The Campaign for Healthier Eating in America
Healthy Eating Means No GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
By Jeffrey M. Smith
You may have heard that genetically modified (GM) foods are safe, properly tested, and necessary to feed a hungry world. UNTRUE! Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), introduced into our food supply in the mid-1990s, are one of history's most dangerous and radical changes in our diet. These largely unregulated ingredients are in 60-70% of the foods in the US, but are well worth efforts to avoid them.
Fortunately, health-conscious retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and growers are now participating in The Campaign for Healthier Eating in America, which will eliminate GMOs from thousands of products. This will make it easier for you to feed your family a healthier "non-GMO" diet and may even end the genetic engineering of the entire US food supply. This industry-wide rejection of GMOs can be achieved by a "tipping point," in which a sufficient number of shoppers in the US avoiding GM ingredients force the major food companies to stop using them.
Informed European Shoppers Say No to GMOs
Europe reached the tipping point in April 1999 and within a single week, virtually all major manufacturers publicly committed to stop using GM ingredients in their European brands. This consumer-led revolt against GMOs in the EU was generated by a February 1999 media firestorm after a top GMO safety researcher, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, was "ungagged by Parliament" and able to tell this alarming story to the press.
Dr. Pusztai was the world's top researcher in his field and a senior researcher at the prestigious Rowett Institute in Scotland. He had been working on a UK government grant to design long-term testing protocols that were intended to become part of the official European GM food safety assessment process. But when Pusztai fed supposedly harmless GM to rats, they developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and a damaged immune system. Moreover, the results clearly indicated that the cause of the problem was due to the unpredictable side effects arising from the process of genetic engineering itself. In other words, it suggested that the GM foods already on the market, which were created from the same process, might also create such effects. When he expressed his concern he was fired from his job after 35 years and silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his 20 member research team was disbanded, the testing protocols were abandoned, and the pro-GM establishment embarked on an extensive disinformation campaign to discredit the study's results and protect the reputation of GM foods. But when an invitation to testify before Parliament allowed Pusztai to finally tell his story, all hell broke loose. The outpouring of news coverage, wrote one columnist, "divided society into two warring blocs" over the GM food issue. The tipping point was reached quickly thanks to the buying power of consumers that convinced manufacturers to keep GMOs out of the EU, in spite of official approvals by the pro-GM European Commission.
Americans are Uninformed and Misinformed on GMOs
In the US, the Pusztai story was barely mentioned. Project Censored described it as one of the 10 most underreported events of the year. Indeed, the US mainstream media has been consistently close-lipped about the enormous health risks of GM foods. They failed to cover the preliminary study from the Russian National Academy of Sciences, for example, that showed that more than half the offspring of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks (compared to 9% from mothers fed natural soy). They neglected to report that the only human GM feeding study ever published showed that the foreign genes inserted into GM food crops can transfer into the DNA of our gut bacteria. This means that long after we stop eating GM corn chips, our intestinal flora might continue to manufacture the "Bt" pesticide that the GM corn plants are engineered to produce. And Americans were not told about the estimated 10,000 sheep that died within 5-7 days of grazing on GM cotton plants—also designed to produce this Bt-toxin.
Many consumers in the US mistakenly believe that the FDA approves GM foods through rigorous, in-depth, long-term studies. In reality, the agency has absolutely no safety testing requirements. (The tests that biotech companies voluntarily perform on their own crops are often meticulously designed to avoid finding problems.) The reason for the FDA's industry-friendly policy on GMOs is that the White House (under the first George Bush) ordered the agency to promote biotechnology. Also, the person in charge of developing the policy was the former attorney of biotech giant Monsanto—and later their vice president. The policy he oversaw claimed that the agency was not aware of any information showing that GM crops were different "in any meaningful or uniform way," and therefore didn't need testing. But 44,000 FDA internal documents made public from a lawsuit show that this was a complete lie. The overwhelming consensus among the FDA's own scientists was that GM foods were quite different and could lead to unpredictable and hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They had urged superiors to require long-term studies, but were ignored. Evidence of this apparent fraud at the FDA was presented at a Washington, D.C. press conference in 1999. Although major media were in attendance, they didn't run that story either.
Americans know so little about this subject, that only about 1 in 4 are aware that they have ever eaten a GM food in their lives (even though the vast majority of processed foods contain derivatives from the four major GM crops: soy, corn, cottonseed and canola). Thus, the same companies that carefully avoid GM ingredients for concerned Europeans are happy to sell GMOs to unknowing consumers in the US.
The Campaign is Moving the Market to Non-GMO
The fact that GMOs flourish in the US because of ignorance leaves the biotech industry extremely vulnerable. If some campaign or event were to push this issue above the national radar screen, consumer reaction could force a Euro-style retreat from GMOs. How many of us would have to reject brands that contain GMOs to reach this tipping point? Even 5 percent of shoppers, or 15 million Americans, would likely be more than enough. When marketing executives at top companies see the drop in market share and the emergence of a trend, kicking out GMOs will be a natural reaction. After all, the brands don't gain anything from using them. Their foods aren't fresher, tastier, or healthier. The two major traits in GM crops are herbicide tolerance, which allows farmers to spray herbicide on the crops without killing them, and pesticide production, in which the crops produce an insect-killing toxin in every cell.
