Until recently, GMOs was an unfamiliar acronym to most Americans. Genetically modified and genetically engineered were scientific terms that seemed to belong in a laboratory, not a supermarket, kitchen, or pastoral farming locale. Our farms, we thought, were a place where Mother Nature held absolute dominion.
Well, enter the 21st century, folks. Many farms may as well be laboratories these days, with each hole dug in the ground akin to a test tube, as the seeds that are planted are not always natural, as forged by nature; often they've been tampered with to conform to mans’ will.
For the American people (yes, specifically, the American people) to be kept unaware of what their food is comprised of - in these days of local, organic and sustainable sensibilities - is a serious travesty. Beyond that, it’s just plain dishonest.
My first article, 5 Things You Need To Know About GMOs Right Now (1), was a primer for anyone seeking to know the basic facts about GMOs. Things were moving at a slow rumble until 2012, and I was trying to inform people so they’d be in the know when the hoopla started to get louder. And get louder it did.
This article picks up where that one left off, covering the vast amount of activity which has transpired across the country in the past few months, both in town halls and town squares. I can assure you that when you read this information you’ll be concerned and outraged enough to want to take control over the food you eat, once again. How can you turn away now?
1 - How do you know the difference between a food that’s genetically modified and a food that isn’t?
That’s the problem, and the point! Over 90% of American’s polled - across party lines, and all demographics - want to know what’s in their food! But if the food isn't labeled you aren't able to tell the difference. Labeling tells us about other ingredients: trans-fats, cholesterol, additives and nutrients; but no matter how hard we battle we can't seem to get the FDA to require mandatory labeling on GM and GE foods.
GMO foods may look the same and taste the same, but they aren't the same at all.
Foods that have been genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) have had the DNA of their seeds tampered with in a laboratory. This is done for a variety of reasons, but it’s usually to provide protection from insects and/or herbicides (weedkillers) that are sprayed en-mass over the crops. It’s a complicated biotechnical procedure, not always involving the same species. For example, a strawberry seed might be genetically engineered with an arctic fish gene so that the fruit, once grown, will be more resistant to frost. You get the picture.
Soybeans are one of the crops most often genetically modified. "I’m not a vegetarian. What does that have to do with me," you ask?
75-80% of processed foods contain GMOs - such as soy - and approximately 90% of the soybean crop in this country is genetically modified.
Without our even knowing it, genetically engineered foods have become part of the American diet.
Here is a list of other common GM and GE foods:
orn (this includes corn by-products, such as corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup), canola (rapeseed, canola oil), sugar beets (that means anything made with non-organic sugar, folks), rice, cotton (as in cottonseed oil which finds its way into margarine and vegetable oils), dairy products from cows who have been fed GM grains and /or hay as well as given BGH, papaya, farm raised salmon
If just the idea of this doesn't bother you, read on.
2. What are the dangers of GM and GE foods?
Would you eat insecticides?
When an exterminator comes to spray, most people open their windows or go outside for awhile so as not to inhale the fumes; they even express concern for their pets. The organic market is burgeoning in this country due to the fact that consumers no longer want to eat foods that have been sprayed with harmful toxins. Yet consider this disturbing fact:
According to a new report by Earth Open Source, “Many GM crops are engineered to produce Bt toxin, a type of insecticide...(and)...the plant is engineered to express the Bt toxin protein in active form in every cell. In other words, the plant itself becomes a pesticide, and people and animals that eat the plant are eating a pesticide.”(2)
Have you wondered about the increase in food allergies?
According to renowned GMO author Jeffrey M. Smith: "Scientists have long known that GM crops might cause allergies. But there are no tests to prove in advance that a GM crop is safe. That’s because people aren’t usually allergic to a food until they have eaten it several times"(3) Indeed, researchers found that allergic reactions to soy had skyrocketed by 50% after genetically modified soy had entered the UK from the US.(4)
Were you aware that some GM and GE foods have diminished nutritional value?
