Categories
Fast Food News Science

Chipotle Just Settled for $6.5 Million Over Non-GMO Claims

Genetically engineered foods, or GMOs, have long been the focus of debate in this country. While science has repeatedly found them to be safe and healthy, third party labels like “non-GMO” have gained traction amongst consumers that, thanks to a collection of fear-mongering articles and documentaries, have developed antagonistic sentiments towards a technology that could feed and save the planet.

The debate around those labels just got an intriguing new talking point, thanks to a false advertising lawsuit that targeted Chipotle over claims that its food was non-GMO.

chipotle hid several foodborne illness outbreaks

Chipotle, who just agreed to settle the lawsuit for $6.5 million, had used “non-GMO” to describe its food in advertising campaigns. However, according to the National Law Review, genetically modified feed had been used to feed some of the animals Chipotle sourced for its meat and dairy ingredients. That violates the terms of the standard put together by The Non-GMO Project, one of the most encompassing third-party labels food manufacturers can obtain in regards to non-GMO products.

It’s appropriate to call The Non-GMO Project a third party label since it’s not any standard or method approved by the federal government. Currently, the FDA has no legally enforceable interpretation of the term “non-GMO,” and even refuses to use it in its own language. They’ve also come out with statements that say that claims of non-GMO could be misleading for other reasons, even if the main reason companies utilize them is to convey that their products are safe and healthy.

The FDA’s specific statement regarding the matter is as follows:

For example, the labeling of a bag of specific type of frozen vegetables that states that they were “not produced through modern biotechnology” could be misleading if, in addition to this statement, the labeling contains statements or vignettes that suggest or imply that, as a result of not being produced through modern biotechnology, such vegetables are safer, more nutritious, or have different attributes than other foods solely because the food was not produced using modern biotechnology.

With all of this controversy bubbling up surrounding the term, and with Chipotle paying significantly for using it in their advertising, it could potentially lead to a decrease in the amount of non-GMO claims used by the food industry. As the level of education and literacy the public gains on the safety and health of genetically engineered food increases as well, it could only be a matter of time before this third-party labeling of non-GMOs becomes moot.

As part of the aforementioned lawsuit, Chipotle will pay out refunds for anyone in the US who ate at their restaurants between April 27, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Households are eligible for up to $2 per meal for 5 meals without documentation plus another 10 with receipts and proof of purchase.

Categories
Packaged Food Science Sweets Technology What's New

Pro-GMO Chocolate Brand Launches FREE First Batch To Educate Consumers On GMO Foods

GMO (genetically modified) foods get a lot of bad rap in today’s society. Despite a breadth of scientific knowledge debunking claims to the contrary, many feel that they are unsafe and unhealthy.

To be fair, GMO foods also get their reputation from companies like Monsanto that have used them for unethical reasons. However, there’s plenty of good that GMO foods can bring to the world, and a new chocolate brand is hoping to educate consumers about that side of the story.

Photo courtesy of Ethos Chocolate

Called Ethos Chocolate, this brand was developed by pro-GMO farmer coalition A Fresh Look to help showcase how GMO foods have already been a benefit to society. Their four introductory brands each involve a key crop whose future has been altered or saved through genetic engineering.

Examples include “The Survivor,” which features papaya, a fruit that was all but wiped out in Hawaii after a ring spot virus spread across the archipelago. Genetic engineering variants resistant to the virus was key in restoring the crop back to sustainable levels.

There’s also “The Hero,” which utilizes oranges, a crop facing a similar issue today from citrus greening disease. Scientists are working hard to develop an orange that inherently prevents citrus greening from ever taking hold. Apples, which have undergone both natural and genetic modification to prevent browning, also take a major role in “The Trendsetter” bar that Ethos is selling.

One of the big reasons why this product line was developed was because of the issues surrounding chocolate itself. Studies have predicted that climate change and pests could significantly reduce the available land for cacao trees (the source of chocolate) within the next few decades. While not an actual extinction threat, it does put stress on a burgeoning demand for chocolate around the world, and scientists are working on using CRISPR (a gene-editing technique) to help combat against potential viral and fungal diseases as well as climate change.

It’s definitely going to be difficult for Ethos to get started as a brand, since most consumers are against anything to do with GMO Foods. To help, the chocolatiers are giving out their first limited batch of product for free as a Valentine’s Day gift. If you fill out a form on the Ethos website by February 10th (or before supplies run out), a special box of the chocolates will be sent to whoever you want (including yourself) this Valentine’s Day.

Categories
Food Policy Grocery Packaged Food

The FDA Was Just Petitioned To Ban Non-GMO Labeling

The question of genetically engineered foods, non-GMO branding, and their labeling was thought to have been put to bed a couple of years ago. Congress passed a law requiring the labeling of “GMO foods,” which will likely need to display a BE or “bioengineered” label by 2020. Should be all said and done, right?

