March 9, 2012
By Jonathan Benson
“Olive Oil is one of the most healthy fats you can consume. But make sure you’re getting the real thing.” –KTRN
As much as 50 percent of the olive oil sold in the U.S. is not actually pure olive oil, as some brands claiming to be “extra-virgin” or “100 percent Italian,” for instance, have actually been adulterated with toxic rapeseed oil, more popularly known as canola oil, soybean oil, and other low-grade oils. In his new book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, olive oil expert Tom Mueller explains that not all olive oil is the same, and offers advice on how to spot authentic olive oil amidst all the imposters.
During a recent interview with Terry Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air, Mueller explains how olive oil adulteration is much more widespread than people think, if they are even aware of it at all. For olive oil to truly be considered “extra-virgin,” it has to come from fresh, crushed olives, and not be refined in any way or contain any chemical solvents. It also has to pass certain tests of integrity in order to be considered legitimate, for which many of the brands popularly sold today would fail.
“The legal definition simply says it has to pass certain chemical tests, and in a sensory way it has to taste and smell vaguely of fresh olives, because it’s a fruit, and have no faults,” said Mueller. “But many of the extra-virgin olive oils on our shelves today in America don’t clear [the legal definition].”
Real extra-virgin olive oil should have a vibrant, almost peppery flavor, for instance, and not taste bland or watered down. It is also typically stored in dark, glass bottles so that its array of health-promoting antioxidants, its taste, and its forceful green color — yes, olive oil should be green, not yellowish in color — are not harmed by light or damaging UV rays from the sun. For this reason, avoiding olive oil in clear, plastic bottles is recommended.
“What [real olive oil] gets you from a health perspective is a cocktail of 200-plus highly beneficial ingredients that explain why olive oil has been the heart of the Mediterranean diet,” added Mueller during his interview with NPR. “Bad olives have free radicals and impurities, and then you’ve lost that wonderful cocktail … that you get from fresh fruit, from real extra-virgin olive oil.”
August 12th, 2011
By: Ethan A. Huff
Leave it to Monsanto to take a good thing and corrupt it for financial gain. According to a recent report in Forbes, the multinational biotechnology-slash-agriculture-manipulating monolith has developed a new genetically-modified (GM) soybean that artificially produces stearidonic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid — and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to approve the “frankenbean” sometime this year.
Monsanto appears to be introducing the omega-3 enhanced GM soybean oil, called Soymega or “stearidonic acid soybean oil” (SDA oil), at a craftily strategic time when much of the world is still reeling from the Fukushima Daiichi mega-disaster, which left ocean waters ridden with radioactive isotopes. And since omega-3s just happen to be most readily found in fatty ocean fish, the perpetual fear over radioactive and other poisons that may be lurking in such fish could drive many to embrace Monsanto’s fake fish oil instead.
According to an FDA letter responding to Monsanto’s request to have SDA oil approved for use as a food additive and acknowledged as being “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), the FDA noted that Monsanto intends to use its omega-3-enhanced oil in a variety of food applications. These include baked goods, breakfast cereals, fish products, frozen dairy desserts, cheeses, grains and pastas, gravies, nuts, poultry, fruit juices, processed vegetable products, and soups — yes, basically every processed food product in existence.
Monsanto created its GM soybean oil by injecting two specific enzymes into soybean genes. One came from Primula juliae, a type of flower, and the other from Neurospora crass, a type of red mold that grows on bread. As a result, the beans produce SDA oil and gamma-linolenic acid, two compounds not normally found in soybeans.
In its original request letter, Monsanto claims that its company-funded trials prove that SDA oil is safe for animal and human consumption, and that “no toxicologically significant effects were observed.” However, the data does not specifically highlight the long-term effects of the oil in animals or in humans — it merely alleges that nothing bad was observed during the 16-week trial period, which is hardly enough reassurance that the product is undeniably safe for consumption.
Nevertheless, the FDA has already granted Soymega GRAS status, which means that the agency acknowledges Monsanto’s safety claims, and essentially has no problems with or objections to them. And if the FDA grants full approval for Soymega, you can expect to see it turning up in all sorts of consumer food products.
Have all the ocean disasters in recent years been a catalyst for forcing people over to artificial, patented varieties of omega-3s?
Between BP’s “Deepwater Horizon” oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, and the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in March 2011, many of the world’s oceans, and corresponding fish stocks, have been severely tainted. Add in perpetual mercury poisoning and other pollution that has been afflicting ocean life for many decades, and seafood appears less and less enticing as a safe and healthy source of omega-3s.
Enter Monsanto. By positing its omega-3 GM soybean variety as a safer, healthier alternative to natural seafood and sea-based fish oils, the company stands to gain an incredible amount of profit while ultimately steering public preference away from natural sources of omega-3s, and towards its own patented varieties of omega-3s.
The same Forbes article that announced the advent of Monsanto’s Soymega also mentions that sea-based fish oils can be contaminated with toxins, and also suggests that fish-derived omega-3s are responsible for depleting fish stocks and damaging the environment. Do you see where this is all going?
