Peas Four Ways
There came a day in 1976 when I first heard that snap peas had been invented and that we—the editors at Organic Gardening magazine—were going to get pea seed to plant and sample.
I erected trellising in the garden and planted the peas on St. Patty’s Day, March 17, the traditional day for planting peas in USDA Climate Zone 6, where I was living while working at the magazine.
Those first peas showed promise, but they also had problems. First, they had so much hybrid vigor that they grew to the top of my six-foot trellis and then continued to grow for another two to three feet, flopping over themselves. While the pods were edible, they also had a string running down the concave side of the pod that had to be pulled off by hand. Years earlier, gardeners grew string beans that had a similar string running down one side. That’s why they were called string beans. But breeders had bred the strings out of them, and by 1976, string beans were known as snap beans, a name they bear even today. Same with peas. The first edible-podded peas that weren’t Asian snow peas had the string, but it was subsequently bred out of them. Breeders also increased their sweetness and tamed their vigor. Today we have bush snap peas that only grow two to three feet high, with no strings in the pods, and a wonderful sweetness. And you can eat these well-behaved snap peas in four different ways.
First, if the seeds are organic, meaning they are not treated with fungicides, you can sprout the pea seeds. Pea sprouts have a delightful, full pea flavor and make a fine addition to sandwiches and salads.
Second, you can harvest pods when the peas inside the pods grow so they
just touch one another—like regular garden or English peas. Then you just have to shell out the peas, discard the pods, gently give the peas a little cooking, and serve them as peas only.
Third, you can blanch them pods and all for a minute in boiling water and eat them that way, or simply crunch into the raw pods, mange-tout. Personally I like them raw, pods and all.
Fourth, if you grow them, you can harvest the little packets of folded leaves and tendrils at the tips of the growing vines and stir-fry or steam them as Asian-style pea shoots. But don’t take them all, because those packets will unfold to become flowering shoots that will give you snap peas.
Of course, do it all organically.
As you know, we organic types have been trying to get the FDA to require foods containing GMOs to be labeled, so we can avoid putting GMOs into our bodies and our children’s bodies—so far without success. Now a California group is trying a different tack. It’s trying to get an initiative on the California ballot requiring GMO labels on all GMO-containing foods produced in California, and as you know, California produces a lot of the food that’s sold across America, so a successful ballot initiative will have wide-ranging effects. To get the measure on the ballot requires signatures—millions of them. So the group (www.labelgmos.org) has mounted a campaign to find volunteers who will collect signatures to get GMO labeling on the ballot. Visit the website or email them at email@example.com for more details.
America’s largest corporate dairy, a biotech firm, and the USDA are being accused of conspiring to corrupt rulemaking and pollute organics. An organics watchdog group is seeking an investigation and has filed ethics charges, according to its recent press release.
The press release is important enough to reprint here. It contains information every person interested in keeping the organic label strong should know. Here’s the release:
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry research and watchdog organization, announced it has formally requested the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate corruption at its National Organic Program resulting in the use of illegal synthetics in organic food and then allowing powerful corporations to “game the system” for approval “after the fact.”
The controversy surrounds products developed by Martek Biosciences Corporation. Martek is part of a $12 billion Dutch-based conglomerate that recently petitioned USDA for approval of its genetically modified soil fungus and algae as nutritional supplements in organic food.
Martek’s formulated oils are processed with synthetic petrochemical solvents in a blend containing a myriad of other synthetic chemicals. Supplements derived from these oils, commonly marketed as DHA and ARA, are being added to milk, infant formula, and other organic foods by such companies as Dean Foods (Horizon), Abbott Laboratories (Similac) and Nurture, Inc. (Happy Baby).
“This is a long-standing controversy that the USDA seems to think is just going to go away,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director of the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute.
After a formal legal complaint by Cornucopia and an investigative story by the Washington Post, the USDA announced in April, 2010, that it had “inappropriately” allowed Martek oils to be included in organic foods.
The scandal contributed to the removal of the previous director of the National Organic Program (NOP), who overruled her staff’s decision finding Martek supplements were illegal in organics, after she met with a prominent Washington lobbyist, William J. Friedman.
The former NOP director’s decision was reversed in April, 2010. But instead of immediately ordering the removal of these unapproved synthetics from organic food, the USDA delayed enforcement by 18 months.
“It’s unacceptable that these materials are still in organic food and that corporations think they can manipulate the system and get away with it,” said Kastel.
