We’re in really exciting times with regards to shifting the tide against genetically engineered (GE) foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
As you know, I was a big supporter of the California GMO labeling campaign, and while we lost the vote by an incredibly narrow margin last November, Proposition 37 catalyzed an enormous amount of awareness across the US.
More people are now aware of GMOs than we could possibly have ever reached through educational efforts alone, investing the same amount of money that we invested in Prop. 37. It really marked the beginning of the end for GM foods in the US.
Jeffrey Smith, who is one of the leaders in educating people about the concerns and dangers of GMOs, has been at it for about 17 years. He believes we are now at the most critical stage in the history of GMO activism in the United States.
“We’ve now hit new stages of what I call the tipping point of consumer rejection,” he says. “And it follows very logically from Prop 37. Let me explain what I mean by a tipping point, and then I’ll explain exactly where we are in that process.
In January 1999, the biotech industry boldly predicted that within five years 95 percent of all commercial seeds in the world would be genetically modified and patented.
They did not anticipate the gag order of a scientist being lifted three weeks later in Europe. A firestorm of media reported on his results of a GMO-feeding study. Over 700 articles were written within a single month in the UK.
In 10 weeks, the tipping point of consumer rejection was achieved in Europe – heralded not by the European Commission banning GMOs, but by Unilever banning GMOs, then Nestlé, and then virtually everyone in Europe because they realized that using GM ingredients had become a marketing liability. This is what we call a tipping point.”
US Now Reaching the Tipping Point
In the US, we saw a tipping point against Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) when it got kicked out of Walmart, Starbucks, Yoplait, and Dannon.
This was not due to any action taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but occurred when mothers across the nation became aware of the cancer risks associated with milk from cows treated with bovine growth hormone.
Now, the tipping point of consumer rejection of genetically engineered foods in the US is almost here.
A clear sign of this occurred last year, when the president of Whole Foods confessed that when a product becomes verified as Non-GMO or GMO-free, sales leap by 15-30 percent. Of all the categories of health and wellness claims, such as “gluten-free,” etc, “GMO-free” products have the most rapid growth in sales.
“This shows an enormous desire and demand for non-GMO products,”Smith says. “There are now 10,000 products in our NonGMOShoppingGuide.com database that are verified as non-GMO, and that’s expanding every day.”
“It’s actually happening in a big way. The next stage of the tipping point was heralded by a New York Times article1 on the 27th of May. If you were to read it from the perspective of a food product manager, you would realize the absolute need to make a decision.
I call it the stage of ‘awake and scramble,’ where they wake to the fact that the GMO movement is in place. It’s not going away. And if they want to participate, they got to scramble for non-GMO ingredients now because they may not be able to get it later.”
Signs of the Times
The article touched on a number of vital signs of progress in the movement against genetically engineered foods, including:
- The March Against Monsanto in 52 countries by more than two million people
- Labeling laws proposed in more than two dozen states, which subsequently passed in Connecticut and Maine. Washington State will probably pass a GMO labeling bill as well this fall
- Hundreds of companies have enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, and some non-GMO companies fret they may lose their sources of non-GMO ingredients to the new-comers
- Farmers now receive more non-GMO premiums
- Some companies are already going overseas to get non-GMO ingredients
Besides that, Target has announced that its own brand will be non-GMO in 2014. Ben & Jerry’s will be non-GMO by the end of this year, and while Chipotle’s restaurants are working toward a non-GMO menu, they voluntarily started labeling in the meantime. There’s also been more news coverage on the dangers of GMOs. According to Smith:
“The next stage of the tipping point is coming up very soon. It is called the battle for market share.”
The Battle for Market Share—Ready, Set…
The battle for market share begins the moment a mainstream food company that is not just sold in Whole Foods or a natural food chain puts a “Non-GMO Project Verified” sticker on its package and places it on the shelf next to a popular GMO-containing counterpart.
“This could happen at any time. It’s expected as early as August. Once it happens, the stopwatch starts ticking,” Smith says. “If we can move the sales in the direction of the Non-GMO Project Verified product and the other one starts reducing market share, it becomes the sell signal for the entire industry. If there’s a delay, if there’s no change in there, then the tipping point may stall and companies may use that as an excuse to say, ‘Well, maybe this will go away or be firewalled into the natural food space.”
The Institute for Responsible Technology began a massive campaign this summer to drive the non-health conscious shopper – the Walmart and Safeway shopper – into the non-GMO product category by focusing on the following four categories:
1. Mothers. Moms may sometimes not switch their own diet for themselves but they’re dedicated when it comes to protecting their children, and there’s ample evidence showing that children are most at-risk from GE foods. An impressive 1.7 million people watched Jeffrey Smith’s film Genetic Roulette during free-showing weeks in 2012, and many of them were parents, who immediately acted on the information and saw the results for themselves. Says Smith:
“I was speaking at MIT recently and someone from the audience said, ‘We saw the film. Before that, my six-and-a-half-year old was violent and out of control. They wanted to take him out of school and actually label him retarded. After changing his diet, a month later, I had a new child. All of those problems went away.’ We’re getting that information out to the moms.”
