Reimert Ravenholt, a physician at the Seattle Department of Public Health, was puzzled. It was the winter of 1956, and for weeks now, local doctors had been calling him, describing blue-collar men coming into their offices with hot, red rashes and swollen boils running up their arms. The men were feverish and in so much pain they had to stay home from work, sometimes for weeks. The puzzle was not what was afflicting them. That was easy to establish: It was Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, a common cause of skin infections. Ravenholt happened to have a lot of experience with staph. He was the health department's chief of communicable diseases, the person who recognized and tracked down outbreaks, and for the entire previous year, he had been dealing with a staph epidemic in Seattle's hospitals. The organism had infected 1,300 women immediately after they gave birth, and more than 4,000 newborn babies, killing 24 mothers and children. It was a dreadful episode.The thing that was keeping Ravenholt up at night now was not the cause of this apparent new outbreak: It was the victims. Medicine already knew that staph could spread rapidly through a hospital, carried unknowingly by health care workers as they went from patient to patient. But outside of hospitals, it was equally taken for granted that staph infections occurred individually and by happenstance. Unless there was an explicit health care connection — a shared nurse or doctor, a crib in a nursery shared by many other newborns — there was no reason to suppose two staph cases were linked. The men coming down with the bug, several a month for five months in a row, were not linked by any hospital or doctor, yet they all had the same pattern of lesions in the same places on their arms and hands.
The friend politely declined, which set Kennedy to thinking. His family drank conventional milk. Did that make him a dad who didn’t care about his kids’ safety, or the environment? That would be odd, since he was nominated for an Oscar for his film about a community garden blooming in South Central Los Angeles. So it’s not like he didn’t care about food, or farming, or bettering the world.It was fortuitous, then, that just as he was processing these ideas about how organic produce had become almost like a secret handshake among his “well-educated and well-intentioned” friends — something they all shared, and trusted — he was approached by the Institute of Food Technologists, a group of 18,000 food scientists. They wanted him to make a movie celebrating their 75th anniversary.The idea was to somehow illustrate the intersection of food and science. Eventually Kennedy and his fellow producer, Trace Sheehan, a Brooklynite, decided to delve into a single issue: GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. That is, plants where a geneticist has taken DNA from one organism and inserted it another to make a food easier to grow, or healthier, or hardier.Like Kennedy’s organic-only neighbor, many folks consider GMOs “Frankenfood.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart called G-M-O the three scariest letters in the language. With emotions running so high, Kennedy made sure he and Sheehan would have complete control over the movie. And then they started wading into the debate.What they found was a war.“People were losing their minds on both sides and I didn’t know that much about it,” said Kennedy. But as he began interviewing scientists, he realized one thing quickly. There’s a huge disconnect between the science world, which overwhelmingly believes that GMOs are safe, and the public, which does not.
A dairy-industry lobbying group has urged food companies to stop using labels such as “GMO-free” for marketing purposes, saying they have turned to "fear-based" labeling.The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, Va., says food manufacturers are raising fears about of things like genetically modified organism products, synthetic animal-growth hormones and high fructose corn syrup.In its “Peel Back the Label” campaign, the dairy industry trade group says nearly 70% of American consumers look to food labels when making purchase decisions, but that some of the information is misleading.For instance, one company has labeled its table salt as “GMO-free,” when it could never have been GMO in the first place because salt has no genes to modify.
The nation’s small meat processors are confronting a new market reality: an increasing demand for healthier local meat options coupled with the often-labyrinthine set of regulations that accompanies it. As a result, some processors in Missouri, Illinois and other parts of the nation’s heartland have changed their model from a slaughter-only facility to one that includes a specialty meat operation and opted for federal certification, allowing them to sell across state lines but increasing the amount of regulatory infrastructure. Small meat processors, who number approximately 800 nationwide, according to the latest USDA figures, have had to adjust to realities imposed from outside the industry. State authority over inspections, which used to be the reality as little as 10 years ago, is only active in 27 states, as funding has dissipated because of budgetary constraints, said Rebecca Thistlethwaite, manager of the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network at Oregon State University.
More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration signaled that it would soon nail down exactly what the word “natural” means, the agency has yet to provide any guidance – and baffled consumers are suing. They’ve sued Sargento, the dairy giant, because the cows behind its “natural” cheeses are given genetically modified feed.They’ve sued Walmart over its “all-natural” pita chips, which contain thiamine mononitrate and folic acid – both B vitamins that are made synthetically.They’ve even sued HINT, which makes “all-natural” fruit-flavored waters, for using a common solvent to boost the drink’s taste.Since January, court filings show that there’s been an uptick in lawsuits against food companies regarding “all-natural” and “natural” claims – and some lawyers say the FDA’s continued silence is to blame.Nineteen all-natural class actions have been filed this year, as of July 2017. There were 27 such suits for the entire year of 2016.The suits were brought by individual consumers, or small groups of consumers, on behalf of everyone who purchased a given product. The law suits frequently claim that “natural” labels tricked shoppers into buying a more expensive cheese – or flavored water, or pita chip – by deceiving them about how the product was made. A handful of law firms filed the majority of complaints.
Courts should dismiss the ‘daisy-chained’ logic underpinning a new wave of ‘natural’ lawsuits looking beyond the ingredients list to factors such as animal feeding and rearing practices, says cheesemaker Sargento.
The recent announcement that a genetically modified (GM) salmon had reached Canadian consumers was a rare leap forwards for GM foods. More than two decades after the commercialization of GM plants, this is the first GM animal to reach the market. The fast-growing salmon can reach market size in 18 months, roughly half the time its non-genetically modified counterpart, and requires less feed. This could bring both business and environmental benefits, and the approval may pave the way for other GM animals.Scientists are working on disease-resistant pigs, bird-flu resistant chickens, hornless dairy cows and highly productive sheep. But don’t expect to be eating genetically modified lamb this Passover; the history of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has shown that it takes many years to bring a new technology to market (25 in the case of AquAdvantage salmon) and plenty of innovations never make it.
The second generation GMO Innate potato has received regulatory approval in Canada.Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have authorized J.R. Simplot’s Co. second generation GMO Innate potato to be imported, planted and sold in Canada. The OK comes after the Canadian agencies completed a comprehensive safety assessment, and follows last year’s regulatory approval of three varieties of first-generation GMO Innate potatoes, according to a news release.
The food labeling craze coupled with banner headlines about the dangers of gluten, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and hormones are leading to increasingly absurd results. For example, you can now buy “premium” water that’s not only free of GMOs and gluten but certified kosher and organic. Never mind that not a single drop of water anywhere contains either property or is altered in any way by those designations. While some labels provide useful information that is not readily detectable by consumers, others contain misleading claims that exploit a knowledge gap with consumers and take advantage of their willingness to pay a premium for so-called process labels.In my experience as a food economist, such “fake transparency” does nothing to inform consumers about the nature of their foods. Moreover, it can actually decrease well-being when accompanied by a higher price tag.
More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration signaled that it would soon nail down exactly what the word “natural” means, the agency has yet to provide any guidance — and baffled consumers are suing. They’ve sued Sargento, the dairy giant, because the cows behind its “natural” cheeses are given genetically modified feed.They’ve sued Walmart over its “all-natural” pita chips, which contain thiamine mononitrate and folic acid — both B vitamins that are made synthetically. Since January, court filings show that there’s been an uptick in lawsuits against food companies regarding “all-natural” and “natural” claims — and some lawyers say the FDA’s continued silence is to blame.Nineteen all-natural class actions have been filed this year, as of July 2017. There were 27 such suits for the entire year of 2016.