The Right to Know What I’m Eating

INTRODUCTION TO THIS RE-BLOG OF “THE RIGHT TO KNOW…”

  • Prop 37 was defeated November 2012 on the California ballot by a narrow margin. But there has been fall-out from this with GM labeling initiatives (introduction of bills/legislation) in many states in the US. One bill died in New York but another labeling law was passed in Connecticut. This issue is not going away. The impetus behind labeling of GMOs is “right to know.”
  • In this blog post, Chris MacDonald, a Toronto-based ethicist, professor, speaker and consultant, discusses “right to know” and legal vs moral rights (dated September 2010). Thanks, Chris, for letting me post this to my blog. Very informative!

Other related post by Chris: Should Companies Label GM Foods?

  • Chris MacDonald, Ph.D., is an educator, speaker, and consultant in the realm of business ethics. He teaches at the Ted Rogers School of Management, at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he is Director of the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Education & Research Program, at the Ted Rogers Leadership Centre.

The Food Ethics Blog

Magna CartaIn the debate over the labelling (or non-labelling) of genetically-modified foods, one of the most common refrains is that consumers “have a right to know” what they’re eating. I’ve commented briefly on that here before. (See “Should Companies Label Genetically Modified Foods?”) But it’s an important and complicated topic, so I’m going to say a little more here.

We first need to distinguish legal from moral rights. Legal rights are established through legislation or through precedents set by courts. But when people say they have a “right to know” what they’re eating, they’re not usually referring to a legal right (especially given that, as far as genetic modification goes, there just is no such legal right in the U.S. or Canada). No, when people say they have a right to know what they’re eating, they’re talking about a moral right to that information — they mean that it is…

View original post 1,225 more words

Labels and other ‘Krafty’ Stuff #mythbusting101

I am a huge fan Kraft Mac n’ Cheese (AKA ‘KD’). When I was young, broke and living on my own, it was a food ‘staple’.  As a household, now, we probably consume only about 6 boxes per year. Times change.  But KD doesn’t. I find that it still ‘hits the spot’ sometimes. 

The other day, I saw a photo like this circulating on Pinterest with the headline “WARNING: look at what’s in your Kraft Mac n’ Cheese! 

Source: Food Babe

Source: Food Babe

When I first saw the label, I thought it was total bunk; garbage. My judgement was based not only on the label content but also on what appeared to me to be a rather ‘amateurish’ label design. Hey, it was a fair assumption. I mean, how hard could it be to stop at Staples, pick up a pack of Avery labels and design/print labels with deceptive information? In terms of content, a first clue was that “macaroni” was spelled incorrectly (as “macroni”). The other red flag for me was the label’s “GMO declaration” – “made from genetically modified wheat.” WHAT?!? (I’ll get to the ‘wheat’ thing later).

Fig. 3

photo taken by colleague in London, May 31, 2013

After a bit of social media scanning, I found out that this label was on a package of KD that was imported from the US to the United Kingdom (UK).  As I was not familiar with import and labeling regulations in the UK, I launched into several hours of research – scouring regulatory documents and scanning the websites of UK importers.  Not to mention, I exchanged a flurry of emails with colleagues who are more ‘in the know’ about such things. I even managed to score a photo of another labeled box of KD from a colleague in London (below).

First, I wanted to compare what I knew to be a legitimate label on a package of KD (above, purchased by a trusted colleague) with one that had been circulating on social media. Summary below:

KD labels side by side

Photo of Label 1 sourced from Food Babe

Label 1: As far as I can tell, the photo of this label was introduced to the Internet via the Food Babe website. The date that this particular box of KD was originally purchased is unknown. But Food Babe did publish another photo of a package of KD yesterday that appears to have the same format and content as the one pictured above. The photo also included the May 31, 2013 issue of The Times of London as a ‘time stamp’ (the photo was taken at a Tesco location in North London).  The product importer was Innovative Bites Ltd.

Label 2: Photographed by a colleague on May 31, 2013, this label was on a package of KD that he purchased at a local Tesco retailer in London.  The product importer was PS Foods Limited.

