Ancient Rice in a Modern World: Biopiracy and Bioengineering

by Michele McKay

In the course of 8,000 years, innovative Asian farmers have bred over 10,000 varieties of rice, each suited to different growing conditions and tastes. Today, centuries-old practices of traditional rice cultivation are threatened by corporate financial interests and technologies known as "biopiracy" and "bioengineering."


Basmati rice, bred into many strains over thousands of years by Indian and Pakistani growers, is prized in the world market for its quality and fragrance. Approximately 80 percent of India’s Basmati rice is grown for export, and thousands of farmers depend on it for their livelihoods. In 1997 the Texas-based corporation RiceTec, Inc., was granted a U.S. patent on the name Basmati, giving it commercial ownership of the name for rice seed, rice plants, and rice grain. This case of “biopiracy” raised global outrage, as Indian rice growers and exporters would have to pay royalties to RiceTec if they sold their traditional product under the familiar Basmati name. International organizations launched a challenge to the patent, and in 2001 their effort was successful. In addition to forcing RiceTec to drop its Basmati venture, the campaign raised awareness and understanding about biopiracy and the issues associated with patenting living organisms.


Although the Basmati patent was struck down, biotech giants Monsanto, Syngenta, and others are moving forward with genetic research and are patenting “bioengineered” rice. One controversial example is Golden Rice, a genetically modified organism (GMO) created by adding genetic material from flowers and bacteria to the DNA of rice. The resulting rice grain contains vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, and is touted as a solution to childhood blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency. Scientists and activists who are opposed to the GMO-related corporate control of agriculture argue that vitamin A deficiency in developing countries is not caused by deficiencies in crops themselves, but by the loss of diverse sources of food. Golden Rice provides only a minimum percentage of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, while a varied diet including leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, and fruit would provide families with plenty of vitamin A. If the money spent on developing Golden Rice could be spent instead on distributing seed for safe, naturally vitamin A-rich crops, a serious health issue would be addressed, while fostering biodiversity and sustainable traditional agriculture.

What you can do:

  • Vote with your dollars by purchasing GMO-free products.
  • Visit for information on global biopiracy and bioengineering issues.

Visit for information on GMO-related cultural and agricultural issues in Hawaii.

GMOs: Risky Business

by Michele McKay

Food labeling laws have come a long way. For the benefit of the consumer, requiring identification of allergens and trans-fats is now mandated by the law. However, biotechnology, the process of genetic engineering that creates genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is a rapidly growing and potentially dangerous technology that has no labeling requirements. Today, many commercial crops are genetically engineered, with soybeans, corn, and canola at the top of the list. The only way to avoid them is to purchase products labeled “organic” or “Non-GMO.”

GMOs are the result of splicing genetic material from any living organism (including bacteria and viruses) into the genetic material of another living organism. Genetic engineering is not the same as traditional breeding since the organisms used can be completely unrelated to each other. Genetically engineered foods have the potential to create allergens, toxins, health problems, or changes in the nutritional value of foods. Yet no studies have monitored their impacts on people, and the lack of labeling makes health effects difficult to determine. In addition, it is impossible to contain genetic material in open-field tests, risking permanent damage to other species or to entire ecosystems.

Here in Hawai'i, there are many controversial issues surrounding GMOs, including open-field testing of experimental corn, the widespread contamination of papaya crops with genetically engineered seed, and the patenting of genetically engineered taro.

What you can do

  • Educate yourself. Visit the GMO-free Hawai'i website: and its links for information on health and economic impacts of GMOs in Hawai'i.
  • Join a GMO-free group on your island.
  • Call or write to elected officials. Tell them you support labeling requirements and a moratorium or ban on biotech farming in Hawai'i.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspapers to help inform others.

Avoid genetically engineered foods by buying organic and “GMO-free” products. If you love papayas, rest assured that the Down to Earth stores carry only certified non-GMO varieties.

Down to Earth to Require GMO Labeling by 2018

All Products Containing Genetically Modified Ingredients Will
Need to Be Labeled As Such

Down to Earth Organic & Natural today announced it will begin requiring any products with ingredients containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such by 2018. The decision follows a similar announcement by Whole Foods this past Friday.

