provide the NOP with additional tools to protect the integrity of organic food products.

The Organic Standards Protection Act would provide the USDA with the authority to stop sale of unlawfully represented products, and would enhance the effectiveness of investigations while providing for appeal of the secretary’s actions. The bill would also provide penalties for refusal to obey a conclusive judgment.

The bill would:
Grant USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process.

Streamline recordkeeping requirements by requiring all organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts.

Impose a civil penalty of $10,000 on those who violate the USDA’s revocation of their certification.

The legislation is supported by the California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association and the National Organic Coalition. - Ashley Schapitl, Noozhawk

The Organic Food Production Act
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 (Title 21 of P.L. 101-624, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990) authorizes a National Organic Program (NOP) to be administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The program will be based on federal regulations that define standard organic farming practices and on a National List of acceptable organic production inputs. Private and state certifiers will visit producers, processors, and handlers to certify' that their operations abide by the standards. Once certified, these operations may affix a label on their product stating that it "Meets USDA Organic Requirements." It will be illegal for anyone to use the word "organic" on a product if it does not meet the standards set in the law and regulations. The regulations under the OFPA are intended to set uniform minimum standards for organic production. However, states may adopt additional requirements after review and approval by USDA. AMS will re-accredit certifying agents every 5 years, maintain federal oversight to assure truth in labeling, and provide assurance that imported organic products have been produced under standards that are equivalent to the U.S. standards.

The act called for the establishment of a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to "assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production" (i.e., the National List) and to "provide recommendations to the Secretary regarding implementation" of the act. Congress expected implementation to be complete and the program in operation by October 1, 1993. However, the Board was hampered at the beginning by a lack of funds, among other factors. Neither departmental nor appropriated funds were available in FY1991; in FY1992 and FY1993, USDA made $120,000 available under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Beginning in FY1994, Congress appropriated funds for AMS's National Organic Program activities at about $500,000 annually. The FY1999 Administration budget requests slightly more than $1 million to assist the implementation of the new program. The OFPA stipulates that the costs of the program, once fully operational, will be paid for entirely by fees collected from producers, certifying agents, and handlers.

During the period from June 1994 to September 1996, the NOSB submitted its recommendations for national standards and the National List to USDA's National Organic Program staff. The staff drafted the proposed rule based on the Board's recommendations but not in complete conformity with them. The proposed rule appeared in the Federal Register on December 16, 1997. Because of the heavy response to the proposal, USDA extended the comment period from mid-March through the end of April 1998. - Organic Trade Association

Is The Produce You're Eating One Of The Dirty Dozen?

Environmental Working Group has released the eighth edition of its Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce with updated information on 45 popular fruits and vegetables and their total pesticide loads. EWG highlights the worst offenders with its new Dirty Dozen Plus list and the cleanest conventional produce with its list of the Clean Fifteen.

“The explosive growth in market share for organic produce in recent years testifies to a simple fact that pesticide companies and the farmers who use their products just can’t seem to grasp: people don’t like to eat food contaminated by pesticides,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “Our shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce gives consumers easy, affordable ways to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while avoiding most of the bug killers, fungicides and other chemicals in produce and other foods.”

“This year’s guide will also give new parents pause,” Cook added. “Government scientists have found disturbing concentrations of pesticides in some baby foods. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found weed killers widespread in finished tap water. Environmentalists have had important successes in forcing pesticides that presented unacceptably high dietary risks off the market. The latest USDA tests show we have much more work to do.”

EWG researchers analyzed annual pesticide residue tests conducted by the USDA and federal Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2010. The samples were first washed or peeled prior to being tested so the rankings reflect the amounts of the crop chemicals likely present on the food when is it eaten. The USDA and FDA tests have produced hard evidence of widespread presence of pesticide residues on conventional crops. The most recent round of tests show that as late as 2010, 68 percent of food samples had detectable pesticide residues. EWG found striking differences between the number of pesticides and amount of pesticides detected on the Dirty Dozen Plus and Clean Fifteen foods.

Notable findings:
Some 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides.
Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues.
Seventy-eight different pesticides were found on lettuce samples.
Every single nectarine USDA tested had measurable pesticide residues.
As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other fruit, with 64 different chemicals.
Thirteen different pesticides were measured on a single sample each of celery and strawberries.

New to the Shopper’s Guide: The Dirty Dozen Plus
For the past eight years, EWG has scrutinized pesticide testing data generated by scientists at USDA and FDA and has created its signature Dirty Dozen list of foods most commonly contaminated with pesticides. As well, we publish our Clean Fifteen list of the foods least likely to be pesticide-tainted.

