Saturday, February 2, 2013


Protesters destroy GM crops.

After 30 years, is a GM food breakthrough finally here?

Golden rice, a new strain that boosts vitamin A levels and reduces blindness in developing countries, is about to be sown in the Philippines – and is the new battleground crop

Protesters destroy GM crops. Photograph: David Hoffman Photo Library / Al/Alamy

Scientists say they have seen the future of genetically modified foods and have concluded that it is orange or, more precisely, golden. In a few months, golden rice – normal rice that has been genetically modified to provide vitamin A to counter blindness and other diseases in children in the developing world – will be given to farmers in the Philippines for planting in paddy fields.
Thirty years after scientists first revealed they had created the world's first GM crop, hopes that their potential to ease global malnutrition problems may be realised at last. Bangladesh and Indonesia have indicated they are ready to accept golden rice in the wake of the Philippines' decision, and other nations, including India, have also said that they are considering planting it.
"Vitamin A deficiency is deadly," said Adrian Dubock, a member of the Golden Rice project. "It affects children's immune systems and kills around two million every year in developing countries. It is also a major cause of blindness in the third world. Boosting levels of vitamin A in rice provides a simple, straightforward way to put that right."
Recent tests have revealed that a substantial amount of vitamin A can be obtained by eating only 60g of cooked golden rice. "This has enormous potential," said Dubock.
But scientists' satisfaction over the Golden Rice project has been tempered by the fact that it has taken an extraordinarily long time for the GM crop to be approved. Golden rice was created late last century, but its development and cultivation has been opposed vehemently by campaigners who have flatly refused to accept that it could deliver enough vitamin A, and who have also argued that the crop's introduction in the developing world would make farmers increasingly dependent on western industry. The crop has become the cause célèbre of the anti-GM movement, which sees golden rice as a tool of global capitalism.
This view is rejected by the scientists involved. "We have developed this is conjunction with organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a way of alleviating a real health problem in the developing world," says Dubock. "No one is going to make money out of it. The companies involved in developing some of the technologies have waived their licences just to get this off the ground."
This view is shared by Mark Lynas, the environmental campaigner and one of the founders of the anti-GM crop movement. He has publicly apologised for opposing the planting of GM crops in Britain. "The first generation of GM crops were suspect, I believed then, but the case for continued opposition to new generations – which provide life-saving vitamins for starving people – is no longer justifiable. You cannot call yourself a humanitarian and be opposed to GM crops today."
Golden rice was created by Peter Beyer, professor for cell biology at Freiburg University in Germany, and Ingo Potrykus of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Switzerland, in the late 1990s. They inserted genes for a chemical known as beta-carotene into the DNA of normal rice. In this way they modified the rice's genes so that the plants started to make beta-carotene, a rich orange-coloured pigment that is also a key precursor chemical that is used by the body to make vitamin A.
By 2000 the plant was ready for trials. However, it took another five years before test fields were grown, such was the resistance to the idea of introducing GM plants in many countries. These trials showed golden rice could stimulate vitamin A uptake but at a low level. New research was launched to create varieties that would provide enhanced amounts of the vitamins.
"All the time, opponents to golden rice insisted, year after year, that it would not be able to produce vitamin A in those who ate it," said Beyer, golden rice's co-creator. "For example, it was alleged by Greenpeace that people would have to eat several kilograms of the stuff to get any benefit."
