Two events in the past few months raised the profile of foods with genetically modified ingredients – and also put a spotlight on how messy the issue can be.
The first was the publication in September of a study led by Gilles Eric Séralini involving the herbicide Roundup and herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready corn (technically known as NK603) – both Monsanto products. Rats in the study developed tumors, died prematurely, and suffered organ damage.
The second was the defeat in November of California Proposition 37, whose ballot summary read that it would have required the “labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.”
There was a lot of heat with both events.
The Séralini study and its PR roll-out were met with an intense backlash from genetic-engineering apologists and much of the scientific community, and the European Food Safety Authority – among other scientific organizations – rejected its validity, saying it featured “inadequate design, analysis, and reporting.”
In California, Prop 37 opponents – including Monsanto Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – spent more than $40 million to defeat the labeling ballot measure.
Yet combined and detached from the rhetoric and motivations on all sides, these two events neatly summarized the national and international debate over foods with genetically modified ingredients. Are they safe for human consumption? And should the government require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients – the way nutrition and ingredient labels now note the presence of allergens?
Depending on whom you ask, the answer to the first question ranges from “absolutely” to “we don’t know” to “absolutely not.” And the answer to the second question is largely – but not wholly – determined by the answer to the first.
Since the NuVal food-scoring system was introduced at all Hy-Vee stores in January 2009, my family – both consciously and subconsciously – has changed the way it buys and eats.
There are times when we’ve discussed whether to buy this yogurt or that yogurt, and the decision was based on nothing more than the higher NuVal score. (Sometimes, we look at the nutrition panel to try to figure out why a certain score was higher. Sometimes, we succeed.) And I’m certain there have been times when, without thinking about it, we’ve grabbed one food item instead of the lower-scoring version right next to it.
The funny thing is that until I began researching this article, we took it on faith that NuVal scores meaningfully and accurately reflected the nutritional content of the food we were buying.
Conceptually, the system is intuitively understood. It’s a number from 1 to 100 (on top of NuVal’s joined-hexagon logo) on the shelf tags of a vast majority of edible items in Hy-Vee. The higher the score, the better the food is nutritionally. Fresh blueberries get a 100, and nearly all fresh fruits and vegetables score in the 90s. Scores for hot dogs generally range from 6 to 16, while sugared sodas get a 1.
Of course, you already know that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you, and hot dogs and sugared sodas aren’t. Where NuVal is most instructive – and fascinating – is within a given food group. In its simplest form, NuVal is about deciding between two or three or 10 products jostling for your attention on the same supermarket shelf. As Dr. David L. Katz – the chief architect of NuVal and director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center – said in an interview last month: “Any aisle of the supermarket where you were already going to buy something, go ahead, but try to buy the most nutritious version that satisfies your wallet and your palate.”
If you’re approaching this article on water fluoridation with trepidation, Paul Connett knows how you feel.
“I didn’t want this issue,” said Connett, the co-author of the recently published book The Case Against Fluoride, in a phone interview last week.
“When my wife dumped a whole bunch of papers on my desk one afternoon in July 1996 and said, ‘Dear, would you read these papers?’” he recalled, “I said, ‘What is it? What’s it about?’ She says, ‘Fluoridation.’ I said, ‘Take it away. These people are crazy.’”
Connett already had a full-time job as a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. And for a decade he had been a vocal opponent of waste incineration, a cause that sent him around the world presenting lectures.
“I didn’t want a third issue,” Connett said. “I certainly didn’t want this one, which was stigmatized ... as the province of a bunch of Flat Earth Society crazy people. And I’d succumbed to that same notion without doing any research.”
That night the Village of Canton was considering whether to continue fluoridation of the city’s drinking water. Connett said: “When I started to read the papers that she put there, my intention was as quickly as possible to find out where these crazy anti-fluoridationists had made some fundamental scientific mistakes and [determine] that there was nothing to worry about. ... It didn’t take me long to realize that there were some very serious problems with that practice” of fluoridation.
On June 20, the Marijuana Policy Project hosted a medical-marijuana forum at the Bettendorf Public Library. The event featured a screening of the documentary Waiting to Inhale as well as a discussion with patients who use medical marijuana and proponents of legalizing the drug for medical use. Video of the discussion follows.