Thursday, 30 September 2010

Over 1 million voices for a GE-free future, but are we still millions of miles away?

Greenpeace is working together with Avaaz on invoking the citizen’s initiative to call for “a moratorium on the introduction of GE crops [GM crops] into Europe and set up an independent, ethical, scientific body to research the impact of GE crops and determine regulation.”

When I checked the petition again it was at 1,030,130, and the numbers are still rising quickly. But what are the chances that this will be successful? Furthermore, this only relates to growing GMOs in Europe, it does not cover the many other issues involved with GMOs such as the lack of labelling for food from GM fed animals, import of GM food products, GM pharmaceuticals and import of GM ingredients used in food production in Europe. But it would be a good start, if only ...

The above link to the citizen’s initiative will take you to the Consolidated Version of the Treaty of European Union which was signed on 7th February 1992 (even though it says 1092)! Article 11(4) allows for citizens direct input to the legal affairs of the European Union, but it is a qualified right as follows:

  1. Need at least one million people, this we clearly have.
  2. But, these people need to be European nationals, and
  3. They need to come from a significant number of Member States (MS). Since there are now 27 MS, I’m not sure just how many need to be represented. 10 is probably not acceptable, but would a simple majority suffice, or is it more like 24 that is needed?
  4. The initiative is only to request that the Commission make a proposal to change the law and only if this is within its powers.
  5. The purpose of this action must be to implement the Treaties.
  6. Although this initiative has been around for awhile, it seems that the procedures and conditions for this still have to be worked out in more detail! (see EU Policy (p 70)).
But these matters are only the beginning of the worries. The EU has already tried placing a moratorium on GMOs and found itself up against World Trade Organisation (WTO) complaints by Argentina, Canada and the US for raising trade barriers.  Add to all this the lobbying by transnational corporations and the initiative seems to lose its momentum.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Can we please get our GMO terminology straight?

Genetic engineering in food is a strange phenomena occurring today which is causing a lot of confusion. Even academics and journalists get it wrong. I think this is because of the defensive reaction this technology invokes in those who have taken the view that it’s ‘no big deal’ and so they fail to investigate the matter. But how can an intelligent debate occur when educated people cannot be trusted to put forward accurate information on the basics, never mind the science and policy? And while all the confusion is stirred up, the transnational corporations are stepping up their push to patent all the sources of food that they can manage.

One common misunderstanding arises with the use of the word “transgenics” instead of using “genetically modified organism.” When someone uses this word, it is highly likely that they are in favour of the technology. But strangely enough, it shows that they are ill informed, especially if they live in Europe, which leaves their opinion in the lurch. For starters, I think it would be helpful if those writing about the subject would get the terminology right. Let me give a helping hand here.

Europe has a legal definition of genetically modified organism, which is simple and to the point. It includes any procedure of creating an organism “that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” This does not include traditional breeding techniques, organisms derived by increasing chromosome numbers (polyploidy induction) or chemical transformations (mutagenesis).

Transgenics is a subset of GMOs and involves creation of organisms by inserting DNA from a different species. Whether the gene comes from the same species or a different one is not what defines a GMO. Again, a GMO is defined by the method involved in creating the organism. Whether it is more controversial to insert genes from the same species or a different species is another issue.

Other words are bandied about. For example, gene technology comes under the broad umbrella of biotechnology which also includes traditional breeding techniques such as artificial selection, hybridization and the use of microorganisms involved in the manufacture of cheese, bread and beer. Furthermore, gene technology is not limited to genetic modification (also called genetic engineering), but includes other methods of gene manipulation, such as cloning.

One popular method of genetic modification involves attaching genetic constructs to microscopic gold or tungsten bullets and shooting them into a culture of embryonic cells. The tool for this operation is called a gene gun and this term reveals its combatant nature. Although some claim that this is a more precise technique than traditional breeding, the reality is far from it. The risks involved are merely on a different level.

Phew! Just trying to explain what a GMO is trying! But this is no excuse for scholars and journalists to ignore the details. If I read one more book that refers to transgenics instead of GMOs (or GMF for genetically modified food or GMC for genetically modified crops) ... well, I’ll now be able to send the authors a link to this blog article!

Meanwhile, if a few scientists were to try to explain just what happens when the foreign genes are forced into the intended organism, I think we’d be here a long time. I’ll leave that for another day ... but we really need to consider these things before we saturate the food chain with GMOs.

Photo credit

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Nestlé Proposes Band-Aid

Updated on December 28, 2017

I have now met someone who is the recipient of one Nestlé’s innovative products, Optifast. It is designed to deal with obesity and is part of a medical plan, often with medications and procedures. She lost 80 pounds but is still substantially overweight. She has just had a knee replacement and is seeking to have a shoulder replacement. So, she is not in the best of health and she’s my age. A quick look at the ingredients of Optifast shows that it contains lots of sugar, fructose in particular, just like the products that caused the obesity in the first place, as well as, other health issues.

I’d also like to share this NY Times article about how nutrition research is dominated by companies like Nestlé and it highlights the presence of this problem around the world.

Updated on 24 November 2010

Broadcast on 23 November 2010 and available on the BBC iPlayer is the Food that Makes Billions by the BBC Money Programme Team on bottled water.  Nestlé is featured with its purified tap water, Pure Life, which as the program explains, is basically another industrial processed food product.  There was a lot of the usual rhetoric in support of the industry from insiders, but the program also sets out the negative aspects such as paying for something that was free, the vast pollution created by the enterprise, and the further commercialisation of our lives.  Bottled water, therefore, needs to be added to the list of products below.

New Nestle foods will target diseaseI wonder if we will need to go the doctor to get a prescription for them like medicine. Or will it be like the band-aid (also known as a plaster), available off the shelf? After all, they are tackling no small potatoes in the health department with the goal of helping to treat or prevent diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s! Since these diseases are hardly treated with a band-aid and the band-aid is hardly a preventative measure, it makes me wonder just what this is all about!

