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|Genetic Engineering and Genetically-Modified Organisms
Genetic engineering (GE) is the process of artificially transferring genes from the DNA of one species to the DNA of another, using highly sophisticated technology. This process creates organisms that have combinations of genes not found in nature. The end product of this process is a genetically modified organism, or GMO.
The biotech industry has claimed that GE will feed the world's growing population and reduce our dependence on pesticides, and that it's just like traditional plant and animal breeding. But those claims are unsubstantiated.
Advocates for local communities, the environment, farmers, and democracy are worried by the problems posed by how we're using GE technology, and how we're allowing patenting and ownership of the life that is produced by genetic engineering.
Haven't humans been genetically enhancing plants and animals for thousands of years through selective breeding?
That much is true, but GE technology is radically different from traditional plant and animal breeding. While breeders do intervene in the breeding process to influence the results--deciding which animals to breed or which plants to cross-pollinate, for example--they still rely on the reproductive processes of plants and animals to create the hybrid offspring. GE, on the other hand, gets around the reproductive process and creates combinations of genes and new offspring that are impossible through reproduction, like getting flounder genes into a tomato or crossing unrelated species of plants and animals.
Don't we need sophisticated science to help us solve world hunger and environmental problems?
We do need solutions to our big problems, but GE so far has not given us the answer. There are a lot of different applications for GE technology, but the way it's currently used in agriculture is especially high-risk and low-benefit.
Contrary to claims by the biotech industry, GE crops actually perform more poorly than regular crops. They are often less drought-tolerant and lower-yielding than the seeds developed by smart farmers over decades or even hundreds of years. And while pest-resistant GE plants were touted as an ecologically-friendly solution to chemicals and pests, they have instead resulted in the evolution of chemical-resistant pests and huge increases in the use of toxic pesticides and weed killers (often owned by the same companies who developed the seeds). This system degrades soil quality and the health of people, waterways, pollinating insects, and other wildlife.
Use of this technology to produce food may be creating hidden allergens, contributing to illnesses, and producing other unforeseen consequences that we may be missing due to a lack of long-term or independent studies.
Animals and plants are difficult to contain: Pollen blows on the wind, fish escape their farm pens. And once genetic material gets out into the environment, there's no easy way to recall it, even if we realize later that it's having negative effects.
Won’t biotechnology at least help lift farmers out of poverty?
So far, that hasn't been true--in fact, just the opposite. Biotechnology companies patent the living organisms they engineer, which under our current legal system, gives them ownership rights over those organisms and any offspring. That means farmers who buy GE seeds can no longer save seeds and develop strains that work best for their location, without paying royalties. And many seeds are engineered with “terminator technology” so that their plants don’t make viable seeds. So farmers have to buy new seeds year after year, getting trapped in a cycle.
Even in the US, small- and medium-scale farmers don't make much money, meaning that expensive seeds can turn out to be a financial hardship. For farmers in the developing world, especially where aid programs pressure them into buying GE seeds, the cycle of seed buying and the resulting hardship can be disastrous.
Because of this ownership system, major corporations are also coming to control more and more of the seeds that are available. The patenting of seeds is accelerating consolidation of control over the food supply, and contributing to loss of biodiversity and locally-adapted seeds, and farmer impoverishment.
Even if it’s imperfect, isn’t biotechnology the best option we have for addressing hunger and pollution?
It turns out that sustainable agriculture is actually our greatest resource and best method. Contrary to the hopes and claims about the potential for GE crops as a solution to some of the world’s most dire problems, the United Nations has called for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as the best solution to hunger, climate change, and poverty.
Agroecology is a whole-systems form of sustainable agriculture, where farming is based on how it works with the smaller and larger systems that it’s part of, from the genetic to the global level. That means that instead of being based on the use of one-size-fits-all seed technology and chemical inputs, agroecology takes into account each farm's different, unique combinations of soil, environmental, and climate conditions, plus systems like infrastructure and economies.
What are common GE crops? And what about certified-Organic food?
