Wake Up and Smell the GMO

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By: Shannon Murphy

As I write this, it’s Election Day Eve and in light of California’s Proposition 37 on the ballot, Vivien Veil has done an amazing job of posting several articles to educate her fans.  If the proposition passes, it will require companies to disclose GMO containing products on labels.  The proposition will make California the first state to mandate identification of genetically modified food.  This means consumers will be able to easily identify GMO food without having to scrutinize the ingredient list.  People will STILL find these products on the shelf, and they will have a choice whether or not they want to buy it.

Californians: Don’t forget to vote “YES” on November 6th.

After reading the article posted on Vivien Veil, Top 10 Ways to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods,” I realized that I had not been 100% clear on the battle against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  

This is a huge issue for me because I am the one that does all of the grocery shopping for my family.

It weighs a heavy burden on me to know that I have to look for key words in the list of ingredients on packages.  Our children depend on their parents, caregivers, and school districts to make good choices for them, and they only know what we teach them by example.  I have done a pretty good job avoiding foods that contain high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, but admit they have slipped past me when I assumed there is no way the product would have it.

It is safer to always buy organic, but it may not always be available or affordable for consumers.  I should also share that there is a belief out there that genetically modified food is beneficial to the population, because GM foods may provide greater resistance to pests and viruses, as well as a longer shelf life.  Whether or not there is enough scientific evidence out there to prove that GMOs are in fact detrimental to our health, I am not willing to use my family as an experiment.  We all have the freedom to choose what we buy, so why wouldn’t we want to make an educated choice?

I had a major awakening after going through my pantry with the guidance of Vivien Veil herself.  (see her article “Do You Really Know What’s in Your Food?“)  I realized I was seriously unaware of the modified foods I was feeding my family.  Afterwards, I went to the grocery store as a newly educated mom on a mission to find healthy replacements for the staples I always have in my pantry and refrigerator.  I should also note that I am more limited with my choices since I live on a military base overseas.  Although we are able to buy many of the brands we are used to back in the states, I am not always able to find an organic alternative.  That’s when it’s most important to read the label and make a good choice based on what you see.

I hope the choices I made will motivate others to look for different, healthier options to serve their family.  Please keep in mind that many of the large company brands you are buying are the same ones that are heavily fighting Proposition 37 in California because they do not want to label their products with the negative phrase, “contains genetically modified organisms.”

My Attempt at Buying Non-GMO

Here are some of the items I am immediately switching for my family.  The item on the left is what I purchased based on my new knowledge.  The item on the right is what was already in my home and was feeding my family.  I am crossing my fingers that the taste difference will be minimal, since my 3-year-old is ridiculously finicky.  I took my children to the grocery store with me and pointed out their usual favorite foods and talked to them about how they have bad sugar and ingredients that can make us sick.  They seemed pretty receptive, so hopefully they will re-train their taste buds quickly!

Disclaimer: I am very new at reading ingredients and identifying GM ingredients.  Please continue to do your own research so you can become an educated consumer.

Applesauce – I found high fructose corn syrup in my “Mott’s.” It didn’t even occur to me to look at the ingredients when buying something as simple as applesauce. I assumed only apples, duh! I couldn’t find an organic option, but “Tree Top” did not have high fructose corn syrup. Yes, I know you can puree your own apples, but it’s not realistic to puree when you are packing a school lunch at 10 PM the night before school.

Whole Grain Bread – “Ezekiel 4:9” is found in the frozen bread section. It’s organic, has lots of protein, and tastes great. Just stick it in your toaster and it’s ready to eat. I found high fructose corn syrup in my usual brand. Check your brand!

I found modified corn starch in “Cheerios.” So, I bought “Cascadian Farm Organic Honey Nut O’s.” They are delicious. Sadly, both of these companies oppose Proposition 37. I don’t understand why “Cascadian Farm” does, since it’s an organic company. You can visit this link for a longer list of companies that are “against” and “for” Proposition 37.

Gummy Fruit Snacks – My kids adore fruit flavored gummy snacks, especially when their favorite characters are plastered on the box. The Kellogg’s brand fruit flavored fruit snacks contain modified corn starch and corn syrup. Kellogg’s is also opposing Proposition 37. Can Disney please talk to “Annie’s Homegrown” and put Lightening McQueen on their box instead?

