Paula Cano

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To all food lovers: Do we want to continue not knowing exactly how and where our food items are being grown and manufactured?

I invite everyone to do some research, it is truly interesting what you can find. And if anyone sees anything that could be done better, I encourage you to add it into your list of goals or purpose in 2014. We can all effect big time change if we focused on this just a little bit more! Anyway, Happy 2014! Hope everyone is in good health and ready for another chance!

  • Jan 7 2014: I enjoy finding out all the nuts and bolts details of my food. Due to my scientific background, I'm not too squeamish about "chemicals" merely because they are "chemicals". Educating myself does let me make more rational choices regarding which "chemicals" I'm willing to eat. I have also found that it gives me an emotional reward for "buying local" that can sometimes compensate for what can be a high economic penalty. That being said, there are times when the economic penalty is so high that I just shrug my shoulders and buy whatever I can afford.

    In addition, doing some of my own slaughtering and butchering has helped me appreciate meat more. I highly recommend doing this if you intend to eat meat as an adult.
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    Jan 7 2014: I think it should be compulsory to state where a food item has grown and manifactured (it can happen in two different countries, be aware of that) for various reasons.
    First, for our health, i.e. I do not buy anymore Pangasius fish as it comes from quicksilver-pollutes rivers in Asia.
    Second, also for import/export economic puroposes. I will explain better: I am italian, living in Germany and when I go to the supermarket I found loads of "italian sounding" products with mispelled name, italian flag etc. Now, I can recognize them immediately but I am not sure someone else would be able to (same for me when we talk about foreign food items). This has a huge impact for the italian economy in this case as the real "made in Italy" food item are not sold as much as they would be if these fake product would clearly state they are not italian.

    Coming back to policies and regulation, in Europe the country of production is defined as the one where the last "manipulation" of the product has been done. i.e. a tomato passata tin can be referred as italian even if tomatos come from China, but salt and water was added in Italy.

    That said, I prefer to buy food item (especially for fresh food such as fruit, fish etc) where the country of production is clearly stated. I am also lucky as my parents have a garden with fruit and vegetables, so when I am in Italy I am more than sure of what I am eating!
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    Jan 4 2014: Hello Paula....welcome to TED conversations!

    My parents had a garden, and for the past 60+ years I have grown most of my own food. I try to be as aware as possible of the origin and contents of any food I purchase, but my favorite source, is plucking fresh fruits and vegetables from the gardens in my yard. I know exactly what is in the food from the time it is a seed (I keep many of the seeds for replanting), until the time it is harvested....I LOVE that!

    I think one thing that could be done, is for more people to grow their own foods, and if that is not practical or realistic, people can buy locally grown produce:>)
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      Jan 4 2014: Wow! thats great!
      I agree, we should all have our own personal garden.. so much cheaper! it is an involved and rewarding process.
      What fruit trees do you have in your yard? and which one is your favorite?

      Thank you Colleen!
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        Jan 4 2014: I agree's pretty great! I also agree that growing some of our food is cheaper, it's good exercise, and more nutritious!

        My favorite fruit, vegetable or herb is whatever one is producing at the time! I have two small apple and two small pear trees. Also have grapes, strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, blueberries.......I forget sometimes what is out there when it is all covered with now:>)
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          Jan 6 2014: Hi Colleen, I think when i said "toxic is the new natural" I was over simplifying your words, and I apologize if it wasnt honoring to the meaning you intended, I think I said it more for comic effect. Either way, It is always inspiring to find people who love growing their own food, it gives me hope to believe that it is possible for everyone to enjoy the fruits of the land the way they were intended to be: fresh and local. :)
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        Jan 7 2014: Thanks Paula for clarifying....I thought that's probably what you were doing:>)

        Yes....fresh and local is the best.....from our own back yard is my humble opinion:>)
        Even if people do not have enough room for an extensive garden, there is the possibility of a few potted vegetables and herbs, dwarf fruit trees in pots, etc. Growing our own food is such a GREAT pleasure in so many ways:>)
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    Jan 4 2014: I think I care about the food security. But if I have too much concern about it because of the negative news released by the media, I can trust and eat nothing. Maybe the best way is to plant my own vegetables at home and buy some other food materials from some authorized and qualified markets. If I eat out, I'd like to choose some restaurants with good reputation by word-of-mouth. If I don't know, I have to adventure it with my gut feeling.
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      Jan 4 2014: Exactly! growing your own food is a beautiful practice!
  • Jan 4 2014: Hi Paula,that's not good when u have food,but even know nothing about them.I think it must be a person's defict not knowing food growing at all.

