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Food Fight

Not too many things rile me up, but the food fight between Agribiz and the Raw-and-Organics underway here in America and around the world has got my dander up. We need to get the issues out in the open and start discussing them honestly. As long as Agribiz keeps hiding the truth, we need to be ever vigilant, and share our discoveries. We need to be gathering facts and preparing ourselves to fight Agribiz and its governmental enablers whenever they erode health in the interests of profit. For me, the genetic engineering of what's on my plate, and the plates of my neighbors and friends, is the most important issue going. Don't we have the inalienable right to know what we're putting in our mouths?

The issues surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are increasingly dominating our food supply. The Organic Consumers Association, the Non-GMO project, and a host of others are out there shaking things up on our behalf, and deserve our attention and help. At the end of this article I'll share some of those resources with you and I mean to give you encouragement to take a meaningful part in this food fight. It's very serious and it involves all of us !

Over the past few years I have been following GMOs from the sidelines, wondering what is truly going on and how I can help myself and those around me. My decision to include more whole plant based foods and avoiding packaged products is very much influenced by the increasingly corrosive role Agribiz and GMOs are playing in our food drama. This helps me make the intentional choice to limit the amount of possibly genetically engineered (GE) products in any packaged products I might choose.

The process of creating a GMO, (genetically modified organism) is complex in its scientific terms. Simply stated, technicians take genetic material from one organism -- better protein production, more efficient water utilization, resistance to freezing or to pesticides, attach it to a virus or bacteria (which makes it easy to penetrate cell walls) and inject it into a commercial organisms like corn, soybeans, alfalfa, papaya, salmon, or tomatoes. This alteration of the DNA of that organism creates a new organism, a sort of Frankenfood with wholly new, unintended, and potentially dangerous traits.

Remember the Flavr Savr tomato? Not many of us do. In 1992 this genetically engineered product appeared, for a short time, in the produce bins -- the first commercially grown genetically engineered product granted a license for human consumption. They tasted bland, and consumers wouldn't buy them. The Flavr Savr project failed miserably, so the big corporation and their technicians went back to the laboratories to develop something else. This company was ultimately taken over by Monsanto, famously one of the most aggressive and uncaring of the GE mega-corps. Since that time, corporations have been working behind the curtain of proprietary trade secrets to come up with the next best thing for GE (genetically engineered) production . . .and have been succeeding one crop at a time. Several crops have been approved for production here in the US -- but, significantly, not in Europe. The first GMO Salmon is set for release if Agribiz has its way.

Without our really noticing, the proportion of GMOs estimated to be in our food chain are staggering. Yesterday I received an email from the makers of Fresh, the Movie claiming that fully three quarters of the products in our megamarts contain GMOs. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, calculates that 93% of all soy and cotton, 86% of corn (a dominant ingredient in many packaged foods), and 85% of canola come from genetically engineered crops. Most US sugar is 60% GMO -- unless it says 'pure cane sugar' on the label, it is most likely sugar from GE sugar beets. Smith also includes Hawaiian papayas, a small percentages of zucchini and yellow squash. The government approved alfalfa, sugar beets and bio fuel corn in February.

Apologists for GMOs point to Gregor Mendel and our own beloved George Washington Carver and Luther Burbank and claim that the history of genetic modification likely began when humans left the caves and started gardening. The big difference here is that where Mendel and Burbank lovingly selected the pollen from one healthy flower and introduced it to another flower with a tiny paint brush, they were simply being more systematic than bees and other pollinators in encouraging likely improvements. Slicing a gene out of a fish and inserting into the genome of a plant is a different enterprise, well outside the boundaries of what might be called "natural."

GM foods have been a part of our food and sold widely in the US since the 1990's, mostly without consumers knowing we were buying Frankenfood. That needs to change. Things began to go drastically wrong in 1996 when legislation was signed allowing Monsanto to patent a single gene. This mutation allowed Monsanto to "own" a race of pesticide resistant corn that, just so happened to resist a pesticide also patented and controlled by Monsanto. A series of legal machinations and hostile enforcements by Monsanto has, from Nature's perspective, removed corn and its production from the natural order. Subsequently, farmers have suffered, and unexplained ailments in humans, butterflies, and many other creatures have been traced directly to the consumption of GE crops. It is easy to imagine that even more far-reaching consequences are gathering steam while the American public remains largely ignorant.