Two studies, both published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demolished this claim. The first, in 2009, was based on a group of healthy adult volunteers in the US and showed that golden rice's beta-carotene was easily taken up into the bloodstream. The second trial was carried out by American and Chinese researchers and published last year. It was carried out on Chinese children, aged between six and eight, and showed that a bowl of of cooked golden rice, between 100g and 150g, could provide 60% of the recommended intake of vitamin A for young people. The study also revealed that golden rice is better than spinach at providing vitamin A.
"Given that normal rice has no vitamin A to speak of, that shows the importance of what has been achieved," said Dubock.
The latter study has since been immersed in controversy after it was claimed in a Greenpeace press release that the parents of the Chinese children had not been informed they were being given GM food and had been used as guinea pigs. An investigation by the Chinese authorities led to the sacking of the three Chinese scientists named by Greenpeace, which described the incident as "another example of big business hustling in on one the world's most sacred things: our food supply". For his part, Lynas has described Greenpeace's actions as "immoral and inhumane" because it deprives "the needy of something that would help them and their children because of the aesthetic preferences of rich people far away".
The reactions of bureaucracies to golden rice were also described by Beyer as "hard to believe". "We have had to undergo endless trials and tests and endure endless amounts of bureaucracy. Yet new breeds of standard crops have no such problems, even though they are often created by exposing them to doses of radiation. This is done to create new mutant breeds which you can then grow to see if any have features you like. None of the regulations that we had to meet in creating golden rice were imposed on these plant breeders. Yet this is the standard means by which new crops, including organic crops, are created. It is manifestly unbalanced."
This point was backed by Dubock. "All the time we have been required to show that there are no risks associated with growing golden rice, but at no point did we get a chance to point out its benefits. Everything is about risk assessment and nothing is about benefits assessment." Of course, some doubts about the technology still remain, as my colleague John Vidal makes clear here.
Nevertheless, a warning about consequences of imposing regulations on GM crops and not others was provided by Professor Cathie Martin of the John Innes Centre in Norwich. "At institutes like ours, we can prioritise research to bring new consumer health benefits and environmental benefits to market [via GM], as long as the regulatory process is not prohibitively expensive for publicly funded organisations."
The fate of golden rice is therefore important, as Professor Jonathan Jones of the John Innes Centre points out. "When I started making GM plants 30 years ago I did wonder if there might be "unknown unknowns". But the evidence now is clear. GM food and crops are as safe as non-GM food and crops".
The prospect of further delays preventing future life-saving GM plants going to the field because of carefully orchestrated campaigns of opposition is therefore viewed with concern.
The Golden Rice project has had one beneficial knock-on effect, however. It has triggered a series of similar crop modification programmes that aim to tackle vitamin A deficiency through use of other GM foodstuffs. One example is provided by the golden banana, which has been created by scientists led by Professor James Dale of Queensland University in Australia.
"In Uganda, where the banana is a key source of nutrition, there is considerable vitamin A deficiency and also iron deficiency in diets," he said. "The former not only causes blindness but leaves children less able to fight disease which, in Africa, is particularly serious. The latter, iron deficiency, causes blood disorders."
To put this right, Dale and his team have found ways to boost beta-carotene levels in bananas. Now they are working on boosting iron levels as well. The team expects to have a golden banana that will raise both iron and vitamin A levels, though that will take until the end of the decade. "People in Uganda eat up to a kilogram of mashed banana a day, so we don't need to get a great deal of beta-carotene in our bananas," said Dale.
The result of the team's work will be similar to golden rice: peeled, the pale fruit will be carrot-coloured. And if that sounds strange, it is worth noting that carrots were not originally orange. In the 17th century they were mostly yellow or purple, but were bred to be orange by Dutch farmers in tribute to the ruling House of Orange.

