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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010 06:45 am

Food for thought

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In this joyous season, friends and family come together to cook, share and savor nature’s bounty. As we tuck into food and drink this year, we can be especially appreciative because – wow! – another scientific breakthrough has been made in food production.

“The benefit is something that can be identified just about by everybody,” exulted Neal Carter, who helped produce this long-awaited advance for humankind. Is it a miraculous cancer-fighting food? No, bigger than that. Is it a richly decadent chocolate that helps eaters lose weight? No, bigger even than that. What we have here is – are you ready? – apple slices that don’t turn brown!

Is this fabulous or what? Non-browning apple slices – another marvel from the biotechnology profiteers who love to mess with the genetic makeup of the world’s food supply. And this is truly a global accomplishment. The science of non-browning was pioneered in potatoes by Australian gene-splicers, who licensed the process to Carter. He’s a Canadian peddler of apple trees who hopes that American apple growers will now rip out their old-fashioned natural orchards and plant these biotech wonders of modern science, paying a nice profit to his company.

But it’s going to be a hard sell. “Genetically modified,” said the head of Washington state’s apple commission, “that’s a bad word in our industry.” He’s referring to the fact that consumers routinely reject foods they know to be altered. In fact, consumers are demanding more organic production, not stuff from a gene factory.

Also, Carter could not have chosen a worse product to turn into a lab rat. Apples are the very symbol of nutrition and health, a perfect snack for children. Why mess with it? Besides, mothers know that a little lemon water is all it takes to keep apple slices from browning.

This technology has no benefit for consumers, but it could fatten the bottom line of big-box retailers, allowing them to sell old, inferior apples that look fresh only because they’re still white. That’s gross. But other biotech corporations love to play with our food, even though we don’t like it when they do.

So what happens when ordinary folks organize to stop the Frankenstein-ification of our foods? They sometimes get defeated.

For example, in Ohio, such biotech powerhouses as Monsanto and Eli Lilly are the profiteers behind an artificial growth hormone that induces dairy cows to produce more milk. This stuff is not good for the cows, and it produces nutritionally inferior milk. It also horrifies consumers – who tend to get a bit testy at the thought of having what actually is a sex hormone added to the milk their children drink.

However, big milk marketers like the idea of squeezing out more milk per cow, for it fattens their bottom lines. The only problem is that little matter of consumer rejection. But the biotechers and marketers fixed that by getting federal regulators to declare that adulterated milk need not be labeled as such. In short, the industry, the government and even the cows know about the sex hormones, but consumers are kept in the dark.

Nonetheless, many organic and smaller dairy businesses have had the audacity to label their products as “hormone-free,” and consumers have rushed to them. This spurred the hormone hucksters into a cross-country lobbying frenzy, demanding that various state governments ban hormone-free labels.

Ohio swallowed this corporate line, outlawing labels that tell consumers what’s NOT in their milk. Now, however, in a case brought by the Organic Trade Association, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that such bans are not only ridiculous, but unconstitutional, violating the free speech rights of dairy producers who want to be straight with consumers.

The court’s decision is a major defeat for the 15-year effort by the corporate powers to hide their perfidy from milk buyers. To learn more, contact the Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com.  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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