So how do we inspire enough consumers to avoid GM brands? Do the math. Already, 29 percent of Americans are strongly opposed to GM foods and believe they are unsafe. That represents about 87 million people. But even among the 28 million Americans who regularly buy organic (and therefore non-GMO) food, many do not conscientiously avoid GM ingredients in their non-organic purchases; they usually don't know how. By educating health-conscious shoppers about GM food dangers and providing clear choices in the store, brands without GM ingredients will have the clear advantage. As millions begin to make brand choices based on GMO content, it is just a matter of time before the food industry responds.
Three Practical Industry and Consumer Steps to Success
The nonpartisan Campaign for Healthier Eating in America will move the market in three ways.
The Campaign is helping to inspire a full clean out of GMOs from the entire natural food industry. One of the key first steps for a cleanout of GMOs is the establishment of a single, widely accepted definition for "non-GMO." Until now, companies determined their own criteria. Fortunately, the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit whose members span all sectors of the organic and natural products industry, has worked with organizations and experts to develop the authoritative standard. They have developed a low-cost, confidential, third-party program, which verifies that a company's products meet the non-GMO standard and is backed by appropriate testing and documentation.
Members of the board and technical advisory board for the Non-GMO Project include CEOs or executives from Whole Foods Market, United Natural Foods (the industry's largest distributor), Eden Foods, Lundberg Family Farms, Organic Valley, Nature's Path, Hain, and others. These leaders are spearheading this impressive initiative in self-regulation and healthier food. Retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and growers are embracing this practical plan to rid their industry of GMOs.
Organic products are included in this program. They are not allowed to use GMOs and have been an important oasis for non-GMO shoppers. But research shows that some batches of organic seed and crops contain tiny amounts of GM contamination. If unchecked, this can grow over time. By including the organic sector in the campaign, organic producers will use GMO testing methods and procedures that will help clean up seeds and crops and ensure that certified organic foods continue to be a trusted source of non-GMO products.
2. Educating Health-Conscious Shoppers
To reach health-conscious shoppers, the Campaign will provide GMO-education centers in natural food stores nationwide. The brochures, books, DVDs, and CDs, will make it absolutely unmistakable that "Healthy Eating Means No GMOs." The Campaign will also provide regular features on GMO health risks to magazines and websites. These compelling facts should inspire a turning point in your digestive life.
3. Providing Clear Non-GMO Product Choices in the Store
As more and more products participate in The Non-GMO Project's verification program, the Campaign will offer a series of updated Non-GMO Shopping Guides, listing non-GMO products by brand and category. It is expected that all the brands in the natural products industry will be able to successfully achieve non-GMO status within about 18 months. At that time the Campaign will provide in-store, on-shelf labels for retailers to indicate any holdout products that have not participated in the GMO cleanout and are still using GM ingredients.
Genetic Roulette Documents Serious Health Dangers
The sourcebook for the Campaign is the newly released Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. With input from more than 30 scientists over two years, it presents 65 health risks of GM foods and why current safety assessments are not competent to protect us from most of them. The book documents lab animals with damage to virtually every system and organ studied; thousands of sick, sterile, or dead livestock; and people around the world who have traced toxic or allergic reactions to eating GM products, breathing GM pollen, or touching GM crops at harvest. It also exposes many incorrect assumptions that were used to support GM approvals. Organizations worldwide are presenting the book to policy makers as evidence that GM foods are unsafe and need to be removed immediately.
But we don't need to wait for governments to step in. We can make healthier choices for ourselves, our families, and our schools now, and together we can inspire the tipping point for healthier, non-GM eating in America. We believe that this can be achieved within the next 24 months.
The GM crops sold in the US include soy (including soy lecithin used in chocolate and thousands of other products as an emulsifier), corn (including high fructose corn syrup), cottonseed and canola (both used in vegetable oil), Hawaiian papaya, and a small amount of zucchini and crook-neck squash. There is also alfalfa for cattle (the sale of which was halted by a federal judge on March 13, 2007), GM additives such as aspartame, and milk from cows treated with GM bovine growth hormone. There is not yet any GM popcorn, white corn or blue corn. And the industry is threatening to introduce GM sugar from sugar beets next year. To learn more, for online shopping guides and to find out how to get involved, go to www.ResponsibleTechnology.org.
from August 2007 Spilling the Beans newsletter
© copyright Jeffrey M. Smith 2007
Ziauddin Sardar, "Loss of Innocence: Genetically Modified Food," New Statesman (UK), 129, no. 4425, (February 26, 1999) 47
Public Sentiment About Genetically Modified Food (2006 update). The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, December 2006, http://pewagbiotech.org/polls/
"Hot New Consumer and Retail Trends," The Natural Marketing Institute, Presented at Expo West, March 24, 2006.