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Guest article: Steven Hoffman, managing director, Compass Natural

GUEST ARTICLE: GMOs are not the answer, just because organic isn’t perfect

By Steven Hoffman , 15-May-2014
Last updated on 14-Jul-2014 at 22:07 GMT

GMOs are not the answer, just because organic isn’t perfect

Pointing out problems and flaws in organic farming and certification is constructive in that they need to be addressed. But using the imperfections of the organic production system to defend why GMOs are a preferred way to produce food - as Mischa Popoff does in a guest article on FoodNavigator-USA this week (click HERE ) - is a flawed argument, and one I don’t buy.

The point I would like to make is this: Label GMOs so that American families get to decide.

I’m not talking about the watered down voluntary labeling bill recently proposed by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) in his DARK Act , backed by the GMO food and biotech lobby, and “Denying Americans the Right to Know” how their food is produced. Voluntary labeling is already in place by the FDA, but is never used by manufacturers to reveal that GMO ingredients are in more than 80% of processed food products sold in the U.S. today.

Also, under Pompeo’s proposed bill, any call for mandatory federal labeling would be prohibited, and individual states also would lose their right of self-determination in this regard. Lastly, according to the DARK Act, manufacturers will be allowed to call GMOs “natural” when it is questionable how natural it is to artificially splice DNA from a species of bacteria into the DNA of a completely unrelated plant species in a laboratory. This will only further undermine any meaning for the word “natural” in the marketplace. My support goes to the Boxer-DeFazio bill , which will require mandatory labeling of GMO foods. Let the consumer decide, not the corporations.

I’m not calling for a ban on GMOs, though there is enough scientific evidence pointing to numerous health and environmental risks associated with GMO food and farming that makes me want to opt out of the experiment and choose non-GMO foods for my family, such as Certified Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified products, both of which prohibit GMOs in production and processing. Remember, not one long-term human health study has ever been conducted on GMO foods.

Steve Hoffman on GMO labeling: 'Let the consumer decide, not the corporations.'

What would mom choose?

I do wish, however, that moms across America had a choice and could see on the label that the conventional baby formula they buy is full of GMO ingredients derived from genetically engineered soy, corn, canola, cotton and other GMO crops. These mothers may not realize that they are feeding their babies GMOs from day one because these formulas are not required to be labeled for GMOs. Not one manufacturer voluntarily labels that their infant formula is made with GMOs, even though they could do that today if they wanted to.

Now, I understand that correlation is not necessarily causation, but food allergies in children have increased 400% since GMOs were first introduced into the market 20 years ago, and medical research found that pesticide toxins from GMO corn appeared in the blood of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of fetuses tested, something the GMO seed manufacturers said would never happen. This is cause enough to call for GMO labeling, yet the research keeps building. Now, glyphosate, the number one pesticide used in GMO agriculture, is being detected in U.S. mothers’ breast milk , even though the EPA’s approval of this herbicide was based on the premise that it does not accumulate in the body.

Actually, I support and agree with Mr. Popoff’s proposal to test organic food and fields for toxic chemicals, as he states in his commentary. My whole reason for entry into organic food and farming in the mid-1980s was to support a system, albeit imperfect, that minimized dietary and environmental exposure to toxic, synthetic insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers – known carcinogens and contributors to other diseases including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and food and other allergies. Further, I would suggest that testing for toxins also be done in conventional non-GMO crops, and in GMO fields and foods. It would be significant to collect and compare that data across organic, non-GMO conventional, and GMO crop production.

Meanwhile, however, other peer-reviewed research strongly indicates that organic agriculture does indeed minimize dietary and environmental exposure to toxic, synthetic pesticides, while GMO-dominated farming has increased chemical pesticide usage by more than 400 million pounds over the past 16 years compared to conventional, non-GMO agriculture.

Steve Hoffman: 'Organic agriculture is an imperfect system. Yet research has proven that it does literally reduce the amounts of pesticides in food'

Glyphosate: In the air tonight

The U.S. Geological Survey itself reported that glyphosate, the dominant herbicide used in GMO agriculture, now appears in the air, water, rain and land throughout the Midwestern Mississippi River Basin during the entire growing season. Glyphosate, or Roundup, as it goes by its trade name, was frequently detected in surface waters, rain and air in areas where it is heavily used, and the consistent occurrence of glyphosate in streams and air indicates its transport from its point of use into the broader environment, said the USGS study.

