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Is Canola Oil Hazardous to Your Health?

Part 3: The Facts About Canola Oil

Having pinned down the sources of most of this, let's move on to a good representative sampling of the claims made within the text.

"Here are just a few facts everyone should know before buying anything containing canola. Canola is not the name of a natural plant but a made-up word, from the words 'Canada' and 'oil.' Canola is a genetically engineered plant developed in Canada from the Rapeseed Plant, which is part of the mustard family of plants. "

It is true that canola oil is made from the seeds of rapeseed plants, and they do belong botanically to the mustard family, but not all rapeseed plants grown for this purpose have been genetically engineered. In fact, according to D'Arce McMillan's Market Watch article on the Western Producer Website, currently only about half of them have been genetically altered, for the purpose of rendering them resistant to applications of the herbicide Roundup. The rest are plants that have been naturally hybridized through traditional methods and no more to be very low in erucic acid because of health concerns that have emerged in recent decades about the consumption of saturated fats. As you can see at the Canola Council of Canada's site, canola is the commercially available oil that contains the least of such fats. Whole Foods Market is one source of non-GE canola oil in the U.S.

"Rapeseed oil is poisonous to living things and is an excellent insect repellent. I have been using it ... to kill the aphids on my roses for the last two years ... it suffocates them."

Oils will suffocate insects. This is no reason to conclude the oils are poisonous.

"Rape oil was widely used in animal feeds in England and Europe between 1986 and 1991, when it was thrown out."

The fact of the matter is that rapeseed meal, not the oil processed from it first, has been used as animal fodder for a long time-and still is to this day, even in England and Europe. Similarly, the facts behind what the missive claims about the rise and fall of Mad Cow disease are not borne out by science. There is no known link between canola oil and Bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

"US and Canadian farmers grow genetically engineered rapeseed and manufacturers use its oil (canola) in thousands of processed foods, with the blessings of Canadian and US government watchdog agencies. The canola supporting websites say that canola is safe to use. They admit it was developed from the rapeseed, but insist that through genetic engineering it is no longer rapeseed, but 'canola' instead."

That the agencies of two governments approve the use of it just might be reason enough to celebrate canola oil. Other governments, including those of Japan and Australia, also approve. I've seen no evidence of websites trying to hide the fact that canola is made from processed rapeseed.

"... rape oil was the source of the chemical warfare agent mustard gas, which was banned after blistering the lungs and skins of hundred of thousands of soldiers and civilians during W.W.I."

This statement is patently absurd. Mustard gas was so named because of how it smells, not because any plant in the mustard family was used in its manufacture. It is stated in a similar debunking article by Dr. Carl Albrecht on the CANSA Research site, as elsewhere, that mustard gas "or Bis(2-chloroethyl)sulfide is made by treating ethylene with sulfur chloride or dihydroxyethyl sulfide with HCl gas (Merck Index). These are highly dangerous reactions and can only be done by experts."

Interestingly, later in this article Dr. Albrecht goes on to say, "After analyzing the statements of John Thomas ... as well as consulting textbooks, Medline, The Merck Index and other sources of information, I am satisfied that this attack on Canola Oil is without substance and is a travesty of the truth."

"Studies with lab animals were disastrous. Rats developed fatty degeneration of heart, kidney, adrenals, and thyroid gland. When canola oil was withdrawn from their diets, the deposits dissolved but scar tissue remained on all vital organs."

This was a disastrous circumstance indeed. Why? Because the natural diet of a rat is made up of grains, raw fruits and vegetables and is very low in fatty acids. Introduce a load of heavier fats into a critter's diet and sure all sorts of health problems might develop. Later studies demonstrated that cooking oils other than canola (specifically, sunflower seed oil) produced the same results in laboratory rats, as well as demonstrated that the digestive system of a rat is rather different from that of a human.

"Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a rare fatal degenerative disease caused by a build up long-chain fatty acids (c22 to c28) which destroys the myelin (protective sheath) of the nerves. Canola oil is a very long chain fatty acid oil (c22). Those who will defend canola oil say that the Chinese and Indians have used it for centuries with no effect, however it was in an unrefined form (taken from FATS THAT HEAL AND FATS THAT KILL by Udo Erasmus)."

Now it is just inexcusable to misquote an author this way. The book referred to was first published in 1986, and is still in print and available today in a revised 1993 edition published by Alive Books. You can read more about it at Udo Erasmus's Website. This passage from it is on page 117: "In fact, erucic acid may have some beneficial effects. In recent years, a preparation of 20% erucic and 80% oleic acids, called Lorenzo's Oil after the boy whose condition inspired its development, has been used to treat a rare, fatal degenerative genetic condition known as Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), in which a buildup of very long-chain fatty acids (C22 to C28) destroys the white matter (myelin) in the brain. Erucic acid helps to normalize the levels of these fatty acids...." Gee, and canola oil also contains some erucic acid.

Earlier on the same page it says, "In China and India, millions use high erucic acid mustard and rape seed oils (up to 40% or more erucic acid) as a staple, apparently without developing the problems that rats and governments have with these oils."

It must be understood that Mr. Erasmus is not recommending canola oil to anyone, nor any other refined and processed cooking oil. In his book he makes use of the scientific method of inquiry to evaluate all cooking oils. His favored choice is unrefined virgin olive oil.

"Rape seed oil used for stir-frying in China found to emit cancer-causing chemicals. (Rapeseed oil smoke causes lung cancer)"

According to the Newsletter of the Cooperative Extension of the University of California, four different oils were tested in the study referred to: unrefined Chinese rapeseed, refined US rapeseed (canola), Chinese soybean, and Chinese peanut. The study revealed that cooking oils heated to a high temperature release certain compounds, regular exposure to which may put one at an increased risk of cancer. The unrefined rapeseed oil fared the worst in this study, with canola coming in second, and with peanut oil rated as the safest.

"Stephanie hit her mom's arm with the back of a butter knife in a gesture, "Oh mom" not hard enough to hurt. My daughters arm split open like it was rotten."

Hmm. Pretty much just as the rest of the email text, this bit here sounds like nothing other than-an urban legend.


Peter Kohler is a writer and researcher based in Seattle, Washington


More information:

Canola Oil - Good or Bad?
By Dr. Carl Albrecht for the Cancer Association of South Africa

Blowin' in the Wind
CBC News article delineates some of the contentions between Monsanto and organic growers of rapeseed


Last updated 04/19/06


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