It is all too convenient that as omega-3s become more popular than ever, Monsanto, in conjunction with the FDA and the mainstream media, is coordinating a leveraged attack against natural sources of omega-3s in order to brainwash the public into accepting its “safer” variety. And by getting SDA oil laced throughout the food supply, the public will ultimately have little choice in avoiding it., and will probably just accept it as beneficial.
Monsanto is clearly dead set on capturing the omega-3 market through its new soybean oil. After all, soybean oil has become a staple in most American processed foods, and by “enriching” everything from breads and cereals to vegetable dishes and quick dinners with Soymega, the general public will be less prone to purchase fish for its health benefits. And the end result will be more control of the food supply handed over to Monsanto, and less availability of natural omega-3s on the market.
November 18th, 2010
By: Carey Gillam
Monsanto Co could start field testing genetically modified wheat within one to two years, but remains cautious about future commercialization, according to one of the company’s top wheat technology executives.
Six years after shelving an earlier biotech wheat product in the face of stiff market resistance, Monsanto still sees a need for circumspection, but believes building acceptance and a need for increased food production makes the wheat seed market potentially lucrative over the long term.
Currently there is no biotech wheat on the market because of consumer and food industry opposition, but Monsanto sees attitudes changing.
“I wouldn’t say we’re jumping in with two feet,” said Claire CaJacob, Monsanto’s global wheat technology lead executive, in an interview with Reuters. “But I wouldn’t say we’re tentative. We have traits that make more sense. It’s the right time.”
Several rival seed companies including Syngenta, BASF and others are also working on developing genetically modified wheat but Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company and its work is closely watched worldwide.
Monsanto aims to use genetic modification to develop a higher yielding and more drought and stress-tolerant crop. This year’s drought in eastern Europe that decimated the Russian wheat crop only underscores the need for improvements in wheat, said CaJacob. The drought caused U.S. wheat and European wheat futures prices to nearly double in just two months.
Monsanto’s wheat research is still in the early “Phase 1″ of discovery work, which translates to testing various genes to see what might work. Both U.S. wheat farmers and Australian growers are the early target market.
The company’s work to develop a drought-tolerant corn is helping with the research into wheat, she said, but wheat is a much more complicated plant, and it could be one to two years before the company starts field testing and a decade before a product is brought to market, according to CaJacob.
“We are in the stage of seeing if we have any genes that work,” said CaJacob. “Until you take it to the field you don’t know.”
Monsanto abandoned biotech wheat in May 2004 amid broad opposition from buyers of U.S. wheat and from U.S. wheat growers who feared losing sales. The company announced it was restarting wheat research last year, paying $45 million for the WestBred LLC seed germplasm company.
CaJacob said the company was examining various pricing strategies for a future wheat seed product, including questions about whether farmers would continue to be able to save their seed, a common practice by U.S. wheat farmers.
Saving seed is not allowed for farmers buying Monsanto’s patented corn and soybean seed technology.
Monsanto is also striving to develop a product line of improved wheat hybrids, using molecular markers that speed up traditional breeding techniques.
“When you hear Monsanto and wheat it doesn’t necessarily mean biotech,” she said.
October 12th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has now approved the first crop genetically modified for increased consumer appeal, promising to spark a new battle between biotech rivals DuPont and Monsanto over control of the genetically modified (GM) soybean market.
The approved crop is a soybean engineered to be especially high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. The high-oleic soy had been pending deregulation since 2006, and is now cleared for commercial use. The company still intends to carry out further commercial testing before introducing the crop to the global market in 2012.
Also pending approval are two new GM soy varieties engineered by Monsanto, one to produce higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and one to produce oils with a longer shelf life. These latter oils are intended as a low-cost replacement for hydrogenated oils (trans fats), which are being widely phased out due to their proven contribution to heart disease and death.
The U.S. food industry currently purchases six billion pounds of soy oil each year, nearly all of it hydrogenated. Monsanto is hoping that the new GM variety will be appealing to farmers hoping to stem widespread profit loss due to the move away from trans fats.
With 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop already coming from GM seeds, the approval of the new varieties is likely to touch off a major turf war between DuPont and Monsanto, with both companies trying to grab as large a share as possible of the lucrative market.
The new soy crops stand to become the first commercialized biotech crops engineered for a quality other than pest or herbicide resistance. They were all engineered by silencing the activity of genes in their fatty acid pathways, in contrast to the more widespread method of inserting new DNA from bacterial genes.
The approval of a GM crop engineered for nutritional purposes is expected to usher in a new wave of such products. Whether U.S. consumers are comfortable enough with biotechnology to willingly purchase such products remains to be seen.
September 8, 2010
by Lyndsey Layton
The Food and Drug Administration is poised to approve the first genetically modified animal for human consumption, a highly anticipated decision that is stirring controversy and could mark a turning point in the way American food is produced.
