Why Exactly Do People Care About GMO Foods? (minus the hysteria)

06.3.13

Connecticut has passed a law requiring GMO foods to be labeled. It’s the first state in the nation to do so.

Recently a friend asked on facebook why people care about GMO foods. What was interesting was that she didn’t just ask about GMO foods but also added a note saying “be gentle” because she didn’t want to get virtually screamed at. I am going to attempt to share with you my knowledge of GMO foods without inserting anyone’s agenda.

GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organism. So a GMO food is involves the alteration of the RNA in a plant or animal. A GMO is not a hybrid which is what occurs when you cross pollinate a flower or fruit to get something like a pluot (plum and apricot) or graft a delicate rose variety onto a much heartier stalk. GMOs do not occur in nature, they occur in laboratories.

Conventional farmers like GMOs because they have been bred to produce larger crops that are resistant to pests. When farmers can grow more product in less space they win.

Farmers seem to lose with GMO crops too. Crops like Round Up Ready Corn are sterile so farmers need to purchase seeds every year. Organic farmers (or even non-GMO farmers) have the option of letting some or all of a crop go to seed so that they can plant again the next year.

GMO crops that contain pesticides cause reactions in the insects that dine on the bounty. Basically their GI tracts explode and they die because insecticides have become part of the RNA of the plant and it’s fruit (I will use the term fruit as a stand in for vegetables too). This is good for farmers but skeptics of the safety of GMO foods wonder if it’s a good thing to put non-target organisms at risk (ie honey bees, wild bees and other pollinators). Other skeptics worry about introducing inflammatory agents into the food chain and are wary of eating pork, chicken or beef that have consumed GMO feed. Still others are concerned that human ingestion of GMO foods could be the path to illness. Farmers like that insects will die off around their crops, this spares them from the laborious and expensive application of pesticides.

There are studies that support both the safety and the risk of GMO foods. I am having a hard time finding a single study that is both definitive and unbiased. The only studies that declare GMO foods absolutely safe are funded by the food producers and the studies that say OMG GMO CANCER tend to be anecdotal (as GMOs haven’t been in the food supply long enough to be researched) or hysteria inducing.

When I asked my online community about GMO foods there appeared to be a knowledge gap. As I suspected, many folks believe GMOs are present only in processed foods. Some folks believe that GMO foods are responsible for allergies (and they might be) but we haven’t any conclusive evidence around that.

Here are a few GMO foods. All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

GMO papaya Rennet is GMO in most hard cheeses Golden rice is GMO GMO tomato

GMO foods don’t look insidious. They look like fruits, cheeses, and grains. GMO foods aren’t the boogeyman. It’s not like McDonald’s where everyone knows you’re making a horrible decision but you’re making it based on economics, convenience or a clown who came to your kids’ school to teach them to share french fries. GMO foods appear to be innocuous, they look like all the other foods at your local health food store. Wthout labeling there’s no way to know if it’s a risk you want to take with your health.

As Jennifer Taggart points out there are more reasons than health to not buy GMO, there are environmental impacts to consider:

GMO seeds restrict biodiversity. GMOs are intellectual property, with the company producing (Monsanto) reaping great financial benefits whereas traditionally seeds have been a common resource. In other words, a renewable resource becomes a non-renewable, patented commodity. GMO seeds are a great, vast live trial involving not only our health, but the health of our planet. We have yet to understand all the ramifications of using GMOs. We may think we know what we are doing, but there are always unintended consequences.

And when asked about labeling my friend Jill says:

Connecting dots like “our country is getting more unhealthy so it’s probably the government.” is kind of a big jump. I would say our country is getting more unhealthy because we have become lazy. We don’t want to work for what is best for us. Who wants to make dinner when you can just heat up a bag of food in the microwave? The majority of people will just buy broccoli in a bag and call it a night. That’s not the FDA’s fault.. it’s ours. Jennifer.. I know.. you cannot prove something is bad for you unless, well, it’s proven bad for you.. it may take years to figure out that GM foods are giving us cancer. It may take years to figure out that they don’t. Either way.. it’s up to the consumer. I guess the labels are good for people who are completely incompetent and unconscious. I suppose it’s a good thing. I just don’t have the passion for these labels that others do.

At the end of the day they’re both mostly right.

If the only thing you’re looking for is a direct correlation between GMO foods and illness then you’ll be disappointed in the research available.

Things to consider as it relates to GMO foods:

  • Who, if anyone, owns the food supply?
  • Do we want to eliminate all insects?
  • Should farmers be buying seeds every year? Is this the economy you want to support at the grocery store?
  • Does biodiversity matter?
  • What would a genetically engineered animal look like?

