Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: May 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Organically Speaking - Part 4

Last week I explained what rBST is, how it is made and why it is used. I promised this week to discuss some of the purported issues surrounding its use. I'm sure there will be something I've not covered, but here is what I know is being said about rBST.

rBST causes endocrine issues like the premature onset of puberty. The reality - BST was tested on humans in the 1950's as a treatment for dwarfism; it was shot directly into test subjects pituitary gland and showed absolutely no effects. Later the scientists determined that somatotropins are species specific and the human body doesn't recognize BST. Since rBST is identical to BST, there is pretty little doubt that it won't cause your endocrine system to go haywire.

rBST causes cancer, especially prostate cancer. A test performed on rats appeared to show a dose-related increase in mild inflammation of the prostate. Besides the fact that inflammation of the prostate is not related to cancer formation, there was also no difference in results between the positive and negative control groups. If any prostate changes were due to the rBST, there should have been significant differences in the two groups.

rBST causes thyroid cysts. Again with the rats - poor guys. Both the positive and negative control groups got thyroid cysts, no neither the frequency or severity of the cysts were attributable to the rBST.

rBST causes an increase in IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor I) levels. For starters, IGF-I is naturally found in humans as well as cows and isn't intrinsically harmful. Secondly, the amount consumed in milk (even that from cows treated with rBST) is less that is produced daily by our own bodies. In fact, what we swallow in our own saliva daily equals to the IGF-I found in 23.75 gallons of milk and what we produce naturally daily equals the amount found in 750 gallons of milk. None the less, early studies showed an increase in the IGF-I concentration in milk from cows treated with rBST. Those levels were determined to be less than the IGF levels that can be observed during a normal lactation cycle and also less than the observable variation in milk from both rBST and non-rBST treated cows.

rSBT is banned from use in Canada and the EU. True, but neither of those entities has said it was because of health concerns. Both Canada and the EU tightly regulate/subsidize their milk markets and don't want the extra production.

BST and rBST are just proteins, digested like any other that enter our digestive system. All milk contains BST and over 120 studies have been run & evaluated by the FDA, AMA, NIH, DHHS, etc. As always, if you prefer to buy milk that is collected from non-rBST treated cows - no problem. If you've just been scared by the news media and weren't sure what you should do - hopefully I've helped you out.

Well, I'm on vacation next week and celebrating my birthday, so that means no post next week. I promise to be back the beginning of June, so come back to see what I'm talking about!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Organically Speaking - Part 3

Recombinant bovine somatotropin -wow what a mouth full; must be why we abbreviate it to rBST or rBGH! While technically not an organic issue, because you can get non-organic milk without the use of rBST, it often comes up in organic conversations so it seems reasonable to talk about it here.

Let's start at the beginning with what it is. Somatotropin is a protein hormone produced in the pituitary gland of animals, us included, that is essential for growth and development. Bovine is in regards to the fact that we are discussing cows and recombinant means that it is being produced in a lab using recombinant DNA technology.

SCIENCE ALERT! I won't be offended if you skip this part because you aren't interested, but for those of you who are, recombinant DNA is really interesting. (I spent a semester in college doing this & loved it!) You take a section of DNA that codes for the protein you are interested in replicating and insert it into a plasmid which is then inserted into a bacteria. As the bacteria multiplies copies of the protein are produced which can then be extracted and purified. Here is a video link for anyone who wants the visual.

Recombinant does not mean artificial or synthetic. The DNA that codes for the protein in the cow is extracted and produced by bacteria instead. The copies are identical and at the molecular level scientists cannot distinguish the original from the copied version. In fact we use recombinant DNA technology to produce human insulin and human growth hormone for treatment of human deficiencies.
So why do we give rBST to cows? Well, it increases their milk production about 10-15%.; but it may help to understand a little about a cow's lactation cycle. Cows produce the most milk just after giving birth to a calf and milk production falls off afterwards until it goes dry around 307 days later. If rBST is given when the lactation starts to decline, the cow will produce higher yields further into the lactation cycle. Since not every cow is in the same stage of lactation at the same time, not every cow is given rBST. At any given time maybe only 40% of the herd may be treated.

The amount of BST (recombinant or not) in the milk of a cow, yes, there is always BST in milk regardless of if the cow has been treated or not, is essentially the same. Tests indicate that cows given rBST have levels no higher than what can be found within the normal variation from cows that are untreated. The amount of BST present seems to have more to do with where the cow is in its lactation cycle than whether its been treated with rBST - makes sense that a cow just staring her lactation cycle is producing more BST to kick-off the process. It also appears that cows treated with rBST "burn up" the excess BST in the process of producing the milk.

So why the uproar? Well, partly because biotechnology always causes panic among some, partly because Canada & the EU do not allow its use, and partly because some claims about cancer have been made. But I will save those for next week's post...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Organically Speaking - Part 2

Organic myths - now I'm fine with anyone who chooses to grow, process and/or consume organic foods; I do every now and then, but I don't like bad science or bogus claims. One of the biggest claims that I hear over & over is that organic foods are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. There have been numerous studies conducted and very few have shown organic foods to be of higher nutritional quality and of those studies that have leaned towards organic " were not designed, conducted, or published according to accepted scientific standards..." - Dr. Joseph Rosen (Rutgers University Food Science Professor). Even Katherine Di Matteo of the Organic Trade Association has stated "Organic foods are as nutritious as any other foods."

Want to really know what make a difference in nutrition? Freshness - it has more to do with the retention or loss of nutrients than whether or not it was grown using inorganic fertilizers. The fresher the product you are buying, the more nutritious it will be; vitamins and phytochemicals breakdown over time. The exact same plants grown under two different growing conditions (organic vs. conventional) still have the exact same genetic makeup meaning they are biochemically identical. Organic methodology does not alter the biology or the genes.

Which brings me conveniently to my next point - bioengineering. Wow do people, especially those in the media, get upset over biotech aka GMO (genetically modified organisms). Dr. Adrienne Massey has a great quote "Genetic modification of food by humans is nothing new. We have genetically modified virtually all of the food we have ever consumed." She's so right; genetic modifications have been made on purpose for thousands of years, now granted it was done (and still is sometimes) via cross-pollination and selective breeding versus the lab.

And we have over 20 years of growing and eating biotech foods here in the US with no evidence of food safety risks. The FDA's Dr. Jane Henney has been quoted in regards to the history of safe use of bioengineered foods that there are no confirmed issues, "Not one rash; not one cough; not one sore throat; not one headache." Just to get a GMO to market requires 10-15 years of research, examinations, field tests, review by the FDA, USDA and EPA. Then most of them are also reviewed by the WHO (World Health Organization), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Natural Research Council.

The harsh reality is this -you can choose to eat only organic because of the abundance of food available in the US, but a lot of the rest of the planet cannot. We can't convert the world food supply to solely organic methodologies, nor eliminate GMO crops, or we will leave around 2 billion people without food. Organic, non-modified crops, consume more resources and produce smaller yields. I for one am glad that we have choices between organic and conventional rather than between food or no food. Make sure all of your choices are well informed!