Another reason I say that this is a band-aid proposal is because it will be a small contribution compared to the other products Nestlé markets. I would like to point out that this is clearly a public relations (PR) exercise as well as a means to increase profit. It seems like a cruel move to give false hope with such serious health problems.

So what are Nestlé’s “old” products that cause me such concern? I apologise that there are so many, but after all, it’s not my company. If you have a quick glance down the list below, you will see lots and lots of products based on sugar and all highly processed. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimer’s caused, or at least aggravated, by too much sugar in the diet?

Nestlé’s “passion to keep developing innovative and exciting ranges” is contributing to the fact that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and it is predicted that nearly half of Americans will be obese in ten years.  And the problem is not isolated to America.  Nestlé has been involved in environmental and other infringements, but if this isn’t one of the biggest crimes of the century, I don’t know what is.  And to top it all off, they mostly advertise and cater to children.

I’m glad I’ve woken up to the fact that Nestlé is a hypocrite and that absolutely nothing they sell is worth buying. I wouldn’t even eat one of their products for free! So while Nestlé continues to kill off the masses, I’m not impressed that they will be innovating new products based on science and nutrition. Sure, Nestlé is already claiming to be a part of a healthy diet! I’d welcome any ideas on how to tackle this abomination.

Nestlé’s Products
Highly processed cereals:
• Nestlé Cheerios
• Nestlé Honey Cheerios
• Nestlé Oat Cheerios
• Nestlé Cheerios Crunchers
• Nestlé Shredded Wheat
• Nestlé Shredded Wheat Bitesize
• Nestlé Honey Nut Shredded Wheat
• Nestlé Fruitful Shredded Wheat
• Nestlé Clusters
• Nestlé Shreddies
• Nestlé Frosted Shreddies
• Nestlé Coco Shreddies
• Nestlé Honey Shreddies
• Nestlé Curiously Cinnamon
• Nestlé Almond Oats & More
• Nestlé Honey Oats & More
• Nestlé Raisin Oats & More
• Nestlé Nesquik Cereal
• Nestlé Cookie Crisp
• Nestlé Golden Nuggets
• Nestlé Force Flakes

Highly processed meat products:
• Frankfurter Classics 10’s & 4’s
• Frankfurter Jumbos
• Chicken Frankfurter 10’s

Chocolate Bars:
• The Aero Range
• Aero Chunky
• Aero Bubbles
• Heaven
• Kit Kat 2 finger – Milk, Orange, Mint, Caramel and Dark
• Kit Kat 4 Finger – Milk and Dark
• Kit Kat Senses
• Kit Kat Chunky – Milk and Peanut Butter
• Kit Kat Mini
• Milkybar bars – Small, Standard and Chunky
• Milkybar Buttons – Small and Sharing bags
• Yorkie

Chocolate Sweets:
• Rolo
• Smarites

Boxed Chocolates:
• After Eight
• Black Magic
• Dairy Box
• Quality Street

Sugar Confectionary:
• Rowntree's Randoms
• Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles
• Rowntree's Fruit Gums
• Rowntree's Tooty Frooties
• Rowntree's Pick & Mix
• Rowntree's Juicy Jellies
• Rowntree's Jelly Tots

• Kit Kat 2 Finger
• Blue Riband
• Breakaway
• Drifter
• Toffee Crips Biscuit
• Munchies
• Crunch
• Toffee Crisp
• Walnut Whip
• Caramac
• Lion
• Animal Bar

Ambient Cakes:
• Smarties Celebration Cake
• Smarties Gift Cake
• Funtastic Traybake
• Smarties Cup Cakes
• Jellytots Cup Cakes
• Smarties Mini Bites
• Smarties Cake Bars
• Rolo Valentines Cake

Instore Bakery:
• Smarties Cookies
• Smarties Mini Cookies
• Quality Street Matchmaker Cookies
• Rolo Cookies
• Toffee Crisp Cookies
• Yorkie Cookies
• Rolo Doughnuts
• Smarties Iced Ring Doughnuts
• Smarties Mini Doughnuts
• Toffee Crisp Doughnuts

Cake Mixes:
• Smarties Party Cake
• Smarties Funny Faces Cup Cake
• Rolo Choc Brownie
• Yorkie Choc Cookie
• Milkybar My First Baking Mix (get the kids hooked early!)

Dairy Products:
• Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk
• Carnation Caramel
• Carnation Evaporated Milk
• Carnation Extra Thick Cream
• Carnation Rice Pudding
• Carnation Custard
• Ski Smooth 12–pack (12x120g)
• Munch Bunch Fromage
• Munch Bunch Fromage Frais Mega Pots
• Munch Bunch Mega Double Up
• Munch Bunch Wholemilk Yogurt
• Munch Bunch Drinky+
• Munch Bunch Squashams

• Fab
• Skinny Cow (strange name for something that is highly likely to make you fat!)
• Kelly’s

And of course, the old favourite, Nestlé Quik or Nesquik:
• Mexican Nesquik tin
• Nestlé Quik Powder in Chocolate, Banana, Strawberry and Vanilla flavours
Nestlé Quik Chocolate No Sugar Added, but contains artificial sweetener (sucralose)
• Nestlé Quik Syrups in Chocolate, Strawberry and mixed flavours such as Strawberry Banana and Chocolate Caramel
• Nestlé Ready-to-Drink Quik Chocolate Milk, also in Strawberry, Banana, Vanilla and Double Chocolate (although these versions of Nesquik ended production in 2009 in the UK)
• Fat Free Quik Chocolate Milk
• Nesquik Milkshakes in Chocolate, Strawberry and Chocolate Caramel
• Nesquik "Magic"
• A Nesquik flavour of Nestlé hot cocoa mix with bunny-shaped marshmallows

And there’s pet food too, but that’s another story...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Wild or Farmed Fish for the Future?