In addition to the ingestion of toxins and emergence of allergies, there is the issue of equal amounts of nutrients in GMO crops. The scant testing that's been done, most of it in Europe, has been on the comparative levels of fat, protein and carbohydrates between GMO and non-GMO crops. This fails to indicate whether or not the micro-nutrients we also need are equally present in a GMO food. For example, “GM soy had 12–14% lower amounts of cancer-fighting isoflavones than non-GM soy."(5) and "Canola (oilseed rape) engineered to contain vitamin A in its oil had much reduced vitamin E and an altered oil-fat composition, compared with non-GM canola."(6)
Other findings indicate that glyphosate (the herbicide) "binds vital nutrients such as iron, manganese, zinc, and boron in the soil, preventing plants from taking them up.”(7)
3. Aren’t GMOs bad for wildlife and the environment as well?
They are! And sometimes those stories the ones that capture people's attention the most. Recently in the news have been stories about Monarch butterflies, the honeybee colony collapse and superweeds, all linked to GMOs.
The monarch butterfly population has diminished over the past decade by a staggering 81%. This coincides with a 58% decline of the milkweed plant in the U.S. Midwest, where their larvae have been known to feed. According to researchers, “Taken together, these results strongly suggest that a loss of agricultural milkweeds is a major contributor to the decline in the monarch population.” Furthermore, “Given the established dominance of glyphosate-tolerant crop plants (GMOs) and widespread use of glyphosate herbicide, the virtual disappearance of milk-weeds from agricultural fields is inevitable. Thus, the resource base for monarchs in the Midwest will be permanently reduced.”(8)
In the past 5 years the honeybee population has mysteriously been dying off in what has been referred to as CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder, with over 30% colony loss reported each year since 2006.(9) GMO maize planted in the U.S. -- virtually all maize seed is now GMO -- is coated with a compound which is highly toxic to the honeybee. This compound..."was found on all the dead and dying bees we sampled, while the apparently healthy bees we sampled from the same locations did not contain detectable levels..."(10)
Plants are genetically engineered to withstand herbicide spraying so that all the weeds around it can be killed and the plant itself won’t be harmed. But Mother Nature is resilient, and you may recently have heard the word “superweed” in the news. Superweeds are a relatively new weed cropping up (no pun intended) that seem to be withstanding mass spraying of herbicides. This encourages the use of stronger chemicals and toxins, and the cycle gets ever more vicious. "Over half of US states are now plagued by agrochemically-induced superweeds...(and)...Insects have also developed resistance."(11)
These are just a few examples of the way the environment and wildlife can be affected by GMOs. The toxins are also harmful to water and soil. People care about the environment, and that’s just another reason to care about GMOs.
But your health should be the first.
4. Then why aren’t GM and GE foods labeled in this country?
Concerned citizens all over America -- millions of them, in fact -- have been trying to get labeling laws passed. It’s been an uphill battle. Back in March, 2012, when I wrote “5 Things About GMOs,” the farmers of New York had just sued Monsanto, however, their case was dismissed. Since then GMOs have seen quite a few more courtrooms. Let’s do a quick review:
Vermont, April, 2012 - Despite the fact that 96% of Vermonters supported bill H.722, also known as the Vermont Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, the bill was stalled in the legislature and died. Why? There were reports that Monsanto threatened to sue the state if it should pass.
Connecticut, May, 2012 - HB5117, the Genetically Engineered Food’s Bill, was reworded at the last minute to exclude the labeling provision. Why? Reportedly, fears of a lawsuit by the biotech industry. The bill, in effect, became meaningless.
Alaska is the only state to have any type of law governing genetically engineered food. Senate bill 25, approved unanimously by the House and Senate states that all genetically engineered fish will be "conspicuously labeled to identify the fish or fish product as a genetically modified fish or fish product," whether packaged or unpackaged. The law is intended to protect the state’s fishing industry.
"While the FDA has yet to approve a genetically engineered fish, Alaska is not taking any chances. The law was prompted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s consideration of an application from an aquaculture company to sell genetically-modified, growth enhanced salmon. And the Center for Food Safety estimates that thirty-five species of genetically modified fish are being developed around the world."(12) Thirty-five!
