Vacations have a way of derailing the best of intentions. I even took my laptop with me to get some writing done! Alas, failure.
While I was away, Carl Zimmer wrote an interesting piece on the evolution of herbicide resistance in weeds.
The article discusses “Roundup” plants – plants which have been modified to be resistant to glyphosate, a chemical used to kill weeds. Glyphosate is commonly used to kill weeds while preserving glyphosate-resistant plants (provided courtesy of Monsanto). Glyphosate was thought to strike at such a key aspect of plant biology (preventing the construction of certain amino acids) that weeds would never be able to evolve resistance. But evolution wins out in the end, as less than 50 years after Roundup was introduced, we are now seeing glyphosate resistant weeds appearing in farmers fields.
Articles like this always have a tinge of irony for me. It reminds me of just how prevalent genetically modified foods are – corn and soy beans are a big example. Unsurprisingly, these are two of the biggest crops in the business. Corn and soy products are found in almost all processed foods. Monsanto recently released a new corn, in fact – Genuity™ SmartStax™ Corn. Get ’em while they’re hot!
At the same time, the plant geneticist in me is supremely impressed at the engineering involved. SmartStax Corn has eight traits for herbicide tolerance and insect protection! Theoretically, a farmer could rotate between eight different chemicals, thus reducing both his overall chemical dependency and the selective pressures (caused by chemical overuse) which can lead to herbicide and pesticide resistance.
And if you are inclined to vote against genetically modified foods, it is supremely hard to avoid corn and soy products.
If I were Jamie Oliver, the answer would be easy – Grow your own food, avoid supermarkets and source all your own meat. But, I’m not. And sadly, he has not chosen to swoop down on my office and provide me with answers.
I do think though, that agriculture as a business has no choice but to support the merging of science and food. Society as a whole constantly pushes for more product at lower prices. And GMO foods are a direct result of that. The agriculture business has learned to grow cheap foods cheaply, and who can blame them. It is a business.
Place the blame on ourselves, as consumers, for refusing to pay more money for real food. It’s easy to make chicken nuggets that contain “10% meat protein” and gobs of corn and soy product as filler. It’s cheap, easy and fast. It’s harder to make a real chicken nugget. But, when we can rely less on corn and soy as filler, we reduce our dependency on the agriculture business, increase demand for food diversity, and reduce the need for GMO foods.
As an aside:
Real nuggets contain: chicken, egg, flour, bread crumbs, salt and seasonings, and oil for frying.
Processed nuggets contain:
Chicken, water, salt, modified corn starch, sodium phosphates, chicken broth powder (chicken broth, salt, and natural flavoring (chicken source)), seasoning (vegetable oil, extracts of rosemary, mono, di- and triglycerides, lecithin). Battered and breaded with water, enriched bleached wheat flour (niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, bleached wheat flour, modified corn starch, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dried whey, corn starch. Batter set in vegetable shortening. Cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or sunflower oil and/or corn oil). TBHQ and citric acid added to help preserve freshness. Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an anti-foaming agent.
And I have to wonder – WTF does chicken need an anti-foaming agent for??? And since when have “triglycerides” been considered seasoning? Certainly not in my spice cabinet!