Thursday, March 5, 2015


Plate to Politics: Changing the Food System | VoteRunLead WebinarPlate to Politics: Changing the Food System

Online Webinar

3/11/15, 2:00pm - 3:00pm EST
Sustainability in our food system is an issue at the local, national and international level. Meet three women who are making the food system more sustainable, and find out what they would do differently if they had it to do all over again!

faithwinterFaith Winter

Colorado State Representative

Faith Winter is a Colorado State Representative for House District 35, taking office just this year.  In 2012 Winter was named one of the up and coming women leaders to watch by the Denver Post.  Winter loves organizing because she believes the best way to create change is by building power through people.  She has fun doing it, because a job isn’t worth doing unless you laugh once in a while.

Irit TamirIrit Tamir

Oxfam America

Irit Tamir is the Senior Campaigns and Advocacy Advisor for Oxfam America’s Private Sector Department. In her role, she is focused on working with companies to ensure that their business practices result in positive social and environmental impacts for vulnerable communities throughout the world. Most recently, her work has been focused on the food and beverage industry and advocating for better policies and practices

Stefani Millie GrantStefani Millie Grant


Stefani Millie Grant is the Manager, External Affairs for Unilever, a food and personal care products manufacturing company. Ms. Grant works with elected officials and NGO’s on Unilever’s sustainability efforts and promoting the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, with a focus on agricultural commodities.



 Jane Goodall condemns “deluded” GM food supporters as  “anti-science”

Senior academic condemns ‘deluded’ supporters of GM food as being ‘anti-science’ and ignoring evidence of dangers

You can buy Steve Druker's brilliant new book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth on Amazon UK or We highly recommend it –  it's a real page-turner.

EXCERPT: Dame Jane warns it would be an enormous risk to accept the [GM] technology and describes Mr Druker as a hero worthy of a Nobel prize for lifting the lid on the truth about GM.
By Sean Poulter
Daily Mail, 4 March 2015

* Dr Jane Goodall argues supporters of GM food ignored evidence of harm
* Endorsed US book which says GM producers have twisted evidence
* Publication comes as backlash against GM food is growing in US
* Primate expert warns Britain and Europe not to drop GM safeguards
* Accuses supporters of 'fraud' and says they are 'anti science'

Dame Jane Goodall, the renowned primate expert, has condemned ‘deluded’ politicians for pushing ‘Frankenstein Food’.

The highly respected academic has endorsed a new book, which argues the companies responsible for developing genetically modified farming and food have twisted the evidence to minimise the dangers.

Historically, critics of GM food have been lambasted by the GM companies, scientists who rely on their funding, and politicians, including the UK Government, as being ‘anti-science’.

However, Dame Jane argues that the advocates of GM food have ignored evidence of harm with the result it is they who are guilty of being ‘anti-science’.

The intervention is a powerful condemnation of the way biotech companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, have forced GM crops and food on to dinner plates in the US without proper safety tests.

And she is joining a growing campaign warning that Britain and Europe must not drop safeguards that have kept GM crops out.

Dame Jane’s concerns have been raised in the foreword to a new book, ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth’, which is written by the American public interest lawyer, Steve Druker.

Its publication comes as the US is seeing a growing backlash against GM. Just last week it emerged that the country’s favourite chocolate manufacturer, Hershey, is to drop GM from its products.

Dame Jane said she has become appalled as what she calls a ‘shocking corruption of the life forms of the planet’.

She said the GM process, which involves adding foreign genes to plants to create toxins to fend off insects or give them immunity to being sprayed with chemical pesticides has fundamentally changed them.

However, she complains that supporters of the technology have committed a ‘fraud’ by trying to give the false impression that these new plants are essentially the same as those created by conventional plant breeding.

She said: ‘This very real difference between GM plants and their conventional counterparts is one of the basic truths that biotech proponents have endeavoured to obscure. As part of the process, they portrayed the various concerns as merely the ignorant opinions of misinformed individuals – and derided them as not only unscientific, but anti-science.

‘They then set to work to convince the public and government officials, through the dissemination of false information, that there was an overwhelming expert consensus, based on solid evidence, that the new foods were safe. Yet this, as Druker points out, was clearly not true.’

Importantly, she claims, the companies have spread disinformation to try and win public support.

‘Druker describes how amazingly successful the biotech lobby has been – and the extent to which the general public and government decision makers have been hoodwinked by the clever and methodical twisting of the facts and the propagation of many myths. Moreover, it appears that a number of respected scientific institutions, as well as many eminent scientists, were complicit in this relentless spreading of disinformation.’

