With GMOs, Knowledge is Power

October is Non-GMO Month at Down to Earth, and in addition to our sale on Sunday 10.10.10, we’ll be featuring a series of posts on the work and writing of Jeffrey Smith, director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and one of the world’s leading experts on the risks of GM technology.

Jeffrey Smith is the author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating, the world's bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs. His second book, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, is an in depth exposé of 65 documented health risks of GMO foods. With his work at the Institute for Responsible Technology, he’s on a campaign to achieve a tipping point of consumer rejection of GMO foods. He’s circled the globe numerous times giving lectures and raising awareness about the risks of GMOs.

I told a friend of mine the other day that Down to Earth was participating in Non-GMO Month, and she gave me a blank look. “GMOs have a whole month? Are they really that big a deal?” I’m embarrassed to say that, like my friend and probably a lot of other people, I’ve heard about genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) plants and animals for years, but I’ve never sat down and seriously examined the issues and the potential health and environmental risks.

Writing for Down to Earth, however, has really opened my eyes to this critical issue. Down to Earth has been at the forefront of efforts within the natural foods industry to raise consumer awareness about the dangers of GMOs. Now, as the evidence against them mounts, GMOs are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

The IRT website calls itself “the most comprehensive source of GMO health risk information on the web” and they back up that claim with an impressive array of easily accessible research. The health risks they list include increased allergic reactions, infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and “changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” Those are pretty sweeping problems, and the medical establishment is taking them seriously enough that the American Academy for Environmental Medicine now advises physicians to tell their patients to avoid GM foods. At this point, GMOs have been on the market since 1996 and now include 91% of all soy products, 85% of corn products, 90% of sugar beets, and, closer to home, over 50% of Hawaiian papayas. (See the full list on IRT's website).

Sometimes when an issue is this big and this urgent, our first reaction is to minimize it. Growing up, I heard about tomatoes that had been crossed with fish, and I imagined a tomato with fins. I heard about a pig crossed with a jellyfish that glowed in the dark. The way adults talked about it, it sounded like a joke. I guess I assumed that if there really was a chance that GM foods could pose serious health risks, then someone would already be taking care of it. I’m young enough to still have illusions waiting to be busted. Contrary to my naive assumptions, the agencies charged with protecting the health of this country have done less than nothing to regulate GMOs. The FDA has failed on numerous occasions even to require investigations into the safety of GMOs before allowing them on the market. This, coupled with the FDA's refusal to require labelling of GM foods, has led many to allege that they are in the pocket of the biotech industry. Most tellingly, the current US Food Safety Czar is the former vice president of Monsanto, the world’s leading producer of GM seeds.

A growing number of scientists, farmers and activists are working hard to enact legislation banning the use of GMOs, but in the meantime it is up to each person to educate him or herself about how and why to avoid them. Education is our greatest weapon - that's why Down to Earth is promoting the Non-GMO Project Verified label, to help our customers find products that have been certified GMO free by the most rigorous standards. Until voluntary labelling catches on, however, IRT has a great shopping guide that will help you avoid GMOs in your food.

Right now, there’s a lot of money in biotechnology, and the industry players in favor of keeping GMOs in the food supply have a lot of power behind them. Everyone knows the saying “money talks.” But that truism cuts both ways. Corporations only have as much power as we give them, and they are highly responsive to customer demand. For example, when the dangers of GMOs were first broadcast in Britain, the public outcry was so great that virtually every major food company committed within a week to stop using GMOs in Europe. We hope that by joining our efforts with those of Jeffrey Smith, the Non GMO Project, the American Association of Environmental Medicine and numerous others, we can create that same tipping point of consumer rejection in America. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we bring you the story of the man who blew the whistle on GMOs, the scoop behind the biotech propaganda backlash and updates on the GE salmon strain dubbed the Frankenfish.

Was Dr. Pusztai's GMO Safety Study Flawed? To Find the Truth, Follow the Money Trail

Every human being has an innate desire to know the truth, and we use different methods to seek out truth at different times. Sometimes we seek it through prayer or intuition, other times through hearing from authorities and other times through our own observation. Truth is not just a philosophical concept. Sometimes it comes down to one of the most basic questions of human life: “Will this food kill me or not?

In the case of deciding whether or not we are willing to consume genetically modified organisms, we have to employ all of our truth-seeking faculties. First, we can ask an obvious question: do other animals eat this food? Jeffrey Smith has documented numerous situations where wild and domesticated animals go out of their way to avoid GM foods. Read excerpts:

But anecdotal evidence is not conclusive, so we might want to hear from authorities. Unfortunately, a lot of people are making a lot of money on GMOs and institutions that are intended to act as unbiased authorities – such as the FDA - have become woefully compromised.