Friday, February 1, 2013



Campaign to label frankenfoods goes viral

Want to be able to tell the difference between a natural fish and a genetically engineered frankensalmon in the dystopian food future? It looks like you may not be required to live on the crunchy West Coast for that.
After California’s GMO-labeling Proposition 37 failed to pass last fall, bills that would require labels for genetically modified food are rolling in Oregon and Washington, and similar initiatives are picking up steam in Minnesota, Missouri, and New Mexico, as well as in Connecticut and Vermont, where GMO-labeling legislation failed to pass last year amid threats of legal action from Monsanto.
New Mexico could be the first state to pass such a law. State Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, who is sponsoring the legislation, says the bill is aimed at “leveling the playing field” for food actually grown in fields.
Minnesota is home to the headquarters of General Mills, Hormel, Cargill, and Land-O-Lakes, which were all big contributors to the fight against Prop 37, but citizens groups are pushing legislators to pass a label law there too (and the local Fox affiliate covers them pretty appropriately). Meanwhile, Missouri’s legislation would just target genetically modified meat and fish.
The most interesting take on the national GMO label fight comes from the belly of the beast: the International Dairy Foods Association, which just had its annual meeting. From Meat Poultry News:

Connie Tipton, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association, urged food and beverage manufacturers to not rest on their laurels following the defeat of Proposition 37, legislation that would have required the labeling of bioengineered foods sold in California, this past November. Tipton spoke Jan. 28 at the IDFA’s annual Dairy Forum meeting.
“The drumbeat for GMO labeling is as loud as ever and proponents are taking their show on the road,” she said. “They are training their eyes on other states… Moreover, they learned from their mistakes. We anticipate that these new initiatives will be better written with a better ground game to push them forward.”
Tipton added that Walmart’s GMO-labeling efforts were cause for concern.
“It announced this past summer it planned to sell a new crop of genetically modified sweet corn created by Monsanto. Nothing wrong with that, but a lot of us were scratching our heads when Wal-Mart added that it would label the product as containing GMO ingredients – even though the Food and Drug Administration has already said the product is safe. Given Wal-Mart’s size and market share, there are legitimate concerns that its decision on GMO labeling will force other retailers to march in lockstep behind the industry giant.
March in lockstep, eh? This is starting to sound familiar (and fascist), though GMO-labeling fascism seems more appealing than frankenfood-fascism, but maybe that’s just me.
Not to be completely outdone by states with fewer organic quinoa points-of-sale, supporters of California’s Proposition 37 have licked their wounds and swear to be back with another campaign to label GMOs next year.
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for Twitter.


Image (1) monsanto_withered_c.gif for post 40274

Monsanto CEO acknowledges climate change, open to GMO labels, thinks veggies suck

The Wall Street Journal sat down with Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant in what were probably some very nice chairs for this comfy little edited Q&A. The global agriculture giant is “battered, bruised, and still growing,” according to the WSJ, whose cup runneth over with pathos for poor Hugh. The interview kicks off with: “What’s the harm in disclosing genetically modified ingredients to consumers?” Yes, Hugh, please tell us about the harm.
Grant says California’s Proposition 37 — which would have required GMO foods to be labeled, and which Monsanto spent millions to defeat (weird, WSJ, y’all left that bit out!) — “befuddled the issue.” But Grant says he’s personally “up for the dialogue around labeling.” Why? Because he thinks GMOs are so great of course! (Come on, you knew that answer.)
They’re the most-tested food product that the world has ever seen. Europe set up its own Food Standards Agency, which has now spent €300 million ($403.7 million), and has concluded that these technologies are safe. [Recently] France determined there’s no safety issue on a corn line we submitted there. So there’s always a great deal of political noise and turmoil. If you strip that back and you get to the science, the science is very strong around these technologies.
GMO haters gonna GMO hate! And Grant would rather be in the future than in the past. “I think some of the criticism comes with being first in a lot of these spaces. I’d rather be there than at the back of the pack.” On the whole, Monsanto has “mended a lot of fences” and “turned things around” recently with the general public, according to Grant, in part because of “consistent messaging.” I will give him that!
One of Grant’s and Monsanto’s messages, apparently: Vegetables taste crappy. This should definitely help the company with the 18-and-under crowd, at least.

Fresh fruit and high quality vegetables are becoming more important than they ever were. So we see an opportunity there, but the opportunity in veggies is going to be driven by where we are spending our money. We are spending our money on nutrition and taste. A lot of veggies look great, but they don’t taste like much. We think the consumer will pay a premium for improved nutrition and improved taste.
Grant says Monsanto spends a billion-and-a-quarter dollars a year on research and development but only “took a look at” climate change a couple years ago (!!), asking scientists if it was “fact or fiction?”
The conclusions that came back were, ‘There’s definitely something there. This isn’t an anomaly. There’s enough evidence to suggest that it’s getting warmer.’ For agriculture that’s going to absolutely present challenges, at the very time we need to produce more, it’s an environment that’s heated. In the much longer term, we’re going to have to focus on breeding to accommodate those temperature shifts.
Climate change: It’s bad for business. That’s actually not a terrible slogan to reach right-wing climate deniers. Thanks, Monsanto.
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for Twitter.


gmoban 235x147 Monsantos Fading Grasp   Group Calls on South Africa to Ban GMO CornMonsanto’s Fading Grasp – Group Calls on South Africa to Ban GMO Corn