I cannot write this without noting that my home is GMO free. I’m a fortunate woman in that I live in Los Angeles and have the financial means to buy organic foods. Currently in California this is the only way to ensure that the food you’re ingesting isn’t GMO. I cannot state with 100% authority that purchasing organic foods will increase my lifespan but I can state with 100% authority that it increases the lifespan of the men and women who harvest my food, that it does less damage to the earth around me and it feels like the right thing to do. I don’t know if GMO foods will give your child allergies, your mother Alzheimer’s or your cousin cancer. I wouldn’t be willing to say that any these things will happen as a direct result of GMO’s in the food supply but with labels consumers can make their own decisions.

 

 

Curiously There is GMO Soy in Discount Tuna

11.19.12

Prop 37 was defeated in California so there will be no labeling of GMO foods in the immediate future. There are some companies that are able to label their foods as non-GMO but it’s tough for them to identify supply chains so at the moment in order to be GMO free you’ll need to eat solely organic foods. That is expensive.

I’m trying to set the stage here so that y’all understand that there might be some GMO foods in my home (besides the $40 Twinkies I just sold on craigslist). It’s nearly impossible to avoid GMO foods in the US but it’s still an ideal worth striving toward.

You should also understand that along with Monsanto, brands like Coca Cola, Kraft, Nestle, and Bumble Bee gave tens of millions of dollars to fight labeling. These aren’t small amounts of money so one must assume that these food manufactures want to quietly keep GMOs in the food supply. To be clear, Prop 37 called for labeling of GMOs not elimination of them.

What’s fascinating (and a little frightening) to me is how good Bumble Bee’s social media team is. Leah Segedie posted something on their facebook page asking about GMOs and the conversation got interesting fast.

As much as I appreciate Bumble Bee’s seemingly upfront response:

Soybeans grown in commercial quantities in the United States include both GM and non-GM varieties, but current regulations do not require the identification and labeling of these varieties, so consequently, our products containing soy broth may or may not be produced from GM soybeans. For more information, please visit the FAQs section of our website:http://www.bumblebee.com/faqs

It’s simply not a complete response. If you are eating conventionally grown soy in America you are eating a GMO crop. It’s either organic or it’s GMO.

The conversation turned in a few different directions. Why is there soy in Bumble Bee Tuna? What are they feeding the fish? What about mercury?

The social media manager did something that I think is brilliant. What do you think about this?

I think it was respectful and smart. I also hadn’t realized until that moment that I was on the Bumble Bee Foods facebook page. I thought I was on Leah’s wall and they’d just been tagged. I’m not looking to fight with Bumble Bee Foods. I think we all learned from Oprah’s Hamburger right?

Well, the bloggers didn’t think it was a good response and this happened.

And  a few hours later the posts remain.

As someone who worries a lot about our oceans and our bodies Bumble Bee wasn’t a brand that ended up on my shelf. It’s just not the way I like to provide nutrition. I don’t really have a dog in this particular race.

Leah is an important woman. She brings health and fitness to thousands of women online in a non-judgmental way that is very well received (I happen to be too judgmental for her schtick). If Leah is talking about GMO Foods then you can assume that thousands of other women will be talking about it on their blogs too. She’s the Queen Bee in that realm.

Is Bumble Bee brilliant to let her post stick or foolish? We just got done talking about the Pantages, now we’ve got another LA Lady mixing it up.

For context here is the (very long) thread.