    Every time when I have rice,I know how hard farmers grown rice,so I cherish more what I am having.And in China,there is a very famous poem about rice growing,and it reminds people to cherish what they are having,Here I share with all of you:
    English translation:(myself translation,hope u can understand:))
    Farming under hot sun,
    sweating into farm land.
    who knows every piece of rice,
    all grown from so hard work.
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      Jan 4 2014: This is beautiful! I am currently learning Chinese, and will be visiting soon. I will memorize this, as a way to say thank you!
      • Jan 5 2014: Hi Paula,that's amazing if you can recite the Chinese poem.We often use it to remind children to cherish food they are having,espcially some children are careless about food when they are eating,parents like to encourage children to recite the poem to remind them to keep good habit in cherishing food.

        when u are China,if you see your Chinese friends are careless about food,then u can recite the poem to remind them,I am sure they would be very surprised and as well as inspirated by you:).The poem's Chinese title is:悯农(sympathy on farmer).It was from Tang dynasty famours poet:LiShen.Infact what I shared here which is just half of the poem(悯农)but another half of the poem is nothing about food but completely deep sympathy on farmers' hard work.The left half of the poem is really very touching.I share with all of you here:
        (myself translation in English)
        Sympathy on farmer
        Planting a seed in spring,
        harvesting a lot in autumn.
        all lands been planted ,
        but farmers still die in starving.

        Lol,it is a bit difficult to understand it in detail,but everytime when I read it,tears always full of my eyes,not for any but just for the great farmers' contribution.
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    Jan 4 2014: My personnal goal is to some day own a 3D printer that prints my food. This is the future of gastronomy. Nothing tastes better to me than a dead animal, don't get me wrong, but we can do better if we get the chemistry right.
  • Jan 4 2014: We can put all the labels we want on our foods, do all the research we want, but unless the general public is educated enough to know how the human body functions (protein for muscles, carbs and water for energy, vitamins and minerals for cell regeneration etc), it's hard work done in vain. Ex: A box of ceral costs more than a large container of Oatmeal, which do you think is better for you? The one with the TV advertisement and the colorful box with great designs and bold print saying "reduces cholesterol".
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      Jan 4 2014: True, but if you see a label, telling you that only 15% of the cereal you are consuming are real food ingredients, and the rest are additives, but it reduces cholesterol. you might take a second look at the slightly more expensive container of Oatmeal or granola, that has 100% real food ingredients and pure cane sugar. Slow change, maybe not even for our generation, but, do we not think it is worth it to take a few steps in that direction?
      This is a gigantic industry, but for example:

      It may even be closer than we realize, but we all have to be on board!
      • Jan 5 2014: Where exactly do you live? Oatmeal is way cheaper than cereal. A box of cereal is like $3 to $5 in New York, if you're going for something decent. A large container of Oatmeal goes for $2.30 to $4.75, and that's the general brand. Oats are oats, it doesn't matter if it's Quakers or not, we don't add anything to it before it's packaged. Buying expensive oats is like buying flavored water, a very bad move. I made the switch from cereal to oats a couple of months back, and boy was that a great move. Both for my body and my pockets.

        Consumerism makes you think that Cheerios and all these other "healthy cereals" are better for you. But they're only better if you compare them to the rest of the cereals that they sell you.A ruby among rocks is a jewel, but a ruby among diamonds is a rock.

        Humans have lived on basic oats for thousands of years, it's filled with nutrients and all you need is water and/or milk to prepare it. These cereals have a bunch of added stuff to them that your body makes an extra effort to process. GMO in your cereal? Skip it, just switch to oatmeal.

