Posts Tagged ‘pesticides’

No Go for GMOs

September 18, 2015

Our food has been modified over the years, through the hybridization and cross pollination of crops. So if Dan Barber, the famed chef, environmentalist and proponent of the farm to table movement, uses various techniques to blend different types of seeds to improve the qualtiy and flavor of the plants at Blue Hill Farms at Stone Barns, is that considered genetic modification?  (Spoiler alert: its not.) How do we separate the good from the bad?

GMOs or genetically modified organisms, are engineered through gene splicing techniques in a laboratory where unstable plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes are combined to create new genes which are not found in nature or traditional crossbreeding (such as that being done by Mr. Barber.)

At this stage, virtually all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand herbacides, or create insecticides. There is a body of research which associates GMOs with health and environmental issues.

More than 60 countries around the world, including Japan, Australia and all of the European Union have restricted the production and sale of GMO’s. The United States has approved the use of GMO foods based on research conducted by the same companies which produce them. There is also no rule stating that GMO foods must be labeled as such.

Because so many GMOs were created to withstand herbacides, the use of them has risen dramatically over the years. Super weeds and super bugs have emerged requiring even stronger chemicals to control them. Even though many farmers don’t use GMOs, they can drift in time from one neighboring farm to another.

Certain crops are more at risk of containing GMOs than others. The high risk foods are:
Alfalfa, flax, corn, rice, sugar beets, yellow summer squash, canola, cotton, papaya, soy, zucchini and wheat.

Because of potentially contaminated feed, some animal products are also at risk, such as milk, meat, eggs and honey.

Many derivative items are also GMO risks, including aspartame, vitamin C, ascorbic acid, high fructose corn syrup, yeast producs, xanthan gum ( often found in gluten free foods,) and molasses, among many others. Processed foods are very likely to contain  GMO risk derivatives.


Certainly, every variety of every food listed is not genetically modified. Modification is too young of a process to allow us to fully know the risks associated with them. For my own health, and that of my family’s, I would prefer to avoid GMOs wherever possible.
Buying grass fed beef, and going to the local greenmarket where you can talk to the farmer is one way of avoiding GMOs. There is also the NON GMO Project, which verifies foods as being free of genetic modifications. Looking for their seal on high risk foods is another way of ensuring that your foods are safe.

Organic foods are always GMO free, and do not use synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, or growth promoting antibiotics. Consider going organic on the high risk foods to avoid GMOs.

Learn more by visitingthe Non Gmo Project , Stone Barns websites.

Watch the documentary series Chef’s Table and view the episode about Dan Barber for a glimpse of the farm to table movement at its best.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Organic Panic?

September 5, 2012

Health researchers at Stanford University released a study this week casting doubt on the advantages of organic meats and produce. While they concluded that most fruits and vegetables labeled organic were not more nutritious than the conventional versions, the jury is still out on whether or not spending extra for organic products is worth it.

Conventional varieties tested did have more pesticide residue on them, but the levels fall within the allowable limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The question lies in whether or not these levels are in fact safe for humans long term.

Many of the key motivators for buying organic foods are the stringent rules governing the farming of these items.

Organic chicken and pork were found to less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The study also found that organic milk contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to the heart. Organic produce also had higher levels of phosphorous, and phenols, believed to help prevent cancer.

Organic foods also have less environmental impact than large-scale conventional farming techniques.

More specific studies have found some added benefits to going organic.  A Washington State University study done in 2010 found organic strawberries contained higher levels of vitamin C than their conventionally counterparts.

Three other studies published last year, from Columbia University, The University of California Berkley and Mount Sinai Hospital, showed that children whose mothers ate organically during pregnancy had a higher I.Q. than those whose mother was exposed to higher levels of pesticides.

While this news is likely to spark controversy among farmers and nutrition experts alike, the facts are still somewhat inconclusive.

For children, pregnant women and those with impaired immune systems, the benefits may still out weigh the expense of purchasing organically grown food.

The choice, as always, belongs to the consumer.

photos:Glasshouse Images

Produce De-coded

July 23, 2012

Did you ever wonder what those little stickers on your fruits and vegetables were for? They provide price information, and carry a code which indicates how your produce has been farmed.

Stickers bearing a 4 digit code beginning with a 3 or a 4 means that the produce was conventionally grown, utilizing chemical pesticides.

Stickers with a 5 digit code beginning with the number 8, denotes that the food has been genetically modified, indicating that genes have been manipulated to produce a larger or more colorful fruit or vegetable. They may also have been sprayed with chemical pesticides.

Stickers bearing a 5 digit code beginning with a 9, are placed on organic produce, ensuring that it has not been chemically treated.

The stickers are adhered to the produce with an edible, non-toxic adhesive, although the stickers themselves are not edible.

Always wash your produce well, regardless of how it was grown, and remove the stickers and glue before eating.

photo: Glasshouse Images

Don’t Panic Over Buying Organic

March 31, 2010

There is so much controversy over the safety of our food these days. With all of the contaminants out there, it is best to buy organic fruits and vegetables wherever possible. Unfortunately, organic produce can be pricey, and is not always available in all locales. Below is a list of foods that experts suggest should be organic, based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s tests of pesticide contamination, as well as a list of those that have low levels of contamination.

Food that you should always buy organic:








Imported Grapes



Bell Peppers


Foods that are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides:











Sweet corn


Sweet potatoes



Being well informed is the first step to healthy eating.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

Foods Banned In Europe That Are Approved In The USA

March 24, 2010

Although we think we have the safest food in the world, there are 7 “foodstuffs” that are banned in Europe and still available in United States.

Genetically modified foods have been banned in Europe and continue to be used in the U.S. Although there is no evidence to inform good public policy, the trans-fat controversy has been an example of a modified food with negative impact to our health.

A ban on 22 different pesticides still used in our country prohibits their use in the E.U. While critics claim that the ban will raise prices and may thwart malaria control, advocates say that their harm to public health is a greater threat. Buying organic produce will help you avoid unwanted chemicals in your food.

The bovine growth hormone, known as rBGH, is not allowed in Europe. In contrast, the U.S. fights for laws regarding hormone-free labeling, allowing consumers to have a choice. Choose grass fed, hormone free meat wherever possible, as a healthier option.

Chlorinated chickens are not allowed in Europe, which prohibits the importing of American poultry as a result. Purchasing organic, or free-range natural chickens from a reputable farm can protect you and your family from unnecessary chlorination.

We have spoken about the negative aspects of chemicals in plastics previously. Both the U.S. and Europe regulate food contact use of these chemicals, but the standards of approval are much more stringent in Europe. It is best to avoid plastic bottles altogether, especially those containing liquids. Buy food in recyclable glass bottles wherever possible, and use glass containers to hold liquid leftovers in the refrigerator.

Stevia, the new natural sweetener is unavailable in Europe, although it has been used in Japan for over 30 years.  The European government cites potential disturbances to fertility among other negative health risks, but the sweetener has also been tied to some positive benefits as well. This is a case of exercising caution; it may be the best choice among the chemically based additives (Equal, Sweet + Low) but eliminating any sugar substitutes other than raw honey is the best choice.

The best way to protect yourself from the possible negative effects of some the additives in our food is to be as educated as possible about the risks involved in ingesting them. Buying organic, hormone free foods is a great start. Eating less packaged and processed foods is always a healthier choice. Knowing your food sources and making wise decisions wherever possible is the best route to good health, long-term.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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