This year we have expanded the Dirty Dozen with a Plus category to highlight two crops -- green beans and leafy greens, meaning, kale and collard greens – that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides. These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. But they are not banned and still show up on some food crops. For this reason, EWG lists these on the new Dirty Dozen Plus as foods to avoid or to buy organic.

"Organophosphate pesticides are of special concern since they are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton. “Infants in particular should avoid exposure to these pesticides since they are more susceptible to the effects of chemical insult than adults."
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to “minimize using foods in which chemical pesticides or herbicides were used by farmers.”

Pesticides in Baby Food
For the first time since the inception of its pesticide testing program in 1991, USDA looked at pesticide residues on baby food. Department scientists analyzed about 190 samples each of prepared baby food consisting of green beans, pears and sweet potatoes.

Green beans prepared as baby food tested positive for five pesticides, among them, the organophosphate methamidiphos, which was found on 9.4 percent of samples, and the organophosphate acephate, on 7.8 percent of samples. EWG analyzed baby food samples in 1995 and found the two organophosphates in surprisingly similar concentrations.

Pears prepared as baby food showed significant and widespread contamination. Fully 92 percent of the pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue, with 26 percent of samples containing 5 or more pesticides and 15 different pesticides on all samples. Disturbingly, the pesticide iprodione, which EPA has categorized as a probable human carcinogen, was detected on three baby food pear samples. Iprodione is not registered with the EPA for use on pears. Its presence on this popular baby food constitutes a violation of FDA regulations and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

"Federal testing of pesticide residue in baby food was long overdue, as infants are especially vulnerable to toxic compounds," said Andrew Weil, MD, Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a renowned medical expert on natural health and wellness. "Now that it has begun, the results are highly disturbing. It is bad enough that baby food contains pesticides at all; the fact that pears contain a likely human carcinogen is an outrage. Parents should purchase organic baby foods, or better yet, prepare their own by putting organic foods through a simple hand-turned food mill (search the internet for "baby food mill"). It is vital that an infant's developing brain and nervous system receive only uncontaminated, nutrient-dense foods."

Sweet potatoes sold as baby food, a Clean Fifteen crop, had virtually no detectable pesticide residues.
The extent of pesticide contamination document by USDA’s baby food tests highlight the need for the department to accelerate testing of baby foods and for EPA to reduce further the organophosphate pesticide exposures allowed for Americans, especially infants.

Pesticides in Drinking water
In 2010 USDA analyzed samples from 12 community drinking water systems that use surface water such as reservoirs, lakes and rivers as their water sources. Tests of 284 samples taken after treatment detected 65 pesticides or their metabolites. The toxic herbicide atrazine or its metabolites were found in every single sample. The herbicides 2,4-D and metolachlor were detected in more than 70 percent of the samples. Six other pesticides were found in at least half the samples.

Clean Fifteen
The footprint of pesticide residues for those items placed on the Clean Fifteen looked much better.

The produce least likely to test positive for pesticides were asparagus, avocado, cabbage, grapefruit, watermelon, eggplants, pineapples, mushrooms, onions, frozen peas and sweet potatoes.

More than 90 percent of cabbage, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant and sweet potato samples had one or fewer pesticides detected. Of the Clean Fifteen vegetables, no single sample had more than 5 different chemicals, and no single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen had more than 5 types of pesticides detected.

The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide is not built on a complex assessment of pesticide risks but instead reflects the overall pesticide loads of common fruits and vegetables. This approach best captures the uncertainties of the risks of pesticide exposure. Since researchers are constantly developing new insights into how pesticides act on living organisms, no one can say that concentrations of pesticides assumed today to be safe are, in fact, harmless.

The Shopper’s Guide aims to give consumers confidence that by following EWG’s advice, they can buy foods with consistently lower overall levels of pesticide contamination. - Environmental Working Group

Has China Created Their Own Genetically Modified Cows? (Zombie Food)

Chinese scientists say they have created a genetically modified cow whose milk is healthier because it is low in lactose. The scientists have also developed a cow that produces milk rich in health promoting omega-3 fatty acids. But the announcement has only triggered fears about "Frankenstein food." Chinese scientists, however, say that GM cows could bring huge health benefits. According to Daily Mail, Chinese scientists created the cow with high omega-3 fat milk after they modified the embryos to include genes from bacteria that produce the healthy fat. Health experts say Omega-3 fats are good for the arteries and the heart.

