GENETICALLY modified cottonseed oil is coming to a fish shop near you
The next time you head into town for the family treat of fish and chips, ask your fryer what oil they’re using. Chances are it’s cottonseed oil.
My local milkbar has just switched to it. It’s cheaper than what they were using and has a higher burning point which means less smell.
If it’s cottonseed oil produced in Australia, it’s more than likely to be genetically modified because most cotton seed produced in Australia is genetically modified.
Genetically modified cotton has been a boon for farmers: it contains genes from a bacteria that produces a protein that kills caterpillars when they eat it. Some cotton varieties now also contain genes that make the cotton tolerant to herbicides such as glyphosate.
This means farmers can spray crops and kill weeds without killing the crop itself.
For ages there’s been this tussle about eating genetically modified food. The Gene Technology Regulator (he’s like the regulator of genes) issues licences to companies to allow GM crops in Australia.
Those opposing this sci-fi-come-true chapter in our history argue there are no long-term, independent, inter-generational studies monitoring effects on human health and we should clearly label it to leave the risk to the consumer until we know officially that it’s safe – which could be any time in about 30 years or a century or so.
There’s another thing about cottonseed oil. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code says all foods containing DNA and protein from a genetically modified organism must be labelled as GM.
Cotton Australia, which represents growers, says there’s no need to label it because even though the cottonseed might be genetically modified, the oil – by the time it’s squeezed out of the seed – has no GM bits in it.
Logically this claim smells a bit fishy to me but I’m not a scientist and sources such as GMO Compass, a European Union-funded website on genetic modification, says refining virtually destroys DNA and protein, making it virtually impossible to detect any difference between oils made from genetically modified and conventional seeds. Can DNA be destroyed?
After all it lingers in woolly mammoths eons after their passing though presumably they weren’t refined as the ice age hit the way oils are. Anyway, despite all this, it’s kind of interesting that deep within the heart of conventional agriculture, from the broad cropping acres of NSW, emerge three farmers, all women, fighting like crazy to get their state farming organisation to push for cottonseed oil to be labelled as genetically modified.
They’re on a taskforce within NSW Farmers which is developing a compendium on gene modification for farmers. One, Nuffield scholar Helen Dalton who farms near Griffith, reckons if farmers are to keep cred with consumers they should tell all those fish and chip eaters exactly what they’re eating.
"We need to think long and hard about this and the possible health implications 40 years down the track," she says.
But the women are in agriculture, which is male dominated, and though women have better food sense and awareness of developing food sensitivities (they’re the ones who cook the meals and take kids to doctors), it’s probably men in farming, men in food companies and men in government who’ll determine how GM food is labelled.
And does anyone give a toss what their fish and chips are cooked in anyway?