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Non-GMO oyster crackers: they are really in the soup

Non-GMO oyster crackers: they are really in the soup

We had some delicious clam chowder at one of our favorite restaurants this weekend. Even the oyster crackers were good: until I noticed the label. There was the stupid Non-GMO Project Verified logo with the even less credible butterfly alongside. Look Westminster Bakers, you make a great product, so why sully it with scare tactic marketing?

The funny thing is that Westminster must have just recently added this scary butterfly logo to their packages, because a search for their crackers brings up a lot of pictures without the anti-GMO label. You only find it on their actual company site.

So what does that mean for oyster crackers that only contain 7 ingredients: unbleached wheat flour, water, canola oil, cane sugar, salt, yeast and baking soda? Let’s stipulate upfront that “GMO” is a breeding process for making plants with particular traits. “GMO” is not an ingredient.

The plants: corn, soy, sugar beets, some squash, papaya, alfalfa, and sorghum have traits that allow farmers to grow them more economically and with fewer pesticides. Non-browning apples and potatoes have also been developed. Every major scientific organization worldwide has concluded that these genetic modifications pose no harm. These organizations include the National Academy of Sciences, the AAAS, the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Association and hundreds of others, that check for people health in every country, they can improve with the help of diet and supplements as kratom powder.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients in these excellent crackers:

  • Wheat – there is no GMO wheat on the market.
  • Salt – Nope
  • Water – Nope
  • Baking soda – Nope
  • Yeast – Nope (there are some genetically modified brewers yeasts, but none used by bakers)

Sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Much of the sugar beet crops grown in the northern US are bred to resist herbicides like glyphosate, to reduce the need for plowing and weeding. Further this also reduced the amount of herbicide actually used to less than a soda can full per acre.

 

GMO sugar  ———–  Non-GMO sugar

But sugar is a simply crystalline compound that is easily purified. Above are drawings of conventional sugar and genetically modified sugar. Can’t tell the difference? That’s because there isn’t any. Sugar doesn’t contain any proteins or any DNA to modify: it is just a simple organic compound that can be extracted from cane or beets. Whether the plant was bred to resist one or more herbicides doesn’t matter: the sugar is exactly the same. The idea that there is such a thing as “GMO sugar” is silly. Either way, it is just sugar. The label “GMO sugar” is what we call an anti-marketing label. It is used to scare you away, when there is just nothing there to be scared of. Fear-based marketing is fundamentally dishonest; this is a prime example of anti-GMO hooey!

Canola oil is another funny story. Rapeseed was grown for many years for its oil, used mostly for lubrication. This was particularly valuable in the UK during World War II. However, rapeseed oil had a bitter taste from a series of mustardy compounds called glucosinolates, which may be tasty in brassicas, but not desirable in cooking oils. In the 1970s, Downey and Steffanson of the Saskatoon Research Laboratory laboriously separated the oil part of rapeseeds from the embryo section, and analyzed the oils by gas chromatography, selecting the seeds with the lowest glucosinolate and erucic acid concentration. They planted and crossed these seeds to produce a new plant that produced Canada Oil, or canola for short.

Soon herbicide resistant versions of canola plants were developed by mutation breeding and natural selection. This was very important, because you didn’t want to include the old rapeseed plants in your oil and if they could be killed while keeping the canola plants unharmed it would make growing canola much more economical.

Later glyphosate and glufosinate resistant plants were developed by the usual biotech means, and were made available. The funny part is that canola plants are absolutely promiscuous, and the pollen can blow for miles. This means that there is a good chance that every canola plant in North America may be resistant to these herbicides and thus, by the lights of the idiotic Non GMO Project, a “GMO plant.” So basically all canola oil in North America is GM. And who cares? There is no protein, no DNA in canola oil so it doesn’t matter.

 It’s just another anti-marketing label. 

Now, there is some canola oil available in the Netherlands that is carefully produced to assure its “non-GMO-ness,” but who cares? Does Westminster buy this? Who knows? Or cares?

Westminster Bakery is almost 200 years old and is justifiably proud of their history and traditions. They claim to be using “the same basic, wholesome ingredients” as their Master Baker devised 200 years ago. Call this marketing hyperbole, though, since canola oil is only about 43 years old.

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Sour cream coffeecake for breakfast

Sour cream coffeecake for breakfast

 

You can make this delicious coffee cake in about 8 minutes work time and 30 minutes baking. The result is great just a few minutes out of the oven. Warm coffeecake with a slightly melted brown sugar topping. Add the nuts or not as you like.