Note the differences. To illustrate these differences, I pulled together a table that outlines what is and isn’t included on the respective labels.

table KD

Allergen Information: Regulatory bodies in many countries in the world have labelling requirements for specific priority allergens (plus gluten sources / added sulphites) in foods (Canada, US, EU). Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 (both of which are food dyes in KD’s dry cheese powder) are known in the EU as Tartrazine (E102), and Sunset Yellow (E110) respectively. In a 2007 study, commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency, hyperactivity in children was linked to artificial colorings and a food preservative. This prompted the European Parliament to pass a law in July 2008 requiring products containing food dyes in Europe to carry the warning “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children” (as shown on Label 1, absent on Label 2).

GMOs: The EU (including the UK) has a very different political and regulatory approach to genetically engineered crops and GMOs than we do in North America. While mandatory labelling of GMOs isn’t required here in Canada (or the US), the European Commission requires that pre-packaged products consisting of or containing GMOs have labels that indicate so. As much as 70% of food in our grocery stores in North America is made with genetically modified ingredients (soy, canola, corn). Therefore an importer of a prepackaged product from the US (as in this case) may include “may contain GMOs” on the label for no other reason than to cover their butts.

But here’s the real kicker about Label 1.  Label 1 states – definitively – that the product is “made from genetically modified wheat.” There has never been a genetically engineered wheat on the market.  Never. Not anywhere in the world. So, even if Kraft wanted to make its product(s) with GE wheat, it couldn’t. The information on Label 1 is inaccurate and grossly misleading.

Ingredients: I couldn’t find a (credible, regulatory) document that outlined protocols for labeling imported prepackaged food in the UK. So, I will pose some possible reasons for why one of these labels had ingredients and the other didn’t.

Maybe it depends on the placement of the label.  Label 2 was placed on the upper part of the side of the box.  The (US) factory printed ingredient list was near the bottom so it wasn’t obscured. Maybe that’s why the ingredient list didn’t need to be repeated on the label.  As for the other product (Label 1), it wasn’t photographed in full so I don’t really know where the label was placed.  One thing that would justify a list of ingredients beyond the factory printed list (as in Label 1) would be a clarification of ingredients.  You will recall earlier that I mentioned that the food dyes in KD’s dry cheese powder are referred to differently in the UK (EU) than they are in North America. Including an edited ingredients list would be useful (and informative) in this case. (Related: see Rob Wallbridge’s post on his blog The Fanning Mill where he talks about interpretation and meaning of (ag-based) words in different parts of the world).

Note: ‘Best Before’ dates are included on Label 1 but not on Label 2.

Is safety an issue? In a word, NO.

Food dyes: Both Yellow 5 (Tartrazine (E102)) and Yellow 6 and (Sunset Yellow (E110)) have safety approval in the US (USDA/FDA), the EU (EFSA) and other jurisdictions in the world. A panel of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) experts met with the center for Science in the Public Interest in 2011 to consider relevant data on the possible association between artificial food colors and hyperactivity in children. Based upon the available evidence, the panel ruled that a causal link between food dyes and ADHD has not been established.  They did, however, suggest that more research needed to be done.  These food dyes (and Kraft) are still under fire. There are lobbying efforts underway to push the company to remove these additives from their product lines.

GM Wheat:  No GE wheat varieties have been approved for commercial production in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Monsanto, however, was authorized to field test glyphosate tolerant wheat in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.  Recently, glyphosate tolerant wheat was discovered in an Oregon field.  APHIS has launched an official investigation (press release here). Check out the post at Biofortified “Get the scoop on GMO wheat in Oregon.” Karl Haro von Mogel provides some great links to resources there.

Needless to say, this recent discovery, in combination with the Kraft label issue, only serves to fuel the fire of controversy and raises questions about the safety of GE wheat. But the FDA reviewed this glyphosate tolerant wheat back in 2004 and determined it that there was no food safety risk associated with the crop variety.

So, what SHOULD we be concerned about? 

