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Natural Awakenings Boston

Forcing Change in Our Food System : Banning GMO Crops and Genetically Engineered Foods

Jun 24, 2014 01:29PM ● By Natural Awakenings staff with reporting

It may take some concerted efforts among consumers and legislators, but eventually, especially among larger publicly held companies like Monsanto, when the customers stop buying their goods, they can lose control over the market and be forced to make strategy changes. 

Nearly 1.4 million Americans have signed a petition urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require labeling of geneticallyengineered (GE) food—the most on any petition pending before the agency. More than 200 non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) food companies recently signed a letter to the President of the United States urging him to honor his pledge to require GMO labeling. At the state level, Vermont has passed the first state law requiring GMO labeling on all products sold in its state, and two counties in Oregon have recently passed an outright ban on GMOs. The U.S. GMO-free battle rages on.

According to the Non-GMO Project (NonGMOProject.org), GMOs are plants or animals engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental genes from different species can not occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. While large corporations that produce GMOs, such as Monsanto and Dupont, claim they are a better solution growing body of evidence connecting GMOs with increased health risks, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights. As a result, the Monsanto Corporation, the world’s largest purveyor of genetically modified food seeds, is combating a growing worldwide opposition to GE foods.

Contingency planning may become more vital to Monsanto as growing genetically modified crops face significant restrictions or partial or complete bans in more than 60 countries. Among them are: Germany, Ireland, Italy, Egypt, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, France, Madeira, Switzerland, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Thailand, and Georgia.

In the United States, several states have attempted to ban GMO crops or require labeling for GE foods but have faced legal opposition, with many having backed down from legal pressure— some say from Monsanto’s lobbyists and lawyers. Some states legislatures, such as those in North Dakota, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon and West Virginia, have passed or moved to pass laws banning localities such as cities and counties in their states from passing their own GMO-free laws, for instance, the one in Jackson County, Oregon. Furthermore, the U.S. House of Representatives has attempted to nullify the states’ rights to require GMO labeling with the King Amendment of the 2013 farm bill. While the King Amendment has been dropped, the attempts to nullify states’ rights to require GMOs continue.

Non-GMO battle cries can be heard from consumers as they increasingly resist buying GMO foods. In addition to the movement in the U.S. to require GMO labeling, even among countries where GMO crops are allowed by governments, citizens are becoming progressively resistant to purchasing GE foods. Some polls have found nine out of 10 Americans support GMO labeling. This trend is also evident in Canada, Britain, Spain and other countries where movements among citizen-action groups and legislators seek GMO labeling requirements as well as crop bans.

Label requirements for GMOs have proved lethal to GM crops and GM seed suppliers in those countries that require labeling. More than 40 countries from around the world now either require GE foods to be labeled or have instituted voluntary labeling laws. Some claim that genetically-modified food sales decrease with labeling laws. These labeling laws, mostly among first-world countries, have occurred primarily out of concern that genetically engineered foods—or the potential of its increased pesticide content—may prove to have negative health consequences. Others are simply disturbed by the prospect of genetically altering our food supply without a clear understanding of the long-term consequences.

While much of the world’s educated consumers are pushing for either banning GMO crops or at least requiring GMO labeling, many of the world’s largest growing regions still embrace growing GMO crops. These include China, Canada, countries in Africa, and much of South America. In the U.S., some 90 percent of acres planted are now from genetically modified seeds, which, among other things, do not produce plantable seeds. This is also called a terminator seed. This means that farmers will have to rely upon one supplier, or the owner of the patented seed, to supply them with their seeds: Monsanto.

Monsanto’s strategy is working. As its GM seeds have been proliferating in many parts of the world, Monsanto’s sales have been growing due to its success with Bt corn and other crops. Currently two-thirds of Monsanto’s sales are from seeds, and its seed business and profits have been growing at a steady 10 percent or more per year. By not buying genetically-modified foods, consumers can help put a stop to this propagation, which can possibly lead to the devastation of our natural crops.

Monsanto’s recent acquisition of Seminis, which included several divisions that develop non-GMO hybrids, is proof that Monsanto can learn to become successful without spreading the world with genetically modified seeds that will change our food and crop landscape forever. The Seminis company owns the rights to the lettuce hybrid called Frescada. Frescada was originally developed as a natural hybrid between romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce. It is crisper than romaine, and more nutritious than iceberg. And it is now being sold in many stores.

The natural crossbred variety was originally developed by Petoseed, a small seed breeder from the Central California region. The variety does indeed produce its own seeds if grown for seed, and it does not contaminate other crops. There is a critical difference between genetic modification and natural crossbreeding techniques. Cross breeding together during their growing stages, resulting in a natural hybridization.

Rather than demonizing companies, consumers can encourage change instead by voting with their wallets. Most of the conventional corn, soy, canola, cottonseed and sugar beet crops grown in the U.S. are now GMO. As such, choosing to buy organic or non-GMO certified products will reduce demand for a majority of the GMO crops currently being grown. A Non-GMO Shopping Guide can be found at NonGMO ShoppingGuide.com/download.html.

As sales of cereals and other products containing conventional corn and soy decrease, companies like General Mills and Kellogg’s will begin offering organic corn and soy or non-GMO corn or soy. Both companies have already acquired organic brands, so the change is beginning. As consumers purchase more of these non-GMO products, demand among farmers will decrease, driving the price of GMO crops down. GM farmers will then begin to switch their crops to non-GMO crops.

Monsanto’s GM strategy has been the result of the acceptance—knowingly or not—of its technology by consumers, but consumers can change this. Laws can be changed and labeling required, which is a good start, but only consumers can decide not to buy GM foods. GM food is easy to avoid because organic foods are not allowed to include GMO ingredients. In addition, new compliance labeling by the Non-GMO Verification Project is being introduced on more and more labels, and Whole Foods has announced it will require all brands in their stores to be labeled Non- GMO by 2018. Gradually, consumers, retailers, action groups and brands are taking action.

Wendy Fachon, MBA, is an afterschool educator for Child Opportunity Zone (COZ) programs around Rhode Island and the editor of the WakeUpPeople.org healthy choices website.

Case Adams, a California Naturopath, has authored many natural health books and is founder of RealNatural, Inc. Portions of this article were excerpted from his article “Many Countries and Localities Ban GMO Crops, Require GE Food Labels” at RealNatural.org.

 

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