While that was the case initially, a new citizen’s petition to the FDA has opened up that can of worms once again. This time, folks are asking for non-GMO labels to be banned on food.

fdaPhoto: Foodbeast // Peter Pham

For those wondering, non-GMO labels like the one above are done by “third party verifiers” and NOT by the FDA. The government has no qualms with these right now, but that may change based on the new petition filed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

According to Food Dive, ITIF’s petition claims that these non-GMO labels are “false and misleading” because they make a product appear healthier than those that contain bioengineered/GMO ingredients. Scientifically, this has been proven time and time again to not be the case, so ITIF feels that the non-GMO markings construe misbranding, making them illegal under FDA jurisdiction.

ITIF may have scientific sounding in their argument, but experts do not expect the FDA to accept their petition. The food industry has backed companies like the non-GMO project that create these label markings and claims, which weakens their case. Furthermore, one could argue that the phrase “non-GMO” is permissible under the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Unless the FDA deems that to be “commercial speech” that has less protections, the phrase would be legal.

By law, the FDA has 180 days to respond to the petitioners and decide whether or not to make such a bold claim when it comes to non-GMO labeling. If they accept the petition, it would likely come with a regulation or new law from Congress that would ban the phrase “non-GMO” and similar verbages, a huge blow to advocates of those who want consumers to know if their foods contain genetically engineered ingredients or not.

Categories
News Science

Study Finds Russian Sites Are Spreading Misinformed Anti-GMO Clickbait Articles

Turns out that Russia may be trying to influence more than our politics. They want a piece of our agriculture, too, and they’re trying to get it through a massive negative media campaign on GMOs.

russian sites

A new study coming out from Iowa State University calls out RT and Sputnik for “misinformation attacks” that cast GMOs in an “overwhelmingly” negative perspective. According to Gizmodo, researchers found that the two Russian sites produced more GMO articles than Fox News, CNN, Huffington Post, Breitbart, and MSNBC combined. 34% of anti-GMO articles scraped came from RT, leading all of the aforementioned sites in related content.

Why would Russia want to inundate the internet with anti-GMO messages? The country has banned GMOs outright in its agricultural practices, and the Des Moines Register reports that their ag industry is now the second-largest in the country. Taking the fight to GMOs, which are prevalent in corn and soy in the United States, could help Russia steal some of their market share.

Of course, this all banks on RT and Sputnik using their propaganda to convince the entire world that GMOs are bad and that US crops, therefore, should not be purchased. Bill Gates just made a strong statement in favor of GMOs, so that should help spread awareness. Hopefully, though, we’ve become educated enough on GMOs to see through the thin veil Russia’s trying to pull over our eyes.

Categories
Celebrity Grub Science

Bill Gates Finds It ‘Disappointing’ That People View Non-GMO Foods As Better

Last year, the Pew Research Center found that most people think GMOs are unsafe and unhealthy. Only 10 percent would trust information given to them from the industry, and less than half would trust scientists. So if the public isn’t believing the experts on the subject, maybe they’ll listen to Bill Gates instead.

bill gatesPhoto: World Economic Forum // Wikimedia Commons

The Microsoft mogul called out those against GMOs and genetically engineered foods in a recent Reddit AmA. He doesn’t stay away from non-GMO foods, but did find it “disappointing” that non-GMO is perceived as better.

There is no true reason to be afraid of GMOs, really. Hundreds in the scientific community deem the foods to be safe and beneficial for society. They can help combat disease, relieve world hunger, and give populations fighting malnutrition food that supplies the nutrients missing from their diet. GMOs are instrumental in bringing about a hunger-free future of food, despite what the general public thinks about them.

What’s really been driving the anti-GMO stigma has been fear-mongering from those who may not be fully informed on the subject (and perhaps a little dosage of Russian influence as well). There are many out there trying to replace fear with facts, like Neil deGrasse Tyson and his contributions to the GMO debate documentary Food Evolution. With a name like Bill Gates joining the pro-GMO side, maybe more people will be willing to accept them as a vital part of society.

Then again, we are talking about a population where 30% of people think GMOs don’t have genes, so there’s a whole cloud of misinformation we have to fight through first.

Categories
Culture Health Hit-Or-Miss

Here’s What Those Labels on Your Food Products Really Mean

The food industry absolutely loves to throw a ton of healthy buzzwords onto food labels. Most food products these days bombard consumers with a variety of words like “clean label,” “non-GMO,” “gluten-free,” “organic,” and several more that consumers want to see on food labels.