Recently a friend reminded me of the chant many of us remember from the Viet Nam war. She's updated it to Hell No to GMOs !! I'm too young to remember the activism of the 1960s, but now that those baby boomers are aging, their health concerns are too apparent to me as I work to help them maintain their health through a good diet. For them, this new battle over GMOs is every bit as threatening and important. Many of them have the time and energy to revisit their activist backgrounds and help the resistance movement against GMOs gain momentum.

Brenda with Jeffrey Smith, June 2011
Brenda with Jeffrey Smith

Jeffrey Smith's efforts to outline the struggle and tease out the facts stand out -- what a hero! He brings to light many of the lies lurking in the shadows of Monsanto, other major corporations, and their governmental henchmen in the FDA. None of these operatives hold the best interests of We The People above the interests of corporate profit. I have already mentioned that Jeffrey is the founder of Institute for Responsible Technology and the author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. I see him as one of the world's most inspiring consumer advocates promoting non-GMO choices.

For years now, he's been traveling from his home in Iowa -- right in the GMO heartland -- to share his findings with eager audiences. Not surprisingly in an era of corporate-dominated "news", his work is largely un-reported, along with medical articles linking GMO food consumption to a host of health issues. He believes that we, each and every one of us as individuals, can make our voices heard on this GMO issue, simply by raising our voices and voting with our pocket books. Jeffrey echoes Margaret Mead's well-known aphorism, "Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For indeed that's all who ever have." I agree: it only takes a few, perhaps only 5% of us, to begin making the changes necessary to achieve truth in labeling of GMOs in our foods. He is actively building this 'tipping point network' and has already enlisted thousands worldwide to gather the necessary influence to begin change.

This month I attended an exciting and informative evening presentation followed by a day long symposium led by Jeffrey. He walks his talk, assembles all the facts to back up that talk, and shares with anyone who will listen. And (as you can tell) I was listening !!

Since 1996, when legislation was passed to allow genetically engineered crops from Monsanto to enter our food chain, these components have become astonishly pervasive in packages, cartons, bottles, and cans on our supermarket shelves. Seven of the most heavily used ingredients in American packaged foods are predominantly made from GMO crops. With these seven keystone ingredients a very few extremely large (and hostile) corporations literally own the food we eat.

According to the Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), an international group of physicians interested in the clinical aspects of humans and their environment, multiple chronic illnesses have risen drastically in the US since the introduction of GMOs into our food in 1996. In September 2009, the AAEM published a report that called on "Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks." They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. Read the complete report.

Every week additional studies, peer reviewed and anecdotal, blow more holes in the safety claims of Monsanto and the FDA. Just last month -- May 26th -- a study conducted by Sherbrooke University Hospital (Quebec) showed traces of Bt-toxin from GE corn in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses. This is huge! Both Monsanto and the FDA repeatedly assured us (but never offered proof) that safety standards were being met and the genetically engineered components in these foods could never pass through the human blood barrier. They have now been proven to be lying. The results of the Sherbrooke study have prompted organizations across the globe to increase investigations and for GM crops to be halted.

Additional studies in animal science proves the correlation between the consumption of GMO foods with illness, allergies, malformations and death. Given a choice, animals will refuse to eat GMO tainted foods.

Agribiz sees itself as having no vested interest in the health of the consumers of its products -- it's all and only about short-term profits and the recovery of its Frankenfood research investments. Therefore, honest labeling is not in its best interest. This position has been seconded by the US Giovernment's Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, whose official position is that GE foods are "indistinguishable" from the natural products. This perversion of science is a perfect example of the employment of pseudo-science in the service of public policy. Agribiz realizes all too well that if we are given a choice, we (like the animals) will reject products we know to include GMOs. It is our responsibility to put our buying power to work making the choices for us. At the end of this article I've listed several things you can do to make your opinions heard right where they are needed. But for now, here's a simple rule: if a packaged product contains any of the seven crops named above, and does not explicitly (and convincingly) state that all contents are non-GMO crops, don't buy it. (Note that the FDA's packaging position, that GMOs are "indistinguishable", allows packagers to weasel word that GMO-tainted products are "natural.")

