Are GMO producers covering up ‘just like’ Big Tobacco?

corntassels2016One of the popular slogans of anti-GMO protesters has been that there is a “cover-up” going on by GMO seed companies about the actual harm of GMO crops, just like the kind of cover-up that Big Tobacco carried out for 40 years on the dangers of smoking. You will hear this sort of talk from Dave Murphy from Food Democracy Now, who can sound pretty extreme in print (see this article in the Huffington Post) but when interviewed on MSNBC sounds somewhat more reasonable, even while talking through his hat. (Recently the Huffington Post was rated the worst anti-science web site by Skeptoid.)

However, in that interview, he does mention that the GMO companies are engaged in “cigarette science,” and not telling the “real truth.” The trope that a science cover-up on GMO crops is going on just like Big Tobacco carried out is common in anti-GMO protest signs and literature.

Tobacco history

We went back and looked at some of the history of the science on tobacco smoking and lung and heart disease. Surprisingly, the research goes back to at least 1950 (1), where the authors found that smokers were substantially more likely to develop lung carcinoma. This was one of only two papers on this subject in PubMed in 1950, but the number grew in subsequent years to hundreds and then thousands of papers per year, all pointing to the same conclusions.

So, in fact, the carcinogenicity of cigarettes was well known over 60 years ago, while it may have been discounted publicly by tobacco companies, there was no cover-up at that time.

However, when people began to ask questions about the dangers of second hand smoke (“passive smoking”), tobacco companies took an aggressive approach to neutralize the impact of this research. While Schmidt (2) indicated that the carcinogens in passive smoke were a serious problem, Grandjean et. al. suggested that there was unlikely to be a problem, but by 1981 researchers were pointing towards benzo(a)pyrene as a prime culprit in tobacco smoke. (4)

In 1998, as part of the resolution of a lawsuit by various attorneys-general against tobacco companies, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement resulted in significant funds being transferred to the states and the tobacco companies ceasing various marketing practices. At the time, the entire archives of the Tobacco Institute and related front organizations became available to researchers.

Because of these documents and the many papers that have been published about them, we now know that the tobacco companies conspired to cover up the harm they knew was being caused by second hand smoke. They also used their law firms and advertising agencies to recruit apparently unbiased scientists to tout their points of view expressing skepticism about the dangers of second hand smoke.

In 2000, Ong and Glanz (5) described the tobacco industry’s efforts to discredit second hand smoke studies, and Drope and Chapman(6) described how this was done by reviewing tobacco industry documents. And the tobacco companies’ law firms and agencies constructed the term “junk science” to try to refute some of these studies as Ong and Glanz noted in 2001 (7).

Perhaps most disturbing was the industry’s attempts to recruit (and pay) independent scientists to repeat industry talking points. The scientists’ papers would still indicate that they were being supported by tobacco industry groups, but as Bero, Glanz and Hong revealed, this wasn’t that hard to get around, as they show by detailing payments to one scientist who published such papers. (8)

A complete history of the tobacco industry’s second hand smoke cove-up was published online by PR Watch.

Development of GM Crops

There are two major types of GM crops in wide use in the US and other countries: Bt maize (corn), cotton, potatoes and tobacco and Roundup resistant soy, corn, sorghum, canola, squash, alfalfa and sugar beets. Roundup-resistant wheat has been developed and found to be safe, but is not being marketed.

In addition, there are ringspot-resistant GM papayas, non-browning Arctic apples and the non-browning Simplot potato, as well as Golden Rice with Vitamin A bred into the plant to combat blindness in vulnerable populations.

Bt insecticides

The bacillus we now know as Bacillus thuringiensis was, according to a review by Je et. al. (9) discovered originally in Japan in 1901 by Ishiwati and rediscovered in Germany by Berliner in 1911 (10), when he isolated it from flour moths.

Bt was found to be toxic to various Lepidoptera that were known to be crop pests and it began to be used in France in 1938, (11) and interest in its use as an insecticide more broadly was due primarily to Steinhaus.(12). There are now a large number of varieties of the Bt, specific to a number of different insect pests. It was found by Angus (13) that during sporulation, it forms a crystalline protein that creates the toxicity.

The important breakthrough in Bt research was when Gonzalez (14) reported that the genes that coded for the crystal proteins were located on separate cell sections called plasmids, paving the way for the cloning of these genes and eventually for insertion of these genes into plant material. The first genes isolated coded Bt toxic to the tobacco hornworm (15), and soon several groups began creating transgenic plants with various Cry genes inserted. The first to reach the market was Bt cotton (16).

Koziel (17) and a dozen coworkers from Ciba-Geigy described the field performance of transgenic maize in 1993, and commercial Bt corn followed soon after the cotton.

Once the Cry genes which coded for various strains of Bt were inserted into foodstuffs, concern was expressed regarding their safety. Numerous independent short and long term studies have shown these foods to be completely safe, however (18, 19).

Roundup

Roundup or glyphosate herbicide was discovered and patented by Monsanto chemist John E Franz in 1970 (20). It’s effectively made by combination of glycine and phosphonic acid, hence the name shortened from glycine phosphonate. It is a contact herbicide, used to kill emerging weeds and is not used as a pre-emergent weed killer. Duke and Powles, in a mini-review (21) have called it a “once in a lifetime herbicide.” Franz received the National Medal of Technology (1987) and the Perkin Medal (1990) for this work.

Even before the development of Roundup resistant plants, Roundup was used by farmers to clear the fields before planting, obviating the necessity of tilling. Glyphosate is of extremely low human toxicity, comparable to aspirin or baking soda, and binds to the soil while it decomposes, so water supplies are not at risk. All the commercial patents have now expired, and it is made by a large number of companies.

