By Stacy Malkan
For anyone who wonders why consumers aren't inspired to trust the GMO industry, consider this bizarre statement from Impossible Foods Chief Communications Officer Rachel Konrad in defense of the Impossible Burger, a veggie burger made more meat-like via genetically engineered yeast.
Konrad was upset by a June 27 Bloomberg article Is it too early for fake meat? that raised concerns about insufficient research, regulation and labeling in the realm of new food technologies.
Konrad took to Medium, blasting critics of the Impossible Burger as "anti-science fundamentalists" and "setting the record straight" with information she sourced from chemical industry front groups and other unreliable anti-consumer messengers who regularly communicate inaccurate information about science.
Bloomberg is not a trusted source of reporting on science, according to Konrad, because the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) says so. The ACSH is a corporate front group that solicits money from tobacco, chemical and pharmaceutical companies to defend pesticides, e-cigs, cosmetics and other toxic products that aren't likely to win over the vegan crowd.
Instead of enduring the bias of Bloomberg, Konrad tells us, we should take heart in the rise of Mark Lynas, a promoter of GMOs and pesticides who communicates inaccurate information about science, according to scientists and food experts.
Konrad's article also links to a column by Ted Nordhaus, who sits on the board of the parent organization of Genetic Literacy Project, a chemical industry propaganda group that attacks cancer scientists as part of its role as an "industry partner" in Monsanto's public relations strategy to protect Roundup weed killer from cancer concerns.
The false and inflammatory messaging these front groups use to promote genetically engineered foods, defend pesticides, ignore health and environmental risks and silence consumer and environmental advocates goes a long way toward explaining why the GMO industry isn't winning consumer trust.
Impossible Foods had a chance to turn a new leaf. Up to now, most GMO foods have been engineered to survive the spraying of weed-killing chemicals: glyphosate, now also dicamba, and soon also 2,4-D, in what environmental groups call the GMO pesticide treadmill. But the GMO industry is changing with the emergence of new techniques such as CRISPR and synthetic biology.
As one of the first food companies out with a genetically engineered food product that may actually offer consumer benefits (if one likes "bleeding" veggie burgers), Impossible Foods had the opportunity to write a new story, and build trust with an open, transparent process that respects consumer concerns. They blew it.
Impossible Burger's new genetically engineered protein is new to the human food supply, and we are supposed to trust the manufacturer to vouch for its safety. But the company's process hasn't inspired trust.
Their GMO "heme" ingredient is "super safe," according to the Impossible Foods website. Konrad explains in Medium, "An objective, third-party team of the nation's top food researchers unanimously concluded in 2014 that the Impossible Burger's key ingredient, soy leghemoglobin (produced by a genetically engineered yeast), is 'generally recognized as safe.' The panel made this conclusion in 2014, well before we began selling the Impossible Burger on the market in 2016."
She left out some important facts. As the New York Times reported last August, when the Food and Drug Administration raised concerns that the studies presented in Impossible Foods' GRAS notification were inadequate to establish safety, the company withdrew its petition but put the burger on the market anyway.
That was within their rights, but not a way to establish confidence in their product.
Another flag: The three food researchers who wrote the expert panel report that Impossible Foods submitted to the FDA—Joseph Borzelleca, Michael Pariza and Steve Taylor—are on a short list of scientists the "food industry turns to over and over again" to obtain GRAS status, and all three served on the Phillip Morris Scientific Advisory Board, according to a 2015 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, The Misinformation Industry: Food safety scientists have ties to Big Tobacco.
Borzelleca, the Center for Public Investigation reported, was the most active of the go-to scientists, having served on 41 percent of 379 panels convened in the last 17 years to review the safety of new food ingredients.
"Despite his decades of experience and praise heaped upon him by colleagues—one called him a 'wonder'—critics of the GRAS system say Borzelleca is emblematic of a system that is rife with conflicts of interest," CPI reported. "If scientists depend on the food industry for income, they may be less likely to contest the safety of ingredients companies hope to market, critics say."
"These are standing panels of industry hired guns," Laura MacCleery, an attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told CPI. "It is funding bias on steroids."
But the views of critics with legitimate concerns are not welcome in the world of the Impossible Burger, according to Rachel Konrad.
Rather than blazing a new path of integrity with its new food technology, Impossible Foods has decided to follow a path well worn by many other purveyors of food additives and genetically engineered foods: rush new products to market without a transparent process or comprehensive safety reviews, then shout down anyone who raises concerns. Across our nation, people who want to know what's in their food find such arrogance distasteful.
An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.
Nick Halla, chief strategy officer of Impossible Foods, gave a presentation about his company's Impossible Burger as a sustainable solution to the problems of industrial meat production. He claimed their lab-created burger uses about 74 percent less water, generates about 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases and requires around 95 percent less land than conventional ground beef from cows. Halla said the Impossible Burger is seeing rapid acceptance in the marketplace, sold in many restaurants and "better burger" chains.
Doubts About Impossible Burger's Safety
But Halla's PowerPoint slides didn't mention that the Impossible Burger's key ingredient is a genetically engineered protein called soy leghemoglobin or "heme." The presentation also didn't mention that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told Impossible Foods that the company hadn't demonstrated the safety of heme after it applied to the FDA seeking GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Despite FDA's concerns, Impossible Foods sold its GMO-derived burger for public consumption anyway.