"Whole Foods announcement is a game changer," says Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth Chief Organic Officer. "It marks a big victory in the move towards the labeling of genetically labeled foods. Down to Earth will monitor and review the situation and may move our implementation date earlier if that becomes possible."

Fergusson says Down to Earth believes in providing foods that are good for people and the environment. "GMOs pose health and environmental risks, and have resulted in increased herbicide use, growth of super-weeds, and loss of biodiversity. GMOs have led to increased control over the food supply by a handful of multinational companies and, simply put, are moving in the wrong direction. We should be moving towards organic sustainable agriculture, not towards ever increasing use of harmful pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, and dangerous genetic modifications with a host of unwanted, and little understood, negative impacts on human health and the environment” he explains.

"We call upon all natural food retailers and other natural products industry members to join the requirement for GMO labeling for all products sold by the industry. Acting together we can implement labeling without having to wait for government," said Fergusson.

As Down to Earth moves towards its long term goal of being all organic and GMO free, the company is gradually eliminating, and avoiding adding, products that may contain GMOs. The company does not sell single-ingredient GMO foods including, papaya, corn, soy, canola or sugar. And, they give preference to products that are USDA certified Organic or have the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which is which is backed by independent testing. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit initiative of the natural products industry.

"The natural products industry along with many concerned consumers and others, have long pressed for and supported efforts to require mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs," adds Fergusson.

Proposition 37, which was introduced in California this past November, would have required mandatory labeling of GMO foods. While it failed to pass by a narrow margin, it sparked a growing movement across the Nation as consumers in virtually every state are organizing to pass laws on the state level that will require labeling of foods containing GMOs, including in Hawaii where HB174 would require labeling of genetically modified imported produce items.

Fergusson is also the President of HOFA (Hawaii Organic Farming Association) which advocates for and educates about organic and sustainable agriculture and related issues.

Started in Maui in 1977, Down to Earth is Hawaii's leading organic and natural food store chain. It has four stores on Oahu: Honolulu, Kailua, Pearlridge, and Kapolei; and one in Kahului on Maui.

Organic Food: Good for You and the Environment

by Tandis Bishop

When we think about consuming the freshest and healthiest food possible, it is important to consider two questions. One – what makes organic food natural? And the other – what impact do your shopping choices have on the environment?

On Organic food

If you’re reading this article, you are probably someone who wants to become more health conscious and to make healthier choices in your eating habits and lifestyle. You are likely to be interested in foods containing as little chemicals, preservatives, additives, or pesticides as possible. And certainly you would prefer eating foods that are not irradiated or genetically modified. In general, you want to eat food that is by nature’s arrangement, all natural.

Organic food gives you all the things you are looking for, grown naturally the way nature intended it. When you buy organic foods, you don’t have to worry because organic farmers follow strict standards to grow the most natural fruits and vegetables. They don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, hormones, antibiotics, sewage sludge, irradiation, or any genetically modified organisms. Just look for the “USDA/Organic” label, and you can be confident that stringent guidelines have been followed to bring you that wholesome natural product. Down to Earth is proud to offer you an enormous selection of such organic products.

On the Environment

Along with this awareness of wanting to eat healthy foods usually comes a concern for how we treat the environment. As we become more educated about how conventional farming methods destroy top soil and pollute our waters, etc., it is only natural to want to buy food that has been grown by sustainable agricultural methods that avoid the unnecessary pollution caused by chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Genetically Modified Organisms are another concern. Through scientific intervention to “improve” crops, mankind has potentially opened a Pandora’s box by messing around with Mother Nature. The long-term damages caused by these biological experiments could be irreversible. While government agencies argue they are perfectly safe, the jury is still out. One example of the damage that can be done by “arranging” nature is when people brought mongooses to Hawaii to get rid of the rats. It did not work, we still have plenty of rats, and now, unfortunately, there are not as many native birds.

The Easy Answer

If you want to eat healthy and/or help the environment, choose Organic foods.