Steinrucken and Amrhein (22) reported in 1980 that glyphosate killed plants by inhibiting synthesis of the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase, (ESPS) which is critical for the synthesis of the  aromatic amino acids phenylalaninetyrosine and tryptophan. If researchers could interfere with this process, they could create plants that could resist glyphosate.

After several years of experimentation in a number of groups, Klee, Muskopf and Gasser at Monsanto reported the creation of a glyphosate resistant petunia (23). This technique resulted in a general method for creating glyphosate resistant plants by cloning a gene that encodes ESPS and inserting it to various plants. Patents on this were filed in 1990 by Shah, Rogers, Horsch and Fraley (24). Fraley recently received the World Food Prize for leading this work.

Related approaches continued for some years and the first glyphosate tolerant soybeans were introduced to the market in 1996.

Research on Safety of Transgenic Plants

Substantial research on the safety of each of the genetically modified plants has been conducted and published by research groups inside and outside the various seed companies. A complete list of nearly 6oo peer-reviewed papers attesting to the safety of transgenic crops has been compiled and published by the Biofortified web site (25).

All of these papers are published in major peer-reviewed journals and thus as an aggregate represent the best scientific knowledge on these systems. Among these hundreds of papers representing thousands of experiments, there are really only two papers reporting health problems from genetically modified crops.

One of these, the paper by Giles-Eric Seralini (26) is the paper most frequently referenced in this regard. While Seralini and coworkers claimed to find that rats fed transgenic maize developed tumors, the Sprague-Dawley rats they used all develop tumors at the same rate as they observed. The paper has been denounced by dozens of scientists for poor experimental design and statistics. The European Food Safety Authority (27) published a final assessment, calling the study of “insufficient scientific quality for a safety assessment.”

Forbes contributor and molecular biologist Henry Miller and biochemist Bruce Chassey published a critical article of Seralini’s work as well (28).

The other recent paper purporting to find dangers in feeding transgenic crops to animals was published by Judy Carman, et. al, (29). Published in a low level on-line journal supported by the Organic Federation of Australia, and not even indexed in PubMed, it is of little scientific validity, and was immediately criticized by scores of scientists.

Carman’s study fed pigs either transgenic or conventional maize for 23 months and then examined their stomachs after slaughter. They claimed that GM-fed pigs had more inflammation, but their own tables show the opposite. Critics (30) also noted the visual inspection of stomachs is not the same as an actual histology study, and probably was meaningless. But most significant, FSANZ, the Food Standards Agency of Australia and New Zealand concluded (31) that the data “are not convincing of adverse effects due to the GM diet and provide no grounds for revising FSANZ’s conclusions.”

Comparison with Tobacco Cover-ups

In the case of tobacco companies, the cover-up was clear, because independent research had established and continued to establish the dangers of smoking and of second hand smoke, while at the same time, tobacco sponsored research was attempting to suggest alternate explanations for the observed diseases associated with such smoke.

By contrast, there are not really any credible studies from any source showing any damage to animals (or people) from any current transgenic crop. There is no sign of any coverup of evidence or papers adopting alternate hypotheses, because no negative results have been found. Nor are there conflicting conclusions presented by independent studies versus industry funded studies.

Consequently, there is no analogy between the near-criminal behavior of the tobacco companies and the relatively open research environment in which transgenic crops have been developed. There just doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a conspiracy.

The only evidence we find of mendacity and conspiracy is in Seralini’s and Carman’s papers, which have been found to be wanting of solid, believable science. And strangely enough, the web site gmoseralini.org and gmojudycarman.org have an identical design and style. And as Byrne and Miller noted (32), the organic industry is spending upwards of $2 1/2 billion opposing transgenic crops.

 