Currently the US is one of the only industrialized nations that does not currently have truth in labeling of products containing GMOs. Legislation to label or ban genetically engineered foods has been introduced in 14 states, and, as you might imagine, is being fought aggressively by the deep-pocketed corporations that happily hold your health to be less important than their profit. This needs to change NOW.

According to The Center For Food Safety, "the United States may soon be the only country in the world that does not require labeling of genetically engineered food." What does this tell you about the position of your government with regard to your family's health?

Citizens of the EU have been actively involved in each countries ban on GMOs in their foods. There has been mandatory GMO labeling in Europe for 12 years now with consumers driving the fight to know what is in their food. At least in Europe they put people before profit.

And how about this for irony -- US companies like Kellogg, Pepsi, Coke, Heinz and Kraft formulate their products one way for consumption and sale here in the US (with GMOs) and a completely different way (excluding GMOs) for export to countries that do not allow them or require honest labeling.

Food manufacturers are being forced to listen to European consumers and we here in the US need to join them in crying loudly that genetically modified foods are just NOT OK. We are approaching Jeffrey's tipping point, and the resistance to GMOs is gaining momentum.

GMOs are not just in plants. Last Fall, after years of privately working with a GE (genetically engineered) sponsor company, AquaBounty, the FDA announced they would support the first ever sale of genetically engineered fish for human consumption. Despite over 400,000 public comments of outrage, the FDA sailed blithely on. In California, Assembly Bill 88 was introduced to require that all GE fish sold in the state be clearly and prominently labeled. The bill is now working its way through the California legislature against the well-funded resistance of the GMO lobbyists. To be heard on this subject, see the references at the end and sign the petitions for your right to know what you're putting in your mouth.

Monsanto, notorious for suing farmers for patent infringement, is now facing an uprising of a small group of activist farmers who have filed a suit against Monsanto. As I write this, the farmers' action has made it past another legal hurdle placed in their way by the giant, well-funded juggernaut.

Many are outraged that GMO-laced foods have penetrated so far into our provisions without being noticed. It is scarcely worth wondering why, but the reasons are not heart-warming or patriotic. The resistance to such cavalier treatment of the nation's health and welfare is gaining momentum, and, as Jeffrey keeps saying, a little bit (5%) goes a long way. Here are a few ideas of what YOU can do to fight for what's on your plate. If each of us starts one small thing -- remember my article about low-hanging fruit from March? -- we can reclaim an amazing future for ourselves, our children and loved ones and our local and global communities.

Awareness of GMOs is global, and here in the US we are far behind the curve, and need to add our voices to the gathering uproar over something as simple as our right to choose and know what is in our food. Other countries have taken their stand and demanded 'truth in labeling' and they are successful. It's time we, one by one, did something to stand up and say 'Hell No to GMOs.'

So . . . what can we do?

Although the outlook may look bleak, given the greedy corporations and their governmental accomplices, there is much we can do. Organic standards remain intact as long as they are free from government meddling, and so for the most part organic labeling of products means NO GMOs. Knowing your food sources is the best strategy for health. Learn to read the product labels -- see last month's newsletter and my article on truth in labeling. Know which products are most likely to be GMO-tainted -- soy, cottonseed oil, corn and all its cognates, canola oil, sugar -- and avoid them unless they're clearly marked as GMO-free. Educate yourself on the issues. Here are some resources I found helpful. When you make surprising discoveries, please share them with me and I will pass them along.

Be suspicious of package labeling. Discriminate between Organic and Natural. If the package says "100% organic" this means the contents of the package are entirely organic and supposed to be GMO free. Organic labeling standards require that product "cannot intentionally contain GMOs." If the label says 'organic' on the front panel then at least 95% are supposed to be GMO-free . . . but 5% sounds like a lot to me. Labels that say 'made with organic ingredients' supposedly mean that at least 70% are GMO-free. To my mind, that's next to meaningless. If there is nothing on the front of the package, but the ingredient panel says organic, it applies only to that ingredient.