FDA scientists gave a boost last week to the Massachusetts company that wants federal approval to market a genetically engineered salmon, declaring that the altered salmon is safe to eat and does not pose a threat to the environment.
“Food from AquAdvantage Salmon . . . is as safe to eat as food from other Atlantic salmon,” the FDA staff wrote in a briefing document.
Those findings will be presented Sept. 19 to a panel of scientific experts which will advise top officials at the FDA whether to approve the altered salmon. The panel is holding two days of meetings to hear from FDA staff, the company behind AquAdvantage and the public.
AquAdvantage is an Atlantic salmon that has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, which allows the salmon to grow twice as fast as a traditional Atlantic salmon. It also contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon.
AquaBounty, the Massachusetts company that first applied to the FDA for permission to sell its fish in 1995, said the modified fish is identical to the Atlantic salmon, except for the speed of its growth.
“We’ve been studying this fish for more than 10 years,” said Ronald L. Stotish, the company’s president and chief executive. “In characteristics, physiology, behavior, this is an Atlantic salmon. It looks like an Atlantic salmon. It tastes like an Atlantic salmon.”
The team of scientists at the FDA that reviewed AquaBounty’s application seems to agree. “We have found no biologically relevant difference between food from [AquaBounty salmon] and conventional Atlantic salmon,” the briefing documents said.
But independent scientists, consumer groups and environmental organizations are concerned about both the pending decision and the process that the FDA uses to determine whether the genetically modified fish is safe for human health and the environment.
The agency is evaluating the fish as if it were a new veterinary drug, which means the FDA’s deliberations are behind closed doors and that AquaBounty can claim much of the research and other supporting data it supplies to the FDA is confidential.
“Critical information about the whole process has been kept from the public and organizations that focus on these issues,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, part of a coalition of 31 organizations and restaurant chefs that is demanding that the FDA deny approval of the altered fish. “There’s a transparency problem.”
Siobhan DeLancey, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency is following rules. “We do have obligations under the regulations to protect company confidential information,” she said.
Hauter and other critics said the information shield makes it difficult for independent scientists to thoroughly analyze claims by AquaBounty or the FDA staff that the altered fish poses no long-term risk to human health or the environment.
Consumer groups and environmental organizations are particularly concerned that AquAdvantage Salmon could escape their fish farms to threaten the wild salmon population, which is severely endangered, Hauter said.
Anne Kapuscinski, a professor at Dartmouth College and an international expert on the safety of genetically modified organisms, said she is uncertain how well the FDA is able to fully assess the risks to the natural world that may be posed by an organism created in a laboratory.
“If you put the top scientific researchers in this area into a room, they would have to work very hard together to figure out the conclusion for ecological risk,” Kapuscinski said. “This is very, very complex.”
The pending decision is being tracked by biotechnology companies that have invested millions of dollars in developing genetically modified animals for food and are waiting for the FDA to act on their approval requests.
Scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have asked the FDA to approve their “Enviropig,” a hog genetically altered to produce environmentally friendly manure. Hematech of Sioux Falls, S.D., is developing genetically modified cows that are resistant to mad cow disease.
The United States has approved genetically modified plants such as corn and soybean.
The fish decision is expected to reverberate beyond the United States. “If these genetically engineered salmon are approved, it will be setting worldwide precedent because salmon is a global commodity,” Kapuscinski said. “It will be the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption and for wide-scale farming.”
In developing its fish, AquaBounty took an Atlantic salmon and inserted a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as an “antifreeze” gene from the ocean pout.
Conventional salmon stop growing in cold weather and grow very slowly in the first year of life. But the pout’s antifreeze gene allows the salmon to produce growth hormones all year, and the genetically modified fish can grow to market size in 18 months instead of three years, AquaBounty said. That means farmers can speed production and increase yields, the company said.
Stotish said the genetically modified fish can become a sustainable source of food for an exploding global population.
December 11, 2009
Eating pistachios every day might reduce your risk for lung cancer and other malignancies, according to a new study.
Pistachios are a good source of a type of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol.
“It is known that vitamin E provides a degree of protection against certain forms of cancer. Higher intakes of gamma-tocopherol … may reduce the risk of lung cancer,” Ladia M. Hernandez, a senior research dietitian at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a doctoral candidate at Texas Women’s University, said in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research.
The study included 18 people who ate 68 grams (about 2 ounces or 117 kernels) of pistachios a day for four weeks and 18 people in a control group who did not add pistachios to their normal diet.
As the study progressed, those in the pistachio group showed significantly higher blood levels of gamma-tocopherol.
The findings were to be presented Dec. 8 in Houston at a cancer prevention conference sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research.
“Pistachios are one of those ‘good-for-you’ nuts, and two ounces per day could be incorporated into dietary strategies designed to reduce the risk of lung cancer without significant changes in body mass index,” Hernandez said.
“Other food sources that are a rich source of gamma-tocopherol include peanuts, pecans, walnuts, soybean and corn oils,” she added.