Tasmanian Deputy Premier Bryan Green will be releasing the terms of reference today for a review of the state’s GMO-free status.
Green says that the review, which will commence next month, would give all stakeholders the opportunity to voice their opinion on the matter before the existing moratorium expires in November next year as reported by The Mercury.
The review will cover issues relating to the potential advantages and disadvantages of gmo technology across Tasmania's primary industries, including the food and non-food sectors.
Green says that the moratorium has served Tasmania well and believed that it should continue.
"Being GMO-free is a great fit with the Tasmanian brand and is vital to our success in discerning domestic and international markets,” he said in a statement.
"The current policy aims to position Tasmanian in the global marketplace as a producer of food that is genuinely GMO-free.”
The Tasmanian Greens have urged supporters of the state’s GMO-free status to make their voices heard, with spokesman Kim Booth stating that Tasmania’s market depended on it.
"Our GE-free status, current markets and future opportunities rely on it," he said.
A new peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability has revealed that genetically modified crops produce a lower yield then conventional crops.
The research was led by Jack Heinemann, a molecular biologist Professor from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and is based on agricultural productivity data in North America and Western Europe over the past 50 years.
The two regions have undertaken significantly different approaches to GM crop adoption and pesticide use. 1996 saw the United States plant the first commercial GM seed crops and the country has continued to adopt them aggressively since.
In contrast to the US, GM crops throughout Europe have remained relatively uncommon due to strong consumer concerns.
Heinemann said in a statement that the two regions were chosen as they exhibit similar crop types, latitude and access to biotechnology, mechanisation and farmer education.
“Our research showed rapeseed (canola) yields increasing faster in Europe without GM than in the GM-led package chosen by Canada and decreasing chemical herbicide and even larger declines in insecticide use without sacrificing yield gains, while chemical herbicide use in the US has increased with GM seed,” he said.
“Europe has learned to grow more food per hectare and use fewer chemicals in the process. The American choices in biotechnology are causing it to fall behind Europe in productivity and sustainability.”
"We found that US yield in non-GM wheat is also falling further behind Europe, demonstrating that American choices in biotechnology penalise both GM and non-GM crop types relative to Europe.”
Never shy of media attention, GM crops have also come under scrutiny recently in an Australian study.
Widely viewed as either a breakthrough in scientific research or a dangerous experiment, genetically modified foods are not exactly shy of media attention.
Unapproved genetically modified wheat from GM giant Monsanto was recently detected in a field in Oregon. The discovery resulted in both Japan and South Korea suspending wheat imports from the US, and further fuelled the debate surrounding the safety of GM seeds.
Over 90 percent of corn and soybean crops in the US are genetically modified. New labelling laws which will require the mandatory labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients, are seeing food manufacturers across the country struggle to source conventional ingredients to replace GM varieties in fear that sales will dwindle once food is properly labelled.
But what does this mean for Australian food manufacturers and producers? What GM crops are grown in Australia? What are the laws surrounding GM labelling? And are genetically altered seeds as dangerous as protesters make them out to be?
If GM foods are perfectly safe, like GM giant Monsanto says, then why would the US industry be so opposed to mandatory labelling?
GM seeds, what are they all about?
GM seeds have had specific changes introduced into their DNA which resist the effects of pests and bacteria that can cause damage or ultimately kill a crop. There is a general consensus from many scientists that GM crops are safe and pose no greater threat to human health than conventional varieties.
By manipulating the genetic make-up of foods, scientists are able to select the most desirable characteristics of a plant, (ie, pest resistance or high yield) for breeding the next generation.
GM foods boast a host of benefits: they’re hardy, inexpensive and a practical solution to feeding the world’s ever growing population.
Research is also in the works to create drought-tolerant plants that require less water to grow, making them ideal for changing climatic conditions and well suited to a number of Australia’s drought prone regions.
Despite these positive attributes, many members of the public and scientific community are actively questioning the validity of studies into the safety of genetically modified foods.
Numerous studies have claimed that GM crops and associated herbicides can lead to anything from cancer to Parkinson’s and other serious ailments in both humans and animals.
A recent study conducted by Australian and US researchers found that pigs that were fed a diet of genetically modified grain showed significantly higher rates (20 percent) of stomach inflammation than pigs who were fed conventional feed. The study, which was published in the Journal of Organic Systems, was conducted over 22.7 weeks using 168 newly weaned pigs in a commercial piggery located in the US.
Earlier this year, a peer reviewed report published in the Scientific Journal of Entropy concluded that residues of glyphosate -a key ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup – has been found in food. Roundup is designed for use on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM crops which have been engineered to withstand the herbicide.
Evidence in the report suggests that glyphosate and indeed Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.
So far in the US states of Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, at least one chamber of the state legislature has given the go-ahead for bills that will require the mandatory labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients, with similar legislation pending in over 24 other states, as reported by the New York Times.
US retail giant Whole Foods Market, has also added pressure by refusing to sell any GM produce or processed foods in any of their stores by 2018, unless they’re labelled accordingly.
A pressing concern for many businesses is the process involved in switching from GM to non-GM certified produce. The cost for conventional, non-GM ingredients is far higher than that of genetically modified crops and produce in the US.
Approximately 90 percent of US corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets are genetically modified and farmers that are willing to make the switch to non-GM will need to sacrifice a lot of time before they’re able to harvest, as the soil may not be immediately suitable for non-GMO certification.
“There’s a transition period required,” said Richard Kamolvathin, senior vice president at Verity Farms, which sells meats, grains and other products derived from conventional crops, as well as natural soil amendments.
“You don’t just stop growing GMO seed and then start growing non-GMO seed,” he said.
Taste and consistency of product is another factor that needs to be considered when making the switch, as the product will need to be tried and tested to capture the same flavours and mouth feel as the original GM ingredients.
GM foods in Australia
According to the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand website (FSANZ), all genetically modified foods intended for sale in Australia and NZ must undergo a comprehensive safety evaluation and will not be approved for sale unless they are deemed safe for consumption.
Foods in Australia must be labelled if they contain GM ingredients, however if a GM ingredient is highly refined, (ie cooking oils and sugar) they do not have to be labelled.
The decision to not label highly refined products is based on the notion that processing removes DNA and protein from the food, resulting in GM foods holding the same composition as non-GM varieties.
Currently, Australia does not permit the sale of GM fresh foods including fruit and vegetables.
GM crops grown in Australia include:
Canola – used in margarine spreads, dairy blends, tinned food and snack foods
Cotton – used to create cotton seed oil which is widely used in cooking as well as cottonseed meal which can be used as stockfeed
GM soybean products (including soy lecithin, additive 322) – used widely in processed foods including confectionery, breads, potato chips and spreads as well as in stockfeed for pigs and poultry and supplements in dairy cattle
GM corn products – cattle feed, corn oil, cornflour and corn syrup used extensively throughout processed foods and may also be used as a snack food
GM potatoes – fresh potatoes cannot be sold in Australia, however GM potatoes can be used in processed products
GM sugar beet – used as sugar in a variety of imported processed foods
So where do we go from here?
There is no doubt that many consumers and members of the scientific community have concerns over the commercialisation of genetically modified foods. As the debate continues to gain momentum, food processors that choose to avoid GM ingredients will hold a powerful marketing edge over their GM competitors.
While highly refined GM ingredients do not legally have to be labelled here, the terms ‘GM free’ and ‘Non-GM’ make it clear to consumers which food processors choose to use conventionally grown ingredients, while raising questions about those that don’t.
Monsanto says that the discovery of unapproved genetically modified wheat found in an Oregon field could have been the result of sabotage.