MISL LABELS

The EU watchdog must be asleep. It appears that different UK importers (in this case, Innovative Bites Ltd (UK) and PS Foods Limited) attach different labels to meet requirements. More problematic, however, are the gross errors in labeling; from simple spelling errors, to omissions, to completely inaccurate information. The lack of consistency in content, format and structure of label information creates uncertainty and confusion. This does little to incite product confidence for the consumer. Another unfortunate by-product of this kind of ‘fuzzy’ labeling is that it provides the perfect opportunity for the ‘food police’ (a la Jayson Lusk) and the anti-GM movement to move in and work their own kind of ‘craft’. They can quickly spin stories (such as here and here) to further sway public opinion through misleading information.

As a consumer I want nutritional and other information about the food that I buy. But I want accurate and meaningful information.  Don’t you?

UPDATES HERE

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“Crowd-sourced Mythbusting” is a great thing! Please weigh in on the topic and share your knowledge, thoughts and opinion!

“10 ‘reasoned’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need #GMOs”

You may have run across this article “10 Reasons We Don’t Need GM Foods” on the FoodConsumer website.  It’s been making its rounds on social media (Facebook and Twitter). I would like to address some of the inaccuracies in this article – point by point:

1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis

Well, surprisingly enough, I agree with this one.  Or at least with the statement: GM foods ALONE won’t solve the food crisis. GM foods and genetically engineered (GE) crops aren’t a silver bullet in resolving problems with food security.  I refer to Mark Lynas (former Greenpeace activist and author) who said in a recent talk he gave at Cornell University:

“[GE/GM] cannot build better roads or chase away corrupt officials. But surely seeds which deliver higher levels of nutrition, which protect the resulting plant against pests without the need for expensive chemical inputs, and which have greater yield resilience in drought years are least worth a try?” Mark Lynas (April 2013)

Hey, I’d say so.  It is important to note that the introduction of GE crops (in particular) has enabled wider adoption of “no-till” farming (see a farmer’s perspective on this).  No-till is a system which conserves soil moisture, prevents erosion, dramatically reduces nutrient and pesticide movement to streams and rivers, and reduces fuel use.  All good, in my opinion.

Did you know that if we still farmed using the inputs and techniques that we did in the 1950s, we would need millions (maybe even billions) more hectares available to produce what we produce today? Advances in plant breeding techniques, introduction of no-till practices, integrated pest management and adoption of genetically engineered crop varieties account for this rise in production.  This translates into higher productivity on less land.  We all win.   

2. GM crops do not increase yield potential

Seriously?! Hmmm.  Well, research suggests differently. The results of meta-analysis (that means a study that analyzed the results from MANY MANY other studies) published in a peer reviewed science journal in 2012 found that organic yields of individual crops were on average 25% percent lower than that of conventional yields.   Productivity in GM crops are purported to be anywhere from 7 – 20% higher than conventional varieties.  And, of course, context matters.  Different soil conditions in different parts of the world may be more or less conducive to a variety of production methods. Again, GE technology and GM crops are not a silver bullet by any means. But genetically engineered crops are an important technology in the food production toolbox. So, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, OK?

3. GM crops increase pesticide use

If that’s the case, then how do you explain this interesting fact? Cotton farmers in India spray heavily to control for pests that damage production. Did you know that the application of pesticides to cotton in India is done by hand? With farmers walking through their small cotton fields using backpack sprayers? The adoption of GM cotton in India has reduced the number of pesticide applications per season by 50%. It is estimated that more than 2 million fewer cases of pesticide poisoning are occurring on an annual basis which saves the Indian government US$14 million (Smyth 2013, Herring 2009).

Want a first world perspective on the whole GM and pesticide use issue? Check out Applied Mythology‘s “The Muddled Debate on Pesticides and GM Crops.” Pesticide use is lower. Combine that with other economic and environmental benefits (refer to #1 and #2)… it’s a good thing.

4. There are better ways to feed the world

Let’s re-phrase this so that it’s a bit more accurate: “There are “many” ways to feed the world”

Absolutely.  A million of them.  Food security is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach in resolving the political and economic issues that come with feeding a growing world population.  Again, GE and GM crops are very important technologies in the food production toolbox…

I mentioned the “baby” and the “bathwater” already, didn’t I?

