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The Non-GMO Project Is Ruining My Shopping Experience

MAY 31, 2017

Kavin Senapathy 

With trends like the farm to table movement and a growing push to vote with your dollar, consumers increasingly want details about their food, like how fruits and veggies are grown, farmers’ working conditions, environmental impacts and how it all gets from farm to plate. At the same time, media and social networks are rife with food-related myths, and popular jargon is widely-bandied but poorly understood. The ubiquitous Non-GMO Project, dubbed the “butterfly seal of sanctity” by food and health writer Jenny Splitter, is ruining my shopping experience.

American shoppers are surely familiar with the iconic orange butterfly logo. According to its website, retail partners report that Non-GMO Project Verified products are the fastest dollar growth trend in their stores, with total annual sales exceeding $19.2 billion. What the Non-GMO Project’s website doesn’t tell visitors is that its label tells us absolutely nothing meaningful about a product or its ingredients, including healthfulness, environmental impact, and working conditions for food workers and farmers. It doesn’t even tell consumers about a common objection to GMOs—whether or not a food product was derived from a patented crop variety. For example, the Non-GMO Project verified Opal Apple is patented, with orchards paying a royalty for the right to grow and sell the fruit.

GMO, which stands for “Genetically Modified Organism,” is a largely meaningless term. Although it’s practically impossible to define “GMOs,”  in practice it’s become shorthand for any organism with traits created with modern biotechnology. According to this definition, the only GMO crops available in the U.S. are soybeans, corn (field and sweet), papaya, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and summer squash, with gene-silenced White Russet potatoes and Arctic Apples available in some test markets.

But virtually all of the foods we eat, with the exception of wild herbs, mushrooms and game, including foods labeled natural, organic, and even heirloom, have had their genes modified using unnatural methods. Consider mutation breeding, which is just one of many “non-GMO” crop modification techniques that tinker with an organism’s genetic makeup. With this method, breeders bombard seeds with radiation or chemicals in order to induce genetic mutations. When desirable traits occur from this process, the resulting plant varieties are commercialized and sold. Think of mutation breeding as rolling the genetic dice and hoping to get lucky. Thousands of crops, including common varieties of pears, peppermint, grapefruit, rice, wheat and more have resulted from mutation breeding. They all sound pretty “genetically modified” to me, but plenty of them are eligible for and carry the Non-GMO Project seal.

As a critical thinker and champion of social and environmental justice, seeing the butterfly seal everywhere I shop—from the pretzel crackers my kids love to whole grain bread—irks me to no end. For one, I like to make purchasing and parenting decisions based on facts, not fear and hype, but Non-GMO Project promotes common evidence-scarce myths about genetic engineering. “There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs,” the Non-GMO Project website states. It’s an easily debunked statement. Indeed, the consensus of non cherry-picked data and major scientific bodies around the world is vast and unambiguous, all pointing to genetic engineering being no riskier, and sometimes less risky than so-called non-GMO breeding techniques. The organizations that claim danger from GMOs have a tendency to promote anti-vaccine sentiment and even conspiracy theories, as I recently discussed. That such wrongheadedness is emblazoned all over the American food supply is a testament to the alternative facts era.

But what really bothers me as a shopper are the injustices that result from the proliferation of this and other similar anti-GMO marketing. Perhaps the most mind-boggling example is citrus products that carry the sanctity seal, including Florida’s Natural orange juice and Cuties mandarin oranges. When it comes to Non-GMO Project verified oranges, the transgression is twofold. First, the seal implies that there are GMO oranges available even though there are no genetically-engineered citrus fruits on the market. Tomatoes, grapes, and sea salt are among several such products that carry the seal even though there are no “GMO” counterparts available.

Second, and more importantly, the citrus industry has been ravaged for over a decade by citrus greening, a bacterial disease that eventually kills infected trees. Oranges engineered with a spinach gene to make them resistant to infection are thought to be the best hope in the fight against citrus greening. That the Non-GMO Project is so trendy that marketers either don’t mind jumping on the bandwagon, or aren’t aware that they’re rejecting the very technology that could save the industry, is disturbing.

Products carrying the Non-GMO Project butterfly range from mundane to ridiculous, and include cereals, chips, water, sea salt, and even cat litter. While it may be amusing to poke fun at Non-GMO Project verified salt (there are no organisms or genes to “modify” in salt) and cat litter (the joke tells itself), the proliferation of the butterfly label is far from just harmless marketing. Fear and opposition to genetic engineering have a tangible impact, with anti-GMO rhetoric and marketing contributing to consumer fear and rejection, which influences policy, and leads to overly burdensome and ideological rather than science-based regulations keeping real solutions from farmers’ fields.

Given the challenges we face to feed an ever-growing population while combating climate change and striving to produce food efficiently with minimal use of land and other resources, the Non-GMO Project’s vilification of safe technologies that can reduce food waste, reduce carbon emissions, and help fight food insecurity and malnutrition if we would only let it, is indefensible.

