One of the newsletters, I subscribe to is Biostyntrx weekly Pearl. Ellen Troyer writes about the science of health and various vitamins, research update on our health as it applies to nutritional supplements. Tons of references are included, in case you want more info. Last week, with friends, the subject of genetically modified foods came up, so I thought this was interesting.
GM Food Science? October 14, 2011
An article published in The Scientist journal suggests that one billion people in the world are starving to death. That’s one in every six people on this planet. With the global population continuing to explode and resources being stripped at an increasing rate, the outlook is not good.
Where’s the Super Food?
The article in The Scientist suggests that the insidious corollary to the global hunger crisis is that even more people – at least half the world’s population, according to a 2003 United Nations report – suffer from micronutrient malnutrition.
These folks, including a large number of the U.S. population, often consume sufficient, even excessive, calories, but lack essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. “Their plight is dire,” claims Bob Grant, the writer of this peer-reviewed article. He says, “Even mild micronutrient deficiencies can lead to cognitive impairment, as well as immune system problems.”
Genetically Modified Crops To The Rescue
Genetically modified (GM) crops are becoming commonplace, but so far, the genetic changes have only produced sightly higher-yield crops with traits that seem to make them more resistant to pests, but also make the seeds sterile, which prevents them from being used the following year. This is called ‘Terminator Technology.’ It forces farmers to buy seeds instead of recycling and planting seeds from their previous crops. Higher yield crops is a very good thing — being forced to purchase all agriculture seeds from one or two companies world wide, is not.
The use and benefits of GM seeds is debated with as much passion, and as contentiously, as healthcare reform. Some folks think the anti-GM groups have “hijacked” the sterile-seed-terminator-technology issue to rail against all GM crops.
Bill and Melinda Enter the Picture
Monies from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grant Challenges in Global Health Initiative are being used to develop a GM super-charged Cassava plant variety.
Cassava is the starchy tuber food staple that supplies almost 40 percent of the caloric requirements for humans in a large part of Africa. The goal is to improve the nutritional profile of cassava through genetic engineering. Scientists are working to increase the level of iron, zinc, protein, and vitamins (including beta-carotene as a much needed source of vitamin A), as well as the resistance to the plant viruses that are plaguing African farmers.
Who could say “No” to a super-charged cassava? A continent of people, that’s who!
Unfortunately, GM modified cassava will cost far more than the non-modified version, and the people who most need the super-charged version understand they are the least able to afford it.
A new type of GM soybeans are being raised in experimental stations, as well. These soybeans may one day be used for cooking oils that are stable enough to reduce the need for hydrogenated oils, which prolong the shelf life of high-calorie, low-nutrient, center-of-the-super-market foods.
Bob Grant suggests in his article in the The Scientist that the oils from GM soybeans have already been approved by Mexican and Canadian regulatory agencies.
Other foods’ nutritional content is also being tweaked by GM researchers. GM carrots are being engineered to contain more calcium; researchers claim to be growing GM tomatoes that contain 20 percent higher amounts of the type of antioxidants suggested to help prevent or lower the risk of developing chronic diseases and cancer.
“What I’d like to see is hundreds of millions of very poor people improving their nutritional status and improving their health status,” says Lawrence Kent, senior program officer of agricultural development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Let’s hope these hundreds of millions of very poor people can afford to purchase super-charged GM foods, if and when they become available.
It’s important to note that Bill and Melinda also donate a large amount of money to efforts aimed at micronutrient supplementation, dietary diversification and food intake education.
We are grateful for their commitment to The Challenges in Global Health Initiative
Written by Ellen Troyer, MT MA Biosyntrx CEO / Chief Research Officer
I’m a staunch believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour expert theory, so I called a Martin, TN relative to discuss GM crops. He has been farming 900 acres for far more than 25 years. He was a wealth of information on this issue: For the past 10 years, Terminator Technology has left him with no option, other than purchasing “Roundup Ready“ GM seeds for his corn and soybean crops.
The herbicide Roundup is used to kill weeds, while leaving the desired crop relatively unharmed.
One of the other unfortunate issues that my relative pointed out, is that some species of weeds have already become resistant to Roundup.
Roundup Ready GM seeds and Roundup are purchased from Monsanto, a US-based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. Monsanto is the leading producer of genetically modified seed, holding 90 percent market share for various crops, including corn and soybeans.
As you might imagine, Monsanto and Roundup are not viewed favorably by organic foodies, since Roundup has been linked to increased risk of development of different forms of cancer, and liver and kidney toxicity. The “Terminator Seed Technology” concept doesn’t sit at all well with environmentalists either.
A list of recent films trailers addressing food issues can be found in the references.
Where’s the Super Food? Bob Grant. The Scientist. Sept, 2009, Volume 23, Issue 9 page 30.
The ecological risks of transgenic plants. Giovannetti M. Riv Biol. 2003 May-aug;96(2):207-23 [abstract]
Safety and nutritional assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed: the role of animal feeding trials. EFSA GMO Panel. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 mar;46 Suppl 1:52-70 [abstract]
OpenSecrets Center for Responsive Politics
Not to be missed current food film trailors:
- Food Matters: looks at the connection between food and our state of health. With the health-care debate raging, watching this film seems timely and important.
- Food Inc., has brought food consciousness in our country to a new level.
- Fresh: The Movie, is the perfect follow-up screening to Food, Inc. It shows the flip side – positive change being created by farmers, students, thinkers, and US businesses.
- Polycultures: Food Where We Live, a Warren, Ohio community that is coming together to grow a more sustainable local food system.
- Eating Alaska, a documentary by a vegetarian filmmaker who moves to Alaska and marries a hunter. Ethics, politics, society, religion and taste are discussed.
- Sustainable Table: What’s on Your Plate? – follows West Coast food production from field to table.
- The Real Dirt on Farmer John, this story will have you reconsidering stereotypes about farmers.
- The World According to Monsanto, this film is available at this link in 10 parts. It looks at Monsanto’s dominance of patents on genetically engineered seeds and pesticides.
- The Future of Food, this film looks at the complex web of market and political forces that affect what we eat and what we will eat in the future.
- King Corn, this investigates the staggering scale of the corn related food economy in the US. Also check out Carey’s two part quest to go corn free.
- The Greenhorns, this upcoming film on enterprising, hopeful, and young farmers that are bringing an infusion of youth and a wave of excitement to the one of the oldest professions of all.