Sustainable Food News – GMOs & Cancer, Arsenic in Rice & Disappearing Fish
By Analiese Paik
I’ve wanted to publish a sustainable food news weekly roundup for some time, and this week’s news finally propelled me into making the commitment. Each week I’ll publish an article focusing on some of the most important national and global news in the sustainable food space so you can stay informed. Of course I’ll also offer a few suggestions about how to respond to the news to protect your health and support the real food movement.
GMOS & Cancer
According to an article by the AFP (L’Agence France-Presse) a formal feeding trial conducted by French scientists over the lifespan of rats to determine what effects, if any, GM corn and the herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp) had on the animals has revealed significant negative impacts on their health. Both male and female rats suffered liver and kidney damage and developed tumors as they aged, then died prematurely according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. The findings are quite controversial and some scientists are dismissing them, resulting in intense debate (see NPR, Reuters). The French government, however, has asked the National Agency for Health Safety (ANSES) to investigate the finding according to the AFP article.
The US is one of the largest producers of GM corn and it makes its way into animal feed the world over. Consumers eat the GM-fed meat and poultry in restaurants and fast food outlets and buy it in grocery stores without the benefit of product labeling. The only way to avoid GM corn is to buy organic or GMO Project Verified corn products and Certified Organic whole meat and poultry products. Many farmers feed their animals a vegetarian diet that may include GM feed so I always recommend asking before buying. Action: Eat prudently. Avoid GMOs by choosing organic and GMO Project Verified foods.
Arsenic in Rice
It came as a shock to me to learn from this article on Grist that even organic rice can be tainted by arsenic, a known human carcinogen. Yes, our favorite brand of organic, short grain brown rice, Lundberg, is on the list of products tested by Consumer Reports. Lundberg has a web page dedicated to the issue of arsenic in rice and announced that they now test their products for arsenic as part of their safety standards and are working closely with scientists.
We will be making a few changes immediately to minimize our exposure to arsenic. It’s advice we can all take. Action: Eat less rice and rice products including infant and other cereals, pasta, and rice cakes. Add to your diet other grains including quinoa, amaranth and millet. Choose the brands and types of rice with the lowest levels of contamination (see Consumer Reports list). Cook rice the way Asian households do – rinse the rice well in cool water before cooking it. Consumer Reports also recommends cooking rice in a large quantity of water and draining it. Unfortunately this makes very soggy rice and is not a recommended cooking method except for wild rice.
As for how the inorganic arsenic makes its way into our food, this infographic from Consumer Reports says it best. Suffice it to say that the list of deleterious effects of conventional agriculture continues to grow and bleed into organic agriculture in unexpected ways.
I stopped eating fish, even fish locally caught with a hook and line, over a year ago. Paul Greenberg’s book Four Fish stayed on my reading list, unread, because his June 2010 NYT article about the end of bluefin tuna was enough to convince me the problem was grave. And it wasn’t limited to bluefin. We are eating away the ocean’s fish and can expect continued extinction of species we once loved, like the Atlantic halibut and perch.
US fisheries are some of the most closely regulated and responsibly managed in the world, but that hasn’t allowed us to dodge the depletion bullet. Fish stocks are shrinking, some at an alarming and unexpected rate. New England fisheries received shocking news in August – their quotas of cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder could be cut by 70 percent next year by the New England Fishery Management Council as reported by the WSJ. The US Commerce Secretary declared a national fishery disaster for New England last Thursday according to the Huffington Post, a status sought by the region since 2010 when quotas began their double-digit descent. Millions of dollars in emergency assistance for fishermen was approved by Congress to help support both those who stay in the industry and those who transition out. A 70% cut can fairly be called a collapse.
This is horrible for the fish, fisherman and fish eaters and we all need to take action. Action: Do not eat Atlantic (US or Canadian) cod, haddock or yellowtail flounder regardless of how it’s caught. Cod has long been depleted and Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine fisheries are considered important conservation stocks according to Seafood Watch. Eat less fish overall by replacing those meals with sustainably grown lentils, beans, tofu, and other plant-based proteins. Buy only sustainable seafood, both at retail and in restaurants, by consulting the Seafood Watch mobile app. Locally farmed shellfish and small fish like anchovies, sardines, and mackerel are among the best choices.