2. The sick,and their doctors. Mounting research has linked GE foods to a number of diseases and disorders. Studies are also implicating two of the main toxins related to GE foods, Roundup and Bt toxin, to all sorts of diseases.
“I go around the country and ask audiences, ‘How many of you have significantly removed GMOs from your diet?’ And then I say, ‘Okay, tell us all what improvements you’ve noticed.’ We hear: allergies; headaches; fatigue; gastrointestinal disorders; kidney and liver problems; diabetes; high blood pressure; skin problems; aggression; depression; infertility.
Someone said, ‘My client couldn’t get pregnant for five years, switched to a non-GMO diet, and was pregnant three weeks later.’ Another woman said, ‘My four-year-old started talking.’ We hear from parents of autistic kids –even from an autistic person directly – who told me when they switched to a non-GMO diet, the symptoms alleviated. An autistic man in his 60s came up to me and said, ‘I would never be able to come to this meeting with you had I not changed my diet, because these symptoms were preventing me from this type of social interaction…’ A lot of people also lose weight when they get rid of GMOs. It’s another main feature that we have to highlight, which we haven’t done a good job at.”
3. Religious groups. The Institute is also talking to people of various religious faiths, whose scriptures tell them to respect the natural way of things.
“They realize when they look inside this technology of mixing and matching across kingdoms and species and forcing DNA into new species that have never been there before, that it is against their faith. And then when they see the evidence showing that it’s actually causing health problems, it confirms what they believe. Many of them are getting onboard to direct their congregations to avoid GMOs.”
4. Pet owners. Many pet owners will tell you, their animals are just as much part of the family as any child is. And, as with children, animals are also among the most at-risk.
“We are finding – based on the experiences of veterinarians and pet-owners – that animals that eat the byproducts of the human food supply are suffering from the same diseases and disorders that humans are suffering from. We have veterinarians saying that animals and livestock – pets and horses – are all suffering from eating GMOs and improve when they get rid of GMOs,” Smith says.
Vote Non-GMO with Every Purchase
The feedback Smith describes offers strong testimony to the fact that even though it may have looked like we lost the battle when Prop. 37 failed to pass, we really won the war because it triggered this process of rapidly mounting awareness. And with awareness, people are quickly shifting their purchasing habits.
The rapid and dramatic rise in sales of products that are Non-GMO Verified really demonstrates the power you have as a consumer. And this is how we will ultimately win, because most food companies don’t have a particular pro-GMO agenda. They’re just selling what people will buy, and by using the most inexpensive ingredients possible they can increase profits. But if their profits go down due to an undesirable ingredient, they will change it.
So, to keep the momentum going, I urge you to purchase Non-GMO Project Verified foods, and to tell your friends and relatives to do the same. Explain to them why, and point them toward resources if they’re skeptical, or they’re concerned that this is all some over-emotional response that has no basis in science.
“We know that the information that we’re presenting at the Institute for Responsible Technology2 has been tested to verify change in people’s diet very quickly,” Smith says.”I recommend getting involved in our materials—our free newsletter at ResponsibleTechnology.org, for example—and sharing that information with others.”
Results from Animal-Feeding Studies Correlate with Human Disease Patterns
According to Smith, there are definitive correlations between the results from animal-feeding studies and the patterns of human disease we’re now seeing. For example, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has done a number of animal-feeding studies on GMOs and specifically enumerated the particular categories of diseases and disorders found in these controlled environments:
|Gastrointestinal problems||Immune problems||Reproductive problems|
|Organ damage||Dysfunction and dysregulation of cholesterol||Dysfunction and dysregulation of insulin|
“You look at the three different corresponding factors: (1) what humans are getting better from, (2) what livestock is getting better from, (3) what afflictions are afflicting the lab animals fed with GMOs, and then you look at what diseases are really taking off in the United States – they’re the same categories,” Smith says.
For example, kidney problems have been demonstrated in 19 different animal-feeding studies, and kidney diseases are on the rise in the US. Could there be a connection? Smith and I both believe this to be the case. According to Smith:
“We heard from two people at a meeting in Arizona, someone whose husband was nearly on dialysis and someone else who had three kidney transplants – both situations reversed when they changed their diet.
You see things like the animal-feeding study out of Russia where the babies were a lot smaller after being fed GE soy, and you see the incidence of low-birth-weight babies is going up in the United States… Deaths from senile dementia moved along at a certain pace, and then when GMOs or Roundup were introduced, it shot up… So, you see these correlations between these four things now: (1) the animal-feeding studies, (2) people getting better [when removing GMO], (3) livestock getting better [when removing GMO], and (4) changes in the disease rates.”