References

  1. Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung, R. Doll and A. Bradford Hill, British Medical Journal, 739, Sept 30, 1950
  2. Health Damage by Means of Forced Smoking, F. Schmidt, Med, 1979, 97(42) 1920.
  3. Passive Smoking, E. Grandjean, A Weber, T. Fischer, Schweiz. Akad. Med. Wiss. 1979 Mar;35(1-3):99-109.
  4. Carcinogenicity of airborne fine particulate benzo(a)pyrene: an appraisal of the evidence and the need for control. F Perera, Environ Health Perspect. 1981 Dec;42:163-85.
  5. Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke study, Elisa K Ong, Stanton A Glantz, The Lancet, 355 , April 8, 2000.
  6. Tobacco industry efforts at discrediting scientific knowledge of environmental tobacco smoke: a review of internal industry documents, J Drope and S Chapman, J Epidemiol Community Health 2001;55:588-594.
  7. Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms. E. Ong and S. Glanz, Am J Public Health.2001 November; 91(11): 1749–1757.
  8. The limits of competing interest disclosures, L.A. Bero, S. Glanz and M-K Hong, Tob Control2005;14:118-126
  9. Bacillus Thuringiensis as a Specific, Safe, and Effective Tool for Insect Pest Control. Yeo Ho Je al. J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. (2007), 17(4), 547–559.
  10. Berliner, E. 1911. Uber de schlaffsucht der Mehlmottenraupe. Zeitschrift fur das Gesamstadt 252: 3160-3162
  11. Lambert, B. and M. Peferoen. 1992. Insecticidal promise of Bacillus thuringiensis. Facts and mysteries about a successful biopesticide. BioScience 42: 112-122.
  12. Steinhaus, E. A. 1951. Possible use of B. t. berliner as an aid in the control of alfalfa caterpillar. Hilgardia 20: 359-381.
  13. Angus, T. A. 1956. Association of toxicity with proteincrystalline inclusions of Bacillus sotto Ishiwata. J. Microbiol. 2: 122-131.
  14. Gonzalez, J. M. Jr., B. J. Brown, and B. C. Carlton. 1982. Transfer of Bacillus thuringiensis plasmids coding for δ-endotoxin among strains of B. thuringiensis and B. cereus. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 79: 6951-6955.
  15. Schnepf, H. E. and H. R. Whiteley. 1981. Cloning and expression of the Bacillus thuringiensis crystal protein gene in Escherichia coli. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 78: 2893-2897.
  16. Shelton, A. M., J. Z. Zhao, and R. T. Roush. 2002. Economic, ecological, food safety, and social consequences of the deployment of Bt transgenic plants. Rev. Entomol. 47: 845-881
  17. Koziel, al. Field Performance of Elite Transgenic Maize Plants Expressing an Insecticidal Protein Derived from Bacillus thuringiensis. Nature Biotechnology11, 194 – 200 (1993).
  18. G Flachowsky, K Aulrich, H. Bohme , I. Halle. Studies on feeds from Genetically Modified Plants (GMP), Contributions to nutritional and safety assessment. Animal Feed and Science Technology, 133 (2007) 2-30.
  19. G Flachowsky, K Aulrich, Halle. Long-term feeding of Bt-corn– a ten generation study with quails. Arch Anim Nutr. 2005 Dec;59(6):449-51.
  20. US Patent 3799758.
  21. O. Duke and S.B. Powles, Glyphosate: a once in a lifetime herbicide. Pest Manag Sci 64:319–325 (2008).
  22. Steinrücken, H.C.; Amrhein, N. (1980). “The herbicide glyphosate is a potent inhibitor of 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase”.Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications94 (4): 1207–12.
  23. J. Klee, Y.M. Mushopf and C.S. Gasser, Cloning of an Arabidopsis thaliana gene encoding 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase: sequence analysis and manipulation to obtainglyphosate-tolerant plants. Mol Gen Genet. 1987 Dec;210(3):437-42.
  24. US Patent 4940835.
  25. See http://biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/
  26. G-E Seralini al., Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, Food Chem Toxic., 50(11), 2012, 4221-4231.
  27. European Commission, Final Review of Seralini al…, EFSA Journal 2012,10(100, 2985.
  28. Henry Miller and Bruce Chassey, Scientists Smell a Rat in Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study, Forbes 8/25/12.
  29. J Carman, al, A long term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined GM soy and GM maize diet, J Organic Systems, 8(1) 2013, 38-54.
  30. David Gorski, More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism, Science Based Medicine, June 17, 2013.
  31. Response to a feeding study by Carman et. al., FSANZ, July, 2013.
  32. Byrne and Henry Miller, The roots of the anti-genetic engineering movement: Follow the money, Forbes, 1022/2012

 

 

 

Turkey stock and hot turkey sandwiches

Turkey stock and hot turkey sandwiches

If you had a turkey sometime last week  (ours was Saturday) you probably want to make the most of the leftovers. We decided to make some fresh turkey stock and use it to make  gravy for hot turkey sandwiches. We had frozen the wings, neck and the partially carved drumsticks: enough meat right there to make some great stock.

We tossed the frozen meat and bones into our Instant Pot and added 2 carrots, two stalks of celery and a small onion, halved.

Then we raided our not-quite finished garden for parsley and thyme and added a bay leaf.

Then we added water up to the Max line and closed the pot up. Probably an hour would have been enough, but since we had the time, we set the pot to 120 minutes, using the Soup setting, which keeps the liquid from boiling too vigorously, and let it cook.

At the end of the 2 hours, we let the pot slowly cool for 15 minutes so it wouldn’t spurt and then released the pressure. We bailed out all the vegetables and discarded them, leaving almost 5  quarts of rich turkey stock.

To make the gravy, we put a couple of Tb of olive oil in a cast iron frying pan and cooked 2-3 Tb of flour for a minute or two, and then poured in 2 cups of turkey stock.

After it thickened, we added slices of turkey, so they would heat through.

We buttered the bottom bread slice, since a little fat carries the flavor better, and added several slices of turkey on top of the bread.

Then we topped the sandwich with more bread, and spooned some more gravy over the top.

Not only did we get delicious turkey sandwiches, we got nearly 4 quarts of stock, that we froze for later use. You could use it anywhere you would use chicken stock, and this tastes way better than canned stock does.

Low labor, big success!

Delicious hot yeast dinner rolls

rolls-in-basketFor Thanksgiving, or any special celebration, it is great fun to bring our piping hot, just baked yeast dinner rolls. You can make these in a bit more than 2 hours rising time, but the preparation time is only about 10 minutes total.

Making dinner rolls sounds like a lot of work, but in our house they are something everyone looks forward to for major holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. Kids like to taste a bit of the dough, and enjoy helping roll out the dough and cutting it, so it becomes a family affair!

There really is nothing better than these soft just-risen and baked dinner rolls, and this recipe is one of the most popular ones we know. It is really simple to make, using a food processor to replace the usual kneading step.