Anthony Gucciardi

Following in the footsteps of nations like France and Russia, South Africa may soon be the latest nation to enact a ban on Monsanto’s GMO corn that was recently linked to tumor development and organ damage in rats. South Africa’s African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a watchdog organization that was created to protect consumers from various biotechnology dangers, is now calling on South African authorities to enact a ban on Monsanto’s tumor-linked maize crop known as NK603.
This is particularly important when it comes to South Africa as white corn is a large staple food, making up for 80% of the harvest just last year. In the event that the maize were to be banned, it would be a major hit for Monsanto and an even larger victory for the 50,586,757 people who live in South Africa. If authorities take the advice of ACB, then it would not only ban the cultivation of the GMO corn, but the import and export as well. In a letter to the South African minister of agriculture, the ACB said:
“We urge the South African government to take the necessary steps to protect its citizens.”
Nations around the world are currently passing or requesting bans on Monsanto’s crops following the study, which is one of hundreds of studies to identify the dangers of both Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup and GMOs. Coinciding with previous pieces of research that have linked Roundup with conditions such as cancer and infertility, the French GMO study found that around 50% of the males and 70% of the females fed 100% GMO corn died prematurely.
It was also dubbed the most thorough research on the prolonged effects of GMOs and Roundup on rats.
As expected, Monsanto has not taken this news lightly. Previously being busted for paying United States diplomats to extend its campaign for global seed domination and killing over 500,000 innocents with its ‘safe’ Agent Orange weapon, Monsanto’s corruption has been repeatedly exposed by whistleblowers and alternative news media. Each time, however, Monsanto continues to assert that its creations are perfectly safe. Just as it did with Agent Orange, Monsanto is now on the defensive of GMOs despite having only been tested for 90 days before unleashed on the public.
More nations around the globe will continue to call for and enact GMO crop bans around the globe until Monsanto is either banned or labeled (via California’s GMO labeling bill Prop 37) out of existence. It is important that we support and highlight the countries who are making efforts on this front such as South Africa’s ACB.

Read more:


Burger King, Leicester Square, London

Burger King Reveals its Burgers were Contaminated in Horsemeat Scandal

Fast food company said test results at production plant revealed 'very small trace levels' of horse DNA in its products

Burger King said test results revealed ‘very small trace levels’ of horse DNA. Photograph: Alex Segre / Alamy/Alamy