The top GE crops are corn, soy, cottonseed, alfalfa (widely used for livestock feed), papaya, canola, and sugar beets. Organic certification requires that GE technology not be used, though testing is not conducted. Products verified by the Non-GMO Project have been tested and found to be GMO-free; and some companies conduct their own testing.
For more information, we recommend the following resources as starting places for communities interested in learning more about genetic engineering and GMOs:
Center for Food Safety
PCC Sound Consumer newsletter
The Future of Food (documentary film by Deborah Koons Garcia)
Certified Organic means standards for ecological sustainability, food safety, and animal welfare. The standards include:
- Three years with no application of prohibited materials (no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms) prior to certification
- No use of prohibited substances while certified; no sewage sludge; no irradiation
- Proactive soil building, conservation, manure management, and crop rotation systems
- Mandatory outdoor access for livestock; access to pasture for ruminants
- No antibiotics or hormones may be used
- 100% organic feed and Organic management from birth or hatching
- No commingling or contamination of organic products during processing, and mandatory recordkeeping for all operations.
Who is allowed to use the Organic label? Food companies can't slap the Organic label on just any ol' product! Organic standards are legally regulated, so independent agencies must certify that foods have met the standards before they can boast the Organic label.
Who is allowed to approve use of the Organic label? Certifying agencies are third-party and must be accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Who decides what the Organic standards are? The standards are overseen by the National Organic Standards Board. The NOSB is a group with representatives from different sectors and industries:
- Environmentalists / Resource Conservationists
- Consumer / Public Interest Advocates
- Handlers / Processors
- Scientists (Toxicology, Ecology, or Biochemistry)
- USDA Accredited Certifying Agent
NOSB members are appointed by the United States Secretary of Agriculture. Organic standards are written into law, the United States Department of Agriculture Organic Foods Production Act. The Act is part of the Farm Bill, which is passed anew by Congress every few years.
There's more than one Organic label--what's the difference?
- 100% Organic: Product must be made with 100% organic ingredients
- Organic: Product is at least 95% organic
- Made With Organic Ingredients: Product is at least 70% - 94% organic
- Products that are less than 70% organic are not allowed to display the USDA Organic seal or the word "organic" anywhere on the main label, and may only list certified organic ingredients as organic in the ingredient list. They may also state the percentage of organic ingredients.
|Organic Retailer Certification
|Organic retailer certification is based on site inspections by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. These inspections include a review of our organic producers, processors, handlers, manufacturers, and retailers. A certified organic retailer must conform to the following:|
- Adhere to a comprehensive plan to protect organic products from contamination and commingling with non-organic product and non-organic cleaning supplies;
- Keep documentation that tracks connections between the retailer and organic suppliers for five years;
- Display organic product with proper and accurate signage;
- Keep organic certificates on file for farms from whom the store buys directly;
- Submit to an annual review of organic certification.
|Why Buy Local?
The concept of buying local is simple: Buy food (or any goods or service) that’s produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible.
Our food is now owned by fewer and fewer companies, and grown and processed in fewer and fewer locations, meaning it has to travel further to reach the average eater’s refrigerator. Although this method of production is considered efficient and economically profitable for large corporations, it’s harmful to the environment, consumers, and rural communities.
By buying local when possible, consumers support producers and businesses in their own communities, who in turn make greater contributions to the local tax base and are more inclined to be more involved in and supportive of community life and issues. Buying local keeps more money circulating in our local economy, building wealth right here in our communities, instead of shipping it away to out-of-town owners.
Because of large corporations’ ability to mass-produce, locally-produced products may cost more at the cash register; for many people, local products may not be available or affordable every time. The best way to buy local is as much as is possible for you, and to support organizations and laws that promote localization.
For more on the benefits of buying local, check out these resources:
Cascade Harvest Coalition
Seattle Good Business Network
Community Sourced Capital
BALLE (formerly the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies)
|Raw / Living Foods
Raw foods have not been heated above 92ºF to 118ºF; temperatures vary depending on raw food philosophy. Raw food diets may include raw fruits, raw vegetables, raw nuts, raw seeds, raw, unpasteurized dairy products (e.g. milk, cream, or butter), raw meat, raw eggs, and raw honey.