In this case, we might use our intuition to decide whom to trust. Personally, my intuition tells me two things:

  1. I learned in 9th grade that DNA is very complex. If someone wants to go shooting foreign genes into DNA strands, that’s their freedom. But I’m not going to eat their science experiment.
  2. If you have two scientists, and one of them is making money selling you his science experiment and the other one risked his job to tell you that the science experiment is dangerous, I’d trust the second one.

As Shelly explained, that hypothetical scenario is actually a reality. In Wednesday's article, Shelly told the story of Dr. Armand Pusztai, the scientist who blew the whistle on genetically engineered foods and became a hero in Europe: https://www.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-10/why-non-gmo-day-why-non-gmo-month. Not surprisingly, he immediately came under attack from proponents of biotechnology, who continue to try to discredit him.

Jeffrey Smith, whose work we’ve been featuring over the last week, comes to Dr. Pusztai’s defense, answering point by point the different challenges made to Dr. Pusztai’s study: www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-smith/biotech-propaganda-cooks_b_675957.html. Smith deals primarily with a website constructed by Bruce Chassy and David Tribe, two pro-GMO advocates who published a number of claims about Dr. Pusztai’s research. In their list of accusations, they claim that the design of the study was flawed, the results actually indicated that there was no difference between animals fed GMO potatoes and animals fed non-GMO potatoes, and that “experts” said no scientific conclusion could be drawn from the study.

Smith breaks down the claims into a longer list, and devotes multiple paragraphs to exposing each one. Among the highlights: the “experts” cited by Chassy and Tribe are actually members of the Royal Society, who’s explicit purpose according to UK newspaper The Guardian "is to mould scientific and public opinion with a pro-biotech line," and to "counter opposing scientists and environmental groups."

According to Smith, “Dr. Pusztai's research design had already been used in over 50 peer-reviewed published studies conducted at the Rowett Institute, the most prestigious nutritional institute in the UK. Furthermore, the design was explicitly approved in advance by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)—the UK government's main funding body for the biological sciences.”

It’s also important to note that when Dr. Pusztai designed and carried out the study, he had no history of non-GMO advocacy. He was chosen for the study because lectin, the protein added to the GM potatoes, was his specialty. There was no reason for him to purposefully skew the design of the study. In fact, in 2003 the medical journal Nutrition and Health hailed the study as "remarkable in that the experimental conditions were varied and several ways were found by which to demonstrate possible health effects of GM foods."

So much for Tribe and Chassy’s criticism.

Back in the day, when hunter-gatherers were making difficult decisions about what to put in their mouths, they had to weigh a lot of factors. But thankfully, propaganda wasn’t one of the elements competing for their attention. In an age where “panels of experts” are paid by the companies whose products they promote, the average citizen needs to exercise a great deal of intelligence to avoid being poisoned. I hope you’ll take the time to read Jeffrey Smith’s article in full , visit the website of the Institute for Responsible Technology and give yourself a thorough education on the dangers of GM foods and how to avoid them.

What the FDA Isn’t Telling You About GE Salmon

Jeffrey Smith, whose work we’ve been featuring for the past week, has posted a petition at the website of the Institute for Responsible Technology. Instead of being addressed to a government agency, as many petitions are, this one is addressed to members of the food service industry.

Smith’s reasoning is that the FDA has already proven itself to be operating with a clear pro-biotech agenda. In fact, in his article on the approval of GE salmon, he details the backgrounds of the GMO advisory committee to the FDA, the majority of whom either recently held a position with a biotech corporation, or currently hold a position that directly profits from genetic engineering. So, the likelihood of their being swayed by the concerned voices of the regular people who will be eating their salmon is slim. Instead, Smith hopes to create a movement within the food industry to reject GE foods directly, and voluntarily label their food “non-GMO.”

Personally, I don’t think of salmon as food anyway. But, even if I did, I wouldn’t want anything to do with these Frankenfish. The health risks Smith details in his article include increased and potentially lethal allergic reactions, increased use of antibiotics and increased exposure to IGF-1, a cancer-causing hormone also found in milk from cows treated with rBGH. Even though I’m not worried about having to pick out salmon at the grocery store, I am worried about the impact of these fish on the health of the oceans.

Aqua Bounty, the company that makes the GE salmon, claims the fish will be confined in net pens, and not released into the wild, but that assurance doesn’t hold water. Since 1996, almost 6,000,000 farmed salmon have escaped from net pens in Washington waters alone, following storms or accidents that damage nets. The fish are also intended to be sterile, but according to testimony submitted by Monterey Bay Aquarium to the FDA, the method is imperfect, and cannot guarantee that all fish will be incapable of reproducing.

If GE salmon were released into the wild, some studies cited by Smith suggest that wild salmon could become extinct in as little as 40 generations. The GE salmon are engineered to grow up to five times as fast as regular salmon, which means other salmon are more likely to select them as a mate. It was also observed in a study of confined salmon, that when food became scarce the GE salmon cannibalized other salmon, both GE and non-GE. It’s possible that under adverse conditions, GE salmon could become predators of other fish, which would have unpredictable and potentially disastrous results for the delicate balance of the ocean food chain.