In the study published in the Journal of Transgenic Research, the group of Chinese scientists led by Dr. Guang-Peng Li, at the Key Laboratory for Mammalian Reproductive Biology and Biotechnology, used cloning technology to introduce a gene from roundworms into cow embryo. After the cow matured and gave birth, it started lactating. The milk it produced was tested and found to contain nearly four times as much omega-3 fatty acids as ordinary cow milk. The milk also contained only half the amount of unhealthy omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids found in ordinary cow milk that research has linked to cancer and heart diseases.

Lead researcher Li explained that, "Our results indicate that transgenic domestic animals can produce meat and milk enriched in n-3 fatty acids, which can probably become an efficient and economical approach to meet the increasing demand for omega three polyunsaturated fatty acids."

Omega-3 fatty acids are normally found in fish oil and nuts, and are believed to protect human beings against heart disease and play a role in brain function. Chinese geneticists, observers say, are now at the forefront of what critics term "Frankenstein farming" technology. Research in this field is far less regulated in China than in Europe and North America. Western proponents of GM research say that China could overtake the West in GM technology because of excessive regulation of GM R&D in the West. Daily Mail reports that another team of experts, working at the same university, have announced that they have created a calf that can produce milk low in lactose. 

Lactose is a sugar that some people find difficult to digest. The condition in which a person finds it difficult to digest milk rich in lactose is termed lactose-intolerance. It is very common among people of black African descent. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, about five per cent of the population are lactose intolerant. However, the proportion soars to more than 90 percent in some black African populations. The proportion is as high as 60 per cent in some Chinese communities.

The Telegraph reports that Dr Zhou Huanmin, director of the Key State Laboratory for Bio-manufacturing at the Inner Mongolia University, where the cow was created, said "Ordinary milk contains lactose, while milk produced by our modified cow will have relatively low content of lactose, or even have no lactose." He explained: "Most people suffer the lactose intolerance in varying degree. We are attempting to breed a dairy cow that produce low lactose milk for supplying the market. We hope to commercialize it in the future."
The Telegraph reports that the scientists introduced a gene that produces enzymes that break down lactose sugar in dairy products to other forms of sugar that humans are able to digest more easily. reports that lab professor Zhang Li, said: "The enzyme can dissolve lactose [sugar] into galactose or glucose to ease digestive disorders among the lactose-intolerant people... the calf, is a blessing for these people. She will produce low-lactose milk after she is 25 months old and have delivered calves."
According to The Telegraph, geneticists were able to create the low lactose milk producing cows by injecting genes from bacterial-like organism called archaea into cells from cow embryos. The scientists produced 14 different embryos and implanted them into surrogate cows. Three of the calves carrying the low-lactose genes were born in April. But two died soon after birth.

Researchers expect that the surviving calf named Lucks, will begin producing low-lactose milk in about two years. reports lab professor Zhang Li, said on Monday that Lucks, a modified Holstein dairy cow, was "healthy and strong." Tests on her milk will be conducted once she begins lactating to determine how much lactose the milk contains. According to, the calf was born on April 24.

Alarm over "Frankenstein food"
But the new developments have raised fears among opponents of genetically Modified food, who are concerned about safety and ethics issues in this field of research. Some campaigners concerned with ethics issues say GM research causes unnecessary suffering to animals and therefore should be stopped, Daily Mail reports.

According to Daily Mail, Wendy Higgins of the Humane Society International, told Sunday Telegraph: "This simply isn't a morally responsible direction for farming to be heading in. Genetic modification of animals has an almost unique capacity to cause suffering and the welfare impacts on the animals produced can be both unpredictable and severe.The history of GM research tells us that the unseen cost will be animals born with unexpected and lethal deformities such as tumors, brain defects, deformed limbs and arthritis."

The Telegraph reports that Dr. Helen Wallace, director of Genewatch, said: "There is a question of food safety with GM livestock. As with all GM technology, there is a potential for unintended consequences as it is interfering with the natural biological production pathways of milk, so it could effect other nutrients or even have harmful effects."

Daily Mail reports that this is not the only recent Chinese research development in GM dairy cows. Last April, scientists bred 300 cattle whose genes were genetically engineered to include human genes so that their milk will contain the same level of nutrients as human breast milk. The Chinese researchers said they hope that this will provide alternative to conventional cow milk infant formula.

