What’s The Beef? (in-vitro meat)

By Tim Lymberopoulos June 11, 2011

Remember Wendy’s popular commercial of “Where’s the beef?”  Soon, people could be asking a different question.

Willem van Eelen is considered to be the godfather of in-vitro meat.  As a teenager of Dutch descent living in Indonesia, van Eelen fought the Japanese in WWII.  His comment about his experience in prison camps shows how hungry they were, “If one of the stray dogs was stupid enough to go over the wire, the prisoners would jump on it, tear it apart and eat it raw. If you looked at my stomach then, you saw my spine. I was already dead.” 1 Now van Eelen and other scientists are growing in-vitro meat in the lab.

Really?

Yes.  It can be done.  Scientist take stem cells from a pig, cow or chicken and place them in bioreactors.  The cells divide and the technicians instruct the cells to differentiate into muscle cells.  Over time, the muscle cells bulk up and get harvested.  Keep in mind, growing muscle cells outside the body is extremely difficult.  It might cost $50,000 to produce 1 pound of meat.  But the fact remains that it can be done.

Yuck!

I had the same reaction.  But consider the ‘The Jungle’ environment of a slaughterhouse, and the diseases that spawn from them.  As for the taste, I don’t know how they make a chicken nugget taste like chicken, but they do.

Why?

People are hungry!  The demand for meat is increasing.  The global livestock industry is responsible for nearly 20% our greenhouse gas emissions.  Water is becoming more of a precious commodity and cattle consumer nearly 10% of the planets fresh water.  This last stat is crazy!  80% of farmland is devoted to the production of meat.2

So as absurd as in-vitro meat sounds, I want to point out that in the future, it might become a reality, whether we like it or not.  How do you feel about eating meat grown in a lab?  Do you foresee this becoming part of humans’ diet?  Is there a parallel to GMOs?  I would love to hear your comments.

1 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=inside-the-meat-lab

2 http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_specter

GMO Labeling – Who are we protecting?

By Tim Lymberopoulos March 19, 2011 6 Comments

We have all sorts of labels on the food we buy. Caffeine Free, From Concentrate, Organic, but we do not label genetically modified (GM) food. Why?

“Extra labeling only confuses the consumer,” said David Edwards, director of animal biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “It differentiates products that are not different. As we stick more labels on products that don’t really tell us anything more, it makes it harder for consumers to make their choices.” 1

The large biotech companies repeatedly state their GM food products are safe, taste the same, and offer solutions to some of the food industry’s most difficult challenges. If they are as good, safe and helpful as they claim, why wouldn’t they promote the use of GM food rather than hide it?

The Food and Drug Administration’s stance is vague and unclear and claims it can only mandate GMO labeling if the food is different from regular food (taste, texture, allergen, nutritional value).  It is also vague on whether a product can be labeled as GMO Free.

As I write this, I notice my Odwalla juice has a No GMO label. But in 2008, the FDA went as far as restricting several companies from labeling their products GMO free. According to an article in the Washington Post, the FDA “sent a flurry of enforcement letters to food makers, including B&G Foods, which was told it could not use the phrase “GMO-free” on its Polaner All Fruit strawberry spread label because GMO refers to genetically modified organisms and strawberries are produce, not organisms.” 1 It also states such labeling can be interpreted as “GMO free” food being better.

“We totally disagree that our GMO-free claim implies that our product is better,” says Dave Wenner, president, B&G Foods, which manufactures Polaner All Fruit products. “We’re simply giving consumers a choice.” 2

And consumers want that choice. We highlighted on our Facebook page a recent poll done by MSNBC clearly showing the public’s desire to know what food is genetically modified. An astonishing 96% said yes to labeling GM food.3

Here is the conundrum. The public wants to know if they are eating GM Food. The biotech companies claim that it is perfectly safe. Yet the government states that labeling will only confuse the consumer. My only explanation is that the GM food industry is not afraid of a government mandate to label GM food, but rather GM food becomes a marketing liability to food companies because consumers want to know what they are eating.

The next big milestone will be GM salmon. The FDA has already stated there is no reason to enforce labeling of GM salmon.  But would you want to know if you are eating a genetically modified fish? Leave us a comment.

1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/18/AR2010091803520.html

2 http://newhope360.com/fda-warns-natural-foods-companies-about-non-gmo-labels

3 http://health.newsvine.com/_question/2011/02/25/6131050-do-you-believe-genetically-modified-foods-should-be-labeled

Are GMO Foods Safe To Eat?

By Tim Lymberopoulos February 19, 2011 4 Comments

Before I begin, I am not a lawyer, and I’m definitely not going to argue against any large biotech firm’s legal team on whether GMOs are safe. But, I am very interested in this issue and am trying to shed light on a great question.

Photo by crystaljingsr

The answer, however, is more difficult and involves asking more questions. Are GMO foods safe for people? For animals? In the short term? What about the long run? How do you trace an illness to a GMO? Could a disease take a long time to develop? (The last question is a great discussion in a smoke-free coffee shop).

Here is what Monsanto says on their website: “Yes, food derived from authorized genetically-modified (GM) crops is as safe as conventional (non-GM-derived) food. There has not been a single substantiated instance of illness or harm associated with GM crops.”1

That’s great, but sometimes we state things we believe to be true only to find out later we were wrong.

Here is an article from Time Magazine from April 24, 1950.  “…DDT is practically harmless to humans who get it on their skins or breathe it into their lungs. The two officers examined military personnel and laborers who had been working with DDT for as much as five years. In no case did they find an ailment traceable to DDT.” 2 (Please read the article.)