Ways to Avoid Genetically Modified Food

GMO: Genetically Modified

by Tandis Bishop

Much of the food in the supermarket today is made with genetically modified ingredients or GMOs. As a consumer you can avoid GM food in several ways:

  1. Buy foods labeled “100% Organic.” U.S. law prohibits genetically engineered food or ingredients in products labeled 100% organic. However, if processed or packaged food is simply labeled “organic” then it can contain up to 30% genetically modified (GM) food. “Organic” is fine for single food items such as produce.
  2. Look for "Non-GMO Project Verified” label on product packaging. Down to Earth strongly promotes the organic industry, whose products are produced without GMOs. Until recently, selecting foods labeled Organic has been the only way customers could avoid non-GMO foods. However, organic certification covers how a food is grown, not the content of the food itself. And, since food production has become increasingly compromised by cross pollination and cross contamination in processing and handling, even organic certification does not guarantee that a product is GMO free.
    If a non-organic product contains corn, soy, canola oil, or even sugar (as a significant amount of sugar is now produced from GMO sugar beets) it may contain GMOs unless the manufacturer makes a specific claim that their product is GMO free. However, even if a manufacturer makes such a claim there is no way to know whether such claims are actually valid because they generally are not backed by third-party testing or adherence to independent standards of transportation and processing, etc.
    The natural products industry, along with many concerned consumers and others, have long pressed for and supported efforts to require mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs. Consumers have repeatedly stated they do not want GMOs in their foods. If such products were labeled, their sales would likely plummet resulting in their economic failure. Sadly, for various reasons, mandatory labeling efforts have not succeeded.
    As a result of these issues Down to Earth, along with the natural products industry, has strongly supported the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project provides manufacturers with a "Non-GMO Project Verified" logo backed by independent testing. The “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo means that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, their processing, storage and packaging. Over 1,000 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process.
    As manufacturers begin to include the “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo on their packaging, you will see more and more of the verified products on Down to Earth's shelves. Consumers have the right to choose what foods to eat and feed their families. This Non-GMO logo enables consumers to exercise this right!
    For more information visit The Non-GMO Project
  3. Eat locally grown food. Since most genetically engineered food comes from large industrial farms, you are more likely to find non-GMO food grown by small local farms. You can also contact your local farmers and ask them directly about how the food is grown.
  4. Identify how produce is grown by reading its label or sticker number.
    • 4-digit number means food was conventionally grown.
    • 5-digit number that begins with a 9 means produce is organic.
    • 5-digit number that begins with an 8 means it is genetically modified. (PLU labeling is optional so not all genetically modified produce can be identified)
  5. Know which foods and their derivatives are most likely genetically engineered. Such as:
    • Soybeans and soy products such as soy lecithin, soy protein, isolated soy, soy flour, etc. Soy is the most heavily modified food and is also commonly used as an additive. So in the U.S., if your label says it contains soy, then it contains GMO. If you consume soy products such as tofu or soymilk, make sure the labeling states that the tofu or soy beans are organic. You will find that many of the soy products at Down to Earth are organic.
    • Corn and corn-based products. Corn is also a heavily modified food (with the exception of popcorn). Best to look for products that say “100% organic.” Corn derivatives include corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup, modified food/corn starch, corn oil, etc.
    • Canola oil. Virtually all canola oil (or rapeseed oil) grown in the world (except in the EU) is from genetically engineered crops.
    • Dairy products. Many dairy farms give cows the genetically modified growth hormone rBGH or rBST to increase milk production. Look for dairy products labeled as r-BGH/rBST-free. Better yet, buy organic milk and dairy products to also avoid GMOs and pesticides.
    • Sugar beets. Product labels containing “sugar” can be from either cane sugar or sugar beets. So to avoid beet sugar, look for products with ingredients that say evaporated cane sugar, organic sugar or cane sugar.
    • Aspartame. Aside from being an unnatural, unhealthy artificial sweetener, it is made from GMOs. Aspartame is found in products such as “Equal”, “NutraSweet,” sugar-free gum, and diet sodas and beverages.

Down to Earth Named Top 10 “Right-to-Know Grocer”

Our GMO Labeling Efforts Are Among Best in Southwest Region, Says Organic Consumers Association.