Initial tests conducted by Oregon State University in April detected the presence of the unapproved GM wheat, and a formal announcement was made by the US Department of Agriculture last week as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robb Fraley said that the incident was an isolated one and most likely a result of ‘accidental or purposeful mixing of seed.’
“We’re considering all options at this point, and that’s certainly one of the possibilities we’re looking at,” Fraley said during a press conference call.
Both Japan and South Korea halted wheat imports from the country due to the incident.
Monsanto say that they have tested 30,000 seed samples over the past week in Washington and Oregon. The GM giant says that none of the samples of wheat it tested in the region were positive to the unapproved GM trait, proving that the incident was isolated.
Monsanto have allegedly requested samples of the contaminated wheat from both the USDA and Oregon State University but have not yet received any.
The majority of corn and soybean crops in the US are genetically modified, however there are no commercialised wheat crops.
So far in the US states of Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, at least one chamber of the state legislature has given the go ahead for bills that will require the mandatory labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients, with similar legislation pending in over 24 other US states as reported by the New York Times.
US retail giant Whole Foods Market, have also added pressure by refusing to sell any GM produce or processed foods that is not labelled as GM in all of their stores by 2018.
A pressing concern for many businesses is the process involved in switching from GM to non GM certified produce. The cost for conventional, non GM ingredients is far higher than that of genetically modified crops and produce.
Approximately 90 percent of US corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets are genetically modified. Farmers that are willing to make the switch to non GM will have to be patient as it will take time before they can harvest thier new crops as the soil may not be immediately suitable to gain non-GMO certification.
“There’s a transition period required,” said Richard Kamolvathin, senior vice president at Verity Farms, (seller of meats, grains and other products derived from conventional crops, as well as natural soil amendments). “You don’t just stop growing G.M.O. seed and then start growing non-G.M.O. seed.”
Taste and consistency of products is another factor that needs to be considered when making the switch as the products will need to be tried and tested to capture the same flavours and mouth feel as the original GM ingredients.
Foods in Australia must be labelled if they contain GM ingredients however if a GM ingredient is highly refined, ie in cooking oils, margarine, baked goods and chocolate, they do not have to be labelled.
Currently, Australia does not permit the sale of GM fresh foods including fruit and vegetables.
The Gold Coast will this weekend be hosting the 2013 Ausveg National Convention, the centrepiece of which will be a debate on the use of genetic modification in food production.
Arguing in favour of GM will be Paula Fitzgerald, manager of biotechnology at Dairy Australia and Professor T.J. Higgins, executive director at Agrifood Awareness and an Honorary Research Fellow at CSIRO’s Plant Industry department.
On the other side of the debate will be Scott Kinnear, director and co-founder at the Safe Food Foundation and Institute, and Maarten Stapper, director at BioLogic AgFood.
The debate will be held at Jupiters Gold Coast on Saturday 1 June at 11.50am, reports Queensland Country Life.
A recent study has indicated that heavy use of the world’s most widely used herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a vast range of health problems including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.
The study, published in the scientific journal Entropy and lead by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant from Arthur D. Little, showed that traces of the popular herbicide’s main ingredient, glyphosate, has been found in food.
Residues of the chemical are said to increase the damaging effects of other food-borne chemicals and toxins in the environment leading to the disruption of normal body functions and inducing disease.
“We have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Seneff told the Huffington Post.
The study claimed the chemical has an extremely dangerous impact on the body which manifests slowly over time, damaging cellular systems throughout the body as inflammation increases.
Several plant scientists and environmentalist groups have warned of the dangers associated with the heavy use of glyphosate and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is said to be conducting a review as to whether use of the chemical should be restricted.
Monsanto, the developer of the herbicide as well as a host of genetically modified crops which have been altered to withstand the weed killer, said the chemical is safe and is less damaging to the environment than other commonly-used chemicals. This claim has been backed by the company’s executive vice president of sustainability, Jerry Steiner.
“We are very confident in the long track record that glyphosate has. It has been very, very extensively studied,” he said in a recent interview.
Roundup is sprayed across million of acres of crops throughout the world including canola, soybean, corn and sugarbeets.
Most genetically modified (GM) crops are based on moving DNA from one organism to another to introduce a new protein. Now a growing number of genetically modified crops are based on intentionally changing RNA. However this new technology may prove to be risky business.
RNA or ribonucleic acid is the neglected stepsister of DNA, but it is quickly becoming the Cinderella of biotechnology.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the material basis of the genome of most organisms, it’s what encodes our genes. RNA is the second stage of a process that produces proteins in cells. It’s the messenger and is normally single-stranded. However, when it’s double-stranded, RNA is sometimes also a molecule that can turn genes on off.
The RNA molecules used in genetic modification are known as double-stranded RNAs. These RNA molecules are already being explored for a number of uses.
A number of companies are planning to engineer plants with double-stranded RNAs to kill pests. Some are also planning to make sprays that carry RNA into the cells of weeds.
Double-stranded RNA is being tested as a feed supplement to make bees resistant to viruses, or to kill bee mites.
And GM plants with nutritional characteristics altered through the introduction of novel double-stranded RNAs are already being grown for the human food supply.
RNA: the “new DNA” of genetic modification
Most traits in existing commercial genetically modified organisms are due to the introduction of one or more proteins by modifying DNA. But new modifications are based on the double-stranded RNA molecules that regulate production of proteins.
Double-stranded RNAs can “silence” genes. For example, a small double-stranded RNA molecule has been developed based on a fragment of the dvsnf7 gene. This can kill western corn rootworms when the molecule is added to their food, or when it is expressed (by GM) in the corn plants which the worms eat.
Although the mechanisms for this are still being described, there are already a number of GM crops based on this principle. It is also probable that all commercial GM crops produce unintended regulatory RNA molecules that have not been tested as part of the routine risk assessment.
Worse, one double-stranded RNA can produce unintended secondary RNA molecules that have different sequences and therefore potentially different targets. These can arise in the modified plant or in the cells of those who eat the modified plant.
We are concerned that what happens to pest insects and nematodes that eat these RNA molecules can also happen to other insects, wildlife and people. An increase or decrease in cell proteins can have important effects on our health. These effects vary depending on the protein, and the cells, organs or tissues to which the double-stranded RNA is delivered.
Small changes in the DNA sequence can change the spectrum and number of potentially affected genes. That is why in our view a risk assessment needs to consider each novel RNA created specifically, whether deliberately or inadvertently.
The risks of double-stranded RNA have not been systematically evaluated by any regulatory agency we know of, and there are no standard safety testing procedures.
In a recent issue of Environment International we published peer-reviewed research looking at risk assessments done by three different regulators affecting three countries. In all cases the regulators didn’t assess the risk of new double-stranded RNA molecules.
In Australia and New Zealand, a genetically modified plant is subject to an environmental risk assessment if it is to be used in a field trial or released for cultivation. A food safety assessment if it is to be used in food or animal feed.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand assesses GM plants that are safe for use as food. Seven plants approved by Food Standards have been deliberately modified to produce double-stranded RNAs.
Various GM wheat varieties have been assessed for field trial by the Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. These use the same double-stranded RNA technology. Neither regulator, to our knowledge, has assessed a GM plant for unintentionally created double-stranded RNAs.
Exposure incorrectly assessed
Double-stranded RNA produced in plants can be taken up by people through food, as shown in studies last year. Insects also take up RNA through food, which is why manufacturers are patenting dietary-based insecticides.
In another study a naturally produced double-stranded RNA was found to alter gene expression in mouse livers. Double stranded RNA could also alter gene expression in human tissue culture cells.