Poseidon Cooks posted a story called Fished Out and I was motivated to write this article on my blog about the subject of fish as food.  Will wild or farmed fish supply our dinner tables in the future?

Poseidon Cooks refers to a book called Four Fish by Paul Greenberg. I haven’t read his book, but I have read the book called The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. Mr Fukuoka proposes eating fish that can be caught locally and only when it is in tandem with the fish reproduction cycle. Of course, the local fish supply may already be fished out or contaminated!

The comment “to feed the world” elicits my response of asking why is it that some people think everyone in the world should eat the same diet? Or more to the point, why is it westerners think that everyone should eat like westerners. The overfishing problem would appear to be caused by overconsumption by a few wealthy countries that are causing this shortage of wild fish. Would it not be better to stop overconsuming rather than artificially create more fish?

As mentioned in Poseidon Cooks’ article, there are problems with farming fish such as health issues (less exercise, unclean environment, crowded, spread of diseases, etc). But also, fish farms open the way for GM fish. The GM salmon in America is truly a monster.

So what is the context of this problem? Fish are not just served fresh as an entrée. Fish are used to make cheap, processed fish oil supplements and other supplements of dubious health benefit. Fish is skinned and tinned. Fish is used in cheap, processed fast food products. If we respected fish, they would only be sold fresh, cooked fresh in restaurants, or processed to retain nutritional benefit (such as fermented cod liver oil). Fish are one of the easiest foods to prepare and full of nutrients when fresh or properly fermented etc.

Even the name of the book, “Four Fish,” says a lot. Why are we consuming so much of only four fish? This is a marketing strategy. Why not promote other fish as food instead? Eating the same fish all year round at a prescribed level is unnecessary for our health and detrimental to the environment, but especially detrimental to the fish that are being consumed. Fish farming is the short-term easy option for some. I’m hoping wild fish will continue to be available. To this end, I have cut back on my consumption by not eating fish as often. I also don’t buy tinned or fast food fish products or farmed fish. I cook my fish from fresh and seek to improve the type of fish I buy, whether that means the species, method of catching or location fished. I hope you will join me in this worthwhile effort.

Photo credit

Safe Water for the Future?

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a mission to enhance and protect the quality of life in America, and specifically in relation to this article, to manage water. They state on their website that they are a world leader in the natural sciences due to responsiveness to society’s needs. The reason I point out these things is that I came across their article (link posted below) with information about nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in water, which says that this pollution has either stayed the same or increased over the past ten years. The blame for lack of improvement is passed on to Federal, State and local... I’m not sure what. Moreover, for about 40 million Americans who have private wells, well ... this pollution problem rests squarely on their own shoulders as private wells are not regulated by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act!

What this survey indicates is that little to nothing is being done about this problem. This is not responsive action in any sense and certainly not an indication of excellence.

The article continues with information that a variety of sources contributes to this problem, such as wastewater and industrial discharges, fertilizer and manure applications to agricultural land, runoff from urban areas, and atmospheric sources. This is hardly enlightening. However, we are also told that nitrate can persist in groundwater for years (even decades!!), and so, don’t expect any changes in this type of pollution in the near future!
Finally, we are told that “...USGS continues to work closely with the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the States, and local watersheds to assure that USGS monitoring and assessments provide useful information for managing nutrients throughout the Nation.” In reporting this information to the public, it would be helpful for the USGS to include a link to information about what is being done to correct this problem. In other words, what positive results is this information providing? Instead, we are given options for more information from USGS which for the average citizen is quite useless.

As it stands, it seems that the US taxpayer is forking out for a lot information for nothing.

See USGS article for further details:
Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus Still Widespread in Much of the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater

Meanwhile, “on the other side of the pond” over half of the UK’s freshwater is overly polluted!

Baroness Byford (Conservative) asked Her Majesty's Government in the House of Lords on 27 July 2010 what proportion of tests of freshwater fail due to phosphate pollution; and what other main sources cause freshwater to fail standards tests.

Lord de Mauley (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative) replied that

Forty-one per cent of river water bodies and 64 per cent of lakes in England and Wales assessed under the Water Framework Directive currently fail to meet the phosphate standards for good ecological status. This is based on WFD classification data for the period 2006-08 and was used for the River Basin Management Plans, published in 2009. The main reasons for failure of the phosphate standards are sewage effluent discharges and run-off from agricultural land. There are standards for over 50 other water quality parameters in freshwaters and the sources of pollution causing failures.

We're running out of freshwater and the freshwater that we have is polluted!

Agriculture accounts for around 61% of the nitrate in rivers (ADAS report to Defra 2007) and around 26% of phosphates (White and Hammond report to Defra 2006).

The Government’s Target and trajectory is to reduce the levels of nitrate and phosphate in river water from agricultural sources to contribute to meeting the environmental objectives of the Water Framework Directive by 2015.

Agriculture provides for our food and fibre but soaks up 70% of the water we use, and is perhaps the biggest single driver behind the loss of freshwater ecosystems. WWF-UK is encouraging farmers and the world’s largest food sector companies to implement better management practices that use water efficiently and minimise harmful chemical pollution.

And this in a country where it rains a lot!!
Updated on 2 January 2015 and looking forward to the Water Framework Directive this year. 

Photo 2 credit

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Little Larch Wood With Your Mince Anyone?

Hail the Taxi-fo-lin: Going Anywhere Nice?

