Letters to the editor, February 2013

This article was originally published in February 2013

Farmers support GMO labeling

As small farm owners in the Snoqualmie Valley (we grow for CSA and farmers markets on 2 acres), the initiative to require labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Washington state, I-522, means more than just labeling the food you see at your local co-op. It’s also about the opportunity to make more acreage a viable source of sustainable, non-GMO-infiltrated land.

The importance of this cannot be understated. The more farmers willing to farm using organic methods, the fewer opportunities for biotech to remain a ubiquitous source for agriculture, on any scale.

Many farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley worry about the possibility of cross-contamination. Genetically engineered (GE) seed varieties easily can cross with plants in the same family. One way to ensure cross-contamination won’t occur is to tell your lawmakers that you want GMO food labeled. Also, vote with your wallets — don’t buy foods that support the production of GMO food. That’s the quickest way to change poor farming practices.

Another equally, if not more important, reason to reject GE food production is the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides. The biotech industry likes to talk about how the use of these chemicals has decreased from supposed advantages of GE crops, but we now know through comprehensive studies that this is not the case. Twenty-three weeds and insects with resistance to the chemicals are well documented.

Even if you’re not certain what impact GMOs have on your health, it’s indisputable that more chemicals are being used and this is causing catastrophic soil degradation on agricultural lands. The environmental impacts alone should alarm all of us and make us question whether GMOs are the solution to our current food dilemma.

I-522 offers an opportunity for us to show the rest of the country we’re serious about the health of our soil, food and bodies.
— Matt Tregoning, Sol to Seed Farm Carnation, Wash.

Support Non-GMO Verified

The call to boycott brands owned by very large food corporations that made substantial contributions to defeat Prop 37 in California possibly is on the right track. If nothing else, it’s important that we, as consumers, realize the full extent of ownership of our food sources. We can be sure that I-522 will be up against the same deep-pocketed foes.

Wouldn’t it be equally instructive, and more affirming, to research the companies, organizations and individuals who supported Prop 37 and are supporting I-522?

I would like to know what food producers cared enough to donate to the cause for labeling GMO foods.

I only am aware that the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) donated more than a million dollars in support of Prop 37. Does PCC know who the other big financial supporters were? Shouldn’t we be making an effort to give those companies and nonprofits our support? If we focus on that favorable step, I think it could be even more influential toward positive change.
— M. Harding

PCC replies: We agree we should make a special effort to support companies that have donated to and/or endorsed labeling. Perhaps you missed our December Sound Consumer cover story, thanking the companies that donated early for I-522? (See Thank you I-522 supporters, December 2012)

More than 150 companies and organizations have endorsed I-522, and several PCC partners donated to make sure it would get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, including Organic Consumers Association, Nature’s Path, Earthbound Farm, Udi’s, Tofurkey/Turtle Island, Natural Products Association, and Organically Grown Company.

PCC donation

This is very late and slow in coming but we need to thank Raymond Glandon and the deli staff at the Fremont store for the most wonderful generosity. Raymond and the deli staff donated a variety of nutritious and delightful platters for the potluck following “The Build” at the resident-initiated Schwabacher Just Garden.

The residents of Schwabacher House in Ballard initiated and received a $7,000 grant from Just Garden and the P-Patch Levy Program, City of Seattle, in November 2012 to install four raised garden beds so that those with mobility problems could garden and become more organic food self-sufficient. While the grant covered materials and supplies for our garden, it did not cover installation labor.

We were so lucky to have about 40 to 50 dedicated volunteers over two days come and install four garden beds for us. They needed to be thanked and we needed to celebrate with them the success of this project! Donations were requested to provide food and coffee/tea for a celebratory potluck. Schwabacher is a low-income senior residence and no funds were available to help. Fortunately, PCC Fremont, along with others, generously donated to the potluck that followed the successful installation of our raised garden beds. It was a great celebration!

Now come spring, we will begin growing our organic vegetables and flowers and PCC played a big part in the success of this project. Some of our residents have been longtime PCC members and were proud to acknowledge how great PCC is! We invite all to drop by this summer when the fruits of our labor start appearing!

Thank you so much!
— Schwabacher House Just Garden gardeners

Fluoridated water on farms?

I want to know if the farms PCC utilizes for our food use well water or municipal water to water their crops? If they use municipal water that has fluoride in it, then the plants will absorb the fluoride and we’ll ingest it.