The Non-GMO project believes that “everyone has a right to know what is in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices.” In reality, the labeling movement has never truly been about consumers’ right to know. Rather, it’s a gospel that begins on high from movement leaders, some of them profiteers and others ideology-driven, trickling down to and convincing consumers and activists that valuable information is being kept from them. This so-called “right to know” has always been a subterfuge to increase non-GMO and organic market share and eliminate agricultural biotechnology altogether.

Informative, relevant food labeling, including nutrition facts and allergens, are important, but there is no “right to know” if a food is GMO considering that 1. GMOs are practically impossible to define and 2. Such labels tell us nothing meaningful. Instead, I believe that I have a right to shop for the foods my family enjoys, so many of which succumb one after another to the butterfly seal of sanctity, without having to support an initiative that is nonsensical at best and harmful at worst.

Kavin Senapathy is a communicator and mom of two based in Madison, Wisconsin. Follow her on Facebookand Twitter.



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USDA letter on federal GMO labeling law

On 02, Mar 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO Labeling | By Admin

On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law an Act amending the Agricultural Marketing at of 1946 which provides for a national bioengineered food disclosure standard. The FDA sent letters to Governor Cuomo explaining that under this new law there is no longer a need for state-specific labeling laws given that the Federal Government had set a uniform standard.

Click on the link below to see the letter.

USDA letter to New York on federal GMO labeling law

Why Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment – New York Times

On 26, Sep 2016 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

Stillwater, Okla. — There is much to like about small, local farms and their influence on what we eat. But if we are to sustainably deal with problems presented by population growth and climate change, we need to look to the farmers who grow a majority of the country’s food and fiber.

Large farmers — who are responsible for 80 percent of the food sales in the United States, though they make up fewer than 8 percent of all farms, according to 2012 data from the Department of Agriculture — are among the most progressive, technologically savvy growers on the planet. Their technology has helped make them far gentler on the environment than at any time in history. And a new wave of innovation makes them more sustainable still.

A vast majority of the farms are family-owned. Very few, about 3 percent, are run by nonfamily corporations. Large farm owners (about 159,000) number fewer than the residents of a medium-size city like Springfield, Mo. Their wares, from milk, lettuce and beef to soy, are unlikely to be highlighted on the menus of farm-to-table restaurants, but they fill the shelves at your local grocery store.

There are legitimate fears about soil erosion, manure lagoons, animal welfare and nitrogen runoff at large farms — but it’s not just environmental groups that worry. Farmers are also concerned about fertilizer use and soil runoff.

That’s one reason they’re turning to high-tech solutions like precision agriculture. Using location-specific information about soil nutrients, moisture and productivity of the previous year, new tools, known as “variable rate applicators,” can put fertilizer only on those areas of the field that need it (which may reduce nitrogen runoff into waterways).

GPS signals drive many of today’s tractors, and new planters are allowing farmers to distribute seed varieties to diverse spots of a field to produce more food from each unit of land. They also modulate the amount and type of seed on each part of a field — in some places, leaving none at all.

Many food shoppers have difficulty comprehending the scale and complexity facing modern farmers, especially those who compete in a global marketplace. For example, the median lettuce field is managed by a farmer who has 1,373 football fields of that plant to oversee.

For tomatoes, the figure is 620 football fields; for wheat, 688 football fields; for corn, 453 football fields.

How are farmers able to manage growing crops on this daunting scale? Decades ago, they dreamed about tools to make their jobs easier, more efficient and better for the land: soil sensors to measure water content, drones, satellite images, alternative management techniques like low- and no-till farming, efficient irrigation and mechanical harvesters.

Today, that technology is a regular part of operations at large farms. Farmers watch the evolution of crop prices and track thunderstorms on their smartphones. They use livestock waste to create electricity using anaerobic digesters, which convert manure to methane. Drones monitor crop yields, insect infestations and the location and health of cattle. Innovators are moving high-value crops indoors to better control water use and pests.

Read the full article here.


New York PTA’s proposed bans on GMOs, milk from rBST-treated cows flunk science – Genetic Literacy

Is it really possible that New York State will ban school kids from eating sweet corn grown almost completely without insecticides and free from brain-damaging mycotoxins?

From time to time, elected boards of education and similar organizations have proposed some science-defying stances; resolutions against teaching evolution and accepting climate change stand out historically. Now, the New York State Parent Teacher Association (NY PTA) has earned an “F” in science 101 with proposals that would ban foods made using genetically engineering or that contain GE ingredients. To make things worse, the PTA is also urging a ban on dairy products produced with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST, also known as rBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone).

Read the full article and learn more about these issues here.



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Letter: Mandatory GMO labeling hurts farms

On 17, Jun 2016 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO Labeling | By Admin

Lawmakers who refuse to listen to scare tactics and myths should be praised, not vilified.

