By Malavika Vyawahare
Think of a reptile that's been genetically mutated, and Godzilla springs to mind. Or maybe ninja turtles.
By Shannon Brown
Hawaiian myth says that 'ōhi'a lehua trees were created by Pele, the goddess of fire and creator of the Hawaiian islands. Spurned by a handsome young warrior, ʻŌhiʻa, she turned him into a twisted tree; the other gods, out of pity, turned his heartbroken lover, Lehua, into a flower, so that they would be joined together forever.
Today, 'ōhi'a lehua trees are suffering for a different reason: a fungal disease called rapid ʻōhiʻa death (ROD) is spreading swiftly through Hawaiian forests and killing the trees.
Looking Ahead<p>Researchers are also working to understand more about the disease and how it spreads.</p><p>"One of the key principles that we study is called the disease triangle," Keith said. "You have your fungus, you have a susceptible host, and you have the environment." She is assessing each of these to determine whether there's a way to combat the pathogen.</p><p>In her lab, she is inoculating seedlings with the fungus and studying their response. Some show resilience against it, which means they might be able to be used for future replanting efforts.</p><p>The fungus seems to prefer humid, low-elevation environments. Keith has tested trees at various elevations and found that those higher up seem to be protected somehow. "They're susceptible, you have the pathogen, but because of the environment they don't actually get the disease," she said. "On the other hand, a tree at sea level could be dead in 45 days."</p><p>Keith is also involved in the testing of samples, and recently developed a molecular test that can determine within hours whether the fungus is present, and if so, which strain. Previous testing methods could take up to a month.</p><p>Scientists are studying ways to reduce damage to the trees' bark. Everyday human activity such as mowing grass or trimming trees can leave gashes, Friday said. "We've seen many cases where, for example, someone puts in a driveway and they prune all the trees along the driveway, and they'll all die," he said. And in areas without humans, natural events such as winds or storms can still cause branches to come down.</p>
Current Projects, Remaining Questions<p>New developments in eradication efforts include a remote-sensing system and a branch-sampling device that can take wood samples in remote locations. Both were created in 2019 by Ryan Perroy, an associate professor of geography and principle investigator at the UH Hilo <a href="http://spatial.uhh.hawaii.edu/home.htm" target="_blank">Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization</a> lab. For the sampling device, he modified an existing drone from Swiss researchers at <a href="https://ethz.ch/en.html" target="_blank">ETH Zürich</a>.</p><p>The branch sampler still has some technical problems to work out before it is fully operational.</p><p>Sometimes ROD doesn't spread all the way out to the tips of branches, or if it does, the branches become so brittle that they can't be transported. However, sawing off larger branches would create dust, which researchers want to avoid.</p><p>Still, the device would allow researchers to verify the presence of the disease. "We could then send people in if it was determined to be worthwhile to do so," Perroy said.</p><p>The scientists encourage residents to avoid transporting wood or injuring 'ōhi'a, and to clean tools, clothing, shoes and even vehicles before and after entering forests. They successfully implemented a program to decontaminate hikers and tour operators in sensitive areas, which tourists enthusiastically comply with, Friday said.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Nicole Ferox
Did you know that in order to receive organic certification, packaged foods must be free of not only toxic pesticides but also thousands of added chemicals like artificial preservatives, colors and flavors? Only 40 synthetic substances have been reviewed and approved for organic packaged foods. By contrast, thousands of chemicals can be added to conventional packaged foods, many of which don't require independent government review or approval for use.
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By Gigen Mammoser
When choosing organic or conventional produce, there's no simple comparison, even if it's apples to apples.
