Friday, March 1, 2013


Maine Quietly Mounting Massive Support for Historic GMO Labeling Bill

  By Fritz Kreiss | | For many months legislators and community leaders in the State of Maine have been quietly building broad and unprecented support for passing a historic first-in-the-nation Right-To-Know GMO Labeling law.  This week the bill, LD 718, jointly sponsored by the bi-partisan team of Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) and Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln), was introduced to Maine citizens and legislators.
The bill has the tri-partisan support – Republicans, Democrats and Independents – of 123 co-sponsors.  This is an astounding number of legislators in light of the fact that Maine’s citizen Legislature has only 35 Senators and 151 Representatives.  This remarkable display of solidarity is a reflection of the strong support all across Maine for basic honesty and transparency in labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food.  There are many unanswered questions as to the impact of GE crops on such varied concerns as human and livestock health, soils, environment, religious beliefs, farmer sovereignty and rural decline.  Therefore, it is only fair and reasonable that Maine consumers be provided truthfulness in GMO labeling which is the tool needed to allow us to determine how we spend our family’s food dollars.
Last Fall, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association Board of Director’s, with the full support of longtime Executive Director Russell Libby, designated passage of a GMO Labeling bill as top priority for 2013.  MOFGA has been spearheading efforts for the bill’s passage and is part of the national coalition of states fighting for GMO labeling.
MOFGA is in urgent need of contributions to help fund the work needed to fight Monsanto and win passage of LD 718. Please help our effort in Maine TODAY by donating whatever you can – even if only afford $5!
Thanks for your support!
Jim & Megan of Wood Prairie Farm and OSGATA
Click here for information on Maine’s Right-To-Know GMO Labeling bill.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


gmoThe Truth About GMOs Explored at Fair Foods Forum

Posted on 28 February 2013

By Amanda Wyatt
When it comes to genetically modified food, “Americans are still dining in the dark.”
At least, that’s according to Kathleen Furey of GMO Free New York, who gave a presentation of the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor on Saturday.
“We really just need to know what’s in our food, don’t we?” she said. “We need to have informed choices, we need to be protected. It’s time that we stopped being guinea pigs. This is very serious. This isn’t getting better.”
Since their introduction to the food supply in the 1990s, GMOs have been controversial across the nation and the globe. As Furey explained, genetic modification or engineering involves the transfer of genes from one species to an unrelated species.
Scientists will take genetic coding for a particular trait and insert it into another organism, which will then display that new trait.
For example, corn is sometimes genetically modified in order to produce a bacterial toxin to poison pests that attack the crop.
While the biotech industries and the FDA have touted GMOs as safe, opponents have pointed to what they believe to be health risks associated with genetic modification. A host of medical problems — from allergies to reproductive problems — have been linked to GMOs.
Furey cited one study in which Bt, a bacterial insecticide produced in some genetically modified corn, was discovered in the bloodstream of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their fetuses.
“There’s a theory that our guts may now be insecticide production factories, because this is not leaving our digestive tract through our waste, as they say it’s supposed to,” said Furey.
There are also a number of environmental risks associated with GMOs, said Furey, including cross-contamination of organic and conventional crops, and the creation of pest-resistant “superbugs” and herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”
Currently, companies are not required to print whether their food has been genetically modified, which makes it impossible to tell the true extent of GMOs. But according to Furey, approximately 94 percent of soy and 88 percent of corn products may be genetically modified, and perhaps 80 percent of processed foods could contain GMO ingredients.
Furthermore, she said, many of the American safety studies on GMOs are funded by the biotech industry, and these same companies have ties to politicians and federal regulators.
“There is a definite conflict of interest that is one of the elephants in the room,” she said.
While many countries require GMO products to be labeled — the European Union has labeled GMOs since 1998 — and some have even banned them, there has not been similar legislation in the United States. And as far as Furey is concerned, the time for change is now.
Currently, she said, 37 states and Washington D.C. are pushing their legislatures to label genetically modified products. The New York State legislature has already introduced bills on this matter, and Furey is hopeful that the state will be a catalyst for change across the country.
She urged audience members to get involved by educating their friends and family members, as well as contacting their local representatives.
In the meantime, those concerned about GMOs must become savvy consumers. Furey recommended buying unprocessed, organic foods, and choosing products that voluntarily display non-GMO labels. In addition, she suggested avoiding products made from corn, soybeans, canola and cottonseed, which are particularly at risk for genetic modification.
Many audience members took Furey’s message to heart, including Mike and Dawn Kelly.
“The government is turning a blind eye [to GMOs],” he said. “…I think the biggest thing we have to do is spread awareness, more than anything.”
“And it starts with the children,” she added.
“If they’ve found [herbicides] in the bloodstream of pregnant women and fetuses, then what else are we finding in our bodies?” asked Robin Blackley, a beekeeper.
“If we’re at the top of the food chain, we’re getting everything from the bottom of the food chain up that’s staying in us,” she said. “It was really illuminating. I was very, very surprised.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Study: Over 100 Million Americans Drinking 'Toxic Trash' Water

