Organic Consumers Association

OCA
Homepage

Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!

JOIN THE OCA NETWORK!

Lies & Smears from Biotech Industry in Latest Attack on Organic Food

Posted 11/8/04

GM WATCH daily
http://www.gmwatch.org

------

An attack on organic food in general, and pesto in particular has, according
to The Independent newspaper, been launched by the pro-GM lobby in Italy:
"This week's claims about pesto came as part of a last-minute offensive by
pro-GM scientists to prevent a government ban on the growing of GM crops."

The charges of a problem with foods like pesto which contain methyl eugenol,
originally arose some 5 years ago, "The reiteration of the charges this week
came as the Umberto Veronesi Foundation published a pro-GM manifesto
entitled Food Safety and GM Organisms".

According to the article, "The argument of the scientists is that while GM
foods can be eaten with absolute confidence, given the amount of research
that has been done on them, the "natural", "organic" foods vaunted by
Italy's army of foodies may contain hidden hazards."

So what is all this safety research on GM foods?

The article quotes Professor Veronesi, a former Italian health minister, as
saying "in the light of studies on populations that for years have been
living on GM foods, the US above all, it [concern about GM food] has become
an opposition that must be eliminated because it is dangerous for our
country."

Needless to say, Professor Veronesi's claim is a total lie. Not a single
study on "populations that for years have been living on GM foods" has ever
taken place!!!

Here are the comments of Prof Joe Cummins on the pesto/organic food smear:

"The article below is the most current of a series of loony attacks on
organic foods by GM public relations "scientists". Certainly methyl eugenol
does cause cancer in rats and mice and it is found in basil. Even though
"organic" basil was not identified in the article the GM supporter claims
that GM corn is safer than pesto which contains basil, and organic foods
have "hidden" toxins that are "not present" in gm foods (which have nice
synthetic genes). However no "organic " food was
identified in the article and the consensus of food scientists is that
methyl eugenol is not a tangible threat at the levels found in spiced food.
I have included a source article giving the consensus view of legitimate
food scientists at the bottom of this letter..It seems to me the newspaper
writer should have balanced the article with a comment from a food additive
expert from FAO/WHO."

Prof Cummins gives the following article as a source:

Food Chem Toxicol. 2002,40:851-70
Safety assessment of allylalkoxybenzene derivatives used as flavouring
substances - methyl eugenol and estragole.
"In particular, rodent studies show that these events are minimal probably
in the dose range of 1-10 mg/kg body weight, which is approximately 100-1000
times the anticipated human exposure to these substances. For these reasons
it is concluded that present exposure to methyl eugenol and estragole
resulting from consumption of food, mainly spices and added as such, does
not pose a significant cancer risk."

For more on the organic attacks made by the pro-GM lobby:
http://www.gmwatch.org/p2temp2.asp?aid=7&page=1&op=1
------
Storm in a pesto jar: Italian producers at odds with scientists over cancer
scare
By Peter Popham in Rome
05 November 2004
http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/story.jsp?story=579659

A bitter row has broken out in Italy over the alleged toxicity of one of the
nation's favourite foods: pesto. The Genovese sauce prepared for centuries
in Ligurian kitchens by grinding together fresh young basil leaves, garlic,
pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil contains a carcinogenic ingredient,
a leading Italian scientist warns. And the tastier the pesto, the greater
the danger.

The problem ingredient is a carcinogenic agent called methyl-eugenol, which
is found to be present in the leaves of young basil plants, up to 10
centimetres in height, from the best plantations in Liguria - the optimum
basil for use in pesto doc (for "denomonazione origine controllata").

According to Professor Francesco Sala of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation, in
a plate of spaghetti with pesto doc "there is a concentration of
methyl-eugenol 600 times higher than the accepted safety limit. Which is not
to say that it produces tumours, but that it increases the probability of
having them". Using adult basil, Professor Sala goes on, the risk is
eliminated. Why? "The methyl-eugenol protects the young plant from insects
and bacteria. Then, as it grows, the molecule loses its methyl and becomes
harmless." And also, the aficionados claim, far less appetising.

But with their full frontal assault on one of Italy's proudest food
inventions, Professor Sala and his colleagues may have bitten off more than
they can chew. The guardians of the pesto tradition were quick to condemn
the new attack.

"We're on our own," ruminated Sergio and Riccardo Bertola, chefs of Genoa's
Gran Gotto restaurant. "The big firms want to sell their 'pesto sauce' made
with Kenyan basil and preservatives instead of sea salt. They dragged out
this stuff [about pesto being carcinogenic] years ago, then they said it
wasn't true ... Is it really necessary to beat up on pesto? Okay, we're not
professors but we've been making pesto like this for centuries."

The region of Liguria recently won a battle over the definition of pesto,
forcing Nestlé to withdraw a pesto sauce "à la Genovese" made with basil
grown from German and Swiss seeds. At the same time Liguria and 13 other
Italian regions two weeks ago declared themselves "GM-free zones".

This week's claims about pesto came as part of a last-minute offensive by
pro-GM scientists to prevent a government ban on the growing of GM crops.
The legislation, due last month, has been delayed by wrangles within the
ruling centre-right coalition, but is expected to be presented to parliament
next week.

The argument of the scientists is that while GM foods can be eaten with
absolute confidence, given the amount of research that has been done on
them, the "natural", "organic" foods vaunted by Italy's army of foodies may
contain hidden hazards.

The attack on basil is not in fact new: it was in 1999 that researchers
discovered by chance that the best pesto may also be the most hazardous.

The discovery was made at Genoa's Centre for Biotechnology, Professor Sala
said. "The objective [of the research] was to explain why pesto doc is
better than other types. The substance that was isolated, in fact, makes the
difference in flavour." The original publication of the claim that Italy's
best pesto might be bad for you sparked a furious controversy, after which,
Professor Sala maintains, "everyone was told to shut up".

The reiteration of the charges this week came as the Umberto Veronesi
Foundation published a pro-GM manifesto entitled Food Safety and GM
Organisms, edited by 19 Italian scientific organisations claiming to
represent 10,000 researchers. The manifesto aims to combat what Professor
Veronesi, a former Italian health minister, calls "the absurd demonisation"
of GM foods.

Hostility to GM foods, he said, "was initially considered an understandable
caution in the face of something of little importance, but in the light of
studies on populations that for years have been living on GM foods, the US
above all, it has become an opposition that must be eliminated because it is
dangerous for our country."

He went on: "I would like to eat GM maize all the time, I would feel safer
doing so. In the USA I eat it with pleasure, while in Italy I don't have the
freedom to choose what is much safer than the so-called organic variety."

****************************************************************************

This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's
Own Foundation and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association
www.eco-farm.org <http://www.eco-farm.org/>
****************************************************************************