Until now regulators have rejected the possibility that people can be exposed to double-stranded RNA through food. There has therefore been no research into the safety of these molecules. In short, regulators avoid assessing potential safety issues by saying there were no risks to start with.
Were the regulators right but for the wrong reasons?
Various commentators have argued since RNA is already in the food we eat, it must be safe. Without evidence this reasoning is far from reassuring.
Only a small number of plants have been bred with intended changes to double-stranded RNA. And most of these have been withdrawn from sale, are not grown on commercial scales, or are in boutique crops such as Hawaiian papaya.
The amount of these RNAs in food now is unknown but is probably very small. Thus the argument of safety from existing experience is, at best, speculative. And it fails to account for unintended double-stranded RNAs.
If there are no experiments, we won’t know if double-stranded RNAs have an adverse impact or no impact. While we test food to some extent, there are no studies of other important sources of exposure such as inhalation. And critically, these studies are not on humans: even small differences between our genomes and those of the animals used in tests might have large consequences.
If we are to safely produce products that might contain novel double-stranded RNA molecules, there needs to be routine bioinformatics and transcriptomic testing.
The power of RNA should be used for the betterment of all. On the way, it should not become the snake oil of the 21st Century or the cause of avoidable catastrophes.
Jack Heinemann receives/has received funding from the Marsden Fund of New Zealand, the Brian Mason Trust, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the Safe Food Institute. He works at the University of Canterbury, a public research university.
Judy Carman is Director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research. She has received funding from the Safe Food Institute.
Sarah Agapito does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
When you think of food innovation, Bill Gates may not be the first person that springs to mind. As the founder of Microsoft, a company that disrupted the way we all work, rest and play, he may have some insights into what the future of food may be.
In a post on technology blog Mashable, Gates said that with a global population heading toward 9 billion, we are going to run out of land for raising livestock sooner or later.
Gates is bullish on the ability of technology, and three companies in particular to defeat the current reliance on meat as we know it.
“what makes them really interesting is their taste. Food scientists are now creating meat alternatives that truly taste like — and have the same “mouth feel” — as their nature-made counterparts.” wrote Gates.
“Flavor and texture have been the biggest hurdles for most people in adopting meat alternatives. But companies like Beyond Meat, Hampton Creek Foods and Lyrical are doing some amazing things.”
Beyond Meat makes chicken alternatives which Gates claims he could not discern from regular chicken.
Using technology to solve the worlds food problems might be a tantalising prospect, especially for someone like Gates who lives, breathes and (apparently) eats disruptive technology.But will the public accept these “fake foods”?
Whilst vegans and vegetarians may jump at the chance to get cheese, meat and eggs without any of the ethical concerns, mainstream food marketing has had a strong emphasis on natural for some years. Although the use of the word natural may be dropping, https://www.foodmag.com.au/news/food-labelling-trends-moving-away-from-natural-cla these are being replaced with more specific terms like GM Free and additive- or preservative-free.
So where does this leave food producers? Is there a movement towards natural, untouched food, or will the public be willing to accept meat, egg and cheese analogues?
Global News Bites keeps you up-to-date on what's happening around the world in food and beverage manufacturing.
Dr. Oz Says Organic Food Is Elitist, Do You Agree?
Dr. Mehemet Oz, daytime television host of Dr. Oz and the man behind bringing medicine and health to the masses, has found himself in a bit of hot water with the green food community after calling organic food consumers “elitists” “snooty” and “snobs” in a recent article for TIME magazine. Oz argues that the organic lifestyle is not only unconventional and undemocratic but also only reserved for the nation’s “1%”. But before we throw the scrubs clad doctor to the wolves, let’s dissect these notions on the basis that maybe, just maybe, there’s a little truth to his tirade. How often have we heard from friends, family and complete strangers online that eating organic is expensive, not practical and outside of their budget? We’ve all witnessed the single mom at the grocery store filling her cart up with conventional canned vegetables, sugary snacks and chips instead of opting for the healthier foods all in an attempt to stretch her budget and man her household. Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are riddled with fast-food restaurants, “soul food” hot spots, and junk food galore — with the occasional Farmer’s Market coming far and few between. Food deserts aren’t a myth. They are a true reality for millions of Americans living in disadvantaged communities. But guess who can afford to eat well ALL THE TIME? That 1% everyone is always talking about. https://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/12/dr-oz-says-organic-food-is-elitist-do-you-agree/
Owen Paterson backs UK-grown genetically modified food
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has backed introducing genetically modified (GM) food production in the UK. He said there were "real environmental benefits" to the technology and dismissed concerns about its impact on human health as "complete nonsense". It comes amid speculation that ministers are ready to relax control on the cultivation of GM crops. Although not illegal, to date no GM crops have been grown commercially in the British countryside. However, the coalition has allowed small-scale cultivation trials to take place. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Paterson said: "Emphatically we should be looking at GM … I'm very clear it would be a good thing. "The trouble is all this stuff about Frankenstein foods and putting poisons in foods. "There are real benefits, and what you've got to do is sell the real environmental benefits." Those in favour of the technology argue that it can increase crop yield and avoid the need for pesticides. But there was widespread public opposition to the introduction of GM food to Britain in the 1990s. Mr Paterson dismissed concerns about human health, arguing that widespread use of GM crops around the world meant people were already unwittingly eating GM food. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20664016
Global food production to slow following boom: UN report
Global food production will slow over the coming decade following an exceptional but unsustainable rate of growth in developing countries, with more investment needed in the sector, the UN's food agency said Thursday. "The average annual growth in global agricultural production through 2021 will slow to 1.7 percent, down from the 2.6 percent of the previous decade," the Food and Agriculture Organisation said in its yearly report. "Agriculture in many countries has grown at a pace that cannot be sustained," it said, adding that production shot up by over 50 percent over the last 12 years in Latin America as a whole and by 70 percent in Brazil alone. Production had also increased by over 40 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe and central Asia, and by 20 percent in the United States and western Europe, the Rome-based agency said. Biofuel production has also expanded rapidly over the past 10 to 15 years, particularly in the United States, Brazil and the European Union (EU), it said. Ethanol production in the United States shot up by 780 percent over the last 12 years while in Brazil it grew by 140 percent. This year, it absorbed over 37 percent of coarse grain crop in the United States and over 50 percent of Brazil's sugar cane crop. Biodiesel production absorbed almost 80 percent of the EU vegetable oil production. In countries such as Australia and Canada, growth in the biofuel sector has been strong, although less than in the primary producing countries. "The sector has proved the largest source of new demand for agricultural production in the past decade, and represents a new 'market fundamental'." https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Health/2012/Dec-06/197471-global-food-production-to-slow-following-boom-un-report.ashx#axzz2Egk8QuF6