Raw Organic Fruits and Vegetables May Be Better for Your Gut<p>"Vegetables and fruits, especially when consumed raw, represent the most important source for a diverse microbial community, which is mandatory for a healthy gut microbiome and our immune system," said Birgit Wassermann, a PhD student at the Graz University of Technology in Austria, and first author of the study.</p><p>Wassermann and her fellow researchers chose to look at apples because of their immense popularity throughout the world.</p><p>About 83 million apples were grown in 2018 and production continues to grow. Raw fruits and vegetables are an important source of gut bacteria — cooking tends to kill off all the bacteria.</p><p>In the comparison of organic and conventional apples, not only was bacteria more diverse in organic production, but it was also associated with the presence of so-called "good" bacteria <em>Lactobacillus</em>, a common probiotic.</p><p>Conversely, conventional apples were more likely to have potentially pathogenic bacteria like <em>Escherichia</em> and <em>Shigella</em>, which are known to cause food poisoning symptoms like diarrhea and cramps.</p><p>"The highly diverse microbiome of organically managed apples might limit or hamper the abundance of human pathogens, simply by outcompeting them," said Wassermann. "Probably, the microbial pool organic apple trees are exposed to is more diverse and more balanced and potentially supports the plant also in resistance during pathogen attack."</p><p>When it comes to gut health, however, Wassermann explained that it's not as simple as choosing organic over conventional apples.</p><p>Such a simple inference can't be drawn from her work alone. Instead, she emphasizes that diverse populations of bacteria — whether found in nature, apples, or the human gut — tend to be more beneficial no matter the environment where they are found.</p><p>And for most people, simply eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is a more important first step than discriminating between apples.</p><p>"Organic or conventional? Pretty irrelevant. The main thing is that people eat more fresh produce in general," said Wassermann.</p><p>With a focus on bacteria and by extension, gut health, the research adds yet another lens through which to view the ongoing debate for consumers on how they choose to buy produce.</p><p>And the organic versus conventional debate is far from settled.</p><p>But as questions about the benefits of either method have become more nuanced — it's not as simple as saying one is "better" than the other — consumers now have more awareness about what they want out of their produce.</p><p>The debate over organic and conventional fruits and vegetables has primarily focused on four aspects: nutrition, environmental impact, cost to consumers, and pesticides.</p><p>Depending on how important these factors are to you should inform your purchasing choice rather than strictly choosing one over the other.</p>
What Do ‘Organic’ and ‘Conventional’ Even Mean?<p><a href="https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means" target="_blank">Organic is a label</a> conferred by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on foods that are grown in accordance with certain federal guidelines. <a href="https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/01/25/organic-101-allowed-and-prohibited-substances" target="_blank">These guidelines</a> include things like what kinds of pesticides can be used, soil additives, and how animals are raised.</p><p>Conventional refers to modern, industrial agriculture which includes the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms.</p><p><a href="https://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/1355685/organic-foods-safer-healthier-than-conventional-alternatives-systematic-review" target="_blank">Some studiesTrusted Source</a> have found that organic produce likely isn't any more nutritious than conventional, but it will reduce exposure to pesticides and harmful bacteria.</p><p>However, that's not to say that organic produce is completely free of pesticides — <a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/" target="_blank">it's not</a>.</p><p>Your choice should also be impacted by other health factors as well, such as pregnancy or other chronic conditions.</p><p>Studies in recent years have looked at the prevalence of pesticide exposure <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019306853" target="_blank">among pregnant women via produce</a>, as well as the <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l962" target="_blank">potential for prenatal pesticideTrusted Source</a> exposure to lead to intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder.</p><p>For most consumers, a practical place to start is identifying which fruits and vegetables are more prone to having exposure to high amounts or different varieties of pesticides.</p><p>The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental and consumer advocacy group, annually publishes their list of the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php" target="_blank">Dirty Dozen,</a> which are the fruits and vegetables with the highest rates of pesticide contamination, and the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php" target="_blank">Clean Fifteen</a>, which are those with the lowest rates.</p><p>The worst offenders from 2019 include:</p><ul><li>strawberries (coming in at #1)</li><li>spinach</li><li>kale</li><li>nectarines</li><li>apples</li></ul><p>For the produce with the least amount of pesticide exposure, reach for:</p><ul><li>avocados</li><li>sweet corn</li><li>pineapples</li><li>frozen sweet peas</li><li>onions</li></ul><p>"I usually follow the EWG Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen designations," said Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, the manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.</p><p>"There are also certain things that I always recommend to purchase organic, like <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26878105" target="_blank">dairy productsTrusted Source</a> and strawberries, as well as foods that I usually tell my clients to skip the cost and go with conventional, like produce with a significant outer layer such as pineapples or bananas," she said.</p><p>Organic foods may offer some health benefits, but they'll also cost more, and that's a major consideration for most families.</p><p><a href="https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/03/cost-of-organic-food/index.htm" target="_blank">A 2015 study from Consumer Reports</a> found that organic apples were anywhere from 20 to 60 percent more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Milk was similarly 20 to 64 percent and for things like organic strawberries and zucchinis, consumers could end up paying twice as much.</p><p>In short, choosing how and why to pick conventional or organic produce is a serious balancing act. But one thing is for certain: You should be eating more fruits and vegetables no matter how they are grown.</p><p>"The most important thing I tell my patients is this: Increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption is far more important than organic versus non-organic. If you choose not to eat fruits and vegetables because you can't afford organic, that's the wrong choice. Any fruits and vegetables are better than none," said Kirkpatrick.</p>
By Pat Thomas
Throughout the U.S., major food brands are trying to get rid of GMO ingredients — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because nearly half of consumers say they avoid them in their food, primarily for health reasons.