New analysis from Environmental Working Group shows carcinogenic chemical lurking in nation's public water

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer
When you pour yourself a glass of tap water or even take a shower, you may be among over 100 million Americans exposing yourself to carcinogenic, "toxic trash."
Chemicals linked to a range of health problems including bladder cancer and birth defects have been found municipal water systems that affect 100 million people. (Photo: Greg Riegler / flickr) Watchdog organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) looked at 2011 water quality tests for over 200 municipal water systems that affect 100 million people in 43 states. 
In their analysis published Wednesday, the group documents that all the systems had water polluted with chemicals called trihalomethanes—chemicals caused when chlorine, used as a disinfectant, mingles with rotting organic matter such as farm runoff or sewage.
While the EPA refers to these trihalomethanes as "disinfection byproducts," EWG says they are "toxic trash."
Trihalomethanes have been linked to a range of health problems including bladder cancer, colon and rectal cancer, birth defects, low birth weight and miscarriage.
While only the municipal water system of Davenport, Iowa showed levels that exceeded the upper legal limit the EPA established in 1998 of 80 parts per billion of trihalomethanes in drinking water, EWG points to multiple studies showing an increased risk of bladder cancer caused by much lower levels of trihalomethanes.
“New science makes a compelling case for stronger regulations and a stricter legal limit,” said Renee Sharp, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the analysis.
Further, EWG's analysis notes that the levels of this "toxic trash" recorded are for annual averages, but there are likely contamination spikes, something of particular danger for pregnant women.
“Many people are likely exposed to far higher concentrations of trihalomethanes than anyone really knows,” stated Sharp.  “For most water systems, trihalomethane contamination fluctuates from month to month, sometimes rising well beyond the legal limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.”
The problem with trihalomethanes arises because water treatment facilities are forced to deal with contaminants to begin with, so EWG says improvements, which are ultimately less costly, must be made to have cleaner source water.
Among EWG's recommendations:
  • Congress should reform farm policies to provide more funds to programs designed to keep agricultural pollutants such as manure, fertilizer, pesticides and soil out of tap water.     
  • Congress should renew the “conservation compliance” provisions of the 1985 farm bill by tying wetland and soil protection requirements to crop insurance programs, by requiring farm businesses that receive subsidies to update their conservation plans and by strengthening the government’s enforcement tools.
  • Congress must allocate significant money to help repair and upgrade the nation’s water infrastructure.     
  • Source water protection programs should be significantly expanded, including efforts to prevent or reduce pollution of source waters and to conserve land in buffer zones around public water supplies. Financial support for these projects is crucial.
Read the full report here (pdf).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


