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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unlabeled GMO Salmon Debated

Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies is producing a type of salmon in a contained fresh water culture facility that grows twice as fast as conventional salmon. The company takes a growth gene from Chinook salmon and a "promoter" gene from another fish called ocean pout. The promoter gene turns on the Chinook salmon growth gene, said John Buchanan, AquaBounty's director of research and development. The resulting salmon grow to market weight about twice as fast (18 months) as ordinary Atlantic salmon (36 months), though they don't get larger overall.

If the FDA approves the fish, it would mark the first time a genetically modified animal has been approved for America's dinner plates and restaurant menus. The bulk of the genetically modified foods already on the market are soybeans, corn, canola, cottonseed oil, and sugar beets. The U.S. leads the world in GM foods because as much as 80% of prepared and prepackaged foods use GM ingredients.

On September 3, a scientific panel that advises the FDA paved the way for the approval of the genetically modified salmon, calling it "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon." The FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee said the fish contained the same amount of nutrients and had "no biologically relevant differences" from ordinary farmed Atlantic salmon.

The FDA is regulating genetically engineered animals as it would a new veterinary drug, which means that much of the research and information about the product is being kept confidential.

There is an outcry from consumer advocates. "We don't know if it's safe for humans to eat and the only research that has been done was done by the company," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C. "The FDA is an under-resourced agency that has had so much trouble with the regulatory system for foods – we've had tainted eggs, poisonous peanuts and other contaminations – and is now taking on something in a very non-transparent way."

Food & Water Watch was joined by 30 other animal welfare, consumer, environmental and fisheries groups, including the Sierra Club, which issued a statement citing concerns that the fish could escape and pose an environmental threat. Consumer advocates have also warned that "transgenic fish" could introduce new or unknown allergens into the food supply.

Dr. Grout's Comment:

If GM salmon is no different, then why are there several patents for the process? Opponents are demanding that the FDA will at least require transparent GM labeling. That would be a first – GM soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, etc., are not labeled. A lot is at stake. If the GM salmon is approved, it will set a precedent for the approval of many other types of GM animals, including cows, pigs, and chickens.

The FDA is keeping food from cloned animals out of the food supply at this time "in order to ensure a smooth transition to the market. Food from the sexually reproduced offspring of clones has been entering the food supply freely. Genetically engineered animals, on the other hand, are regulated under the new animal drug provisions of the FFDCA, and as such must receive formal approval before they may be introduced into commerce."

Food & Water Watch is circulating a petition, asking for labeling:

Flu and H1N1 combo shot mandatory in New York?

New York State Senator Tom Duane is introducing a bill that would require all health care workers in the state to have mandatory flu shots.

"People don't like being told what to do, but frankly, if you work in a hospital setting, flu vaccination should be mandatory," Duane (D-Manhattan) told the New York Daily News. "There will be people mad about it, but I do believe it's necessary." Duane said health care workers would be less likely to spread the virus if they were vaccinated.

During 2009's H1N1 outbreak, the New York state Health Department said all health care workers needed to get shots, but the proposal was withdrawn because of union protests and because there was so little supply of the vaccine at first.

The bill, if passed, would be the first of its kind in the nation and has support from numerous medical groups, according to the Daily News. However, there is still strong opposition to the bill from unions and health care professionals which call it an extreme step.

Dr. Grout's Comment:

The flu shot for the upcoming season will be a combination of the seasonal flu and last year's H1N1 virus. As usual, it will be sold in multi-dose vials which are preserved with mercury. There are single-dose vials made, but usually those are not covered by insurance.

I think this is one place you can save your time and money. The studies and evidence over time show that flu shots just don't work very well. It is rare that a healthy person succumbs to influenza; ninety percent of the fatalities occur with people 65+ who are already in fragile health. Several recent studies show that vitamin D wards off the flu better than a vaccine. The "sunshine vitamin" helps make a strong immune system that fends off viruses, even cancer.

So do yourself a favor, get your vitamin D level checked and let your body do its job – don't outsource your immune system.

USDA study finds money is wasted buying organic eggs

According to a recent USDA study of organic versus factory eggs reported in Time Magazine, the eggs are indistinguishable in terms of fat and protein content.

There is no question the chickens prefer the free-range life to that of a factory hen, virtually immobilized in a small cage all of her life. But the point of the study was whether a happy hen in fact produces a better product.

The study, "Physical quality and composition of retail shell eggs," published in the March 2010 issue of the journal Poultry Science, used different kinds of eggs – some traditional, others cage-free, free-roaming, pasteurized, omega-3 enhanced, fertile and organic – from Georgia grocery stores. Food technologist Deana Jones and her team found that on average, the eggs were of similar quality with respect to fat and protein content.

They used the Haugh unit – a highly specialized egg-quality metric developed in 1937. The white of an egg is where all its protein is found; it's made of both thin albumen – the watery fluid that runs farthest from the yolk when the egg is cracked into a cold pan – and thick albumen, the more viscous fluid that stays closer to the middle. The greater the amount of thick albumen, the more nutritious the egg.

"The Haugh unit factors together the weight of the egg and the thickness of the albumen layer at the center," says Jones. And that number, she found in her study, is not affected by how a hen is raised. "We found no meaningful differences at all," she says. "We sampled eggs from a number of stores and kept getting the same results over and over. For shoppers, the decision comes down to your ethical and moral choices."

The group "Beyond Pesticides" says the study missed the point. It failed to examine pesticide residues and vitamin content. Nor did it consider the environmental and health impacts of conventional, chemical-based production systems. The study did not examine other nutritional factors that farmers using organic methods often claim to be higher in organic eggs, such as vitamins A and E, beta carotene, folate, omega-3 fatty acids.

The group points out that organic poultry and egg production also prohibits the prophylactic use of antibiotics and arsenic in chicken feed, as well as requiring outdoor access and organically produced chicken feed. Chemically-treated grains in conventional chicken feed can cause environmental damage in the form of water contamination and wildlife poisoning and can be hazardous to those who work on or live near farms.

Dr. Grout's Comment:

I could stick a thermometer under your tongue, see that it is 98.6, and declare you fit as a fiddle. That, like the Haugh unit, is a grossly simplistic measurement. Most of an egg's nutrition is in the yolk that contains fat plus most of the vitamins and minerals of the egg. In 1937 when the Haugh unit was devised, we did not even realize most vitamins existed. And what about the arsenic in conventional feed? This study, although it got a lot of attention in a major magazine, is seriously flawed.

Too bad Time Magazine didn't get curious about the other side of the story and contact an organic group to see what they had to say about eggs from pastured chickens. This study was commissioned by the USDA which, like the FDA, is perhaps more than somewhat beholden to the conventional food manufacturers. A study like this tends to preserve the market share of the average conventional egg producers if it can convince you that organic food isn't worth the extra effort, and that there is no need to support humane agriculture. Judging by many of the comments people posted to the Time Magazine story, they weren't buying the validity of this study either.