Insights by Goldie
Canola oil: panacea or poison?

Sound Consumer | April 2001

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

I've received an extraordinary number of inquiries recently regarding the safety of canola oil. These invariably have been generated by a flood of forwarded "chain letter" emails, regarding canola's supposed dangers. The claims and charges are "wild" in nature for the most part and, from what I've been able to tell so far, are totally unfounded.

Some of the concerns stem from "little bits of truthful information," while other charges are especially bizarre in nature with no apparent connection to reality. For instance, erucic acid, naturally occurring in quite high percentages in non-hybrid rape (the plant from which canola was developed), was believed to be especially harmful to humans. In fact, for many years the rape plant was not grown in this country. Then Canada successfully hybridized the plant (straight hybridization, not genetically engineered [GE]) to be very low in erucic acid. The hybrid plant was renamed canola (for Canada), and is technically known as Low Erucic Acid Rape, or LEAR. Now, more recent studies (which seem to be widely accepted) have shown that even the erucic acid at the original high levels was likely not a hazard to health as formerly believed.

In the past few years, some forms of canola have now been further altered using genetic manipulation. I agree with consumers who choose to avoid the GE canola. Unfortunately, the FDA so far refuses to require labeling of GE foods. Until this changes or legislation can be passed to mandate labeling, consumers must fend for themselves! All certified organic food, including organic canola, strictly prohibits use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Unfortunately, studies have shown that cross pollination is possible, even likely, between conventional canola and GM canola crops. Traces of GMOs can contaminate organic fields. Spectrum Naturals, provider of both organic and conventional canola (on our shelves and used in many products), tests ALL canola before it is fully processed to assure there's no trace of genetically modified substances. These genetic tests can be done only before pressing of the oil; fully pressed oil doesn't indicate whether the genetically modified DNA is present. All Spectrum Natural canola, organic or conventional, is guaranteed by the company to be 100 percent non-GMO canola.

Other fears raised about canola, in the category of "unbelievable," have involved charges that it "causes the immune system to go to sleep" and that the "rape is a member of the mustard family, the source of mustard gas used in WWI as a toxic chemical agent against humans." There's no association correlating canola use with depressed immunity.

Furthermore, the mustard family of plants has no association with the dreadful neurotoxin used in warfare, which, due to its apparent odor, was dubbed "mustard gas." There is also not a scintilla of evidence that canola has any relationship to the development of various plagues and diseases attributed to it, from Mad Cow disease to Alzheimer's disease. Yet the charges and fears do continue to circulate, mostly via the Internet and email.

I strongly recommend consumers consult a website on this and other persistent rumors: http://urbanlegends.about.com — click on "food and drink."

I also find detailed and seemingly sound, reliable information at: www.canola-council.org/thetruth.htm.

One industry-sponsored site from Canada is very informative for those who seek an especially detailed chemistry lesson about canola. See http://www.canolainfo.org.

You can communicate with Spectrum Naturals by email at spectrumnaturals@netdex.com, or telephone 707-778-8900, or write attn: Cathy, 1304 South Point Blvd., Suite 280, Petaluma, CA 94952. Spectrum has amassed a great deal of information in trying to track down the source of the canola scare stories and is happy to communicate with customers.

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