These all sound great to consumers, because to consumers, all of these words make the foods that carry them sound healthy. However, a lot of people don’t know what all of these words mean, as has been proven by Jimmy Kimmel on numerous occassions.

As a food scientist, it’s my job to know what these words mean so I know if companies I work for meet the label requirements. My aim is to use what I’ve learned to clarify to consumers, so that the next time you go grocery shopping, you have an idea of what actually goes into the meanings for all of these words.

 

Organic

usda-organic-food-label

Photo: The Plate

Organic is definitely one of the most complex labels out there. Food products that have varying percentages of organic ingredients are allowed to have different labels or say different things on their product packages, such as “Made with Organic Ingredients” or “100% Organic.” While consumers think that organic is great, a lot of people don’t understand what it means for something to be certified organic.

Organic labeling itself began in 1993, and was presented under a strict set of requirements. Organically grown food had to be free of specific chemicals that were established by the law (and the list continues to be modified even today), and the land it was grown on had to be free of these same chemicals for at least three years prior to growth. A whole host of other agricultural and farming practices are required for organic certification to be reached.

One of the biggest things to understand about organic that most people don’t, however, is that all organic products are also non-GMO by legal definition. So, if you purchase organic products, you don’t have to worry if GMOs exist in those products too, since they legally can’t be in there.

 

Non-GMO

non-gmo-logo

Photo: Food Scape Finds

While the federal government is just starting to get on board with non-GMO labeling, independent programs like the non-GMO project are sweeping across the nation. Having one of these verifications of non-GMO is just as important to consumers as the US requiring labeling of products containing GMOs will be.

While the US requirements are pretty simple to understand, the requirements for some of the independent verifiers are a little more tricky. The Non-GMO Project’s standards are broad, covering everything from traceability to the feed that livestock consume. It’s a big reason as to why their label is so coveted by a lot of food producers – as is the claim of non-GMO.

To be non-GMO requires the absence of any genetically engineered food ingredients or organisms in the production or growth of any product (Genetically modified is too loose of a word, since all living things’ genes are naturally modified over time). While there is no change in the actual nutritional content or toxicological risk of the food between GMO and non-GMO, ethics becomes the big question when choosing non-GMO products over GMO. There are good usages of GMOs, like in the reduction of food waste or scaling natural ingredients that couldn’t be grown in large amounts on their own. There are also bad uses, like we all saw with Monsanto in Food, Inc. Having the traceability to understand exactly what GMOs are in your product is key to understanding those ethics, though that could be a whole week of articles on its own.

 

Gluten-Free

mj-618_348_the-lowdown-on-food-labels-certified-gluten-free

Photo: Men’s Journal

Gluten-Free is pretty straightforward: No gluten can be found in the product (Technically, less than 20 ppm is okay). Any food not containing wheat, rye, barley, or any of their hybrids can also be labeled as gluten free.

For those unclear on what gluten is, it’s a protein network developed inside of wheat, rye, and barley when mixed with water. Two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, contribute to the development of gluten and give bread its stretchiness a – while being painful for those with Celiac disease.

 

Whole Grain

whole-grain-labeling_trix

Photo: Don’t Panic Mom

Various label claims for whole grain like the amount in a food or “100% whole grain” are permitted by the FDA. They’ve also required that for whole grain to be on the label, the entire grain (or matching compositions of a whole grain) must be in the product.

These whole grains include cereal grains like amaranth, buckwheat, rice, quinoa, millet, wheat, and corn.

 

No Added Sugars

tesco-no-added-sugar-stevia-milk-chocolate

Photo: Kev’s Snack Reviews

This is a trickier definition that was just defined recently by the FDA. With the new nutrition labels coming out requiring added sugars to be labeled, the FDA had to explain what added sugars are. In their words, added sugars are those added in during processing that are in excess of what could be found in natural ingredients added (ie. fruit juices).

No Added Sugars does NOT mean sugar-free, however. Sugars can still exist if it’s naturally in an added food ingredient (ie. fruit juice or milk), or comes from the breakdown of starches in food (by heat, fermentation, or grain sprouting). Keep that in mind as you shop for products and look at food labels.

 

All-Natural

all-natural-ingredients

Photo: One Green Planet

All-natural used to be one of the most popular claims on food labels, but has a taken a hit recently. That’s because people now understand that there is no real definition of natural from the FDA as of right now, and all-natural basically means all of the ingredients come from nature. While that includes things like strawberries and wheat, it also includes not-so-appealing natural ingredients like carmine (crushed bug extract used as a food coloring) or castoreum (a natural vanilla flavor derived from beaver secretions).

The good news is that the FDA is currently attempting to define “natural,” so hopefully it can be used meaningfully on food labels again in the near future.