Updated on 10 December 2010

An update on this application is now available on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website here.  My main concern with this application as stated below was more of an environmental concern than a food safety one (although, I would rather not have to eat anything with larch wood in it!). The question was put to the applicant of whether the environmental impact of felling of Dahurian Larch (Larix gmelini) for food could be explained.  Contrary to the position depicted in the application, the applicant replied that it would only use larch tree stumps that are basically left-over's from other logging industries.  In addition, the company made assurances that larch saplings would be planted in place of the stumps.  Although it is suspect because of the change of stance and the unlikely possibility of being followed up, it is a welcome declaration.

The proposed purpose of marketing taxifolin in the UK as stated in the application to the Food Standards Agency under the Novel Foods Regulation is to add it as a food ingredient because of antioxidant properties with anti-inflammatory action (see FSA link). First of all, not everyone needs or wants these qualities added to foods such as those proposed, e.g., dried milk, biscuits or ground meat. Secondly, this is a disputed benefit. There is professional opinion that antioxidants are unhelpful to our health. In addition, why would a healthy person require added anti-inflammatory action or added cardiovascular protection? This product would be more suitable as a dietary supplement as it already is in Russia (the applicant's place of business) or even as an additive to a medicinal product. If it has the capability of prolonging the shelf-life of a product, an application could be made to add it to the additives list for this purpose.

I would further comment that the proposed labelling would include―taxifolin from larch wood. But what does this mean to the average consumer? If it is intended as a health benefit, how is this to be conveyed to the consumer?
At XI.1 it is stated that “[i]t is expected that the taxifolin extracted from Larch wood is nutritionally equivalent to naturally occurring taxifolin.” First of all, if this product is taken from the bark of the Larch tree as it is claimed, it is naturally occurring. But secondly, although it may be naturally occurring, the quantity and frequency of use proposed as an addition to our food is not. But I am confident that the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) will look into this in detail and advise the FSA accordingly.

The only other point I would add is that there is a very important environmental perspective to this application. Taxifolin if derived from the sawdust of Larch trees. At one point the applicant claims that the Larch trees are grown in ecologically clean areas, without
 the application of pesticides. However, the part of the application I quote below in addition to the comment that the wood is harvested by experienced collectors, who are trained to recognize the appropriate tree without doubt, show that naturally growing trees are to be harvested.

Larix gmelinii (Rupr.) Rupr. grows in Siberia and the Russian Far East, which are recognized worldwide to be of very high environmental and ecological importance. The vast geographical area of Larix gmelinii (Rupr.) Rupr. shows the large ecological plasticity of this species and its high adaptability to different natural conditions found in the boreal Eurasian zone as well as in transition to typical temperate forests. Larch trees establish both the southern and the northern timberlines and carry out water- and soil-conservation functions in mountain regions. In addition, Larix species are regarded as a large carbon sink. Due to their unique seed dispersion patterns and very high adaptability to the fires that often affect Siberian forests, these Larch species occupy post-fire habitats successfully (Zyryanova, et al. 2007).
Although the trees are in Siberia and Russian Far East, removal or damage of this natural habitat would add to global warming especially since the forests “are regarded as a large carbon sink.” Unfortunately, the applicant did not follow up with any information about how this habitat is to be maintained when it is proposed to fell more Larch trees to produce more taxifolin. It is doubtful whether taxifolin as a food ingredient can be proven to be a cost effective footprint on the earth’s ecosystem unless strict measures are followed to reinstate and protect it. At the very least, the FSA should enquire about this before entertaining an endorsement of the application.

I would recommend rejecting this application on the basis that the perceived benefits of adding taxifolin to food are not universally agreed by professional healthcare providers as accurate and there appears to be no other purpose to it. Furthermore, without further information about the sustainability of the enterprise, the environmental impact is likely to be unacceptable.

Photo 1 credit

A Little Synthetic Chilli With Your Cereal Anyone?

Updated on 9 December 2010

This is not easy and I doubt I will do it again because I doubt it is worthwhile. But this application is a good example of the fact that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has very little to do with real food.

The article below was my response to the public consultation on the application for adding a synthetic version of dihydrocapsaicin (DHC) to various food products. An update on the application is now available on the FSA website.

I raised several issues, the main one being that this ingredient was not a food or food ingredient, but a pharmacological (or medicinal) substance. Clarification was sought of the purpose of adding DHC to foods, and specifically, the pharmacological and nutraceutical effects of DHC or its metabolites.

The applicant responded that the purpose of adding this synthetic ingredient to food is to give the consumer a “feeling of refreshment or well being”. “It is intended for individuals seeking to gain enjoyment that can result from chilli consumption but without suffering from the strong hot taste.” This does not add anything whatsoever to what is stated in the application. I have set out the intended purpose of the ingredient below, which in summary is mainly for foods directed at overweight consumers. I suspect that this feeling of well being from eating food with DHC will cause increased eating rather than lessen it!

Neurological effects were mentioned as follows (and I realise it may come across as gibberish to most readers, but that is the point really):

“The applicant states that DHC only has local sensory effects and these mediated via the TRPV-1 receptors on the surface of the GI tract, from the buccal cavity along the length of the gut. The applicant does however state that local activation of TRPV-1 receptors by DHC can impact both brown and white adipose sympathetic receptors through stimulation of the vagus afferent nerve and the sympathetic nervous system but not the heart.”

When people discuss food in this type of language, it truly makes me worried.  And, would it be so difficult to add a line in translation for the average consumer wanting to know what is going on?  It makes me wonder if they know what is going on!

As a by the way, I recently became aware that Ajinomoto, the applicant herein, has been in business quite a long time. They produce the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) which they patented in Japan in 1909! In his book Eat Right 4 Your Metabolic Type, Dr Cass Ingram says in no uncertain terms that MSG is a hormone disrupter. This causes an imbalance which in certain individuals would contribute to weight gain. Meanwhile, I know that DHC is not the solution or even a minute part of one.  Why do we have to put up with this?

Photo credit Ajinomoto also claims to be a part of the sustainability solution, which is on a par with its claim to be able to assist obese people with DHC.