The coffeecake

  • 1 ½ cups sifted flour (Easier to weigh out 189 grams.)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Brown sugar topping
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Weigh out 189 g of flour: no need to sift it. ( A cup of sifted flour weighs 126g, so 1 ½ cups weighs 189 g)flour weighing
  3. Mix the baking powder, soda and salt into the flour and stir it a bit.
  4. Melt the butter in the microwave for 1 minute at 50% power.
  5. In a mixing bowl, add the egg, melted butter and sugar and mix with a whiskegg sugar
  6. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix.
  7. Add the flour mixture and mix until uniform.
  8. Spray a 9” square pan with cooking spray and pour in the batter.batter in pan
  9. Decorate with topping and nuts.
  10. topped in panBake at 375° F for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Allow the coffeecake to cool for 5 minutes, and then cut into 9 squares. Lift out and serve.
  12. baked

Brown sugar topping

  • 2 Tb softened butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tb flour
  • 1//2 tsp cinnamon

butter brown sugarMix the butter into the sugar and flour using a pastry blender or a couple of forks, until more or less uniform. It can still be lumpy.

blending toppingSprinkle over the top of the batter.

 

This recipe can easily be doubled for a larger crowd. It’s great for a quick company or holiday breackfast!

Michael Pollan: the “lonely science writer”

stalks in sun
Corn in the sun

Journalist Michael Pollan is known for his books on food and cooking, but rather than calling himself a journalist, he has taken to calling himself a science writer. He’s not.

In an interview with Grubstreet, promoting his Netflix series (trailer here) promoting the movie version of his overblown book, Cooked, Pollan is asked to comment on biotechnology (GMOs). In an earlier interview he had said that “he felt pretty lonely among my science-writing colleagues in being critical of this technology.” That is because he has not done the usual digging you do before writing a story, as he no doubt teaches his journalism students.

Here’s what he said:

 GMOs have been, I think, a tremendous disappointment. They haven’t done what Monsanto promised they would do, which is make American agriculture more sustainable. I think that they have done a brilliant job of getting everybody to focus on the narrow question of “is this stuff going to kill you if you eat it?” And they’ve won that argument…

Usually you cite sources for claims like that, and other than parroting claims of the Organic Consumers Association, he can’t do that. To cite sources, Klumper and Qaim’s PLoS One meta-study concluded that

On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.

This is not a disappointment, and it is exactly what Monsanto (and the 5 other biotech companies) claimed they would do. Here is some more of his nonsense:

  • What does it do to pesticides? It increased them dramatically. No it doesn’t. See the figures above.
  • …there hasn’t been the kind of testing the public assumes there was. The FDA doesn’t demand it. GM crops undergo more than 10 years of testing overseen by the FDA before they can be released. They are the most tested and safest crops in our food system.
  • It is a PR achievement, and that is to make any criticism of their products akin to climate denia Can he cite any science to show any harm? No. That is why Pollan is not really a science writer.
  • Well, the issues aren’t all scientific. There are political issues, economic issues, agronomic issues, and those have gotten ignored and it’s a shame. Such as? Farmers buy GM traited seeds because they are more profitable (economic issue) and they allow no-till farming (agronomic issue). The political issues are the huge anti-GMO campaign orchestrated by the Organic Consumers Association and allied groups.
  • The public has made it known that they would like to have labels so they can decide for whatever reason, good or bad, well-informed or poorly informed, that they don’t or want to eat this. Without a label you don’t know what we’re eating. He does not explain what a label would tell you: which ingredient has biotech traits? Which traits are they? What risks (none) are associated with them? Does he know that DNA is completely digested before it reaches your bloodstream and has no effects on your body? Does he know that GM crops are nutritionally identical?
  • I think we should label food if it contains pesticides, but nobody is talking about that. The only pesticide used in biotech crops is bacillus thuriniensis, which is also used on organic farms. Extensive study has shown that it has no effect on humans or livestock.
  • if you’re not using pesticides, if you’re organic, you have to pay to put a label on declaring you aren’t using pesticides.  Sorry, Mr Pollan, organic farmers do use pesticides, just different ones, as Savage explains.
  • Golden rice is a great example. It’s always about to revolutionize world agriculture and help cure vitamin A deficiency, and for some reason it doesn’t come. Perhaps it is because of Greenpeace’s endless battle to resist golden rice, causing blindness in death sue to Vitamin A deficiency.