Mixed Outcome in "Natural" Consumer Class Action Food Case
A decision last month in one of the many class action lawsuits targeting food makers epitomises much of what is wrong about America’s civil justice system generally, and the latest food labelling suits in particular. Two AriZona iced tea purchasers, on behalf of all similarly situated Californians, filed suit in The Food Court (aka The Northern District of California) under three California statutes. They argue that AriZona’s use of “natural” on some product labels is deceptive because the tea contains high fructose corn syrup and citric acid. On November 27, Judge Richard Seeborg granted in part and denied in part AriZona’s summary judgment motion, and also issued a modified certification of the suit as a class action. Plaintiff Lauren Ries claims she purchased an “All Natural Green Tea” at a gas station in 2006 because (among other reasons) she was thirsty and wanted something healthier than a soda. She couldn’t recall the price and doesn’t have a receipt. Plaintiff Serena Algozer says she bought various AriZona teas over several years but doesn’t recall the prices, doesn’t remember what label statements she relied on, and, doesn’t have receipts. Judge Seeborg ruled that Ms. Ries’s claims under two of the California laws were barred by their statutes of limitation. However, her claims under the third law, and all of Ms. Algozer’s claims, were allowed to proceed. Under the court’s interpretation of the proof needed for plaintiffs to survive a summary judgment motion, it did not matter that Ries and Algozer: had no proof of their purchases; had no evidence that they paid more for a “natural” iced tea than a comparable (“unnatural”?) product; and can’t be sure that they relied on the “natural” statement when buying the tea. https://www.forbes.com/sites/wlf/2012/12/10/mixed-outcome-in-natural-consumer-class-action-food-case/
Cuba enforces new law to promote food production
A new Cuban law on land usufruct came into force on Sunday with the purpose of boosting the island country’s food production. Under the Decree-Law 300 and its accompanying regulations, designed to expand the delivery of state-owned idle land, beneficiaries are allowed to build housing and other production-related properties. Also, the legislation increases the limit of land given to each beneficiary from 40 to 67 hectares, while including forestry and fruit production in the allowed activities. In addition, food producers are expected to enjoy tax reductions or exemptions after a new tax law comes into effect in January. Cuba has an agricultural area of some 6.6 million hectares, and the idle land was estimated at 1.8 million hectares four years ago, when the government began its delivery in usufruct. According to the National Land Control Center, the island now still has 975,000 hectares of idle areas to deliver in usufruct, and 65 percent of them are infested with marabou, a thorny shrub very difficult to eradicate. The Cuban government considers food production as a strategic issue. The country spends 2 billion U.S. dollars a year to import 80 percent of the food needed to meet domestic needs. https://www.nzweek.com/world/cuba-enforces-new-law-to-promote-food-production-36003/
U.K. Manufacturing Drops in Sign of Fourth-Quarter Weakness
U.K. manufacturing production fell more than economists forecast in October as food and alcohol slumped, indicating weakness in the economy at the start of the fourth quarter. Factory output dropped 1.3 percent from September, the most in four months, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. The median forecast of 28 economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 0.2 percent decline. Total industrial output unexpectedly fell 0.8 percent, a third consecutive decrease, led by mining, oil and gas. Manufacturers are under pressure as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis hurts demand in the U.K.’s biggest export market and a fiscal squeeze crimps sales at home. The Bank of England, which has said the economy may contract this quarter, left its bond- buying program on hold yesterday as it assesses the need for more stimulus after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne extended his austerity program. The data “raise the chances of a triple-dip recession in the wider economy,” said Samuel Tombs, an economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. “We continue to expect industrial production to fall further in 2013 as the euro zone’s recession deepens and high inflation holds back domestic consumer demand for manufactured goods.” The pound remained lower against the dollar after the report, and was trading at $1.6035 as of 10:10 a.m. in London, down 0.1 percent on the day. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.K. government bond was little changed at 1.74 percent. Out of 13 categories in manufacturing, 10 fell, two rose and one was unchanged in October, the statistics office said. The slump was led by food and alcohol production, with the latter falling 9.1 percent, the most since May 2011. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-07/u-k-manufacturing-drops-more-than-forecast-on-food-alcohol-1-.html
Food shortages in Syria send prices soaring, compounding hunger problem
Plenty of food lines the shelves in Abd al-Razzak’s warehouse, but only for those who can afford the sky-high prices needed to cover the bribes it took to transport it there. “There’s a powdered-milk factory in Latakia, but there are 13 security checkpoints to go through,” Razzak said, sitting in the darkened warehouse in this forlorn northwestern town, which has no electricity, no running water and trash pickup only when gas can be found for the trucks. “We have to pay a bribe at each checkpoint.” The United Nations’ World Food Program warned this week that the escalating violence in Syria is causing food shortages throughout the country. Factories have been bombed. Roads and farm fields are pockmarked with deep craters left by missiles. Thieves have held up trucks carrying food, as demand has swelled in towns housing at least 1.2 million Syrians displaced from their homes by the fighting, according to official estimates cited by the WFP. “The food security situation for many Syrians is rapidly deteriorating with the intensification of the conflict and its expansion to more areas,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. “Bread shortages are becoming more common with long queues in front of bakeries, a shortage of fuel, damage sustained by bakeries, and an increased demand from fresh waves of internally displaced people.” Some of the most acute food shortages are in northern Syria, where fighting has been intense since the summer. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/food-shortages-in-syria-send-prices-soaring-compounding-hunger-problem/2012/12/06/a47af3d4-3f22-11e2-bca3-aadc9b7e29c5_story.html
Libya pays extra for food imports as sellers fear disarray
Libya is having to pay extra for food imports and traders say some foreign firms are diverting shipments elsewhere due to fears – dismissed as unfounded by Tripoli – that growing disarray in the country could delay payments. The North African state, much of which is desert, is a big food buyer and has stepped up purchases of staples including wheat and sugar since the end of fighting last year that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Tripoli shop shelves are now full of foreign produce. But while international traders had viewed oil producing Libya as a lucrative market, some now say they are backing off from trade. "Libya has a huge amount of oil wealth, but its chaotic administration and fears about non-payment are still giving it a bad reputation in international trade," a European grain trader said. Companies contacted by Reuters could not cite concrete cases of default by Libyan importers, but rather unease that payment could be delayed, not least by cumbersome bureaucracy. "There is an unspoken Libya premium in the grain trade which the country has to pay for grain imports despite the fact that its huge oil wealth should make it a grade one customer to sell to," another European grain trader said. "Traders need the extra money because of payment risks and the general uncertainty in the pretty chaotic government there." Traders cited a Nov. 14 tender where Libya paid $395 per tonne on a cost and freight (c&f) basis for 30,000 tonnes of soft wheat. "On the very same day, Jordan, by no means a rich country but a reliable…trading partner, paid only $378 a tonne c&f for 50,000 tonnes of higher quality wheat including more expensive shipment costs," the second trader said. https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/03/libya-trade-idUSL5E8MU51520121203
Global News Bites keeps you up-to-date on what's happening around the world in food and beverage manufacturing.