Burger King has revealed that some of its burgers were contaminated in the horsemeat scare, as the tainted food crisis threatened to undermine the confidence of consumers, and major retailers tried to protect their reputations.
The fast food company – whose products were not tested in the food standards checks by Irish authorities that sparked the furore – moved production from the Silvercrest plant in Ireland to Germany and Italy as a precaution. On Thursday night it said test results at the plant revealed "very small trace levels" of horse DNA in its products, but burgers taken from restaurants had tested negative.
As governments in Ireland, the UK and Poland, where a supplier used by Silvercrest for a year is thought be the source of the contamination, continued their investigations, Burger King admitted that, contrary to previous assurances made to it by Silvercrest, it too had now been linked to the scandal. Authorities insist there is no health danger to consumers.
Meanwhile Aldi UK became the first major retailer to suspend its contract with a British plant, Dalepak Hambleton in North Yorkshire, which, like Silvercrest, is part of the ABP Food Group, pending further investigations into why three of nine newly tested burger samples had traces of horse and pork DNA. The products were from stock withdrawn in recent weeks as a precaution but made since October, the company said.
The Aldi announcement came a week after tests at Dalepak for ABP and the UK Food Standards Agency had come back negative for horse DNA. The FSA has also previously suggested that its investigations into Dalepak were concentrating on events before October.
Aldi in Ireland has terminated its contract with the Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan where Burger King, Tesco, the Co-op and Asda have all pulled out.
Burger King said: "Our independent DNA test results on product taken from restaurants were negative for any equine DNA. However, four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA. Within the last 36 hours, we have established that Silvercrest used a small percentage of beef imported from a non-approved supplier in Poland. They promised to deliver 100% British and Irish beef patties and have not done so. This is a clear violation of our specifications, and we have terminated our relationship with them."
Diego Beamonte, vice-president for global quality at Burger King, said the company was "deeply troubled by the findings of our investigation and apologise to our guests, who trust us to source only the highest quality 100% beef burgers. Our supplier has failed us and in turn we have failed you".
Beamonte was cautious about answering questions about whether customers might have been exposed to contaminated meat previously because of Silvercrest practices.
"Testing for equine DNA is not a standard practice used in beef production" he said. But the company would look at whether additional checks including DNA testing and enhanced controls to trace food through production were needed. "We will dedicate ourselves to determining what lessons can be learned and what additional measures, including DNA testing and enhanced traceability controls, might be added," he said.
"We received our negative results last week and were advised of the Irish Department of Agriculture's final results this week.
"As you know, ABP and the Polish supplier are subject to an ongoing investigation by the authorities and Burger King continues to support this process. What is clear now is that the January sample which never left the factory tested positive for trace amounts of equine DNA whilst the December sample which was distributed to restaurants tested negative for equine DNA."
All the major supermarkets, including those not implicated in test results by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland published on January 15 which started the scare, withdrew from sale products made at the two ABP plants and Liffey Meats as a precaution.
But Waitrose, which has since restocked, and Sainsbury's, which both use Dalepak, never suspended their contracts there. Aldi UK said one sample of three of its Oakhurst Beef Quarter Pounders had been found to be o.1% pork and 0.1% equine DNA. One Frozen Oakhurst Beefburger 16 pack showed 0.1% equine trace and a similar amount of pig was found in a Specially Selected Aberdeen Angus Quarter Pounder. These were all from stock withdrawn from sale but made since October. A spokesman for Aldi said: "We are deeply angry and feel let down by our supplier and we are pursuing more tests until we are certain that we understand how the production line was contaminated."
Labour called on all supermarkets to introduce routine testing to check that all cheap pork, chicken and turkey products as well as beef were not contaminated by other animal sources. Huw Irranca-Davies, the party's food and farming spokesman, said: "The major supermarkets and processors have a duty to their customers to DNA-check all value-meat products to restore confidence in the supply chain, which has been badly damaged by this scandal. Retailers need to reassure consumers about what checks are being undertaken."
Silvercrest, one of the biggest burger plants in Europe, employing 140 people and normally producing 200m burgers a year, is closed for deepcleaning and a change of management. ABP continued to apologise for its part in the affair.
DNA testing and other inquiries are continuing in Poland. In all, 21 pallets of frozen trimmings, made up of beef and horse off-cuts, are thought to have been delivered to Ireland by a Polish company running a cold store in the centre of the country. It had taken meat from five slaughterhouses, not owned by that company and not licensed to slaughter horses. The identity of these plants has not been revealed.
The legal import of horsemeat to Britain is tiny, 30 tonnes last year from all sources. Poland's contribution was 9kg of offal last year, compared to 1kg of meat in 2011.


Field Work's Dirty Secret: Agribusiness Exploitation of Undocumented Labor

Agriculture has long been US industry's most profitable sector – at the expense of a virtually indentured immigrant workforce

