The Taste of Tomorrow
  • Good GMOs
  • November29th

    Not long after tasting the first cultured beef burger (aka Google Burger, Franken Burger, lab-grown burger), and just a few days after declaring, only half-jokingly, on NPR’s Science Friday that I am the Neil Armstrong of lab meat,  a friend asked me a very good question.

     If not lab beef, then what?

    In other words, if I was a professional high-profile, highly-symbolic eater — if I had to be the chance of being the Neil Armstrong of another food — what would it be?

    That was, refreshingly, a no brainer.

     Golden rice.

    Yes, if ever I get another chance to eat on a stage, with hundreds of television cameras watching —   it would definitely be to eat a heaping bowl of golden rice.  I’d get a chef to fry up vegetable golden rice in a wok and then I would, pause pregnantly, and say the line that I chickened out on saying on August 5 on London.  “One small bite  for man… One giant bite for mankind.”

    If you are one of the few TofT readers who never heard the long, tortured saga of golden rice, here is a good story “Golden Rice, Lifesaver,” in the New York Times.  For more extensive information take a look this backgrounder from the International Rice Research Institute or from the The Golden Rice Project.

    I got a chance to throw in my .025 cents for golden rice last month.   And, in the Time piece 11 Foods That Are Changing the World, the reporter quoted a line from the conclusion of The Taste of Tomorrow:

    “Savoring the slowest food shouldn’t be viewed as at odds with championing lab-engineered vitamin-A enhanced rice that could save children from blindness. Pairing [ those foods] is not an incompatible, ethically confused choice.”

    The Time blurb does hint at golden rice’s potential — citing an American Society for Nutrition study that found that one cup of golden rice daily could provide 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A.  But what the piece doesn’t say is that —although there is likely no crop in existence today that could have the potential life-saving impact of golden rice— there are  plenty of people who are fighting, jihadistly (my new word) to prevent its release — such as Greenpeace and these anti-GMO activists in the Philippines who destroyed a field trial.  For more, on the intensity of the anti-golden rice movement read Bjorn Lomborg in Slate —The Deadly Opposition to Genetically Modified Food.

    Opponents may legitimately argue that there are more effective ways of delivering desperately needed beta carotene to people in  rice-subsisting parts of South East Asia.  But even if there are better ways — even if golden rice isn’t a single bullet cure— there is not a shred of credible evidence that it poses any human health or environmental risk. In short, as  it’s morally indefensible to do what these activists are doing — destroying a crop that could save lives.

     

    Here’s a petition that has received thousands of signatures over the past months that I hope you’ll read — and sign — and then encourage your friends to sign.

  • October29th

    Back in July, The Taste of Tomorrow, called for a boycott of Whole Foods in 2018. Well, we are now revising our boycott to RIGHT NOW— yes, October 2013. Put back that lamb sausage, kashi & organic milk — head to the exit. Go elsewhere or abstain. You can come back to Whole Foods on Nov. 1.

    Why are we boycotting our favorite major grocer until the end of October?

    It’s because of this awfulness that arrived in our email box last (see image above). Here’s the advert text:

    Celebrate Non-GMO Week with the 2-Day Non-GMO Sale!!

    October is non-GMO Month and We are Celebrating!

    If GMO’s are a no-go on your grocery list, stop in 10/25 – 10/28 for a sale on hundreds of Non-GMO Verified products.

     

    It was upsetting to hear last March that Whole Foods was going to add an overly simplistic this-is-GMO, this-is-not label to all its products by 2018 —see our earlier post — but this is more depressing. This is, in our view, a line crosser.

    You see, with the TWO-DAY SALE, Whole Foods is not just advocating the right to know about whether foods are bioengineered, now they’re actively ENTICING people to go non-GMO. Yes, consumer, if you’ve never really seriously considered going GMO-free today, give it a try now!

    From a business standpoint, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the Two-Day Non-GMO Sale. There’s a market out there —people who want GMO-free living. And Whole Foods is using a classic marketing technique– the good old reliable negative claim that is straight out of the grocer’s playbook.

    But this is not Safeway or Jewel or Kroger or Sainsbury or Tesco. This is Whole Foods, a trusted brand on environmental responsibility and healthy eating. Millions look to Whole Foods for guidance on earth friendly food decisions. Whole Foods can shape minds.

    Let’s say the Two-Day Sale to Celebrate (yes, celebrate!) Non GMO Month sale is a spectacular success. Let’s say that some curious customer gets hooked. In fact, let’s say the whole Whole Foods audience goes GMO-free, and then the country goes GMO-free, and then Africa and Asia go absolutely GMO-free (If GMOs aren’t good enough for Whole Foods customers, why us?) And then we humans just ditch it – no more bioengineering. Just organic and conventional ag. Then what happens?

    More harmful chemicals will be used in agriculture, more forests will be destroyed, more GHGs will be emitted, more farmers will get sick from chemicals used in ag, more children will die of malnutrition, more algal blooms will happen because of agricultural runoff.