In a recent letter [“NY needs truth in labeling,” Just Sayin’, Feb. 13], a campaign coordinator for the NY GMO Labeling Coalition calls out five Long Island lawmakers who voted against last year’s proposed GMO labeling legislation.

Assembly members Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), David McDonough (R-Bellmore), Tom McKevitt (R-Merrick), Al Graf (R-Holbrook) and Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head) voted against legislation that would mandate GMO labeling in our state in their respective committees.

These individuals deserve our praise for their courage and leadership to not succumb to the mob mentality and to stand up for sound science.

Mandatory GMO labeling in New York will do little to inform consumers and has the potential to harm individual small farms, many of which are on Long Island.

Genetic engineering of seeds has been a breakthrough for the farming industry here and across the world. Crops that were once at risk for drought, insects and our changing climate now thrive.

These crops are the same as traditionally grown crops in every way.

Rob Carpenter, Calverton

Editor’s note: The writer is the administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

Letter: Farmer suggests ‘smart codes’ would offer more information on genetically engineered ingredients in food

To the Editor:

Those of us who spend our lives working the fields to bring fresh produce to market have seen a real resurgence in the last several years, especially here in New York. The agricultural industries in our state are growing at levels not seen in years. That’s why it’s frustrating to see the ongoing displays of misinformation that continue to proliferate about the advancements in agricultural science.

In a commentary with the headline, “NY should require food containing GMOs to be labeled,” the author gets it wrong. To start, the headline is misleading — GMOs are not an ingredient — foods don’t contain GMOs, but rather may include ingredients that have been genetically engineered. Those ingredients are no different than their traditionally grown counterparts.

The article goes on to discuss the lack of scientific evidence around the safety of GMOs. Again, not true. There have been thousands of studies by some of the most well-respected scientific and health organizations that all agree, genetic engineering is safe, and the foods that are produced as a result are nutritionally equivalent. Those findings were just re-confirmed in a study released May 17 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine that GMOs are safe and do not pose any risk to human or animal health.

We all have the right to know about the products we purchase, particularly food products. Those wanting to avoid GMO products can do so by purchasing organic foods. I support the right to make an informed choice of food produced with genetically engineered ingredients. That’s why I support a “smart code” on the food products that will allow me to better understand what ingredients are genetically engineered and their impact on the food product. A simple label will not give me this information. In fact, it creates more questions than answers. Casting a cloud over genetic engineering of crops is wrong and uninformed.

Brian Reeves


The writer is a vegetable grower in Baldwinsville.



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On 13, Jun 2016 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

We have discussed CRISPR in terms of what it can do about agriculture, but to fully understand the impact of this amazing technology here a wonderful article about how CRISPR might be able to literally cure hearing loss. 

This is an article from the MIT Technology Review. 

Scientists have used the gene-editing tool to restore hearing in animals with a genetic form of deafness.



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Op-Ed Plattsburgh Press Republican

On 28, Aug 2015 | No Comments | In Blog, Portfolio | By Admin

Government serves many purposes, but voting against science and the future of agriculture should not be one.

The Plattsburgh City Common Council recently unanimously approved a resolution encouraging city departments and residents to make the city free of GMOs and pesticides (Press-Republican, Aug. 12).

 They contend that GMOs and pesticides harm the food supply and that humans suffer serious health issues because of their use.
read this rest here: 



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Should GMOs be labeled? A Discussion with the experts.

On 15, May 2015 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

80 percent of food on store shelves contains some kind of GMO organism. Some are calling for labeling of foods that contain GMOs. Others say its a scare tactic that will increase grocery costs by $500 each year for New York families.

Should GMOs be labeled? A Discussion on TWC ALB Albany -5/13/15

Watch the show!

On the show to discuss the issue are Val Giddings, Senior Fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Rick Zimmerman Executive Director of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, Dean Norton, President of the New York Farm Bureau




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Poorest have most to gain from GMOs, hurt most by GMO scare-mongering

On 16, Jul 2014 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

The Grocery Manufacturers Association brought a lawsuit in response to Vermont becoming the first state to require GMO labeling regardless of laws passed in other states. According to GMA, the Vermont law is a “costly and misguided measure.” The concern is that, to the uniformed shopper, these labels might be perceived as warnings, adding to the continued stigmatization of GMO products.

Such stigmatization disproportionately hurts the poor, who happen to have the most to gain from GMOs. Around the world, scientists have found solutions to many ailments through the application of biotechnology. In Southeast Asia, where an enormous vitamin-A deficiency has often resulted in vision impairment, scientists created the “Golden Rice” which contains the much-needed vitamin. But because of misconceptions about GMOs, the product is still being withheld. And there are plenty of other beneficial projects involving bioengineered foods that are suffering this same fate due to an unproven fear. The truth is that cross-breeding different foods is a perfectly natural process that humans have practiced throughout history. Science is only making it better.

Read the full, original article: End the Scare-mongering

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