Whatever the negative consequences turn out to be, no one has suggested that GE salmon have any potential benefits for anyone other than the corporations making them. So, if you do a quick cost/benefit analysis, it shouldn’t be a tough call. Cost: potential threat to health of oceans, other salmon and people. Benefit: increased profits for biotech corporations. Conclusion: no thanks!

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 Awareness Month

Aloha from the Love Life! Team. October is GMO awareness month, but to us at Down to Earth, GMO awareness is always year-round.

USDA Organic

As a mother I feel very concerned about the uncertainty of GMOs and the possible effects they may have on my family. I would love for my food to be labeled so that I can make informed decisions when choosing foods. But until we have nationwide success in a labeling law, there are two ways that I can take precautions. One of the ways to avoid GMOs is to choose foods that have the USDA certified Organic seal, the other is to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal.  

The Organic seal certifies that GMOs were not used in production:

The Non-GMO Project Verified Seal means that the product bearing this seal has passed a rigorous verification process by the Non-GMO Project:

Non-GMO Project Verified

Down to Earth, along with the natural products industry, strongly supports this Project. It is a non-profit collaboration of companies, farmers, and consumers offering North America’s first program that verifies non-GMO products. The Non-GMO Project provides a seal of approval to manufacturers that meet their rigorous non-GMO standards. Backed by independent testing, the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal means that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, their processing, storage and packaging. Thousands and thousands of products have been verified to date, and you see more and more products with the Non-GMO Project Verfied seal every day!

Thankfully Down to Earth is a strong advocate of labeling and has very high standards about the products we have in our stores. We do not sell any single GMO ingredients, so that makes it easy to purchase the “big watch” item such as corn, soy, canola, zucchini, summer squash, sugar beets, and alfalfa..  But when it comes to ingredients in processed packaged foods there is no way to tell for sure since we do not have a labeling requirement. Down to Earth supports Non-GMO Project Verified products, another thing that makes me immensely happy as a mama. I always look for this label knowing the integrity of the verification process to help further avoid GMOs in food. For information about GMOs, check out the FAQs page of their website.  Another source of great information is the Label GMOs page on the Down to Earth website.

Also, for the month of October the Love Life Team, Jordan Ragasa and myself, have been featuring Non-GMO recipes (of course we always make Non-GMO recipes), but we are featuring soy and corn as main ingredients. Here is our delicious menu: Tofu Poke, Corn Fritters with a Tofu Dipping Sauce, and a Chocolate Peanut Butter Tofu Pie that is out of this world! On Maui I will teach: Raw Manicotti, Kale Salad with a Papaya Seed Dressing, and a Papaya Smoothie.  Visit our website to see our schedule of free coooking classes held monthly at various Down to Earth locations.  We hope to see you at one of the classes. Hope you have an awesome October!

Mahalo Nui Loa,

Trisha "Mama T" Gonsalves

Community Outreach Team Leader/ Event Coordinator

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

Go Organic, Don’t Panic!

Photo: Cooking Demo Participants Share a Meal

Eating organic is essential to a healthy future for ourselves and our environment. Last month our Love Life! team gave a cooking demo to Hawaii Famers Union, Patricia Bragg, and a group of young people on a cultural exchange with Native American Indians and Hawaiians. It was a pretty epic evening in the back roads of Waimanalo on Green Rows Farm. This demo was so special because we had young people -- our future -- visiting and connecting with organic farmers from across the Islands. They were able to see a sustainable organic farm and see how to make food that they can grow themselves. It was an opportune time to share that food should be our medicine and show this from a farm-to-table experience.

When we choose organic foods we are not only helping our own health but the health of our environment and all living things. Chemical-laden foods and produce also affect all living things. Chemicals get into our soil, water, air and bodies and it is not a sustainable practice for long-term health. We were able to teach that organic farming methods and practices can be very productive today without using harmful pesticides. 

Patricia Bragg engaged the group as well, and everyone just loved her stories, and she began chanting "Go Organic, Don't Panic", and everyone joined her. Paul Izak, a local musician and farmer, sang a song called “Water is Life” and the youth all sang along with him. It truly was a beautiful organic evening full of love, laughter, and hope for a future where organic reigns.

Unfortunately, sometimes families have limited budgets that make it difficult to buy all their food organic all the time. For those days when you have to make a choice, there are options. To determine which vegetables and fruits have the most pesticide residue and should be bought organic, and which have lesser amounts that make it less concerning to buy conventional, check out the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen”.

I encourage you to choose organics as often as you can. Supporting local organic farming here in Hawaii and everywhere is how we can ensure the safety of our environment, and the health of our loved ones and the farmers who grow our food… "Go Organic, Don't panic!"