D “Happy” C

The following was my response to the Food Standards Agency's consultation on the application by Ajinomoto Co., Inc. (Anjinomoto) to market its product as a novel food ingredient in the UK (see FSA link).  The product is a synthetic version of dihydrocapsaicin (DHC), a capsaicinoid found in chilli peppers. I give a brief description of DHC and its effects on humans. I then refer to current law with the argument that DHC is not a food, food ingredient or even a food additive. I argue that DHC is probably best classed as a medicinal product. And finally, I analyse the intended use of this chemical in the proposed common food categories. As an afterthought, I have also brought the negative ecological and societal costs into the equation. Based on my findings and analysis, I come to the conclusion that this application should be rejected.

Chilli Peppers

Ajinomoto gives us information about chilli peppers at III.1, but I will add a few other facts. The active ingredient of chilli peppers is mainly the capsaicinoid capsaicin (66%) which is followed by the capsaicinoid dihydrocapsaicin (22%). Hot chilli peppers are an irritant for humans who are the only mammal that eat them. A burning sensation or a sharp, stinging bite is experienced with contact of a capsaicinoid on any tissue, and is used in pepper spray as a mammal deterrent. The capsaicinoids were designed by nature to work as an anti-fungal agent and deter mammals from eating the seeds because they would crush them. Birds do not sense the heat from capsaicin or crush the seeds when eating them and are thereby able to serve the function of dispersing the seeds.

Effects of Chilli Peppers

As pointed out by Ajinomoto, people have been using chilli peppers for a long time in many countries. Possibly one reason for its popularity is similar to that for the popularity of tobacco, another nightshade plant. Lots of people already know this as there was a Simpsons episode on it, but here is some information on the effects of capsaicinoids when eaten:

According to Dr. Frank Etscorn, who holds the first patent on the nicotine patch, “Endorphins are released into our brain when we eat hot peppers. Like other psychotropics including peyote, coca, and marijuana, chili peppers alter our state of consciousness. Many of us crave hot spicy foods, and we may even get slightly strung out, but it's no big deal.”

This explains the psychology of hot pepper eaters who thrive on the strong stimulation of the capsaicin. They crave the combination of pleasure and pain that appears to bring on a higher state of consciousness. The endorphins and other physical sensations that flood the brain when a chile addict bites into a hot pepper, instantly overwhelms the senses. This phenomenon has been described by doctors as a true ‘rush’.
Marketing of DHC in America

Under 2.1 of the application, Ajinomoto mentions that an extract from CH-19 Sweet chilli pepper which contains capsaicinoids is marketed as a food supplement in America and Japan as Capsiate Natura™. I looked up Capsiate Natura™ and found that it is available in the US only in New York and only through healthcare professionals. It is produced by Ajinomoto and sold as a natural dietary supplement in the form of a softgel capsule.

Under 2.2.1, Ajinomoto gives evidence that America has made a determination that DHC is safe, but does not give any reference to a food product that contains it. The only reference is to the dietary supplement as noted above.

Capaisin has also been used in the United States in a pepper nasal spray. This product is medicinal as it claims to relieve headaches, nasal congestion and gives the user a burst of energy.

Is DHC a Food Ingredient?

Under 2.2.2, Ajinomoto makes claims to support that DHC is a food ingredient, but gives no details. This is a very important point because if it is not a food ingredient, it cannot be considered under Regulation (EC) 257/98. The evidence in the application does not support the conclusion. Article 2 of Regulation (EC) 178/2002 gives us the definition of food and food ingredient. Although chilli peppers are reasonably expected to be ingested by humans, DHC, in its isolated form, is not. Furthermore, ‘food’ does not include medicinal products, narcotics or psychotic substances, residues or contaminants. DHC can arguably be classed under these categories, but certainly not food.

At best, DHC can be classed as a medicinal product geared for weight management. For this purpose, I give definitions here from the web at :
Medicinal substance
Any substance or combination of substances presented for treating or preventing disease in human beings. Any substance or combination of substances which may be used in or administered to human beings either with a view to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action, or to making a medical diagnosis.

Medicinal product
Any matter irrespective of origin e.g., human, animal, vegetable or chemical, which may be: human blood products, microorganisms, toxins, plants and plant extracts, naturally occurring chemical materials and chemical products obtained by chemical change or synthesis.
At the very least, evidence of the claim that the Czec Republic, France, the US and Japan have classified this chemical as a food should be obtained before considering the application further.  The claim that Capsiate Natura™, is a food supplement is erroneous because food supplements add nutritional value to a normal diet, e.g., Vitamin C tablet.  However, the claim that Capsiate Natura™ is a dietary supplement is accurate because it is a diet pill - a pill designed to help with weight loss, much the same as Fenphedra which is advertised as giving users a feeling of a “Happy” sensation or Phenpehdrine which give users a feeling of a “Natural High” while suppressing appetite and increasing the overall feeling of well being.

Ajinomoto claims at XI.1 that DHC is “nutritionally equivalent to the natural product and has negligible nutritional value.” However, DHC, whether in its natural form or synthetic version, does not add calories or any nutritional benefit whatsoever and cannot contribute to the sustenance of life.

Proposed Use of DHC

Ajinomoto states that DHC “can improve energy expenditure and fat oxidation, which can have a role in weight management.” Besides making a profit, this is Ajinomoto’s purpose of marketing DHC as an additive to food products. At IX.1 Ajinomoto has identified the use of DHC primarily in baked goods, beverages, confectionery, cereals and desserts food categories. These categories are hardly the type of foods that overweight people should be eating and this additional chemical may be counterproductive in that it may make them eat more because of the addictive quality of DHC. Also, there is no control over who buys these products or how much they consume.