[Click HERE to get a different perspective on this data from Dr Wayne Parrott at the University of Georgia.]

So much for GMO agriculture’s promise to reduce pesticide usage. In fact, its whole premise is really to sell patented seed (that farmers cannot save or they will be sued) and agricultural chemicals. In a future commentary, I’d be pleased to also talk about growing insect resistance and the rise of super-weeds due to the overuse of GMOs in agriculture, as well as GMO agriculture’s contribution to global warming, and how organic farming, with healthy, living soils that actually sequester carbon, can help mitigate agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

Meanwhile, back to glyphosate. It acts as a chelator to bind magnesium, making it unavailable to living plants and organisms, which is how glyphosate kills weeds. And, it may not be as benign as alleged, according to Nancy Swanson, Ph.D. , and former staff scientist for the U.S. Navy. Dr. Swanson’s work found a very strong correlation between the increased use of glyphosate and a dramatic rise in childhood autism.

Organic gets the pesticides out of your kids

As Mr. Popoff correctly points out, organic agriculture is an imperfect system. Yet research has proven that it does literally reduce the amounts of pesticides in food.

According to Chensheng (Alex) Lu, Ph.D. , with the Harvard School of Public Health and formerly of Emory University, school age children in the Seattle area were tested for pesticide residues in their bodies, and an average of 13 pesticide residues were detected. However, when the students switched to an all-organic diet, the researchers found that within 36 hours, a dramatic shift had occurred: the scientists could detect no pesticides in the children, concluding that an organic diet significantly lowers children’s dietary exposure to pesticides.

The residues came back just as soon as the kids were switched back to a conventional diet, and these pesticide levels spiked even higher in winter, when families rely on imported fruits and vegetables, where pesticide residues may not be as regulated as in the U.S. Just this past week, Dr. Lu also released a new study showing that neonicotinoid insecticides such as those commonly used to treat GMO seeds are a significant contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder of honeybees.

Steve Hoffman served on the finance committees of California’s Prop 37 and Washington State’s I-522 voter campaigns to label GMO foods, and now serves on the Right to Know Colorado campaign

Also, contrary to the claim that GMOs have not contaminated other crops through genetic drift, Greenpeace’s GM Contamination Register lists 26 documented cases of GMO contamination since 2010.

With no federal GMO labeling requirements in place in the U.S., it is estimated that more than 80% of conventional processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, primarily from GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other GMO crops. However, according to national GMO labeling advocacy organization Just Label It, more than 90% of U.S. consumers surveyed want mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

Right to know

While pro-biotech interests claim that GMOs are safe, a growing body of scientific research suggests there may be enough risks to justify the need for consumer transparency in the U.S. More than 64 other countries require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered or GMO foods.

Whether Mr. Popoff agrees with me regarding organic food and farming, I don’t see why he wouldn’t concur that there is enough concern to warrant that the consumer has the right to decide to purchase GMO foods or not by placing that fact on the label, just like salt content, calorie content, fat content and type, or if it was made in a facility where peanuts are present. Or, Mr. Popoff, are you suggesting, too, that the consumer doesn’t need to know this information?

Steven Hoffman is managing director of Compass Natural LLC , a full-service marketing, branding, PR and business development agency serving natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. As a GMO labeling proponent, he served on the finance committees of California’s Prop 37 and Washington State’s I-522 voter campaigns to label GMO foods, and now serves on the Right to Know Colorado campaign. A former editorial director of New Hope Natural Media and former program director of Natural Products Expo, Hoffman also co-founded the annual LOHAS Conference for the $300bn “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability” market. A former director of The Organic Center, Hoffman also served as Rocky Mountain sales manager and national marketing director for Arrowhead Mills, now a division of Hain-Celestial.  

Contact him about this opinion column at steve@compassnatural.com

Click HERE to read a counterpoint to this article from Mischa Popoff.

Click HERE to get a response to some of the concerns about glyphosate from Dr Wayne Parrott, professor of crop science at the University of Georgia.

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