Raw milk is milk that has not been processed via pasteurization or homogenization before consumption. The pasteurization process kills most resident microorganisms as well as many nutritional constituents. The beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, in raw dairy promote good health by crowding out bad bacteria in your body (competitive exclusion), and promote healthy, diverse intestinal flora.
Enzymes, which otherwise aid in digestion, are destroyed during pasteurization. Present in raw milk, lactase is an enzyme that aids digestion of the milk sugar lactose. Many lactose - intolerant individuals can drink unpasteurized dairy products. Because of the bacterial production of lactic acid, raw milk naturally sours (at which point it can still be safe and desirable to consume); whereas, pasteurized milk, which lacks healthy bacteria, putrefies.
Raw foods such as fruits, salads, meat, and dairy are easy to prepare. However, other foods can require considerable advanced preparation. For example, rice and other grains may require sprouting or overnight soaking. As well, to activate their enzymes, nuts are often soaked before consumption.
While eating foods raw is thought to preserve beneficial enzymes, nutrients, and other compounds, and can be very health-giving and safe, they may also carry illness-causing microbes that are killed by cooking or pasteurization, which may be of concern for the elderly, children, and immune-compromised individuals. It’s best to make the decision to eat raw foods on your own individual basis; if you have any concerns, please consult a healthcare professional.
Fair Trade is a movement that aims to even the playing field of the extremely inequitable global market and to increase fairness and justice for farmers, workers, and communities.
Fair Trade certification usually involves companies paying fairer rates for products and labor, investing in local communities, and supporting better social and environmental standards. Outside of Fair Trade, the existing trade model favors large plantations, agribusiness, and multinational corporations over small farmers and producers, and corporate wealth over the environment and community well-being.
While there is no single set of standards for certification, true Fair Trade means:
- Earning a living wage
- No child, forced, or exploited labor
- The right to organize
- Greater gender equality
- Community-led development projects
- Safe and sustainable production methods
Fair Trade has focused mainly on producers in the global South, and is most commonly seen in the coffee, chocolate, and tea industries. But trade justice advocates are working to apply Fair Trade principles to more industries and places where inequality exists, both domestic and international.
Real Fair Trade: Small Farmer Focused
The movement has seen a shakeup in recent years as one of the main certifying organizations changed its name from TransFair to Fair Trade USA, and moved to loosen its criteria to allow large plantations to be certified. Yet big farms and companies already get a leg up in the global market. Fair Trade certification that is most true to the spirit of Fair Trade is about giving small producers a fair return for their work and increasing democracy and community well-being. Learn more
Fair World Project
Domestic Fair Trade Association
|Antibiotics in Food
|Since their discovery in 1928, antibiotics have saved millions of lives; calling them “miracle drugs” isn’t too far from the truth. But widespread overuse of antibiotics is leading to resistant strains of bacteria, weakening their efficacy at a rate that’s alarming healthcare professionals and public advocates, and posing a serious threat to public health.|
A major source of antibiotic overuse is in livestock farming – not just for treating sick animals, but as a regular feed additive used consistently to make the animals grow bigger faster or to prevent illness. These “supplements” end up in food from these animals and in their manure, and leach into our waterways and soil.
Even though organic farmers already steer clear of antibiotics except for treating animals that are already ill, a contaminated manure supply could still spell trouble for them – both those cultivating crops, who use may manure as fertilizer, and those buying those crops (such as alfalfa) as feed for their herds.
The Food and Drug Administration has recently announced plans to help phase out the therapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture. These measures are notable for being the biggest strides taken yet to address this problem. Still, some advocates observe that since it’s voluntary for farms to adopt the new guidelines, they may not be enough.
Antibiotics are on Central Co-op’s Product Exclusions List: All food at the Co-op has been raised or produced without unnecessary antibiotic use.
|Bovine somatotropin (bST), or bovine growth hormone (BGH), is a naturally occurring protein hormone that controls the amount of milk produced by a dairy cow, and is naturally occurring in milk in tiny amounts. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), however, is a synthetic, genetically engineered version of BGH – similar though not identical – that’s injected into a cow to artificially increase her milk production.|
rBGH has caused controversy for increasing incidence of mastitis in cows treated with it, for reducing milk quality, and when studies revealed that it may also be carcinogenic and contribute to early puberty and attendant health risks.