5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Farming is complex. I don’t know ANY farmer who is not up against making a hundred decisions in a given day.  Just ask a producer (grain, livestock, organic, conventional): Ryan Goodman, Brian Scott, Emily Zweber, Carrie Mess… Again, this is not an all or nothing scenario. Many factors go into the strategic management at the farm level.  And its never as simple as saying that GMO is ‘bad’ and organic is ‘good’ or vice versa. It’s more than just picking a production method.

6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

I hear this a lot and I have to remind everyone that nothing is 100% safe. Nothing. NO food. You can test organic, conventional and GM for the next 500 years and there will never ever be “absolute proof” that a food produced a certain way is 100% safe. That’s not how things roll here in the ‘real world’. The food value chain is long and involves lots of actors.  Lots can happen. Take for example the Maple Leaf Foods listeria crisis in 2008 (23 confirmed deaths). Then there was the XL Foods e.coli incident in 2012 where 18+ people were taken ill when they ingested tainted meat. And the anti-GM folks get a bit hot under the collar when I mention this one:  almost 4000 people were affected and 53 died from a rare strain of e.coli in sprouts that were produced on an organic farm in Germany in 2011.

There have been some food-related tragedies.  But there is no documented evidence of harm to human health or deaths from consumption of GM foods since they were introduced to the market two decades ago. None. Here are TWO studies (US and EU – and there are more) that attest to the safety of GM foods (NRC 2004, EC 2010, more here (scroll down)). GE crops or GMOs have been the most heavily tested food products in the history of our regulatory system.

7. People don’t want GM foods – so they’re hidden in animal feed

I wonder who thought this little gem up.  GM foods aren’t “hidden.” And they are certainly not “hidden” in animal feed.  Livestock producers use corn and soybean as a base for animal feed, all over the world (including the the European Union where GE soybeans are exported from the US and Brazil for animal consumption). As of 2012, there has been a 100-fold increase in the planting of biotech crops since 1996.  In the US alone, between 67% and 94% of all acreage attributed to corn, soybean, cotton and canola are genetically engineered. Nothing is “hidden” here… genetically engineered crops are ‘front and centre’ in world agriculture production.  Biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture (James 2012).

8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers

Wow. That sounds scary.  Yes, GM seed prices are higher than that of conventional seeds.  But farmers that utilize the technology do so because they get higher yields and extract higher margins.  Just ask Brian Scott: “I can get a premium price for the soybeans we grow to be used as seed by other farmers next year.” If you ask Brian, he is neither “dependent” on the technology nor is he a “slave to ‘big ag'”.   Rather he (and other producers like him) are making economic decisions at the farm level based on input costs and projected market outcomes.  And don’t kid yourself. These folks don’t make these decisions at the expense of the land.  They *care* about the environment (environmental benefits: see #1).  They are not about to willfully destroy land that has been farmed by them and their ancestors – and potentially their children and children’s children – for generations.

9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist

There’s that word again – – – “contamination”.  It’s an ugly word with ugly connotations.  Did you know that we already operate in a segregated agriculture and food system?  If you want, you can choose to eat organic.  It’s all labeled in your grocery store.  Organics standards were adopted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2009 in Canada.  These standards are enforced by organic inspectors through accredited certification bodies all over the country. Contamination? Organic farm and crop certification is based on the production methods used, NOT on the purity of the end product. So, nothing would happen to an organic grower or his produce if (in the highly unlikely event that) trace amounts of some other variety were found (BTW – there is no testing in organic crops). Organic growers will never lose their organic certification (unless, of course, they are shown to be intentionally growing ‘non-organic’ produce or crops and sending them to market as ‘organic’).