Glyphosate Toxicity—Another Hidden Danger of GE Foods
There’s also another potent toxin associated with genetically engineered foods that is unrelated to the Bt toxin or the genetic alteration itself, and that is glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide, which is used on both GE crops and many conventional crops as well. The contamination appears to be greater in GE crops however, especially in so-called Roundup Ready crops. These are genetically altered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the herbicide, and it’s important to realize that the glyphosate permeates the entire plant. It cannot be washed off.
In June, groundbreaking research was published detailing a newfound mechanism of harm for Roundup. The finding suggests that glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm.
Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway IS present in bacteria, and that’s the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both humans and animals. The bacteria in your body outnumber your cells by 10 to 1. For every cell in your body, you have 10 microbes of various kinds, and all of them have the shikimate pathway, so they will all respond to the presence of glyphosate!
Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function and lifecycle. What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affectsbeneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease… As stated by Smith:
“Roundup is actually patented as a biocide. It’s an antibiotic, it kills bacteria. That affects not only the soil, killing the beneficial bacteria that provide the nutrients to the soil, but it also kills the beneficial bacteria in your gut… It kills the Bifidus. It kills the Lactobacillus. But it keeps alive the E.coli, salmonella, and botulism, which is not something we want to keep alive. When you kill the beneficial gut bacteria, it affects your immune system and digestive tract.”
This remarkable finding was immediately followed by tests showing that people in 18 countries across Europe have glyphosate in their bodies,3 while yet another study revealed that the chemical has estrogenic properties and drive breast cancer proliferation in the parts-per-trillion range.4 This finding might help explain why rats fed Monsanto’s maize developed massive breast tumors in the first-ever lifetime feeding study published last year.
Other recently published studies demonstrate glyphosate’s toxicity to cell lines, aquatic life, food animals, and humans. In fact, research5 has shown that Roundup is toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications. Liver, embryonic and placental cell lines are adversely affected by glyphosate at doses as low as 1 ppm. GMO corn can contain as much as 13 ppm of glyphosate, and Americans eat an average of 193 lbs of GMO foods annually.6
The Road Ahead…
There’s every reason to be optimistic when it comes to getting GMOs out of our food supply. First of all, realize that we don’t have to affect policy change in order to take GMOs out; we can do it based on personal empowerment and individual decision making. To find out which brands and products have been Non-GMO Project Verified, see NonGMOShoppingGuide.com, or use the iPhone application ShopNoGMO – both are free. Another alternative with which you cannot go wrong is to buy organic whole foods, ditching processed fare altogether. But there’s more good news:
“We’re seeing now that it’s a movement that has its own life,” Smith says. “[At a recent event] someone said to me, ‘My dad saw the film Genetic Roulette, took GMOs out of his diet, sent us all a copy of the thing, and bought land so that he can produce food.’
What’s happening now is that there is a self-organizing and spontaneous uprising of people who have been maybe prescribed a non-GMO diet by the thousands of doctors who are doing so, or been inspired to remove it by watching our film or your materials, etc. This is a movement. The food industry now recognizes it. Those who are in a position to move quickly will take the most advantage of it. They’ll see an increase in sales in the US as happened in Europe and Australia in the early days when their tipping point happened.
Right now, in the 17 years that I’ve been working on this, when I was first alerted to the health dangers of GMOs by a genetic engineer, I have never seen a more potent window of opportunity. We know that we can’t ask the Obama administration for a bow out. We can’t wait for the FDA to become awake. We have to do it ourselves. The key is we are already doing it ourselves. There’s a momentum. Non-GMO products are growing faster than anything else right now in terms of categories, and the momentum is on our side.
The big test will be very shortly when we look inside the aisles of Safeway, Walmart, and Kroger – not the Whole Foods – to see if our message is moving the needle to win the battle for market share. If it does, every GMO-laden product, every product manager will realize it. It’ll become the industry sell signal. They will scramble to get their non-GMO products available quickly, and we will win.”
Join Us in Your Right to Know by Getting GMOs Labeled!
While California Prop. 37 failed to pass last November by a very narrow margin, the fight for GMO labeling is far from over. In the past few weeks, Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO-labeling bills, and 20 other states have pending legislation to label genetically engineered foods. So, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal and get labeling across the country—something 64 other countries already have.
I hope you will join us in this effort.
The field-of-play has now moved to the state of Washington, where the people’s initiative 522, “The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. Please help us win this key GMO labeling battle and continue to build momentum for GMO labeling in other states bymaking a donationto the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
Remember, as with CA Prop. 37, they need support of people like YOU to succeed. Prop. 37 failed with a very narrow margin simply because we didn’t have the funds to counter the massive ad campaigns created by the No on 37 camp, led by Monsanto and other major food companies. Let’s not allow Monsanto and its allies to confuse and mislead the people of Washington and Vermont as they did in California. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can.
- No matter where you live in the United States, please donate money to these labeling efforts through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- Sign up to learn more about how you can get involved by visiting Yeson522.com!
- For timely updates on issues relating to these and other labeling initiatives, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the Washington initiative.
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