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 package yeast (not rapid rise)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 cups flour
  • 3 Tb butter
  1. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and stir in the 1/2 tsp of sugar. Let the yeast proof for a couple of minutes until it starts to foam.
  2. Put the milk, sugar and shortening in a glass pitcher and microwave for one minute. The shortening does not need to melt completely.
  3. Put one cup of flour into a food processor and add the warm milk mixture. Be sure to scrape in any remaining sugar or shortening.
  4. Pulse briefly until mixed.
  5. Add the yeast mixture and the egg and pulse the food processor until the mixture is uniform.
  6. Add about 2 cups more flour and mix until smooth. The dough should be smooth and no longer sticky. If it is still sticky, add more flour a little at a time until it is no longer sticky.
  7. Allow the dough to rise for about an hour, until doubled in bulk.
  8. Melt the 3 Tb butter in the microwave for 30-45 seconds.
  9. Remove the dough from the food processor and pat into a single mass on a floured board.
  10. Roll out the dough about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick and cut into circles with a large drinking glass or biscuit cutter.
  11. Dip each circle in the melted butter and fold into quarters.
  12. Place each folded circle into a muffin pan.
  13. When the rolls are all formed, cover with a damp towel and allow to rise about an hour.
  14. Preheat the oven to 375 º F.
  15. Bake the rolls for about 10 minutes until light to medium brown.
  16. Brush each roll with some of the remaining melted butter, place in a bowl and serve.

Stand back, these will go fast.

We have found that yeast packets on supermarket shelves are really variable in activity and some proof and bubble hardly at all. So we are now buying yeast in jars and keeping it in the refrigerator once opened. It is much more lively that way.

Enjoy your rolls!

Easy chicken mole 

Easy chicken mole 

Chicken mole has a huge number of variations both by chef and by region. It apparently is not strictly Mexican but has Spanish influences as well, and a lot of legends about how mole sauce came about. It amounts to chicken served in a rich, fruity sauce that is mildly hot.

Most mole sauces involve hot peppers and many involve chocolate, not as a sweetener but to make a dark, smooth sauce. Some recipes use unsweetened chocolate and some use semi-sweet. The classic mole frequently uses pasilla chili peppers, which are available dried, but in our local grocers not at all. You can order them online, or you can do as we did, and grow your own. You eventually get dark brown peppers that are somewhat hot, but also have a fruity flavor ideal for this dish. As they turn from green to brown, they get a bit wrinkled: pasilla translates from Spanish as “little raisin.” We ordered ours from Burpee. They have a fairly long growing season, so you want to plant them as early as you can. We planted ours in May, but did not pick them until October.

Pasilla peppers are also somewhat vague in definition, as some writers described them as a small, dark chili negro and others as a dried poblano or ancho pepper. In our recipe, we used actual fresh pasilla peppers, but you can also use fresh dark, green glossy ancho peppers with some added jalapeno peppers to increase the heat. Dried poblano peppers would also work and are probably hotter. We found the fresh poblano peppers all too mild, which is why we added the jalapenos when we didn’t have pasillas available.

This recipe is adapted from the excellent new Weight Watchers cookbook Turn Up the Flavor, and should be relatively low calorie. The recipe recommends that you serve the chicken on brown rice.

  • 3 dried or fresh pasilla peppers or 1 poblano and 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 6 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced
  • 2-3 large plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 oz semisweet chocolate
  • Chopped cilantro or parsley
  1. If you are using dried peppers, brown them briefly, and then soak in boiling water for 20 minutes and then drain. If you are using fresh peppers, split them and remove most of the seeds. Then cut them into pieces and sauté until soft.
  2. Put the peppers in a blender or food processor with 1 cup of the chicken stock and puree. Set aside.
  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in the olive oil for 4 minutes on each side. They do not need to be fully cooked yet. Set the chicken aside on a plate.

3. Put the remaining oil in the pan and add the onions and garlic. Saute until soft and add the diced tomatoes. Add the cumin, oregano and cinnamon and cook until fragrant. Put the mixture in the blender with the remaining cup of chicken stock and puree until smooth.

4. Put the two blended sauces back into the pan and cook with stirring until thickened.

5. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. We weighed out 1 oz of semisweet chocolate chips: they are a bit less than 1/4 cup. You can add as much as 1/4 cup of chocolate just as easily.

6. Return the chicken to the pot and cook, covered until the chicken is cooked through, perhaps 10 minutes longer.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with chopped cilantro or parsley if you are allergic to coriander/cilantro (as many are.)

Decorate each plate with small dots of chutney.

Beef Bourguignon in a Instant Pot

Beef Bourguignon in a Instant Pot

A really good Beef Bourguignon can be an extraordinary meal. However, in its conventional form, it takes a great deal of time and effort. We adapted Craig Claiborne’s classic recipe for the Instant Pot and made the dish in about an hour, mostly unattended. It is warm, steamy, flavorful and comforting on a cold evening and it is so much easier than the “old” way that you are likely to want to make it often.

In fact, while there are many excellent uses for the Instant Pot, this one is far and away the best reason to own one. You just can’t make as good a Beef Bourguignon any other way. The results are really superb.

Since we typically serve stews like this on rice (you could use noodles if you prefer), we made the rice in the Instant Pot while we were browning the meat and vegetables, and then we kept the rice warm in a covered dish in a warm place while we cooked the stew. This worked out very well.

Now, it is certainly possible to brown the meat and the vegetables in the Instant Pot, but the sautéing space is limited and you would have to do it in several batches. And we are not big on flaming brandy inside our Instant Pot anyway.

We elected to do the initial browning on the stove in s conventional frying pan and then add the ingredients to the pot. While Claiborne’s recipe is for 5 lb of stew beef, we used only a quarter of that amount in making a dinner for two. You can scale it back up for larger crowds if you want to. And, since the Instant Pot loses essentially no water during cooking, we used only the cup of wine, and did not add the water mentioned in the original recipe.

