Thursday, September 8, 2011

Agriculture: Home of Improvements

Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff makes these cases and substantiates them in her New York Times article, "Genetically Engineered Food For All" in favor of Genetically Modified Organisms as food:
  • "New molecular methods that add or modify genes can protect plants from diseases and pests and improve crops in ways that are both more environmentally benign and beyond the capability of older methods."
  • "Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny."
  • "The European Union has spent more than $425 million studying the safety of genetically modified crops over the past 25 years. Its recent, lengthy report on the matter can be summarized in one sentence: Crop modification by molecular methods is no more dangerous than crop modification by other methods."
  • "The process for approving these crops has become so costly and burdensome that it is choking off innovation."
I'm looking forward to possibly an elimination of pesticide residues thanks to GMO use (Pesticides are already present at no more than trace amounts which the EPA, FDA, and USDA deem safe -- see post, "Organic Or Not).

A Letter to the Editor challenging the above asks "If these foods are safe, why the huge lobbying effort to deny the buying public information about which foods are modified? How about a simple label informing the consumers?" I can appreciate his point. I can also appreciate the lobbying efforts, given that the labeling of milk and meat products with "No Artificial Hormones" has caused this whole national scare against hormones. The scientific community, even decade after decade of research, still cannot get through to people that there is NO difference in hormone levels of milk or meat between animals given or not given implants. Labeling can create unnecessary scares, because people, by nature, are biased in thinking that unmodified food is better than scientific innovation. We're uncomfortable with novelty, and face it, we won't go look up the facts.

Hormone Regulation

A common question regarding hormone implants in beef cattle is: Why does it make sense to castrate the animals and then go back and give them androgynous hormones again? Here are some facts supporting castration and hormone implantation:

Estrogen in bull meat is equal to that of estrogen in cow meat at 1st trimester of pregnancy. Testosterone in bull meat is over 30x that in both non-implanted steer meat and implanted steer meat, given that beef from implanted and non-implanted steers contain insignificantly different levels of testosterone.

Testosterone levels in meat:
0.34–0.73 mg/kg for bulls
0.069 mg/kg in muscle tissue from heifers
0.01–0.14 mg/kg detected in muscle from steers, both implanted and non-implanted.
Thanks to modern practices such as castration and implantation (i.e., no bull meat), we have more beef produced per animal, we have a more tender product, and finally, we have less hormone exposure to estrogen and testosterone in beef.

Human Safety of Hormone Implants Used to Promote Growth in Cattle
Fritsche and Steinhart, 1998
Hendricks et al., 1983

So...what do you Think?

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