Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Have NOT Been Proven Safe

White-Mouse-001By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

The resounding claim of GMO proponents is that GMOs have been proven safe. Some scientists are quite emphatic about this, such as Dr. Pamela Ronald from UC Davis, who says:
“Genetically engineered crops currently on the market are as safe to eat and safe for the environment as organic or conventional foods.”

Dr. Roger Clemens, from the USC Department of Pharmacology, also weighs in saying:
“They’re tested and evaluated in voluminous documentation that would fill this backyard. We don’t know of any health risk at this particular time.”

Dr. Clemons also supports food additives,  sugar, and processed foods, but I digress….

The problem with concluding that GMOs are safe is that the argument for their safety rests solely on animal studies. These studies are offered as evidence that the debate over GMOs is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Animal studies have value in that if something demonstrates harm in animals, it will also likely cause harm in humans. Although some animal studies have found harm from a GMO diet, these hotly debated studies are not the point of this article. The point is, if an animal study does not find harm with a particular substance, it may still cause harm in humans.

A good example of this is what’s happened with artificial sweeteners. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved artificial sweeteners for use using animal toxicology studies. Once these sweeteners were added to the food supply–and labeled as such–scientists were able to do epidemiological studies (also called observational studies) in humans. Several of these studies found that artificial sweeteners are linked with negative health effects.

The Framingham Observational Study found that both diet and regular sodas are associated with metabolic syndrome (a constellation of symptoms such as abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure that are linked to an increased risk of heart disease). Yet another study revealed that diet sodas may increase the risk of diabetes. The Nurses’ Health Study found that two or more diet sodas a day were associated with a 30 percent decrease in kidney function over time. Yet none of these results were found in animal studies.Clearly, there are still many unknowns about the impact of artificial sweeteners on human health.

Dr. Walter Willet, from the Harvard School of Public Health, sums things up nicely by saying: “It’s difficult to make blanket statements about the safety or risks of low-calorie sweeteners because all are very different in their structure and how they work in the body. The reality is, some studies have been done in animals, but we really don’t have good long-term data on humans with any of these.” And the same is true for GMOs.

Considering that biology, gene regulation and expression, and the impact of a substance on a particular gene can vary so much, it makes perfect sense that animal research is not the best model to determine the long-term health effects of GMOs in humans.

In fact, Dr. Ralph Heywood, past scientific director of the Huntington Research Centre (U.K.), found that the agreement between animal and human toxicology tests is below 25 percent. He has determined that there is no way of knowing what kind of toxic effect will show up in animals versus humans.

Instead of animal studies, epidemiological studies have been identified as the best way to verify the effects of a substance and its risk to humans.

Ultimately, we need GMO labeling so we can do the epidemiological studies that are essential to determine their risk. Without long-term data–in humans–no one can make the claim that GMOs are proven safe.

Copyright © 2014 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

GMO Update and the Huffington Post

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

gmo-patentI have spend the past few years trying to get the word out about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). I have had some truly interesting experiences, some which I have talked about, such as my travails with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and some which I may never talk about for a variety of reasons. These experiences have given me a different perspective on things and perhaps a more realistic view of how big food and big agriculture work. And because of what has happened, I have had the opportunity to also blog for the Huffington Post. Please consider following me there as well! My most recent piece is about what happens to scientists who go against the grain and dare to publish research that criticizes GMOs. The intro and link to the full article are below.

The Anti-Science Behavior of GMO Proponents

“As the battle to label GMOs (genetically modified organisms) rages on, we have another more insidious battle taking place. It’s the battle to hold on to scientific integrity, especially as it relates to research about GMOs.” (more)

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Copyright © 2014 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Creating New Year’s Resolutions that Stick

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Happy new yearThe new year is a time for fresh starts, new beginnings and resolutions. However, it is easy to set a goal and then watch it disintegrate as the year progresses. Sometimes we don’t succeed because we aim too high, or perhaps we don’t succeed because we aren’t fully committed. Whatever the reason, the good news is that there is a way to increase your chances of making your resolutions stick. The key is asking yourself some of the questions used with Motivational Interviewing (MI), which focus on finding and supporting your intrinsic motivation to change. While MI was first used to help problem drinkers change their behavior, you can use these principles to support your own behavior change.

The first step is to think about what change you would like or perhaps feel you need to make. This might be eating more vegetables, exercising 30 minutes each day, cutting out red meat, losing 20 pounds, quitting smoking, or whatever. Once you know what you would like to change, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why do you want to make this change?