10. We can’t trust GM companies

Don’t believe everything you read. Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, Monsanto and other ‘big ag’ companies are just that – companies. They are profit-motivated and generate revenues to cover the costs of doing business and to provide a return for their shareholders. These companies, and others like Apple or MicroSoft, make no secret of that. And isn’t that the tenet of any business – big or small? Companies step into the space where the public sector can’t and won’t – they bring the products downstream to the market. Did you know that the time that it takes to put a product through the regulatory system has almost tripled in the last 20 years (13 years and $140 million US)? And just to clarify, the regulatory system is no more robust than it ever was. But the political pressures that have been placed on governments by interest groups have forced a ‘slow down’ in the regulatory process. This means more costs. And, right now the only companies that have the resources to navigate the costly and complex regulatory processes are big ag.

The whole “David and Goliath” thing (small defenseless farmer vs big ag company) gets wayyyy overblown in the anti-GM rhetoric.  Like I said before, don’t believe everything you read.  Like ’em or not, ‘big ag’ companies are the only ones that can take these technologies to the marketplace where society can extract value from them.  Who else? Universities and public research institutes? I don’t think so.  At least, that’s not where I want *my* tax dollar going. These multinational ag businesses invest the dollars in the research and product development and they have a right to protect that investment for a limited period of time. It’s how our patent system works – for EVERYONE.

Want to know more about patents and plants? Check here.

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We live in a privileged world; one where food is plentiful and varied and one that affords us this seemingly ‘aesthetic’ relationship with what and how we consume. We have turned our backs on the functionality of food and entered into this realm of ‘food snobbery’ where the ‘food police or elites‘ (as Jayson Lusk refers to them) seem to rule the world.

On a final note: For every 10 reasons cited suggesting that we don’t need GMOs, I can list 100 or more of why we *do* need genetically engineered crops and GM food.

rant/off

“No More Food Fights” is a call to action!

No More Food Fights: Growing a productive food and farm conversation by Michele Payn-Knoper

No-More-Food-Fights-Cover-Food-680x1024

Agriculture and food production practices are often misunderstood by the public and maligned in the media.  These days, misinformation regarding farming practice and food quality and safety can circulate like wildfire, fuelled by the tools like Facebook and Twitter. 

“No More Food Fights” is a unique book that navigates the ‘fever swamp’ of propaganda by providing readers with realistic insights into how food makes it to our plate.  Its author, Michele Payn-Knoper, is a professional speaker, farmer, and self-professed foodie. She challenges us to abandon the ‘food fights’ in favor of balanced conversations that are approached with “curiosity, candor and civility.”

knoper quote

Payn-Knoper encourages us to celebrate our choices and to strive to engage in productive dialogue on the science behind agriculture, about what really happens on the farm, consumer perceptions of farming and food and everything in between.

What makes “No More Food Fights” really unique is its design.  Payn-Knoper organizes content around the five senses (touch, sight, sound, smell, taste) along with one more – common sense.  One side is aimed at the consumer perspective (chefs, healthcare professionals, foodies, dieticians, etc) while the ‘flip’ side reveals the perspectives of farmers, ranchers and agri-business.

“No More Food Fights” covers the gamut from biotechnology to grain and livestock production practices to animal welfare to stewardship to fertilizers, pests and protecting the environment – all in an effort to highlight the high quality of North America’s food and feed.  It is an approachable book with insights from a variety of people and professionals who have firsthand experience including farmers, dieticians, food processors, physicians, food safety experts, veterinarians, consumers and scientists.

“No More Food Fights” is a call to action.  It is a call to action for all of us no matter where we sit on the value chain – producer, processor or consumer. We need to approach our dialogues around farming and food with civility.  No negativity, no grandstanding – just good conversation!

Swiss consumers & choice…study with organic, conventional, GMO food

November 15, 2011

Here is a peer reviewed journal article in Food Policy (August 2011) outlining the results of a study exploring consumer choice about productsproduced through different ag production methods.

 How would Swiss consumers decide if they had freedom of choice? Evidence from a field study with organic, conventional and GM corn bread

Authors: Philipp Aerni, Joachim Scholderer, David Ermen

EXCERPT: “The results of the discrete choice analysis revealed that customers are price sensitive, but not to the extent expected. 20.1% of the customers bought a GM corn bread even if it was as expensive as its organic alternative. The analysis of the questionnaire results confirmed that ‘curiosity’ rather than the price was the primary reason for buying a GM corn bread. Another reason may also be related to lifestyle conflicts in front of the market stand. On the one hand, people express a clear preference for organic and are willing to pay a premium for it, on the other hand they welcome personal initiative by local people to sell something new at open market stands – even if this new thing is a GM corn bread.”