Notice how salmon keeps popping up? The public should pay heed because things are happening quietly with America's most widely consumed fish, and things are happening now. GE salmon is a farm-raised salmon crossed with an ocean eelpout (what’s that ?) to make it grow bigger, faster. Is an eelpout something you would ever order off a menu? Well, you very well may be eating it unknowingly in the near future.
Since the Senate rejected more study on the salmon earlier this year, a number of consumer groups have submitted a formal petition to the FDA for more testing. This is due to the fact that the study conducted by the company developing the GE salmon showed that it ""may contain increased levels of...a hormone that helps accelerate the growth of the transgenic* fish...and is linked to breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer." The groups warn that the potential health risks of GE salmon are no different from a number of food additives the FDA has banned in the past, including those that are cancer causing."(13) (* genetically engineered)
However, there could be a game-changer in the very near future: Prop 37.
In the California general election on November 6th, the legislative process is being bypassed by a voter referendum. Known as the "California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," this proposed law would impose labeling requirements on food and beverage products sold in that state.
Since California is the largest economy in the country (actually, it’s the eight largest in the world) what happens there would most likely change things for all the other states. Manufacturers would have to change their labeling practices, and possibly their ingredients (if that were easier and less costly) just like they did in Europe.
"89% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats want genetically altered foods to be labeled, as they already are in 40 nations in Europe, in Brazil, and even in China."(14) According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, GMOs are now present in 75 to 80 percent of conventional processed food in the U.S. (15)
Meanwhile, across the pond...
This year marks the 7th annual GMO-Free Europe Conference.
Wouldn't it be great if we were GMO-Free here in the U.S.?
By European law, food products containing more than .9% of a GM or GE ingredient must be labeled as containing GMOs. As a result of this mandate, American companies that market their foods to European countries sometimes simply eliminate the GMOs from the product altogether.
Why wouldn't they just satisfy the American public and do the same thing here in their own country?
5. Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?
Well, you have some options and ignoring the facts shouldn't be one of them.
1) Is changing your buying habits enough for you? That’s fine! You’re taking control of your health and the future well-being of your family. Not only that, you’ll be making a statement with your money; something that’s carefully noted by the people who chart these things. Here are a few rules of thumb:
- - Some food manufacturers willingly label their products “Non-GMO,” so support proactively labeled food!
- - Any food that is 100% Certified Organic is also non-GMO.
- - 100% Grass-fed beef (as well as other meats that are solely grass-fed) are your best choices. (Meat that is grain-fed or grain-finished will generally consume GMOs in their feed. Check the label!)
2) Do you want to delve deeper into the research so that you can understand more?
- - Jeffrey M. Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, has written the two definitive books on the topic of GMOs: Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. Check them out!
- - A recently released study, GMO Myths and Truths, is comprehensive and easy to understand. It is available for download here.
3) Want to do even more? Well, there’s a lot to be done: public education is the key and grass roots organizations are what’s fueling this whole movement. Find out what’s happening in your state. It might be as easy as signing a petition, or informing others about the issue. You can also get in touch with your state representatives to make your views known.
Now that you know the facts, how can you close your eyes?
Congratulations on being informed. Support the Non-GMO and Right to Know movements! Now go and spread the word!
1 - Jacobson, Michele 5 Things You Need To Know About GMOs Right Now , http://www.nutritionprescription.biz/gmos.html March 2012
2 - Antoniou, M., Robinson, C. and Fagan, J. GMO Myths and Truths. June 2012. earthopensource. http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3.pdf
3 - Smith, Jeffrey, M. Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies. http://220.127.116.11/articles/environmental-health/genetically-engineered-foods-may-cause-rising-food-allergies.html. May 2007
4 - ibid.
5 - Lappé M, Bailey B, Childress C, Setchell KDR. Alterations in clinically important phytoestrogens in genetically modified herbicide-tolerant soybean. Journal of Medicinal Food. 1999; 1: 241–245.
6 - Shewmaker C, Sheehy JA, Daley M, Colburn S, Ke DY. Seed-specific overexpression of phytoene synthase: Increase in carotenoids and other metabolic effects. Plant J. 1999; 20(4): 401–412X.