Let’s be clear: Michael Pollan is knowingly spreading serious misinformation about biotechnology when just a little research would disabuse him of these canards. He may call himself a journalist, but he cannot call himself a science writer.

Consumer Reports flogs bogus Roundup paper

edamameConsumer Reports a year or so ago reversed itself and began taking anti-science stances against biotechnology, because catering to the prejudices of their readers is more profitable than standing for actual science. Porterfield describes this volte face away from science here.

Its latest salvo into things it barely understands is hyping a poorly argued paper in their article “Scientists Raise Concerns Over Weed Killer Glyphosate in New Study.” They argue is that the “risks of glyphosate (Roundup) have been understated and that further study is needed.” They refer to a paper by 14 scientists, many with organic industry ties just published in Environmental Health, titled “Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement.”

This is not a research paper or a study: it is a consensus statement by 14 scientists, many who could be classified as “activists,” including Consumer’s Union’s own Michael Hansen, who has been spreading misinformation about biotechnology for years, all contrary to accepted science. To see Hansen’s incoherent communication style in action, take a look at the 2013 debate at Hofstra University reported here. You can watch the actual debate here, and will quickly conclude that Hansen is in over his head in his debate with University of Florida Horticultural Science Chairman Kevin Folta.

The paper starts out citing the IARC, an autonomous extension of the WHO surprising claim that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” despite a vast array of peer-reviewed  papers to the contrary. These are summarized by Giddings. In fact, they went so far off the rails as to quote Seralini papers, and Gurney went so far as to suggest that the IARC “requires adult supervision.” No, there is no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic at any dosage.

These authors suggest that glyphosate is used much more frequently than when it was introduced and while the plant toxicity mechanism (disruption of the Shikimate pathway) does not exist in humans, they now find papers from their own and Seralini’s laboratory suggesting that “there might be a wide range of potential adverse effects triggered by disruption in the endocrine system.”

Now let’s pause and remember the Seralini rule: if you have to cite Seralini’s discredited and withdrawn lumpy rat paper, you’ve lost the argument. That withdrawn paper was reprinted here without further refereeing.  In fact this paper cites 7 different papers by Seralini, making its credibility distinctly suspect.

They cite a paper in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association suggesting that glyphosate and its degradation product AMPA are found in up to 17% of water samples, but neglect to mention that the article points out that “Concentrations of glyphosate were below the levels of concern for humans or wildlife.” They also cite Bohn’s paper claiming that glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready soybeans. However, Jordan has severely criticized this paper for not meeting minimum scientific standards.

While they correctly note that excessive use of herbicides can lead to weed resistance (this is called evolution) it is in no way unique to glyphosate, and herbicide and crop rotation are generally recommended.

They express concern that levels of glyphosate and AMPA residue are not monitored in the U.S., but fail to mention that this is because toxicology studies have shown glyphosate to be about as toxic as aspirin. Thus their complaint that “environmentally relevant” doses are not considered is ridiculous, if there is no effect at much larger doses.

They note that the incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma has doubled since 1975, but all they say is that “a causal link [with glyphosate] may exist.” It has not been established.

To get to their point, they have done no new research, and their literature review simply arrives at a consensus that “a further independent examination of glyphosate toxicity should be undertaken.” Recognizing that NIH funds are unlikely to be available for such a wild goose chase, they propose that manufacturers of glyphosate provide these funds to be transferred to “government research institutes.” This seems unlikely to take place.

The authors

While the authors make claims of no conflicts of interest we find that:

To conclude, the authors found little that is new and referenced a number of questionable and discredited papers in the process. And their final conclusion amounted to “further study is needed.” This is hardly a blockbuster conclusion.

Pizza: how we make it

Pizza: how we make it

We’ve been making pizza every week for years now, and here we share some of the tricks that evolved, when we don’t have time we just order pizza online or get some frozen pizza from our freezer. We make our dough from scratch and buy sliced, fresh mozzarella from the local deli counter. Toppings are whatever you like. We usually make one veggie and one pepperoni.

