It actually stands for genetically modified organisms. Technically, all organisms are genetically modified either by natural selection or by farmers cross-breeding or cross-pollinating for optimal products. What I’m referring to is the process of genetic modification by genetic engineers. As in, putting some caterpillar genes in some corn genes to make the plant resistant to caterpillars. Mmm.
If you want to know if what you’re buying is a genetically engineered (GE) product, reading the label won’t offer much insight, unfortunately. GMOs aren’t labeled. GE ingredients might or might not be included in your food. “Non-GMO” is labeled, however. According to Mark Bittman, author of “Why Aren’t GMO Foods Labeled?” (food safety and food politics guru), unless your food is labeled “Non-GMO,” it probably contains genetically engineered ingredients. Whole Foods statistics put the prevalence ofGMOs in our crops at 93% of soy, 93% of corn, 93% of canola seeds, and 86% of cotton.
Scientific evidence hasn’t yet conclusively proved GMOs are immediately harmful to everyone who eats them. Evidence also hasn’t proven that they’re safe in the long term, either. We do know that you risk of an allergic reaction and eventually adapting the antibiotic-resistant properties of GMO products. Do people know this? Not really. The information isn’t widely circulated.
Truth: Neither the FDA nor the USDA require GMO products to be labeled as such, because “they don’t want people to think the foods are different.”
My qualm isn’t the inconclusive scientific evidence. My problem is that, without labeling, we lose our ability to have any input in GMOs being ingredients in our foods. According to Bittman, during a recent CBS/NYT poll, 87% of people want GMOs labeled because they’d be less likely to buy them.
See the poll here.
Wait, the food industry is deceiving the public because the truth would be unprofitable?
Mark Bittman writes, “Producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?” An excellent question, bringing me to my next point. The free market is being backhanded by our food regulators.
Free Market is not Free (when you need it)
Bittman’s article also covers a recent crisis caused by the FDA and USDA that will disastrously affect the organic dairy industry. (I’m not generally in favor of consuming a lot of dairy products, but I don’t like when corporations affect any organic industry adversely. For me, it’s a bit of a “lesser of two evils” situation. If it’s going to be milk, at least let it be organic.)
First, before getting into the current crisis, you should know that organic products in the US cannot contain more than 5% GMO substances. In Europe, any product containing more than 0.9% GMO needs to be labelled. There, GMO foods are hardly grown and there is a ban on imports.
The Alfalfa Crisis
The FDA and USDA recently approved three new foods for genetic engineering: alfalfa, corn for ethanol production, and sugar beets. Alfalfa turns into the hay that cows eat. Cows from which organic products are made eat organic alfalfa, simple enough. What if the alfalfa they eat isn’t organic? Well, then their product is no longer organic either.
When genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa cross-pollinates with organic alfalfa, the organic alfalfa not only is no longer organic, but the organic farmers who grow it can be sued by those holding the patent on the GE alfalfa. Small farmers have been put out of business all over the country by this omnipresent food patent problem. (Chief offender? Monsanto. The Walmart of farming, in many ways.)
Can you guess the impact? Wave goodbye to organic milk.
Organic dairy will be nearly instantly affected. What gets me is that the FDA and USDA approved GE alfalfa with the full knowledge that cross-pollination between alfalfa plants are guaranteed. Not just likely, but guaranteed! While some organic farms won’t affected, a large number will be. Problem is, it only takes so many failed farms that are suppliers for organic companies, like Horizons organic milk, before the whole company is out of business. This leads to another guarantee: a virtual monopoly by conventional milk producers. It is a real possibility that we won’t have the choice to buy organic milk because the GMO level in most (or all) alfalfa will be over 5%. Or because all organic alfalfa farms will be sued out of business. Or both.
What does this say about our government? The FDA and USDA are both charged with regulating and promoting industry. In my opinion, there isn’t any way that they were unaware of the impact of this decision on the organic dairy industry. It’s logical. And as obvious as the impact is to you and me, the impact is infinitely more obvious to people who work in the industry. Any idea like this has to pass through a large number of people. Even the intern at the lowest level in the FDA or USDA office would know the impact.
Is it a wild conclusion that our government seemingly doesn’t support organic dairy farming? Given the facts, it’s not far-fetched at all. Chalk up one against organic farms by the factory farming industry. File this one away as just another piece of evidence that the government is in cahoots with factory farming giants.
Still not convinced? Check out the GMO article by Mark Bittman in the NYT and an article written about a possible betrayal of Whole Foods to the GMO giants. Also helpful is a list of government officials currently in Obama’s administration who “police” the food industry.
A list of our food regulators who used to work in the very food industries they’re now charged with regulating:
Courtesy of http://www.organicconsumers.org/
1. Tom Vilsack, the pro-biotech former governor of Iowa, is now Secretary of the USDA.
2. Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President, is now the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
3. Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center, is now the director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
4. Islam Siddiqui, Vice President of the Monsanto and Dupont-funded pesticide-promoting lobbying group, CropLife, is now the Agriculture Negotiator for the US Trade Representative.
5. Rajiv Shah former agricultural-development director for the pro-biotech Gates Foundation (a frequent Monsanto partner), served as Obama’s USDA Under-Secretary for Research Education and Economics and Chief Scientist and is now head of USAID.
6. Elena Kagan, who, as President Obama’s Solicitor General, took Monsanto’s side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready alfalfa case, is now on the Supreme Court.
7. Ramona Romero, corporate counsel to DuPont, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the USDA.