It’s been forever and a day since I’ve last posted here, but I have a good reason, or should I say reasons. This summer was pretty tough for my family since we were dealing with some health issues that we were trying to navigate through – thank God they’ve been addressed but we’re still working through them (real food is helping quite a bit, woohoo!). In September, I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon, a charming little town north of London for my cousin Mark’s wedding, which was delightful (did you know that Stratford is Shakespeare’s birthplace and hometown? Yeah – more on that in another post!). Most recently, I started a pretty intense program of classes. So as you can see, it’s been quite the challenge to remain consistent with posting. But, I’ll try to make it up to you guys (hint: awesome contests and prizes coming your way, so watch the blog this week!)
Genetic Roulette: Watch for FREE till October 31st!
Since it been quite a while since I’ve last posted, I wanted to post something proactive for my readers. I’m going to ask you guys to watch a short documentary (You Tube video below – available for viewing till Oct 31, 2012)! If you’ve ever wondered about genetically modified foods — how they’re made, if they’re safe, and why you might want to avoid them — you’ll want to watch this new film by Jeffrey Smith called Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives. Thanks to a generous campaign, the documentary is free to watch for a limited time until October 31st. I know many of you on the East Coast especially will be home today and maybe even tomorrow because of Hurricane Sandy. If your power remains (and I hope it does!), please take an hour and twenty-four minutes to watch it. You won’t regret choosing to be informed!
At the end of that post, I shared some practical things YOU can do to stop consuming genetically modified food, and even some things you can do to demand their being labeled. If you’re just hearing about this, let me give you a short rundown of how this all goes down in the food industry:
Food manufacturers want to save money and cut costs so they can increase profits. Biotech firms like Monsanto capitalize on this need, and engineer seeds to make them more sturdy to resist natural calamities like drought and pests. These seeds get worked into the ingredient lists in many processed foods, saving food giants like PepsiCo and General Mills a good amount in the process. Instead of letting multiple strains of corn (for example) grow in varieties as nature intended, maintaining robustness through biodiversity, these firms believe that engineered seeds are superior, and to limit competition, want to shrink the types of seeds available for each food (i.e. their dream is have only a couple of seeds of corn available – only the GM varieties made by them of course!). How do they engineer the seeds? Oh, it’s “simple”: they just splice the genes of a complex plant, and insert the gene of another plant, animal or bacteria inside to give the plant/animal certain characteristics. So, think – fish genes in a tomato. Sounds all well and good, right? These seeds presumably perform better and save farmers the headache of dealing with the inconveniences of Mother Nature. Or … do they?
Anyone initially exposed to this information assumes that this engineering of our food supply has been rigorously studied and is routinely tested to ensure safety of regular human consumption. I have very bad news for you if this is what you believe: GMO (genetically modified organisms) are NOT tested sufficiently or rigorously. Well, at least they’re superior seeds, right? Wrong, again – most organic non-GMO crops outperform their GMO counterparts in yield and in dealing with Mother Nature! So, they’re neither superior nor tested to be safe. To add insult to injury, those engineered seeds are patented, meaning the biotech firms OWN them, and they often refuse for any independent research entity to test them for safety. Monsanto and other biotech firms want us to trust that they have done enough testing (they won’t show and tell!) to ensure that the pesticide-infused seeds engineered to make bugs’ stomachs explode do absolutely nothing to the lining of our stomachs and intestines when we eat them. And by the way, the longest experiments of the sort (conducted by the biotech firms themselves) run for about two months – more than enough, right? Well, considering that a recent French study that ran them a little longer found that GMO consumption increased tumors and organ-damage in rats, I think a little more rigor is warranted and that maybe we should demand third-party testing and certification … don’t you?