The farm even can be certified organic and still use fluoridated water. There is no standard on this dangerous chemical. In fact, many processed foods, even organic, have fluoride in them because they use municipal water to make their product. Most people get more fluoride in their diet than they know.

I personally do not eat processed foods but I want my produce to be fluoride-free. Does PCC check and know what water sources their farms use? Are all your produce fluoride-free by using fluoride-free water?
— Mark Brubaker

PCC replies: Our produce manager and primary produce supplier, Organically Grown Company, say they have never been on an Oregon or Washington farm that uses municipal water in the fields. It’s too expensive for the volumes that farms use.

DHA in baby food

In doing some research on baby formula, I was saddened to read many articles stating that Life’s DHA is a GMO supplement being added to Earth’s Best, which is stocked on the shelf at PCC (naturalnews.com/034364_infant_formula_DHA_genetically_modified.html). After a bit of further research, I also learned that hexane is used to extract oils from algae, which is then processed into the supplement.

From the article, it appears that Martek, the manufacturer, held political sway over the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in gaining approval for organic certification. It appears this certification may be in question, as they are now in an 18-month industry comment period before a decision on the organic certification will be made.

When I look at the Life’s DHA website, they state that the product comes from a “source” that is not genetically modified, but I am not convinced the final product is not genetically modified (http://store.martek.com/about-us.aspx). Since I’m unable to determine whether I would be feeding hexane-extracted GMOs to my infant son by using Earth’s Best, I have found an alternative product in Europe.

My concern is that the formula manufacturer and the NOSB are complicit in this deception, so I am losing faith in the organics standards and in the products you carry. Please clear this up: is the Earth’s Best infant formula a GMO product? Is hexane used in the extraction process? If the answer is yes, please ask Earth’s Best to change its formulation, or offer a product without the DHA/ARA.
— Paul Erikson, Kirkland

PCC replies: The DHA/ARA controversy is one we’ve been following and have taken a public stance on. At the National Organic Standards Board meeting in April 2011, we testified that we felt manufacturers using Martek Biosciences’ DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oil in organic products were in conflict with organic standards.

To answer your question about whether DHA/ARA are GMO, we have no evidence the microorganisms used in infant formula are genetically engineered. (The algal microorganisms used in foods other than infant formula are produced from mutagenesis: blasting organisms with radiation or harsh chemicals to induce mutations, until a favorable mutation is identified.)

That doesn’t mean there are no concerns about GMOs with the DHA/ARA oils. The corn byproducts used to ferment the microorganisms (essentially, their “feed”) is likely from GMO corn. Martek has admitted it does not source non-GMO corn for its fermentation process.

There are several other ingredients used in the mixture that becomes “DHA oil” and “ARA oil,” some of which may be derived from corn. So, it’s reasonable to question the non-GMO status of the final product.

Regarding the hexane issue, when the NOSB approved DHA and ARA oils last year, the annotation stated it had to be “not hexane extracted.” But that annotation has not been adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is allowing companies to keep adding the synthetic nutrients that they have been adding.

The good news: We have an organic formula without DHA/ARA. It’s Baby’s Only Organic for toddlers, manufactured by Nature’s One.

GMO corn

How does one know if corn is truly GMO-free? I’ve heard people say there’s no GMO-free corn in the United States.

While I have faith and some trust in organic standards, I wonder if we are testing organic corn to ensure that it is GMO-free?
— Rachel Newman

PCC replies: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 88 percent of the U.S. crop is genetically engineered. If you don’t buy organic or Non-GMO Project Verified products, odds are you’re eating GMO corn — including derivative ingredients in many processed foods.

Organic standards prohibit genetic engineering and we know the overwhelming majority of contaminations occur at the seed level. Since testing is not required on organics, many brands have enrolled in the Non-GMO Project to incorporate testing for validation.

Also in this issue

GMO labeling updates

At press time, Washington's U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell had just announced they're sponsoring federal legislation to label genetically engineered (GE) salmon and other GE foods.

Tell FDA not to approve GE salmon!

Please take a few minutes to write the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about its recommendation to approve genetically engineered (GE) salmon — the first genetically engineered animal meant for human consumption.

Americans waste 40% of food

PCC shoppers are a conscientious bunch. We care about food and its impact on the environment. When we worry, it's about the pesticides used to grow apples, or whether hormones or antibiotics were used. We're concerned about how food is produced, and don't often give much thought to what happens once it is.