But the CEO of Impossible Foods, purveyor of the Impossible Burger, is bucking that trend.
- Impossible Burger and the Road to Consumer Distrust - EcoWatch ›
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1. Processed ‘Low-Fat’ and ‘Fat-Free’ Foods<p>The "war" on <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/saturated-fat-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">saturated fat</a> could be considered one of the most misguided decisions in the history of nutrition.</p><p>It was based on weak evidence, which has now been completely <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/it-aint-the-fat-people/" target="_blank">debunked</a>.</p><p>When this discussion started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started removing the fat from foods.</p><p>But there's a huge problem. Food doesn't taste well when the fat has been removed. That's why they added a lot of sugar to compensate.</p><p>Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess.</p><p>The words "low fat" or "fat free" on packaging usually means that it's a highly processed product that's loaded with sugar.</p>
2. Most Commercial Salad Dressings<p>Vegetables are incredibly healthy.</p><p>The problem is that they often don't taste very good on their own.</p><p>That's why many people use dressings to add flavor to their salads, turning these bland meals into delicious treats.</p><p>But many salad dressings are actually loaded with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-trans-fats-are-bad/" target="_blank">trans fats</a>, along with various artificial chemicals.</p><p>Although vegetables are good for you, eating them with a dressing high in harmful ingredients negates any health benefit you get from the salad.</p><p>Check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing or make your own using healthy ingredients.</p>
3. Fruit Juices … Which Are Basically Just Liquid Sugar<p>A lot of people believe <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fruit-juice-is-just-as-bad-as-soda/" target="_blank">fruit juices</a> are healthy.</p><p>They must be because they come from fruit, right?</p><p>But most fruit juice you find in the grocery store isn't really fruit juice.</p><p>Sometimes they don't have any actual fruit in them, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you're drinking is basically fruit-flavored sugar water.</p><p>That being said, even if you're drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it's still not the best choice.</p><p>Fruit juice is like fruit, except with all the good stuff (like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fiber-good-for-you/" target="_blank">fiber</a>) taken out. The main thing left of the actual <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-fruit-good-or-bad-for-your-health/" target="_blank">fruit</a> is the sugar.</p><p>Fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage.</p>
4. ‘Heart-Healthy’ Whole Wheat<p>Most "whole wheat" products aren't really made from whole wheat.</p><p>The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour, which causes them to raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts.</p><p>In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread.</p><p>But even true whole wheat may be a bad idea because modern wheat is unhealthy compared to the wheat our grandparents ate.</p><p>Around 1960, scientists modified the genes in wheat to increase the yield. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/modern-wheat-health-nightmare/" target="_blank">Modern wheat</a> is less nutritious and has some properties that make it much worse for people who have a gluten intolerance.</p><p>There are also studies showing that modern wheat may cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, at least when compared to the older varieties.</p><p>Wheat may have been a relatively healthy grain back in the day, but the stuff most people are eating today should be consumed with caution.</p>
5. Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols<p>Phytosterols are nutrients that are basically like plant versions of cholesterol.</p><p>Some studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol in humans.</p><p>For this reason, they're often added to processed foods that are then marketed as "cholesterol lowering" and claimed to help prevent heart disease.</p><p>However, studies have shown that despite lowering cholesterol levels, phytosterols have negative effects on the cardiovascular system and may even increase the risk of heart disease and death.</p><p>People with phytosterolaemia (a genetic condition that raises plant sterol level in blood) are more susceptible to the negative effects of phytosterols.</p>
6. Margarine<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-reasons-why-butter-is-good-for-you/" target="_blank">Butter</a> was labeled a bad food choice in the past because of its high saturated fat content.</p><p>Various health experts started promoting margarine instead.</p><p>Back in the day, margarine used to be high in trans fats. These days, it has fewer trans fats than before, but it's still loaded with refined vegetable oils.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the Framingham Heart Study <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/butter-vs-margarine/" target="_blank">showed</a> that people who replace butter with margarine are actually more likely to die from heart disease.</p><p>If you want to improve your health, try to eat real butter (preferably <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grass-fed-butter-superfood-for-the-heart/" target="_blank">grass fed</a>), and avoid margarine with trans fat. Trans-fat-free margarine has become more available in recent years.</p><p>Always read nutrition facts carefully and limit products that contain trans fat.</p><p>Recommending trans fat-laden margarine instead of natural butter may be considered some of the worst nutrition advice in history.</p>