Dame Jane is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. She is best known for her 55-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.

She was made a Dame in 2004 and holds many other awards for her environmental and humanitarian work, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, the French Legion of Honour, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, Japan’ s Kyoto Prize and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

The British government has signalled that it plans to use a new GM crop approval process to push ahead with growing the crops in this country. Separately, a new trade agreement between the EU and the USA, which is called TTIP, could make it much easier for GM foods from North America to appear on shelves here.

However, Dame Jane warns it would be an enormous risk to accept the technology and describes Mr Druker as a hero worthy of a Nobel prize for lifting the lid on the truth about GM.

She describes his work as one of the most important books of the last 50 years, and adds: ‘It will go a long way toward dispelling the confusion and delusion that has been created regarding the genetic engineering process and the foods it creates.

‘Although this book tells a story that’s in many ways distressing, it’s important that it has finally been told because so much confusion has been spread and so many important decision-makers have apparently been deluded.’

Mr Druker, who gave a press conference in London yesterday(wed), has challenged Britain’s Royal Society to apologies for its pro-GM stance and its part in rubbishing scientists who have safety doubts over the crops and food.

His work points to research which has found tumours, liver and kidney harm in animals given GM feed in trials. And he complains, that researchers who dare to raise these problems have been pilloried.

He said: ‘Contrary to the assertions of its proponents, the massive enterprise to reconfigure the genetic core of the world’s food supply is not based on sound science but on the systematic subversion of science – and it would collapse if subjected to an open airing of the facts.’

Pat Thomas, director of the campaigning group Beyond GM, warned the TTIP trade talks mean Britain and Europe could see a flood of biotech crops and food arriving here.

She said: ‘Steven Druker’s investigation into the history of fraud and deceit that ushered in the era of GM deserves serious consideration before we take actions that will irreversibly alter the European food supply’.

Dr Julian Little a spokesman for Bayer CropScience was not aware of Drunker's book.

He said: 'We are now up to the three trillion meals and counting, that is meals containing GM ingredients, without a single substantial health issue since the beginning of the technology.

'There has been much dirt thrown but none of it has stuck.'

On its website Monsanto say they place the 'highest priority' on the safety of their products and conduct 'rigorous and comprehensive testing on each.'

They state: 'In fact, seeds with GM traits have been tested more than any other crops in the history of agriculture – with no evidence of harm to humans or animals.

'In addition, governmental regulatory agencies, scientific organizations and leading health associations worldwide agree on the safety of GM crops.'

A spokesman for the company added: 'The denial of the safety of GM seeds and food ingredients is as baseless as the denial of clearly documented climate change.

'Countless peer-reviewed scientific studies performed with biotech crops — including more than 100 feeding studies — have confirmed their safety, as reflected in the respective safety assessments by regulatory authorities around the world.'

Senior academic endorses US book which says GM producers have twisted evidence


Europe urged to halt GM maize production immediately

Study shows it is nearly impossible to grow GM maize without damage to nature and contamination of farms producing clean conventional and organic foods

The study referred to in the article below, which found that maize pollen travels several kilometres, is here:
GMWatch reported on it late last year:

Europe urged to halt GM maize production immediately

Friends of the Earth Europe, 5 March 2015 

The European Food Safety Authority has started an investigation into the safety of growing genetically modified (GM) maize in Europe following the publication of the biggest study on maize pollen published to date. Friends of the Earth Europe and Testbiotech have called on the EU to immediately suspend the growing of GM maize and to stop all future approvals.

The European Commission, under pressure from the biotech industry, is understood to be imminently considering a second GM maize crop permitted for cultivation. Friends of the Earth Europe and Testbiotech have written to the new EU food safety Commissioner Andriukaitis calling for him to halt all cultivation of GM maize.

The European Food Safety Authority, in a letter dated 16 December 2014, announced a new investigation into the safety of all GM maize types currently being grown in Europe, or in the pipeline to be grown. They claim these new safety tests will be complete by 31 May 2015.

The researchers, from Germany, collected data and monitored over a 10-year period how far maize pollen can travel. Currently, European Food Safety Authority suggests buffer distances of 20 to 30 metres between GM maize and protected nature sites. The new research finds that maize pollen in fact travels up to several kilometres. To protect sensitive species, such as butterflies and moths, from the insecticide-containing GM pollen, the buffer distances need to be in the "kilometre range", according to the study. It concludes that, "previous risk assessments and conclusions regarding distances, potential exposure, and effects on non-target organisms should be revised in the light of these findings".

Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "This new research raises serious questions about our scientific understanding of the safety of GM maize and the harm it can do to nature and conventional farming. These findings show we need a root-and-branch reform of the safety checks in place for GM maize.

"It is clear from this new research that it is nearly impossible to grow GM maize without widespread damage to nature, as well as the contamination of farms producing clean conventional and organic foods. The only logical and scientific conclusion is to halt the cultivation of all GM maize in Europe."

Christoph Then, director of Testbiotech said: "This research again shows major gaps in risk assessment of EFSA. Crucial data are missing and replaced by unreasoned assumptions. Based on the risk assessment of EFSA, genetically engineered maize such the so-called '1507' cannot be regarded as safe for the environment. The Commission should stop the authorisation process."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


March 2nd, 2015

The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics: Et tu, National Geographic

By Timothy Wise
Timothy A. Wise is at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University. This piece originally appeared at Food Tank.
Since when is the safety of genetically modified food considered “settled science” on a par with the reality of evolution? That was the question that jumped to mind when I saw the cover of the March 2015 National Geographic and the lead article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”
The cover title: “The War on Science.” The image: a movie set of a fake moon landing. Superimposed: a list of irrational battles being waged by “science doubters” against an implied scientific consensus:
“Climate change does not exist.”
“Evolution never happened.”
“The moon landing was faked.”
“Vaccinations can lead to autism.”
“Genetically modified food is evil.” WHAT?
Genetically modified food is evil? First of all, what business does “evil” have in an article about scientific consensus? Sure, some people think GMOs are evil. But isn’t the controversy about whether genetically modified food is safe?
More important, what was such an item doing on a list of issues on which the vast majority of scientists would indeed have consensus? How in the world does author Joel Achenbach define “scientific consensus?” How about 95 percent of the peer-reviewed literature, as in the case of climate change? Near 100 percent, as in the case of the lack of any link between autism and vaccines, or on evolution, or the reality of the moon landing?
There is no such consensus on the safety of GM food. A peer-reviewed study of the research, from peer-reviewed journals, found that about half of the animal-feeding studies conducted in recent years found cause for concern. The other half didn’t, and as the researchers noted, “most of these studies have been conducted by biotechnology companies responsible of commercializing these GM plants.”
In other words, those studies are tainted by the same conflict of interest that the article itself denounced in the case of anti-climate-change research commissioned by oil companies. The only consensus that GM food is safe is among industry-funded researchers.
So why would the respected National Geographic make such a scientific error? And why would respected Washington Post science writer Joel Achenbach include GM safety on his list of “settled” science?

