Beware the cancer lurking within these harmless-looking spuds/iPhoto by Donna
The New York Times recently called my attention to the USDA approval of a new genetically modified potato intended to reduce cancer by eliminating acrylamide. What is acrylamide? Here’s a link with lots of other links. It causes cancer in rats and therefore, maybe, in humans? We don’t know for certain. In one of these links a scientist guessed that 3,000 people a year get cancer from acrylamide, though on what he based his guess is, well, anybody’s guess.
Here’s a headline I’d like to see in The Onion:
Scientist Working to Extinguish Sun in Bold Effort to Eradicate Some Skin Cancers.
And here’s my rant line: We fuck with our food at our own peril.
The Times dutifully quoted people on both sides of the issue.
Doug Gurian-Sherman, a plant pathologist and senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group, said that the technique used to silence the genes, called RNA interference, was still not well understood. This is a fact. Here are the group’s extended remarks.
On the other hand: Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that deals with nutrition issues, welcomed the approval. “We support clearly trying to reduce consumers’ exposure to acrylamide and if this product helps do that, I think it’s a benefit,” he said. (See acrylamide link, above, from this group. Both parties got back to me immediately yesterday when I wrote to confirm, and I thank them.)
Finally, Andrew Pollack reports in his Times story that “the National Cancer Institute says that scientists do not know with certainty if the levels of the chemical typically found in food are harmful to human health.”
Are GMOs harmful or helpful? The answer is probably yes, but again, we don’t know either way for sure. The Center for Food Safety says the USDA made an unprecedented and irresponsible decision by approving this potato. The Times does not address this or get a statement from the Dept. of Ag.
But my guess is nobody is doing anything to make people more healthy.
My guess is this, and it’s only a guess: News of the discovery of acrylamide in 2002 scared the giant potato grower Simplot, which was the major supplier of potatoes to McDonalds in the 1960s, and remains a huge grower.
Executive #1, “If words starts to spread that fried potatoes cause cancer, we are totally hosed!”
Exec. #2 said, “Let’s build a newer potato so we can tell people OUR fries don’t cause cancer!”
The naysayer in the boardroom said, “It will take too long, then we’ll have to get approval, which will take forever.”
Exec. #1, “Approval is not a problem—we have our lobbies in DC.”
Am I cynical? Yep. Big corporations don’t give a shit about your health. Fine, we know that. Remember, stupid is bad.
What pisses me off is that people are making all kinds of unproven claims based on little or no evidence; again, no one knows anything for sure when it comes to nutrition. They are only biases.
To reiterate a few points:
—Buy whole foods and cook them yourself or have someone in your clan do it.
—Don’t try to cook “healthy,” but rather nutritiously.
—WE are healthy if our FOOD is nutritious.
God, this shit drives me bananas!
If you liked this post, check out these other links:
- My past rants on What if You Hate Cooking Dinner and The Lesson of Salt.
- Know your heirloom potato varieties.
- Books you should check out The Third Plate, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Real Food: What to Eat and Why.
- Civil Eats keeps up to date with all the politics in the American food system.
© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.