processed food

Opening Pandora’s Lunchbox: Processed foods are even scarier than you thought

You’ve heard of pink slime. You know trans fats are cardiovascular atrocities. You’re well aware that store-bought orange juice is essentially a scam. But, no matter how great of a processed-food sleuth you are, chances are you’ve never set food inside a processing plant to see how many of these products are actually made.
Melanie Warner.
Melanie Warner. Writer Melanie Warner, whose new exposé-on-the-world-of-processed-foods book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, is out this week, spent the past year and a half doing exactly that. In her quest to explore the murky and convoluted world of soybean oil, milk protein concentrates (a key ingredient in processed cheese), and petroleum-based artificial dyes, she spoke to food scientists, uncovered disturbing regulatory loopholes in food law, and learned just how little we know about many of the food products on supermarket shelves.
After reading Pandora’s Lunchbox, I sent Melanie some burning questions via email. Here is what she had to say:
Q. The term “processed food” is ubiquitous these days. The food industry has attempted to co-opt it by claiming canned beans, baby carrots, and frozen vegetables are “processed foods.” Can you help explain why a Pop-Tart is years away from a “processed food” like hummus?
A. You have to ask yourself, could I make a Pop-Tart or Hot Pocket at home, with all those same ingredients listed on the package? How would you even go about procuring distilled monoglycerides and BHT, for instance?
Yet it is possible to make your own black beans at home by soaking and then cooking them. You could even attempt a rudimentary canning operation to preserve them. You can also make hummus by grinding chickpeas with a few other ingredients like lemon juice. The “processing” these foods go through is minimal and not disfiguring.
Q. Many people are put at ease when government agencies and the food industry state that controversial substances are “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). Why is this not as comforting as it sounds?
A. The GRAS process, as it’s known, is one of self-regulation. If a food-ingredient company wants to introduce a new additive, they — not the FDA — hire some experts or a consulting firm to make the determination about whether this new ingredient is safe. Sometimes you’ll hear that company X has been awarded “GRAS status” for its new ingredient, but the FDA doesn’t award anything. The agency merely has the option to review what companies tell them.
Except when they don’t. In a glaring regulatory loophole that dates back to 1958, the GRAS system also happens to be voluntary. It’s perfectly legal for companies to keep the FDA in the dark about new additives, and consequently there are some 1,000 ingredients the FDA has no knowledge of whatsoever, according to an estimate done by the Pew Research Center.
So although the FDA seeks to reassure us they are keeping a close watch over our food, the job of rigorously regulating thousands of food additives is simply too big for an underfunded agency. Brominated vegetable oil, for instance, the subject of a well-circulated petition by a 15-year-old in Alabama, was flagged for further study in the ’70s, testing that was never done. And BHA, a “probable carcinogen” according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is still allowed in food.
Q. The food industry has often reacted to nutritional concerns by fortifying nutrients into their products. What did you glean from your research about the way these synthetic vitamins are created, and how are they different from the nutrients intrinsically found in foods?
pandora-bc2A. Many of the vitamins we consume, whether in supplements or a box of cereal, come from China. They are produced in enormous factories scattered throughout the eastern half of the country, and these factories account for at least half of all global vitamin production.
Sometimes it’s assumed that vitamin C comes from maybe an orange or vitamin A from a carrot, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Vitamin C starts with a corn ingredient and then undergoes a complex, multi-step bacterial and chemical process. Vitamin A comes from acetylene gas, a chemical derived from petroleum refining.
The most obvious way a nutrient made in Shenyang differs from one engineered by Mother Nature is that nature’s vitamins always come packaged with all sorts of other helpful stuff, like fiber, additional nutrients and antioxidants. And this synergy may be the key to vitamins really helping us stay healthy.
Q. You investigated how soybean oil is made. Can you explain why calling it “natural” is a complete misnomer?
A. It’s not easy getting mass quantities of edible oil from soybeans, which are small, brittle beans containing less than 20 percent oil. First you have to drench them with hexane, a toxic chemical solvent that is known to cause nerve damage in humans. The hexane percolates through the soybeans several times and is then removed from the oil (any residues that remain are small.) After that you have to treat the oil with sodium hydroxide and phosphoric acid, then bleach it with a filter, and deodorize it under heat and an intense vacuum. Then often the oil is hydrogenated or interesterified, allowing it to be more stable for frying or other high-heat conditions. Calling any of this “natural” is a farce.
Not to mention the fact that 93 percent of all soybeans are genetically modified, a technology most people think doesn’t deserve to go anywhere near the word “natural.”
Q. On the topic of dairy, milk protein concentrates are a rather controversial ingredient many people are unaware of. What does the inclusion of milk protein concentrate in a food product say about it?
A. It says that the manufacturer is trying to cut corners and save money, which is understandable since all large publicly traded corporations are constantly under enormous pressure to cut costs. Milk protein concentrate can help replace the cheese that goes into boxed macaroni and cheese or the milk in processed cheese slices. If you see milk protein concentrate in your Greek yogurt it means the manufacturer has skipped the expensive step of straining the yogurt and has added milk protein concentrate, or MPC, to boost the protein levels (they’ve probably also added in some type of starch to thicken the yogurt).
Milk, regardless of what you think of its nutritional merits, is a real food. MPC is not.
Q. What is your answer to those who think “better-for-you” processed foods (such as fiber-enhanced protein bars and Omega-3 fortified cookies) are “a baby step” towards better health for Americans?
A. One word: Snackwells. In the early ’90s, at the zenith of low-fat mania, Kraft introduced these “healthier” cookies. They had only 55 calories per cookie and much of the fat had been taken out (and replaced by emulsifiers, starches, and gums). Eager for a hall pass on guilt, cookie lovers went nuts, buying up multiple packages and probably eating more than they would have otherwise, erasing any calorie reduction advantage. It’s a case that illustrates how “healthier” processed foods often don’t promote health; they just end up confusing people.
All these refurbished, less bad products only keep us tethered to a merry-go-round of inferior choices. The answer is making real food the foundation of our diets.
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Las Vegas-based nutritionist with a plant-based, whole foods focus. He often writes about food politics, deceptive Big Food marketing, and issues of sustainability, animal welfare, and social justice in our food system.


