Tag Archives: food safety

GM/ Organic/ Conventional : What is a Seedless Watermelon?

It is the peak of watermelon season and  some consumers will only buy the seedless variety. So, have you wondered why some watermelons have seeds and some do not (the appearance of the mini/ “personal” watermelons is also fascinating for me but that is a topic for another post!) ?  The  explanation is here, basically this variety has been developed by a two step process: first, one  type of watermelon is treated with a chemical that doubles the number of chromosomes and then it is cross bred with another variety to  achieve the final product which contains no seeds.  There is no genetic engineering involved but there are changes involved at the chromosomal level. Would this change the way we categorize this fruit?  And if not, then why is labeling GM so crucial? An informed discussion is essential.

Atlantic Food Summit Today

I will be attending the Atlantic Food Summit today, eager to hear the discussion on childhood nutrition, obesity and most important, how to feed 9 billion people sustainably. I will be sharing  and posting on all of that in detail and for the first time, will also attempt to tweet as it happens! Please follow @thegreenfork for updates. Martha Stewart and Mario Batali will be participating, among others, so it should be a good thing….

What the Farmer thinks of Biotechnology


The voices heard most often in the food debate belong on the consumer side of the table: what foods are safe or nutritious or good for kids. We do not often hear the producers’ side of the story. Many people say they do not want to eat food grown with the help of biotechnology. Consider what this Portuguese farmer has to say and consider the question afresh.

Is Small Always Beautiful?

In the midst of all the bad food news: the obesity epidemic, use of hormones and toxic chemicals in the food industry, food deserts, to name a few; reports of flourishing urban gardens are always encouraging. But are they really a long term solution to the problems in our food system?  It can be argued that their small size prevents them from spurring economic growth in the community in a meaningful way and they can do little to solve the problem of global hunger.

As in most issues related to the food world, it is essential not to take an extreme view. Urban gardens are an important step toward revitalizing devastated urban areas like Detroit or New Orleans and in small ways their scale can be ramped up to spread the benefits in the community but they are not a magic wand which we can wave and fix the food system.

In this piece the author argues that it would be more efficient to have a Wal-Mart instead as that would create more jobs and bring economic growth to the area. Before we knock the idea, check out a Wal-Mart store. In my neighborhood, the store stocks wild caught fish, organic produce, milk and eggs and has organic options to regular cereals, granola bars and other basics on the shelves, all at an affordable price.

We cannot all grow our own food and small farms cannot feed everyone. We have also learned our lessons from the consistent growth of huge industrialized farms and the subsequent breakdown of the food system. Can we try for a middle path where local, nutritious produce is available at prices consumers can actually afford?

From the Yard to the Pot

Urban farming is not just about fresh herbs and juicy veggies from the backyard, many people are raising small animals too; ike goats, rabbits and chicken. The ultimate destination for these animals , of course, is the pot. Their living moments, it is argued are more humane in these urban backyards than they would be in a factory farm, but what about their end? Is it safe, hygienic, desirable? While approving of the idea in principle, would we actually welcome it in our own neighborhood? Where I live, you cannot paint the outside of the house any color you like, much less raise and kill chickens in the backyard. There is a logic behind this, we have chosen to live in a community, in an organized way so collective opinion is important. My right to raise animals for dinner has to coexist with your sanitary or health concerns. Right now, these issues are being debated in Oakland, CA as new zoning laws for urban farms are being drawn up.

To me, these conflicts are similar to the raw milk or vaccine debates. Yes, we have a right to choose what we eat and decide how to nurture our children. But we have all opted to live in a social framework as well and harmonious coexistence is crucial.

Can conventional and GM based crops coexist?

USDA seeks method to compensate farmers for GM contamination.

It would seem from Marion Nestle’s post on her blog (link above) that the government is trying to find ways to ensure that both forms of agriculture can coexist. The effort to discuss compensation methods would also include a discussion of contamination prevention in the first place.  This is where any discussion on the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture should start, with a consideration for environmental and health concerns. These concerns can then be addressed by setting up  suitable biosafety standards. In this way, we can ensure that the best use is made of the gains of biotechnology without undermining traditional /organic agriculture.

The Debate on GM Potatoes

Prof. Jonathon Jones of the John  Innes Centre in England writes in the Guardian to defend the his group’s work on introducing  blight resistant traits in potatoes.Blight causes huge losses for commercial potato growers every year and the work in question consists of experiments to introduce blight resistant traits found in wild potatoes into commercial potatoes without losing the desirable properties already present in them. What was intriguing about the article was not just the description of the work or the case made for biotechnology but the plea that Prof. Jones makes for better communication between the supporters and opponents of biotechnology.  Like any other technology, genetic modification comes with advantages and concerns. All too often, opponents of GM  seek to demonize it  and following this path would mean we also lose out on the potential of this option to address issues like climate change, global hunger and public health.  We need a sane dialogue on this issue , the time for fear mongering should be over now.

Food Safety in the Globalized Food System

As we grow accustomed to eating food from all corners of the planet whenever we have a craving, we have created an efficient way to transport food-borne illnesses across borders. When we ate locally, only the population of a particular area would be affected if there was an outbreak but now, the potential for infecting people is multiplied because food is shipped out from where it grew to distant places. Food safety in this global system is highly compromised. Another reason to eat local and always, always read the label.

Food Safety and Nutrition Allocations Slashed

The House of Representatives passed a Republican-led bill to slash spending on food safety and nutrition programs. Details, here, also include the list of 19 Republican who voted against the Bill along with the Democrats.

Exploding Watermelons!

Watermelons are exploding in the fields in China. No, it’s not the end of the world, (not yet, anyway!). The watermelons were apparently treated with an excess of growth accelerators at an inappropriate phase of the growth period. The farmers are now using the bits to feed chicken and fish. None of this will appear on any labels, of course. Read all about it here.