Celebrate Non-GMO Month Island Style

Photo: Papaya Tree

Aloha everyone! Can you believe we are almost toward the end of the year? Seems like just yesterday was the start of a fresh new year. So many exciting things have happened in Hawaii this year. There are two celebrations that I love: Halloween and Non-GMO Month!

You must be wondering, why on earth do I love to celebrate non-GMO Month? It’s because it’s the time of year when we can really raise awareness about GMOs and what we can do as a community to find alternatives. Just wanted to share some tips on how to celebrate and inform your loved ones about GMOs:

Host a Lights Out Potluck. Local people are all about potlucks. Host a get together with your family and friends and tell them to cook their favorite dish using non-GMO ingredients. (You might even impress them with a stellar recipe from our website.) For the more advanced potluck, turn out the lights, power down electronics, and take the party out under the stars.

Volunteer at an Organic Farm. Get a group of friends together and get your hands in the dirt. What better way to celebrate non-GMO Month than taking time out of your day to spend time on an organic farm. You’ll learn more about sustainable farming, how food is grown, and more ways you can support your local organic farmer. You might even be inspired to start your own organic farm!

Dress up as your favorite Non-GMO Hero. October also means Halloween. Why not dress up as your favorite non-GMO hero? Dr. Vandana Shiva when she visited the islands? Non-GMO papayas? Be creative. You’ll get a chance to be in their shoes and also explain to folks who you’re dressed as and why supporting the push for a non-GMO Hawaii matters to you.

These are just some quick ideas that might make celebrating Non-GMO Month a little more fun. The possibilities are endless. I’d love to hear your creative ideas on how you’ll be celebrating! Don’t forget to take plenty of pictures to share with your friends.

Hope you have a fun and memorable Non-GMO Month!

With aloha,  Jordan Ragasa

GMO Foods Should Be Labeled, Part III

Non-GMO Project Verified

(This is the third installment of a three-part series about the potential risks of foods containing genetically modified ingredients)

As consumers, we value the basic right to choose from a wide variety of foods in the marketplace, to make informed choices as to what to eat and what we feed our families. Presently this right is being denied to consumers around the world who want to know whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMO).

A GMO is the result of a laboratory process where genes are taken from one species and inserted into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic. GMOs are also known as genetically engineered-, bio-engineered-, biotech crops, or transgenic organisms. Down to Earth is opposed to the development of products containing GMOs because, as I've outlined in previous blogs on this topics, we believe they may pose health, safety, and other potential risks that far outweigh the purported benefits.

This is a major problem because a 94-fold increase in GMO hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 160 million hectares in 2011 makes biotech crops the fastest-adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture. More than half the world’s population, 60% or 4 billion people, live in the 29 countries that are currently planting biotech crops. These numbers are expected to grow. In some countries, GMO crops count as the majority of all soy, corn, cotton, and canola grown. Other GMO crops include sugar beets, squash, alfalfa and papaya. Everything including bread, cereal, frozen pizza, soup, soda—all sorts of processed foods—now contain GMOs. One concern is that we do not know whether GMOs are safe for humans to eat because the studies have not been done.

In 1998, a loud outcry among consumers in the European Union resulted in mandatory labeling of foods containing GM ingredients. Over the past 15 years the list of countries that require some form of labeling has grown to include Russia, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Venezuela, India, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand.

But in the United States and Canada, powerful lobbying by biotech companies has so far prevented labeling laws from being enacted.

Polls show that 92% of American citizens want genetically modified foods to be labeled, and many are fighting to enact labeling laws. In the state of California, for example, this November consumers will be voting on a GMO labeling bill known as Proposition 37. It is emerging as one of the most high-stakes showdowns in the GMO labeling movement in the USA to date. If Proposition 37 passes, California would become the first state in the USA to require new labels on a host of food products commonly found on grocery store shelves—from breakfast cereals to sodas to tofu.

Few choices in our daily lives are as important as the food choices we make for ourselves and our families. We should be the ones in control, not government. It's wrong for governments to deny us our right to know. Our right to know what is in the food we are buying and our right to choose our preferred food should not be usurped for any reason.

Most people want GMO labeling and many are not convinced that GMOs are safe. Some oppose them based on scientific studies which show health and safety concerns; others oppose them on the basis of religious, spiritual, philosophical, or ethical beliefs. While we have different reasons for wanting to know what is in our food, the one thing no one should deny is our right to know.

For consumers to make informed decisions, the public deserves an open and truthful marketplace. We join consumers around the world in calling for GMO labeling so that, if we want, we can choose not to eat GMOs. The simple truth is that most people want the right to choose what they eat and what they feed their families.

Down to Earth calls for the labeling of foods that contain GMOs everywhere in the world.

GMO Foods: A Dangerous Experiment, Part I

Photo: Scientist Taking Samples from Seedlings

(This is the first installment of a three-part series about the potential risks of foods containing genetically modified ingredients)

One of the most dangerous and least understood experiments with human health the world has ever known is currently underway without your consent—in your household and households around the world. It is the wholesale contamination of the world's food supply with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

GMOs are the result of a laboratory process where genes are taken from one species and inserted into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic. GMOs are also known as genetically engineered-, bio-engineered-, biotech crops, or transgenic organisms.