This week, a bipartisan group of senators and the president unveiled their respective plans for much needed and long overdue immigration reform. For the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have settled in this country, the path to citizenship being paved for them looks like it will be more tough than fair.An Economic Policy Institute report found that increasing farm workers' wages by 40% would increase US households' food bills by just $16 a year. (Photograph: David Levene)
While we don't yet know how this will all play out, at least there will be a path. For one group of immigrants, however – the farm workers who sustain our food supply – there is reason to fear that what awaits them is not a path to citizenship, but their cemented status as indentured servants.
Most farm work in America is performed by immigrants, most of whom are undocumented and therefore exploitable. The big agribusinesses that hire these immigrants will tell you that they need an unfettered supply of cheap foreign labor, because they cannot find Americans willing to do these jobs.
When you consider what these jobs entail – hours of backbreaking work in terrible and often dangerous conditions, subsistence wages with little or no time off, and none of the protections or perks that most of us enjoy (like paid sick days, for instance) – it's hard to see why anyone with other options would subject themselves to a life that is barely a step above slavery.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law which introduced some protections for these imported serfs, under what has become known as the guest-worker program. These protections include a minimum wage guarantee, housing that meets an acceptable standard for the duration of the contract, and a guarantee that the worker be paid three-quarters of their full pay should should a season end early.
Most employers would be delighted to get away with all this: being able to hire low-wage workers at will, without the hassle of paying disability insurance or other niceties. But agribusinesses find the guest-worker program's pitiful protections such a burden that they have mounted a relentless campaign to undermine them, and for the most part, work around them anyway; they hire undocumented workers instead.
According to a report compiled by Eric Ruark (pdf), the director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (Fair), as of 2006, only 27% of workers hired by agribusinesses are American citizens, 21% are green card holders, around 1% are part of the guest worker program … and a whopping 51% are unauthorized immigrants.
It's agriculture's worst kept secret that farm owners routinely break the law by hiring undocumented workers, but the crime receives tacit approval from lawmakers sympathetic to the plight of major agribusinesses, which seem to consider cheap labor their right. In South Carolina, for instance, lawmakers passed their version of Arizona's draconian bill, and have mandated that employers use an e-verify system to check the immigration status of employees. Farm workers, however, were exempted from verification.
The agribusiness sector has gotten away with exploitative and illegal practices because of ridiculous threats, like the suggestion that should the supply of cheap labor dry up in the US, they will outsource our food production to China. This idle threat is based on the absurd notion that if they have to pay workers higher wages, somehow there will be fewer people willing to do the jobs. The other scare tactic is spreading talk that if they have to increase their expenditure on labor, those costs will have to be passed on to the American consumer.
Several studies have been conducted, however, that expose these hollow threats for the nonsense that they are. A report by the Congressional Research Service (pdf) found no evidence of a labor shortage in the agricultural sector. On the contrary, it found that between 1994 and 2008, the unemployment rate for farm workers was consistently higher than for all other occupations. In other words, agriculture has had a surplus of available workers for decades.
During this period, the agricultural industry has recorded a nearly 80% average annual increase in profits – more than all other major industries. No doubt, these record profits have something to do with the fact that real wages for farm workers have remained stagnant throughout this time. Finally, a 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that an increase in farm workers' wages of 40% would result in an annual rise in household spending by the American consumer of just $16.
Clearly, the economic argument for allowing one industry a workforce of virtually indentured labor does not hold water. But there is a humanitarian argument to be made, as well, that should be enough to put an end to this exploitative practice immediately. In 2009, the New York Times' Bob Herbert wrote an article about the horrible treatment of farm workers in upstate New York – in this case, hired to feed and care for ducks farmed to be slaughtered for foie gras.
"The routine is brutal and not very sanitary. Each feeding takes about four hours and once the birds are assigned a feeder, no one else can be substituted during the 22 day force feeding period that leads up to the slaughter … Not only do the feeders get no days off during that long stretch, and no overtime for any of the long hours, but they get very little time even to sleep each day. The feeding schedule for the ducks must be rigidly observed.
"When I asked one of the owners, Izzy Yanay, about the lack of a day of rest, he said of the workers: 'This notion that they need to rest is completely futile. They don't like to rest. They want to work seven days.'"
Herbert went on to make the point that we are much more likely to hear complaints about cruelty to ducks by force-feeding than we are about the cruelty to the people hired to feed them. Consumers have long since showed a willingness to pay more for organic meat or chicken because they don't like the idea of animal cruelty.
Are we really not willing to pay a few cents more for farm produce so that human beings are not treated like animals?
It remains to be seen what the bipartisan "gang of eight" senators have in mind specifically for farm workers in any future immigration bill. But one can only hope that they will not give in to bullying by the spoiled agricultural industry, which continues to deny these workers the same rights and protections every other worker in America enjoys.
Sadhbh Walshe
Sadhbh Walshe is a film-maker and former staff writer for the CBS drama series The District. Her opinion pieces have also been published in the Chicago Tribune and Irish Times.


Connecticut Sierra Club Takes on Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)   
At the Connecticut Sierra Club Leader Retreat on January 19th, the Chapter voted our two priority issues for the coming year, one of which is to tackle the necessity for GMO labeling at the state level. 

Why this is an environmental issue.  First we must define GMOs.   GMOs, or "genetically modified organisms," are plants or animals created using the technique of genetic engineering (GE).  GE merges DNA from two or more different species, creating combinations that don’t occur in nature.  Corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash have been genetically engineered for human consumption.  It has been estimated that GMOs are in at least 80% of processed foods in the United States.  Used in agriculture mainly to allow higher use of herbicides or to allow the plant to create its own insecticide, current use of GMOs has failed to fulfill the promise of increased yields, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or other benefit.  