Down to Earth was named among the Top 10 “Right-to-Know Grocers” in the Southwest Region by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Nominations were submitted by customers and friends of Down to Earth. Thanks to all who helped to support us in this campaign!

“Currently, people don’t have a choice," says Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth Chief Organic Officer (CEO/CFO). "They don’t know whether what they are buying is GMO. So, it’s really a right-to-know issue and also a freedom-of-choice issue. Down to Earth and the Organic industry feel that GMO agriculture is totally moving in the wrong direction. We shouldn’t be putting more and more poisons on the land and genetically modifying crops. We should be growing organically and sustainably.”

“We’re honored by OCA’s recognition of our call to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and our efforts to educate the community about the right to know,” said Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth Chief Organic Officer (CEO/CFO). Ronnie Cummins, OCA National Director, noted that “As demand grows for organic and locally grown non-GMO foods and truth in labeling, hundreds of food retailers are rising to the occasion. The OCA recognizes the efforts stores like Down to Earth are making.” Down to Earth proactively advocates GMO labeling through a wide variety of efforts. Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth Chief Organic Officer (CEO/CFO), regularly:

  • Submits written and in-person testimony at the legislature in support of GMO labeling
  • Speaks at community educational panel discussions on Oahu and Maui in support of GMO labeling
  • Represents the consumer's right to know on TV and radio shows such as the GMO debates earlier this year on PBS TV "Insight," KGU-AM with Jeff Davis "The Solar Guy," and Hawaii Public Radio's news with Molly Solomon, among others.

Trisha "Mama T" Gonsalves, Down to Earth Community Coordinator, advocates for GMO labeling through legislative testimony and community presentations. She represents Down to Earth on the organizing committee of Label It Hawaii (LIH), a grass roots community organization dedicated to promoting GMO labeling. Down to Earth is an LIH founding member. Down to Earth also provides GMO education online via our website and Facebook:

The OCA also recognized Down to Earth for its efforts in encouraging food manufacturers to transition from GMO to non-GMO ingredients, for our commitment to eliminate all foods containing GMOs from our store and to not add any new GMO foods. Down to Earth will require GMO labeling by 2018 for all products in its stores containing GMO ingredients.

GMO Labeling: The Right to Choose

Photo: GMO Corn with Syringe

by Tandis Bishop, DTE Nutritionist

When it comes to food science, I often think of what food will be like in twenty, fifty or even a hundred years. I wonder about the quality of food available for my children, future grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I question whether that food is going to be good for their health or not. And at the very least, if they will have the right to know what is in the food they consume.

Like me, many people are also raising questions and concerns about the quality of our food today, in particular Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Today, the majority of the foods found on supermarket shelves are not only highly processed and laden with artificial ingredients, but are often genetically modified. GMOs are essentially plants and animals that have had their genetic material (DNA) altered in a way that does not occur naturally. GMOs are created using processes that do not occur naturally, which poses questions about their safety, and their introduction into the environment is irreversible.

Over the years some people, including those in the scientific community, have raised concern over GMOs and their potential harm to health. Concerns such as:

  • Genetically engineered crops could bring (and some scientists believe they have already brought) new allergens into foods that sensitive individuals would not know to avoid.
  • Genetic engineering often uses genes for antibiotic resistance as "selectable markers." The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have two harmful effects. First, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals. Second, the resistance genes could be transferred to human or animal pathogens, making them impervious to antibiotics.
  • Many organisms have the ability to produce toxic substances. For plants, such substances help to defend stationary organisms from the many predators in their environment. Addition of new genetic material through genetic engineering could reactivate these inactive pathways or otherwise increase the levels of toxic substances within the plants.
  • Some of the new genes being added to crops can remove heavy metals like mercury from the soil and concentrate them in the plant tissue.
  • GMOs’ unknown harm to health. As with any new technology, the full set of risks associated with genetic engineering have almost certainly not been identified. The ability to imagine what might go wrong with a technology is limited by the currently incomplete understanding of physiology, genetics, and nutrition.