    In short, going proactively negative on ag biotech is in direct conflict with among the holiest parts of the Whole Foods Declaration of Interdependence:

    We Practice and Advance Environmental Stewardship

    We see the necessity of active environmental stewardship so that the earth continues to flourish for generations to come. We seek to balance our needs with the needs of the rest of the planet through the following actions:

    • Supporting sustainable agriculture. We are committed to greater production of organically and bio-dynamically grown foods in order to reduce pesticide use and promote soil conservation

    Now, there’s only two days left in non-GMO Month. But …. inspired by the growing movement of anti-anti GMO activism —the TofT hereby urges, Whole Foods customers, who care about sustainability and who favor science over superstition, to do the following:

    1. Skip Whole Foods for the next 48 hours. You can get your lamb sausage and soy milk after Halloween.

    2. Email John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO: Read Tomorrow’s Table. Tell Mackey that Whole Foods had done so much good on so many issues — supporting ecologically responsible small farmers, providing information on seafood sourcing, green buildings, water conservation, introducing more kelp-derived products to American consumers— BUT demonizing GE is not consistent with your mission.  Biotech can support sustainability  — here’s a short checklist from Kent Bradford of UC-Davis. Tell Mackey that we know you’ve been lobbied incessantly by the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Mercola, Jeffrey Smith, and the Magic Soap guy, but urge him to think, first, about the health of the planet, not the needs of the organic industry.  Then tell him to read Pam Ronald and Raoul Adamchak’s Tomorrow’s Table asap. Why Tomorrow’s Table? It’s a book, co-authored by an organic farmer and a genetic engineer, about how organic methods and biotech seed development should not be viewed as enemies.  Ronald and Adamchak offer a vision, we believe, Whole Foods will soon embrace — one that sees organic farming practices AND GE seed as potential allies in ecologically responsible agricultural practices.  More than anything, we hope that Whole Foods’ view of genetic engineering will become more nuanced. GE crops aren’t good or bad.  They’re sometimes GOOD and sometimes BAD.  As Pamela Ronald wrote in The Economist, each new GE variety will need to be tested on a case-by case basis in light of the criteria for a sustainable agricultural system.

  • April22nd

    Michael Pollan and Alice Waters and the Organic Consumers Association are wrong.  Monsanto and DuPont and Kraft are right.  Vote for Goliath over David.  Vote against the right to know what’s in your food.

    Last fall was an awkward time for me. I had the experience of siding with the multi-gazillion dollar, Monsanto-Big Food agribusiness side over a grass roots movement of organic farmers and good food advocates.

    This is messed up.

    Why? I agree with pretty much everything that the food movement represents. I care about the environment, worker safety, animal welfare. I want more nutritious food, more sustainable ways of growing food, AND more information and transparency about how my food is produced.  I am overwhelmingly thrilled about what the food movement has accomplished — better food, more nutritious food, more sustainable food.  Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Alice Waters are heroes to me.

    Yet I profoundly disagree with them on this one issue.

    I thought that last fall was a one-time thing, a quirky manifestation of ballot-initiative happy California. I thought that after Nov. 6, 2012, the day Prop. 37, the GMO-labeling initiative lost,   I would be back on Team Pollan rather than Team Monsanto.  I was hoping the food movement would shift its focus to any number of others issues— like animal welfare,  encouraging children to eat healthier, reducing the consumption of monster-sized sugary beverages.

    But now Washington state has a GMO-labeling vote in the works, and Vermont has an initiative, and so does Minnesota. I recently learned that there are labeling initiatives underway or bills being considered in more than a dozen states, and there’s also talk about introducing a bill in Congress.  And then just last week, the push-me-over-the-edge news:  Whole Foods Market — my beloved Whole Foods Market — declared that they’ll require mandatory GMO-labeling by 2018.

    I want to be back on the food movement side of this issue. I want to be able to vote with Pollan and the Dinner Party. But in order to get my support, the food movement needs to update its overly simplistic, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-humanitarian, anti-common sense GE strategy.  I’m not saying the food movement should stop fighting to give consumers more information about genetic engineering.  No. It just needs to change the way — and the what— it’s fighting for.

    That’s what these upcoming posts are about.  Here are the first four parts of an eccentrically-long series on things that the food movement could do to win back the support of folks like me — and these guys — that is, GE-friendly foodies.

    1. Excommunicate Jeffrey Smith — i.e.: the Anti-Science, Conspiracy Theorists

    2. Fight for the Right to Know Useful Information

    3. Go Positive SOMETIMES! Aggressively Support Publicly-Funded, Socially & Environmentally-Minded Biotech Research

    4. Change the Legal Strategy

  • December20th

    Sean Cutler – UC-Riverside scientist behind supercharged mustard plant.

    Unless you’re a Rick Perry-liking creationist, anti-scientist type, or someone on a decades long information Sabbath who ignores data from climatologists and demographers,  you probably accept that Earth is getting hotter, that population is increasing, that water resources are dwindling.  And you’re probably on board with the idea that it would be a really wonderful thing if humans could grow lettuce and cucumbers and apples and raspberries in arid environments, without tapping some aquifer or siphoning off drinking water from people in LA or Phoenix.

