By Eoin Higgins
Food safety advocacy groups objected to the Trump administration's latest assault on the country's agricultural regulatory framework as the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday it would leave oversight on GMOs to the companies producing the organisms.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Stacy Malkan
If you like to give friends and family the gift of knowledge about our food, we're here with recommendations for 2019 books and movies that illuminate the issues close to our hearts. At U.S. Right to Know, we believe that transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – is crucial to building a healthier food system for our children, our families and our world. Kudos to the journalists and filmmakers who are exposing how powerful food and chemical industry interests impact our health and the environment.
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- Holiday Shopping: Best Retailers for Toxic-Free Gifts - EcoWatch ›
Every year, around one million people die of mosquito-borne diseases according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is why mosquitoes are considered one of the deadliest living creatures on the planet — not because they are lethal themselves, but because many of the viruses and parasites they transmit are.
Genetically Modified Mosquitoes<p>The transfer of new genes from GM organisms to wild or domesticated non-GM populations is a key criticism of GM crops like soybean and corn. There are concerns that the introduction of GM genes into non-target species could have <a href="https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetically-modified-organisms-gmos-transgenic-crops-and-732/" target="_blank">negative consequences for both human and environmental health</a>.</p><p>Oxitec, a company that spun out of research at Oxford University in the early 2000s, developed and trademarked GM <a href="https://www.oxitec.com/our-technology" target="_blank">Friendly™ mosquitoes</a> (also known as strain OX513A of <em>Aedes aegypti</em>). These male GM mosquitoes have what the company describes as a "self-limiting" gene, which means that when these so-called friendly mosquitoes mate, their offspring inherit the self-limiting gene which is supposed to prevent them surviving into adulthood.</p><p>In theory, when these mosquitoes are released in high numbers, a dramatic reduction in the mosquito population should follow.</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8d418a7c3cf175000fe60ea35aab2cb5"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5dRGPsx3tAw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Changes to the Gene Pool<p>According to research published by Oxitec researchers in 2015, field trials involving recurring releases of Friendly™ mosquitoes demonstrated <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003864" target="_blank">a reduction of nearly 95 percent of target populations in Brazil</a>. In these field trials, experiments were not performed to assess whether GM mosquitoes might persist in the wild.</p><p>A recent study from the Powell lab at Yale University has since confirmed that <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49660-6" target="_blank">some of the offspring of the GM mosquitoes didn't succumb to the self-limiting lethal gene and survived to adulthood</a>. They were able to breed with native mosquitoes and thereby introduce some of their genes into the wild population.</p><p>The Yale researchers found that mosquitoes captured at six, 12 and up to 30 months post-release carried DNA from the GM mosquito population, thereby disproving "<a href="https://news.yale.edu/2019/09/10/transgenic-mosquitoes-pass-genes-native-species" target="_blank">the claim that genes from the release strain would not get into the general population because offspring would die</a>."</p><p>It appears that between five and 60 percent of the captured mosquitoes post-release contained genetic sequences inherited from the Friendly™ mosquitoes. Importantly, the number of mosquitoes identified as still containing DNA derived from GM mosquitoes declined between the 12-month and 27-month capture periods specifically, perhaps indicating that the offspring of GM mosquitoes might be less fit in nature after all. This remains to be shown conclusively.</p>
Unknown Potential Impacts<p><span>Meanwhile, the impact of mosquitoes carrying these new genes remains largely unknown. One significant worry is that a new breed of mosquito might emerge that is more difficult to control. These new genes could also potentially alter evolutionary pressures on viruses carried by mosquitoes, like dengue fever, in unpredictable ways. This includes potentially increasing their virulence or changing their host-insect interactions. These are hypothetical risks that have been raised by scientists, and reflect the need for further study.</span><br></p><p>Thus, like GM soybean or corn, there is legitimate concern about the propagation of <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.5402/2011/369573" target="_blank">new genetic material</a> in wild populations with as yet unknown consequences.</p><p>Field trials involving the release of GM organisms are typically designed to evaluate safety and efficacy, to assess possible impact on food networks, and to ensure that there is no (or minimal) undue harm to the environment or human health. Put simply, field trials are meant to assess potential harms associated with genetic technologies and to provide opportunities to minimize these harms before moving forward with more large-scale releases.</p><p>This raises two important questions: Given that <a href="https://time.com/the-war-against-mosquito/" target="_blank">"around 5 percent or less"</a> of the GM mosquito population was expected to survive, shouldn't Oxitec have made plans to assess the risk of gene transfer to wild populations during their initial trials? And shouldn't the Brazilian government have required such an assessment as part of the regulatory approval process, <a href="https://bch.cbd.int/database/record.shtml?documentid=105833" target="_blank">given their awareness of the risk</a>?