        "True, but if you see a label, telling you that only 15% of the cereal you are consuming are real food ingredients, and the rest are additives, but it reduces cholesterol.". Isn't that the label of all mass produced foods though haha? Half the stuff is not even natural and says it right on the box, yet people still buy it.
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          Jan 6 2014: That's why i said, Oatmeal or granola. Because the ingredients can vary and it is usually more expensive than a $3.00 box of cereal. granola is the diamond of cereals, so many options, and great for you, too. Oats are a must in granola.

          "Isn't that the label of all mass produced foods though haha? Half the stuff is not even natural and says it right on the box, yet people still buy it."

          It doesnt say explicitly that it is not natural, it just gives you the name of the compound or ingredient, and expects you to know what it is and how it affects your body. Unless you are an informed citizen, which i suspect you are, in which case, this doesnt apply, and you dont need more explanations, you simply choose to switch to oats, which is good.
          But for a lot of people, this is not the case.
          We can be more effective at labeling our porducts, in ways that bridge that gap. Why not make some improvements? there are a lot of items still without labels, like a starbucks latte, or most of the fast food we consume.
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      Jan 5 2014: Jean,
      That is a very good point! We can label food all we want, and unless people know what the label means and how the body functions, the label really doesn't help that much.

      For example, I've seen foods with lots of undesirable ingredients, and at the end of the list, they put "fortified with vitamin A, C, B and K"......or something like that. So, some folks look at that and with vitamins and minerals.... it must be good for me!!! When, in fact, there may be so much "junk" in the product that the less useful "stuff" far outweighs anything that might be added to make it look healthy.

      They (researchers) are also discovering that by the time vitamins and minerals are processed, as they are, to put them in capsules, or additives in foods, there usually are not many nutrients left. Fresh, unprocessed foods are generally more nutritious.
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    Jan 7 2014: There is an old axiom.... Never watch sausage being made.
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      Jan 7 2014: OH....this is SO true Mike. I went to a meat packing/production company once and after that, didn't eat hot dogs or sausage!
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        Jan 7 2014: See, I have a differing position. I eat all that stuff. It's all so tasty. My position may be considered fatalistic but, we all are going to go and what difference does it make. My 85 yo neighbor says he wants to be shot by a jealous husband... I told him he don't want to be shot... it hurts too much.
        I see myself going with a Costco polish sausage in hand. My wife says I am going with a baseball bat if I don't stop spending so much time on TED. She is kidding....... ?
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          Jan 7 2014: Mike, good point! we are all going to be gone some day, I use that thinking when I put more than a healthy dose of butter in my food, or load up on BBQ ribs and bisquits, or when i eat a delicious mexican or italian chorizo sausage or splurge on a wine dinner. But that is always with a knowledge and respect for my ingredients and where they come from.
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          Jan 7 2014: Mike! You don't look old enough to be married....perhaps it is your diet that keeps you looking so youthful?
          Couldn't resist:>)

          You DO make a good point....none of us are going to get out of here alive! There is another axiom...."we are what we eat", and I believe that to a certain extent. I certainly don't deny myself things like cookies and ice-cream, and I eat pretty healthy fresh food most of the time. To me, it's like anything else in life.....balance....
          I like being as healthy as possible while I'm still here:>)
    • Jan 7 2014: I've made my own sausage several times. I have a rule--if you're an adult and can't tolerate watching it go through all the steps from from live organism to food, you shouldn't be eating it.
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    Jan 6 2014: Well, let me give a real example. Here I have a container of Folger's ground coffee. When I look on the side of the container, I see some writing, for example, there is a description of the product, and some tips on how to best store it. And also the words "The Folger Coffee Company/Orrville, OH 44667 USA". Well, that's interesting, I didn't know that there really is a Folger Coffee Company, I might have guessed that the product was made by some bigger company that owned several brands.

    I'm taking it that this writing means the company is headquartered in Orrville, Ohio. But really, why do I care where the company is headquartered? I doubt that the coffee is grown in Ohio? Is coffee grown anywhere in the United States, I usually hear of coffee being grown in Central and South America, and Africa? Why is the headquarters of a coffee company located in a country where there is no coffee being grown?