    Well, great news: earlier this month, a team of scientists at UC-Riverside announced a major breakthrough that could ultimately lead process to engineer drought-tolerant crops.

    The researchers, led by plant scientist Sean Cutler, identified a means to regulate the stress- relieving hormones that enable plants to weather droughts.  Specifically, they’ve learned how to activate and deactivate what are known as abscisic acid receptors, which control how plants respond to their surroundings. Cutler’s lab has found ways to make receptors open and close on command by altering plant genes. They tested hundreds of variants to figure out which alterations cause these receptors to behave optimally in periods of drought. The result: they’ve developed a mustard-type plant, called Arabidopsis, with a heightened ability to survive under harsh conditions.

    While the release of drought-resistant lettuces and tomatoes is probably still years off, the potential upside of Cutler’s drought-resistant Arabidopsis  is game-changing.   In a world with diminishing water resources, a drought-resistant crop could be a huge boon to water conservation efforts. A recent New York Times piece, for instance, spotlighted the water challenges for organic farmers in Mexico.   If the goal is sustainability, why not consider a drought-resistant, pesticide-free GMO crop?)

    Equally important, a drought-resistant GMO plants could potentially create more opportunities– land previously deemed unfit for certain crops could become viable. (There’s a fascinating piece, fyi, in the most recent New Yorker that focuses on effort to stop desertification in Africa)

    Cutler’s work is not unknown in the plant science world.  Work leading to the supercharged mustard plant was one of Science magazine breakthroughs of the year in 2009.  For more scientific detail on Cutler’s work to engineer drought resistance crops, you can check out the Dec. 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Of his breakthrough, Cutler told one researcher. “I would like to see farmers bragging about how little water their plants can get by on.”

    Here’s an interview with Cutler.

  • November22nd

     

    Since this is the inaugural post in the Good GMOs category, let’s briefly explain our position.

    You can use a computer to build a web site that raises money for starving refugees in Darfur.   You can also use a computer to create malware that destroys web sites, disables businesses, and thwarts efforts to raise money for starving refugees in Darfur. You can use airplanes to deliver food.  Or you can airplanes to deliver bombs.

    It’s true.  There are some bad genetically engineered crops out there. Some GMOs, circa 2011,  are created by rapacious petrochemical corporations.  They are herbicide and pesticide tolerant, so they encourage the spraying of more chemicals on crops, that, in turn, increase sales for these large petrochemical corporations. Intellectual property law, circa 2011, makes it possible for the wealthiest, most powerful corporations to own genes, the very building blocks of life. It’s true that GMOs, by and large, circa 2011, advance monoculture, thwart biodiversity and are not the ally of small farmers.

    Still,  as with computers, and other technologies, there are BAD THINGS and there are GOOD THINGS.

    One of the goals of The Taste of Tomorrow is to spotlight smart, safe, promising uses of GMO crops that can help protect the earth, improve food quality, and save lives.

    ***

    As many parents of  school-age children in the US know,  peanut butter – once a staple of school lunches – is often verboten.

    Peanuts and  peanut butter are banned by a number of schools across the country, and others have created so-called “nut-free zones.”  There’s some talk that the FAA will institute a total ban on peanuts on commercial airlines. This makes sense.  Although the numbers of people allergic to peanuts is small, those who are allergic have a a potentially life-threatening response.. Even trace amounts of peanut dust can leave a child covered in hives and gasping for air.

    (Personal encounter: When my four-year-old daughter mistakenly called her sunflower butter sandwich a peanut butter sandwich, we got an immediate call from a school administrator. Why? There’s a boy in her class with an extreme peanut allergy.

    But there is promising work  that could bring peanuts back to schools.  Even allowing Kate’s classmate to have a PB&J some day.

    For the past decade, Peggy Ozias-Akins of the University of Georgia in Tifton has been using genetic engineering to grow hypoallergenic peanuts.

    In research profiled widely in the biotech world,  Ozias-Akins and her team have developed peanuts that do not produce two proteins that are among the most intense allergens.   A story in Wired, summarizes the paper that appeared in the Journal of Food Chemistry:

    The biologists shot a customized DNA sequence into the plants with a gene gun, causing the legumes to produce hairpin-shaped RNA molecules, which halt the production of the two proteins. Messing with the genetic code of a plant could potentially cause the seeds to develop improperly, change the taste of the crop, or render it more susceptible to fungal infections. But Ozias-Akins’ team found that they grow normally and can resist a common mold without any problems.

    Still, getting rid of every allergy-causing substance in peanuts would not be easy, Ozias-Akins said. “Given the number of allergenic proteins in peanuts, I doubt that developing an allergen-free peanut is realistic.” Although it may be impossible to make a perfectly safe peanut, clipping the right genes out could make food accidents far less common.