It was big news last year when General Mills announced that Cheerios would become GMO-free – even though it was a clearly a go at low-hanging fruit: the cereal hardly contained any GMO ingredients to begin with. But it was also a sign that consumer demand was having an impact.
Since then, we’ve seen other mega food corporations make changes, too. Some of these – think Chipotle’s going GMO-free – have been meaningful; others – think Diet Pepsi ditching aspartame for sucralose – not so much.
More recently, Kellogg said they’d stop using artificial flavors and colors in its cereals and snacks by the end of 2018 – an announcement that came on the heels of General Mills’ saying 90% of its cereals would be free of these ingredients by 2016. Like General Mills’ decision about Cheerios, Kellogg’s comes at a time of declining sales.
No doubt, we’ll continue to see other companies scramble to bring their products more in line with consumer demand. (Of course, we’ll probably also see backlash products, with some companies doubling down on selling junk food as decadence, pleasure and rebellion.)
Even behemoths like Monsanto are trying to get in on the action, developing and marketing non-GMO vegetable seeds. A recent article in Quartz describes development of their Beneforte broccoli, which was conventionally bred to increase levels of glucoraphanin – a compound our bodies transform into other compounds with antibiotic, antimicrobial and anti-cancer qualities.
Of course, it’s not that broccoli needed improving. The natural stuff does quite nicely – and, according to some, tastes a whole lot better than Monsanto’s hybrid. But Monsanto can’t patent, brand and market the heck out of just plain broccoli and so dominate the crops in this country as they’ve done with their GMO corn and soy.
By helping farmers multiply their yields of corn and soy—and restricting the kind of business they could do with its competitors—Monsanto turned itself into a grain superpower. Doing the same in vegetables will not only give the company even greater economic and political clout but could also limit genetic diversity and global food security.
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When Monsanto patents a seed, the Associated Press showed, it gets a say in nearly everything a farmer wants to do with it. Monsanto contracts, for example, “effectively lock out competitors” from adding their own patented traits to any crops with Monsanto’s genes, which for corn and soy in the US, is nearly all of them.
“What gives me pause about [Beneforté] coming from Monsanto is their approach to intellectual property,” said Jim Myers, a professor of vegetable breeding and genetics at Oregon State University. “I’m an old-school breeder and what I see is that when people start using patents and business models like this to tie up the germplasm, it prevents the overall progress in a particular field.”
And this hastens the decline of biodiversity. The potential environmental damage is practically unimaginable.
Meantime, all the focus on companies like Kellogg making their products “more natural” tends to obscure a fundamental fact: We’re still talking about hyper-processed products far removed from the real food we were designed to eat. The optimal diet is based on whole foods: lots of fresh produce, healthy fats, whole grains, organic animal proteins if you choose to include them. It does not include products made in a lab or factory. It nourishes mind and soul, as well as body. (Indeed, one of the reasons it can be so hard to change our eating patterns and styles is that foodways are such a deep aspect of culture.)
And this leads us to an even more welcome set of changes: an increasing insistence that we stop obsessing so much over individual components and instead focus on food quality and dietary patterns as a whole. A recent commentary in JAMA, for instance, calls for an end to the government’s misguided emphasis on dietary fat reduction. As its authors, Dariush Mozaffarian and David Ludwig, they explain in a brief summary for New Scientist,
Existing advice is driving consumers and industry towards low-fat products high in refined carbs, sugars and salt; and away from healthy higher-fat foods such as nuts, vegetable oils and whole-fat dairy products.
By focusing on total fat, dietary guidelines, policies and food formulations have at times become bizarre and paradoxical. Let’s remove this obsolete limit and focus instead on healthy wholefoods and diet patterns.
Another commentary, in the journal Open Heart, makes much the same case about the obsession with calorie counting, which tends to demonize fat (9 calories per gram) and sanctify carbs (4 calories per gram).
It is time to stop counting calories, and time to instead promote good nutrition and dietary changes that can rapidly and substantially reduce cardiovascular mortality. The evidence indeed supports the mantra that “food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison”.
It’s wonderful to see the mainstream catching on to what we’ve known since the ancient days of Hippocrates. As he himself said, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
Image via Vistazo