Oxfam: World's Largest Food Companies Creating Legacy of Destruction

Corporations relying on cheap land and labor are ruining human lives and the natural world, says campaign

- Jon Queally, staff writer
The world's largest food and beverage companies may be profitable, but according to Oxfam International their practices are helping to destroy not only the natural resources that support a global food system but the lives of the people they depend on most: their employees and their customers.
In a new effort called Behind the Brand, part of their ongoing GROW campaign to fix the broken food system, Oxfam has singled out the ten largest food processing companies—Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, Pepsico and Unilever—to make a singular statement about the failure of these behemoths to fulfill their social and environmental responsibilities.
According to Oxfam, these “Big 10”—that together generate $1 billion-a-day in profit—are failing millions of people in developing countries who supply land, labor, water and commodities needed to make their products.
“It’s time these companies take more responsibility for their immense influence on poor people’s lives,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director for Oxfam International. “Eighty percent of the world’s hungry people work in food production and these companies employ millions of people in developing countries to grow their ingredients. They control hundreds of the world’s most popular brands and have the economic, social and political clout to make a real and lasting difference to the world’s poor and hungry.”
As The Guardian reports:
The charity's Behind the Brands report compiled a scorecard, rating the "big 10" food companies in seven categories: the transparency of their supply chains and operations, how they ensure the rights of workers, how they protect women's rights, the management of water and land use, their policies to reduce the impacts of climate change and how they ensure the rights of the farmers who grow their ingredients.
The company with the lowest score – just 13 out of 70 – was ABF. It scored just one mark out of 10 in its treatment of land, women and climate change, while the highest scores it managed to achieve was three out of 10, in relation to workers and transparency.
In joint second-lowest place were Kellogg's and General Mills, which owns Old El Paso, Häagen-Dazs and Nature Valley, with both scoring 16 out of 70.
In the campaign's first targeted action, Oxfam will target Nestle, Mondelez and Mars for their failure to address inequality faced by women who grow cocoa for their chocolate products. As part of that effort, the group released a series with first-hand accounts which explore the inequality that women cocoa growers face. And the campaign is urging people to use their own voices and social networks to speak out against the food giants.
“No brand is too big to listen to its customers,” said Hobbs. “If enough people urge the big food companies to do what is right, they have no choice but to listen. By contacting companies on Twitter and Facebook, or signing a petition to their CEO, consumers can do their part to help bring lasting change in our broken food system by showing companies their customers expect them to operate responsibly.”
The ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign also released this list of ways that the "Big 10" fail to meet their commitments:
  • While some of the “Big 10” have publicly committed to women's rights, none have committed to eliminating discrimination against women throughout their supply chains.
  • None of the companies have adequate policies to protect local communities from land and water grabs, despite all of them sourcing commodities plagued by land rights violations, such as palm oil, soy and sugar. Not one company has declared ‘zero tolerance’ against land grabs in their supply chains.
  • All ten companies are overly secretive about their agricultural supply chains, making their claims of ‘sustainability’ and ‘social responsibility’ difficult to verify. Nestle and Unilever are most open about the countries they source from, but no company is providing enough information about their suppliers.
  • Companies are generally increasing their overall water efficiency but most have failed to put policies in place to limit their impact on local water sources. Only Pepsi has publicly recognized water as a human right and committed to consult local communities. Nestle has developed guidelines for its suppliers to manage water and was ranked top for policies on water.
  • All of the companies have taken steps to reduce direct emissions, but only five – Mondelez, Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars – publicly report on agricultural emissions associated with their products. Unilever alone has committed to halve its greenhouse gas footprint by 2020. None have yet developed policies to help farmers in their supply chains to build resilience to climate change.
  • None have publicly committed to pay a fair price to farmers or fair business arrangements with them across all agricultural operations. Only Unilever – which is top-ranked for its dealings with small-scale farmers – has specific supplier guidelines to address some key issues faced by farmers.