As concerns about food safety and GMOs intensify, Down to Earth has joined the Non-GMO Project to give consumers the right to choose what foods to eat and feed their families. Whether or not GMOs are safe is still in question. 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. So if you are concerned about the effects of GMOs on your health and the health of your loved ones, the best thing you can do is choose non-GMO products. The new “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal on retail products is an excellent means to identify products that are safe. You can read more in this months Feature Article about Down to Earth’s part in the new Non-GMO Project and the benefits it can bring to you.

Are GMOs Safe To Eat?

Photo: Researcher Sampling Plant Material

by Caitlin Rose

Since the dawn of time, human beings and animals alike have asked the question every day, “What should I eat?” We need to know not just what tastes good, but what is good for our survival and for our long-term health. We employ our sense of smell, taste, sight and touch, our intelligence, our knowledge of cause and effect and our culture to help us decide what to eat.

These days, most people think the answer is pretty simple. To the question, “what should I eat?” the answer “anything in the supermarket” would satisfy most. But what if 75-90% of the food in the supermarket had been changed on a molecular level in a way you couldn’t detect, and which had largely unknown and potentially dangerous side effects? Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want a choice?

A growing body of food safety advocates, scientists, teachers, doctors and food retailers want a choice, and they are working hard to educate the public about the need to demand strict labeling laws regarding the production and sale of genetically modified ingredients. So what are GMOs and why should you be concerned? Here are some straightforward answers that dispel many of the myths surrounding GMOs:

Q: What is a GMO? A: GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism and refers to a plant or animal whose genetic structure has been modified by injection of a foreign DNA. GM foods may also be referred to as GE or Genetically Engineered.

Q: Isn’t genetic engineering basically the same as crossbreeding, which people have been doing for centuries? A: No. This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. GMOs are problematic because the science of genetic modification is based on the faulty premise that DNA is static, and that it is therefore possible to take pieces out and put pieces in with precision and control, impacting only the chosen genes. However, recent studies have shown that DNA is dynamic, meaning that if one gene is manipulated, those changes can and do affect other genes in ways scientists do not fully understand.1, 2

Therefore, when using GM techniques, there is really no way to know what kind of outcome you will get. Allowing large-scale production of plants with untested and unpredictable genetics presents significant risk to human health, environmental well-being, and worldwide food security.

Q: Weren’t GMOs developed to help feed the world? A: No. Although the biotech industry has spent a lot of money trying to convince people that genetic engineering is in the best interest of the consumer and the farmer, in fact no GM traits are in commercial production for increased yields, drought tolerance or nutritional superiority. 90% of the world’s GMO seeds are sold by Monsanto, the same company that sells the Roundup® to spray on them, and the same company that brought us DDT. 75% of GMO crops grown are bred for herbicide tolerance (e.g. “Roundup Ready” crops). The majority of the rest are bred to produce the pesticide Bt in their DNA.2

Q: Don’t GMOs help reduce pesticide use? A: No. Because of the GM Roundup Ready trait, there has been a 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) on the major field crops since GMOs were introduced.3 This heavy spraying has led to the rise of “super-weeds”—weeds that are Roundup tolerant. To deal with that, farmers are now being told to spray 2-4D (a highly toxic herbicide) in addition to Roundup. The super-weed problem reached epidemic proportions in 2010 and has been covered in mainstream media outlets like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Because of the Bt crops, there are also now “superbugs” that are resistant to Bt insecticide.

Q: Don’t the FDA and the USDA oversee the production of GMOs? Haven’t they done testing for safety? A: No. According to a report in Reuters last year, “the U.S. government conducts no independent testing of these biotech crops before they are approved, and does little to track their consequences after…. the United States has never passed a law for regulating genetically modified crop technologies.” Furthermore, “a string of federal court decisions found its officials acted illegally or carelessly in approving some biotech crops.”4

Q: Aren’t GM foods still relatively rare? A: No. The Grocery Manufactures Association estimates that roughly 75% of all conventional, processed food contains genetically modified ingredients.5 So, while less than one third of respondents in a Rutgers survey believed they had consumed GM food,6 the reality is that unless you are vigilant about your food sources and educated about which foods to avoid, chances are you eat GMOs on a regular basis.