Product placement for GMOs

Call it product placement. You know, the nearly subliminal advertising technique in which Coca Cola pays a movie producer to have the characters all drink Coke. Biotechnology companies and their powerful advocates, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are succeeding in a well-planned campaign to get GM safety declared “settled science.”
The article itself hardly touches the GM controversy or the science. It focuses on the interesting and important question of how people, including scientists, interpret scientific evidence in a way tainted by “confirmation bias,” the tendency to more readily believe evidence that confirms one’s existing beliefs. Achenbach could have added science writers to the list. And magazine editors.
Achenbach focuses on climate change and evolution and vaccines, mainly. GMOs? In what amounts to a throw-away paragraph, after he’s made justifiable fun of anti-fluoride scare-mongering, he writes:
“We’re asked to accept, for example, that it’s safe to eat food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because, the experts point out, there’s no evidence that it isn’t and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding. But to some people the very idea of transferring genes between species conjures up mad scientists running amok—and so, two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they talk about Frankenfood.”
What? “The experts point out?” Some do, some don’t. “There’s no evidence that it isn’t” safe to eat GMOs? What kind of science is that? Many experts would disagree, and they would certainly object to a safety standard for a new technology that is content with the epidemiologically shabby construct that if there’s no evidence something isn’t safe, it must be safe.
Thalidomide, anyone, with a pinch of DDT? What’s going on here?
Are we “depolarized” yet?
What we’re seeing is a concerted campaign to do exactly what National Geographic has knowingly or unknowingly done: paint GMO critics as anti-science while offering no serious discussion of the scientific controversy that still rages.
An indicator was a quiet announcement in the press last summer that the Gates Foundation had awarded a US$5.6 million grant to Cornell University to “depolarize” the debate over GM foods. That’s their word. The grant founded a new institute, the Cornell Alliance for Science.
“Our goal is to depolarize the GMO debate and engage with potential partners who may share common values around poverty reduction and sustainable agriculture, but may not be well informed about the potential biotechnology has for solving major agricultural challenges,” said project leader Sarah Evanega, senior associate director of International Programs in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).
Got it? The Gates Foundation is paying biotech scientists and advocates at Cornell to help them convince the ignorant and brainwashed public, who “may not be well informed,” that they are ignorant and brainwashed.
“Improving agricultural biotechnology communications is a challenge that must be met if innovations developed in public sector institutions like Cornell are ever to reach farmers in their fields,” added Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS.
It’s kind of like depolarizing an armed conflict by giving one side more weapons.
So what you’re seeing in National Geographic is the product of improved “agricultural biotechnology communications.”
And not just there. In the last year we’ve seen the New Yorker’s slimy takedown of anti-GMO campaigner Vandana Shiva, and prominent opinion pieces by scientists, researchers, and journalists painting GMO critics as anti-science, the food policy equivalents of climate deniers and creationists.
I saw the PR machine in action in Des Moines in 2013 at the World Food Prize awards, which went that year to three biotech scientists, one from Monsanto. (It was of course pure coincidence that Monsanto had underwritten the renovation of the beautiful old building that houses the World Food Prize empire.)
At a panel discussion there the audience got heavily depolarized. Ann Glover, a European Science Advisor and designated GM bulldog, actually called anyone who still questioned the safety of GM crops “brainwashed.” Journalist Mark Lynas, who has made a career of such demonization, added his own insults.
I was sitting next to former World Food Prize winner Hans Herren, who won the prize in the 1990s for his innovative, cost-effective biological pest-control campaign that saved the African cassava crop. Brainwashed?

The consensus: There is no consensus

The consensus on the safety of GM food is perfectly clear: there is no consensus. That’s what the independent peer-reviewed literature says. And that’s what the National Geographic’s beautiful exhibit on its food series, in its Washington headquarters, says: the “long-term health and ecological consequences are unknown.“ And that is an accurate statement of the consensus, or the lack of it.
The paid shills for the petroleum industry undermined a growing consensus on climate change that was inconvenient for industry, backed by a well-funded PR campaign sowing doubt about that scientific consensus. In this case, the biotechnology industry and its allies are declaring a consensus where there is none in order to silence their critics.
The debate is over what level of precaution we should apply before allowing the large-scale commercialization of this new technology. And anyone stating that there is a scientific consensus on GM safety is coming down squarely against precaution. Reasonable people disagree, and that does not make them “science doubters.”
Are you feeling depolarized yet?


Sunday, March 1, 2015


USDA ignores farmer opposition, approves Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant seed
Mon 16 January 2015.
The USDA has approved Monsanto’s soybean and cotton varieties genetically engineered to withstand applications — and drive up sales of – the company’s drift-prone herbicide, dicamba

EXCERPT: Steve Smith, Director of Agriculture for Red Gold, one of the nation’s largest full-line tomato processing companies, testified before Congress in 2010: "I am convinced that in all of my years serving the agriculture industry, the widespread use of dicamba herbicide [poses] the single most serious threat to the future of the specialty crop industry in the Midwest."
USDA ignores farmer opposition, approves Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant seed
Despite receiving thousands of comments in opposition, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today approved Monsanto’s newest seed products — soybean and cotton varieties genetically engineered to withstand applications — and drive up sales of the company’s drift-prone herbicide, dicamba.
With USDA’s approval, growers can expect use of dicamba to increase dramatically in both crops. According to USDA data and Monsanto projections, dicamba use in cotton is expected to increase by 14 times current levels, while use in soybeans is expected to surge by up to 500 times current levels.* Farmers predict that such a dramatic increase in use of dicamba — a highly drift-prone chemical known to be extremely toxic to most plants — will result in more frequent and devastating damage to vulnerable crops and increased pesticide exposure for rural families.
Most at risk are fruit, nut, and vegetable growers in the Midwest. As Steve Smith, Director of Agriculture for Red Gold, one of the nation’s largest full-line tomato processing companies, testified before Congress in 2010:
"I am convinced that in all of my years serving the agriculture industry, the widespread use of dicamba herbicide [poses] the single most serious threat to the future of the specialty crop industry in the Midwest."
Meanwhile, Monsanto’s response to farmers’ concerns about crop damage has been to develop exceedingly complex and demanding protocols for applying and disposing of the herbicide cocktail, including a ten-step triple rinse of sprayers that is likely to take more than an hour and then entails proper disposal of the contaminated rinse water. This ‘solution’ puts all responsibility on farmers, and sets up the company to escape liability for crop damage.
As PAN’s Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman says,
“Monsanto’s newest product is the latest in a slew of bad ideas — bad for farmers, bad for rural communities, bad for American agriculture. USDA’s approval today signals their continued contempt of farmers’ concerns, and their allegiance to the largest pesticide corporations. We stand with farm families in opposing this decision and call instead for public policy that protects rural communities and promotes agroecology.”