India will have to double food production by 2040
“Our current food production is 250 MT and we must double it by 2040 to feed the ever-increasing population. There is an urgent need to undertake a second Green Revolution by bringing research institutions, industry, governments and farmers together,” said Gokul Patnaik, Chairman, Conferences CII Agro Tech 2012. The inaugural conference at CII Agro Tech focused on the future of Indian agriculture and sustaining Indian agriculture growth. Patnaik, while chairing the international conference said, “Our aim should be to take technology to the Indian farmer and guide the farmer and the farm industry towards maximum value creation. In order to meet the GDP projected target, we have to register at least 4 per cent growth in agriculture sector.” Param Vir Singh, Minister of Agriculture, Haryana, the chief guest saidthat in order to have inclusive growth, growth in agriculture sector is of paramount importance. Salil Singhal, Co-Chairman, CII National Committee on Agriculture, said that since 65 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture, the need of the hour is to revamp agriculture to make it economically viable. “We have to bring global technological advancements to the door step of the farmers,” he said. https://www.indianexpress.com/news/-india-will-have-to-double-food-production-by-2040-/1039151
Sacramento firm recalls soy products due to filth
A Sacramento food company is recalling its soy products after government inspectors found unsanitary conditions at its processing facility. The California Department of Public Health said Friday the Wa Heng Dou Fu & Soy Sauce Corp. voluntarily recalled all of its products, including soy sauce, soy milk and tofu. The Sacramento firm sent a recall notice Thursday asking its customers to return or discard all its products manufactured before Nov. 28 due to "potential contamination with filth." Public health officials say they inspected the facility Thursday and determined it was clean enough to resume operations. There have been no reported illnesses associated with the recalled products. https://www.sacbee.com/2012/11/30/5022757/sacramento-firm-recalls-soy-products.html
Giant Food recalls veggie burgers due to listeria scare
Retail chain Giant Food of Landover, Md., has announced a recall of Veggie Patch meatless burgers due to possible contamination by listeria monocytogenes. In an update at PRNewswire, the company reported that it has removed remaining packages from sale in its 170 stores in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. The product affected by the recall is Veggie Patch Ultimate Meatless Burger. Specific packages carry the UPC code 61012900211 and sell-by date of January 12, 2013. All affected packages have a net weight of 9 oz. Giant has received no reports of illnesses to date but urges customers who bought the product to discard any unused portions. They may also bring their purchase receipt to Giant for a full refund. Listeria is a common organism. Consumption of food contaminated with listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, a rare but potentially fatal disease. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and nausea. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths. Healthy people are at low risk for contracting listeriosis, but infections in people with weakened immune systems, such as infants and elderly, pose a grave health risk. https://www.examiner.com/article/giant-food-recalls-veggie-burgers-due-to-listeria-scare
Food inspection agency says Canadian beef meets same standards as export product
The Conservative government is refuting opposition claims that Canada has a "two-tiered" food inspection system that puts the quality of beef exports ahead of meat consumed at home. A memo from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to its employees at the XL Foods processing plant in Brooks, Alta., instructed some inspectors to ignore contamination on cattle carcasses unless they were destined for Japan. The agency responded Thursday by saying the same safety standards apply to meat for domestic consumption and for overseas exports, and reports to the contrary are "categorically false." "As the CFIA has confirmed, the meat sold in Canada is just as safe as meat exported to other countries," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons. "There are strict food safety standards in this country. That is the law." XL Foods became the epicentre of one of the largest beef recalls in Canadian history earlier this year after meat contaminated with E. coli was stopped at the Canada-U.S. border in September. People in at least four provinces were found to have been made ill by the E. coli strain; it wasn't until October that the XL plant was allowed to resume production. https://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/all/Food+inspection+agency+says+Canadian+beef+meets+same/7627737/story.html
FAO official hails Qatar’s food security program
Qatar, in its effort to achieve food security, has taken many steps, and as a result of its “good food security strategy” the country is going to change the situation in the years to come, a senior official of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told The Peninsula on the sidelines of the UNFCCC (COP18) here. “Qatar has launched its own national food security programme and I participated in a conference only two weeks ago where it presented for Qatar and also for the other dry lands an alliance to increase food production in the region in order to be less dependent”, said Alexander Muller, Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources Management and Environment Department (NR) at FAO. However, he also added that the soil conditions and water resources in Qatar are not enough to produce food for everybody. So in the next several years Qatar will continue to export energy and import food. “I am aware that they are going to change the situation which is a sign of a good food security strategy”. Asked to comment about the significance of food security and food sovereignty in the context of GCC countries, he said: “There is an intensive debate, ‘is food security enough or should we have food sovereignty? From an FAO point of view, we are respecting what our member countries want. Some countries want to focus on food sovereignty while others want a food security at a global scale which includes trade also. We are committed to serving the needs of our member countries.” https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/qatar/216143-fao-official-hails-qatar%E2%80%99s-food-security-programme.html
EU food agency dismisses anti-GM study
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) gave its final dismissal on Wednesday to a French study which had suggested that genetically modified (GM) crops could be harmful to health. Researchers at the university of Caen in northern France said rats fed a type of GM maize died younger than average and suffered a range of cancers and tumours. Their findings, published in September, caused a sensation and rekindled fears about the safety of GM food. But EFSA said there were "serious defects in the design and methodology" of their scientific work, meaning there was "no need to re-examine previous safety evaluations" of the GM crop in question. EFSA's "final" assessment confirmed a preliminary one published on October 4, where the European Union body, based in Parma, Italy, spoke of "insufficient scientific quality (for the French research) be considered as valid for risk assessment." Separate evaluations conducted in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands reached similar critical conclusions, EFSA said Wednesday. "We believe the completion of this evaluation process has brought clarity to the issue," Per Bergman, the scientist who led EFSA's work on the issue, said in a statement. https://news.ninemsn.com.au/health/2012/11/29/16/01/eu-food-agency-dismisses-anti-gm-study
Natural wine? Serve it to the tooth fairy, say sceptics
Natural wine? Who could possibly object? With a desire for healthy, sustainable food stimulating trends like the farm to table movement and Slow Food, natural wine is positioning itself as the perfect accompaniment. But according to some experts, the unregulated use of the term ‘natural’ is misleading gullible consumers as well as polarising the wine trade. “These are all things that don’t exist — natural wines, the tooth fairy and Father Christmas,” says Robert Joseph, a wine trade veteran who is one of the most prominent naysayers. Natural wine does not exist as a legal category in the European Union, despite flourishing movements in Italy or France, the two biggest producers in the 27-nation bloc. https://www.themalaysianinsider.com/food/article_food/natural-wine-serve-it-to-the-tooth-fairy-say-sceptics
US scientists challenge scares about food links to cancer
They are mainstay stories of tabloid newspapers and women's magazines, linking common foods from burnt toast to low-fat salad dressing to cancer. But now US scientists have warned that many reports connecting familiar ingredients with increased cancer risk have little statistical significance and should be treated with caution. "When we examined the reports, we found many had borderline or no statistical significance," said Dr Jonathan Schoenfeld of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. In a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Schoenfeld and his co-author, John Ioannidis of Stanford University, say trials have repeatedly failed to find effects for observational studies which had initially linked various foods to cancer. Nevertheless these initial studies have often triggered public debates "rife with emotional and sensational rhetoric that can subject the general public to increased anxiety and contradictory advice". Recent reports have linked colouring in fizzy drinks, low-fat salad dressing, burnt toast and tea to elevated cancer risk. In the past, red meat, hot dogs, doughnuts and bacon have also been highlighted. The cancer risks involved in excess alcohol consumption are not disputed by scientists, but other links have been less easy to substantiate. https://www.todayonline.com/Focus/Health/EDC121202-0000019/US-scientists-challenge-scares-about-food-links-to-cancer
Australia has one of the more rigorous food labelling systems in the world for genetically modified (GM) attributes. All foods with more than 1% GM in any ingredient are required to be identified as “genetically modified” on the label, other than at restaurants.
But some stakeholders are demanding more extensive labelling. Given that the current system is already quite tough, we need to ask why more is needed. But first, let’s look at what we do right now.
There’s a great disparity between how different foods are labelled in Australia.
Non-GM food products with very real serious risks of containing allergens, such as nuts, are allowed on the market with no more than a “may contain” label. And we still accept artificial food ingredients with established health risks, such as trans fats, without a labelling requirement.
But lobbyists and consumer interest groups have focused on the labelling of genetically modified food. This seems to be much more of a political and commercial marketing campaign than one based on science, the environment or health.
There’s no scientific evidence for health or environmental risks from genetically modified crops. To the contrary, there’s scientific consensus that foods from GM crops are at least as safe as foods from conventional crops.
And, in contrast to genetically modified crops, conventional plant breeding is not routinely evaluated for unintended effects, even though detailed evaluation consistently shows GM crops to be less risky than conventionally bred crops.
Despite the greater riskiness of conventional breeding, there has been no major campaign for special labelling of new crop varieties.
What’s more, there is no concerted campaign for compulsory labelling for other food-related issues of concern to consumers, such pesticide use or child labour. Indeed, despite international concern about child labour in cocoa production, there is no required labelling of chocolate for such disclosure.
