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What’s a “GMO” and Why Should You Care?

February 1, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

I’m not sure about you, but the last thing I want anyone telling me is what to eat. Heaven knows that we’ve been bombarded with enough. But I have to admit, despite all of the food-obsessing that we Americans are known for (you know, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, etc.), there is something that most of us missed: and that’s these new little proteins that scientists began inserting into our food in the 1990s.

As you may already know, food is made up of proteins. Lots of them. And it’s those proteins that can wreak havoc on someone with food allergies. Because a person with food allergies has an immune system that sees these proteins as “foreign” and launches an inflammatory response to drive them out. That response can be a runny nose, watery eyes, or a cough or it can be something as life threatening as anaphylactic shock where a person stops breathing.

But let’s not focus on that right now. Let’s get back to those new little proteins that scientists started inserting into our food in 1994. Why would they do this? Is there really a need to inject foreign proteins into our food? And why now? Wasn’t it fine the way it was when we were kids?

Well, in order to enhance profitability for the food industry, scientists began using new technologies, including some sci-fi sounding things like “gene guns” to blast new ingredients into the genetic material of our food supply so that food production would be more profitable. And in most cases, they did it at the seed level. So corn, they blasted it. Soybeans? Yep, they blasted those, too. All because corn and soy are used to feed livestock. But as if that wasn’t enough, on top of that, they started blasting the cows themselves. Well, they didn’t exactly blast the cows, but rather started injecting them with some new proteins and hormones that helped the cows make more milk.

All sounds good, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want more food?

The problem is that when they started doing this just over 15 years ago, no one knew what the long term effects of blasting our food with new technology and creating foreign proteins never-before-used-in-the-human-food-supply might be. So if those added growth hormones getting injected into our cows found their way into our milk and those added hormones just might cause early puberty, fertility issues or anything else, we simply didn’t have any long term studies to tell us that they weren’t dangerous.

And those proteins getting blasted into our soy and corn? Are we allergic to the new foreign proteins created in the blasting process? Well, we simply didn’t’ know that either when they were introduced in the late 1990s because no allergenicity tests had been developed to assess the impact of these novel proteins and allergens. All we know is that they didn’t deliberately introduce any new proteins when they started blasting. But if any proteins were created in the blast (you know, kind of like genetic rubble), well, there hasn’t been any way to test for that.

In essence, just over fifteen years ago, we started running a live experiment….on us.

And it’s for those reasons that most developed countries (you know, like France, Spain, Australia, Japan and everyone that we compete with in the global marketplace) decided to take a wait and see approach to see what the long-term effects of these new proteins and “genetic rubble” might be. So beginning in 1994, these countries either refused to allow these proteins into their food supply, because they hadn’t yet been proven safe, or they insisted on labeling them so that consumers could make an informed choice when it came to exposing their families to this new technology and foreign proteins.

Except for here in the U.S. We took a different approach. We said, you know, this new technology is great for the agricultural business and hasn’t yet (note: yet) been proven to cause harm, so let’s allow these proteins into the food supply and wait and see what happens.

Well, if truth is any indicator, our kids don’t seem to be digesting these foreign proteins all too well. And while correlation is not causation, the stunning increases that we are seeing in the number of kids with food allergies (not to mention the big kids raising them) since the introduction of these foreign proteins into the food supply in 1994 should serve as a canary in the coalmine that maybe this new technology just might not be as safe as the scientists blasting these proteins into our food supply (and then patenting them for their novelty) had hoped it would be.

Feeling a bit duped? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most of us had no idea that these foreign proteins started creeping into our food supply back in the 1990s. How could we? They were never labeled. But now that you’re up to speed, tell a friend, tell your mom and let’s get down to the business of protecting our little ones the way kids around the world have been protected for the last fifteen years and get some labels on this “genetic rubble” and these “GMO”s while we still can.