Environmental risks associated with GMOs.  At least one major environmental impact of genetic engineering has already reached critical proportions: overuse of herbicide-tolerant GE crops has spurred an increase in herbicide use and an epidemic of herbicide-resistant "superweeds," which leads to even more herbicide use. This widespread herbicide use has also caused a huge decline in milkweed in the Midwest, an essential food for monarch butterflies, whose numbers are also in decline.  The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment they cannot be recalled Human health consequences.  Research has found that an “inert” ingredient in a popular herbicide can kill human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cord cells.  In one study, scientists found that even inert ingredients in the herbicide amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.  One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call “astonishing.”   “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on herbicide-treated crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and corn, or lawns and gardens.  The research team suspects that this popular herbicide might cause pregnancy problems by interfering with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal fetal development, low birth weights or miscarriages. Health consequences definitely need more study. But these have been difficult as the companies holding the patents on the seeds have not been willing to release them for research purposes.
Food labels fail to disclose GMO content.    Although most Americans want to know if the food they’re purchasing contains GMOs, powerful interests have continued to deny this information to the public. Prop 37, a voter initiative to require labeling in California, failed by a small margin after a $50 million industry campaign opposing it.
Our Advocacy Partners.  Sierra is working in concert with a vigorous and energetic group of food advocates in the state including GMO Free CT ( and NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association). We are also part of the community of advocates in 37 states trying to pass labeling legislation. Since there is currently little hope for federal legislation, our work is instead focused on the state legislatures. The goal is to pass similar bills in several states requiring GMO labeling of food for retail sale. This is not about regulation of agricultural practices, and it is not about impacting local agriculture in any way. Further, it is not about putting Connecticut agriculture at a disadvantage in any way.
The Legislature.  Bills requiring labeling will be introduced in both the Public Health and Children’s committees, one for labeling  of foods for everyone, the other targeting food for babies and children. They will be included on the agendas for public hearings, and sometime after the hearing, the bills will be voted on in committee. They may then go to other committees for consideration. Finally, the bills will be voted on by the full House and Senate, then travel to the Governor for his signature.
In summary, the Connecticut Chapter of Sierra Club supports Food labeling for GMOs because:
·         We believe Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, especially concerning products for which health and environmental concerns have been raised, so they can make informed decisions about buying food for their families.
·         Mandatory labeling will allow those consumers with specific allergies or intolerances to identify and steer clear of food products that cause them problems.
·         Surveys indicate that a majority of Americans support mandatory labeling.
·         Over 60 countries have established either mandatory GMO labeling or outright bans.

Why You are Important.
We cannot get there without your help. We need you.
You can:
-Contact your state Representative and Senator and ask them, as a constituent, for their support
-Come to the public hearing and testify
-Submit short testimony as an email message
 -Ask the Governor to support the billsAll of this is easy. We can show you how. But first you need to tell us you are interested. Send either of us a message and say you are onboard. We’ll show you how to do the rest. Your help is needed, welcomed, and necessary for this campaign to succeed. Contact the Connecticut Sierra GMO Committee - Peter McKnight and Marty Mador.  We need help contacting legislators, writing letters to the editor, recruiting your friends, attending committee hearings and educating the public.  Your presence is needed now!Legislative ChairMartin Mador, 203-281-4326 (h), 203-500-7245 (c)
Email him here 
Peter McKnight: 203-257-6796 Email him here

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Domestic Fair Trade: A Plea to UNFI and Whole Foods for Justice