This is an important question because if you don’t have very good reasons for making the change, you will not be committed to it and will probably not be very successful. So for example, let’s say you want to exercise more. Your goal is to walk 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Perhaps you want to make this change to feel better, have more energy, decrease your risk of diabetes, support your weight loss goal, and lower your blood pressure. Identifying your reasons is key to helping you make the change. So what are your reasons for making the change you have identified?

2. If you decide to make this change, how might you go about it so you can succeed?

This is important to consider because it makes you think about your plan of action that is particular to you. It might mean scheduling exercise into your daily calendar, picking days and times when you will walk, walking on your lunch break, or signing up for a Zumba class. So if you decide to make this change you have selected, how might you go about it so you can succeed?

3. What are the three best reasons for you to make this change?

Finding out what your three best reasons for the change is important to finding your motivation. Once you have motivation, it is easier to stick with the plan. Looking again at exercise, your top three reasons to exercise might be that you want to feel better, have more energy, and lose weight. So what are your top three reasons to make the change you have identified?

4. How important is it for you to make this change on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 as not important and 10 as very important?

This step helps you to continue to build your motivation by putting a number on how important something is for you. If you find that what you have selected to change is not at least a 7, you may want to rethink what you are planning to change. So how would you rate the change you want to make?

5.  What will you do?

The implication of this question is that you have built enough motivation to make the change you have identified and are now willing to go for it. Again using increasing exercise as our example, your response might be that you will walk on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for 30 minutes in the morning. You will buy a new pair of walking shoes and place them by the door as a reminder. So what will you do to make the change you have identified?

Changing behavior is never easy. But the new year is a great time to start. Asking yourself these questions can help identify what is important to you, build your motivation, and increase your chance for success. Happy New Year!

 

Copyright © 2014 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

 

4 Ways the Food and Drug Administration Is Not “Protecting and Promoting Your Health”

fda-logo11by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

A few weeks ago I happened to catch an episode of the radio show, This American Life, which focused on the how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dealt with problems related to acetaminophen, also know as Tylenol.

In a nutshell, it took the FDA over 30 years to let us know that taking too much of this medication can cause severe liver disease and death. Historically, Tylenol was thought to be the safe pain reliever and one that we should “trust.” Truth be told, taking just two extra strength Tylenol tablets over the maximum daily dose of 8, can cause liver failure.

Why did it take the FDA so long to inform the public of the health risks associated with Tylenol? According to a review of the FDA process, a lack of financial resources and a heavy workload caused the delay.

Ironically, days before I listened to this episode, I was thinking about a few other perplexing FDA positions. While their tagline is “protecting and promoting your health,” there are many instances where their actions are anything but. Here are four such examples.

1. Food Additives 

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine (JAMA Intern Med) found that between 1997 and 2012 all of the members on panels to determine if a food additive was safe had ties to the industry that created them, either as an employee or consultant. One has to wonder, with such an infiltration of industry in the decision-making process, if these additives are truly safe to consume.

Additionally, the FDA allowed companies that created food products to determine whether or not a food additive was generally recognized as safe also known as GRAS. In some cases, these companies did not even notify the FDA of this determination!

Food politics guru Marion Nestle, PhD, wrote the commentary for the article. Not one to mince words, she says:

“How is it possible that the FDA permits manufacturers to decide for themselves whether their food additives are safe?”

How indeed.

She also says:

“…financial ties with food and beverage companies are now recognized as influences on federal dietary guidelines, opinions of nutrition professionals, and the interpretation of nutrition studies.”

The article concludes with the authors urging the FDA to address the lack of independent review and the ubiquitous financial conflicts of interest in GRAS determinations. Let’s hope the FDA follows this advice.

2. Fecal Implants

Fecal implants, also known as fecal microbiota therapy (FMT), are a procedure whereby stool from a healthy donor is inserted into the colon of another. Yes, fecal implants sound really gross. But they save lives and are actually more effective for curing difficult cases of Clostridium difficile (C. diff)–which can cause diarrhea, cramping, colitis, and death–than really expensive antibiotic pills. They have also been found to be helpful, or in some cases cure, other gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, a debilitating condition that causes inflammation of the colon and bloody, frequent diarrhea.

However, in April 2013 the FDA decided if feces were preventing, treating, or curing a disease, then feces should be classified as a drug. The FDA did not approve fecal implants for therapeutic uses. Any doctor who wanted to use them would have to fill out an investigational new drug application. In response, many doctors stopped doing fecal implants, even though they were found to be 90 percent effective for C. diff.

