Category Archives: Nutrition

The Organic Food Protectionists

Just unreal how this entire movement has morphed into…? Its not about science.
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If you can’t beat them, ask the government to stigmatize them. That’s the adage in Oregon and Colorado, where organic-farming interests posing as champions of consumer transparency are hoping to persuade voters to approve ballot initiatives on Nov. 4 requiring costly and useless food labels.

Oregon’s Measure 92 and Colorado’s Proposition 105 would force food manufacturers and retailers to stick a “produced with genetic engineering” notice on grocery store foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, which come from crops whose DNA has been tweaked to help farmers reap a better harvest.

GMOs are in everything from cookies to breakfast cereal, and people have eaten trillions of GMO meals without a single documented illness since the technology began rolling out in the mid-1990s. Multiple scientific studies have found that GM crops are as safe and nutritious as conventional counterparts.

No matter. The labeling initiatives would require farmers who sell crops in Oregon and Colorado to implement entirely new inventory procedures, with cost inefficiencies rippling across the supply chain to manufacturers and retailers. Who pays? Consumers, who can expect to spend as much as $500 more a year on food for a family of four if such measures pass, according to a recent GMO labeling study by two Cornell University scientists.

Oregon’s enforcement plan involves minting two state bureaucracies that will cost an estimated $14 million every two years, though neither measure limits taxpayer spending. Measure 92 includes an extra treat for trial lawyers: Anyone can sue farmers, manufacturers or retailers.

The labeling crowd’s line is that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating—not that these labels will tell them. The GMO distinction is meaningless: Genetic modification builds on breeding techniques that farmers have been using since they began tilling the earth 10,000 years ago. Moreover, the proposals exempt certain foods like meat and dairy products made from animals that munch on genetically modified feed, a dispensation that will only mislead consumers.
Opinion Journal Video
Assistant Editorial Features Editor Kate Bachelder on organic food labeling ballot initiatives in several states, and what’s at stake for consumers. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Oh, and consumers can already avoid GMOs. The USDA offers a certified organic label to producers whose food, among other qualifications, does not contain GMOs. The nonprofit Non-GMO Project has its own label with more than 20,000 certified products.

So what’s all this really about? First, making an extra buck: Oregon’s $233 million a year organic farm-gate sales industry “must be protected,” the initiative says. Requiring GMO labels, it notes later, may “create additional market opportunities” for non-GMO producers.

Long-term, the organic protectionists want to eliminate this safe, reliable technology that’s revolutionized agriculture and made food more affordable. The Organic Consumers Association, whose lobbying arm pitched in $300,000 for Measure 92, calls for a “global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops” on its website. Labeling is merely step one.

The labeling movement is getting outspent 2 to 1 in Oregon, as companies like Monsanto , Pepsi and Kraft Foods drop millions, but this is not the underdog story organic proponents are claiming. The Center for Food Safety Action Fund—now, there’s a non-transparent label—has spent about $1 million and organized an extensive grass-roots effort against GMOs, while Ben & Jerry’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill are adding to the PR push.

The Beaver State fended off a similar initiative in 2002, and Colorado’s labeling movement is disorganized. Yet the moment may be ripe as unfounded GMO skepticism gains traction nationwide. A recent poll shows Measure 92 up 49% to 44% among likely voters, and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. John Kitzhaber are along for the organic ride.

Let’s hope voters see through the scare campaign, say no to higher food costs, and tell organic producers to compete the natural way without government favoritism.

The Organic Food Protectionists – WSJ.

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Meet Mr. Frankenfood

Be thankful if you have the choice to eat non-GMO foods – if that is your preference. My choice is to embrace the science that is helping feed the worlds hungry with healthy food – and keep your food bill down.
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St. Louis

Before you can finish typing ” Monsanto MON -0.88% employees” into Google, GOOGL +0.02% the search engine suggests “Monsanto evil.” The world’s largest-grossing seed seller ranks between one and 15 on any list of the world’s most-hated corporations. The annual “March Against Monsanto,” world-wide protests against genetic modification, drew an estimated two million people in some 400 cities last year.