* Projected increases of dicamba use in soybeans are based on current use levels (USDA-NASS 2013 published data, referenced in EIS Appendix Table 4-1, p. 4-4) and  Monsanto’s anticipated use patterns (EIS Appendix Table 4-9, page 4-17).

Friday, February 27, 2015


Allen Williams grows corn and soybeans for Clarkson Grain, which has been selling GMO-free grain to Japan for years.How American Food Companies Go GMO-Free In A GMO World

Allen Williams grows corn and soybeans for Clarkson Grain, which has been selling GMO-free grain to Japan for years. 

Quite possibly, you've noticed some new food labels out there, like "Not made with genetically modified ingredients" or "GMO-free." You might have seen them on boxes of Cheerios, or on chicken meat. If you've shopped at Whole Foods, that retailer says it now sells more than 3,000 products that have been certified as "non-GMO."

But where does non-GMO food come from? After all, 90 percent of America's corn and soybeans are genetically modified, and producers of eggs, milk and meat rely on those crops to feed their animals. Soy oil and corn starch are used throughout the industry. Can big food companies really avoid GMOs?

Looking for the answer, I ended up at one of the first links in the non-GMO supply chain: a corn processing facility just north of the small town of Cerro Gordo, in west-central Illinois.

A robotic arm at Clarkson Grain takes a sample of blue corn to be tested for GMOs.
A robotic arm at Clarkson Grain takes a sample of blue corn to be tested for GMOs.
 Truckloads of corn arrive here and stop at the "scale house," where they're weighed. A remote-controlled steel probe dives into each load and sucks out some grain for testing.
That's all standard at any corn handling facility. But at this processing plant, operated by Clarkson Grain, there's one more test: a quick, five-minute check to see if this corn contains specific proteins that are the signature of genetic modification.

Farmers have embraced these novel proteins; they protect a growing cornstalk from some insects, or weedkillers. So, at almost any corn processing facility in America, this test would come up positive.

But here, a positive test means rejection; the truck has to turn around and leave.
Clarkson Grain only accepts GMO-free grain because that's what its customers want.
"We don't tell people what their values should be. We inquire, and then we do our best to support those values," says Lynn Clarkson, the company's founder.

Clarkson has been in the grain business for 40 years. He doesn't seem terribly excited about prices and profits, but he loves to talk about relationships: about the customers and suppliers who've stayed with him for decades, or the telegram of thanks he got, years ago, after his first foreign deal. "That was the first compliment I had ever received in the grain business in 20 years," he recalls. "Most of us want to make money, but we also want to do something that somebody appreciates."

Lynn Clarkson founded Clarkson Grain, which accepts only non-GMO grain. i
Lynn Clarkson founded Clarkson Grain, which accepts only non-GMO grain.
Dan Charles/NPR
That story, and the story of Lynn Clarkson's company, helps explain how American food companies can, in fact, go GMO-free in a world filled with GMOs.
And the story starts years ago, long before any GMOs existed.

Lynn Clarkson was a small-town grain dealer looking for new buyers for his corn. He drove to Chicago to talk to food companies, and he realized that they had a problem. "If you ask food processors anywhere in the world, 90 percent of them will tell you there's too much variation in incoming raw materials," he says.
The corn that these food processors were buying wasn't consistent. They'd cook it and get widely varying results.
Clarkson told them that this problem had a simple cause. They were getting perhaps 30 different genetic types of corn in each shipment.

Clarkson also proposed a solution: "buying a single variety, a single hybrid, delivered at any one time, so you're not mixing different cooking characteristics."

Clarkson set up a system that allowed him to deliver exactly that. He signed contracts with farmers near his hometown of Cerro Gordo, agreeing to pay them a little extra to supply specific corn hybrids, or particular varieties of soybeans.