Just a few months later the FDA changed their mind, due to strong push-back from the American Gastroenterology Association. They allowed fecal implants for use in people with C. diff who were not responding to standard antibiotic treatment.

I find it interesting that the FDA wants a lot of regulation for feces, a substance that appears to be helping many people, yet they are lax about so many other things. Of course, precautions need to be taken such as screening for HIV, hepatitis, and parasites. However, at a time of diminishing returns with drugs for many gastrointestinal diseases and no chance of an actual cure, why not allow fecal implants, especially when they have the potential to help so many people who are suffering?

3. Antibiotics in Animal Feed

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the FDA is still dragging its feet to ban the use of antibiotics in factory farming. A recent FDA report reveals that 80 percent of antibiotics are given to industrial farm animals. Why give these animals low doses of antibiotics? So they will get fatter faster and to prevent health problems caused by the extreme confinement and filthy conditions they are forced to endure.

Although there is a clear-cut link between the use of antibiotics in farm animals and antibiotic resistance, the FDA continues to allow their use. Instead of banning the practice, the FDA has called for industry to voluntarily stop the practice. According to Marion Nestle, the problem has only gotten worse. The Centers for Disease Control states that 2 million people are sickened each year by drug-resistant bacteria and 23,000 of them die. Since part of the problem is the use of antibiotics in animal feed, it seems like a no-brainer to stop this practice. The FDA has had over 30 years to take action on this, but has not as of yet.

Apparently, banning the hundreds of antibiotics used in factory farming would be “lengthy and cumbersome” so a volunteer approach was the option chosen by the FDA.

One would think that 23,000 Americans dying each year would trump industry desires and long appeals.

4. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

I have written before about the fact that the FDA does not do its own safety assessments or studies on GMOs before they are approved for use. Instead, the companies that create the crops do their own safety assessments, which the FDA only reviews. In other words, it is the opinion of companies such as Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, or Syngenta that are driving the approvals. This is a win-win for companies that stand to make a buck on GMOs, but is a lose-lose situation for us, the very people the FDA is supposed to be “protecting.”

The FDA is worried about poop, a basically free substance that can cure C. diff and potentially other inflammatory bowel diseases, but is fine with adding food additives, antibiotics, and GMOs to our food supply without adequate testing or conflict-of-interest-free determinations.

What is wrong with this picture? A lot. And it is the American people who will be paying the price.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Plant-Based Recipe: White Bean Soup with Sage

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

97720-organic-great-northern-beansEating a plant-based diet can be a challenge without recipes. Since I am usually quite busy, I look for options that are tasty as well as quick and easy. This one fits the bill. Many years ago a friend shared this flavorful recipe that I have adapted and enjoyed for decades. I like to pair it with a salad for a hearty meal.

White Bean Soup with Sage

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2-15 ounce cans of great northern white beans (I like the Trader Joe’e beans since the cans do not contain BPA or bisphenol A)
  • 15 ounces of vegetarian broth or water with 1 vegetarian bouillon cube
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil (optional) or cooking spray
  • Pepper

 Directions:

  1. Sauté onion and garlic with oil or cooking spray till tender.
  2. Stir in beans with liquid.
  3. Add broth or water with bouillon cube.
  4. Stir in chopped sage.
  5. Heat to boiling and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Please let me know if you have tasty and easy recipe to share.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

5 Reasons Why Eating a Plant-Based Diet Makes Good Sense

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Eating more plants and less meat is becoming more popular than ever thanks to plant-based-dietex-presidents, celebrities, best-selling books, and movies such as Forks Over Knives. While vegetarian and vegan diets, are defined by what they exclude, a plant-based diet is defined by what it includes—lots of plant foods! This means eating more veggies, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds instead of animal products and processed foods.

Need some motivation to try a plant-based diet? Here are five good reasons to consider.

1. It’s good for your health.

Dr. Dean Ornish’s research showed that eating a very-low fat, plant-based, vegetarian diet and other lifestyle changes, could, in fact, reverse heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn also succeeded in arresting and reversing heart disease in patients who were seriously ill.

The Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. While about 50 percent of Americans will develop high blood pressure by the age of 60, research shows that populations that consume a diet comprised mostly of vegetables or who are vegetarian have “virtually no increase in hypertension with age.