And yield. Yes, we have to talk about that. Farmers in third world countries are often wooed by these biotech companies to buy their engineered seeds, because it’ll improve their yields! And this will save the world from hunger! But wait … they figure many of these farmers won’t read the fine print: the seeds shouldn’t be used after one planting season (requiring the farmer to buy new every year), and the yield decreases after the first harvest because the chemical fertilizers that are required for them to grow in off-seasons deplete the soil. And oh yes, the crops will also require a lot of expensive chemical pesticides that may harm the farmers’ health! Sadly, many farmers in India for example have committed suicide after discovering they’ve been conned but feel that they have no way out of their piling debt …
But, the seeds are supposedly “safe” and “superior” … and because these biotech firms are SO confident of the effectiveness and awesomeness of their product, they’re fighting tooth and nail to make sure NO ONE KNOWS which foods are genetically modified and which aren’t! (If you think that makes no sense, it’s because it doesn’t.) So, you know the powdered formula many people give their babies because they were told it’s just as good as breast milk? The first ingredient on some of those is corn solids … most likely from genetically modified corn. But shhh, Monsanto doesn’t think parents have the right to know what they’re feeding their vulnerable babies!! Makes you think … maybe they’re not so proud of their products?
Hopefully you are able to read through my sarcasm weaved into this post – but if you’re curious about the details, refer to the following well-researched blog posts and reports on the topic, compiled by yours truly. I realize I probably missed some great ones, so please feel free to share in the comments section below.
So, what’s the deal with this Proposition 37 in California?
In my detailed post on GMOs, I share some ways to voice your concern about GMOs in our food supply, and how you can actively avoid consuming them already (even though they are currently NOT required to be labeled). Simply by knowing that over 80% of processed foods have GMO ingredients, and learning about the handful of popular GMO products (corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beats, cottonseed, squash and papaya being the top ones), you can avoid the risk by opting never to buy these products!
Now Prop 37 – briefly, it’s a ballot initiative in California, that will require the labeling of genetically modified foods. This is a golden opportunity for people who care about knowing what they’re buying and consuming to VOICE their opinions, and hopefully impact food policy in America. Even if you don’t live in California, if Prop 37 passes, it will definitely affect labeling regulations in other states too, and companies manufacturing products with GMO ingredients will have to list it on the label for California consumers and others around the nation as well. Most countries around the world including China require the labeling of genetically modified foods. So far, America’s giant biotech and food corporations have vehemently opposed labeling, and have been successful at deceiving the general public about the safety and efficacy of GMOs. But not anymore. Whether or not you think food should be engineered, you probably still want to know if it is – if not for you, then at least for your children. A national survey in October 2010 revealed that 93% think that genetically engineered food should be labeled. Many of those surveyed indicated that they would eat GMO foods … but still, they wanted them labeled. I think it’s only fair to KNOW what you’re putting in your body.
You might be shocked to hear that big companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Coke, Pepsi and General Mills have collectively spent over $36 million on anti-Prop 37 advertising – and most of it is completely baseless and pointless, preying on people’s ignorance and irrational fears. Here’s an example of such a commercial – don’t fall for the scam!
What to do now if you care
I’ll make this really simple for you. All you need to do if you care about this topic is:
Tell your family and friends about it. And if you live in California, vote yes, or if you know anyone in California, encourage them to vote YES on Prop 37.
Watch the film Genetic Roulette, linked above.
Share this post and others like it to promote awareness.
Circa 1999. Yes, the fight has been long, but we’re not giving up.
I have the right to know what I am eating. You have the right to know. Really, anyone who is paying hard-earned money for a food or drink, or anything that is going to be ingested and absorbed into the bloodstream, has the right to know. Think about it: you’re at the grocery store, trying to find healthy foods to feed your your family. You pick up a few slices of fresh Atlantic salmon … fatty fish like salmon is a good source of Omega-3s, you’ve heard. But what if I told you that soon enough (as in, sometime this year in 2012) you may be buying “Atlantic salmon” that has been genetically modified … without having a clue that it is, because it’s simply not labeled as such. There is currently no law that requires the labeling of genetically modified foods. And that, my friends, is absolutely absurd. Let me tell you why.
What the heck is a genetically modified food?