</p><p>Instead, with approval from Brazilian authorities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/eea.12618" target="_blank">Oxitec released nearly half a million GM mosquitoes every week into shared environments in Jacobina over a two-year period from 2013 to 2015</a>. This was done without the benefit of adequate risk assessment and without proper public consultation.</p><p>Oxitec reports having used leaflets, social media, carnival parades and community meetings to inform the public of their research. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/23299460.2017.1326257" target="_blank">Public education is not the same as public consultation and engagement</a> and, in our view, the people living in the vicinity of this release had more than a right to be informed of the plans. They also had a <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6414/527.summary" target="_blank">right to participate</a> in relevant decision-making.</p><p>On the basis of presumed success in Brazil where mosquito populations were reduced — a consequential <a href="https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/94/8/16-020816.pdf" target="_blank">reduction in the prevalence of dengue fever</a> has yet to be demonstrated — plans have been made to extend field trials to other jurisdictions, including <a href="https://www.oxitec.com/florida" target="_blank">the Florida Keys in the U.S</a>.</p><p>To date, public pushback <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3927" target="_blank">has temporarily prevented</a> the release of GM mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. But Oxitec hopes to eventually secure approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to perform field trials and assess release of a <a href="https://keysweekly.com/42/oxitec-reveals-new-technology-up-for-epa-consideration/" target="_blank">second-generation GM mosquito</a> that causes lethality only in female mosquitoes, as another means to collapse wild populations.</p>
Regulating Genetic Modification<p>In the end, minus the <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/09/study-dna-spread-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-prompts-backlash" target="_blank">hyperbole and somewhat alarmist reporting of the Yale study</a> (the journal is looking into <a href="https://www.genomeweb.com/scan/pushback-mosquito-paper#.XZJv0S2ZNTZ" target="_blank">allegations brought forth by Oxitec of speculative and unsubstantiated claims</a>), the finding that offspring of GM mosquitoes could survive in the wild remains undisputed. This illustrates the importance of careful decision-making and adequate oversight of field trials involving the release of GM organisms. Careful decision-making requires open venues for informed and deliberative public dialogue, engagement and empowerment.<br></p><p>Genetic modification technologies need to be more transparent, as do the scientific processes for evaluating their risks, especially where the rights and needs of affected communities can inform technology development. With more robust and nuanced regulatory processes governing the development and release of GM organisms, it should be possible to benefit from these technologies without harming or disenfranchising the communities that are the intended beneficiaries.</p><p>Mosquito-borne illnesses cause immense human suffering, and we should continue to develop technologies to reduce that suffering. At the same time, we must be equally dedicated to designing scientific processes that are safe, ethical and just.</p>
By Jaydee Hanson
In the foodie world, 2019 might as well be named The Year of the Impossible Burger. This plant-based burger that "bleeds" can now be found on the menus of Burger King, Fatburger, Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, White Castle and many other national restaurant chains. Consumers praise the burger's meat-like texture and the product is advertised as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional beef burgers.
The Science<p>The <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/impossible-burger">Impossible Burger</a> is manufactured from two different methods of genetically engineering soy products. This "impossible in nature" union is neither healthier nor more environmentally friendly than other kinds of non-meat burgers. While Impossible Foods, the company behind the Impossible Burger, has been trying to spin its product as both healthier and more sustainable than those of its competitors, a quick examination of the company's own data suggests otherwise. </p><p><strong>1. The first kind of genetic engineering in the "Impossible Burger" is found in the soy used for the protein in the "burger" itself.</strong></p><p>Rather than starting with organic soy beans, which have <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201" target="_blank">higher levels of protein and lower levels of Omega 6 fatty acids (the bad Omega)</a>, the company <a href="https://medium.com/impossible-foods/how-our-commitment-to-consumers-and-our-planet-led-us-to-use-gm-soy-23f880c93408" target="_blank">chose to use GMO soybeans</a>, probably because they are cheaper than the organic beans. The company uses both GMO soy protein concentrate and GMO soy protein isolate <a href="https://faq.impossiblefoods.com/hc/en-us/articles/360018937494" target="_blank">for the protein in its burger</a>. Impossible Foods does not describe how it processes the soy, but alcohol is the most common solvent used to process soy protein concentrate, as it produces products with a neutral taste. But the beneficial isoflavones in soy are removed by this method. Soy protein concentrate has the lowest level of healthful isoflavones — including daidzein, genistein and glycitein — <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/134/5/1229S/4688709" target="_blank">of any form of processed soy</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, GMO soy is also sprayed with large amounts of the herbicide <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/glyphosate">glyphosate</a>, a product shown to cause cancer in people exposed during its application. GMO soy <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/8/e1600850" target="_blank">has been found</a> to use significantly more herbicides than conventional soy or organic soy. At a time when <a href="https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/5595/california-couple-prevail-in-third-roundup-cancer-lawsuit-awarded-2-billion" target="_blank">juries are awarding</a> billions of dollars in damages to those affected by exposure to glyphosate, it is startling that Impossible Foods would double down on the GMO soy that is inextricably linked to this toxic herbicide.