I recently saw a photo of a little girl holding a sign protesting the presence of GMO’s in her food supply. It said “I am not a science experiment.” The next thought I had was, “well, unless we totally feed ourselves from what we grow and raise at our own homes, Americans are pretty much ALL “science experiments” in one way or another. Unless, of course, they are blessed with the option, as we are here in Olympia, of being able to do most of their grocery shopping at a farmer’s market, a food co-op or other organic food outlet.
The concerns about GMO’s have been with us some 15 years, but like the subject of global warming, they have been purposefully swept under the media rugs of most Americans. Yet Californians, with their Prop 37, shook that rug recently by working to get their food properly labeled. They lost by a narrow margin (receiving 48.6% of the vote) to the multinational forces that receive huge financial benefit from keeping information about GMO’s hidden from public awareness. But now Washingtonians are joining the growing movement to make public the awareness of this hidden menace and to protect the health of us all. More on that below.
So what are GMO’s? Here’s what we know about them:
• Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are plants or animals created through the process of genetic engineering, an experimental technology that forces DNA from one species into the DNA of another. The resulting GMO’s are unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or through traditional breeding, and have never before been in our food supply.
• Since 1996, Americans have been eating GMO ingredients in most processed foods.
• The first GMO crops were corn, soybeans and cotton, which were engineered to control the growth of weeds and resist insects.
• The majority of genetically modified ingredients in our food supply (unless certified organic) are derived from GMO corn, soy, canola and sugar beets.
• Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, and yellow crookneck squash may also be genetically modified.
• High-risk animal products (due to contamination of feed) are milk, meat, eggs, and honey.
• Common ingredients in much of America’s food supply, derived from GMO crops, are amino acids, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin C, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial,” high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins’ molasses, MSG, sucrose, TVP, xanthan gum, vitamins and yeast products.
• Recent studies indicate a connection between food allergies and GMO’s.
• Although the FDA, for political reasons, claims GMO’s are safe to eat, “FDA scientists have repeatedly warned that GM foods can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems.” (Institute for Responsible Technology)
• The USDA Certified Organic label ensures that the product is 95% organic(Organic Standards allows 5% to get by.)
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that that the USDA Certified Organic label ensures that the product is 95% free of GMO’s. Actually the label only accounts for the oraganic nature of the product. The USDA Organic Standards allow for NO GMO’s to get by. This means that they stand behind the guarantee that when you purchase anything with a USDA Organic label, you are getting a product totally free of GMO’s.)
What do we NOT KNOW about them?
• Because most testing so far is questionable, much of it having been done by agribusiness representatives, the long-term impacts of GMO’s on our health and the environment are still unknown.
• Without a labeling protocol, it is nearly impossible for consumers or retailers to know whether or not a product contains GMO’s (unless that product is certified organic or third-party verified as non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project).
• Due to lack of governmental transparency on this issue, particularly when dealing with multinational corporations, it is often difficult to determine what exactly IS the truth.
What problems have they created so far?
• Health problems are just beginning to unfold. “Unlike safety evaluations for drugs, there are no human clinical trials for GM foods.” However, in 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated that, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, ” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” (Institute for Responsible Technology)
• The use of GMO’s concentrates control of seed production and economic power in the hands of a few multinational corporations. Some seeds are developed with their own pesticides and herbicides genetically embedded. *
• This concentration of seed production in the hands of a few also limits seed availability to large farms and corporations that can afford it, thus threatening further viability of small independent farms. *
• Because of cross-pollination, many good hybrid and heirloom varieties of crops and their seeds may be contaminated and lost forever. GMO pollen can drift for many miles, contaminating organic crops. This has already happened in the case of corn. *
• The seed supply of subsistence farmers throughout the world is threatened by this cross-pollination. *
• An undue burden is being placed on organic farmers and producers to seek out non-GMO sources and maintain their purity. *
*(From www.olympiafood.coop GMO Statement from Product Info/Consumer Alerts)
Did you know that almost 50 countries around the world, including ALL the EU nations, have significant restrictions and bans on the production and sale of GMO’s?
Who supports the use of GMO’s?
The following is a list from Organic Consumers Association of parent corporations who donated millions to defeat California Prop 37, and their organic subsidiaries:
• Monsanto– (largest contributor at over $8M)
• Con-Agra–Alexia, Hunt’s Organic and Natural Brands, Lightlife, Orville Redenbacher’s Organic (Donated $1.2M)
• Kellogg’s–Bear Naked, Gardenburger, Kashi, Morningstar Farms (Donated $791k)
• Unilever–Ben & Jerry’s (Donated $467k)
• Kraft–Boca Burgers (Donated $2M)
• General Mills–Cascadian Farm, Larabar, Muir Glen (Donated $1.2M)
• Hershey’s–Dagoba (Donated $519k)
• Coca-Cola–Honest Tea, Odwalla (Donated $1.7M)
• Dean Foods–Horizon Organic, Silk, White Wave (Donated $254k)
• PepsiCo–Naked Juice, Tropicana Organic (Donated $2.5M)
• Safeway–“O” Organics (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Assn., which donated $2M)
• Smucker’s–R.W. Knudsen (Donated $555k)
• PepsiCo-Frito Lay–Tostito’s Organic (See PepsiCo above)
• Abbott Nutrition-Similac (Donated $$334k)
• Rich Products-French Meadow Bakery (Donated $225k)
• Total donated to defeat Prop 37: $46 Million
• Total donated by Organic Heros in support of Prop 37: $9 Million
• For a complete list of all the companies that helped defeat Prop 37, and their brands visit: www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_26638.cfm
Information provided by the Organic Consumer’s Assn. (OCA) and the Organic Consumers Fund, which donated more than $1.4M to support Prop 37 and your Right to Know about GMO’s.