7. Sports Drinks<p>Sports drinks were designed with athletes in mind.</p><p>They contain electrolytes (salts) and sugar, which can be useful for athletes in many cases.</p><p>However, most people don't need additional salt or liquid sugar in their diet.</p><p>Although often considered "less bad" than sugary soft drinks, there's really no fundamental difference in the two, except the sugar content in sports drinks is sometimes <em>slightly</em> lower.</p><p>It's important to stay hydrated, especially when working out, but most people will be better off sticking to plain <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day/" target="_blank">water</a>.</p>
8. Low-Carb Junk Foods<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-carb-diet-meal-plan-and-menu/" target="_blank">Low carb diets</a> have been incredibly popular for many decades.</p><p>In the past 12 years, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/23-studies-on-low-carb-and-low-fat-diets/" target="_blank">studies</a> have confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health.<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x/abstract" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and brought various low carb "friendly" processed foods to the market.</p><p>This includes highly processed foods like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-atkins-low-carb-bars-healthy/" target="_blank">Atkins bars</a>. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see that there's no real food in them, just chemicals and highly refined ingredients.</p><p>These products can be consumed occasionally without compromising the metabolic adaptation that comes with low carb eating.</p><p>However, they don't really nourish your body. Even though they're technically low carb, they're still unhealthy.</p>
9. Agave Nectar<p>Given the known <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-disturbing-reasons-why-sugar-is-bad/" target="_blank">harmful effects</a> of sugar, people have been looking for alternatives.</p><p>One of the more popular "natural" sweeteners is agave nectar, which is also called agave syrup.</p><p>You'll find this sweetener in all sorts of "healthy foods," often with attractive claims on the packaging.</p><p>The problem with agave is that it's no better than regular sugar. In fact, it's much worse.</p><p>One of the main problems with sugar is that it has excessive amounts of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fructose-bad-for-you/" target="_blank">fructose</a>, which can cause severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess.</p><p>Sugar is about 50% fructose and 55% high fructose corn syrup, but agave contains even more — up to 70-90%.</p><p>Therefore, gram for gram, agave is even worse than regular sugar.</p><p>"Natural" doesn't always equal healthy. Whether agave should even be considered natural is debatable.</p>
10. Vegan Junk Foods<p>Vegan diets are very popular these days, often due to ethical and environmental reasons.</p><p>However, many people promote vegan diets for the purpose of improving health.</p><p>There are many processed vegan foods on the market, often sold as convenient replacements for non-vegan foods.</p><p>Vegan bacon is one example.</p><p>But it's important to keep in mind that these are usually highly processed, factory made products that are bad for almost anyone, including people who are vegan.</p>
11. Brown Rice Syrup<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-rice-syrup-good-or-bad/" target="_blank"><br>Brown rice syrup</a>, also known as rice malt syrup, is a sweetener that's mistakenly assumed to be healthy.</p><p>It's made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars.</p><p>Brown rice syrup contains no refined fructose, just glucose.</p><p>The absence of refined fructose is good, but rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which means that the glucose in it will spike blood sugar extremely fast.<a href="http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=2648&ak=detail" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Rice syrup is also highly refined and contains almost no essential nutrients. In other words, it's considered "empty" calories.</p><p>Some concerns have been raised about arsenic contamination in this syrup, which is another reason to be extra careful with this sweetener.</p><p>There are other sweeteners out there, including low calorie sweeteners like:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/stevia/" target="_blank">stevia</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/erythritol/" target="_blank">erythritol</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xylitol-101/" target="_blank">xylitol</a></li></ul><p>In general, try to use all sweeteners wisely and follow recommended serving sizes.</p>