  • 1 cup rice (or ½ package egg noodles)
  • 1 ¼ lb stew beef (chuck) cut into large cubes
  • Flour
  • 2 Tb butter
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/8 cup brandy, warmed  (about 2 Tb)
  • 3 strips bacon, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • ½ leek, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Chopped parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 cup red wine (Burgundy)
  • 12 small, whole(pearl) onions
  • Sugar
  • ½ lb sliced mushrooms
  1. Cook the rice in the Instant Pot while you prepare the vegetables and meat. If you are using noodles, you can make them while the stew is cooking.

2. Sauté the onions, leeks, carrots, half the chopped parsley and garlic with the bacon in the butter and oil and set aside in a small bowl.

3. Shake the beef in a paper bag with the flour, coating the beef on all sides. Shake off the excess in a colander, season with salt and pepper and sauté the beef in butter and oil until browned on all sides.

4. Pour the warmed brandy over the beef and ignite it to burn off the alcohol.

5. Add the beef, vegetables, thyme and bay leaf to the Instant Pot. Add the red wine, so it comes up part way on the beef. For a full 5 lb recipe, you would use a whole 750 ml bottle of wine. Close the pot and press the Stew button, to cook for 35 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms and pearl onions in butter and oil until slightly browned. Add a dash of sugar to enhance the browning.

7. When the cooking time has finished, release the pressure, remove the lid, and stir in the mushrooms and onions. The stew should be rich and thick. If it seems a little thin, blend 1Tb flour with 1 Tb butter and slowly mix it into the boiling stew. We found this easier to do on the stove, as it heats more quickly and is easier to stir the butter-flour mixture (beurre manie).

stew-in-pan8. Garnish with more chopped parsley and serve. You’ll have an amazingly delicious Beef Bourguignon in about an hour!

Having trouble closing the lid tight on your Instant Pot? See our simple video.

New York Times’ wrongheaded GMO article ignites scientists

New York Times’ wrongheaded GMO article ignites scientists

The front page of last Sunday’s New York Times featured a major article by Danny Hakim titled “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of GMO Crops.”  Hakim is an investigative reporter who has primarily been an economics correspondent. He apparently interviewed quite a number of experts before writing the piece, but he got his main point completely wrong. None of the major biotechnology seed vendors are marketing GM seeds to improve yield, so there is no “promised bounty.”

And while the lengthy article cites a lot of data both in the US, Canada and Europe, it manages to lump together statistics from completely different climates and growing regions, so that his final conclusions are pretty confused. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at what experts have already written.

Molecular geneticist Nina Federoff, who has been a science and technology adviser to Secretaries of State Condaleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton, as well as having had a distinguished research career, writes in Hakim’s Effort to Skewer Biotech Crops in Sunday’s NY Times, that GM crops were never intended to improve yield.

Writing in the Western Producer, Stuart Smyth says New York Times Ignored GMO Crop Benefits, and goes on to list the benefits by crop and region. Farmers would not be spending money on expensive seeds if they didn’t realize some benefits.

Nathaniel Johnson, writing in Grist on What the New York Times Missed in its Big GMO Story, points out that by lumping together farm statistics from North America where we grow GMO crops with data from Western Europe (where they mostly do not) is very misleading. Not only do the climates differ, but the pests do as well. He suggests Hakim ought to look at all the available evidence rather than just cherry picking data that suits his narrative.

And weed scientist Andrew Kniss writes “Straw men and selective statistics: Did the New York Times botch its critique of GMO Crops?” where he calls Hakim’s statistics “borderline disingenuous.” He notes that the figures he cites are convoluted and misleading, because they aren’t even in the same units, and comparison of total pesticide use in France versus the US ia absurd because the US is so much larger. More to the point is the usage per acre. Kniss converted them to the same units and found that the total herbicide use per hectare is and has been less in the US than in France. They may be the same in the final year measured (2012).

kniss-herbicide
From Kniss: herbicide and insecticide use: US and France.

Following Kniss’s argument further, Kevin Folta, Professor and Chair of Plant Science at the University of Florida writes “Rehashing a Tired Argument” in his Illuminations blog, along with another article “Some Actual Yield Data” that clearly shows the yield improvements provided by crop when biotechnology traits are added.  He noted that Hakim lumped together insecticides, fungicides and herbicides as “pesticides” and only reports the total pounds rather than separating them out, which makes a great different, especially when the lower impact herbicides like Roundup are included. Folta was recently awarded the Borlaug CAST Science Communications prize.

And, of course, Monsanto responded to Hakim’s sloppy reporting, noted that they had talked with him several times while he was developing the article, but that he chose to cherry-pick a few data points to fit his preconceived views. Monsanto’s article refers directly to the peer-reviewed literature. For example, Qaim and Kouser showed that insect resistant GMO cotton increased family income and food security. And Brookes and Barfoot (2016) showed that conservation tillage made possible by glyphosate tolerant corn and soybeans removed  22.4 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Further, unlike Hakim’s assertions, GM crops have reduced pesticide spraying by 8.2%.

Finally, even Mother Jones magazine, which normally takes an anti-biotechnology stance comes around wiht two articles. One by Tom Philpott takes a predictably anti-GMO stance as he always has, but in a more nuanced article, Kevin Drum accuses Hakim of “lying with statistics.”

And the ever ascerbic Steven Novella writes The Times gets it wrong on GMOs, noting that the journalist started with a preconceived conclusion and then selected facts to support his erroneous conclusions.

Finally, Professor Jayson Lusk notes that farmers are consistently choosing GM crops because they provide financial benefits despite their higher costs.