Milk from cows treated with rBGH cannot qualify for organic certification. All milk at Central Co-op is free from rBGH.
|Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods. Consuming probiotics helps prevent the overgrowth of harmful intestinal bacteria and contributes to the health of the communities of flora that reside in the intestinal tract. Research is discovering more and more how essential these communities are to our health on a variety of levels, from immune function to mood.|
Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, unpasteurized sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and the like. Pasteurization kills these beneficial bacteria, so to contain probiotics, fermented foods must be raw or have the probiotics added after pasteurization, as is common with probiotic dairy products. Probiotics are also commonly available as a supplement in capsule or liquid form.
|Macrobiotics emphasizes locally and organically grown whole grain cereals, pulses (legumes), vegetables, fruit, seaweed, and fermented soy products, combined into meals according to the principle of balance between Yin and Yang properties. |
Grains are emphasized, particularly brown rice, which, when chewed thoroughly, has a good balance of Yin and Yang properties. Foods which are either extremely Yin in nature (e.g. very sweet foods, dairy products) or extremely Yang in nature (e.g. very salty foods, red meat, coffee) are consumed rarely if ever. The Yin/Yang properties of food are determined by: the acidity of the food, where the food grows (root vegetables versus fruit from tree tops), as well as the area to where the food is native, and the color, shape, flavor, and moisture content of the food.
|Irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation that kills harmful bacteria (such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli) and extends the shelf life of perishables. Irradiation also kills beneficial bacteria and alters food’s molecular structure.|
|Hormone disruptors interfere with our bodies’ natural hormone systems, causing a wide array of health problems such as cancer, infertility, thyroid dysfunction, birth defects, behavioral problems, and immune system suppression.|
Hormone disruptors can:
- Mimic natural hormones, tricking the body to behave in disruptive ways
- Block natural hormones by locking up cell receptors
- Trigger reactions not normally produced by a given hormone
Scientists have identified more than 65 chemicals believed to affect the endocrine system, including: dioxin, atrazine, lindane, styrene, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
|Information sourced from the American Cheese Society|
When cheese lovers buy cheese, they passionately question the type of milk, the region where the cheese was made, etc. But few (except those looking for vegetarian rennet) if any ever ask about the rennet used to make the cheese. But as more caseophiles understand rennet's importance and origins, they are asking more questions.
Coagulants used in cheesemaking
A coagulant is anything that curdles milk. Rennet is a generic term used to describe an animal-derived coagulant; it includes the enzyme rennin or chymosin.
Made from a collection of enzymes from the fourth stomach of ruminant animals (kid, calf, or lamb), this is used in most traditional cheesemaking plants. Some perceive the use of animal stomachs to produce rennet naturally as somewhat primitive, others as an example of how we make use of all parts of an animal.
Microbial rennet describes a coagulating agent produced by a specific type of mold, fungus, or yeast organism, grown and fermented in a lab. This is considered vegetarian-friendly, as the enzyme produced is not derived from an animal. While this type of rennet is appropriate for vegetarians, cheesemakers agree that cheeses made with this type of rennet tend to result in bitterness in the flavor profile, especially when cheese is aged. While cheaper than animal rennet, true microbial rennet is now hard to find. It has been replaced by FPC rennet.
FPC: Fermentation-produced chymosin rennet
Made by taking the rennin-producing gene out of the animal cell's DNA string and then inserting into the bacteria, yeast, or mold host cell's DNA string, this type of microbial rennet was introduced in 1990. Once inserted, the newly placed gene initiates the production of the chymosin enzyme within the host. This is cultivated and fermented. The result is an inexpensive harvest of real chymosin. This is seen as an improvement on the original microbial rennet as it is real chymosin and not a mold or yeast-based substitute. Moreover, it can be economically produced in unlimited supply and addresses some of the concerns regarding the bitterness in aged cheeses. The procedure is not new and is similar to that used to make many vaccines. But, there is more to consider.