The Greens can’t even get much support for a campaign on country-of-origin labelling for food. It seems odd that if you want to eat GM-free in Australia for whatever reason, you can make choices more easily than trying to find foods sourced from Australian farms.
Consumers already have access to a range of labels and information allowing them to avoid foods grown from genetically modified crops. And even though there are no genetically-modified fresh fruits or vegetables in Australia, you’ll see plenty of “non-GM” labels if you take a quick walk through the supermarket.
This is peculiar in itself because there are such labels on canola oil even though genetically-modified commercial canola oil is not detectably different from oil originating from plants that are not genetically modified.
Consumer choice is clearly not the most important value here. So, what else could be going on?
The leading Australian promoters of campaigns for GM labelling don’t reveal their funding sources. But information about the financial interests behind the same push is available in California, where there’s a current ballot proposition to require labelling of GM foods.
The leading funder of the labelling campaign in California, businessman Joseph Mercola, is refreshingly honest about his motivation – and it’s not consumer choice. Mercola has contributed more than $1.1 million to the campaign so far, and also does business in Australia.
Mercola has said, “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labelling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85% of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market just the way it was done in Europe.”
Mercola is a colourful character. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 warned him against making illegal claims regarding the usefulness of his alternative medicines for detecting, preventing and treating disease.
It seems his campaign is not about better consumer choice, but rather elimination of consumer choice. Consumers tend to believe that labels warn of unspecified dangers and people such as Mercola seek to exploit their fears.
Retailers of organic food and other “natural products” also gain a marketing advantage from frightening publicity about genetically-modified foods.
Besides Mercola, the major funders of the GM labelling initiative in California include Nature’s Path Foods, the Organic Consumers Fund (which includes 3000 cooperating retail coops, natural food stores, and farmers markets) and Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps. All these companies contributed between $300,000 to $985,000 each to the campaign.
Debate about GM crops and their labelling will undoubtedly continue. But we need to be honest about the motivations of at least some of the business interests behind these campaigns. And we need to be aware that the campaign to go further than what is already a rigorous labelling regime is more complicated than just giving consumers choice.
More than 10 years ago, Richard Roush was part of a team that was given $20,000 in total from Monsanto and Bayer in partial support (about 20% of the research budget) for a project on pollen flow in canola. He currently has a grant from the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (which is part funded by the Australian government) for risk assessment for GM canola. The GRDC is not opposed to GM crops per se.
David Tribe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article except the University of Melbourne, where he is paid for teaching research and community outreach by a standard salary arrangement with the University. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.
French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini caused quite a stir last week when he claimed he’d shown cancer in rats increased when they were fed genetically modified corn and/or water spiked with the herbicide Roundup. The paper, which seven of his colleagues co-authored, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
France’s ministers for agriculture, ecology and health responded swiftly by commissioning the National Agency for Health and Safety to look into the claims. Depending on the findings, they could invoke an emergency suspension of imports of the Monsanto GM maize strain NK603, used in the study, into Europe. Now that’s what I call high impact.
But how did the authors come to their conclusion? And can such a significant claim be made using the study data?
The study focuses on cancers in rats. For this they use the Harlan Sprague-Dawley strain of rat, which is known to be predisposed to getting cancer. Lots of them. Over 70% of males and 87% of females from this strain reportedly get cancer during their lifetime, whether they have been fed GM corn or not. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many of Seralini’s rats were found with cancer.
To make sense of this study you have to ask the simple question: “does feeding rats GM corn and/or Roundup increase the frequency of cancers compared with rats that have been given non-GM food?”
To do this, the authors of the study split up 200 rats into ten groups. One “control” group (ten male and ten female) were fed non-GM corn and had access to plain water. The researchers monitored for the development of cancer over a period of two years.
Nine other groups of twenty rats (ten male and ten female) were also monitored, but this time, these groups were given food containing 11%, 22% or 33% of NK603 GM corn, 11%, 22% or 33% of NK603 GM corn treated with Roundup*, or just had Roundup spiked in their drinking water at different concentrations.
The male and female rats in the control group lived for just under two years. Other studies identified that these rats die from cancer or kidney failure around this time. But the authors don’t mention this. They simply write:
“ After mean survival time had elapsed, any deaths that occurred were considered to be largely due to aging.”
They have effectively chosen not look at – and therefore don’t have to report on – why rats in the control group died. This assumption alone is sufficient grounds for rejecting this paper from publication.
Treatment group vs the control
In the study, Figure 1 (view here) shows Kaplan Meier plots the number of rat deaths by “control group” and other “treatment groups”.
What do these mean? Well, not much because the authors failed to use a statistical test to tell if there was a difference between the control groups and treatment groups.
This is important, as all their claims relate to the incidence of cancers (and other “diseases”) in the “treatment group” compared to the “control group”. These comparisons can only be made if a statistical test shows that what you observe is not happening by chance.
Overstating the evidence
Still on Figure 1, we see that several “treatment groups” of male rats receiving GM NK603 corn (the 22% group and 33% group) actually had fewer cancers than the male control group at their arbitrarily determined point of assessment.
Similarly, a treatment group of male rats receiving 33% GM corn and Roundup had no difference to the control group, and two treatment groups receiving Roundup (A and C) had the same or less incidence of cancer compared with the control group.
By their perverted logic, they could equally claim that for male rats:
a) high percentages of GM corn (22% and 33%) was “protective” against getting cancer compared to group of control male rats
b) having 33% of GM corn with Roundup showed no difference to the control group and therefore wasn’t harmful to male rats, and
c) using 0.5% Roundup in the drinking water was protective against cancer in male rats compared to the the male control group.
But you can’t. You can no more make these statements than the claims about the increased incidence of cancers in the female rats in the various treatment groups. No statements can be made because no statistical test has been applied.
The full picture
One sentence that should set alarm bells ringing is the claim that “All data cannot be shown in one report.”
The retort to that statement is, “Oh yes it can. Please show it to me”. If you are reporting data, you need to show all the data.
Not enough space? Put it in the supplemental data.
In the data section, the authors show examples of pathology, histology and electron microscopy images of affected organs in the treatment groups and mention results from genetic testing of samples. All well and good, but for the genetic tests, they don’t show any data other than a statement of claim.
They also don’t present any biochemical data from the male rats – half of all their studied rats. In the legend for table 3 (which shows the “Percentage variation of parameters indicating kidney failures of female animals), they claim "Male kidney pathologies are already illustrated in Table 2” (which shows a “Summary of the most frequent anatomical pathologies observed”). But we’re not shown the raw, unmanipulated data, tested with standard statistical tests, for males and females.
The authors then go on to describe the cancers in detail. They state:
“ Up to 14 months, no animals in the control groups showed any signs of tumors whilst 10–30% of treated females per group developed tumors, with the exception of one group (33% GMO + R).”
Well done. They have just created a non-predefined outcome measure and made a biologically nonsensical statement.
Do they mean to imply that female rats eating the highest percentage of GM corn with Roundup are mysteriously no more affected than the female control group, compared to other female “treatment groups” which were somehow more affected?
Once again, no statistical test is applied and no conclusions can be drawn.
Further, they don’t describe diseases affecting the “control group”. At all. By neglecting to state if there were any changes in the “control group”, you cannot make any statement about the “treatment groups”. That’s why you have controls.
So, what have we learnt?
This study has shown that old Harlan Sprague-Dawley rats get cancers and other diseases. This has been shown before.
What this study does not show is that exposing these rats to GM corn and/or Roundup makes any difference to the frequency of cancers or other diseases. It can’t because no statistical tests have been applied, and perhaps most worryingly, the authors do not comprehensively report on why rats in the control group died.