Ajinomoto claims that portions/servings will be limited to 3mg, but how will this be ensured especially when third parties will be dispensing DHC through various products? Also, is it not a substantial jump to go from a typical daily intake of DHC of approximately 0.01 to 0.06 mg/kg bw/day to 3mg?

Human Costs

Because DHC is an irritant to humans, processing the chemical may also pose risks to the workers including adverse health conditions resulting from contact with body tissues. Employees should be required to wear protective goggles, respirators, and have hazardous material handling procedures to follow in order to avoid skin contact, eye contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Is this the type of employment we seek to encourage in the food industry? Do the end products justify the means?

Another area of concern is that DHC may cause allergic reactions to consumers, especially to those who are taking medications that have been shown to adversely interact with capsaicinoids.  Ajinomoto has dismissed this possibility, but I have seen evidence to the contrary.

Obesity is a serious problem in the world today. It is also a growing trend (no pun intended). DHC is to be marketed for the purpose of being a part of the solution to this problem. No clear evidence has been given by Ajinomoto to support this. If one looks at the facts, it can be seen that DHC is a drug which when added to the proposed food categories may cause addiction and further consumption of foods that contribute to obesity. At the very least, advertising of these products with the addition of DHC as a part of a weight management program will be misleading. DHC will not help with weight loss and it will cause more problems through its manufacture and distribution.

Environmental Costs

Processing DHC requires the use of natural resources. Even if Ajinomoto proposes to process the chemical abroad, I still think it is important for us to consider these costs. Stainless steel vats are required for processing. These need to be constructed, transported, housed and maintained to a sterile standard. Aluminium pouches are needed for refrigeration to -20°C which uses electricity. Once produced, DHC needs to be kept refrigerated and will only have a shelf life of one year. How will the unused DHC be disposed of and what effects will this concentrated substance have on the environment? Regardless of where DHC is processed, there will be packaging and transport costs which will have an adverse impact on the environment. Is the ecological footprint of this product cost effective?


DHC is a non-essential chemical component taken from a food and synthetically reproduced for the proposed purpose of aiding in weight management. It is neither a food nor food ingredient as it has no caloric or nutritional value. It does not fall within the category of food additives either. Because of its intended use and the fact that it is not a food, food ingredient or food additive, it is at best a medicinal product. Also, it is mildly addictive and may have psychotic effects and cause allergic reactions. Finally, it is mainly to be added to products that contain sugar which will increase the effect of temporary mood elevation, not unlike that obtained from marihuana which is illegal or caffeine which is a legal psychoactive substance.


Based on the above, this application should be rejected. The Government may be prudent to consider DHC and capsaicin as isolated chemicals for internal use by humans in more detail and determine whether or not they are to be legal on some other basis.

Moreover, if DHC is to be considered as a food ingredient, this application should still be rejected on the basis that DHC will be hard to regulate, monitor and enforce limits; will be unfit for purpose as an additive to sugary foods; and generally, will not contribute to the health and well-being of UK citizens or the earth’s environment.

Photo 2 credit

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Atrazine Under Attack in US

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised its doubts at the start of a four day public meeting on 14 September 2010 about the non-cancer human health problems associated with atrazine in epidemiological studies. An advisory panel was set up to advise the EPA.

Atrazine has been widely used by farmers in America for 50 years, mainly in the Midwest as an herbicide, primarily while growing corn, sorghum and sugar cane. It’s also used on lawns, especially in Florida and the Southeast. It is claimed that this is the cheapest method of weed control for farmers and removing it from the market would cause hardship and great financial loss.

In October 2009, the EPA launched a re-evaluation of this chemical with specific reference to human health. Atrazine is found in drinking water and peer reviewed scientific studies show a connection to cancer and hormone disruption. Non-epidemiology effects are being reviewed now and cancer effects will be evaluated next year. The 677 page issue paper is called "EPA Re-evaluation of Human Health Effects of Atrazine: Review of Non-Cancer Epidemiology, Experimental Animal and In Vitro Studies and Drinking Water Monitoring Frequencies" and available here.  On a personal note, I wonder if my Brita filter covers this!

Syngenta is the main producer of this chemical and it has been active in the defence of it. The Principal Scientist from Syngenta, Tim Pastoor, gave evidence to an EPA panel in April that atrazine was well monitored by the corporation and levels of atrazine found in drinking water were well below the maximum allowances. At yesterday’s meeting, he claimed that the studies were flawed because overdosing the rats in tests produced unreliable results.

The UK Environment Agency (EA) says that in addition to contaminating groundwater, atrazine is harmful to wildlife. With reference to human health risks, the EA specifically earmarks the digestive system, eye, heart, kidney, liver and skin as vulnerable to adverse effects from this man-made chemical. Therefore, atrazine is in the Pollution Inventory and its use is governed by various pieces of legislation. It is a UK Red List pollutant and being reviewed under the proposed Water Framework (EU) Directive. “Internationally it is listed as a candidate substance for selection, assessment and prioritisation under the OSPAR and Helsinki Conventions.” (EA website)

See also these further US references:

EPA Pesticides Re-registration (please note that this website is a little slow and some of the information is restricted, but mostly attainable by request)

Atrazine News (with short video on how farmers would be affected)

Agricultural Health Study

Friday, 10 September 2010

Book Review - "The One-Straw Revolution, and an Introduction to Natural Farming" by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka starts this little gem of a book in 1978 with a seemingly harsh remark by saying: “Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.” But after flying through the book, I tend to agree with him. He advocates a “do-nothing” type of farming which is not to say his style was idle or easy. But rather, it calls for doing less with the end result that nothing is out of sync with nature.

Generally Fukuoka was also a bit harsh in his evaluation of the medical and educational systems, and especially of scientists. He was a scientist himself before he devoted his life to natural farming and he draws an analogy between the role of the scientist in society to the role of discrimination in our minds which leads to narrow-mindedness. He discusses how technology based on science only serves to take us away from nature.