Let’s go back to Bt Corn. (What is Bt corn?) StarLink corn has a genetically modified gene that produces a protein that is toxic to insect pests. Therefore, this corn makes its own pesticide. StarLink received governmental approval for domestic animal feed and biofuels, but not for human consumption.3 The reason was because this toxin protein that killed insects was found to be an allergen to humans. Two years after its release, it was found in taco shells made by Taco Bell.  StarLink corn was discontinued.

Currently, there are no human trials being conducted by any large biotech firms. Here is what Monsanto says on their site: “It is impossible to design a long-term safety test in humans, which would require, for example, intake of large amounts of a particular GM product over a very large portion of the human life span.” I disagree — read my first post on GMO foods.

We don’t know the answer to this question because this technology has only been around a few decades. The building blocks of the human body are proteins. Proteins we have been ingested for centuries. Now, we are consuming new proteins that have only been tested in animals for less than one generation.

We will continue this conversation here on our blog and touch on many more issues surrounding GMO foods.

We encourage you to participate in our conversation. Do you think genetically modified food is safe? Do you think there should be a label that identifies GMO foods?

Tell us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, and as always, your comments are welcome below.

1 http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/food-safety.aspx#q1

2 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,812248,00.html

3 http://www.epa.gov/oppbppd1/biopesticides/pips/starlink_corn.htm#proposal

 

3 Reasons Why We Have Genetically Modified Food

By Tim Lymberopoulos February 10, 2011 3 Comments

With all this fuss over genetically modified food, shouldn’t we ask, why did we start making it anyway? Here’s a look at some of the first reasons that brought GM food into our marketplace. (What is a GMO?)

Photo by Transguyjay

1. Rotten Tomatoes

Everyone can relate to this situation: You go to the grocery store, buy some fresh delicious tomatoes, only to have to throw them away because they rotted before you could eat them. The first GM food was created in 1994 to curb this dilemma, and it was called the Flavr Savr tomato. It worked by blocking one of the tomato’s genes so that a protein involved in ripening was not produced, giving the tomato a longer shelf life.

2. Night Vision

Here is a more serious example. Remember when as a kid you were told to eat your carrots so you could see better at night? The reason is because beta-carotene (which the body uses to make vitamin A) is essential to vision, especially at night.

goldenrice.org

Between 100 and 140 million children are vitamin A deficient. An estimated 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight (World Health Organization).1 Most of these children live in countries where a majority of their diet consists of rice, which naturally contains no beta-carotene.

Though genetic engineering, Golden Rice was created. This yellow-colored rice contains higher levels of beta carotene. The technology is based on a simple principle. Rice plants naturally accumulate beta-carotene in their leaves, but not in the grain. By adding two genes, the beta-carotene is consequently accumulated in the edible part of the grain and also gives it the golden color. Potentially, it could help hundreds of thousands of children.

3. Caterpillars

We don’t eat caterpillars, but they eat leaves of plants, specifically corn. Many farmers used to spray their fields with nasty pesticides to kill the caterpillars. But then along came Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

Bt is a bacteria that makes a chemical that is lethal to caterpillars. With biotechnology, scientists have taken a gene from Bt and inserted it into corn. Now the Bt corn protects itself from hungry caterpillars, and there’s no more spraying of harmful pesticides on our cornfields.

What’s next?

The GM food story is long and has interesting points on both sides. These three reasons all certainly seem like they were great ideas. However, some would argue that developing GM crops isn’t safe.

What questions do you have about GM food? Let us know by leaving a comment below or by reaching out to us on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll try to help answer your questions in future posts.


1http://www.worldhunger.org/

The Biggest Experiment in Human History

By Tim Lymberopoulos January 20, 2011 2 Comments

DNA

Photo by Diego Cantalapiedra

The biggest experiment in human history is occurring right in front of our eyes, and nearly everyone participating doesn’t even know it is happening.

Yes, we Americans are the guinea pigs for testing something called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

What is a GMO? We will provide two definitions.

According to Monsanto, a biotech seed producer, GMOs are the result of the following process:

Biotechnology, or genetic engineering, is the process of inserting a gene from one species, like a plant or a bacterium, into another species. Typically the gene inserted will express an advantageous characteristic in the plant, such as the ability to tolerate environmental pressures, like insect resistance or drought tolerance.1

According to The Non-GMO Project:

GMOs are organisms that have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology. This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.2

For centuries, humans have been manipulating the traits of plants and animals using crossbreeding techniques. But there are significant differences between crossbreeding and engineering GMOs.

Crossbreeding is the ‘crossing’ of closely related species to produce new desirable properties. Dogs are an example of this. Breeders take the trait of  a certain dog and cross it with another to get the desired results. For example, you take a bulldog and cross it with Shih Tzu and you get … (I couldn’t resist). The key point here is that crossbreeding can take place naturally.

GMOs are the result of injecting the gene from one species into another completely different species through scientific human intervention. It’s like taking a gene from a jelly fish that glows in the dark and putting it in a zebra fish. The GMO is a GloFish® (notice the trademark).3 This cannot occur naturally.

Corn Field

Photo by Cindy Seigle

GMOs are commonly used in food production. Let’s look at one in particular. Corn. I grew up in Princeton, Ill., which is surround by corn.  The next time you fly in a plane over the Midwest, look out the window, and you’ll see endless rows of corn. In 2000, the corn fields in Illinois contained 17 percent genetically modified corn.  In 2010, over 85 percent of all that corn was genetically modified.4 Wow! OK, but who eats that corn? We all do. From Los Angeles to New York City.

In 10 years, nearly all of our corn has changed from natural to genetically modified. And this is just one small part of this important topic. Why are we writing about GMOs? Because Americans are the test subjects, and I think it is prudent for us to learn about this experiment and its implications. Hence our series on GMOs.

Does your understanding of GMOs affect the way you shop for food? Leave a comment below and let us know.

1 Monsanto

2 The Non-GMO Project

3 GloFish®

4 USDA