 

Clean Label

cleanlabel

Photo: Ingredients Network

Much like “all-natural” above, there is no official legal definition for “clean label” food products, either. The FDA hasn’t begun to consider that definition yet, but it is a topic of hot debate. Nobody is quite clear on what the definition is, but some key ideals have surfaced. These include using simple, real ingredients, as well as the removal of a large number of additives – often nicknamed as the “No-No” List.

 

Several other healthy buzzwords are out there that you can find, but these are some of the more key – or controversial – buzzwords found on several food products. Hopefully, the explanations provided on what these mean gives you a better understanding of what they mean – and makes you look harder the next time you go shopping.

Categories
Health Hit-Or-Miss News Opinion

How Donald Trump’s Presidency Will Affect Your Food

With the dust mostly settled following one of the most divisive Presidential elections in American history, we have our new president-elect: Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Reactions have already sprung up all across the world over what this means for America. Some of these reactions have considered the potential future for the food industry. We’ve taken a look at articles from the Wall Street Journal, Eater, and others to figure out what president-elect Trump’s plans outline for the future of your food.

 

The Cost of Food Will Likely Increase

food_prices

Photo: Publish Your Articles

Under Donald Trump, America is likely to see a continual increase in food prices – and not one that just results from inflation.

Trump’s policy to close the Mexican border would definitely increase food cost. Eater reported a study on economic effects of closing the border that would lead to massive drops in production of produce and meat.

Closing the border would also lead to an increase in wages that would see revenues for farmers drop as low as 40 percent, pushing the cost of food up 5 or 6 percent while decreasing the supply of fresh produce in markets.

Donald Trump’s additional plans to reduce SNAP funding, as reported by Food Revolution, would also increase the cost of food for Americans currently on SNAP and render fresh produce basically unaffordable for SNAP users.

Considering that many areas in America already lack access to fresh produce and are trapped in “food deserts,” this could present a major problem for nutritional and health quality in many lower-income areas of the United States.

 

Food May Become Less Safe and More Susceptible to Fraud.

stocksnap_hrvovu93za (1)

A tax plan released a couple of months ago by the Trump Campaign included a plan to slash the power of the “FDA Food Police”, as the campaign called it. Guidelines by the FDA on the planting, hygiene, production, and processing of food would be harshly limited.

These guidelines are intended to ensure the safety of food – fresh or processed – being sold to consumers. Without these guidelines, food-borne illness is more likely to develop as the ability to measure food safety would diminish with funding decreases.

Decreasing the FDA’s power would not only make food less safe – it would also make it more susceptible to fraud. With Trump’s policies imposing limits on facility inspections (where only 5-6% of facilities are currently inspected annually), food facilities would find it easier to adulterate foods with cheaper substitutes for lower cost.

 

GMO Labeling Efforts Will Likely Fail 

12038984_10207929511058962_1392133966263832770_o

Donald Trump has confirmed via Twitter that he supports GMO food and preventing the labeling of GMOs. While efforts like the Non-GMO Project aren’t governmental and consumers will continue to demand non-GMO, government efforts to require GMO labeling would likely backpedal under a Trump presidency.

 

Our Food Supply May Become Less Sustainable

12068568_10207944804361285_6064711540512485968_o

The sustainability of our food supply, and ability to adequately feed the world healthy and nutritious food in the future, are at risk under President Trump. His policy on climate change is that it is a hoax, and he aims to backpedal efforts to increase environmental protections – and maybe even scrap the EPA altogether.

Apart from this increasing the amount of pesticides that would be used on our foods, this would also mean that our soil quality would be impacted by severe weather conditions resulting from climate change. Droughts in California and Texas have already brought this issue to light, with the cost of beef jumping 34 percent in a four-year span as feed production decreased and cost increased.

These weather systems make more land unusable for food production, meaning that we have less land to feed an increasing population – and a higher price of food as a result.

 

There’s A Likelihood That Children’s School Lunches Become More Unhealthy

Carls-Nashville-Hot-Cover

Many of Donald Trump’s top food advisers are advocates of unhealthier food and don’t consider sustainability concerns. These advisers include Texas Ag Commissioners like Sid Miller, who ensured that Texan school children could eat all of the desserts and fried food that they wanted, and Todd Staples, who resigned over the implementation of “Meatless Monday” programs and called limitations on meat consumption “treasonous.” They clearly do not have children’s health in mind – which could lead to further increases on childhood obesity rates in America as healthy lunch programs would likely be slashed.

 

Donald Trump’s stances on food policy spell out a grim outlook on the future of food, with prices rising and sustainability and accessibility falling. One can only hope that the efforts of those fighting for a more sustainable and accessible future of food can prevent this future from taking hold.