12. Processed Organic Foods<p>Unfortunately, the word "organic" has become a typical marketing buzzword in many instances.</p><p>Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same products, except with ingredients that happen to be organic.</p><p>This includes ingredients like organic raw cane sugar, which is basically 100% identical to regular sugar. It's still just glucose and fructose with little to no nutrients.</p><p>In many cases, the difference between an ingredient and its organic counterpart is next to none.</p><p>Processed foods that happen to be labeled organic aren't necessarily healthy. Always check the label to see what's inside.</p>
13. Vegetable Oils<p>We're often advised to eat seed and vegetable oils, which includes soybean oil, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/canola-oil-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">canola oil</a>, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grape-seed-oil/" target="_blank">grapeseed oil</a>, and numerous others.</p><p>This recommendation is based on the fact that these oils have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, at least in the short term.<a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23731447/" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, it's important to keep in mind that blood cholesterol is a <em>risk factor</em>. It's not a disease in itself.</p><p>Even though vegetable oils can help improve a risk factor, there's no guarantee that they'll help prevent actual health outcomes like heart attacks or death, which is what really counts.</p><p>In fact, several controlled trials have shown that despite lowering cholesterol, these oils can increase the risk of developing heart disease and memory impairment.</p><p>It's important to eat healthy, natural fats like butter, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/" target="_blank">coconut oil</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/extra-virgin-olive-oil/" target="_blank">olive oil</a> in moderation.</p><p>Also, follow the recommended serving size, but limit processed <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-vegetable-and-seed-oils-bad/" target="_blank">vegetable oils</a> as if your health depended on it, which it does.</p>
14. Gluten-Free Junk Foods<p>According to a <a href="http://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/percentage-of-us-adults-trying-to-cut-down-or-avoid-gluten-in-their-diets-reaches-new-high-in-2013-reports-npd/" target="_blank">2013 survey</a>, about a third of people in the United States are actively trying to limit or avoid gluten.</p><p>Many experts believe this is unnecessary, but the truth is, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-shocking-reasons-why-gluten-is-bad/" target="_blank">gluten</a>, especially from modern wheat, can be problematic for a lot of people.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the food manufacturers have brought <em>all sorts</em> of gluten-free foods to the market.</p><p>The problem with these foods is that they usually have the same negative effects on your body as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse.</p><p>These are highly processed foods containing few nutrients and often made with refined starches that can lead to very rapid spikes in blood sugar.</p><p>Try to choose foods that are naturally gluten free, like plants and animals, not gluten-free processed foods.</p><p>Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.</p>
15. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals<p>The way some breakfast cereals are marketed can be deceiving.</p><p>Many of them, including those that are marketed toward children, have various health claims listed on the box.</p><p>This includes claims like "whole grain" or "low fat" that may be misleading.</p><p>This is especially true when you look at the ingredients list and see that these products mostly contain:</p><ul><li>refined grains</li><li>sugar</li><li>artificial chemicals</li></ul><p>It's important to always review product packaging to confirm what you're actually putting in your body and whether it's healthy for you.</p><p>Truly healthy foods are whole, single-ingredient foods. Their health benefits speak for them.</p><p>Real food doesn't even need an ingredients list, because real food is the ingredient.</p>
By Ana Santos Rutschman
The world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned and will step down in early April. His temporary replacement is Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.
Ocean pout from Newfoundland, Canada
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- USDA Releases Final GMO Labeling Standard - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
The Trump administration has lifted a ban on importing genetically engineered or GE salmon, which critics have long called "Frankenfish," in a move that consumer advocates charge "runs counter to sound science and market demand."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the decision on Friday, more than three years after approving GE salmon as the first biotech animal authorized for commercial sale and consumption in the U.S.
Promotion of GMO-Derived Impossible Burger at World’s Largest Natural Food Trade Show Denounced as Deceptive
Natural food industry representatives and consumer advocates denounced Impossible Foods, maker of the GMO-derived Impossible Burger, for promoting their product at Natural Products Expo West, saying they were engaging in deceptive marketing.