Quite simply (… or not), genetically modified foods are plants (or animals, in the case of fish) that have had their genetic makeup tweaked in the lab. Scientists cut-and-splice genes from a particular organism and add it to another plant or animal to give it a particular characteristic, such as resistance against forces of nature such as weeds, pests or drought. (It must escape them that these calamities can be dealt with more effectively without the genetic modification due to biodiversity and the organism’s own evolutionary adaptive mechanisms, humph). Another goal is to increase plants’ yield, or make animals grow faster, for larger profits — never mind the possible health and environmental ramifications. Finally, genetic modification may be done with the intent of making the plant or animal look artificially more ripe or fresh even when it really isn’t … which I’d consider a deceptive practice of course.
Whether or not you think this sounds like quackery, you probably agree that these genetically modified foods should at least be labeled, so that consumers can have a choice. Over 93% of Americans, on both sides of the debate, think that labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also known as genetically engineered (GE) food or bioengineered food, is a basic right. Just Label It is a wonderful campaign aimed at mobilizing the public to demand that GM foods be labeled - sign the petition and share!
Are you currently eating genetically modified foods unknowingly?
Okay, so you don’t eat farm-raised Atlantic salmon … think you’re off the hook? Are you still consuming genetically modified food unknowingly? Here’s the simple answer: If you live in America, and if you eat, period, genetically modified foods will find their way to your plate, unless you’re extremely vigilant (more on that later). After all, the United States is the largest producer of genetically modified crops in the world. And 10% of all the world’s crops are genetically modified. By the way, many European countries including Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, France, Germany, Greece, and Luxembourg have put a ban on GMOs. The UK requires labeling as do the 15 European Union nations, Russia, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries. Even China, whose residents distrust its unsafe food practices, has suspended the commercialization of genetically engineered rice. The United States would do well to follow suit.
Do you eat grains? What about other animal products? Do you eat vegetables? About 86% of corn and 93% of soy grown in the United States are genetically modified. These form the bulk of the diet of conventionally-raised animals who spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy feedlots. Oh, you’re a vegan? Think you’re immune to GM foods? Think again. If you eat cereals, granola bars, store-bought veggie burgers, cheese substitutes, or even edamame in ‘whole form’, then you’re out of luck, because each of these is almost guaranteed to contain genetically modified ingredients unless it specifies otherwise. And since there’s no regulation of what constitutes non-GMO foods, companies aren’t forced to adhere to any rules before claiming that a GM, pesticide-and-preservative doused food is still, somehow, “all-natural”. Yes, believe me when I say that the “all natural” label means nothing at all. In fact, not only do I walk away, but I run from a food product when I see the all-natural claim — because through my real food journey, I’ve learned that nine times out of ten, it’s the farthest-thing-from-natural, and in fact, the claim that something is “all natural” increases the probability that it is questionable. Usually, the company claiming it is natural is not one that I would trust with my body and my health.
Even WebMD – which I don’t consider to be a beacon of light in the health movement — admits these facts in regards to genetically-modified foods:
Experts say 60% to 70% of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves have genetically modified ingredients. The most common genetically modified foods are soybeans, maize, cotton, and rapeseed oil. That means many foods made in the U.S. containing field corn or high-fructose corn syrup, such as many breakfast cereals, snack foods, and the last soda you drank; foods made with soybeans (including some baby foods); and foods made with cottonseed and canola oils could likely have genetically modified ingredients. These ingredients appear frequently in animal feed as well (WebMD).
Oh, but you shop at Whole Foods! Surely, this establishment committed to as many organic foods as possible (53% of products are organic there) cannot be deceiving you and selling you “all-natural” foods that are contaminated with GMOs. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case. In this interview with Joseph Mercola, DO, Senior VP of Whole Foods admits that some products sold at Whole Foods, even some that bear the “all-natural” label, are contaminated with GMOs. There are no saints in the corporate game. If you’re a non-discerning Whole Foods consumer, there’s a big chance you’re still buying GE (genetically engineered) foods, and paying a premium for it.