Eating red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) is associated with increased rates of cancer and heart disease. And the American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet for the prevention of cancer “…with an emphasis on plant foods”

Lastly, compelling new animal research has found that eating meat causes the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to produce a compound that increases the risk of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

2. It’s easy to lose weight.

Let face it. If you are eating a lot of plant foods, many of which have only 10 to 50 calories per cup, you are going to lose weight. If you eat these foods in place of fast, fatty, processed, and sweet foods, you will cut out a ton of calories—and the best part is—you will feel full!

The classic American meal is a burger, fries, and a coke. At McDonalds, you can buy the following for 1,140 calories:

  • quarter pounder with cheese
  • medium order of fries
  • medium coke

Or you can have the following plant foods for 1,140 calories:

Salad:

  • 3 cups of spring mix salad greens
  • 3 Tb hummus
  • ½ cup kidney beans
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup of sugar snap peas
  • 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil

And for dessert:

  • 2 apples
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 cups of blueberries

Additionally, some research shows that meat is independently associated with obesity.

3. It’s good for the environment.

It takes about 15 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef and about 5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of chicken. We grow a lot of grain to feed animals, but we would use less water and other energy resources if we ate the grain ourselves.

An article in Scientific American reveals that the amount of beef the average American eats in a year creates as much greenhouse gas as driving a car over 1,800 miles!

A report released by the Environmental Working Group actually calculated how much greenhouse gas is produced by the food we eat. As you can see, animal products are the highest producers. So forget the lamb and eat the lentils!

food and co2

4. It saves you money.

Many people think eating fast food, such as McDonald’s, is the cheapest way to eat. But actually eating plant-based foods can cost even less.

A McDonald’s meal for four people—including 2 Big Macs, a 6-piece Chicken McNuggets meal, a small hamburger, 4 medium fries, and 4 medium drinks—costs around $24.00.

But you could have lentil soup, salad, fruit, and sparkling mineral water, for four people for about $10.00!

Granted, you would spend more time cooking the lentil soup. However, you could make a large pot, put it in the frig or freezer, and have it for lunch or dinner over the next few days ultimately saving both time and money.

Beans, peas, and lentils are some of the cheapest foods you can buy. And a recent report even shows that fruits and veggies are more economical than we once thought.

5. You’re not supporting animal cruelty.

None of us wants to see the horrific treatment that animals are subjected to for our benefit. I know I certainly don’t. But I think it is important for all of us to understand how animal are treated so that we can make a conscious choice.

I will mention just one example, as a case in point: gestation crates for pigs. Once the sows are artificially inseminated, they are put in crates with just enough room for their bodies for their entire pregnancy. As the sows gets larger and larger they often develop pressure sores. They urinate and defecate through slots in the bottom of the crate. The smell of ammonia is strong enough to cause lung problems. Once the sow delivers it is back in the gestation crate. When the animals are spent, they are taken to slaughter. They use these horrific practices to save money and produce more meat, but at what cost? Pigs are intelligent animals and I just cannot be a part of this kind of suffering to save a few dollars.

I am not a vegan, I do occasionally eat animal products, mostly fish and eggs, but when I do eat them I go out of my way buy products from animals that have been humanely raised. One example is Vital Farms eggs. Yes, I pay more for them. However, for the very small amount of animal products I do eat, it’s worth it and does not break the bank.

It’s hard to argue with a plant-based diet when it benefits our health, waistline, environment, wallet, and conscience. Any movement towards more plants and less meat is a big step in the right direction. Why not skip the meat and eat some beans today?

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Is the Movement to Label GMOs Anti-Science?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

No gmo 2One of the criticisms I hear about the movement to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that it’s anti-science. Some even go so far as to say it’s an assault on science. While I can’t speak for the entire movement, I can say that the lack of research in humans and troubling findings in some animal studies is enough to make me question the safety and necessity of GMOs.

The research related to GMOs can be hard to sort through. One study may find health problems in animals, but then proponents and biotech scientists say the study is flawed. But are there any scientists that question the safety and effectiveness of GMOs?

Michael_Hansen_ResizedOver the past few months, I have spoken with scientist Michael Hansen, PhD, who is an expert on genetically modified crops. Dr. Hansen works for the Consumers Union, the safety and advocacy arm of the organization Consumer Reports. Consumers Union is not funded by agribusiness, or other multinational companies tied to the biotech or food industry. Therefore its opinions are not influenced by industry money.