This study can hardly be the basis from which any government should make policy decisions or draw conclusions about the safety of the NK603 GM maize or Roundup.
Kevin Rudd has slammed the UN food agency for failing to do enough for food security and warned that fears around a repeat of the 2007-08 food crisis are justified.
The former Prime Minister, who was infamously ousted by the Labor party in 2010 in favour of Julia Gillard, and then became Foreign Minister, has always had a particular focus on international affairs.
He told a conference in Hong Kong yesterday that the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), needs to provide effective advice, rather than just release "another set of reports".
"The fact that we're having this kind of conference is an indictment of the failure of the FAO," he told the meeting – titled Feeding the world: Asia's Prospect of Plenty – which was organised by The Economist magazine,” he said.
"The execution of its mandate, which is food security, must now be done.
"A practical program against the billions of people who are hungry in the world today needs to be done – not another set of reports, not another set of committees.
“Action, action, action," he told reporters later.
Rudd said then that food security to be on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth the following month, as well as the G20 summit in Cairns last November.
He also called then for a push for trade liberalisation to provide access to give poor African countries access to European and US markets.
Earlier this month the FAO called for "swift, coordinated international action" to deal with the increased cost of maize, wheat and soybean, which has sparked fears of another food crisis.
While there was plenty of joking about the “tragedy” of a shortage of bacon as a result of the US droughts, the unseasonable weather has actually already created immense problems with the availability of foods that could have flow-on effects for some time.
And it’s not just in the US, as low monsoon rainfall in India led the FAO to cut its global 2012 rice output forecast.
Farmers and agricultural experts slammed the suggestions, saying current regulations are hindering the industry, not helping it, and significant changes would have to be made make the Asia an export possibility the government wants.
"Hunger is the world's most challenging problem," UN World Food Programme China director Brett Rierson said.
"There is a common perception that hunger is an African problem, but two-thirds of them are from Asia so hunger is here in Asia," he said.
The Zimbabwean government is being urged to lift its ban on genetically modified (GM) food.
The country allows foods that have been genetically modified in other countries to be imported, but currently do not allow it on their own land.
Imported GM products have been flooding supermarkets since stringent import regulations were relaxed in 2009, when the country suspended the local currency.
The current rules mean that it is cheaper for people to buy the imported goods than those grown locally, which is damaging the Zimbabwean growers and distributers.
Wholesale food importing companies have subsequently sprung up throughout Zimbabwe’s capital, allowing working class families to enjoy foods such as poultry for the first time in a long time, by buying in bulk.
While the consumers are obviously fine with the GM foods coming in from overseas, the local government is still opposed to the practise locally.
Agriculture minister Joseph Made said the country will not allow farmers to produce GM foods because they contain toxic substances that are harmful to consumers' health and are less nutritious than organic foods.
His position has been criticised, however, as Zimbabwean farmers use pesticides and fertiliser during farming, so locally produced food, is not necessarily organic.
But influential lobbyists are putting the pressure on it to rethink the legislation, including the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), which last month announced it was asking the government to allow farmers to plant GMO crops to boost agricultural production after a succession of poor harvests.
"We will continue pushing for the embracing of GMO production, using GMO technology," the CZI said in a statement, adding that exporting such food would be a starting point.
Science and technology minister Heneri Dzinotyiwei has confirmer the Zimbabwean government is reviewing its policy on GM foods.
In Australia, genetic modification of food is allowed, but many are still opposed to the practise and want more transparency about foods that have been altered.
France’s Government has asked a health watchdog to probe the safety of GM corn after scientific research linked the food to higher cancer rates in lab rats.
French scientists at the University Caen in Normandy released a study that said rats fed with NK603 corn developed tumours and that a possible risk to humans could exist, The Age reported.
The paper found low levels of both the GM corn strain and Roundup — the world's best selling weed-killer — could cause major health effects over a rats' 2-year life-time, including mammary tumours and kidney and liver damage.
Up to 50 per cent of males and 70 per cent of females tested in the study died prematurely, compared with 30 per cent of rats in a control group.
However, the study has been criticised by independent researchers who say the species of rats used in the research are highly prone to tumours.
The strain of GM corn at the centre of the new study is sold, but not grown, in Australia. It is used in products such as corn syrup, cornflour and corn oil.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand said it had not seen compelling evidence of a safety risk.
FSANZ chief scientist Paul Brent said it would look at any new research, but its confidence in the safety of GM products was backed by regulatory counterparts in the US, Canada, Japan and Europe.
Scott Kinnear, director of GM-sceptic organisation the Safe Food Foundation, said the research highlighted a deficiency in local regulatory processes.
"To ensure that the public is protected against further exposure, there is an urgent need for a fundamental overhaul of the regulatory framework," he said.
Parents in China’s Hunan province have expressed concerns that a study their children participated in served GM rice to the youngster’s without their parent’s knowledge.
The study was conducted as part of a joint project between Tufts University in the US and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Nutrition and Food Safety Institute to try and combat malnutrition amongst children in rural areas.
The corresponding research paper said that in 2008, 68 children in Hengyang, Hunan province, were fed golden rice — a GM variety of rice — to test if it could help children with vitamin A deficiencies.
However, conflicting reports from multiple sources as to whether the rice was in fact genetically modified have led to a flurry of media reports and speculation.
One of the authors listed on the paper, Yin Shi'an, has stated that the study did not use GM rice and that the vegetables and rice fed to the children as part of the study were all purchased locally.
Hu Yuming, a researcher at the Hunan CDC who is listed as the second author of the research paper, also denied the use of golden rice and added that he had not been asked by the journal to sign the paper before the publication.
There have also been conflicting reports regarding the application process that would have allowed US researchers to import and administer golden rice as part of the study, with some Chinese officials stating that there would have been no issue for the researchers whilst others maintain that no official application was received.
All this has done little to quell the fears of the involved children’s parents, who read about the paper on the internet and now worry that their children have been exposed to potentially harmful, untested GM ingredients.
As reported by China Daily, the parent’s confusion is being compounded by the conflicting reports and a history of deliberate misinformation and health cover-ups by the government.
Organic food may come with less pesticides but there’s little evidence it’s better for you, say researchers from Stanford University.
In a study published today in Annals of Internal Medicine, Dena Bravata from Stanford’s Centre for Health Policy argues there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods if consumers are making a decision based solely on their health.
The researchers analysed 237 papers including studies of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various vegetables and meats grown organically and conventionally.
“Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious,“ said study author Crystal Smith-Spangler, who is an instructor of medicine at Stanford. "We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”
Based on their review of the health outcomes, nutrition and safety of organic and conventional foods, the study authors argued there is limited evidence for the superiority of organic foods.
“The evidence does not suggest marked health benefits from consuming organic versus conventional foods,” they wrote in the report.
The study did however find that organic produce is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional fruits and vegetables.
“Our research shows organic consumers are more interested in what’s not in their food – such as pesticides and antibiotics – than what is,” said Liza Oates, who is currently researching the health effects of organic diets at RMIT University.
“This review has confirmed that organic foods have lower levels of pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The fact that they failed to find strong evidence that organic foods have more nutrients is relatively predictable,” Ms Oates said.
She added that research in the US has shown eating organic food has a dramatic effect on pesticide residues in children.
“Substituting non-organic fruits and vegetables with organics for five days resulted in an almost complete reduction in organophosphate pesticide residues.”
However Tim Crowe, associate professor of nutrition at Deakin University, said pesticide levels are always checked in Australia and found to be within safe limits.
Professor Crowe said while there’s a very strong perception that organic foods are going to be much better for us, and for our health, studies have found little evidence of a major difference.