He delivered this uniform, predictable grain to food companies, first in Chicago and then to those appreciative foreign buyers — in particular, in Japan.

When GMOs came on the scene about 20 years ago, it turned out that his Japanese customers didn't want them. Japanese food companies were suspicious of the new technology and didn't want to risk a hostile consumer reaction.

So Clarkson tweaked his supply chain to deliver what the Japanese wanted. He made sure his farmers grew varieties that weren't genetically engineered. The non-GMO niche was born.
He wasn't the only one doing this. Clarkson shows me, on a wall map, the concentration of farmers who supply the Japanese market. Many are along the Illinois and Ohio rivers, with easy access to ships heading toward Asia.

There are thousands of them, and they're now happy to supply customers in the U.S., too.
"U.S. buyers often think that we're starting from scratch" with non-GMO grain, Clarkson says. "Well, we're not. We're starting from millions of bushels of demand that are in place and being satisfied on a regular basis for Asian clients."

Most of these farmers don't have any philosophical objection to genetic engineering. In fact, most of them grow both GMO and non-GMO crops.

Allen Williams, who grows grain for Lynn Clarkson, says the choice to grow non-GMO grain simply comes down to money. "You're just trying to improve your profit," he says. "There's not a lot of ways to do that, if you're growing commodities. This is one way to do that."
He'll sell his non-GMO grain for 10 percent or 15 percent more than the standard market price. But there are complications. Some of the extra income gets eaten up by extra costs. He'll spend more money on pesticides, for instance, for his non-GMO soybean fields.

He also has to make sure the grain he sends to Clarkson Grain doesn't contain any traces of his GMO crops. So when he finishes harvesting one of his GMO fields, he has to spend hours cleaning out his combine.

"You know, time is of the essence during harvest," he says. "So to take time during harvest to clean out equipment and storage locations and transportation equipment is very expensive for a farmer."

A GMO test kit in use at Clarkson Grain i
A GMO test kit in use at Clarkson Grain
Dan Charles/NPR 
Also, because corn pollen blows in the wind, he has to make sure his non-GMO fields of corn are a hundred feet from any GMO corn fields.
The separation doesn't always work perfectly. But Lynn Clarkson says the food industry is pragmatic; companies know that they have to tolerate small traces of GMOs. "It always comes down to: How do you define GMO-free?" he says. "What's the tolerance level? If it's zero, we might as well have a drink and part friendly, because we can't do business. We cannot hit a zero standard."

People just need to know, he says, that in the U.S., "GMO-free" means that something contains no more than 0.9 percent GMOs.

Demand for non-GMO grain is growing. Lynn Clarkson has told farmers that he'll buy about 25 percent more non-GMO grain next year.

At the company's modest offices beside the railroad tracks in the small town of Cerro Gordo, Wyatt Muse is fielding calls and emails. "We have everything from the home survivalist wanting a 5-gallon bucket for their basement, up to people wanting a Panamax vessel to ship it into East Asia," he says.

The latest query, sitting on Muse's desk, is from a snack food company in Europe. It wants non-GMO corn. "We're going to send one container next week, and assuming they like the quality, we would probably be doing a 100 to 120 containers over the next few months," he says.

In the world of international grain trading, that's still pretty small. But there's a potential development that could transform this small niche market, Clarkson says: a surge in orders for animal feed. A few poultry and egg producers already are going GMO-free; if others do the same, the non-GMO wave could turn into a tsunami.



GMO foods: What you need to know

Why is there so much fuss over genetically modified ingredients? This will help you sift through the facts.

Published: February 26, 2015 03:20 PM

Foods made with canola oil, corn, or soy often contain GMOs.

Find Ratings blob logo

It’s a growing controversy: Should GMO foods always be labeled so consumers are aware that the product contains genetically modified ingredients?

GMOs—or genetically modified organisms—are created in a lab by altering the genetic makeup of a plant or an animal. Ninety-two percent of Americans believe that GMO foods—widely found in kitchens across the country—should be labeled before they’re sold, according to a recent nationally representative survey of 1,004 people from the Consumer Reports National Research Center. (Last year our tests discovered that GMOs were present in many packaged foods, such as breakfast cereals, chips, baking mixes, and protein bars.)

Demand for non-GMO foods has skyrocketed: In 2013, sales of non-GMO products that were either certified organic (by law, organic products can’t be made with GMO ingredients) or that carried the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal increased by 80 percent, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. It has prompted a growing number of companies to avoid using GMOs in new products or to voluntarily reformulate existing ones so that they can sport reliable non-GMO labels. PepsiCo, for example, sells Stacy’s Simply Naked bagel and pita chips with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal; General Mills, which introduced a non-GMO original Cheerios cereal early last year, also has the non-GMO product lines Cascadian Farm and Food Should Taste Good.

