December 11, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Twitter Style

I'm pretty much addicted to Twitter, although I am not a "Watching '30 Rock' & Tracy Morgan is freakin' hilarious" kind of tweeter. I tweet mostly to learn about and share information/news on cancer research and food policy issues.

I was alerted to much of the content of this digest via Twitter. For example...

Why is this not a surprise?

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants,

Then there was this tidbit of good news about sugar in cereal:

General Mills, one of the big 4 cereal manufacturers, including brands such as Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Trix, and Wheaties, announced yesterday that it will reduce the added sugar in its products. More specifically, the sugar in cereals advertised to kids will be reduced to “single digit” levels...

But apparently General Mills has math issues, because the company said by the spring of 2010 it will reduce the sugar content of its cereals to 11 grams or less. I could swear 11 was two digits, but maybe I'm looking at it wrong?

Genetically modified (GM) food is something I've been trying to read more about. A contention many critics of GM food products have held is that they have not been studied carefully enough. What does it mean, for example, to be introducing these genetically modified products -- that is, vegetables such as corn that have had foreign genes inserted into them so that they develop desirable traits, such as resistance to a pesticide produced by the same company that makes the GM seed -- into the larger ecosystem? Will they somehow affect other plants? How about animals or insects? Nobody really knows. Because it hasn't been very well studied.

GMO products got the go ahead from policy makers and regulatory bodies with very little of these data. To require such research would have meant "stifling innovation" or some such garbage like that.

So is it any wonder then when somebody does some research on just what is happening to the plants and bugs and animals around fields of GM corn finds this:

...we identified the cp4 epsps transgene [Fillippelli here: "transgene" = foreign gene introduced into the seed] in bulk soil microarthropods, nematodes, macroarthropods, and earthworms sampled within the corn cropping system. We found evidence of the transgene at all dates and in all animal groups. Transgenic DNA concentration in animal was significantly higher than that of background soil, suggesting the animals were feeding directly on transgenic plant material.

The authors admit that they can't say whether what they are detecting are functional genes, but personally I find it a little disturbing that these products may be unnaturally altering the genetic makeup of plants, insects, and animals. I find it hard to believe that's a good thing.

Speaking of gee-whiz technology and food, this doesn't seem like the right cure for the problem:

Jason Timmerman coaxed a balky calf into a chute on his feedlot one recent afternoon and jabbed a needle into its neck. He was injecting the animal with a new vaccine to make it immune to a dangerous form of the E. coli bacteria. ...

While studies have shown varying degrees of effectiveness, many researchers believe E. coli vaccines can reduce the number of animals carrying the bacteria by 65 to 75 percent. That may be enough to prevent the surge of E. coli that typically occurs each summer, when the germ thrives and reports of illness increase.

How about not jamming a gazillion cows into feed lots so they can wallow in their own pooh, stepping up inspections at slaughterhouses, and ensuring safer slaughterhouse work environments? Nah. Just jab 'em all with vaccines. Maybe the taxplayer can help pay for the vaccines, too, since we're already paying for their feed. Then it's a win-win.

I'm pretty sold on the data I've seen about our overly clean environment being linked to the rise in children with allergies, asthma, etc. So we've pretty much been doing this for a while now:

McDade hopes that one day we may be able to safely expose babies to the protective elements of germs without incurring the risks that come with infections. In the meantime, he is taking a less high-tech approach: "If my 2-year-old drops food on the floor, I just let him pick it up and eat it."

After that lovely image
, I'm sure you're ready to eat, no? This approach for oven-smoked ribs from Mark Bittman sounds like it might work. Hopefully I can give it a try some time soon.

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