Ice Cream – Every home is in need of ice cream, right? “Dreyer’s” has modified corn starch and high fructose corn syrup. It also uses milk from cows injected with rBGH (visit www.organicconsumers.org for a list of companies that are completely rBGH and rBST-free processors.) Although “Ben & Jerry’s” listed corn syrup, I bought it because it is rBGH-free. Sometimes you have to pick the lesser of two evils when you crave ice cream. This Greek Frozen Yogurt is delicious.

Yogurt – This small size is great for putting in kids’ lunches. I was buying “Yoplait Trix” because it did not have high fructose corn syrup. Then I found corn starch in the ingredient list. So, I bought the organic “Stoneyfield” brand instead.

Ketchup – “Hunt’s” proudly identifies that their product is 100% natural and does not contain high fructose corn syrup. “Heinz” has high fructose corn syrup in its ingredients list. However, “Heinz” also sells organic ketchup. Sadly, both of these companies are owned by Monsanto, one of the biggest donors in anti-Proposition 37 contributions. I will continue to search for another ketchup brand because I do not want to support Monsanto. (If you want to check out a list of brand names owned by Monsanto, read the article on Vivien Veil “What are GMOs and Why Label Them?”)

Pancake Mix – I always bought “Aunt Jemima’s” Whole Wheat Blend. Sounds healthy, right? Vivien Veil’s analysis of the ingredients is enough to scare anyone away from this package. Guess what? “Aunt Jemima” is owned by Monsanto. Luckily, I found “Nature’s Path” Organic Multigrain Pancake Mix with flax! Lots of sneaky protein to trick your kids.

Coffee Creamer – The blue bottle contains partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, cellulose gum, mono-and diglycerides, and carrageenan. What does “Nestle’s Natural Bliss” list of ingredients say? Nonfat milk, heavy cream, and sugar. They both have the same number of calories and total fat. I’ll take the one whose ingredients I can read and recognize, thank you! It’s interesting that they are made from the same company though…

The Challenge

If I have to go back to cooking as they did on the TV show, Little House on the Prairie, well then, I am ready for the challenge!  After all, I just bought a great electric stand mixer that’s ready to be put to work.  I’m a busy stay-at-home mom, but if I have to take a short-cut every now and then, I am not going to beat myself up over it.  My personal goal is to try to avoid GM foods at least 75% of the time.  If I can do more, I’ll give myself a sticker.

We need to retrain ourselves when it comes to food.  Out of convenience, we go through the drive thru at fast food restaurants.  We buy food items that are prepackaged, microwaveable, and ready to go, in an attempt to save time and effort.  What we really need to do is to try cooking from scratch as often as we can.  You don’t need to cook from scratch every day of the week.  Cook ahead and freeze your food when you can so all you need to do is reheat it on a busy night.

People have long work days, children to help with homework, sports, etc.  But if we can make an effort to cook from scratch at least 50% of the time (and strive to increase it gradually,) I’m positive you will notice a difference in your health and the health of your family.  You don’t cook?  Find someone who does!  Pitch in for the cost of the ingredients and offer a service trade: he/she cooks meals you can take home and freeze and in return you can mow their lawn, babysit, clean their house, paint a room, organize their closet, etc.  I will gladly bake someone a banana bread loaf from scratch if you want to come scrub my toilets!

If this all sounds overwhelming for you, don’t worry.  Just start with a few changes!  Anything is better than nothing.  Do it for yourself, your significant other, and most importantly, for your children.

Why a Scientist Will Vote Yes on Prop 37

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This is me, Darya

By: Darya Pino, Ph.D

To be honest, I’m a little surprised I even need to write this. In a national survey, over 90 percent of American voters favored labeling genetically modified (GMO) foods. Labels for GMOs are already required in the European Union, Japan, Australia and dozens of other nations. In direct expenses, adding a label costs next to nothing for both companies and consumers.

I was a bit annoyed when I started seeing ads calling Prop 37 unnecessarily complicated and poorly written, but I didn’t think TV ads could close such a huge gap. Before the television blitzkrieg by the anti-Prop 37 contingent, it looked poised to win in California by a landslide, and I figured the lead was large enough to hold.

However, anti-Prop 37 contributions have totaled over $41 million, with the biggest donors being Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and other giant food producers. (In comparison, the pro-Prop 37 contributions total just over $6 million — a little less than Monsanto contributed alone). As a result the most recent polls show Prop 37 is in a dead heat, and we are in danger of losing this opportunity to add transparency to our food system.