Yet GMO labeling has become a hot-button issue: Vermont passed a GMO labeling law last April. Last fall, the question of whether food manufacturers should be required to list GMO ingredients on their product labels was put to voters in Colorado and Oregon. On both sides were strong arguments and a lot of money spent—mostly on the part of food and chemical industry opponents to labeling. (In the Colorado election, for example, they outspent labeling supporters by about 16 to 1.) The measure was rejected in Colorado, and it failed in Oregon by a razor-thin margin in a recount—837 votes. 

In an interesting twist, some food companies that expressed strong opposition to such mandatory labeling are the same ones turning out new non-GMO products. “They are experimenting, in case labeling does become mandatory and boosts demand for non-GMOs,” says Nathan Hendricks, Ph.D., an agricultural economist at Kansas State University. “Of course, they may do this without too much fanfare to avoid raising questions about why they’re removing GMOs from some of their products but not others.”
With so many voices in the conversation and products on the market, how can you make buying decisions that are best for you and your family? Our Q&A helps you separate fact from fiction.

Are GMOs bad for my health?

Those who support using GMOs point out that Americans have been eating foods containing them for more than 15 years and that there’s no credible evidence that people have been harmed. But saying there’s no evidence of harm isn’t the same as saying they’ve been proved safe. “The contention that GMOs pose no risks to human health can’t be supported by studies that have measured a time frame that is too short to determine the effects of exposure over a lifetime,” says Robert Gould, M.D., president of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A joint commission of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has established a protocol for evaluating the safety of GMOs, which it says have the potential to introduce toxins and new allergens (or increase levels of existing ones), or cause nutritional changes in foods and other unexpected effects. Other developed nations have used those guidelines in their mandatory premarket safety assessments for genetically modified organisms. But the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require any safety assessment of genetically engineered crops, though it invites companies to provide data for a voluntary safety review.

Animal studies—commonly used to help assess human health risks—have suggested that GMOs might cause damage to the immune system, liver, and kidneys. More studies are needed to determine long-term effects. And the ability of researchers to track potential health effects of GMOs in the human population is hampered by the absence of labeling. “Physicians need to know what their patients are eating,” Gould says. “If your patient has a problem with food allergies or other side effects that may be related to GMOs, it’s difficult to identify any links unless these foods are labeled.”

Why the labeling debate?

GMO labeling is mandatory in more than 60 countries but not in the U.S. Opponents to mandatory labeling here often say that it unfairly implies that foods with genetically engineered ingredients are unsafe. Those in favor of mandatory labels—including Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports—argue that even if the jury is still out on the health impact of GMOs, shoppers have a right to know what’s in their food. “Producers already must label foods that are frozen, from concentrate, homogenized, or irradiated,” says Jean Halloran, director of food-policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “GMO labeling is one more piece of helpful information.” 

It’s not surprising that much of the opposition to GMO labeling comes from GMO seed manufacturers and the food industry, who have spent a lot of money to get their position out to the public. Among those contributing the most to oppose the Colorado measure were Coca-Cola, DuPont, Kraft Foods, Monsanto (which produces seeds for GMO crops), and PepsiCo. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers have filed a lawsuit to overturn Vermont’s labeling law.

Which foods contain GMOs?

The vast majority of corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are now genetically engineered, and they are often used as ingredients in processed foods.
The food industry is also pushing to further expand the use of genetic engineering. A new form of salmon that is genetically altered to grow to maturity twice as fast as wild salmon is currently undergoing a safety review by the Food and Drug Administration. If approved, it would be the first genetically engineered animal to be marketed. 

The Department of Agriculture recently approved a potato that is genetically engineered to resist bruising and to have potentially lower levels of acrylamide, a suspected human carcinogen that the vegetable can produce when it is cooked at the high temperatures used to make potato chips and french fries. The FDA hasn’t completed a voluntary safety review for the new GMO potato yet, but McDonald’s has stated that it is sticking to its current policy of using only non-GMO potatoes for its fries.

Do GMOs harm the environment?