</p><p><strong>2. The second kind of genetic engineering of soy produces the "heme" that makes the Impossible Burger "bleed." </strong></p><p>In order to manufacture its burgers, Impossible Foods takes DNA from the roots of soy plants, where a small amount of "heme" is produced, and inserts it into genetically engineered yeast that is then fermented to mass-produce heme. This is the first time that people have consumed this product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to require testing in this situation to make sure that this novel protein does not cause allergic reactions in people. Unfortunately, instead of requiring Impossible Foods to file a new Food Additive Petition, FDA allowed the company to use a weak regulatory process called "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS) where the company does its own research and chooses its own reviewers to self-certify that its product is safe for human consumption. Center for Food Safety has a <a href="https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/4956/groups-sue-fda-to-protect-food-safety" target="_blank">lawsuit</a> challenging the GRAS food additive loophole that the Impossible Burger went through, allowing it and many other novel food substances to unlawfully evade government analysis and approval before coming to market.</p><p>Even under the weak GRAS process, the first time the company submitted data on the allergenicity of its "heme," it was so inadequate that the FDA raised questions about the company's data and the company withdrew its application so that it could redo its research. Although the FDA now says that it has "no questions" about Impossible Foods' latest research on the safety of "heme," the agency itself has not affirmatively declared that "heme" produced in genetically engineered yeast is safe for human consumption. Moreover, FDA has warned Impossible Foods that it cannot claim its "heme" is a source of iron based on this review and that it must label its product as a potential allergen. The FDA also notes that the company should <a href="https://www.fda.gov/media/116243/download" target="_blank">request a review of the "heme" as a new color additive</a>.</p>
Conclusion<p>Most customers of the Impossible Burger will not see labels saying that the burgers are made from GMO soy or could cause allergic reactions as Impossible Foods are currently only selling to fast food chains which do not put such labels on their menus.</p><p>Rather than buy the GMOx2 Impossible Burger, choose a non-GMO burger made in your local area. The Washington Post <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/these-6-veggie-burgers-arent-meant-to-taste-like-meat--and-thats-what-makes-them-so-good/2019/05/24/f2f068e4-71d6-11e9-9f06-5fc2ee80027a_story.html?utm_term=.a6c02ebd1d9a" target="_blank">recently highlighted</a> six veggie-based burgers being made by local restaurants that are not serving the Impossible Burger.<strong></strong></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 ›
- What Is the Impossible Burger, and Is It Healthy? - EcoWatch ›
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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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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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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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.
By Ronnie Cummins
A new study calling for a "radical rethink" of the relationship between policymakers and corporations reinforces what Organic Consumers Association and other public interest groups have been saying for years: Our triple global health crises of deteriorating public health, world hunger and global warming share common root causes—and that the best way to address these crises is to address what they all have in common: an unhealthy, inequitable food system perpetuated by a political and economic system largely driven by corporate profit.
By Caroline Cox
Many parents cheered about 10 years ago when Michelle Obama took on the important task of improving school meals. Of course, every child should have a healthy lunch and breakfast. Most of us have school cafeteria stories; I still remember the feeling of failure I had decades ago when I realized my daughters never had time to eat more than their dessert before joining the stampede for recess.
Ms. Obama's work—and the work of many other concerned parents, teachers and staff—sparked significant improvements in school menus, some of which are now being undone by the current administration (allowing children to eat food with more salt and less whole grain). Schools must once again take another step forward.
Update, Jan. 25, this post includes new reporting:
Since the Jan. 8 judgement, new reports have called Monsanto's "patent victory"—and the media's reporting of it—into doubt.
By Andrea Germanos
Food safety advocates are expressing sharp disappointment with the final federal GMO labeling rule, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While industry-friendly Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asserted in a press statement that the new standard for foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO) would boost "the transparency of our nation's food system" and ensure "clear information and labeling consistency for consumers about the ingredients in their food," groups like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)—and even food giants like Nestlé—say it does nothing of the sort.
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