Opponents claim that genetic modification poses health risks, and groups such as the Non-GMO Project, Just Label It! and others want labels required on all foods containing GM ingredients. Vermont passed a GM-labeling bill in May, and Oregon and Colorado will hold referendums on labeling in November. Companies including Ben & Jerry’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill CMG -0.60% say they are removing GM ingredients from their food, and General Mills GIS -0.96% recently made Cheerios cereal GMO-free.

Caught in this food fight is Brett Begemann, Monsanto’s mild-mannered president and chief operating officer since last October, the son of a farmer who looks like a fellow you’d see winning a produce contest at the state fair. In a conference room at Monsanto’s headquarters outside St. Louis, we have lunch—a salad made with the company’s Frescada lettuce, a crunchy leaf that is a cross between romaine and iceberg lettuce and was produced, as it happens, through conventional breeding techniques.

Does that mean it’s genetically modified? Yes. You may have noticed that lettuce doesn’t grow in the wild. For a millennium, farmers have genetically improved crops through breeding, choosing the best mom and pop plants to make a bitter-tasting cabbage into something more palatable.

Then in the 1980s biotechnology allowed scientists to add desirable traits from other organisms into a plant’s DNA. The result: seeds that can, for instance, tolerate drought or resist pests. “It’s scientific evolution,” Mr. Begemann says. “We can do surgeries in ways we couldn’t do them before.” So can we now in agriculture.

The use of biotechnology has skyrocketed since GM crops were first commercialized in 1996, and more than 90% of all acres planted with corn and soybeans are now GM crops. These crops, typically fed to livestock and used as ingredients in other foods, are in nearly 80% of the products on grocery-store shelves.

The switch to GM crops happened so rapidly because farmers favored the new technology over the traditional. “The seeds that were available back then are still available today,” Mr. Begemann says. “Farmers just choose not to buy them.” In 2011 farmers earned $19.8 billion added economic benefit from GM crops, according to a 2013 report by the U.K.-based PG Economics. Genetically modified seeds are more resilient, yield more crops on less land and require less labor. A July Thomson Reuters report said by 2025 “price fluctuations and food shortages will become things of the past,” as GM technology proliferates.

Mr. Begemann had a front-row seat at the revolution. He joined Monsanto as a salesman in 1983—the same year the company genetically modified a plant cell—after graduating with an agricultural economics degree from the University of Missouri. “I was going to be a farmer,” he explains, having grown up on a livestock and grain farm. But the year he finished college “there was a severe drought in Missouri. Not a good time to expand a farming operation with your father.”

So he took a job at a company that was figuring out how to make drought more manageable for farmers and never looked back. In 1996 Monsanto commercialized its first GM crop, a herbicide-resistant soybean seed. Why did it take so long to bring GM seeds to market?

“The biotech-derived products that we eat are the most highly tested and regulated components in what we consume,” Mr. Begemann says. A new seed must be reviewed by the Department of Agriculture. Then there’s a voluntary check from the Food and Drug Administration. If the GM seed includes insecticides or pesticides, as most do, the Environmental Protection Agency gets a look. It takes about $100 million to get one seed from discovery to market. Crops that are bred conventionally, on the other hand, undergo no government testing. None.

Research shows that GM crops are just as safe. “Every regulatory agency—I’m not talking U.S.; I’m talking the world, including Europe—has said these things are as nutritious and healthy as anything else,” Mr. Begemann points out. That includes the FDA, the World Health Organization and the British Royal Society, all of which have declared GM crops as safe as conventional crops.

None of this has stopped the protests. In a recent poll for The Wall Street Journal by the market-research firm Nielsen, about 60% of 1,200 consumers said they had heard of GMOs, and roughly half said they try not to eat them. The most common explanation was it “doesn’t sound like something I should eat.”

Mr. Begemann says people are often persuaded when they learn more about the technology. But some of the debate, he says, is “emotional.” The anxiety is fueled by “outright myths,” including the one that GMOs aren’t safe to eat. But no one is getting sick. Another myth is that crops don’t increase yield. Yet farmers keep buying the seeds: “So you’re telling me farmers are making dumb decisions? Because they’re pretty smart people.”