GMO Controversy<p>The Impossible Burger is one of several new plant-based — or in this case lab-created — meat products that provide the look and taste of meat while claiming to be more environmentally friendly than industrial meat production. The product is served in several thousand restaurants in the U.S., including chains like White Castle and The Cheesecake Factory (where it is falsely described as "natural" on the menu). <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/burger-king-to-trial-impossible-meatless-whopper-in-59-stores-2633500660.html" target="_self">Burger King</a> recently announced it would test market the Impossible Burger in 60 restaurants in St. Louis.</p><p>But the Impossible Burger has been <a href="https://www.gmoscience.org/impossible-burger-boon-risk-health-environment/" target="_blank">controversial</a> because it is made using genetic engineering. The burger's key ingredient is called heme, which is produced using a genetically engineered yeast that is fermented and multiplied. The GMO-derived heme gives the Impossible Burger its meat-like taste and red blood-like color. </p><p>In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/business/impossible-burger-food-meat.html" target="_blank">raised questions about the safety of the engineered heme</a> after Impossible Foods applied for GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Despite FDA's concerns, Impossible Foods put its GMO burger on the market for public consumption in 2016 anyway. Impossible Foods later submitted results from short-term rat feeding studies to the FDA and, last year, the agency said that it had no more questions about heme's safety.</p>
No Transparency About Impossible Burger's GMO Ingredient<p>Impossible Foods plans to introduce a retail version of the Impossible Burger this year, which is why they exhibited at Natural Products Expo West, according to Nick Halla, the company's chief strategy officer. He said that people at the show had been very receptive to the Impossible Burger.</p><p>But, Natural Products Expo West attendees didn't know they were eating a GMO product. Impossible Foods' exhibit booth and literature made no mention that the Impossible Burger's key ingredient, heme, is genetically engineered.</p><p>When asked why they weren't transparent about the burger being GMO, Halla said the recipe cards being given out wasn't appropriate literature for describing the genetic engineering process. But, a more detailed brochure at the booth also said nothing about GMO heme, only describing it as "magic ingredient found in all living things." Halla said Impossible Foods is transparent about its use of genetic engineering on its website.</p><p>But Lampe said Impossible Foods lack of transparency at Natural Products Expo West was unethical. "Impossible Foods is legally allowed to not provide that information to consumers. Legal? Yes. Responsible and ethical? I don't think so," Lampe commented.</p>
GMO Products Allowed at Natural Products Expo West if They Don't Make "Natural" Claims<p>So, how did a GMO food company get into the world's biggest natural food trade show? According to the <a href="https://www.newhope.com/standards?ID=1067799" target="_blank">standards for exhibitors</a> at Natural Products Expo West, a company can promote foods with GMO ingredients as long as they don't claim their products are natural.</p><p>"We don't rule out GMOs yet, because if we did we could have Natural Products Expo in my child's school gymnasium (because genetically engineered ingredients are so pervasive in the food supply)," said Michelle Zerbib, standards director at <a href="https://www.newhope.com/" target="_blank">New Hope Network</a>, which hosts Natural Products Expo West. "What we do with GMO products is that we don't allow them to market as natural, 100 percent natural or any natural claims," she said. <br></p><p>New Hope's ingredients standard for exhibitors requires the use of non-GMO yeast but only as a flavor enhancer. Impossible Foods uses a GMO yeast to make the Impossible Burger's key ingredient.</p><p>"There's a standard for (non-GMO) yeast but that's according to flavoring, not the product itself," Zerbib said.</p><p>Zerbib also admitted that New Hope Network doesn't have the staff or time to closely inspect each exhibitor's ingredients. "We just don't have the resources to do that," she said.</p><p>Lampe said it is difficult for New Hope to keep up with the growing number of products made using new genetic engineering technologies.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there are an increasing number of synbio ingredients and products already in the marketplace in foods and dietary supplements, and trying to determine show acceptance in light of the rapidly changing marketplace, with no mandated federal labeling for the new classes of GMO products and no testing protocols in place, is not an enviable task for the New Hope standards folks," Lampe said.</p>
"This is Not Clean Food"<p>Could other companies that sell GMO products like the non-browning Arctic Apple or GMO salmon also exhibit at Natural Products Expo West if they don't make natural claims? Yes, said Zerbib.</p><p>But she also said it may be time for New Hope Network to look at revising their ingredient standard as new GMO products come to market.</p><p>"We probably need to revisit it maybe take another look because there have been a lot of different technologies that have come out since we incorporated our ingredients standard in 2009," she added.</p><p>Alan Lewis, director of government affairs and food and agriculture policy for <a href="https://www.naturalgrocers.com/" target="_blank">Natural Grocers</a>, said the natural food community needs to take a strong stand against new GMO products like the Impossible Burger.</p><p>"If we are going to apply the cautionary principle to every other suspect food ingredient, then certainly synthetic heme, grown in genetically modified cultures, qualifies for scrutiny. Novel molecules and unknown ingredients have never been embraced in natural food. What are we thinking? This is not clean food," said Lewis.</p>
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People eat animals that eat plants. If we just eliminate that middle step and eat plants directly, we would diminish our carbon footprint, decrease agricultural land usage, eliminate health risks associated with red meat and alleviate ethical concerns over animal welfare. For many of us, the major hurdle to executing this plan is that meat tastes good. Really good. By contrast, a veggie burger tastes like, well, a veggie burger. It does not satisfy the craving because it does not look, smell or taste like beef. It does not bleed like beef.