While GMO proponents say their goal is to increase nutritional benefits or productivity, the two main traits that have been added to date are herbicide tolerance and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. These results have no health benefits, and in fact have only contributed to higher herbicide use and pesticide-resistant superbugs.

Down to Earth is opposed to the development of products containing GMOs because we believe they may pose health, safety, and other potential risks that far outweigh the purported benefits.

GMO crops are grown on every continent of the world. Since their introduction in 1996, they have been planted in over 1.25 billion hectares worldwide—an area 25% larger than the total land mass of the US and China. This experiment is so pervasive that in 2011, for example, 88% of U.S. corn was genetically engineered as were 94% of soy, 95% of sugar beets, 90% of canola oil, 90% of cotton, and about 80% of Hawaiian papaya. Also, this spring marked the first planting of GMO alfalfa.

This story is similar for other countries. In 2011, 160 million hectares of GMO crops were grown in India, China, Japan, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Canada, and scores of other countries throughout Europe and the rest of the world. As a result, everything including bread, cereal, frozen foods, canned soup, soda—all sorts of processed foods—now contain genetically engineered ingredients

There have been no controlled, long-term studies determining the effects of GMO’s on human beings. The only feeding study conducted on human beings showed GMOs survived inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food. No follow-up studies were done. Various feeding studies conducted on animals by independent scientists have raised serious concerns. Results from these studies included potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles; partial atrophy or increased density of the liver, odd shaped cell nuclei and other unexplained anomalies, false pregnancies and higher death rates.

Every single genetically engineered organism is different, and may adapt differently over time. Foreign genes may give rise to allergenic proteins or toxic compounds which survive in the bloodstream. By experimenting with the genetic structure of common foods without thoroughly testing each new combination and its effects on human beings and the environment, the biotech industry is essentially conducting a vast, long term, uncontrolled experiment on human health and the entire planet.

I urge you to educate yourself about the presence of GMO foods in your community. Learn what you can do to stop this dangerous experiment on your health and the health of your children. In my next blog I will provide more details about the potential health and environmental risks posed by introducing GMOs into the environment and our food.

GMOs Debated on Dr. Oz 12-7-10

Whether you've been following the debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply, or you're new to the topic, this Tuesday's Dr. Oz Show is one you won't want to miss. Showing in Hawaii on KITV 4 at 10 a.m. on December 7th, the first fifteen minutes will showcase GMO safety vanguard Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology discussing the health dangers of genetically modified foods, Dr. Michael Hansen, a scientist from Consumers Union who has been an avid critic of GMOs for two decades, and Dr. Pamela Ronald, a pro-GM scientist who has been proposing that organic foods include GMOs.

It’s sure to get exciting! This is rare national coverage of this extremely important topic that influences everyone.

While largely unknown to most consumers, GMOs have infiltrated large sectors of our food supply and have become the norm in crops such as corn and soy. The health and environmental effects of these untested foods could be huge. Think allergies, cancer, super weeds and super insects, among other potential hazards.

Please forward this email your friends, post on Facebook, Tweet, etc.

Maui County Council to Vote on GMO Taro

This Thursday, July 16, the Maui County Council is scheduled to vote on a bill to protect taro from genetic modification. Maui residents should contact their council member to ask them to vote in favor of protecting taro. The following is from KAHEA's, The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, email dated July 9, 2009:

Last month, the Maui County Council heard two days of public testimony on the proposal to protect taro from genetic modification. Maui taro farmers were out in force and gave excellent testimony in defense of Haloa. Of course, corporations like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta have also been making their rounds to Council members, trying to erode support for natural taro in order to safeguard their corporate profits. The pressure from the corporations is immense and the threat of a bill in the legislature that could undo county-protections is growing. That's why Maui taro farmers are asking for help to convince County Council members stand strong, support natural taro, and uphold truly local decision-making.

Please take just a minute to make phone calls today:

  • Mike Molina (Haiku, Paia, Makawao) 270-5507
  • Gladys Baisa (Kula, Pukalani, Ulupalakua) 270-7939
  • Joe Pontanilla (Kahului) 270-5501
  • Jo Anne Johnson (West Maui) 270-5504
  • Danny Mateo (Molokai) 270-7678
  • Sol Kaho'ohalahala (Lanai) 270-7768
  • Bill Medeiros (East Maui) 270-7246
  • Wayne Nishiki (South Maui) 270-7108
  • Michael Victorino (Wailuku, Waihee, Waikapu) 270-7760

Ask them to support Bill 09-100 and help protect taro from genetic modification.

Council members are expected to make a key decision in this process by July 16th, so please, please, please call them today. Your phone call could help to extend the shield of protection for taro to one more county.