ABSTRACT: In 2005, the Swiss expressed their negative attitude towards genetic engineering in agriculture by voting in favor of a ban to use genetically modified (GM) crops in domestic agriculture. At the same time, certain GM food products remain approved but are not on offer since retailers assume that consumers would shun labeled GM food. In our study we tested this claim by conducting a large-scale field study with Swiss consumers. In our experimental design, three clearly labeled types of corn bread were offered at five different market stands across the French and German-speaking part of Switzerland: one made with organic, one made with conventional, and one made with genetically modified (GM) corn. In addition, we tested the consistency between purchasing decision at the market stand and the previous voting decision on GMOs in 2005 by means of an ex-post questionnaire. The results of our discrete choice analysis show that Swiss consumers treat GM foods just like any other type of novel food. We conclude from our findings that consumers tend to appreciate transparency and freedom of choice even if one of the offered product types is labeled as containing a genetically modified ingredient. Retailers should allow consumers to make their own choice and accept the fact that not all people appear to be afraid of GM food.

 

It’s a small world…full of funny names

March 5 2011

I was waiting for a flat white to be brewed at a kiosk in Canberra airport.

“Is this yours?” I gesture towards a steaming cup of the Gods’ elixer that one of the apron-sporting, ‘how ya going?’ baristas set down on the counter. The tall, fair haired patron, looking a bit rumpled and rough, smiled.

“Nah, no… ‘on the juice today.” He shook a near empty bottle in my direction. “Rough night last night.”

Well, that certainly explains the bloodshot eyes, I thought to myself.

The young man grabs his order of a bacon ‘n egger. “What is it about greasy food and hangovers? They just seem to go together.”

“I think that it’s a universally accepted treatment of choice” I replied.

The two of us then launched into a discussion that started with ‘where ya from?’ and lead into a chat about, of all things – Davidson, Saskatchewan.

“Do you know a place called Davidson, Saskatchewan?” he queried.

“Sure I do!” Amazed that HE did. “It’s halfway between Saskatoon and Regina.”

“Yeah right,” The young Aussie grinned, “the city that rhymes with fun!”

[some things ARE universal]

Apparently this young man – Rick – did some seeding for a farmer near Davidson (whose name now escapes me). He and some buddies travelled across Canada in the late 90s, picking up work here and there and skiing and snowboarding (naturally).

When I asked him what he thought of the flatlands, he said it loved it.

“It’s like the family farm from home in Wogga Wogga.” A place that, according to Rick, is so great, “They had to name it twice!”

Frightening people… simply irresponsible!

December 10, 2010 (see follow up related blog entry on the ‘Wizardry of Oz‘)

The episode of the Dr. Oz show the other day on “GM / GE foods and technology” has further perpetuated common misconceptions about GE and GMOs.  Scientists and tech/science advocates all over the world are shaking their heads and sighing.  Popular media and celebrity carries so much power with consumers and this type of irresponsible reporting and misrepresentation of facts is problematic for society at large.

In Newton’s words “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”… this may not be an ‘equal’ reaction, but the efforts of the science community to come forth and respond to Dr Oz and the show’s producers through letters/emails is a step in the right direction.

I draw your attention to Dr. Terry Etherton, a Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and Head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University.  Today’s entry “GMOs and the Dr. Oz Show – A Stampede over Science”  in his blog entitled “Blog on Biotechnology” challenges the Dr Oz show and its producers for scripting, editing and content (http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/2010/12/ )

“My initial thought about the show was that it provided a great opportunity to present the facts about the efficacy and safety of GMOs to a large audience.  Unfortunately, what “played out” was way past disappointing.  There was unbelievable bias in how the segment was edited to produce the “final” version that overshadowed the sound scientific facts about GMOs.  I found it remarkable that much of what Dr. Ronald presented during the filming of the segment was edited “out” of the final version of the show!” 