In this article, I have summarized most of the blistering opinions on Hakim’s feature article (and one which praises it) but it would seem that scientists and science writers have consistently found the article to be wanting. However, all of the references are linked here and you can read them and decide for yourself.

 

Outrageous Halloween cake with candy layers

Outrageous Halloween cake with candy layers

For Halloween we decided to make a cake out of pure junk. While the cake layers are actual brownies, the middle is Halloween candy bars. We used Reese’s Peanutbutter Cups and Mounds Bars. The icing is mostly Marshmallow Fluff. We also used some chocolate frosting in the bottom filling, which you could make or buy. We made our brownies from scratch, since the recipe is as fast as making boxed brownies but you can make them either way or bust buy them. The recipes are at the bottom of the article. TO spread Marshmallow Fluff, it needs to be a bit warm, so warm it in a pan of hot water, or under a warming lamp, or briefly in a microwave.

You  will need 3 layers of brownies to make this cake. Two of ours were normal chocolate brownies and one was a butterscotch brownie recipe, both with added chocolate chips.

  • 3 brownie recipes baked in round pans
  • 10 Reese’s peanut butter cups
  • 1 cup chocolate frosting
  • ½ cup peanuts
  • Marshmallow fluff
  • 13-14 small Mounds bars
  • 10 candy kisses
  • ½ cup chocolate ganache (optional)
  1. Spread the bottom brownie layer with chocolate frosting.
  2. Arrange about 10 Reese’s cups on the top, cutting a few in half so they will nest more closely.

3. Add about ½ cup of peanuts between the Reese’s cups.
4. Spread the bottom of a second brownie layer with Marshmallow Fluff and set it on top of the Reese’s cup layer.

5. Spread the top of that brownie layer with more fluff.
6. Arrange 13 or 14 Mounds bars on top.

7. Spread the bottom of a third layer with more fluff and place on top of the Mounds.
8. Spread more fluff on top and arrange about 10 Hershey’s kisses around the edge.

9. Pour a little warmed chocolate ganache on top (shown at top of article).
10. Chill the cake until ready to serve. Do no freeze as it will toughen the brownies.

Serve very small slices as this is ridiculously rich. It was, however, well received at a rehearsal break by a tribe of hungry actors.

cut-open

 

Chocolate brownies

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325° F. Melt the butter in microwave for 1 minute at 50% power, and the chocolate for 1.25 minutes at high power, or in a double boiler. Mix together in a bowl and stir in the sugar and eggs, and mix. Add the flour and salt and mix. Stir in the chocolate chips and optional nuts. Pour into a greased, round cake pan, lined with baking parchment. Bake 30-35 minutes until the top is dry to the touch. Remove from the pan when cooled and cover until you a ready to use it.

Butterscotch brownies

  • ¼ cup melted butter (in the microwave at 50% power)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 ° F. Mix the butter, sugar and egg with a wire whisk in a bowl until fluffy. Add the salt, baking powder and vanilla and mix until smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts. Pour the batter into a greased round cake pan, lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 25 minutes. Unmold when cool.

Chocolate frosting

  • ½ stick butter (2 oz)
  • ½ lb confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 3-5 Tb milk

Add the butter and sugar to a food processor and process until mixed. Add the milk a Tb at a time until you have a smooth, spreadable icing. Pour in the melted chocolate and process until smooth.

Chocolate ganache

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ lb semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 Tb honey

Bring the cream snf honry to a boil and pour over the chocolate chips in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until uniform. Let stand until ganache stiffens. If you are not using it soon, refrigerate. You can rewarm it under a warming lamp or very briefly in the microwave.

 

 

 

Chicken and dumplings: using an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

Chicken and dumplings: using an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

We recently saw the recipe for Chicken and Dumplings from Today Show host Natalie Morales. It looked great, but she did it in a slow cooker, which she said would take 4 hours.

We decided to see if we could speed this up using our Instant Pot pressure cooker. Her recipe uses chicken stock and cream of chicken soup. We decided to eliminate those, since we can make the chicken stock in the pot, and thicken it using cornstarch and add a little cream. We also used chicken thighs, because we wanted the bones to make the stock. We also added a leek, and made our own dumplings without using the dreaded Bisquick.

We started by cooking the thighs for 15 minutes using the Poultry pot setting on the trivet over a cup of water. Then we released the pressure and cut the meat off the bones and put it in a bowl, and tossed the bones and any scraps back into the pot, leaving the trivet in place so we could lift them out later, and added vegetables and water, and pressure cooked for 25 minutes.

Then we discarded the bones and vegetables, removed the trivet, and added new veggies cut into bite sized pieces and pressure cooked for 10 minutes. Then we thickened the broth, added cream and the chicken, brought it to a boil using the Saute function and put the dumpling batter on top. We cooked it covered using the Saute feature to cook the dumplings, and then served it, with the dumplings in one bowl and the chicken stew in the other.  Absolutely delicious.

The only change we’d make next time would be adding less water, as the stew was thinner than we had wanted. We had added 6 cups. Probably 4-1/2 to 5 would be more than enough, since there was already a cup in there from cooking the chicken. Also with that much liquid, the sauté function was not able to heat the stew to a real rolling boil when the dumplings were added, but would probably work better with a bit less water.

