On July 1 Vermont enacted its GMO (genetically modified) labeling law, resulting in 3,000 products no longer being sold in Vermont. In the same week, 107 Nobel laureates sign a letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs. The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.
So who’s to be believed-107 of the leading scientific researchers in the world or the Vermont State legislature? How risky are GMOs?
The short answer is that food has been genetically modified ever since it was eaten-either by nature itself, farmers or food engineers. Foods have been fortified (modified) to help improve health since the 1920s. For example, eight studies have found that fortifying flour with folic acid reduced the incidence of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida by 31% to 78%. Other than people’s fear, there isn’t reliable scientific data to support the GMO reaction. Note that GMO isn’t a scientific term and pretty much anything we eat has been genetically modified at some point or another.
What is more concerning, particularly for people with allergies and serious health conditions, is “fake food.”-it’s labeled one way but is something completely different. Almost every month there is a new “food scandal.” Commercial honey, is extended with beet sugar, corn syrup. Shrimp often comes from Southeast Asia where it may be full of antibiotics and is not known to be safe and in fact has been banned. Most of the imported extra virgin olive oil isn’t really olive oil and the list goes on. According to the Grocery Manufactures of America, up to 10% of food products contain adulterated or fraudulent ingredients.
An Inside Edition report surveyed 28 restaurants across the county and found that 35% of them substituted something cheap for the lobster, such as whiting, Pollock or langostino. You’d think that the chain Red Lobster would probably only use lobster, not so for dishes that use lobster meat.
There is a lot more focus on this with the July 12th publication of Real Food Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know WhatYou’re Eating, What You Can Do About It” by Larry Olmsted, who happens to live in Vermont.
Time recently posted an article on Olmsted’s book with the following highlights:
• The single most defrauded fish in the US is red snapper with the number one substitute being tilefish or tilapia, which is on the FDA’s “do not eat list” for pregnant women due to its high mercury content
• 43% of “wild” labeled salmon sold in Chicago restaurants and grocery stores are actually farmed.
• In New York City 100% of sushi restaurants served fake fish and in fact, the worst fraudulent fish is sushi.
Some of the most commonly sold “fake” foods that aren’t what their labels promise include: Kobe beef, seafood, honey, coffee, orange juice, apple juice, wine, rice and cheese.
What is most concerning is that Olmsted documents that as quickly as they scandals are identified, the producers shift things around. Bottom line, food can be and will be continually faked. So what can you do?
When shopping consider the following:
• Read labels carefully If something has a huge number of ingredients, it’s probably fake. Stay away from things like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, aspartame, and blue 25.
• Shop the perimeter of the store as most of the middle isles are packaged, processed goods. Buy whole rather than processed.
• Avoid artificial colors and so-called "natural flavors" Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have rendered “natural” virtually meaningless for all foods, but when it comes to beef, chicken, pork, and lamb, literally every single animal raised in this country, regardless of drugs or diet, qualifies as “natural” under USDA regulations. Other labels to be wary of:
a) Hormone-free” on poultry or pork. Unlike antibiotics, which are widely abused in agriculture, it is illegal to use hormones on poultry or pork in the U.S. (but not beef). So all poultry and pork is hormone-free. But producers have found consumers will pay a few cents more if they slip this on.
b) Grass-fed” on beef. This it just changed without many people noticing. For the past decade the USDA had a somewhat acceptable definition, but they just rescinded it, and it’s now OK to slap grass-fed on any beef, no matter what it ate. If you want to be sure it’s grass fed beef look for Niman Ranch, Certified Angus Beef Natural (as opposed to regular CAB), [or] the seal of the American Grassfed Association
• Cook more, which gives you control over your own ingredients.
• Recognize that if something seems too cheap to be real, it likely isn’t
• Shop discount big-box stores such as Costco, Trader Joe’s, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Walmart as their standards are as stringent as Whole Foods. This is particularly true for Seafood. However, avoid “organic” from China. Didn’t see that one coming did you? However, they have bulk purchasing power and can make demands that smaller grocers can’t.
• Get to know local producers when possible and buy local. This is particularly true for items like honey and maple syrup. In fact, Chinese honey can be really dangerous so purchase honey from a local beekeeper and avoid supermarkets brands altogether. Join a CSA (community sustainable agriculture) or grow your own produce if possible. Check out Honey is the Third Most Faked Food.
• Seafood is one of the worse “fake” foods. Look for reliable logos MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) for wild-caught fish and BAP (Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices for farmed. Alaskan wild caught seafood by law is not farmed as it is not allowed in this state. This is easier to do at a grocery store than a restaurant. Don’t buy or order Red Snapper because it’s most likely going to be something else. Order lobster whole and avoid things like lobster roll, ravioli, macaroni, soup etc., where it is easier to substitute another product. There are legal organic standards for produce and meats, but not for seafood. Totally meaningless, yet widely used.
• Buy French Champagne as they have some of the strictest controls in the world. The U.S. produces a domestic champagne that is lower quality.
• Only buy Parmigianino Reggiano when it’s printed on the crust. If you can’t read it, don’t buy it. Check out Most Parmesan Cheeses in America Are Fake. Here’s Why.
• For Extra Virgin Olive Oil, purchase it from Australia, Chili or California. Be very careful if you are allergic to peanut or soy as these are common additives in products that are coming out of Italy (the largest importer of olive oil). Check www.extravirginity.com for recommendations. Unless you use it up very rapidly-in less than 9 months- don’t buy in gallon containers since it goes bad. Don’t Fall Victim to Olive Oil Scam
• For coffee lovers, buy the bean and grind you own, otherwise you may be getting chicory, cereals, caramel, parchment, starch, malt and even figs. Sadly tea can come with sawdust and leaves from other plants.
• Dry spices-Grow you own whenever possible and dry them. For nutmeg, buy the nut and grate it yourself. Use a pepper mill and grind your own pepper. Spiked Spices
• Fruit Juice: Read the labels every single time, as Manufacturers aren't required to list the percentage of each ingredient on the packaging, and apple juice is much cheaper than juices like pomegranate or blueberry.
• Almost no truffle oil is real, so skip the truffle fries.
• If you are a Kobe Beef lover, there are only 9 eateries in the U.S. that purchase the real deal. Many places that say they offer it actually are selling a cheaper cut. So if you see Kobe Beef on the menu, chances are it’s not. Check out The New Truth About Kobe Beef, which includes those places where Kobe Beef is actually sold.
• 10 Great ‘Real Food’ Restaurants and How to Avoid Fake Food Scams by Larry Olmsed