Dr. Etherton wrote to the producer of the show, Rosalyn Menon.  His letter is also included in his blog entry.  Here is, in my opinion, a great excerpt!

“Unfortunately, the undertone of this segment was that the American people are the victim of some sinister plot by the conventional agriculture industry (and the scientific community) to feed them unsafe and unhealthy food, and that niche market food products, such as organic or “non-GMO verified” labeled foods are somehow safer or healthier.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  The men and women who farm in America as well as agricultural/food scientists involved in developing new technologies to feed the growing World’s population care about the safety of food and food products sold to consumers (I know because I grew up on a farm in Illinois).  To imply otherwise, simply to frighten people into purchasing alternative products that are no safer or more nutritious, is simply irresponsible.”

Dr. Robert Wager, of Vancouver Island University, co-authored the timely article “Popular misconceptions: agricultural biotechnology” in December’s issue of New Biotechnology, also wrote a letter to the Show’s producers (see my blog entry of December 9th for a link to the McHughen/Wager article. With Dr. Wager’s permission, I include his letter below:

Dear Producer

It is truly a mark of our time that facts are irrelevant in TV programming.  Perhaps I am wrong to think the Dr. Oz show was about the real science of health.  The episode on GM food was an excellent example of pseudo-science and yellow journalism.  For Dr. Oz (and I now use that title with reservation) to claim to be a supporter of science and then to absolutely block any attempts to present the real science on GM crops and food is unforgivable.  Every single example of alleged harm the other guests claimed has been refuted by real scientific organizations from around the world.  A typical example of pseudo-science had Jeff Smith state the American Academy of Environmental Medicine claim GM foods cause all manners of harm to humans. 

 Does Dr. Oz now support homeopathy as the AAEM does? 

Has Dr. Oz actually read the AMA report on GM crops and food which states :

 “Genetically modified foods raise many issues–scientific, technological, environmental, social, ethical, economic, and political.”132 Controversy over GM food exposes larger issues about public trust in science and the role of science in policymaking. In an increasingly complex world, trust functions as a substitute for knowledge. Interference with our systems of food production has always aroused public concern, occasionally with justification. Attempts to introduce GM foods have stimulated not a reasoned debate, but a potent negative campaign by people with other agendas. Opponents ignore common farming practices and well investigated facts about plants, or inaccurately present general problems as being unique to GM plants.”

http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/no-index/about-ama/13595.shtml 

Imagine my surprise when Dr. Oz chose to slander GM food by siding with those who believe homeopathy is ‘real medicine’ over the American Medical Association position.

I suspect no one at your show is aware of the 15 years and 81 separate research projects by the European Commission that found:

[GM food]  has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make then even safer than conventional plants and food’

Kessler, C. and Economidis, I. (2001) EC Sponsored Research on the Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms – A Review of Results. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities

I could list the many biases the show used to pump the fear, but I suspect you are fully aware of them.  The real science of GM foods is very clear and there is not a single food safety body in the world that has found safety concerns for GM food beyond those of conventional bred food crops.  There is not a national food safety body in the world that has recorded a documented case of harm from consuming GM food.  Every claim to the contrary has been demonstrated to be false.

Credibility is a strange thing.  It often takes years to gain but mere seconds to lose.  At this point the position put forward by Dr. Oz is exactly what can destroy his credibility.  There are a great many real science organizations and real scientists willing to help Dr. Oz present the real story about GM crops and food.  It would definitely be in his and your best interest to take advantage of these sources and present a show that will address the damage the episode did to the  “public trust in science” and specifically the trust in the real science of GM crops and food.  Anything less will be a clear demonstration to many that the Dr. Oz show does not care about real science.  I seriously doubt that is what you want.

Robert Wager

Robert.wager@viu.ca

http://web.viu.ca/wager

I encourage you to take up the torch here… write Dr Oz and share your opinions, insights, concerns and ideas:

Ms. Rosalyn Menon
Producer
The Dr. Oz Show
30 Rockefeller Plaza – 43rd floor
New York, NY  10112