  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 carrots, cut in half
  • 3 stalks celery, cut in half
  • 1 washed leek, cut in several pieces
  • 5 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Remove the skin and place the thighs on the trivet in the Instant Pot.
  2. Add 1 cup water and cook under pressure for 15 minutes. The Poultry button works fine for this.
  3. Release the pressure, remove the thighs, cut the meat away and set aside in a bowl. Refrigerate when cool.
  4. Place the thigh bones and any scraps back on the trivet, and add the vegetables and spices.
  5. Pressure cook for 25 minutes using the Manual setting. Release the pressure, and discard the bones and vegetables.
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced into small pieces
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced into small pieces
  • 1 cup corn (any of these can be frozen)
  • 1 cup beans
  • 1 cup peas
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  1. Add the water and toss in the vegetables
  2. Cook under pressure for 10 minutes.
  • 4 Tb cornstarch, dissolved in ½ cup water
  • ¾ cup light cream

dumpling-flour

Dumplings

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tb shortening
  • About ¾ cup milk
  • 2 Tb chopped chives
  1. Mix the flour, salt and baking powder
  2. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender of 2 forks
  3. Add the chives
  4. Stir in the milk to make a slightly sticky batter
  5. Add the cornstarch solution and cream
  6. Add the chicken back in.
  7. Bring the stew to a boil until thickened. Use more cornstarch if needed.
  8. Drop the dumpling batter by spoonfuls on top of the boiling stew.
  9. Cover the pot and cook the dumplings for 15 minutes.

Serve the stew and dumplings right away in two bowls.

Overall, this recipe took about 75-80 minutes. You could speed it up, of course, by just using canned chicken stock and skipping steps 4-5. Either way, this is definitely worth it and way faster than using the slow cooker approach, which doesn’t seem to add any real advantage.

MSG causes headaches, asthma? Probably not.

MSG causes headaches, asthma? Probably not.

 

Every time you get into conversations about cooking and food, there is a good chance someone will bring up MSG, or monosodium glutamate. It was identified by Professor Kikunae Ikeda in Tokyo in 1908 as the brothy flavoring found in seaweeds such as kombu. This seaweed has been used to make a soup stock called dashi. But the unique flavor of dashi was a mystery until Ikeda boiled down stock from 75 lbs of seaweed stock and allowed it to crystallize. He found that the flavoring, which he called umami, was due to the sodium salt of the common amino acid, glutamic acid, commonly called monosodium glutamate.

HO-(C=O)-CH2-CH2-CH-(NH2)-C(=O)-O Namsg

In the formula and picture above, you will see that MSG is a simple 5-carbon compound with 2 carboxylic acid groups, one at each end. In a mildly basic solution, the hydrogen comes off one of the acid groups, replaced by a sodium ion, making the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which we call mono sodium glutamate. It can be extracted from a number of foods, but is most commonly obtained either by fermentation of proteins or by using bacteria to make the compound for us.  No matter how it is obtained, it is exactly the same simple compound. You will see it referred to as MSG, or “glutamate” but it is the same thing either way.

You will find MSG used in Japanese and Chinese cooking as well as in many other cuisines, because it occurs naturally in mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan and blue cheeses, broccoli, peas, soy sauce, prawns and Marmite.

But some people believe that MSG is harmful and the cause of any number of allergic symptoms. This is the thesis of this frequently cited misguided article: “Glutamate and your gut: understanding the difference between umami and MSG.”  The first part of the article starts out soberly enough, outlining the history of the flavoring, including scientific references, but then veers off into scary, but inaccurate claims. Of course, you shouldn’t expect an article on a web site called bodyecology.com to be scientifically reliable, but this one started out so well.

Now, while glutamate is a common amino acid, the body can and does make its own, so whether it gets some from foods or seasonings doesn’t matter. Inside the body, it works as a neurotransmitter. And while buildup of glutamate is possible in certain diseases and brain injuries, it is not likely in healthy people and poses no harm. It is used in Japanese cooking and the Japanese are one of the world’s healthiest populations.

The article also talks about gamma aminobutrylic acid (GABA), which the body synthesizes from glutamate. This can take you down a whole rabbit hole of pseudo-science where naturopaths dwell, who insist that GABA is a valuable supplement and that MSG can interfere with the production of GABA. This is essentially nonsense, as there is little evidence that GABA is an effective natural supplement. Within your body GABA helps balance the production of glutamate, but has nothing to do with the traces of MSG used as a seasoning.

Synthetic gluamate?

The place where MSG mythology begins to take off (in this article and in general) is the assertion that naturally occurring glutamate and manufactured glutamate are somehow different.  This just reveals lack of basic knowledge of chemistry. As you can see from the above diagram, MSG is a relatively simple 5-carbon compound, and one that is easily synthesized in a number of ways. It was once made from wheat gluten and from acryonitrile, but now is made by bacterial fermentation of various sugars from sugar beets and molasses and corynebacterium.

If you look at the drawing of the structure above, you will notice that the carbon having the NH2 group attached has 4 different things attached: an H, an NH2, a COOH and a CH2 group. This makes this carbon an asymmetric center and it has two mirror images that cannot be superimposed, much like right and left hands. Thus, there are two forms of glutamate, the right-handed and the left-handed versions, often labeled “D-glutamate” and “L-glutamate,” for “dextro” and ”levo.” Only the L-version has umami flavor properties, the D-version is tasteless. Extracted from seaweed, there is about 5% of the D version and 95% of the flavorful L-version. Synthesized by fermentation, there is much less D-version, probably less than 1%.

Are there allergic reactions to MSG?

As explained by the Cleveland Clinic, a true food allergy is a reaction mediated by immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies. The antibodies are directed at protein allergens and are less common than other sorts of food reactions. MSG has never been shown to produce IgE antibodies under any conditions.