But Fukuoka advocates a gentle calm way of life and farming practice with four underlying principles, namely: no cultivation, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals. He points out that fertility increases when nature is left to itself and that this is beyond the reach of our imagination. He shares his simple techniques that allowed him to produce the same or greater quantities of crops as his neighbours who used the modern industrial methods, one of which was the use of strewing straw on his fields.

Fukuoka not only focuses on farming methods, but covers a wide range of related issues including diet, nutrition, the culture of food, confusion about food, the agri-food business and agricultural policy.  He calls for sweeping changes to the economic and social structures of our societies, which if there is, he says, will be because of a change in consciousness in people.

His many sayings throughout the book reflect his beliefs and I give a few of my favourites here:

If you try to do something, your efforts will never achieve the desired result.

Trying to capture the unknowable in theories and formalized doctrines is like trying to catch the wind in a butterfly net.

An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.

There are countless variations.

In general, commercial agriculture is an unstable proposition.

Food is life, and life must not step away from nature.

Human beings can destroy natural forms, but they cannot create them.

What’s wrong with a growth rate of 0%?

Living is no more than the result of being born.

Just to live here and now – this is the true basis of human life.

To believe that by research and invention humanity can create something better than nature is an illusion.

Farming used to be sacred work.

The marriage is not bestowed, not received; the perfect pair comes into existence of itself.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

No matter how hard people try, they cannot improve upon naturally grown fruits and vegetables.

If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature’s productive power, but by the extravagance of human desire.

In all contentions there is neither right nor wrong, neither good nor bad.

Masanobu Fukuoka trained as a microbiologist and worked as a soil scientist specializing in plant pathology. After suffering an illness at 25, he had an enlightenment experience and decided to put his thoughts into practice. He returned to his family's farm on the island of Shikoku in Southern Japan to practice natural farming. He died at the age of 95 in 2008.

The book is available on Amazon

And in pdf form here

For more information click here

See also:  The International Institute for Ecological Agriculture

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Book Review - "Corporate Power in Global Agrifood Governance" edited by Jennifer Clapp and Doris Fuchs

Corporate Power in Global Agrifood Governance
Edited by Jennifer Clapp and Doris Fuchs
Published by the MIT Press, London ©2009
ISBN 978-0-262-51237-4 (price on Amazon: £18.00, new with free delivery)

Despite a few reservations, I found this book to be very informative and interesting, and would recommend it. The agrifood business is important in the discussion of environmental law because, as the editors mention, farmers are the stewards (or trustees) of almost one-third of the Earth’s land. Corporate governance that uses an industrial agricultural model and relies heavily on chemical use and plant genetic engineering is shown to be antithetical to sustainability. Inequality, erosion of democracy, lack of transparency, reliance on international trade for food security and heightened vulnerability are other negative aspects of corporate dominance in food production and distribution discussed in this book. The term ‘biotechnology’ is used throughout the book, but often the term ‘genetic engineering’ would have been more accurate, specifically with reference to genetic modification (GM) which is explained in my comments for Chapter 6 below.

In the introductory chapter, the editors set the dialogue framework for the book which was written together with nine other academic authors: half from Europe, half from North America and one from Australia. Corporate power is discussed and analysed by using three categories: discursive power (e.g., media, public relations and lobbying), structural power (e.g., private standards, organic certification, and private ownership of seeds) and instrumental power (e.g., membership of key policymaking committees, ability to withhold intellectual property information, and even law making positions). They also set the scene of today’s global scale of production, trade, and marketing of food and agricultural products by describing developments over the past 50 years. They highlight that transnational corporations (TNCs) are involved at all stages of the food production chain and have become more concentrated in recent years. The authors acknowledge that despite some set-backs, TNCs in the agrifood industry have continued to grow at a steady rate. The book is divided into two parts: Part I, Chapters 2-5, is devoted to the nature of corporate power in global agrifood governance; and Part II, Chapters 6-9, refers to the corporate governance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Chapter 2 Retail Power, Private Standards, and Sustainability in the Global Food System, by Doris Fuchs, Agni Kalfagianni, and Maarten Arentsen
In this chapter, the authors’ discussion was based on the retail corporations that are setting private rules, some of which are more stringent than, but all in conjunction with, public laws. This is a common line of reasoning in defence of corporate actions used by many corporations today based on corporate responsibility claims, only this chapter tailored it to fit in with food quality and food safety – the issues that are favoured by TNCs over societal and environmental issues (and discussed further in Chapter 3). The authors give examples where incidents of food contamination were remedied by TNCs, but also note that there are still constant ongoing unsafe food incidents due to the nature of the enterprise. In the end, the authors argue for stringent political regulation of retail power with a public regulatory framework. They show that private standards with respect to environmental issues are likely to remain limited.

Chapter 3 Certification Standards and the Governance of Green Foods in Southeast Asia, by Steffanie Scott, Peter Vandergeest, and Mary Young
The authors in this chapter chose to discuss organic food in relation to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, due in part to the 2007 industry projections which showed the Asia-Pacific region as the fastest growing organic foods market. They discuss how corporate retailers are perceived to be the outlets of choice for these foods largely because organic food is being used as a commodity with less value added reaching the farmers who have less autonomy over the process with many small farmers being pushed out of the market. They show that rather than supporting green alternative agriculture production processes with direct producer-consumer linkages in which the cost of social and environmental sustainability is internalized, corporate involvement in organic production in these countries has led to marginalization and subservience of local knowledge and practices and primarily serves consumers abroad.