FIVE TIPS about GMOs and why you should care

  • Introduced in the 1990s, this new technology was developed to enhance profitability for the food industry.
  • The technology allows food scientists to inject chemicals and food proteins into the genetic material of our food.
  • Eaters in other countries were given a warning sign when these foods were introduced in 1994 and labels were put on their food that essentially said: “Not yet proven safe”.
  • In the US, this new technology and the proteins it creates were introduced in 1994 without labels under the premise: “Not yet proven dangerous” while being patented by the agricultural industry for their unique characteristics.
  • Unlabeled food proteins that contain chemicals and other foreign ingredients can trigger severe allergic reactions that include difficulty breathing, asthma, eczema, inflammmatory gut conditions and in some cases life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Bottom line: Americans have the right to know what’s going into their food just like eaters in other countries.

Ready to do something about it? Learn more with the Non GMO Project http://www.nongmoproject.org about where these hidden proteins can be found in your kitchen and how you can avoid them.

Food, Labels and Informed Choice

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 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

As we watch millions of Egyptians come together in their collective pursuit of liberty, many are thankful that such oppression and turmoil don’t exist in our country.

Yet according to an increasing number of parents, trade groups, corporations and journalists, including Khristopher Flack, a freelance writer and Farm-to-School Coordinator who manages Green Mountain Farm Direct, a regional food distributor focusing on locally grown foods, the Department of Agriculture’s recent decision to approve the planting of genetically modified alfalfa and corn should give us all reason to pause.

Khristopher Flack shares his concerns below:

Genetically modified alfalfa doesn’t sound as important as “the economy,” “healthcare,” or “jobs.” Yet our fourth largest crop, a major feed for dairy cows, has a direct impact on the quality of our milk. By allowing Monsanto to freely modify something so crucial, but so unfamiliar, the Department of Agriculture is facilitating the quiet modification of the American diet without popular consent or notice. More importantly, the company receiving free reign over our food supply is a predatory one, one that collaborates with cigarette companies, makes bestselling pesticides like Roundup—which the alfalfa is bred to resist—and runs small organic farmers out of business by suing them for using patented GM seeds that entered their fields on the wind.

But the greater danger isn’t posed to dairy consumers, or even to organic farmers whose fields face contamination. Free societies are built on the awareness of an informed public that has the power to exercise free choice. Genetically modified foods are, by their very nature, against the idea of free choice. They are engineered to replicate a chosen result in our food, regardless of the will of nature, farmers, or consumers, who are all forced to take submissive roles in the food chain. And so, in endorsing the planting of GM alfalfa, the Department of Agriculture has endorsed the denial of free choice on several levels, the least of which is the disregard for public participation during the process.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that “the decision reached [Thursday] is a reflection of our commitment to choice and trust.”

The problem is, he’s right.

In fact, as long as our federal government permits one company to disseminate a product that assumes the role of the public, we are enjoying a fictional quality of life. In the United States, we’ve incubated a model of corporate influence so veiled that anyone who doesn’t commit their life to investigation even knows their democratic privileges are being muzzled or that their everyday diet is being chemically altered. It’s one thing to outwardly discourage the public from rebelling, but it’s much more criminal to craft a business plan that keeps the public from knowing there’s a reason to rebel, and to build a product into that plan that prevents objection, should the public ever come to its senses.

A true democracy would assign certain people to understand these details and defend the public interest. Yet it’s difficult to expect protection when the people in those positions, like Michael Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, in charge of food labeling and food safety, are former Monsanto executives. But there is one last line of defense that we should all expect the best from.

President Obama devoted several minutes of his State of the Union address to outlining why we need to become more innovative in technology, science, and industry to keep up with China and India. Monsanto’s genetically engineered foods are an ample example of the direction of biotech innovation in this country. We as a people should be more concerned with reinventing our relationship to our government and focus instead on the duty to hold government accountable. Unless we do the same, and refuse to be part of focus groups we did not sign up for, our democracy will follow the course of another Monsanto product, the so-called Terminator gene, which kills plants after one growing season, without producing additional seed. The worst part is, we might not notice the difference.

Khristopher Flack is a freelance writer and Farm-to-School Coordinator in northern Vermont. He manages Green Mountain Farm Direct, a regional food distributor focusing on locally grown foods. Learn more www.gmfts.org

To learn what you can do to protect the health of your family, please visit www.nongmoproject.org