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

A Day at Ko Farms

Photo: Daniel Ko

For our second Talk Story with the Love Life! Team newsletter feature, we are thrilled to share the story of Ko Farms, a local grower that has been providing organic produce for Down to Earth for almost 30 years.

Ko Farms, hidden deep in Palolo Valley (Oahu), is a world away from busy Honolulu city life. Though many of us think of farming as an activity that takes place far away from the city, Ko Farms has settled into the urban farm life easily. And it’s no wonder: Ko Farms is very nearly magical. Butterflies and birds hover about, sun streams through the large trees onto the kale plants, and the ocean is still and deep blue in the distance. Built on the hilly terrain in the back of the valley, Daniel Ko has carved out multiple terraces in which to grow his greens. Thousands of kale plants, collard greens and dandelion greens fill the terraces and beds with bright, living green energy. Other crops dot the landscape– a few peppers in one field, some banana trees in another, a few avocado trees or citrus trees here and there. The soil deep in the valley is rich and healthy and the weather is perfect for the greens– provided there are not too many rainstorms.

Daniel Ko has been farming for most of his life. He began with a small goat dairy with his brother, where he worked for years. His brother had a passion for raising the animals, but Daniel said he was always much more interested in vegetables. Over the years he has farmed properties in Waimanalo and other locations in Palolo. They have been farming the current property for just 10 years.

Ko Farms has long been certified organic; Daniel says that he was never interested in using the chemicals anyway, and the certification ensures a good price for his greens. He uses organic seeds and compost made in the neighborhood from local garden waste and tree clippings. His organic management includes bird netting, mulch, green manures and occasional use of organic pest controls for the persistent cabbage moths.

Currently, Ko Farms sells certified organic herbs, lacinato and curly kale (in bunches and bags), collard greens and dandelion greens to all four Oahu stores.

All of these greens are deeply nutritious and versatile in the kitchen. Juice them, blend them into smoothies, or find hundreds of salad, soup and entrée recipes on our website that feature kale, collards and dandelion greens.


Photo: Curly Kale Plants

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.

Organic Food: Good for Your Health, Good for the Environment

Photo: Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

What is organic food and how does it help you improve your health and the environment?

The goal of organic agriculture is to produce foods using a natural and sustainable food production system that sustains our health and the health of soils and ecosystems. It does this by avoiding the use of harmful chemicals such as toxic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and by prohibiting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), toxic sludge, irradiation, or other production methods that are harmful for the environment.

The definition of organic food varies from country to country, as hundreds of organic standards have been developed worldwide since the 1940s. Some form of organic standard is included in regulations of more than 60 governments. In most countries, falsely labeling non-organic foods as organic can result in significant fines and other penalties. The resulting "Organic" label gives us the opportunity and the choice to eat foods that are better for our bodies, for our families, and for the environment.

Food with an Organic label means it was grown naturally the way nature intended it. When you buy organic foods, you don’t have to question it because organic farmers follow strict standards to grow the most natural fruits and vegetables possible. In the United States, for example, organic farmers don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, hormones, antibiotics, sewage sludge, irradiation, or any genetically modified organisms. Consumers just look for the Organic label, and they are confident that stringent guidelines have been followed to bring to market wholesome natural products.

When you choose organic food, you help conserve the environment. For example, pesticides used in non-organic farming are wiping out entire species of beneficial insects, butterflies, and birds. On agricultural farms in the United States alone, it is estimated that about 672 million birds are affected by large amounts of pesticides, and about 10% of them die as a result of it. Meanwhile, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers on farms is contaminating the water supply through seepage into the water table and runoff from rainstorms.

The loss of soil fertility has also become a matter of concern due to chemical farming. In contrast, organic farming involves production methods that help conserve soil fertility and biodiversity. The use of organic fertilizers, compost, mulches, and other organic matter preserves healthy soil by supporting microorganisms in the soil as well as earthworms and red worms that aerate the soil. Mulches and organic matter also minimize weed growth. Multi-cropping, trap crops, and companion planting helps pest control.

Also, the low-till practice of organic farming helps prevent soil erosion by disturbing less soil. Since this practice reduces the amount of soil that needs to be cultivated, it is less energy intensive because it uses less oil.

In summary, organic farming uses ecological and biologically safe means to raise crops. By choosing organic food, you show that you prefer these environmental and sustainable systems while at the same time help improve your health.

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.

Purity of federal 'organic' label at risk

The purity of federal 'Organic' label is questioned in a Washington Post article by Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton.

Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.

The government's turnaround, from prohibition to permission, came after a USDA program manager was lobbied by the formula makers and overruled her staff. That decision and others by a handful of USDA employees, along with an advisory board's approval of a growing list of non-organic ingredients, have helped numerous companies win a coveted green-and-white "USDA Organic" seal on an array of products.

Learn more about USDA Organic Standards

This kind of big business manipulation, if unchecked, will result in the 'organic' label losing its credibility. The organic industry was built on integrity and relies on credibility with consumers, if the label says 'organic' then it should be organic. The USDA organic program was launched and supported by the industry in order to get federal government oversight to prevent a patchwork of different rules in different states and to ensure the integrity of the term 'organic'. Unfortunately, the downside of the USDA control over the label is what we are seeing here, the ability of big business and government officials to water down the meaning and integrity of organic. This is a major concern for us, and an issue we take seriously.

Mark Fergusson

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.