FDA Questions Safety of Impossible Burger’s Key GMO Ingredient https://t.co/d5dtFDFBdh @TrueFoodNow @GMOTruth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1503539705.0
Several audience members took Halla to task over Impossible Foods marketing its burger despite FDA concerns, short-term feeding studies, and lack of transparency about the use of the GMO ingredient.
Mark Squire, owner and manager of Good Earth Natural Foods, said he read the FDA documents about Impossible Foods application for GRAS status and was "shocked that a company could come out with a new food additive and not have it subjected to government and long-term scrutiny."
Pamm Larry, director of GMO-free California, asked Halla why his company had conducted such short, 14- and 28-day rat feeding studies of the product.
"Why did you do such short feeding studies when you know the minimum industry standard is 90 days?"
Ken Ross, board member of the ProTerra Foundation and a speaker at the conference, also said that the feeding studies are unacceptable.
"A 28-day feeding study is not impeccable science. You need a two-year feeding study," he said.
Lack of Transparency, Product Rushed to Market
Larry said she spoke to several restaurants that serve the Impossible Burger but didn't know it was GMO. She also asked if Impossible Foods labels their product as GMO. Halla said his company doesn't label the product as GMO but that information about the use of genetic engineering is on the company's website.
Nick Halla, chief strategy officer of Impossible Foods, faced some tough questions recently at the Sustainable Foods Summit.
Squire said Impossible Foods was not being transparent. "I don't think people selling burgers understand (Impossible Foods') technology. There is no transparency; there is a huge information gap. Halla said 'everything is on our website.' But if you go to their website, there is very little there."
Ross thought that Impossible Foods rushed the Impossible Burger to market due to pressure from investors.
"They call the shots and want to get the product commercialized and into the market and so they aren't doing a 2-year feeding study and doing superficial short studies instead."
Ross told Halla that—with its questionable feeding studies and lack of transparency—Impossible Foods is repeating the same deceptions that the biotech industry has done in the past.
"You're speaking to an audience that has already been down that road," he said.
Halla seemed surprised by the tough questions.
"He was clearly chastened by the reaction. I don't think he thought he was coming into a hostile environment," Ross said.
Amarjit Sahota, president and owner of Ecovia Intelligence, organizer of the Summit, acknowledged that Halla "received a lot of criticism after his seminar."
"We believe the feedback and criticism Impossible Foods received will make them think twice about making claims in the future and make them more transparent about their ingredients," Sahota said.
Editor's Note: I sent an email to Impossible Foods asking if Nick Halla could tell me his responses to the audience's questions during the summit. I wanted to get his perspective. My email was answered by Rachel Konrad, Impossible Foods chief communications officer, who did not attend the summit.
In response to my question about Halla's PowerPoint slides not mentioning Impossible Foods' use of genetic engineering, Konrad wrote: "Nick talked specifically about the use of engineered yeast during his presentation." Still, "genetic engineering" was not mentioned in any of his slides.
Regarding the short-term animal feeding study, Konrad wrote: "Our rat-feeding study was comprehensive and statistically valid; a panel of experts reviewed the study and unanimously agreed that soy leghemoglobin is safe."
When asked about how employees at the burger restaurants don't know that the Impossible Burger is genetically engineered, Konrad wrote that her company provides training sessions for chefs and kitchen staff: "In these sessions, we explain the ingredients—including how we produce heme through fermentation of a genetically modified yeast."
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
From Silicon Valley tech moguls to business executives and entrepreneurs, these people know that the future of food means not slaughtering animals.
1. Bill Gates
JStone / Shutterstock
2. Sir Richard Branson
Prometheus72 / Shutterstock
Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin Group. Like Bill Gates, Branson has made significant investments in both plant-based and clean meats. Last year, he invested in the clean meat startup Memphis Meats.
In a blog post, Branson wrote, "I believe that in 30 years or so, we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone."
3. Lisa Feria
Frederic Legrand-COMEO / Shutterstock
Lisa Feria is the CEO of Stray Dog Capital, a firm that invests in early-stage startups, products and services that will replace the use of animals in the food supply chain. Under Feria's leadership, Stray Dog has made investments in Beyond Meat, Kite Hill, Memphis Meats and more.
4. Eric Schmidt
Frederic Legrand-COMEO / Shutterstock
Eric Schmidt served as executive chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet, from 2011-2018. After Google attempted to buy the plant-protein startup Impossible Foods, Schmidt stated that a vegan revolution was coming.
5. Miyoko Schinner
6. Sergey Brin
Thomas Hawk / Flickr
Google co-founder Sergey Brin provided $330,000 to fund the world's first cultured hamburger. He describes clean meat as a technology with "the capability to transform how we view our world."
7. Liz Dee
Smarties co-owner Liz Dee is also the CEO of Baleine & Bjorn Capital. She's made investments in the clean meat company Memphis Meats, vegan clothing brand Vaute Couture and plant-based food companies Purple Carrot and Nutpods.
8. Li Ka-shing
Li Ka-shing is a Hong Kong business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He's committed to changing the way the world eats by investing in the plant-based meat company Impossible Foods.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.