Chapter 4 In Whose Interests? Transparency and Accountability in the Global Governance of Food: Agribusiness, the Codex Alimentarius, and The World Trade Organization by Elizabeth Smythe
In this chapter, Smythe covers the issues of transparency and legitimacy in the area of labelling of GMOs in food. For nearly twenty years, the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s Committee on Labelling has been working to establish rules on labelling GM food and feed. Since the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995 these standards, although still voluntary guidelines, have been promoted to being “semi-binding” on states. Smyth points out that agribusiness TNCs have a vested interest in uniform standards for labelling and have greater funds to participate in the lengthy, complicated process of developing Codex standards. Risk assessment of GMO issues are determined by Codex with the assistance of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization experts, but most of the evidence is furnished by the food manufacturer’s scientists. Throughout the chapter, Smythe clearly sets out the transparency questions about safety, traceability, and the environment that prevail at all levels of governance in food labelling.

Chapter 5 Corporate Interests in US food Aid Policy by Jennifer Clapp
Clapp begins the chapter discussing tied, in-kind food aid which is the type of food aid that is preferred by the US and which was historically used by the US to dispose of surplus food. Clapp sets out many of the largely dubious arguments later used by the US in favour of in-kind food aid. One such argument is that in-kind food aid is a tool in the fight against terrorism. Clapp prefers the primarily cash-based food aid system supported by the EU. She shows that besides being highly inefficient, the US in-kind food aid programs are distorting trade, especially in the countries where the food is delivered. In addition, she says there are environmental concerns of the recipients, especially with GM food aid. Clapp also mentions that there are general environmental issues involved because the US uses industrial farming to produce the food and insists on using its own ships to transport it half way around the world in the form of mostly grains.

Chapter 6 Feeding the World? Transnational Corporations and the Promotion of Genetically Modified Food, by Marc Williams
Williams’ goal in this chapter was to describe the corporate campaign to promote GM foods and his presentation suggests that he got caught up in the rhetoric in favour of this technology espoused by TNCs. Not long into his chapter, he produces a confusing remark about gene technology (a subset of biotechnology) which he delineates as “transgenics” (“the insertion of a new gene”) and gene modification (“the alteration of the sequence of genes”). It would have been more helpful instead if he had clarified that the discussion is about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) along the lines of the EU legal definition which includes any procedure “that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” Further, the practice of genetic modification is also called genetic engineering which falls under the wider ambit of gene technology. Another point I would raise is about his reference to the twenty-three countries where GM crops were grown in 2007. He qualifies the number of countries with the word “only,” but fails to point out that they include the largest countries with the biggest agricultural production generally, i.e., United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Australia and India with Russia being the only country left for significant geographic/GM crop expansion. Having said all that, he creatively and amply demonstrates the discursive power of TNCs that use food security and environmental sustainability frames in their favour, while pointing out some weaknesses in the validity of their claims.

Chapter 7 Corporations, Seeds, and Intellectual Property Rights Governance
by Susan K. Sell
Sell’s chapter was an impressive coverage of GMO patent issues and the many global organizations involved in the process with particular emphasis on the structural and instrumental powers of TNCs gained by using patent laws. Her discussion focuses on the global aspect of patent enforceability with a comment that the US would prefer contract law to additional global regulation while the biotechnology industry in general is seeking a more efficient uniform global patent system. An interesting point Sell makes is how Monsanto and BASF with funding from Bill Gates (and Microsoft) are developing climate change stress tolerant genes. She gives references to show that because of the broad scope of the resulting patent applications, together with those applied for by Syngenta, if all are granted then these three firms will control a vast majority of climate-related gene families. Sell aptly describes the situation when she says that “[t]his combination of economic concentration with extensive and broad patenting means that a handful of global corporations are increasingly controlling the world’s food supply and entangling farmers in a dense web of licensing and royalty obligations.” She argues for the return to public funding for agricultural research.

Chapter 8 The Troubled Birth of the “Biotech Century”: Global Corporate Power and Its Limits by Robert Falkner
Falkner appears to play the devil’s advocate in this chapter by attempting to argue that business conflict “serves to limit the power of the corporate sector and opens up political space for other actors to shape the future of agribiotechnology.” One reason this premise cannot hold water is because of the statistic given by Falkner that the GM market was worth over $6 billion in 2006 with only medical appliances topping this figure in biotechnology. As Falkner points out, not only is the industry of such high value, but because of a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the 1990s, it is controlled by less than a handful of TNCs, with Monsanto in the lead by a long shot. According to Falkner, consumer opposition and protest groups have limited the commercial prospects of TNCs in the food biotechnology industry and he gives examples to demonstrate this using the GM labelling issue in Europe and the farmer’s choice, especially in rejecting Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat in the US and Canada. But this argument does not have much weight against his opening statement that “since the mid-1990s the global GM planting area has grown at an average rate of 10 percent annually.”

Chapter 9 Technology, Food, Power: Governing GMOs in Argentina, by Peter Newell
Newell focuses on the role of the agribiotechnology TNCs in Argentina where evidence shows “increased chemical imports [...], deforestation associated with land clearing for GM production as well as concentration of land tenure and decreasing employment among labourers lower down the agricultural supply chain.” On the one hand Newell discusses how Argentina has embraced GMOs on grounds of export potential. But he also points out that the debate about biotechnology in Argentina has become urgent as a means to relieve hunger and a food crisis produced by economic collapse. However, Newell brings to light the impossible nature of claims by TNCs to benefit the poor and reduce the environmental impacts of intensive agricultural development. He discusses the intertwining of the state and TNC powers, especially discursive powers exercised through mass media, with a whole network to promote GMOs, which results in little policy space for society to demand change.

In the concluding chapter, the editors comment on the importance of this subject matter in that “food is the basis of our existence and has pivotal health effects.” In addition, they point out that the well-being of local, regional, and global ecosystems is determined by TNCs in the global agrifood business. They reiterate the often heard assertion that the public interests of social and environmental concerns are continually being trumped by the private interests of economic objectives.