Since there are only seven GE ingredients allowed into our foods -- albeit the seven most-used ingredients in packaged foods -- keep this list in mind when visiting the market and avoid at-risk ingredients (conventionally farmed) including: Soybeans, Cottonseed, Corn, Canola, Sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya and a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash.

Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market, subscribe to a local farmers weekly veggie box through the CSA program. Best of all, grow a little in your back yard garden, small pots, barrels, or window boxes. Visit localharvest.org to find a Farmers Market or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture -- subscription farming) near you.

Look for "Non-GMO Project" verified seals on the food you purchase. The Non-GMO Project is committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. They offer third party verification and labeling for non-gmo food and products, and serve as a useful, human-centered counterbalance to the greed-biased USDA and FDA.

Refer to their excellent "Non GMO Shopping Guide" for product suggestions. You can download their Guide, their "what are GMOs" pamphlet, and their handy smartphone App. The Guide can also be found in many local health food stores.

Visit the Institute for Responsible Technology website: responsibletechnology.org. Since its founding in 2003 by Jeffrey Smith, this organization has grown into a powerful force across the US and around the world. Their site is filled with helpful information with FAQ's, advice on dining out GMO-free, and a shopping guide for bringing home healthy options for everyone in the family (including the pets). Jeffrey has a free video available to everyone: "Everything you Have to Know about Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods" -- a great way to become informed about the issues.

If you are of an anti-corporate-pirate persuasion, consider joining your local chapter of "Millions against Monsanto."

If you haven't given up on salmon (we think we ate the last one a couple of years ago; what's left has been so polluted by escaped over-drugged farmed salmon that the so-called "wild" ones have lost their flavor) sign on with the 2012 ballot initiative campaign to keep 'Frankenfish' off your plate.

Join the virtual rally for 'your right to know' at the Center for Food Safety.

Visit your local co-op or natural food store and see what they are doing. Here are a couple of examples:
Rainbow Co-op (San Francisco)
Community Market (Santa Rosa)

There is no doubt that biotechnology has a rightful and even healthy place in our future. But without full and honest disclosure and openness, we are right to distrust. Our agricultural resources are being depleted -- often by chemical farming and mindless profit seeking -- but there remain hungry populations: more than 70% of the world's population is either undernourished or doesn't have a reliable source of food and is hungry some or all of the time. Is biotechnology the answer? This is a question for another day . . .but all those hungry souls are worthy of our energy and consideration. Here are some resources I found to help explore this issue:

Jimmy Doherty, a young British pig farmer turned television presenter, offered a 2008 BBC documentary that takes a global view of genetic engineering. He starts in Argentina, where he looks on in horror as forests are cleared to make way for enormous fields of pesticide resistant soy beans. Back in Britain, he finds resistance to the idea of genetic modification. "We shouldn't mess with nature," says one shopper. Jimmy reports that the messages we receive are mixed . . .and he makes the valuable point that propaganda is not the right way to have a reasonable discussion about food.

A story in the New York Times (June 5, 2011) looks at the GMO issue from a different angle: the potential for feeding a starving planet. My study of GMOs and their politics left me convinced that the problem isn't the manipulation of food genomics, but unregulated American corporate greed and dishonesty in the marketplace. Genetic engineering of crops has been going on for millennia, and may hold the key to feeding the world's hungry when it's not in service of profit, but human welfare. As Jimmy so eloquently shares - "Whether you are for GM or against it, surely you've got to be for 'understanding'. Knowledge is powerful, without knowledge or testing we will never know and we will continue to live in the darkness." Bill and Melinda Gates have recently put millions into India's effort to help find solution in this area.

Resources

Monsanto GMO testing article

See a movie or share a video that matters:
World according to Monsanto movie -- free viewing
and Health Ranger Mike Adams, raps it up : Just say NO to GMO!

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