In December, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA Secretary on organic matters, narrowly approved the Martek petitions for their patented versions of DHA and ARA. “All hell broke loose at the meeting in Savannah as the controversy grew extremely heated,” Kastel noted.
In its complaint to the OIG, Cornucopia alleges that Martek misrepresented their synthetic products and manipulated the vote by the NOSB. “Martek oils, marketed under the Life’s DHA™ brand and included in organic infant formula, milk and baby food, are processed with petrochemical solvents like hexane or isopropyl alcohol, both of which are explicitly banned in organic production,” stated Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at Cornucopia.
Although Martek told the board that they would discontinue the use of the controversial neurotoxic solvent n-hexane for DHA/ARA processing, they did not disclose what other synthetic solvents would be substituted. Federal organic standards prohibit the use of all synthetic petrochemical solvents, including isopropyl alcohol, which is currently used to extract DHA algal oil for use in products such as Horizon milk.
Martek again brought in William J. Friedman, with the powerful Washington law firm of Covington and Burling, to lead the approval process. Friedman appeared to deliberately mislead NOSB members into believing that the powdered form of Martek’s DHA oil was not covered in the petition for approval. “That’s not the petitioned material,” he stated. This particular product formulation uses microencapsulation (banned in organics) and includes a number of additional synthetic materials that have never been reviewed or approved for use in organics.
“Mr. Friedman’s statement thus appears patently false in an apparent attempt to intentionally mislead the NOSB. This apparent subterfuge led, in turn, to the NOSB’s failure to review other aspects of these materials which would have disqualified them, under law, for inclusion in organic food,” Cornucopia’s Kastel said.
In addition to the letter to the OIG, Cornucopia has requested the District of Columbia Bar to conduct a formal ethics investigation of Mr. Friedman’s conduct. “The dog and pony show put on by Martek and their largest customer, Dean Foods, was without precedent in the organic industry,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association, who was present in Savannah.
The only scientists who testified at the meeting on the DHA issue were all on Martek’s payroll, and focused on research showing benefits of consuming naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish and breast milk), while ignoring the preponderance of published peer-reviewed research that shows that these health benefits are not gained from consuming Martek’s manufactured DHA additive.
Dean Foods, Martek’s largest customer, brought in a well-known web pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene, who has acted as a public relations agent endorsing Horizon brand organic milk with the added Martek DHA oils.
Although Dr. Greene represented himself as a “consultant,” simply answering questions for Dean Foods, and stated he had previously worked for two other organic companies, he failed to disclose his multiple conflicts of interest in commenting on the benefits of Martek’s manufactured DHA supplements.
Dr. Greene has also accepted compensation from Mead Johnson, the largest conventional infant formula manufacturer, to promote Martek’s DHA oil in their products, and even has his own product line of nutritional supplements that include Martek DHA, marketed by Twinlabs with his name and photograph on the product package.
“It is unconscionable that a physician, who accepted money from a big drug company to promote synthetic DHA—which many believe promotes the use of baby formula at the expense of the nutrients in breast feeding—failed to disclose such a gross conflict of interest when he testified before the governmental body on certified organic standards,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch, which helps expose corporate PR tactics.
Cornucopia’s complaint to the OIG also included evidence documenting that three corporate-backed members of the NOSB, who voted in favor of this petition, had undeclared conflicts of interest. Two of the board members work for Earthbound Farms, a giant produce distributor that also compensated Dr. Greene during 2011. A third member of the NOSB board works for General Mills which partnered with Martek, starting in 2009, on the technology to microencapsulate their DHA and ARA oils.
Adding fuel to the controversy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just announced the end of its investigation into Dean Foods’ advertising campaign for Horizon DHA supplemented milk. The FTC is forcing the dairy giant to alter claims in its advertising concerning “brain development or function, cognitive development or function, intelligence, and learning abilities in children over the age of two.” This action resulted from a complaint filed by The Cornucopia Institute based on its research of the fraudulent and misleading health claims.
Although the FDA has dismissed complaints about the safety of Martek products in infant formula, reports persist from parents and healthcare providers of infants who experience serious gastrointestinal symptoms from consuming Martek’s DHA and ARA oils in infant formula, raising serious public health questions about the marketing of these products.
The Cornucopia Institute has sent a formal briefing paper on these matters to all members of the National Organic Standards Board. “We are asking the NOSB to reopen their deliberations and consider rescinding their approval of Martek nutritional oils,” Kastel added. “If the board fails to act now, protecting the integrity of organics, it risks changing the working definition of the organic seal and degrading its value in the eyes of consumers.”