    Maybe where the company is located tells me something about the characteristics of the product? If Folger's were headquartered, say, in San Francisco, California, would the product be different from the product I am getting with the company headquarted in Orrville, Ohio?
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      Jan 6 2014: Ah, coffee! It is not grown in Ohio. It is grown in temperate and tropical climates. Under plantain trees and surrounded by sugar cane. In mountains where the kids have to walk a few miles to the nearest school. And families survive on their harvest, and the amount they are payed for their sun dried coffee beans.
      Most of the coffee we consume in the United States comes from these farms all around the world.
      An ocean away, we are importing these fruits and processing them into instant or decafeinated coffe at "The Folger Coffee Company/Orrville, OH 44667 USA".
      I am actually from Colombia, and was very surprised, consuming coffee in my own country, because we export all the good crops and drink the leftovers... We all pay the price for our economy.
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        Jan 7 2014: well, is it really true that the product is processed in Ohio, Paula? What is your source on that? So the beans arrive from other places and then go by rail to Ohio, or....?

        Can we generalize that when we see a food company address on a package, the raw elemental foods have been processed at that address? If that's true, I think it would explain why I feel good seeing the address of the HQ, it would give me more of a "feel" for the food, I would feel like I knew the people who processed the food and how they would approach the job of processing it.
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          Jan 8 2014: I am not generalizing the process of coffee here in the US, it doesnt all go to Ohio - It was part of the example you exposed. Coffee goes to plants all over the country to be processed. Every company that buys coffee and has a facility aproved by the FDA, can manufacture the products they are aproved for, and sell them at retail price.
          And the product can be imported at various stages, as a ripe fruit, dried bean, seed, dry roasted, ground, etc, so it is hard to say exactly how much is done at a particular processing plant. It all depends of their budget and equipment, it would require research focused on the specific product you are consuming.
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        Jan 9 2014: well, Paula, let's say someone didn't want to grow coffee themselves, what would be their motivation for investigating how the coffee they drink is produced? What do they care how it's produced, they know it tastes good, they know it's not making them sick, they're satisfied with the price they're paying, so what do they care where it comes from or how it's made?
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          Jan 9 2014: Because it makes them feel good to know where it comes from, yet they can't explain why.
          Or they are curious about the world, and the fact that the US doesnt produce coffee, so they might wonder where and how it is grown, and what kind of practices their purchase is supporting.
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        Jan 9 2014: Well, I can think of some good, solid practical benefits from knowing where your food comes from. For one, who knows, there may come a time when you'll have to grow your own food, for example, society might collapse, and if you've researched it you'll have a better chance of surviving. Another might be that the same principles that govern food production govern other jobs. For example, let's say you're a construction worker. If you understand the machinery that cuts down corn plants, maybe you could take some of the aspects of the corn-cutting machine and the way corn cutters use it, and use those same principles to help you cut brick better? A third reason might be that if you understand where your food comes from your sensual enjoyment of it will increase, as you understand how it's made you will see more dimensions of it, more aspects to savor. Any of this work for you? But these are a little esoteric, is the average person going to appreciate these reasons?
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          Jan 9 2014: I think the best research is hands on experience. Growing your own food shouldnt have to be left for the last minute, when society has collapsed and you are forced to look through all of your research to start planting for substinance. It takes time to develop a healthy garden. The first years are the hardest. A lot of lessons to learn.

          I like your idea of cross-utilizing skills for different survival methods, like construction.

          "A third reason might be that if you understand where your food comes from your sensual enjoyment of it will increase, as you understand how it's made you will see more dimensions of it, more aspects to savor."

          Well said, sometimes what we can find in our research into the origin of your food stirs us away from certain items, but it definitely helps us apreciate the value of the things that are good for us.

          I think there are a lot of changes coming in our food industry, and curiosity is the first step to get the wheels in motion. Labels with thought provoking insights into the products, will force higher standards on businesses, and a shift in consumer mentality.
          I may not get to see this come to fruition, but we have to at least move in that direction.
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        Jan 9 2014: Thanks, Paula. But really, I'm not a survivalist, I don't think society is going to collapse, but the possibility might motivate some people to get interested in their food. When you say cross-utilizing skills for different survival methods, you do understand I meant even now in society, when we're stable, you can take what you learn from one field, such as food production, and apply it to many other fields. As an example of origins, I think people who are into wine can discern in a wine what sort of soil the grapes were grown in, having this discernment probably enhances their sensual (and intellectual) appreciation of the wine.