“The union is like having herpes. It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover." John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market (WFM) CEO John Mackey has done a brilliant job of creating the illusion that his empire is all about abundance, bounty and the good life. But there’s nothing bountiful or good about the way the second-largest non-unionized food retailer exploits workers.Whole Foods Market Inc. signage is displayed at a store in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg)
United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI), the largest multi-billion dollar wholesale distributor of organic and “natural” foods in the U.S., is currently under investigation for 45 violations of federal labor law, including physically threatening immigrant workers in California who were trying to form a union.
The company recently fired its underpaid and overworked unionized workers at its Auburn, Wash., distribution center for going on strike, and illegally hired non-union replacement workers.
What happens when companies like WFM and UNFI, which have carefully cultivated their public progressive images, start acting like Walmart? When union-busting and labor exploitation are accepted as “business-as-usual” in the green economy, it makes us all look bad. It discredits organics and Fair Trade by creating the impression that consumers don’t really care how their healthy organic food was produced. That the entire industry cares only about profits. Ethics and workers be damned.
When flagship organic companies take a Walmart approach to workers’ rights, it sends negative and conflicting signals to core organic consumers, making it look like leaders in the organic community are concerned about the plight of endangered species and Third World coffee growers or cacao producers, but oblivious to the economic pain and stresses of working class Americans or hardworking immigrants who plant and harvest our organic fruits and vegetables and then pack and deliver them to our neighborhood coops and natural food markets.
Isn’t it time we ask the same of WFM and UNFI that we demand of ourselves: that they walk their talk, prioritize organic food and products, practice Fair Trade and social justice, and wake up to the fact that "business as usual" is a bitter recipe for injustice?
The demand for organic and fairly traded food, apparel and body care products has grown exponentially over the past two decades. Millions of consumers are demanding products that not only are organic and healthy, but also embody Fair Trade principles, whereby the workers involved in producing these products are treated fairly and paid equitably.
Under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), organic products are certified by third-party certifiers and regulated under federal law. But no such federal standards exist for Fair Trade labor practices, including the right of workers, especially in large businesses, to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining with their employers.  As a consequence many consumers look for the “Fair Trade” label on imported goods, but pay little attention to the domestic supply chain.  Here in the U.S., most consumers naively believe that organics and Fair Trade practices go hand in hand. They are surprised to learn that most family farmers and farm workers, as well as many supply chain workers, struggle to make a living. But the truth is, labor exploitation is rampant in the fields, factories and warehouses where organic products are grown, processed and housed. And this is especially true when small, alternative businesses are bought out by corporate investors.
WFM is one of the biggest offenders in the U.S. The company’s Whole Trade Guarantee, through a third-party verified program, supposedly ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment. But here in the U.S., WFM. the second largest union-free food retailer behind Walmart, has taken the position that unions are not valid. The company even gives its workers a pamphlet titled "Beyond Unions." In the company’s 27-year history, only one of its stores, in Madison, Wis., successfully unionized. The chain has also fended off unionizing attempts in Berkeley, Calif.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Falls Church, Va.
As for UNFI, the company’s recent record on workers’ rights is abysmal. The National Labor Relations Board investigation includes allegations that UNFI engaged in worker surveillance, intimidation and retaliation; that it refused to bargain in good faith; and that it illegally reassigned bargaining unit work. UNFI workers and drivers at UNFI’s Auburn, Wash., distribution center went on strike for better pay and better working conditions Dec. 10, after rejecting UNFI’s latest contract offer. In retaliation UNFI fired them and illegally hired non-union replacement workers.
WFM and UNFI like to brag about how their workers are part of their “family,” and how well management treats them. But what about the thousands of non-unionized and exploited farm workers in California, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Latin America and Asia who supply many of their premium-priced products? What about the immigrant feedlot workers across the country? What about the truck drivers, food processing workers and warehouse staff who are threatened and intimidated whenever they try to organize themselves for collective bargaining? Are we all one family?
It’s time for WFM and UNFI to publicly acknowledge that Fair Trade principles and practices need to be implemented as part of their entire US/North American/global supply chain for food and organic and natural products, not just for the minority of products produced overseas and certified as Fair Trade. And of course, supporting domestic Fair Trade means that WFM and UNFI must stop their union busting and start recognizing the rights of workers, especially workers in large for-profit corporations, to freely organize themselves into unions for collective bargaining.
Until they do, as conscientious consumers we have to pressure UNFI and its largest customer, WFM. In response to UNFI’s actions in Washington State, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has called for a boycott of UNFI’s brand name products, Woodstock Foods and Blue Marble, until the company rehires its fired workers in Auburn, stops harassing and intimidating workers and drivers who want to form a union, and sits down to sign a fair contract.  We’re also asking organic food stores to look for alternative wholesalers to supply their stores, as a number of coops in Seattle and Olympia Washington, have already begun to do.   
In addition to boycotting UNFI’s Woodstock Foods and Blue Marble products, we encourage consumers to:
Sign the online petition in support of the striking workers at UNFI.
Call UNFI Manager Hank Heatherly at (253) 333-6769. Tell him to rehire the fired workers and return to the bargaining table immediately.
If you live in Washington State, and are willing to join in informational leafleting at Whole Foods Markets, sign up here.
Ronnie Cummins
Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.;
Dave Murphy
Dave Murphy is the founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots movement of more than 350,000 American farmers and citizens dedicated to creating a more sustainable future.  You can follow him on twitter: @food