Q: What are the potential health concerns of GM foods? A: On its website, The Institute for Responsible Technology lists 65 documented health risks associated with GM foods, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) acknowledged that, "Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food," and asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM foods.7 The studies cited found that mice and rats fed GM foods experience allergic reactions,8 immune system response,9 damaged intestines,10 partially atrophied livers,11 premature death,12 infertility13 and excessive cell growth in the intestinal lining that may lead to cancer.14

Q: How can I avoid eating GMOs? A: The four most common GM ingredients are conventional soy, canola, corn, and beet sugar. Between 80-90% of these crops are genetically modified, and they end up in almost every processed food on the shelves and in restaurants. Eating whole, unprocessed organic food is a good first step to avoid GMOs. However, because plants can so easily experience cross-contamination, there is no guarantee that even organic foods are GMO-free.

As a result of these issues Down to Earth, along with the natural products industry, has strongly supported the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project provides manufacturers with a "Non-GMO Project Verified" logo backed by independent testing. The “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo means that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, their processing, storage and packaging. Over 1,000 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process.

As manufacturers begin to include the “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo on their packaging, you will see more and more of the verified products on Down to Earth's. Consumers have the right to choose what foods to eat and feed their families. This Non-GMO logo enables consumers to exercise this right!

I join Down to Earth in calling on Congress to support labeling of foods that contain GMOs. For more information visit The Non-GMO Project

  1. Institute for Responsible Technology. (2011). 65 Health Risks of GM Foods. Retrieved from
  2. Randall G. L., Zechiedrich L., Pettitt B.M. (2009). In the absence of writhe, DNA relieves torsional stress with localized, sequence-dependent structural failure to preserve B-form. Nucleic Acids Research.. (2009) 37 (16): 5568-5577. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp556
  3. Popsci. (2011). How to Genetically Modify a Seed, Step by Step. Retrieved from
  4. James, C. (2000). Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops. ISAAA Briefs No. 21: Preview. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY
  5. Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety. (2008, February). Who Benefits from GM Crops? The Rise in Pesticide Use. Retrieved from
  6. Gillam, C.(2010, April 13). Special report: Are regulators dropping the ball on biocrops?. Reuters. Retrieved from
  7. Associated Press. (2005, March 23). Americans clueless about gene-altered foods, NBC News.
  8. Hallman, W. K., & Hebden, W. C. (2005). American opinions of GM food: Awareness, knowledge and, implications for education. Choices, 20, 239-242.
  9. American Academy of Environment Medicine. (2009). Genetically Modified Foods. Retrieved from
  10. M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852; and M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992)
  11. Vazquez et al, “Intragastric and intraperitoneal administration of Cry1Ac protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis induces systemic and mucosal antibody responses in mice,” 1897–1912; Vazquez et al, “Characterization of the mucosal and systemic immune response induced by Cry1Ac protein from Bacillus thuringiensis HD 73 in mice,” Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 33 (2000): 147–155; and Vazquez et al, “Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant,” Scandanavian Journal of Immunology 49 (1999): 578–584. See also Vazquez-Padron et al., 147 (2000b).
  12. Nagui H. Fares, Adel K. El-Sayed, “Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes,” Natural Toxins 6, no. 6 (1998): 219–233.
  13. Arpad Pusztai, “Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food,” Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84
  14. Irina Ermakova, “Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies,” Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4–9.
  15. Velimirov A, Binter C, Zentek J. Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Report-Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth. 2008.
  16. Arpad Pusztai, “Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food,” Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84; Stanley W. B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, “Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine,” Lancet, 1999 Oct 16; 354 (9187): 1353-4; and Arpad Pusztai, “Facts Behind the GM Pea Controversy: Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants & Risk Assessment,” Proceedings of the Conference, December 1st 2005 (Frankfurtam Main, Germany: Literaturhaus, 2005)

40% Off Sale Celebrates New Non-GMO Logo On Oct 10th!