So, you want to avoid GE foods, huh? Well, here are the biggest offenders …
These above are general guidelines, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find an exhaustive list of genetically modified foods, simply because there are no rules mandating that GM foods be identified, singled out, or labeled! But, as mentioned in the link and flowchart above, we do know that there are a number of foods that are most commonly genetically modified and are used ubiquitously in processed and packaged foods and in conventional animal agriculture.
- Sugar Beets (95%): I love beets, and the good news is that sugar beets aren’t the same as the red and golden beets you eat in a salad with goat cheese. Just in case, I always make sure to buy beets that are certified organic. The bad news is that any packaged food containing sugar that is not organic is most likely sweetened with sugar that is extracted from GE beets. (Did I just ruin your dessert?)
- Soy (93%): Can you believe that a whopping “82% of edible fats and oils consumed in the U.S. are soy-based”? (Healthy Child) Other soy products to watch out for include soy beverages, tofu, meat-substitutes, soy oil, soy flour, lecithin. I personally avoid soy products like the plague, for a number of reasons; this GMO issue is just the cherry on top! If it’s a packaged product with a list of non-organic ingredients, it will likely have a GM soy by-product. Read ingredient labels scrupulously.
- Canola / Rapeseed (93%): ”Heart-healthy” canola oil? Think again. Besides 93% of it being genetically modified, the rapeseed plant, used to make canola oil, is industrially processed and refined. Steer clear of this rancid junk!
- Cotton / Cottonseed Oil (93%): Did you know that this cheap industrial oil is used in many packaged “salad dressings, baked goods and snack foods”? (Healthy Child) Don’t eat anything with cottonseed oil, GM or not. You might want to invest in organic cotton clothes for your baby if you can afford it too. I personally can’t afford all organic cotton clothes for myself, but I think it’s worth it if it’s within the budget.
- Corn / Maize(86%): Everyone who knows anything about health has heard of the evil high fructose corn syrup, which has gotten a lot of media attention in recent years. Besides this sugary syrup, corn is pretty much in every other processed food product. The newest kind of GE corn is extra scary, because it is a herbicide-tolerant mutant crop “that can survive being sprayed with the infamous herbicide 2,4-D, an Agent Orange ingredient with documented serious human health impacts, from cancer to immunosuppression, reproductive damage, and neurotoxicity” (Organic Consumers). Yummy, eh?
- Squash and Zucchini (13%): I haven’t found enough information about the prevalence of GM squashes, except that the Crookneck variety seems to be the most popular GM kind out there. Nothing beats the taste of summer squash, in season, from the local farmer’s market!
- Potatoes (some of the GM varieties include Atlantic, Russett Burbank, Russet Norkatah, and Shepody): GM or not, it’s probably wise to buy only organic potatoes if you can, because they’re one of the most heavily sprayed crops.
- Enzymes, Additives & Sweeteners: “Genetically modified bacteria and fungi are used in the production of enzymes, vitamins, food additives, flavorings and processing agents in thousands of foods on the grocery shelves as well as health supplements. Aspartame, the diet sweetener, is a product of genetic engineering” (Smith). And by the way, there’s a new artificial sweetener in town called Neotame, also brought to you by Monsanto. Told ya; it’s probably a good idea to avoid any and all packaged foods!
- Synthetic Vitamins: “Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn, vitamin E is usually made from soy. Vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12 may be derived from GMOs as well as vitamin D and vitamin K may have ‘carriers’ derived from GM corn sources, such as starch, glucose, and maltodextrin” (Disabled). Another reason to ditch the Centrum!
Salmon aside, you might think it odd that the FDA and USDA completely gloss over studies like these, which have found genetically modified foods to be damaging to the organs of mammals and causing weight gain, even though the longest of the trials only studied the effect over a 90-day period and already found it damaging! Also, despite claims by big firms like Monsanto that the GM properties would be ‘destroyed in the gut’, “a landmark study found 93 per cent of blood samples taken from pregnant women and 80 per cent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the chemicals” (Daily Mail). Hmm, would you like to wait to find out if over-consumption of GE foods can hurt you or your baby? Kill some kidney cells and ruin your digestive functions in the process; no real harm done, right? Wouldn’t it be wiser to practice a more precautionary attitude when it comes to novelties in science and health … especially because there are such studies that already shed light on possible dangers?