The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

Grant Cornett for The New York Times
On the evening of April 8, 1999, a long line of Town Cars and taxis pulled up to the Minneapolis headquarters of Pillsbury and discharged 11 men who controlled America’s largest food companies. Nestlé was in attendance, as were Kraft and Nabisco, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Mars. Rivals any other day, the C.E.O.’s and company presidents had come together for a rare, private meeting. On the agenda was one item: the emerging obesity epidemic and how to deal with it. While the atmosphere was cordial, the men assembled were hardly friends. Their stature was defined by their skill in fighting one another for what they called “stomach share” — the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition.
Grant Cornett for The New York Times; Prop Stylist: Janine Iversen
James Behnke, a 55-year-old executive at Pillsbury, greeted the men as they arrived. He was anxious but also hopeful about the plan that he and a few other food-company executives had devised to engage the C.E.O.’s on America’s growing weight problem. “We were very concerned, and rightfully so, that obesity was becoming a major issue,” Behnke recalled. “People were starting to talk about sugar taxes, and there was a lot of pressure on food companies.” Getting the company chiefs in the same room to talk about anything, much less a sensitive issue like this, was a tricky business, so Behnke and his fellow organizers had scripted the meeting carefully, honing the message to its barest essentials. “C.E.O.’s in the food industry are typically not technical guys, and they’re uncomfortable going to meetings where technical people talk in technical terms about technical things,” Behnke said. “They don’t want to be embarrassed. They don’t want to make commitments. They want to maintain their aloofness and autonomy.”
A chemist by training with a doctoral degree in food science, Behnke became Pillsbury’s chief technical officer in 1979 and was instrumental in creating a long line of hit products, including microwaveable popcorn. He deeply admired Pillsbury but in recent years had grown troubled by pictures of obese children suffering from diabetes and the earliest signs of hypertension and heart disease. In the months leading up to the C.E.O. meeting, he was engaged in conversation with a group of food-science experts who were painting an increasingly grim picture of the public’s ability to cope with the industry’s formulations — from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still. It was time, he and a handful of others felt, to warn the C.E.O.’s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns.
The discussion took place in Pillsbury’s auditorium. The first speaker was a vice president of Kraft named Michael Mudd. “I very much appreciate this opportunity to talk to you about childhood obesity and the growing challenge it presents for us all,” Mudd began. “Let me say right at the start, this is not an easy subject. There are no easy answers — for what the public health community must do to bring this problem under control or for what the industry should do as others seek to hold it accountable for what has happened. But this much is clear: For those of us who’ve looked hard at this issue, whether they’re public health professionals or staff specialists in your own companies, we feel sure that the one thing we shouldn’t do is nothing.”
As he spoke, Mudd clicked through a deck of slides — 114 in all — projected on a large screen behind him. The figures were staggering. More than half of American adults were now considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the adult population — 40 million people — clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980, and the number of kids considered obese had shot past 12 million. (This was still only 1999; the nation’s obesity rates would climb much higher.) Food manufacturers were now being blamed for the problem from all sides — academia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. The secretary of agriculture, over whom the industry had long held sway, had recently called obesity a “national epidemic.”