Olive v. Canola

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By Sally Hansley Odum

When considering the merits of canola oil vs olive oil, corn oil and vegetable oil, there are three main considerations:

  • Nutritional value
  • Taste
  • Fat Content

Canola Oil Vs Olive Oil Fat

Most health-conscious people are aware that there are several types of fats: saturated fats, trans fats, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. The first two are “bad” fats, while the last two are “good” fats. Saturated fats derive from animals while mono- and polyunsaturated fats come from plant sources. Plant-based fats, especially Omega 3 fatty acids, are actually good for you and help stabilize heart rhythms and prevent disease in the body, such as heart disease and cancer. This is well-documented in a wide array of studies. Of the plant-based cooking oils, olive oil fat and canola oil fat are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats (including Omega 3 fatty acids). They contain low amounts of saturated fats. They also contain polyphenols and polyunsaturated fats, including linolenic acid, all of which are hailed as beneficial to overall good health.¹

The Source of Olives, Canola and CornOlive v. Canola | Olive Oil Times

Taste is a matter of personal preference. Something few studies consider, however, is the source of the canola, corn and olives from which the oils are derived. It is a little known fact that more than 80 percent of all canola2 grown today derives from genetically modified (GM) plants. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 81 to 86 percent of all corn grown in the U.S.A. is from genetically engineered varieties.3 Canada and the United States are the largest producers of canola.

In contrast with GE corn and GE canola, 95 percent of the olive trees in cultivation today are situated in the Mediterranean region, and most varieties are not likely to be genetically modified. Most global production of olive oil comes from Southern Europe, North Africa and the Near East. In the United States, most olive oil imports derive from Italy, Spain and Turkey – with the most by far originating in Italy.4 In Europe, most olive oil imports derive from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Current Issues Regarding GM Foods

Another contentious issue regarding GM plants is patented seeds. In a highly publicized case, Monsanto Canada Inc. sued a Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for patent infringement when it was found that a patented GE canola variety was growing in his field without permission. The farmer maintained that pollen from patented plants was blown by the wind into his field from a nearby farmer’s field. This is only one example among many.

You cannot grow GE seeds without permission from the patent holder, and farmers who grow GE plants cannot save seeds from their crops as they’ve done since ancient times. Technology Protection System (TPS) is a genetic trick that means GM crops will not produce fertile seeds. The slang name for TPS is the Terminator System. Therefore, the seeds must be purchased anew every year and they cost more than native seeds. This places a financial burden upon farmers, especially small family famers.

When genetically modified seeds / pollen are borne on the wind into the wild (and of course, they are), it presents a likely possibility of crossing, contaminating and forever altering natural varieties, and entire ecosystems. Many argue that herbicide-resistant hybrids, which escape from a cultivated field into natural areas, become a “super weed” that takes over the landscape.5 In recent times, scientists and farmers worldwide have noted declines in pollinators of all types, especially honeybees and monarch butterflies. It is uncertain how GM plants, GM pollen and pesticides contribute to this decline. All of these issues present ethical questions for our times.

Olive v. Canola | Olive Oil TimesNatural Breeding versus Genetic Engineering

Natural breeding of plants is vastly different from genetic engineering. Natural breeding has been practiced since ancient times. It involves “crossing” or “breeding” two plants of the same kind to achieve more desirable traits in the resultant offspring. Genetic engineering involves inserting one or more genes from a secondary source that is not always a plant of the same kind; in fact, it may be a totally different species or even a bacterium.6 For example, inserting a gene to make the plant disease resistant or Roundup® / herbicide resistant (as in the case of Bt cotton or GM corn), or inserting a “yellow” gene from a flower into rice to make it have a golden color. In other words, the genetic makeup of the resultant plant and its fruit is unnaturally altered by man. Genetic engineering is not a type of natural breeding.

Effects of GM Foods Largely Unknown

There is some evidence suggesting negative effects and consequences of GM foods and GE crops.7 Since the science of genetic engineering of plants is relatively young, long-term effects on humans and the environment are largely unknown and unstudied. Efforts are currently underway in the United States and Canada demanding labeling on all food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Europe already requires mandatory labeling of products containing GM foods. GM corn and GM canola are not limited to cooking oils, of course. They may be present in everything from syrups, to canned goods, baked goods, breakfast cereals, animal feed and a vast array of other food products.

Nutritional Value

Do genetically modified seeds, hybrid varieties and / or modern “corporate” farm agricultural practices, etc. negatively affect nutritional value? Unfortunately, there is some evidence to show it may. One study published in 2004 reported a substantial decrease in six of 13 nutrients measured in 43 different crops. The authors suggest that declines are “most easily explained by changes in cultivated varieties between 1950 and 1999, in which there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content.”8

What is Canola?

There are two cultivars of rapeseed (canola): Brassica napus L. and B. campestris L. The name “canola” was coined in 1978, abbreviated for the term “Canadian oil, low acid.” In 1998, several varieties of rapeseed (or canola) were developed to be disease- and drought-resistant by the use of genetic engineering (GE). These GE varieties of canola are predominantly in production today.

Vegetable, Corn and Canola Vs Olive Oil

Although canola, corn and mixed vegetable oil may have some merit in terms of fat composition (specifically Omega 3 fatty acids, Linolenic acid and polyphenols), any potential benefit must be weighed against its most likely origin from genetically engineered plants. As mentioned previously, more than 80 percent of corn and canola in production today is genetically modified. Therefore, most corn and canola oil sold in the United States and Canada is technically a GM food, but labeling of GM foods is not required in these countries. Olive oil, which has similar or superior nutritional benefits, is unlikely to have derived from genetically modified seeds. Olive Oil sold in the United States or Canada most likely originated in Italy, and was most likely grown from natural or heirloom varieties. In the battle between vegetable, corn and canola vs olive oil, it appears olive oil has an additional advantage: its natural source.

References:

¹Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good,” Harvard School of Public Health http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-full-story/index.html

²U.S.D.A.gov: Biotech Crops

³Canola Council GMO Facts

4G. Steven Sibbett, Louise Ferguson, Joann L Coviello, Margaret Lindstrand (2005). Olive Production Manual. ANR Publications. p. 158.

5GE Canola Super Weeds Spread Across Canada

6Classical Versus Transgenic Breeding,” Teachers Domain

7Seeds of Deception.Com – Smith, Jeffrey M. Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. (Yes! Books/Chelsea Green Publishing.)

8Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999


This article was last updated April 5, 2010 - 8:14 PM (GMT-5)

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  • Rudy NZ

    Very informative. Finally an answer to my question. Thanks, I’ll take the olive oil.