        Since you mentioned milk, I'm imagining you looked at my profile, where I mentioned having lived on milk for the last five years. That's true, I really have, every day, 365 days a year, I drink about two gallons of skim milk, and hardly eat or drink anything else. It's been great for my health.

        For four of those years, I was drinking what they call conventional milk, which comes from cows maintained on what they call factory farms, where there are many cows in a very small area, and the feed is brought to them. But about a year ago, I shifted to all organic. I really did it for the sake of the cows. In California, for a company to call its milk "organic," the farmer has to graze the cows on real growing grass in a field at least 75% of the year. I thought that this life, on an organic dairy farm, would be a little nicer for the cows than the factory farm, where they are just lying in the dirt and manure. But I noticed a couple of things when I shifted to all-organic milk. For one thing, my beard got lighter, my facial hairs were finer, that was a nice change as I felt more cultured and less animalistic with a lighter beard. And then my nose stopped producing so much mucus, so I wasn't picking my nose as much, I used to pick it a lot. So even though I went to organic for the cows, it also benefited me.
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        Jan 9 2014: I actually wish I could have a milk-producing animal, such as a cow or goat, and produce some of my own milk. But, unfortunately, I haven't been very good at romance, and have never married, and I have the perception that it's very hard for a single man to successfully look after an animal. For one thing, I live in an apartment, and I don't really have much yard to put the goat in. Also, if I have to go away at times, even for a little while like an hour, I'm afraid the goat will be stolen, whereas with a spouse, one spouse can watch the animal if the other has to go away.
    • Jan 7 2014: Identification of the company's address hearkens back to pre-internet days, in which one might have to write a "letter" on "paper" and send it via the "post office" to give feedback or complaint to a company.
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        Jan 7 2014: but let's say one never sent a letter, why would it feel good emotionally to know where the company HQ is located, what would it tell you about the product?
        • Jan 9 2014: Only to the extent that it gives me a place to contact should there be a problem with the product. I prefer a "brick-and-mortar" address simply because it's harder for a business to pull up and disappear when there's an actual manufacturing or processing facility attached to its name.
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        Jan 9 2014: well, I suppose it is good to know where you would send a complaint. I keep having this feeling that knowing where a food company is headquartered actually tells you something about the product itself, that, say, saltine crackers produced by a company with its headquarters in Illinois are different from saltine crackers produced by a company with its headquarters in, say, Florida. Does that work for you at all?
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    Jan 5 2014: Paula, I am often interested in knowing more about my food. For example, when companies market food products in packages, they usually write on the package where their headquarters are. Thus when I buy food in a package, I often read on the package to see where the company that put out the product is headquartered. Knowing where they're headquartered makes me feel good emotionally, but what I can't figure out is why it makes me feel good, do you have any thoughts on why it might?
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      Jan 5 2014: Sometimes Greg, foods come from a place other than where they are actually processed and packaged.

      That is why the value of some vitamin/mineral supplements is being questioned. They have discovered, that plant material is sometimes imported to the U.S., so as it comes into the country, it is labeled "natural", and it is used to produce vitamin/mineral supplements as "natural".

      However, it has been discovered that some of this plant material is coming from countries where toxic pesticides are used. So, the end product, labeled "natural", was actually grown using substances that are toxic, which means that there are traces of toxic elements in the product that was labeled and sold as "natural".