Some food companies have been feeding consumer concern about GMOs, but Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t claim that GMOs threaten human safety. Rather, it styles itself “an environmentally friendly, socially progressive brand,” and GM foods don’t fit that image. One irony is that GM crops help the environment by reducing pesticide use. Thanks to fewer sprays and less tillage, GM crops in 2012 reduced world-wide carbon emissions by 26.7 billion kilograms—the equivalent of taking 11.8 million cars off the road for a year, according to a 2013 report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

The more extreme skeptics cast Monsanto as an evildoer peddling mutant Frankenfood. “Monsatan” is one nickname, and groups such as Occupy Monsanto exist solely to malign the company. Mr. Begemann takes personally the charge that Monsanto is poisoning food. “It just blows my mind,” he says, “that anybody would ever imagine that I would ever be involved in producing any kind of food that would ever put me, my family or now a grandson at risk.” He adds: “I go to the same grocery store that everybody else goes to.”

But Mr. Begemann admits that Monsanto could have done more to educate consumers about its products and keep the GM fear from festering. “I wish we had started sooner,” he says. “We were focused on our farmers.”

So wouldn’t labeling food containing GM ingredients help allay the critics by satisfying the demand for transparency? Mr. Begemann understands that consumers are more interested than ever in what they’re eating, and he says he welcomes that. “There’s a big group of people out there who really just want to know more,” he says. Monsanto supports the FDA’s approach to labeling, which requires food companies to disclose if GM ingredients constitute what the agency calls a “meaningful” difference from foods created with conventionally bred crops. And the FDA already allows companies to label foods containing GMOs voluntarily, which Monsanto also supports.

He talks about “having a dialogue” and “coming to the table” with those concerned about genetic modification. It remains to be seen if that strategy will quell a backlash based mostly on fear and emotion. He doesn’t discuss what else Monsanto will do, but the company is likely to spend big to fight the labeling movement. Monsanto poured in about $8 million to defeat a labeling initiative on the California ballot in 2012.

He also notes that food companies pay the direct costs of labeling, and so consumers ultimately pay in higher prices. The state-based labeling initiatives on ballots and in legislatures would produce a patchwork system that is even more expensive. “Imagine a food delivery truck that has to stop when it gets to the Mississippi River, unload, cross the river and reload,” he says. “I don’t care how you cut it: It increases costs. It’s just not practical.”

Besides, he adds, we already have a useful label at the federal level: the organic seal. “Anybody who wants to stay away from GM can buy organic. That choice is there,” he says. The Department of Agriculture offers organic certification to farmers and food companies who meet a set of standards, one of which is proving that their food doesn’t contain genetically modified ingredients.

“So why does the organic industry continue to push the agenda?” Mr. Begemann asks. First, it directly benefits: The sale of “non-GMO” labeled food went up 28% last year, according to Nielsen, so it’s a good time to make a buck selling organic food. But more substantively, the movement stymies the use of biotechnology. “This never really was about labeling,” Mr. Begemann says. “It’s about: How do we eliminate these crops?”

Movement toward that end would have profound consequences for the future of farming. Imagine the world as an apple. “Cut it in half, and then cut it again until you have it in 32nds.” One of those pieces? “That’s the land we use for agriculture.” The peel of that one piece? “That’s the topsoil that feeds us all,” he says. “It takes about 100 years to build an inch of topsoil. It takes a bad storm on a weekend to destroy it.”

While that’s all the land we’ve got, demand for more and better food is skyrocketing as global population grows. By 2050 there will be nine billion people on earth, and they will want dinner. GM crops are not a panacea, Mr. Begemann reminds me many times, but “just one of many tools” that farmers should be allowed to choose.

Yet feeding the world’s population is already a problem, and it’s here that Mr. Begemann gets fired up. “This idea that we’ve got this abundance of food and everybody’s eating fine and we don’t need to change anything? Hogwash.” Even in the U.S., millions of people live paycheck to paycheck. “That’s all they have. And we act like these little price increases—$400 a year on groceries, oh, what’s the big deal?—for them, that’s a big deal.”

Years ago Mr. Begemann traveled to a village in India where he met a farmer who increased his yield—and his profits—after he began growing Monsanto’s insect-resistant Bollgard cotton. The men didn’t speak the same language, but they had one word in common. “The farmer pointed to the second story on his little house, and said ‘Bollgard,’ ” Mr. Begemann recalls. “Then he pointed to a scooter next to his house, and said ‘Bollgard.’ . . . Then he just lit up, and pointed to two children, standing in front of his house in school uniforms, and said ‘Bollgard.’ ”

Mr. Begemann uses cotton—not corn or soybeans—as an example because it’s the only GM crop approved for planting in India. Governments around the world have buckled under political pressure to limit biotechnology.