Dr. Hansen has testified at many hearings in support of GMO labeling both nationally and internationally. And he has been interviewed on a lot of television and radio shows, including the Dr. Oz Show, which aired on March 26, 2013. He is willing to answer some of my questions about GMOs, also know as genetically engineered crops.

1. Does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do safety testing on genetically modified crops?

No, they do not. Nor do they require any companies to do safety testing of their genetically engineered (GE) crops. The FDA policy on GE was introduced as a deregulatory initiative in 1993. It is based on the notion that genetic engineering is an extension of traditional plant breeding and should be regulated in the same way. In other words, no requirement for human safety testing; instead there are voluntary safety consultations.

2. What are voluntary safety consultations?

The companies that create GE crops do their own food safety assessments, which the FDA reviews. At the end of the consultation process the FDA sends a letter to the company. Here is an excerpt from one letter which says, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn grain and forage derived from the new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters from corn grain and forage currently on the market, and that they do not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.” [emphasis added]. A version of this sentence is in all 97 “safety” consultation letters.

In other words, the FDA does not state its own opinion about the safety of GE crops. It only states what the company believes.

3. What are the potential health risks associated with Genetically Engineered Crops?

Human safety concerns may arise from genetic engineering due to the introduction of new allergens, an increased level of naturally occurring allergens, plant toxins, or changes in nutrition. GE crops may also have a negative effect on the gut and peripheral immune response. A meta-analysis of animal feeding studies involving GE crops suggests that they cause liver and kidney problems. And a new well-designed, long-term feeding study has found that pigs consuming GE corn and soy had significantly higher rates of severe stomach inflammation and females had significant thickening of the uterus.

In addition, GE plant material is finding its way into the human body with unknown health effects. A study found the toxin from GE corn in 93 percent of maternal and 80 percent of fetal blood samples. Clearly, more research is needed.

4. The Séralini study published in October, 2012, has gotten a lot of criticism. Do you think it has merit?

Yes, I do. The study was a follow-up to Monsanto’s 90-day feeding study on its NK603 corn. The Séralini study, which continued for 2 years, found that female rats fed this GE corn died 2-3 times more quickly, and developed mammary tumors more often than controls that ate non-GE corn. Male rats fed the GE corn had liver and kidney problems at higher rates than controls, and more large tumors than rats fed non-GE corn.

The study received a lot of media attention. It was viciously attacked in the media by pro-GE and industry-affiliated scientists in what appears to have been an orchestrated campaign.

The two main criticisms were that they used too few rats per group and that they used a strain of rat that is prone to mammary tumors as they age. Both criticisms are off base.

The Séralini study used 10 rats per group, the same number of rats that Monsanto used in their 90-day feeding study to look at key biological parameters. If ten rats are too small a sample size to demonstrate health problems, how come ten rats are a sufficient sample size to demonstrate no safety concerns?

As for the type of rat used, Séralini used the same strain, Sprague Dawley (SD), that was used in the Monsanto feeding study on its NK603 GE corn and its 2 year feeding study looking at the safety of glyphosate. Why is use of SD rat’s bad when Séralini uses them, but okay when Monsanto and other biotech companies use them?

If Séralini’s study is flawed, then so is Monsanto’s, and the safety of their GE corn should be reassessed.

5. Have GMOs helped to feed the world, reduce the use of pesticides, or increase yield as proponents have promised?

No. Dr. Charles Benbrook’s work has shown that GE crops in the U.S. have lead to a dramatic expansion in pesticide use, particularly herbicides. Indeed, over the past 16 years there has been an increase of about 404 million pounds more herbicides used on GE crops, compared to non-GE crops. Work by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman has shown that genetic engineering doesn’t really increase crop yield.

6. Why do you think foods with GMO ingredients should be labeled?

There are a lot of uncertainties related to genetically engineered crops including potential allergens and unknown health risks. If these foods are not labeled, it will be very difficult to identify an unexpected health effect resulting from eating a genetically modified food. For more information, see here.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

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References:

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Carmen, JA. et al. 2013. A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet. Journal of Organic Systems, 8(1): 38-54. At: http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf

Aris, A and S Leblanc. 2011. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reproductive Toxicology, 31(4): 528-533.

Séralini, G-E. et al. 2012. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 50: 4221-4231. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

Bardocz S, Clark A, Ewen S, Hansen, M, Heinemann J, Latham J, Pusztai A, Schubert D and A Wilson. 2012. Séralini and science: An open letter. Independent Science News. At: http://independentsciencenews.org/health/seralini-and-science-nk603-rat-study-roundup/

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