      Some product labels give the name of the place where the product was actually grown, in addition to where they were processed and packaged.....some do not provide that information.
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        Jan 5 2014: well, when I buy packaged food, what I see is the headquarters location of the company, just as a fantasy example the package might say "Ace Crackers, Mannassas, Virginia 90234." Knowing that that is where the company is headquartered makes me feel good, but I don't really know why, I thought someone else might have an idea.
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          Jan 5 2014: Hi greg, don't we all want to know where everything comes from? I mean, it is the heart of all science or religion. But we can't have answers to the big questions, at least not in full form. So knowing what we can, where milk comes from, where we where born, gives us some sense of comfort and security. This is what I think of, as far as feeling good from believing that what you are reading is true. But sadly it most of it is not, like Colleen mentioned, toxic is the new "natural".
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          Jan 6 2014: I agree Paula, that "knowing", or thinking we "know" sometimes provides a sense of comfort and security:>)

          I didn't actually say that "toxic is the new "natural".
          For clarity.....I expressed the idea that sometimes products are labeled "natural", when they are NOT natural.
      • Jan 7 2014: The funny thing about that is that we are being "imperialist" if we dare impose equally stringent chemical use standards on imports.
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    Jan 3 2014: At what time in history have we ever known exactly where or how our food is produced? Why is this important?
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      Jan 4 2014: Both very good questions! Some of us know exactly, and some don't. At this point in history, there are people who are making sure every item is manufactured in the most cost efficient, profitable way. High yields and shelf life have become priorities, rather than nutrition and our own longevity.
      There are also some of us who are consuming because we are told to and are feeding ourselves and our children all sorts of concoctions, without knowing.
      But it is not the consumer's fault, it is not even the manufacturing company's fault; if they are not required by law to tell the consumer what is in their food, they simply will not.
      The importance of this, is to start pondering, thinking, and realizing the next step: LABEL GMOS - Genetically Modified Organisms, for a better food education for all of us consumers, for the substinance of our country, and in a larger scale, for our planet.
      Is this not something we should fight for?
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        Jan 4 2014: Ah! I suspected you were leading up another GMO alarmist conversation. We see one about every two weeks here - some newcomer will register and and post "Great Scott!! GMOs! GMOs!!!!"

        And always the conversation goes the same. Several of us point out that GMOs are more hardy and grow faster, thereby feeding more people, That genetic modification is just a more precise version of the selection process we've been doing for the past 5000 years, and that all peer-reviewed testing has shown GMOs tp be safe and nutritious.

        Then the original poster snaps back with links to some dubious and unscientific blog post claiming GMOs are responsible for everything from cancer to male pattern baldness. Can we not go through this again, please? GMOs are 100% food and 100% safe.
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          Jan 4 2014: As a food professional, I see first hand the effects of these genetical modifications.
          It is interesting the way you talk about newcomers like we somehow we have less credibility or our opinions are not valid. It is so true that GMOs grow faster and feed more people. I would like to know, if you dont mind, how and why you claim that they are 100% safe? Also, if they are so safe, why not label them? But I respect your positiion. Time will tell, friend.
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        Jan 4 2014: I apologize, I did not mean to imply that a newcomer's opinions are either less valid or less informed. It's only that the GMO alarmism conversations are always started by first-time posters, as if they came to TED specifically to grind this particular ax.

        I claim that they are 100% safe because all credible scientific testing has shown it to be. I very highly doubt you can link to any reliable source claiming otherwise, as none of the previous posters have. Last year TED itself came just short of calling GMO alarmism pseudoscience, calling GMO food one of the red-flag topics that "tend to attract pseudo-scientists."

        Please tell us specifically what your first-hand experience has been, and how you've traced the effects back to GMOs.
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          Jan 4 2014: I am curious to see a link to this scientific research that has proven it 100% real food and 100% safe, if you dont mind. Because if there is something I am missing, I would like to explore it and reassess. As far as I knew, the health issues have not been discarded or proven, since we are still in relatively early stages, and can't see the full repercussions of these practices yet, which is why it is safe to think of it as pseudo-science.
          Now, my stand is not necessarily anti- GMO, because I understand the necessity of these practices, how deep rooted they are into our food system, and how we are still making strides in this field. But I do strongly support the LABELING of these items, for consumer's education and better judgement. Is there any reason why this should not be done?
          Now, I am a cook by trade, I source for seasonal ingredients and I also grow them, and purchase both GMO and non GMO seeds, then prepare them to the best of my ability.
          My experience with GMOs this past year led me to believe that the consumer has the right to know what is in their food. As far as taste, texture, freshness and nutritional value, they are being cheated.