Non-GMO Project Verified

by Mark Fergusson, Chief Vegetarian Officer, Down to Earth

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. GMO, also known as genetically engineered, bio-engineered, or biotech crop, is a term commonly used to refer to crops that have been genetically altered using gene-splicing technology (See the sidebar, "What Does GMO Mean, and Why Should I Be Concerned?).

I am excited to tell you that on Sunday Oct. 10th Down to Earth will have a big Non-GMO sale! You'll get at least 40% off on a wide variety of Non-GMO Verified products including entrées, pasta sauce, breakfast foods, beverages, snacks, gluten-free products, and baking items.

The sale will be the high point of our participation in the natural food industry's first Non-GMO Month. The goal of Non-GMO Month is to build awareness of the new "Non-GMO Project Verified" logo that is starting to appear on non-GMO tested product packaging across the U.S. The new logo will empower consumers to exercise their right to choose non-GMO foods. We firmly believe you have a right to choose what you eat and feed your families, and the logo will help you make an informed decision about whether you want to eat GMO foods.

The new Non-GMO logo and the protocols governing the right to use it on product packaging were developed by The Non-GMO Project. This is a non-profit organization that Down to Earth has been a part of since inception.

What Does GMO Mean, and Why Should I Be Concerned?

GMO means Genetically Modified Organism -- also known as genetically engineered, bio-engineered, or biotech crops.

GMOs have been created in a laboratory using gene-splicing biotechnology. This process allows scientists to create combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding. The process is haphazard, and can lead to unintended and uncontrolled changes in the organism’s DNA.

The vast majority of GMOs on the market are bred for herbicide tolerance and insecticide production. Despite biotech industry messages to the contrary, there are no GMOs available that have demonstrated increased yields, drought tolerance, nutritional superiority or any other consumer benefits. At the same time, there is a growing body of peer-reviewed research linking GMO consumption with decreased fertility, allergies, abnormalities in organs and immune response, and more.

In the European Union, all products containing more than 0.9% GMO are required by law to be labeled as such. Due to our own government’s lack of initiative with similar consumer protections, the Non-GMO Project was created. If you are concerned about GMOs and would like to see them more completely researched before feeding them to yourself and your family, you can now choose “Non-GMO Project Verified” products. Find out more at

The tenth of the month, or 10.10.10, is Non-GMO Day. On this day retailers throughout the nation will conduct educational activities to raise consumer awareness about the new "Non-GMO Project Verified" logo while also raising funds for the Non-GMO Project. We are donating 5% of sales that day to the Non-GMO Project. The proceeds will help advance consumers' right to choose and will help support the long-term availability of non-GMO food and ingredients.

October 2010 Is First Ever Non-GMO Month

As retailers, Non-GMO Month and 10.10.10 are great events for us to participate in, as we have first hand experience dealing with consumer frustration and confusion regarding GMOs, how to identify them, and how to avoid them while shopping for food. We experience the same frustration when buying products for our stores. So, Down to Earth is pleased to join this industry-wide effort to establish the Non-GMO Project.

We are motivated by a simple idea. We believe that consumers in North America should have access to clearly labeled non-GMO food and products. That conviction is the guiding mission of the Non-GMO Project. It’s a lot easier said than done! In the beginning, a huge part of the challenge was that—by the time the Project was started—GMOs had already been in production across the U.S. and Canada for nearly 10 years. Contamination risks to seeds, crops, ingredients and products had been steadily increasing without a standardized set of best practices to identify and stop contamination.

While this situation had previously paralyzed all efforts to address the problem, the Non-GMO Project took a different approach. They decided that the lack of a perfect solution was no excuse not to try to do something. They believed that with enough hard work and collaborative spirit they could improve the situation.

New Seal Backed by Third-Party Testing

Before the introduction of the Non-GMO Project, North America had no third-party verification program to test products for their GMO content. Many manufactures made non-GMO claims, but there was no way for you, as the consumer, to know whether or not the claims were actually true. Ideally, such claims would be backed by third-party testing. This idea is the heart of the Non-GMO Project—an independent Product Verification Program (PVP).

The PVP was designed to verify that participating companies or organizations are capable of producing and delivering products that comply with the Non-GMO Project’s Standard. It verifies that participants’ operations and systems comply with requirements of the Standard.