“If you can afford to buy organic, and that’s what you want? Fantastic,” he says. “But 900 million people in the world go to bed hungry every night, and 600 million of them are farmers. Don’t push this on them.”

Ms. Bachelder is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.

Meet Mr. Frankenfood – WSJ.

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High-Protein Diets May Not Be Answer for Longer Life

This article does not prove anything, but it is a data point worth considering.
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Research shows that a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates can help shed pounds and normalize blood-glucose levels, improvements that lower the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But will you live longer on a high-protein, low-carb diet? Two studies in the current edition of the scientific journal Cell Metabolism suggest the opposite. One involved an experiment conducted on mice, the other an 18-year study of humans who had divulged their dietary habits. Both studies found a strong association between longevity and a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet, although the human study bore a twist: Beyond age 65, higher protein levels appeared to promote longevity.

“Those high-protein diets were developed with a shortsighted vision,” said Valter D. Longo, a University of Southern California professor of gerontology and biological sciences and the lead author of the human study. “On a high-protein, high-fat diet you can lose weight, but in the long run you may be hurting yourself.”

These studies are anything but definitive, showing only associations derived from highly limited evidence. But in gerontology, the influence of protein consumption on longevity is a hot topic. Last year, the American Federation for Aging Research hosted a symposium on “Optimal Protein Intake for Older Adults,” featuring a panel of scientists from academia and industry. No concrete answers emerged, except perhaps that protein consumption influences health in ways that are complex.

“High protein diets may be effective to lose weight rapidly,” said Elena Volpi, a professor of geriatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “But very high protein diets may also be harmful.”

In the human study, those consuming high levels of plant-based protein had a threefold increase in cancer mortality but no higher rate of overall mortality. Consumers of animal protein had big increases in both. That suggests, as other research has shown, that there may be benefits from minimizing consumption of animal-based protein. “These results indicate that respondents ages 50 to 65 consuming moderate to high levels of animal protein display a major increase in the risks for overall and cancer mortality,” the researchers concluded.

For subjects 66 and older, the opposite proved true: Higher protein consumption was associated with greater survival. Gerontologists say this makes sense, because the ability to absorb protein appears to diminish in the aging body, requiring perhaps greater consumption.

Even then, though, the takeaway is somewhat complicated. Americans tend to consume the bulk of their protein at dinner, and the body isn’t always able to process an entire day’s worth in one sitting, said Dr. Volpi, who wasn’t involved in either study. “It appears you can better use the protein you need if you distribute it across three meals, especially if you are a senior,” she said.

In one study, 858 mice were fed one of 25 diets with differing ratios of protein to carbohydrates. Those that ate higher ratios of protein were leaner. But they didn’t live as long. “Median life span increased (by about 30%) from about 95 weeks to 125 weeks as the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio decreased,” said the study, conducted by researchers in Australia. “Our results show that healthy aging is not achieved in mice fed high protein diets.”

Of course, mice aren’t human. Indeed, the Australian researchers acknowledge that the same results may not be achieved in a different strain of mice.

The second study followed 6,381 adult humans for 18 years after they completed a nationally administered survey on their food consumption over a 24-hour period. It divided the subjects into three groups: high-protein consumption (20% or more of calories from protein), moderate-protein consumption (10% to 19% from protein) and low-protein consumption (less than 10%).
Protein Study
In the 50-to-65 age range, “subjects in the high protein group had a 74% increase in their relative risk of all-cause mortality, and were more than four times as likely to die of cancer when compared with those in the low-protein group,” the researchers reported.

One prominent diet expert and high-protein opponent, physician Ron Rosedale, saw the studies as vindicating his longtime warning about the risks of excessive protein. But Dr. Rosedale, who advocates a diet high in so-called healthy fats such as those found in avocados, argues that high levels of carbohydrate consumption are no less dangerous. “If people take these studies as a thumbs up for high carbohydrates, that’s missing the point,” he said.

Write to Kevin Helliker at kevin.helliker@wsj.com

High-Protein Diets May Not Be Answer for Longer Life – WSJ.com.

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