FPC rennet is a genetically modified organism (GMO). According to the culture companies, 90% of North American cheese is made with FPC rennet. But ingredient labels do not distinguish between this type of microbial rennet and the original non-GMO type. And the fact that use of FPC-type microbial rennet is not labeled a GMO leaves those who oppose GMOs in the dark when it comes to choosing cheese.
In addition, further confusion and debate arises over the differences between GMO products versus genetically engineered products as the latter elicits deeper concerns from those opposed to this type of science. While FPC rennet is GMO, it is not, technically speaking, genetically engineered, because the DNA taken from the animal cell and inserted into the DNA string of bacterium or mold is not changed. Genetic engineering actually modifies the specific gene responsible for a particular function in order to improve its action. In other words, it takes messing with genes to another, deeper level, like playing with the shape of the Lego block itself, not just with the order of their assembly.
In the end, what this means is that most cheese in North America is made from vegetarian-friendly but animal-origin, GMO-derived FPC rennet.
True vegetable rennet (vs. vegetarian rennet - a term used interchangeably with microbial rennet) comes from plants which produce enzymes that have coagulating properties. Examples include: cardoon thistle, fig tree bark, or nettles. These are real vegetable rennet, though they often also have undesirable effects on cheese flavor (bitterness) and are a little more unpredictable when used in some cheese.
Citric acid or vinegar
Finally, some cheeses like Ricotta are coagulated using simple lemon juice or vinegar. However, this coagulant is mostly used for a heat-precipitated curd. These coagulants are decidedly vegetarian and have very limited use due to limitations and noticeable taste profile.
|Lactose Intolerance and Cheese
|Information sourced from the American Cheese Society|
Dairy farmers and artisan cheesemakers like Phillip Collman, who holds a PhD in gastrointestinal physiology, are often asked if sheep or goats’ milk is better than cows’ for lactose-intolerant folks. Not to be confused with a dairy allergy, an adverse immune reaction to a food protein that is normally harmless to the non-allergic individual, lactose intolerance is a non-allergic food hypersensitivity resulting from a lack of production of the enzyme lactase, required to digest the sugar in milk. Adverse effects of lactose intolerance occur at much higher milk consumption than the adverse effects of a milk allergy.
According to Dr. Collman, the lactose content of cow, goat, and sheep milk is an estimated 4.5% for all species or 4.5%, 4.1%, and 4.8%, respectively, differences considered not medically significant. So it’s not the type of milk that’s important, it’s the type of dairy product that counts.
Lactose-intolerant people can enjoy aged cheeses (most of which have lactose levels of 0.1% or less) because, over time, lactose converts to lactic acid which doesn’t cause gastrointestinal distress.
Consult your physician to determine if you have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerant.
|As a result of two Salmonella incidents in 2001 and 2004, respectively, the California almond industry approved pursuing a mandatory pasteurization plan for almonds. The amended regulatory language was submitted to the United States Department of Agriculture in September 2006, and the final rule was published in the Federal Register March 30, 2007, with an implementation date of September 1, 2007. |
While some praise the pasteurization plan for preserving public safety, others believe the plan degrades food quality. For more information concerning this controversial issue, visit The Cornucopia Institute and the Almond Board of California.
|Food Security and Food Sovereignty
Food security, at its simplest, means having dependable access to adequate food. But even that simple statement contains a lot of layers. Adequate food would mean both enough calories and enough nutrition, plus the food must be safe to eat. The availability of that food has to be reliable - it can't be here today, gone tomorrow. And it has to be affordable.
There's even more. If the purpose of food is to support health and well-being, it shouldn't be produced in ways that cause harm to others or to the environment. And it should support the foodways, cultures, and needs of individuals and communities.
Community food security is when all community members obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.
Food sovereignty is food security with self-determination. Food sovereignty is the condition in which communities not only are food secure, but are also able to define and influence their food system. It's when eaters, farmers, producers, and food system workers make decisions about their food system, instead of corporations and market institutions.
Food security and food sovereignty have a lot in common and can sometimes be hard to distinguish. But generally, food security highlights food access, and food sovereignty emphasizes rights and self-determination.