Sugar beets likely to be the next untested and unregulated GMO crop

GMO sugar beets are likely to be the next untested and unregulated GMO crop. Unless stopped by a pending federal lawsuit. Farmers are planning to plant the Monsanto GMO sugar beets in Boulder Colorado (Boulder is home to many of the nation's organic and natural foods companies). The following is from a Natural Foods Merchandiser June 10, 2009 article:

"I've long been opposed to GMO and this is in my back yard," Boulder resident Mary Rogers said. "When you're talking about GMO, you're talking about something that can have far-reaching consequences. I'm wondering if we're opening a Pandora's Box."

Kevin Golden, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety — one of several organizations suing the USDA over the Roundup Ready Sugarbeets — says Boulder residents are right to worry.

"Cross pollination is a major danger," he said. "Report after report shows that using genetically engineered seeds and plants results in contamination. We can't stop biology from doing what it does and spreading. It's inevitable."

If Boulder County allows growers to plant Roundup Ready Sugarbeets, Golden said the farmers will likely end up using more Roundup as weeds become resistant to the herbicide. Similar to human viruses that morph to resist the overuse of antibiotics, so shall weeds learn to resist Roundup, some experts have warned.

Organic seed producer Frank Morton of Philomath, Ore., claims GMOs can harm not only his crops, but his reputation. Even a small amount of GMO content would cost a batch of seeds its organic certification.

To learn more about GMOs and the dangers they pose please check out our GMO information stands at each of our stores.

Thanks for reading. Mark Fergusson

Monsanto subject to a ban on planting GMO Roundup Ready alfalfa

In a victory for all those concerned about the dangers that GMOs pose the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a ban on all planting of genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service failed to conduct an environmental-impact study before Monsanto, the makers of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, released its product to the marketplace. The ban is now firmly in place until the APHIS finishes a full EIS, which could take months.

GMO revolving door continues

In other recent news the GMO FDA Monsanto revolving door continues as a former vice president of public policy at Monsanto (that job title is Orwellian corporate speak for making sure the government puts up no barriers for GMOs) to a high level position at the FDA. The guys who make the GMOs are the guys supposedly regulating them. That sure makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Not!

The following is from a Natural Foods Merchandiser article:

Michael Taylor, a former vice president of public policy at Monsanto Company, is the new senior advisor for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He will advise Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of food and drugs.

Taylor joined the FDA earlier this month. He will oversee planning and implementation of food safety reform at FDA, said George Strait, assistant commissioner of public affairs for the administration. The hiring marks a return to the FDA for Taylor, who worked for the FDA from 1976 to 1981 as a staff lawyer and executive assistant, and again from 1991 to 1994 as deputy commissioner for policy. Taylor also served as the administrator for U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1994 to 1996.

"He was selected because of his great expertise and experience in food safety issues," Strait said. "He will be reporting directly to the commissioner as her special assistant on all food and food safety. It is a new position, created because the commissioner sees food safety as one of her highest priorities."

But some activists see Taylor's hiring as trouble.

"We're not happy to hear the news of Michael Taylor getting the (job), not only because of his well-known GMO revolving door issues that don't please us at all, but also, we have some differences of opinion in terms of government and food inspection," said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization.

USDA accepting comments on GE crop regulations

In the waning months of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposal to completely overhaul its regulation of genetically engineered crops, significantly weakening its oversight. The proposed rules would virtually ensure that contamination of organic and conventional crops will become even more frequent, and even excuses the Agency from taking any action to remedy such contamination. The rules would continue to allow the dangerous practice of producing drugs and industrial chemicals in food crops grown in the open environment, and in many cases even allow the biotechnology industry to decide whether their GE crops are regulated at all.

Over four years ago, USDA promised stricter oversight of genetically engineered crops; unfortunately, improvements considered early on have vanished and the regulations have instead become weaker. The proposed rule now has even more gaping holes than the regulations it is replacing, and creates a few new ones as well, resulting in more public exposure to untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods. Instead of tightening controls to protect the public and the environment from contamination and harm, what USDA has offered further endangers your right to choose the foods you and your family eat and farmers’ right to their chosen livelihoods.

To make matters worse, USDA published the rules before publishing the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by law, and in the absence of public review of the data needed to make regulatory recommendations. Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture. We are calling on the Obama Administration to reject the irresponsible Bush “anything goes” biotech policy, and to put in place rules that will create real change in the regulation and oversight of GE crops. And we are requesting a moratorium on commercial planting of any new GE crops until such comprehensive regulations are in place.

The comment period has been extended to June 29, 2009. Please send your comment to USDA today – the Agency is listening, let’s demand better oversight of GE crops to protect citizens, farmers, wildlife, and the environment!

Read the full article

June 29, 2009, is this coming Monday, so please take action now.

GMO trees pose new threat to the environment!

The biotechnology firm ArborGen has asked the USDA for permission to conduct 29 field trials of genetically engineered "cold tolerant" eucalyptus trees in the U.S. For the first time in history, this massive experiment, which is on the verge of being green-lighted, will literally be using nature as the laboratory to test more than 260,000 genetically engineered trees. Scientists across the U.S. are voicing concerns over this proposal.

Learn more about GMO trees