The dough

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 ½ tsp dry yeast
  • Flour for kneading
  • Cornmeal to slide onto peel
  • 2 baking stones

The sauce

  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 6 oz water
  • ½ cup homemade tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 large sprig rosemary
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic

The toppings

  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 sweet red pepper
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 stick pepperoni, sliced
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced
  1. Place the baking stones in the oven and preheat to 465 ° F. If you don’t’ have baking stones, use any good pizza pan. The stones will help make a somewhat better crust but they aren’t absolutely required.

proofingin food procrisen

  1. To make the dough, add the yeast and sugar to a pitcher large enough to hold 1-½ cups water. Add the lukewarm water and stir until uniform. Let the yeast mixture rise for about 5 minutes until it bubbles. This is called “proving” the yeast, and if it doesn’t foam up, try another packet of yeast. We have started using yeast from a jar, and keeping the rest refrigerated so it doesn’t deteriorate. Yeast packets can be a crap shoot: their health depends on how they are stored at the grocer.
  2. Add the 3 cups of flour to a food processor, fitted with a dough blade, and pour in the yeast mixture. Pulse until smooth. If the dough looks too sticky, add more flour a half-scoop at a time and mix in. Allow the dough to rise for 60-90 minutes until it is more than doubled in bulk.

spicesgarlic pressblender sauce

  1. To make the sauce, mix the tomato paste, water and some bottled tomato sauce in a blender or bowl. We use our homemade garden tomato sauce, but if you don’t have that, leave it our or add a little bottled sauce.  Add the sugar, basil and oregano. Strip the leaves off the rosemary between your thumb and forefinger and add them to the sauce. Add the sugar, or the sauce will be a bit sour. Crush the 2 garlic cloves in the garlic press and add them to the sauce. Mix thoroughly in the blender.

dough on boarddough in 2

  1. When the dough has risen, scrape it out onto a floured board, and if it is too sticky roll the dough in the flour to mix a little in. Divide the dough in half and roll out each into s pizza-sized circle on the floured board.

cornmeal

  1. Before adding the toppings, sprinkle some cornmeal under the dough so you can slide it around and lift it with a pizza peel.
  2. Pour half the sauce on each pizza, and cover with mozzarella slices.

sauce on doughtoppingspepperoni

  1. Add whatever toppings your like. We usually make veggie, pepperoni and if needed, sausage and onion.

oven stones

  1. Slip the peel under the finished pizza, open the oven, and slide the pizza onto the baking stone. Repeat for the second pizza. Bake each pizza for 16 minutes: the second one may take an extra minute.
  2. Remove them from the oven with the peel, and cut them into slices to serve.

two pizzas

This whole process takes under 2 hours, including the rising and baking time, and is more than worth it. Start the dough and heat the oven as soon as you get home, and everything else will fall into place.

Volkswagen announces plans to acquire Chipotle

volkswagen beetleIn a surprise announcement, Volkswagen Chairman Martin Winterkorn announced that Volkswagen plans to acquire the Chipotle restaurant chain.Volkswagen announces plans to acquire Chipotle

“We believe, this acquisition represents real synergy,” he said. “Each of our companies has problems the other can help solve. Currently, there are no good burritos available in Germany and this acquisition is unlikely to change that. However, we do plan to rename our popular Beetle as the Burrito. They’re about the same size and both taste equally good,” he explained.

Volkswagen is currently wrestling with a problem in controlling emissions in its diesel cars. “Here, we believe Chipotle can help us, because the emissions from Chipotle’s customers have never been considered a problem,” Winterkorn explained.

Meanwhile, Chipotle has been frantically trying to control the fallout from hundreds of customer food poisonings from E coli, norovirus and salmonella. Chipotle co-chairman Steve Ellis noted that adopting German cleanliness standards may be part of the solution. “Have you ever been in a Volkswagen factory?” he asked. “Even the mechanics are wearing white coats. This is a huge innovation over the torn T-shirts our kitchen workers wear, and might help us a great deal.”

Chipotle has been making a great deal of noise regarding their locally sourced produce supply, but admits this may have to change. “We’re up to our ears in manure already, and we have to take a step back (oops!) and work on reducing those nasty contaminants. We’re even considering having our produce shipped from Germany inside those big Volkswagen Burritos! I wonder if our suppliers ever considered using nitrogen fertilizers instead. I hear they have lot less bacteria in them!”

Volkswagen has a huge public relations problem to fix, since it became known that they had modified the emissions control software to pretend that many fewer pollutants were being emitted when the cars were actually being tested. “This is really like our pretending that our insistence on non-GMO foods actually made our products safer, when it turned out the opposite was true,” Ellis admitted.

While there are no plans for closer integration between the two companies, Volkswagen is planning to announce a new line of Taco Trucks.