What companies supported California Prop 37 and the Right To Know?
Amy’s, Annies, Applegate, Clif, Dr. Bronners, Earth Balance, Eden, Frontier, Hain Celestial, Lundberg, Nature’s Path, Pacific, Organic Valley, Udi’s
And many other companies that are integral in their stance for good organic standards.
What is the Olympia Food Cooperative doing about it?
First, a little history. Since the mid-90’s, Olympia Food Co-op has been actively working to insure that food products carried on their shelves will be as GMO-free as possible. They recognized then that any food not certified organic was suspect. A GMO Statement was created at that time, listing the known problems (see “Problems” above), and announcing support of a ban on the use of GMO’s in food production. They offered support for companies and farmers who refused to use GMO products and stated their commitment to membership education, support of a national labeling law (remember, this in the mid-90’s), and a “global moratorium on growing crops from genetically modified seed until this experiment has been proven safe for the environment and people”…safe not just for Co-op members, but for all people. (www.olympiafood.coop)
Working to uphold the objectives of the Co-op, they issued the following statement, which stands true today, even as transparency in the organic food industry–with agribusiness and multinational corporations moving into the organic arena of food production–becomes opaque:
“In order to provide inexpensive “healthy” food to our members, especially our large vegetarian community, we cannot discontinue all products that we suspect contain GMO’s. However, we will do whatever we can to maximize non-GMO choices.” This statement, remember, came from Olympia Food Co-op some 15 years ago.
So what is the Co-op NOW doing about the GMO issue?
• The Co-op is a member of National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), which works with many organizations on behalf of all food co-ops to fight the deregulation of GMO’s at the regulatory and legal level. NCGA is a founding member of the National Organic Coalition and partner in the Just Label It campaign, which calls for mandatory labeling of GMO’s.
• The Co-op payed a $100 per store fee and signed on as a supporting retailer with the Non-GMO Project, participating in October, 2012 in NON-GMO Month, a platform created to raise awareness of the GMO issue, involving 1,200+ retailers and engaging consumers across North America. The Co-op will continue to support this program.
• The Merchandizing Coordination Action Team (MCAT), composed of Co-op staff members, is assigned with the task of product selection and merchandising policies for the Co-op, including potential product boycotts.
• MCAT is currently working diligently to nail down the truth about what role the organic subsidiary companies had in the defeat of Prop 37 in California by calling them to question their financial participation in its defeat. At the time of this writing, this process has left them with many discrepancies and unanswered questions.
• As part of their mission, MCAT is creating shelf tags that will indicate what products are on the Non-GMO Project’s verified GMO-free list, providing shoppers with the educational resources needed to make their own purchase decisions.
• MCAT strives to meet the memberships’ needs when it comes to product selection. This requires careful balancing of all the components of product selection guidelines and guiding Mission Statement principles.
What can YOU do about it?
• Spend your food dollars on healthy non-GMO brands.
• Check out the Non-GMO Project—www.nongmoproject.org. Follow them on FaceBook and Twitter.
• While there, click on Verified Products then browse by category/brand/name for products verified free of GMO’s– then support them.
• Download the Non-GMO Shopping Guide at: http://nongmoshoppingguide.com/download.html
• If you are a Co-op shopper, look for shelf tags indicating Verified Non-GMO products.
• Work with activists in Washington State to help pass I-522, a November 2013 ballot and legislative initiative to require mandatory labeling of GMO’s. They need our help!
• Call or write to companies who have contributed to the downfall of Prop 37.
• Support companies who offered support to Prop 37 (Go to cornucopia.org Search for Organic Heroes).
• Contact your legislators and add your voice to the campaign to label GMO foods.
• Visit the Just Label It website at www.justlabelit.org to learn more
• Since there is still so little transparency in the food industry in the United States, the best way to know that hopefully what you are eating is not composed of Frankengenes is to grow your own, or buy organic and hold cooking parties to make your own…applesauce, breads, spaghetti sauces, tofu, tortillas, juices…well, you get the picture!
• Processed foods are likely to contain some form of GMO’s, so stay away from them!
What is our state doing about it?
Now some 15 years later, Washington, in picking up the banner from California, may well become the first state in the nation to pass Non-GMO legislation. Olympia Food Co-op has been a key player all along in leading the way.
“I-522, “The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” is simple. The initiative would require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if the ingredients are produced through genetic engineering. An estimated 70% of non-organic processed foods contain some–or several–GE ingredients.
I-522 will not raise costs to consumers or food producers. It would simply add more information to food labels, which manufacturers change routinely anyway, all the time.
I-522 does not impose any significant cost on our state. It does not require the state to conduct label surveillance, or to initiate or pursue enforcement. The state may choose to do so, as a policy choice, but I-522 was written to avoid raising costs to the state or consumers.” (Statement from the Non-GMO Project www.nongmoproject.org)
If you are not already a member of the Olympia Food Co-op, but are concerned about the quality of your food–where and how it is produced–please consider becoming a member! Check out their website to see the extent to which the Co-op embraces all of the values of sustainable living at www.olympiafood.coop.
This article was originally published in the Olympia Co-Op Newsletter