7 - Neumann G, Kohls S, Landsberg E, Stock-Oliveira Souza K, Yamada T, Romheld V. Relevance of glyphosate transfer to non- target plants via the rhizosphere. Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection. 2006; 20: 963–969
8 - Pleasants, John M. and Oberhauser, Karen S. Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity (2012) doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4598.2012.00196.x
9 - http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2011/110523.htm
10- Krupke, Christian H., Hunt, Greg J., Eitzer, Brian D., Andino, Gladys, Given, Krispn. Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029268 . (2012)
11 & graphic - http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/06/07/u2-bono-celeb-partners-with-monsanto-g8-to-biowreck-african-farms-with-gmos/
12 - http://www.ilsr.org/rule/genetically-modified-organisms/2033-2/
15 - http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/studies-show-gmos-in-majority-of-us-processed-foods-58-percent-of-americans-unaware-of-issue-
PROP 37--WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
Kathey Piedl, Hungry Hollow Co-op
This November, voters in California will be able to decide if they want mandatory labeling of food products containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms) by voting Yes on Proposition 37. So why should you care about legislation in California?
In poll after poll, Americans have expressed overwhelming support for labeling of GMO foods. 90% or more support labeling (figures consistent across party lines—a rarity these days).. Over 40 countries around the world require such labeling, including Russia, Brazil, Japan, and China. But here in the US, where 80% of these crops are grown, the eating public’s right to know is superseded by corporate control of our government. Officials pass through revolving doors between government positions and corporate roles; for example, Michael Taylor, Clarence Thomas, and Islam Siddiqui all have ties to Monsanto. Is it any wonder that despite research from their own scientists to the contrary, the FDA has turned a blind eye to these dangerous engineered products? Despite over 1 million comments in support of a petition to the FDA asking for labeling of GMOs—the most comments on a food petition in the FDA’s history--the FDA appears to have forsworn its duty to protect American citizens.
Generations of Americans have bought into Big Food’s claims regarding nutrition. Fast food, fortified foods, Franken foods. Most of us have little idea of what we’re actually eating, even if we read the labels. So why is the food manufacturing industry so opposed to the labeling of GMOs?
“If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it,”
said Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co. (a Monsanto subsidiary). Really? In a country where people think Lucky Charms brings something to a healthy breakfast, and people consider buckets of soda an inalienable right? Are they that afraid of an informed public?
In the wake of the Bovine Growth Hormone controversy, Vermont became the first state, in 1994, to require labeling of milk and dairy products from cows injected with the genetically engineered hormone. However, Monsanto sued in Federal Court, and won—the judge decided in favor of dairy corporations, allowing them their “right” to remain silent on what was in their milk. Earlier this year, the Vermont legislature stalled on a bill requiring mandatory labels on GM foods, a bill that had overwhelming public support as well as the support of their Agriculture Committee. The legislators backed down because of corporate intimidation: Monsanto threatened to sue Vermont if the bill was passed. Monsanto is not known as the “Biotech Bully” for nothing.
Which brings us to the significance of Prop 37. 971,126 signatures (twice the amount required) were collected to place the citizens’ initiative on the ballot. If it passes in November, the 2012 California Right to Know Act will not only require mandatory labeling of GMOs, it will also ban the practice of labeling these foods as “natural”.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said that defeating this initiative “is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.” Who is the GMA? If the very idea of “grocery manufacturing” doesn’t say it all, consider this: its membership is representative of the largest food “manufacturers” in America, many of which are multi-national corporations. Its members include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, ConAgra, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Hershey and Cargill, as well as Monsanto. (Do you know that many organic brands are owned by these giants?) The GMA has already donated $375,000, on behalf of its members, to fight Prop 37. Many of those members have donated directly, too. Pesticide and processed food companies have spent $25 million on their efforts to mislead and confuse Californians regarding Prop 37. They will try to use our faith in so-called experts and the media to their advantage. Because if labeling becomes mandatory in California, it’s highly unlikely that manufacturers will maintain unlabeled packaging for the other states. Labeling for California, labeling for all. And the beginning of the end for GMOs. .
The people’s initiative needs support in the face of all the money that the opposition is throwing in. If you‘d like to contribute to the Right to Know Campaign, or for more information, go to their website: http://www.carighttoknow.org/.