“The biggest health problems facing Australians are to do with over consumption of food, not inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables,” Professor Crowe said.
If you get a feel good health effect from eating organic fruit and vegetables, by all means eat them, but I’d be more worried about eating five serves of fruit and veg a day rather than eating organic food.”
But taste, environmental benefits, and animal welfare issues are other important aspects of organically grown food said Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist and visiting fellow at University of New South Wales.
“Animal welfare is a major issue for many people and reducing use of pesticides is always wise. Many permissable pesticide residue limits have been reduced over time,” Dr Stanton said.
She said taste is another factor with some studies showing better taste from organically produced foods, although added this is a difficult area and may also reflect the varieties of crops grown in large commercial conventional farming versus the varieties that may be grown by smaller organic farmers. “I think in home, school and community gardens, organically grown produce is definitely to be preferred since exposure of growers to chemical substances can be problematic and the general public has no training in appropriate use of pesticides.”
Consumers around the world are demanding greater transparency when it comes to food labels and it seems the EU is one government that is listening, having just announced that new food labelling laws will come into effect by the end of 2012.
Products sold on the European market will be required to display eco-labelling, informing consumers of the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted during the manufacture, packaging, transport, and overall lifecycle of consumer products, allowing shoppers to have a direct influence on whether products with a high-environmental impact survive in the marketplace.
By providing consumers with the data they need to make an informed choice, the EU hopes that demand will increase for items that are produced in more sustainable ways.
The EU has a pretty solid record when it comes to keeping consumers informed, with requirements in place around GMO labelling and increased efforts in the last few years to address obesity through labelling and other government initiatives.
This is in stark contrast to the US where a very public war is being waged between Big Ag and consumer & environmental interest groups as to the merits of compulsory GMO labelling.
Biotech giant Monsanto has spent US$4.2 million so far opposing California’s Proposition 37 which would require mandatory labelling for products containing GMO ingredients.
This once again highlights where the power lies when it comes to food policy in Europe vs the US, where food policy is determined by Washington wrangling and deal-making between politicians and lobbyists, who decry governmental intervention as an infringement on American freedoms.
As more countries, including Quebec and Japan, introduce these measures (France is coming towards the end of a year-long trial of mandatory eco-labelling) it remains to be seen how long Big Business in the US can fight consumer demands to be informed.
Humans have always faced tricky safety problems with food because we eat plants, which are the most ingenious pesticide chemists on the planet. Plants produce an amazing panoply of chemicals to deter animals from eating them. We’ve responded biologically to this challenge by evolving chemical detoxification mechanisms in the liver.
Culturally, we’ve responded by inventing cooking and other food pre-treatments that allow us to eat dangerous foods, such as kidney beans, rapeseed oil and tapioca.
We even add spice to life by adding low quantities of plant poisons to recipes to improve flavour. And we breed our crop plants to reduce toxins. In short, “natural foods” are not necessarily safe and most of our crops are not as natural selection produced them.
Safety assessment of genetically engineered food (called GM or transgenic food) is yet another application of human ingenuity and the harnessing of past experience to obtain sustenance. It starts by careful comparison of the genetically-modified food (and any new components that are deliberately added to that food) against the safety record of existing dietary components for which we have a history of safe human consumption.
All new genetically engineered foods are assessed in a systematic way by food safety agencies (such as FSANZ in Australia), and detailed descriptions of these assessments appear on agency websites.
Assessments involve tests of proteins for toxicity in animal-feeding trials and tests for changes in the allergen content of the food. Scientists have completed numerous animal-feeding studies to ensure the safety of genetically-modified foods.
A comprehensive analysis of chemical composition is also carried out. The genetic stability of crop varieties is checked, as are the detailed structure of the DNA inserts. Extensive use of gene and protein databases enables better assessment of the chance of adverse outcomes.
But many people continue to worry about unexpected changes to food when it is genetically engineered. This concern has caught the attention of many scientists, whose response has been to evaluate the odds of unexpected adverse outcomes by comprehensive chemical and genetic surveys of crop varieties (chemical fingerprinting).
The good news from 44 different genetically-modified crops' chemical fingerprinting studies (including work on maize, soybean, wheat and barley) is that the chance of unintended changes with transgenic crops is less than the risk of unintended changes occurring in new crop varieties created by conventional breeding.
These food fingerprinting investigations show the precise composition of a crop is readily affected by the position of the plant in the field in which it is being grown, climatic differences between farms, variation in soil chemistry and differences in crop composition generated by conventional breeding. These factors all produce more unexpected alteration of food composition than do the methods used to make GM food crops.
In a recent critical report by an anti-GM group, these major findings are not given adequate recognition. Indeed, one may reasonably ask why anti-GM reports should be given credence when they ignore well documented science from numerous independent laboratories.
Natural genetic engineering
A huge body of basic discoveries in genetics demonstrate that in nature and in farm fields, plant chromosomes are continually subjected to numerous DNA insertions and chromosome rearrangements that mimic the changes that occur when new DNA is introduced by genetic engineering.
These DNA changes come from a variety of processes, including radiation damage and the activities of numerous virus-like DNA parasites that are abundant in plant chromosomes. This frequent natural DNA scrambling is ignored by critics of GM technology.
One example of such “natural genetic engineering” was recently found in studies of an unusual (non-GM) orange tree variety growing in Sicily. This is a variety that produces blood-red oranges. The red fruit pigments are anthocyanin plant chemicals that are absent from the juice of conventional sweet oranges and may well have beneficial health properties.
Blood-orange varieties emerged several centuries ago as a natural mutation. We now know that this mutation occurred by insertion of a mobile genetic parasite near a key gene, called Ruby, whose activity is needed for successful red pigment formation. Ruby was turned on by the accidental insertion of parasitic DNA near her location in the chromosome.
This is the type of genetic manipulation that genetic engineers do in the lab but, in this case, a natural DNA parasite did it in a Sicilian orange grove.
Another example of natural genetic engineering was discovered in an Illinois soybean field in 1987, where a (non-GM) colour-mutated soybean flower appeared spontaneously in a field of soybeans.
This natural mutation was named wp. It’s interesting to crop-breeders and farmers because it produces larger soybean seeds that are richer in protein. Further investigation showed that in the wp mutation, a complicated new DNA insertion into the soybean chromosome triggered flower pigment formation. This complicated DNA rearrangement was catalysed by a natural DNA parasite.
DNA parasites are foreign DNA. They are triggered into movement to a new chromosome site when plant cells are stressed. This happens when inter-species crop hybrids are formed by cross-pollination (which is often the case in conventional breeding of major food or feed crops such as wheat or Triticale), or by the stresses of cold nights in Sicilian orange groves.
Geneticists have discovered numerous inter-species transfers of genetic parasites, but more to the point, they have discovered examples of movement across species boundaries of other types of genes, such as those involved in important crop physiological activities.
Just this last February, for instance, scientists from Brown University in the United States showed that genes providing more efficient photosynthesis have moved between distantly related grass species.
All the key features of laboratory genetic manipulation of crops — random DNA insertion in chromosomes, foreign DNA, altered expression of genes, DNA rearrangements — are exhibited by natural genetic mutations that occur in plants.
Our exposure to unexpected genetic events occurring in genetically-engineered food is lower than our exposure to the unintended genetic changes served up by conventional foods we’ve eaten for years. And underpinning this more recent scientific finding is the fact that there’s solid assurance of GM food safety from the intense scientific scrutiny and government oversight that GM food has received at all stages of its development over the last 30 years and more. Food from GM crops is at least as safe as traditional foods.
David Tribe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article except the University of Melbourne, where he is paid for teaching research and community outreach by a standard salary arrangement with the University. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.