Proud to eat GM, or, non-GM

December 2016

Major food and feed-ingredient supplier, Bunge, is "excited" about its newest products.

These "new" offerings consist of verified non-GM corn ingredients and oils, plus ancient grains, rice, gluten-free breadings and puffed snacks. What's exciting is that Bunge is able to offer its major customers non-GM ingredients on a scale that allows them to grow their key non-GM brands with confidence.

What stimulated this exciting move was the market research suggesting:
"40 percent of consumers are actively managing (avoiding/minimising) consumption of GM foods in their daily diet". 
The market trend is towards clean labels, natural and minimally processed.

US customers are walking away from the country's iconic ever-more-artificial food brands[1]. They're even turning their backs on sugar if it's GM. In February 2016, the US Department of Agriculture publicly admitted concern that the GM-free trend was causing a national sugar supply issue.

However, there seems to be a subset of the population whose 'active management' of GM foods means eat as much GM as possible, and in a form as processed as possible with as long a list of ingredients as possible. These customers seek 'food' intelligently designed by corporate scientists at the frontiers of food technology.

Enter 'Soylent', engineered to provide all the nutrients a body needs to be healthy. Convenient, affordable, recipe-free 'meals' tailored to match your lifestyle.

The 'tailored' part means Soylent drink in a bottle, Soylent drink powder and, if these sound too much like infant formulae, there's also 'Soylent Coffiest' for adults with a caffeine and green tea habit.

For customers with teeth, Soylent Bars were introduced in August 2016.

Soylent products have been through several re-formulations during the few years of their existence and their ingredients lists are uncertain, but you can't miss the fact that they are "proudly made with GMOs".

The drinks, for example, have protein extracted from GM soya and oils extracted from GM algae or GM canola, plus 'isomaltose' synthetic sugar made from GM beet and, curiously, the artificial sweetener sucralose. Many of the added micronutrients, such as vitamin C from maize, could come from GM sources. Coffiest also has coffee in it, and 'threanine', an uncommon non-essential protein-component of green-tea known for its relaxing properties. The Bars seem to have oats (not GM, but likely to be at least as contaminated by glyphosate herbicide as the GM glyphosate-resistant soya and beet are) and GM algal flour from a strain of algae we are assured "does not produce toxins", plus much the same other ingredients as are in the drinks.

Within weeks of their launch, Soylent bars become "currently unavailable" due to customer reports of sickness, diarrhoea, and light-headedness after eating them. The manufacturers have ruled out microbial contamination as a cause, and have focused on the sucralose content as this chemical is known to be harmful to 'good' bugs in the gut. They say that complaints represent about 0.03 percent of the Bars sold.


Soylent has a lot of very keen followers proud to eat GM. The manufacturers have, of course, resorted to all the same pro-GM propaganda we've seen trotted out for decades. This includes the usual insults that anti-GM denotes ignorance of science and the 'modern' food system. Presumably, Soylent-drinkers are proud not to be among the old-fashioned non-GM-consuming ignoramuses who waste their lives preparing food.

The GM-derived or -associated content of the Bars is not under suspicion of causing the digestive distress. However, like sucralose, glyphosate kills 'good' bugs in the digestive tract, and the two might be working synergistically to promote sickness and diarrhoea [2]. Followers of the GM issue will, no doubt also be aware of Farmer Pedersen's pigs which suffered excessive diarrhoea until their GM feed was replaced with non-GM [3].

Algae, even those strains chosen because they're harmless in their natural form, clearly have the potential to produce toxins: who knows what the disturbed physiology of a GM algal strain might produce?

That the complaints represent only 0.03 percent of Bars sold isn't too reassuring. A few Soylent fanatics denied any problem, but we can be certain that for every person who complained, there were 100 who didn't bother, and for every consumer able to identify the Soylent Bar as a cause for their health issues, there were many who didn't make the connection.

Unlike livestock, it's unusual for humans to have a diet restricted to a single, processed, high-GM content food. This reduces the possibility of a health problem being tracked back to the GM product. It also means chronic harm inflicted on whole populations eating GM will never be identified. It's especially concerning, therefore, that Soylent artificial meals have been so quickly linked to harm.

Think twice about eating man-made high-tech 'food' replacements: they haven't been tested. Bunge's exciting idea seems a far safer bet.


[1] US FOOD TRENTS GOING INTO 2016 - February 2016

  • Bunge to Unveil Non-GMO Project Verified Milled Corn Ingredients and Oils at IFT16,, 15.07.16
  • Chris Prentice, U.S. mulls options as sugar refiners face supply crunch, Reuters, 23.02.16
  • Soylent,
  • Proudly Made with GMOs,
  • Alan Yuhas, People made sick by Soylent bars report 'gelatinous substance' on wrapper, Guardian, 13.10.16
  • Nicole Nguyen, Soylent food bars made some people throw up, BuzzFeed News, 7.10.16
  • Susan S. Schiffman and Kristina I. Rother, 2013, Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 16
Photo: Creative Commons

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