Legal Language

Despite what negative television ads have claimed, the proposition is neither complex nor poorly written (you can read it for yourself here). It’s fairly straight forward, in fact. Prop 37 states that any raw food commodity that has been genetically manipulated must have a clear label stating such. Any processed food that knowingly contains GMO ingredients must also have a label.

Prop 37 does not require labeling for specific ingredients, meaning that if a product contains both genetically modified corn and soy (as most processed foods do) the ingredient list will still just say “corn” and “soy.” However, somewhere on the package it must say that the food contains genetically modified ingredients.

Restaurant food is excluded, so you could still enjoy your genetically modified Big Mac in blissful ignorance. Animal products that are fed genetically modified foods (most industrial meat production relies on GMOs for feed) do not need to be labeled. Alcohol is also exempt. Organic certification already prohibits the use of genetic modification, so organic foods will not be affected.

The only additional provision, which I think makes sense, is that GMO foods and those containing GMO ingredients cannot use the word “natural” or anything similar (e.g. “naturally made”) on their labels.

Costs

Food companies add and remove food labels all the time — imagine how quickly they’d change the label if they learned processed foods protect against heart disease. However, major food producers like Monsanto, Kraft, and General Mills anticipate people avoiding GMO foods if they are labeled, so they see this proposition as a threat to their profits.

Prop 37 will cost consumers next to nothing, unless you choose to buy non-GMO food that happens to be more expensive. While anti-Prop 37 ads claim the cost to consumers will be $400 annually, that is based on a study (funded by the No on 37 camp) that assumes they will have to switch to non-GMO foods and charge more for them. This is a strange assumption that does not reflect the language of Prop 37, which does not ban GMO foods.

Some have argued that the more likely outcome is that they will start putting “May contain genetically engineered ingredients” on everything (over 80 percent of processed foods are currently made with GMOs) and hope we learn to ignore it, similar to what happened with Prop 65. This scenario would negate the costs projected by their study. Another study (with equally dubious funding) found that there is unlikely to be any additional costs to consumers. Importantly, labeling GMOs did not increase the cost of food in other nations.

Safety Concerns

So what’s all the fuss about? Are GMOs dangerous for us to eat or not? This is not particularly easy to answer because the term “genetic engineering” is incredibly broad. Just as cancer is not one disease, genetic engineering is not one kind of biological change. The safety of each manipulation must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and testing should be rigorous and exhaustive to detect all potential problems, side effects and unintended consequences.

As anyone who has worked extensively with genetically modified animals can tell you (I did for years), the effects of a single gene deletion or insertion are often very surprising and can be quite subtle. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes crazy things happen, and sometimes you can’t tell what happened until you let the animal’s life run its course and study it extensively. That isn’t to say we aren’t able to have a solid understanding of some genetic manipulations, but it is not a simple science.

It gets even more tricky when you’re talking about releasing GMOs into the environment. It’s very difficult to contain genetic material in an ecosystem. It tends to spread, and ecological balance can be very fragile. This is why you are not allowed to bring fruit with you on international flights. Even native, non-genetically altered species can disrupt an ecosystem, and the same concerns apply to new or altered species created in a laboratory.

I’m not making the case that GMOs are somehow inherently unhealthy or bad for the environment. Indeed, in some cases the potential benefit of GMO crops may justify their prudent use. My point is that as a culture we should understand that genetic manipulation is a messy science that requires thoughtful consideration and rigorous oversight. We should not take this subject lightly.

What’s at Stake

Big Food has always fought tooth and nail against any kind of labeling regulations, but are quick to seek approval of health claims to put on the front of food packaging whenever possible. It’s obvious why. For food manufacturers labels are about marketing, not about health. Positive labels sell more food, while negative labels discourage sales.

Our current food system is shrouded heavily in secrecy, and this is intentional. Food companies rightfully fear that if we know more about what is in our food and how it was produced, we might start asking more questions and demanding better. Currently corn, soy beans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookedneck squash are genetically modified. Billions of dollars have been invested in this technology and the big food companies would not be happy if some of us decided to stop eating these foods.

What this really comes down to is transparency. Honest businesses with nothing to hide only win when more transparency is available. This is largely why organic food is such a big supporter of Prop 37 — the organic certification system is incredibly rigorous and these companies have already invested in the transparency of their businesses.