One main selling point for crops containing GMOs has been that they reduce the use of pesticides. The use of insecticides (which kill bugs) has declined since these crops were introduced in the mid-1990s, but the use of herbicides (which kill weeds) has soared.
The majority of corn, soybeans, and other GMO crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, a weed killer better known as Roundup. Roundup is made by Monsanto, which also produces the seeds that enable crops to survive being doused with the herbicide. Since that technology was introduced in 1996, there has been almost a tenfold increase in the use of the herbicide, as illustrated in this graph from the U.S. Geological Survey.
That in turn created an epidemic of super-weeds, which have quickly evolved to become immune to glyphosate. A survey conducted by Stratus Agri-Marketing in 2012 found that almost half of farmers throughout the U.S. are now battling the crop-choking plants.

The solution proposed by the biotech industry? Creating a new generation of crops that are genetically altered to be immune to glyphosate and to other herbicides that are capable of killing the glyphosate-resistant super-weeds. Dow AgroSciences recently got the green light from federal officials to sell its new Enlist brand of GMO corn and soybeans, which are both engineered to be resistant to glyphosate as well as to an herbicide known as 2,4-D. 

The USDA has estimated that Dow’s new GMO corn and soybean crops would at least triple the use of 2,4-D and could lead to an almost sevenfold increase over the next five years. “Since this is likely to make even more weeds immune to both Roundup and 2,4-D, this ‘solution’ to the super-weed problem makes about as much sense as pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out,says Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., a research professor at Washington State University who also serves on a USDA advisory committee on agricultural biotechnology.

Significant increases in the use of these herbicides could potentially affect consumers’ health as well, because residue from the chemicals can end up in food crops. In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency raising concerns about increased exposure to 2,4-D that would result from approval of Dow’s new GMO corn and soy, a group of 70 scientists, doctors, and other health professionals pointed out that studies in humans have reported associations between exposure to the herbicide and increased risks of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, birth defects, and other reproductive problems.

Will GMO labeling drive up grocery prices?

Mandatory labeling that informs consumers about whether their food contains GMOs would add less than a penny a day to their grocery bills, according to a recent analysis of existing studies commissioned by Consumers Union and conducted by the independent economic research firm ECONorthwest.

Opponents of labeling cite industry-financed studies suggesting that food prices would soar, boosting a typical family of four’s spending at the supermarket by $400 to $800 per year. But the Consumers Union analysis found that the median cost that might be passed on to consumers was just $2.30 per person annually—or $9.20 for a family of four.
Why such a big difference? The industry’s estimate assumes that if consumers know that a product contains GMOs, they’ll perceive it negatively and won’t buy it. Food producers would then, in many cases, replace GMOs with much more expensive organic ingredients, and food prices would escalate. 

But in countries where GMO labeling is required—including many where American food companies sell their products—food prices haven’t increased as a result of mandatory labeling. And as our recent GMO testing showed, food products don’t have to contain all-organic ingredients to qualify as non-GMO.

Did you know?

Because corn and soybeans are the most widely planted genetically modified crops in the U.S., it’s not surprising that you’d find GMO corn in tortilla chips or GMO soy in some meat substitutes. But those genetically engineered ingredients also pop up in places you might not expect. Some spices and seasoning mixes contain GMO corn and soy. And soft-drink ingredients that might be derived from genetically modified corn include not only corn syrup but also the artificial sweetener aspartame, glucose, citric acid, and colorings such as beta-carotene and riboflavin.

Products and politics: GMO info at your fingertips

The upside of all the publicity generated by the GMO debate is increased awareness among consumers, who are often moved to reach out to companies to find out what’s in their food, says Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project. It certifies through third-party testing that products carrying its seal qualify as non-GMO.
“I don’t think people realize how much power they really have in the marketplace,” Westgate says. The Non-GMO Project Verified seal, launched in 2010, now appears on more than 22,000 products that represent $8.5 billion in annual sales at retailers across the country. “At least 200 companies that have come to us to become non-GMO verified have said they were prompted to make that change because of calls or letters they’d gotten from consumers.”

To help you exercise that power, the Non-GMO Project recently launched a free iPhone app, available on iTunes, that allows you to search for products verified as non-GMO. If your favorite food isn’t listed, the app directs you to a form to let the manufacturer know that you would like it to be. Consumers who want to avoid GMOs can also express their preferences in the marketplace by buying certified organic foods. Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, favors labeling and premarket safety testing of GMO foods and supports state bills and measures to that end. We also strongly oppose the introduction of a food- and chemical-industry supported federal bill that would preempt all state GMO food-labeling laws and would allow the “natural” label to be used on GMO foods.