By Ali Wetherbee
For many of us, wandering around the grocery store trying to find healthy, minimally-processed, organic foods with acceptable ingredients is quite the challenge. How many times have you gotten halfway down a list of ingredients only to see “partially hydrogenated soybean oil” or “high fructose corn syrup” and put the item back on the shelf? It’s like walking through a minefield! We are also on the lookout for genetically modified ingredients, but since most foods are not labeled, we simply have to guess. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to turn over a package and clearly see “genetically engineered corn” in the ingredients list? In Vermont, this will soon be a reality!
First GMO Labeling Law Passed in Vermont
Last month, Vermont passed the first “no strings attached” GMO labeling law, H.112. By July 1, 2016, all genetically engineered products sold in Vermont must be labeled. In addition, foods labeled “natural” or “all natural” cannot have genetically modified ingredients. The passing of this law was the result of a grassroots campaign which garnered out of state support from companies including Mercola, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and the Organic Consumers’ Fund. This is landmark legislation that may pave the way for the rest of the country to follow suit.
According to Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group, “By passing this law with no strings attached, Vermont has sent a message out loud and clear: that no company – no matter how big, no matter how rich, no matter how powerful – can deny you the right to know what’s in your food.” However, those big companies will be fighting back. Since 2012, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have successfully attacked GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states. Now they are rallying against Vermont’s new law and suing the state in federal court. Vermont, however, is ready with a “food fight” legal defense fund, and is predicted to win.
Progress Across the Country
Vermont isn’t the only area making strides against GMOs. Two counties in Oregon’s Rogue Valley just passed bans against the growing of genetically modified crops. About a dozen counties across the country have already banned GMO crops, but the bans in Oregon are noteworthy because, unlike most of the other areas where bans have passed, these counties in Oregon actually had GMO crops growing before the ban. Those who grow genetically modified crops now have one year to either harvest or destroy them, or face penalties. Experts expect these bans to end up in court.
In national news, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed an amendment to the FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill which would require labeling of genetically engineered salmon. This bill will hit the Senate floor soon. Aqua Bounty has already bred AquAdvantage, a genetically engineered salmon, which is under its final stage of FDA review. Almost 2 million Americans have sent messages to the FDA voicing opposition against what will be the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption.
More than 30 states are working on GMO labeling legislation. Connecticut and Maine have already passed labeling laws that will take effect if enough neighboring states enact similar legislation. Worldwide, 61 countries require labeling of genetically modified food, and 27 countries have already banned GMOs.
Top GMO Crops
GMO labeling could mean we wind up shelving more items than we’d ever imagined. Sixty to seventy percent of processed foods contain GMO ingredients. In the U.S., the top genetically-modified crops are corn, soy, and sugar beets. More than 88% of corn and 94% of soy grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. Squash, zucchini, papaya, and canola and cottonseed oils are also heavily genetically modified. Genetically modified bacteria has been synthesized into rBGH, a hormone used in cows to increase production of milk and dairy products. While no fish, eggs, and meat currently available for human consumption are genetically modified, most are raised on genetically modified feed.
Brands to Boycott
What can we do as consumers? One effective tactic is to boycott those fighting against GMO legislation. The companies involved even come cloaked in “natural” or “organic” disguises — the brands below are actually owned by Grocery Manufacturers Association members. These are some of the brands to boycott. You can download the Buycott App to scan & check products when you’re at the store.
Brands that are fighting against GMO labeling:
- IZZE, Naked Juice, Simply Frito-Lay, and Starbucks Frappuccino are owned by PepsiCo.
- Honest Tea and Odwalla are owned by Coca-Cola.
- Gerber Organic and Sweet Leaf tea are owned by Nestle.
- Simply Asia and Thai Kitchen are owned by McCormick.
- Boca Burgers and Green and Black’s are owned by Kraft/Mondelez.
- Cascadian Farm, Larabar, and Muir Glen are owned by General Mills.
- Alexia and Pam organic cooking sprays are owned by ConAgra.
- Bear Naked, Gardenburger, Kashi, and Morningstar Farms are owned by Kelloggs.
- Plum Organics and Wolfgang Puck organic soups are owned by Campbells.
- Dagoba is owned by Hersheys.
- RW Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic, and Smuckers Organic are owned by Smuckers.
- Earthgrain bread is owned by Bimbo Bakeries.
- Burts Bees is owned by Clorox.
There are safe food products and supplements available. Many companies have pledged to avoid GMOs and are actively supporting labeling laws. These include:
This is not an all-inclusive list, so be sure to verify companies you frequently purchase from. The Institute for Responsible Technology & The Non-GMO Project have compiled a shopping guide of many GMO-free companies, available online or and on the iPhone App Store. When in doubt, opt for organic, because certified organic foods by law cannot contain GMOs.