Nearly 900 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process. After "Verification" they are authorized to display this new logo on their packaging:

Non-GMO Project Verified

During the next few months, as manufacturers begin to include the Non-GMO Project Verification logo on their packaging, you will see more and more of the verified products on our shelves. A complete list of participating products is available on the Non-GMO Project’s website:

Down to Earth is proud to be a charter member of the Non-GMO Project. We feel strongly that our customers have a right to choose what they eat and feed their families. Many of them want to know whether the food they are purchasing contains GMO ingredients. Since Organic Certification prohibits the use of GMOs, selecting foods with the Organic label has been the only way customers could choose non-GMO foods. However, Organic Certification covers how a food is grown, not the content of the food itself. And, since food production has become increasingly compromised by cross pollination and cross contamination in processing and handling, even Organic Certification is not enough to ensure that a product is non-GMO.

What does the “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo mean?

The "Non-GMO Project Verified" logo is not a guarantee that the product is 100% GMO free. But it's close!

The protocols to grant Verification involve a comprehensive set of best practices to avoid contamination. All the ingredients must pass a test indicating that the ingredient is below 0.9% GMO (in alignment with laws in the European Union). After testing, the Project ensures that its rigorous traceability and segregation practices are followed to ensure that the tested ingredients are what get used in the product. In short, this seal means that a product has been produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance, including testing of risk ingredients.

The logo tells the consumer that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, their processing, storage and packaging. By making this information available to the public, the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label helps ensure that the customer will have the final say.

The supply of GMO-laden foods and products is increasing, although consumers remain skeptical. Often they are not aware of the meaning and potential effects of GMOs. According to the USDA, plantings of GM soybeans, corn, and cotton this year are at all-time highs: 93% of soybeans, 86% of corn, and 93% of the cotton planted in the United States is GMO. And with as much as 80% of processed foods in the country at risk for GMO contamination (according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association), it has been nearly impossible to make it out of the grocery store without GMOs in your cart!

But don’t give up hope just yet…the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal will, for the first time, give you an opportunity to make informed choices when it comes to GMOs.

For more information about Non-GMO Month visit:

To see Down to Earth's position statement on GMOs, please visit:

Knowing When to Say When

by Michael Bond

No, this is not an article about drinking and driving. It is about common sense and respect for nature. Big business has for years poisoned our food and water supplies with all sorts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the name of “progress.” It was really just a determined few who managed to preserve any meaning to the word “organic.”

Over the last decade we sat back and allowed Genetically Modified Organisms to contaminate nearly all major staples of grains and vegetables. When scientists started mixing genes of fish with tomatoes, they not only threatened the existence of every vegetarian, but everyone who believes in eating food the way nature intended it.

But now, scientists are stepping across an ethical line. The FDA just released a draft risk assessment stating “that meat and milk from clones and their offspring are as safe as food we eat every day.” Ian Wilmut (the scientist who produced Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, in 1997) warned that even small imbalances in a clone’s hormone, protein or fat levels could compromise the safety of its milk or meat.

Some consumer groups argue that the government should at least require such food to carry special labels. Others complain the foods have not been proven safe. But as we have already seen with the FDA’s rubber stamp of GMO foods, special labels or truly objective studies will not do much to protect you from the possible dangers of eating products from cloned animals.

Livestock cloning raises numerous health and ethical concerns. Over 99 percent of cloning attempts fail. Thus there is an obvious increase in animal cruelty, as the process involves needless suffering of the surrogate mothers, along with the deformed and sick offspring that often result. But even among the “successful” clones, cloned animals that are born have more health problems and higher mortality rates than sexually reproduced animals.

While Down to Earth customers obviously will not have to worry about buying meat from cloned animals at our stores, milk from cloned cows could eventually end up in some of our dairy products. But milk from cloned cows could not be labeled organic. So, given that the FDA will probably not be labeling products containing cloned animal ingredients, buying organic may be the only way to avoid it.

It is not too late for you to make a difference. The FDA is accepting public comments for 90 days. Find out more from


For more information and to find out how you can help visit the Center for Food Safety’s website at: