GMO Labeling Begins at the Coop
You may have noticed lately on a few of the Coop’s thousands of shelf labels an additional element: a green dot with “NON GMO” squeezed within its confines. Many of these 3⁄8-inch diameter stickers are accompanied by a 1-inch by 1¼-inch “Non-GMO Project” sticker nearby. As of late March, 396 product labels sport such markings at the Coop.
What Do the Dots Signify?
On one level, they mean that after a decade of effort, the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Shelf Labeling Committee has succeeded in establishing an initial GMO (or non-GMO) labeling process with the full cooperation of the staff.
On another level, they mean that Coop has partnered with the Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org/), “North America’s only independent verifier for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance,” to enable labeling of all Coop products that meet the project’s best practices standards. The project’s verification practices include ongoing testing of all ingredients at risk of contamination, an action thresh- old of 0.9% (any product containing over 0.9% GMO must be labeled as such), traceability and segregation practices and annual audits. See http://www.nongmoproject.org/ learn-more/understanding- our-seal/ for a complete description of the project.
To maintain a rigorous labeling process that meets standards set by the General Coordinators, our commit- tee recently expanded to 12 members.
What Exactly Are GMOs?
According to GMO-seller Monsanto’s website, GMOs are defined as follows: “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism that shows a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism.” Another definition, from the Institute of Responsible Technology: genetic engineering means that “Scientists…breach species barriers set up by nature.”
How Common Are GMOs?
Ingredients ubiquitous in processed “foods” such as cereal, chips, sauces and other packaged items found on shelves of retailers including the Coop are soy and corn. As of 2011, 90% of the corn and soy grown in the U.S. is GMO, according to the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. Between 70% and 80% of all processed “foods” sold in the states today are genetically modified, according to the Organic Consumers Association. Additional GMO crops grown in the U.S. include cottonseed, canola, sugar (sugar beets), papayas (Hawaii), zucchini, squash and alfalfa.
What Are Other Nations’ Disclosure Rules?
Labeling for GMOs is required by the European Union, Japan, Thailand, Korea, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, among others. GM-crop-exporting nations such as the U.S., Canada and Argentina are home to corporations that derive major profits from international trade in such products; these governments oppose disclosure of the presence of GMOs to their own citizens (and everyone else, for that matter).
In addition to opposing disclosure, the U.S. federal government neither requires nor performs any testing whatsoever to track or trace the impact of GMOs on our land or people. In fact, a Monsanto- lawyer-cum-F.D.A. Deputy Commissioner for Foods (sic), Michael Taylor (an Obama appointee), paved the way for unaccountable mass experimentation on the U.S. citizenry back in 1992. In that year, Taylor, as head of an F.D.A. task force forming federal GMO policy, proffered the following recommendation:
“F.D.A. believes that [GMOs] are extensions at the molecular level of traditional methods and will be used to achieve the same goals as pursued with traditional plant breeding. The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods (sic) derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. For this reason, the agency does not believe that the method of development of a new plant variety (including the use of new techniques including recombinant DNA techniques) is normally material information within the meaning of 21 U.S.C. 321(n) and would not usually be required to be disclosed in labeling for the food.” Hmm. How could the F.D.A. (or anyone else) be aware of long-term impacts of “new methods”? For new drugs, the F.D.A. requires rigorous trials. With new “food,” the F.D.A. adheres to a lower—in fact, no—standard?
Are GMOs Dangerous?
GMOs are a quintessential can of worms; the outstanding issue here seems to be not whether any damage is inflict- ed but rather how much. As an American Academy of Environmental Medicine’s position paper on GMOs states, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM foods (sic),” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system;” as a result, AAEM directs all doctors to prescribe a non- GMO diet to every patient. A Russian state study on rats made to subsist on GMO soy and non-GMO soy saw a five- fold increase among GMO eaters in infant mortality in the first generation. A Russian study on hamsters indicated complete sterility by the third generation. Yet the U.S. federal government requires no studies—in fact, U.S. studies may not be performed legally by private or public scientists, since GMOs are patented.
What’s Being Done About GMOs?
The push for accountability, nevertheless, continues. As of mid-March 2012, 55 of 535 members of U.S. Congress signed a letter to F.D.A. Com- missioner Margaret Hamburg urging GMO labeling. At least 17 states have introduced legislation to require GMO labeling, as well.
The newest threat to our health is mass-market GMO sweet corn, which is to be released by Monsanto into U.S. markets later this year. Allen Zimmerman, General Coordinator and produce buyer for the Coop, says he will not buy GMO corn.
Labeling of GMOs at the Coop is no small task, and it is a positive sign that we are taking a key first step toward safe food and informed choice. For more information, please visit our website: gmodanger.wordpress.com.