The truth of the matter is that large biotechnology firms like Monsanto, which develop these GM foods, will never admit that their product is fundamentally flawed, has a negative impact on health and environment, and strips traditional farmers the world over of their natural farming methods needlessly, or that their practices are irreversibly altering our ecosystem.The companies will not admit it; but the companies cannot be expected to self-regulate.That’s what the government is for — to protect the rights of the people to be informed to make their own decisions, and to monitor these companies’ practices to ensure that they are lawful. If these companies would like to mess with some part of nature, they need to maintain that their activities are not destroying other parts of nature. And if they are destroying more than allotted belongings, then they’re responsible! But guess what? The exact opposite is happening.
Down the road, after humans use these medications and buy this food, without knowledge of their side effects, a lot of bad things can start to happen. People may die. They may get sick. Babies can be born with more birth defects and complications. We are then forced to face the reality that maybe this so-called “promising” invention isn’t so promising after all, but only when it’s too late. And the recommendations to consume these things is often rescinded, but often after the damage has been done to a large segment of the population. And if precedent is any indicator, the companies responsible, with their powerful attorneys and billions invested in marketing, slip away with only a couple of million of dollars worth of lawsuits … chump change in their book. The real victims? People who fell for the scam, and have suffered needlessly.
Some resources to help you navigate the GM-free food scene
If you want to avoid GMOs in your food, you have to be vigilant. As mentioned earlier, buy only certified organic foods, limit your purchases of anything packaged, eliminate processed foods and shop at your local farmer’s market or join a CSA that sources from local farms.
There are a number of labels and food guides available for free to help you navigate the isles at your grocery store. Look for foods with the Non-GMO Project certification label (to the left) and/or the USDA organic certification label.
As you can see in the cartoon at the very beginning of this post, we’ve been fighting for labeling of GM foods for a long time. But don’t throw in the towel just yet! Here are some things you can do to demand your rights:
- Raise awareness: Share this post and similar posts with friends and family. Share this article on Facebook. Pin the cartoons and infographic on Pinterest. Tweet about the petitions you have signed — all in an effort to help inform more of your social circle that they can demand that GM foods are labeled, and why it makes a lot of sense to avoid Frankenfoods in the first place.
- Vote with our dollars: It’s no secret that money talks. As demand for organic, non-GMO foods increases, supply will increase and industry will follow. Don’t buy any processed food products, diligently read ingredient labels of any packaged foods that you do buy, and look for the certified organic and the non-GMO project labels on foods before you purchase.
- Buy local: If you buy from small local farms either directly or through buying clubs, farmers’ markets or CSAs, you can easily verify the source of your foods, visit the farms anytime and ask your farmers the hard questions. As a bonus, you keep the money circulating in your local economy, and you promote sustainability in agricultural practices and carbon emissions while you’re at it!
- Donate: You can donate to the Organic Consumers Fund - “Every dollar donated goes directly into the fund that will be used to support Ballot Initiative signature gatherers, media experts, consultants, and lawyers who will work together to get GMO labeling on the ballot, and pass this law in November.” There’s also the Label GMOs grassroots campaign, a California ballot initiative to label GMOs in our food; donate to the organization here.
I bet you didn’t know that President Obama has promised to label GMOs (Watch this one minute video below). As citizens of the United States, we can demand that he follow through on his promise:
Through it all, don’t lose hope. Every attempt to get the word out matters … a lot. Don’t underestimate your power as a consumer to effect real change.
Update: On March 27, 2012, the Just Label It campaign announced that they have already collected 1 million signatures from concerned U.S. citizens, demanding that they have the right to know if the food that they are purchasing has been genetically modified. Below is the updated infograph shared on the Just Label It website. Let’s keep up the pressure — there is power in numbers!
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