Consumers also win with more transparency because it enables them to make better informed decisions. If we believe certain GMOs are safe to eat, we can eat them. If some of us are more skeptical of one kind or another, we can skip them. Even Big Food benefits in the long run with more transparency, because it creates more confidence in their products as they are proven safe.

Prop 37 does not make any judgement on GMO foods. It does not ban them and it does not regulate their use. It simply requires food companies to indicate on their label if GMOs are present, so consumers can know with confidence what they are buying and eating. If you think this small act of tranparency is reasonable, you should support Prop 37 and vote yes if you live in California.

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Darya Pino is a Ph.D trained scientist, San Francisco foodie and advocate of local, seasonal foods.  She received her Ph.D in neuroscience from UCSF and her bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Her website is here.

What are GMOs and Why Label Them?

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Monsanto Headquarters located in St. Louis, Missouri

By: PF Louis

GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were brought into the world by a chemical company, not an agriculture or food group. Monsanto created DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, marketed aspartame, and created bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to infect milking cows that put pus into commercial milk.

GMOs are created within the seeds of chosen parent crops in laboratories by “splicing” genes from completely unrelated species into those seeds. Normal plant hybrids are cultivated in soil over time by cross pollinating closely related plants.

So far, GMOs have invaded soy, corn, beets (for beet sugar), cotton, and alfalfa agriculture. Many GMO edibles are contained surreptitiously in a wide variety of processed foods, while GMO corn and soy are used by unnatural factory farm feed lots.

GMOs damage crops, the environment, and the food chain

GMOs are often genetically created artificially to tolerate herbicides, made by Monsanto and others, that kill weeds. The herbicides contain glyphosates. Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer is meant for Roundup Ready GMO crop seeds. It’s an extremely toxic glyphosate agent.

Glyphosates greatly harm grazing animals and pollute the wells and groundwater of farm areas where they’re used. (http://naturalsociety.com)

They create sterility and birth defects among animals and humans. Most of the honey bee die-off, or colony collapse, is attributed to glyphosates. If enough pollinating bees disappear, our food chain is endangered further.

Glophosate’s chelating capabilities remove minerals from the soil where they’re sprayed. So crops get increasingly worse while increasingly abundant Roundup resistant weeds, or super weeds, force farmers to add more toxic materials to Roundup.

It’s a vicious cycle for farmers who, conned by greater production promises, unwittingly signed on to Monsanto Roundup Ready GMO binding seed contracts. Monsanto uses patent laws to litigate against farmers whose non-GMO fields are contaminated by GMO fields, forcing smaller farms out of business.

Most farmers fold because they cannot afford the litigation. American farmers are attempting to organize against mostly Monsanto’s GMOs. European farmers have managed to resist thus far.

Why you should be concerned

Maybe the reasons summarized above are too abstract. So let’s get personal. Contrary to mainstream media’s (MSM) outlook, the jury is not out on GMOs. GMOs do destroy human and animal health while endangering non-GMO crops with contamination. That’s been discovered by several scientists acting independently.

They jeopardize their careers and even their lives by communicating what they find while the MSM ignores them. Anti-GMO activist and author Jeffrey Smith lists the casualties and summarizes Monsanto’s harassment here: (http://www.sott.net)

Agro-ecologist Don Lotter, Ph.D. released an inside scoop when he stated:

The promoter gene used … [the] cauliflower mosaic virus, … [was assumed to be] denatured in our digestive system, but it’s not. It has been shown to promote the transfer of transgenes from GM foods to the bacteria within our digestive system, which are responsible for 80 percent of our immune system function.

Read Lotter’s interview here: (http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_19468.cfm)

This from Wessex Natural Law research papers: The cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV 35S) used for plant genetic engineering is cited as a source of viral recombination as well as a gene silencer and DNA disruptor.

Forget petitioning the government. It’s so corrupted that one of Monsanto’s most ruthless executives, Michael Taylor, now serves in the Obama administration as FDA chief adviser, or “Food Czar.”

That’s why our only chance is to help California succeed with Proposition 37. GMO labeling may spill over from California making it easier to boycott GMOs. (http://www.kcet.org)

Sources for this article include:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lni6OAJz3sk&feature=player_profilepage

http://www.naturalnews.com/031825_GMOs_threat.html

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_19468.cfm

http://rense.com/general33/fd.htm

http://www.gene.ch/info4action/2000/Feb/msg00028.html

http://www.naturalnews.com/033804_Scientists_Under_Attack_GMOs.html