Stories tagged food

Sep
16
2010

An Atlantic salmon: slightly GMOed (by me).
An Atlantic salmon: slightly GMOed (by me).Courtesy Hans-Petter Fjeld
Buckle up, Buzzketeers, because school is in session.

Did I just mix metaphors? No! You wear seatbelts in my school, because they help prevent you from exploding.

But you will probably explode anyway, because you are going to get taught. By JGordon. About the future.

Here’s your background reading: a GMO is a genetically modified organism—a living thing whose genetic material has been altered through genetic engineering. Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years (by selectively breeding them for desired characteristics), but it’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve gotten really fancy and fast about it.

While in the past, or what I like to call “the boring old days,” it took generations to breed crops that produced high yields, grew faster, or needed less water, we can now do that sort of thing in an afternoon. (Well, not really an afternoon, but these aren’t the boring old days, so we should feel free to use hyperbolic language.) We can insert genes from one plant into another, bestowing resistance to pests or poisons, or increasing the nutrition of a food crop.

Pretty cool, right? Maybe. GMOs tend to make people uncomfortable. Emotionally. They get freaked out at the thought of eating something that they imagine was created like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most people prefer to eat stuff that was created the old fashion way: through SEX.

Once they’re in your tummy, GMOs are probably pretty much the same as any other food, really. However, there may be other reasons to approach them cautiously. Most organisms make a place for themselves in their environment, and their environment makes a place around them, and things tend to work pretty well together. But GMOs are brand new organisms, and it can be very difficult to tell how they’ll fit into the rest of the natural world. Will they out-compete “natural” organisms, and cause them to go extinct? Will they interbreed with them, and introduce new weaknesses to previously strong species? The repercussions of such events could be… well, very bad.

On the other hand, GMOs could provide food—better, more nutritious, easier to grow food—for people and places that really need it. And with global population expected to increase by a few billion people before it stabilizes, we’re going to need a lot of food.

Just like everything else, this stuff is complicated. Really complicated. But the issue isn’t waiting for us to get comfortable with it before it pushes ahead. Hence, our main event: GMO salmon.

You might not have devoted much mental space as of yet to mutant ninja salmon, but you will. See, transgenic salmon (i.e., salmon with genes from other animals) may be the first GMO animal on your dinner plate. Or whatever plate you use for whenever you eat salmon. If you even use a plate, you animal.

What’s the point of the GMO salmon? In the right conditions, they grow much faster than their normal counterparts, and they require about 10% less food to reach the same weight as normal salmon. The company responsible for them, AquaBounty, has been working on the project for more than 20 years. Inserted into a commonly farmed species, the Atlantic salmon, the final, successful combination of genes comes from Chinook salmon (a closely related, but much larger species) and the ocean pout (a slightly eel-like fish that can tolerate very cold water). While Atlantic salmon typically only grow during the summer, the new variation produces growth hormones year round, so they can grow to marketable size in about 60% of the time it would normally take, assuming they’re kept in water that’s at the right temperature, and given plenty of food year round.

While some people object to GMO foods on the grounds that the long-term effects from eating them are unknown, probably the more salient argument is the effect they might have on the natural world. A larger, faster growing species could put tremendous pressure on already stressed, wild Atlantic salmon. AquaBounty counters that in normal ocean temperatures, the GMO salmon would grow no faster than wild salmon. Also, all of the GMO salmon are female, and 95 to 99% of them are sterile (they can’t reproduce). And none of that should matter, because the salmon will be raised in tanks, away from the ocean.

Even if they are successfully isolated from wild salmon, opponents point out, that doesn’t mean they are isolated from the environment. See, salmon eat other fish, and it takes about 2 pounds of other fish to make one pound of salmon (according to this article on the GMO salmon). Large amounts of the kinds of fish people don’t eat are caught and processed to feed farm-raised salmon. If cheaper, fast-growing salmon cause the demand for salmon to rise, more food stock fish will have to be caught to supply the farms, putting pressure on these other species.

A salmon farm: Nets keep the salmon in and the predators out, but disease, parasites, and pollution move through freely. But salmon farms reduce stress on wild salmon populations. It's complicated...
A salmon farm: Nets keep the salmon in and the predators out, but disease, parasites, and pollution move through freely. But salmon farms reduce stress on wild salmon populations. It's complicated...Courtesy Dark jedi requiem
Then again, if the GMO salmon can be raised successfully and profitably in inland tanks, it could remove other negative environmental impacts. Aquaculture fish farms are typically in larger bodies of water, with the fish contained inside a ring of nets. The high concentration of fish in one area leads to more diseases and parasites, which can spread to nearby wild fish. Salmon farms also produce lots of waste, and it’s all concentrated in one spot. Supposedly, a farm of 200,000 salmon produces more fecal waste than a city of 60,000 people. (That’s what they say—it sounds like a load of crap to me, though.)

It’s a tricky subject, and anyone who says otherwise is being tricky (ironically). Nonetheless, it seems likely that the Food and Drug Administration will soon declare this particular GMO as officially safe to eat, and GMO salmon fillets could make their way to the supermarket in the next couple years. Even if the FDA didn’t approve the fish, however, that would only mean that it couldn’t be sold in the US—the operation could continue to produce fish for international markets.

GMO salmon are just the tip of the GMO animal iceberg (if you’ll forgive the iceberg analogy—I don’t mean to imply that they are going to sink us.) The next GMO in line for FDA approval, probably, is the so-called “enviropig,” a GMO pig with a greater capability to digest phosphorus. This should reduce feed costs, and significantly lower the phosphorus content of the manure produced by the pigs. That’s important because phosphorus from manure often leaches into bodies of water, fertilizing microorganisms, which, in turn, reproduce in massive numbers and suffocate other aquatic life.

As the human population grows and needs more food, genetically engineered plants and animals are going to become increasingly common. They might make the process of feeding and clothing ourselves easier and more sustainable. Or they might royally screw things up. Or both. So start thinking about these things, and start thinking about them carefully.

Er… so what do you think about GMOs? Are they a good idea? Are they a good idea for certain applications? Are they a bad idea? Why? Scroll down to the comments section, and let’s have it!

Aug
08
2010

Russian wheat withers and burns

Plenty of wheat (Moscow)
Plenty of wheat (Moscow)Courtesy Chris
Fires and drought has destroyed so much of the wheat in Russia, that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued a ban on wheat exports for the rest of this year. Last year Russia exported more 17.5 million metric tons of wheat.

Surplus wheat in India is rotting

Pounding monsoon rains threaten to rot 17.8 million metric tons of wheat in India that are stored under tarps outdoors. Why they don't sell it at today's high prices or give it to the starving poor is supposedly explained in this quote:

Exporting the grain would be politically explosive because food inflation has been in the double digits for months. The government buying less wheat from farmers in a country where over half the population makes its living off the land is equally untenable. Selling more at subsidized prices to the poor is off the table because it would add to a swelling fiscal deficit. Associated Press

Wheat speculation will lead to higher food costs and starvation

The United States is having a bumper yield this year and global wheat stockpiles are high. So why have Chicago wheat prices nearly doubled since June?

We fear that excessive speculation on wheat by bankers has led to the price soaring. Speculators have bought unusually high numbers of wheat contracts in recent weeks." ABC News

Food for thought

by Shana on Aug. 03rd, 2010

Yum!: Roasted crickets at a market in Mexico.
Yum!: Roasted crickets at a market in Mexico.Courtesy Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan

You may think that eating live cockroaches is a bad idea, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization thinks that eating insects may address a bevy of problems, such as poor nutrition in developing nations and the high greenhouse gas output from raising livestock for meat. Raising insects produces far less greenhouse gases and the insects provide essential proteins and nutrients, filling a similar role in the diet to meat. While people all over the world already eat insects, the critters may be hard to swallow in squeamish western countries where the practice is rare.

Ever wanted to know what your favorite fruits and vegetables look like on the inside?

What's that? You see what they look like on the inside every time you eat them? Oh, yeah.

Well, even so, check out this website with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) animations of various fruits and vegetables. It's pretty cool. Broccoli looks like fireworks!

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is often used to examine the insides of our bodies without actually cutting them open. Unlike other non-invasive scanning methods (like x-rays), an MRI scan doesn't shoot ionizing radiation at you. (Ionizing radiation isn't great, because it can damage your DNA and potentially cause cancer.) MRIs seem to be a lot more complicated than that, but, as I understand it, they work by causing the tiny magnetic fields of hydrogen atoms in our bodies to rotate by shooting them with radio waves. The rotating magnetic fields can be detected by a scanner, which can then build images of the body with that information. (Did that make any sense?)

I had an MRI done on my brain this winter/spring, after I fell off my bicycle like a jerk, and hit my head on the road like a jerk. I meant to put it up on Buzz, but I forgot. (Hey—brain damage.) Someday, maybe. Anyway, I think my brain looked mostly like the watermelon, or maybe the durian, except with eyeballs stuck on there.

Again: "Inside Insides" fruit and vegetable magnetic resonance imaging.

(Good looking out to Matt for the link.)

Perennial grain
Perennial grainCourtesy RaeA
In a paper titled Increased Food and Ecosystem Security via Perennial Grains scientist state that perennial grains could be available in two decades and urge that research into perennial grains be accelerated by putting more personnel, land, and technology into breeding programs.

Perennial grains have roots that reach 10 feet or deeper, reduce erosion, build soil, need less herbicide, and best of all, survive over winter so there is no need to plow, cultivate, or replant.

Apr
13
2010

Welcome a future with many mushroom!: Welcome this future with lightning!
Welcome a future with many mushroom!: Welcome this future with lightning!Courtesy ziggy fresh
Hello!

You like mushroom! Everyone likes mushroom! But you say, “Why so small in number, mushroom? I am sad for you.”

Don’t be sad for mushroom! Powerful route to new mushroom is within the grasp of your arms! Look through your tears and see lightning!

You say, “Many routes before have wished me great mushroom harvests… all are bringers of sadness. 'Lightning brings mushroom' are the words for children and grandmothers, and they will not bring mushroom!”

Open your home to lightning, it will not bring you unfulfillment! “Lightning brings mushroom” are truly the words of children and grandmothers, but the works of science men and science women make words reality!

Will we will not discard the words of children and grandmothers like lies, say the men and women of science. Let us attempt a lightning spell on the mushroom!

And, with lightning, more mushroom comes! With nearby lightning, an age of mushroom begins!

Why? Don’t ask why!

Why? If you must ask why, I will tell you! The truth of lightning is not known! The guess of science: the mushroom feels great danger in lightning! Defend through growth, is the policy of mushroom!

100,000 volts may increase the number of mushroom twofold!

You have left sadness on the beach, and you eat mushroom on the mountaintop! Lightning has provided!

Jan
19
2010

How does food matter to human evolution? We could ask this guy?
How does food matter to human evolution? We could ask this guy?Courtesy Lord Jim
What makes human beings so special? How did we evolve into an agriculture-developing, city-building, history-making, world-changing species that can live on every continent and even in outer space?

Scientists have been asking questions about our evolutionary trajectory and human "uniqueness" for as long as there's been science - and guess what? We still don't know the answer! Some of our best theories are explored by anthropologists in the PBS television series The Human Spark, airing throughout the month and also online at the PBS website. If you're curious, you might want to watch, but don't do it on an empty stomach! Many of the theories that anthropologists have developed to explain how we became human involve food.

That food and evolution would go hand in hand is not really surprising, since food is necessary to survival and an important and dynamic part of our environment. Did a search for nutritious plants and animals lead our ancestors to new environments, causing our species to adapt and change? Did hunting and eating meat mean the evolution of new physical characteristics? How has agriculture changed our environment and species over time? How will present and future foods change what it means to be human in the future?

Some evolutionary theories involving food look not just at what we ate, but how we ate it - namely the invention of fire and the use of heat to cook food. Think about it: our Hominid ancestors needed calories in order to develop into the big-brained humans we all know and love. How did they do it? And what did this mean for human evolution?

Sure, eating meat was an important dietary step, but cooking root vegetables can transform hard-to-chew or even poisonous plant parts into nutritious food that can be consumed out of season. With cooking, environments that would otherwise provide few nutritious options suddenly become bountiful. This change in diet may also have led to changes in body size and shape - even social structures! Large teeth and jaws were less desirable once food could be more easily chewed, and delaying the gratification of food until it could be cooked may also have meant that our species had to develop new social skills.

Those social skills - the same ones that mean you and I can now share a burger or beer without fighting each other for scraps - may be one of many "sparks" that makes us human.

If you live in the Twin Cities, you can meet an anthropologist and here how he thinks food impacted human evolution by attending tonight's Cafe Scientifique program in Minneapolis.

Aug
27
2009

Getting the Facts

Today we are all experiencing a global food crisis. Food prices are inflating, families are food poor. Some of the deaths due to hunger or hunger related causes can be avoided. Many children are malnourished but The most damaging micronutrient deficiencies in the world are the consequence of low dietary intake of vitamin A. In the world, the largest dietary eaten is rice, over 80 percent of the world's population depends on rice as their staple food. Although rice tastes awesome with chicken and with everything else, many people around the world do not get enough β-carotene (provitamin A, the form before vitamin A is converted) to help produce Vitamin A in what they are eating or able to afford to eat. Vitamin A is necessary, without Vitamin A our eyes would be unable to function properly. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind every year due to the lack of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Every year it has has claims the lives of 350 000 or more, people who are VAD become blind and 60% of those who become blind will die. 400 million rice-consumers may lead to fatal health problems, some are impaired vision; impaired epithelial integrity, exposing the affected individuals to infections; reduced immune response; impaired haemopoiesis (and hence reduced capacity to transport oxygen in the blood) and skeletal growth; and measles infection. MAP
MAPCourtesy Wikipedia

The science behind

Golden rice is a genetically modified (GM), it is made through genetic manipulation. The gene responsible for the yellow color like the daffodils is inserted into the rice genome, and causes rice to produce large quantities of β-carotene.

The purpose of golden rice was made to to produce B-carotene, In the location where people eat the most, the endosperm. β-Carotene is composed of two retinyl groups ( the animal form of Vitamin A, which is different from the plants who are able to perform photosynthesis for their Vitamin A), and is broken down in the the mucous membrane of the small intestine by B-carotene to retinal, a form of vitamin A. Carotene can be stored in the liver and body fat and converted to retinal when it is needed, thus making it a form of vitamin A for mammals like us. SCIENCE
SCIENCECourtesy Wikipedia

for more details on the science behind golden rice you can check out this website:

http://goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how1_sci.html

But Why Is This Not Happening?

But behind this great discovery and invention people are bound to have their own reason's why they would like it or not. Many have responded with Golden Rice with rage and the desire for those to stop making the golden rice. Many of whom wish for those who do have VAD to receive naturally grown food instead of humans modifying. Those who feel this way feels that other's deserve to eat real food instead of man made. How do you feel towards genetically modified food? Is it still food or something else? With this conspiracy going on the Golden Rice is being stored in a building in Europe because of those who angered about the Golden Rice. Not only do people feel that way other's also said that it will effect the economy worldwide, if golden rice keeps going around the world for free people will stop buying rice and the rice industry would fall apart and the two largest rice exporters ( Thailand and Vietnam ) economy would fall apart and possibly even worse.

My view on this is that Genetically modified food is still food and is made for the better. If we waited for naturally grown food to grow I think it will take way to long for it to be ready for animals and humans to eat, in the world the food consumption is rising and more people demanding food. For example, in 1985 the average Chinese
consumer ate about 20 kg (44 lb) of meat a year, and now consumes over 50 kg (110 lb). Genetically modified food can help feed those who need it. And I understand that there are many people in Europe who do not support GM food, but don't you think we should send food those people who are dying from hunger and save them as soon as possible?

Oct
31
2008

Tuesday, October 31, 2028

Purple. Why is it always purple? Or blue. All the foods that taste terrible but are good for you, always seem to come from the long end of the visible spectrum. Eggplants. Prunes. Now this.

Well, no use whining. Remember what grandma always used to say. Eat your tomatoes, live forever. Or, at least until a truck hits you. She didn’t see that one coming. Literally.

I’d give ‘em to the trick-or-treaters, except they just throw them at my windows. Ungrateful brats. Don’t they know I’m trying to save their lives?