According to Professor Ning Li, lead researcher at the China Agricultural University, the milk is as safe as ordinary cow's milk. But campaigners criticized the new GM product, saying the development of GM cattle is ethically wrong. Daily Mail reports that the Chinese researchers produced 42 GM calves out of which only 26 survived. Ten died soon after birth, while six died within first six months of life. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals said: "Offspring of cloned animals often suffer health and welfare problems, so this would be a grave concern. Why do we need this milk and what is it giving us that we haven’t already got?" 

But a scientist Professor Keith Campbell, biologist at Nottingham University, who a member of the team that cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996, said GM animals do not threaten human health. He said they would pose health hazards to humans only if scientists deliberately inserted genes that can produce toxic products.
He said: "Genetically modified food, if done correctly, can provide huge benefit for consumers in terms of producing better products." John Thomas Didymus, Digital Journal

Monday, June 18, 2012

Should Junk Food Be Restricted From Purchases With Food Stamps?

Advocates of healthier eating are asking the federal government to evaluate and restrict what people can buy with money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. 

The public health watchdog group Eat Drink Politics issued Food Stamps: Follow the Money on Tuesday, a report that asks the federal government to make changes to the SNAP program. The report analyzes the influence of food lobbying groups over SNAP policy at the state and federal levels, and urges the federal government to provide more information on the healthfulness of what consumers are buying with SNAP funds.

SNAP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and spent $71.8 billion in 2011, up from $30.4 billion in 2007 because of high unemployment and the faltering economy. The Eat Drink Politics paper is the latest development in a decades-long battle over whether federal anti-hunger efforts should also encourage healthy eating habits.

“It’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that we have an epidemic of diet-related chronic disease in this country,” says Michele Simon, the president of Eat Drink Politics and author of the report. “It’s wrong for the federal government to be fueling that epidemic through the subsidized sale of junk food and a no-holds-barred approach to what can be purchased through the SNAP program.”

Follow the Money's Findings
The report sheds light on how powerful food lobbies and federal SNAP policies intersect. For example, at least nine states have proposed bills to make healthy improvements to the program, but none have passed. Simon says that's because of food lobbies. Coca-Cola, the Corn Refiners of America, and Kraft Foods all lobbied against a Florida bill that would have outlawed SNAP funds for soda and junk-food purchases. In 2011, the USDA denied a proposal by New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban SNAP purchases of sugary drinks in New York City. (Bloomberg has since countered with a proposed city ordinance to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, which does not fall under federal jurisdiction.)

SNAP funds also largely benefit corporations, the report contends: Walmart took in more than $200 million from food stamp purchases in Oklahoma in 2011, for example, while JP Morgan Chase holds exclusive contracts to administer SNAP benefits in 24 states.

"Given the huge stakes for the food and beverage industry in the debate over SNAP purchases, lobbying has played a critical role in shaping public policy," Simon wrote in the report. "Unfortunately, due to reporting rules, it’s difficult to paint the entire picture of exactly who lobbied and how much money was spent against any one proposal." 

Follow the Money argues for continued Congressional support for SNAP funding and federally required collection and disclosure of SNAP purchasing information.

What Americans Buy With SNAP Funds
For the past decade, the USDA has said it is not cost-effective to track what people buy with SNAP funds. But a USDA spokesperson told MSNBC that it is launching a feasibility study to track purchases cost-effectively. The spokesperson also said national data exists showing that the diet of the average SNAP fund recipient differs little from the diet of higher-income Americans.

Recipients of federal food subsidies are allowed to purchase the following types of food:
Breads and cereals
Fruits and vegetables
Meat, fish, and poultry
Dairy products
Food-producing seeds and plants
Food items, such as soda, candy, cookies, chips, and energy drinks with nutritional labels
Households cannot use benefits to buy:
Alcohol or tobacco of any kind
Any nonfood household item, such as pet food or toilet paper
Vitamins and medicines
Prepared hot foods
Foods that will be eaten in the store
In Michigan and California, restaurants that serve homeless, elderly, or disabled populations can accept SNAP benefits from qualified recipients, the USDA says.

In contrast to what SNAP users can buy, the USDA-administered Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) fund requires participants to purchase nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, only. (WIC spends $6.7 billion annually.)

Many anti-hunger advocates are hesitant to impose such restrictions on SNAP, fearing that the program will be subject to political attacks and budget cuts. Those advocates stress that SNAP's top priority should be helping as many people in need as possible.

"The No. 1 goal is to make sure people aren't hungry," Simon says. "But that doesn't mean it should be the only goal." - Everyday Health