However, anecdotal evidence persists of reactions to MSG, mostly in reports of headaches after consuming MSG containing foods. But, considering how common MSG is in foods, this seems somewhat unlikely.

Tarasoff and Kelly described a double blind experiment in which 71 healthy subjects were given a capsule containing MSG or a placebo before a standard breakfast over 5 days. Of the subjects, 85% reported no responses to the MSG or the placebo, and sensations previously reported as MSG reactions did not occur at a significantly higher rate in the MSG test than for the placebo. And reviewing the existing experimental literature the next year, Freeman reported that there was no significant data to support reported reactions such as headache or asthma. Nor did they find any subset of the population with an MSG sensitivity.

MSG has also been accused of causing asthma, but a Cochrane review of available evidence reports that no such correlation existed.

One interesting recent paper by Shimada  examined the possibility that MSG could cause headaches and TMD (temperomandibular disorders) or aching of the jaw muscles. Three of the subjects experienced some pain in this study. However, the study of 14 healthy young men administered  150 mg/kg of MSG each day for 5 days in a diet lemon soda that the authors believed masked the taste of MSG.

15gNote, that for a 100 kg man, this would be 15 g of MSG (pictured) which is a whopping dose. Even for a considerably lighter man or woman, 7 or 8 g of MSG Is still probably more than 20 times the usual amount used as seasoning. The authors noted that at the end of the double blinded study, the subjects admitted that they could taste the MSG in the lemon soda, this essentially nullifying the experiment.

A paper on headaches and a review of dietary factors published this year by Zaeem concluded that there were no studies showing such effects for MSG when you eliminated papers where double blinding was ineffective. Interestingly, Nakamura found that there were glutamate sensors not only in the oral cavity, but in the stomach, indicating that this is clearly part of the body’s normal processes.

Some negative effects in very high concentrations

But getting into something close to conspiracy theories, Nakanishi published an article called “Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia.” In this paper, Nakanishi and co-workers injected a solution of MSG into 123 newborn mice, at a concentration of 2 mg/g of body weight. Not only is injection quite different than digestion, that concentration is 2 g/kg, or for a 100 kg man, the equivalent of injecting 200g of MSG. With concentrations this far from those in normal consumption of foods, any results are pretty unlikely to be significant. They found that this concentration induced liver inflammation and damage as well as obesity. Their conclusions were that MSG be withdrawn from the diet, ignoring the fact that it occurs naturally in so many foods, and is synthesized by the body as well. A similar paper by  Tsuneyama injected twice that concentration (4 mg/g) and found much the same effects. Again, this has no real relevance to the normal human diet.

But people continue to report headaches

But despite the continuing findings that MSG causes no ill effects in  double blind studies, people continue to insist that it does and the science “must be wrong,” because they or their spouse gets strong reactions from foods with added MSG. Sometimes they even report that Parmesan cheese (which is high in MSG) also produces such symptoms. Usually, they report headaches, but sometimes other varied symptoms as well. For example, if you read the comments on Rachel Feltman’s 2014 Washington Post article, you will see some very annoyed people insisting that negative effects do exist. Similar comments have been made on previous articles I have published.

The question is why such reports contradict all carefully done experiments. The reports are anecdotal, of course, which means that those reporting have not been part of any study to find out what is causing these very real effects.

So, in brief, we really don’t know. One possibility is called the nocebo effect. This very real effect is caused by the expectation of a negative effect even when there is no actual medical reason for such an effect. The nocebo effect is very powerful and cannot be brushed off as some psychological oddity. But even this year, a series of studies among self-identified MSG sensitives showed no statistical effect.

So in conclusion, all studies have failed to show any significant effects of MSG on humans. But some people persist in reporting such symptoms, and we really do not know for certain what is behind these reported effects, nor why it has never been observed experimentally.

 

 

 

Serendipitous home fries from failed French fries

home-friesWe were quite taken with this French Fry recipe that suggested that you could make lower fat French fries in your slow cooker. The author says you cut up the potatoes; add salt and your choices of spices, and about 1/3 of a cup of olive oil for 3 lb of potatoes.

Well, we had to try this, so we took 2 large potatoes (about 1.5 lb) and cut them to French fry size, added salt and around 1/6 cup of olive oil and tossed them in our Instant Pot. We set the pot to Slow Cook and the highest temperature setting (high) as recommended by the recipe.

We set the slow cooker to 3 hours, and put the lid on (a glass lid, not the pressure cooker lid)m and stirred them once or twice an hour.

After 3 hours, we had cooked, limp, white potatoes, but nothing like the French fries in the recipe’s picture. We even tried switching to the Saute setting, but this would not brown them either. Either her recipe doesn’t work at all, or it doesn’t work in our Instant Pot, which may have different heating characteristics than her slow cooker.

But we made great potatoes anyway!

We were making hamburgers anyway to go with these failed fries, so we just tossed the potatoes on the griddle, adding a dab of butter for flavor and browned them. This made the most delicious home fries we’ve ever made!

Well, if you think about it, this really says that cooked potatoes maker better home fries, because all you have to concentrate on is browning them: you don’t have to cook them too!

And you can make those cooked potatoes in the Instant pot pressure cooker in about 4 minutes. Add a cup of water, and place the sliced potatoes on the trivet or in a vegetable steamer. Cook 4 minutes and release the pressure right away. Then, dry off the potatoes and brown them on the griddle. They will be great. You could also add bacon or onions at this point to flavor the potatoes. But you will definitely have great home fries with very little work.

And a cast iron frying pan would work as well as a griddle. And you could use a vegetable steamer for a couple of potatoes. For more, use the Instant Pot.

Success comes from failure!