Leah Segedie
posted toBumble Bee Foods

4 hours ago ·

  • Does your product contain GMOs?
    Like · 
    • Bumble Bee Foods Hi Leah. Soybeans grown in commercial quantities in the United States include both GM and non-GM varieties, but current regulations do not require the identification and labeling of these varieties, so consequently, our products containing soy broth may or may not be produced from GM soybeans. For more information, please visit the FAQs section of our website:http://www.bumblebee.com/faqs
    • Leah Segedie I’m sure moms would feel more comfortable if you didn’t have contamination in your food. Are you going to reformulate to a NON-GMO soy?
      3 hours ago · Like · 5
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Why is there soy in tuna? This is just weird (and sort of disgusting)
      3 hours ago · Like · 9
    • Amy Tucker Animal feed, I’m assuming.
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Amy Tucker they can’t possibly be feeding soybeans to tuna fish. That would be otherworldly.
      3 hours ago · Like · 3
    • Stacey Soleil BuzzzzBuzzzzBuzzzz – Attack of the Mommy Bloggers on Bumble Bee Foods. #JustSayNoToGMO
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Amy Tucker Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb I suppose it helps when I read for comprehension, huh? I was thinking catfish feed which makes no sense since we’re talking about freaking tuna. Obviously I need another cup of coffee.
      3 hours ago · Like · 2
    • Emily Ho Sandford It looks like there isn’t soy in the normal canned tuna or even pouches, unless it’s something that is pre-seasoned or in marinade. (Checking my pantry right now…)
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Dorron Katzin Perhaps soybean oil.
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Kimberly Bondi Grabinski Soy is a cheap filler and in addition to the negative health affects of GMOs it is also an endocrine disruptor. Studies have shown it affects children and may be a cause of rising infertility. GMO soy is a double whammy.
      3 hours ago · Like · 4
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Amy Tucker they feed that to catfish? Why? So gross.
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Amy Tucker Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Yup. Soybean meal is in a lot of animal feeds.
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Kimberly Bondi Grabinski if we’re talking about the overall health of the food (and the planet) and not just the GMO status no one should be worried about Bumble Bee Foods anyhow. The world’s tuna population is in peril, tuna is full of mercury and it’s irresponsible to eat it and dangerous to give to children in larger quantities. Stick with small fish.
      3 hours ago · Like · 4
    • Kimberly Bondi Grabinski Yeah we don’t actually eat tuna for a number of reasons. Plus it smells funny ;);)
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb I eat tuna but it costs a fortune and it sustainably caught.
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Kimberly Bondi Grabinski Indiana isn’t known for it’s oceans…
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Stacey Soleil Most kids hate tuna anyways. This just helps me to not make it an option. Jessica, totally agree with you. ps. Happy Holidays!
      3 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Arié Moyal Small freshwater fish are best
      3 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Kimberly Bondi Grabinski this is what’s in my cabinethttp://instagram.com/p/SOBUz9jNtt/

      instagram.com

      jessicagottlieb’s photo on Instagram
    • Kimberly Bondi Grabinski Ah ok, I haven’t seen that. One of the struggles we have here is that we just don’t have the markets yet for some of these products. I can drive to Whole Foods 90 minutes away and get it, but then I wonder how sustainable that action really is. I’m trying to balance buying local and in season and avoid the crap that shouldn’t be in food. It’s a challenge but eventually, hopefully, I will have more options. I walk through the grocery store here and just shake my head.
    • Hope Bertram Does this statement make anyone else sad for the state of our country: “current regulations do not require the identification and labeling of these varieties”

      So are companies only going to label if the are FORCED? How about just being good corporatecitizens? 

      Leah – thanks for opening my eyes to how widespread the GMO problem is in the US. I was talking to someone from France at a party this weekend and we were talking GMO’s

      They are banned in France — They should be banned here too!
    • Lucrecer White Braxton I would like to see you label before you are forced to do so. Makes me trust your brand when you stand behind your product, right or wrong. I can’t buy your tuna now.
      3 hours ago · Like · 3
    • Bumble Bee Foods Hi all. It’s important that we reinforce that our products meet the standards and guidelines for food quality and safety set by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, as well as all other international regulators. For those who enjoy our products and brand, we’ve created this Facebook page as a community to provide and share recipes, brand news and everyday health and wellness information. Per the page Rules of Engagement, we are removing this post because of its political nature.
    • Jessica Wilzig Gottlieb Bumble Bee Foods oops, I thought this was on Leah Segedie‘s wall. Totally fair.
      2 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Arié Moyal LOL Way to go Bumble Foods – hide behind technicalities!
      2 hours ago · Edited · Like · 3
    • Hope Bertram I kind of feel like this fits under health and wellness info…
      2 hours ago · Like · 3
    • Leah Segedie I don’t think food ingredients are political. Taking this post down would be though.
      2 hours ago · Like · 11
    • Danika Carter You’re not removing this because it’s political in nature, you’re removing it because you are afraid of this conversation growing. But as a social media professional, I’m sure you know that the uproar that will come from censoring this conversation will only draw even more attention to the issue. It will not make it go away. This has been a very civil conversation by customers with genuine concerns. If you don’t like this conversation, you’re better off addressing your customer’s concerns than censoring the conversation to try and hide the truth. I know several of the women in this conversation, and trust me, you don’t want to censor this conversation, because I can guarantee that the negative publicity you will be hit with as these women share their experience will me much worse for your company. You can assume they’ve already taken screen shots and will share them far and wide if this conversation disappears. Learn from other companies who’ve made the mistake of censoring conversations on their pages and had that decision go viral very fast.
      2 hours ago · Like · 6
    • Lucrecer White Braxton I hope you do not take this post down. I like your products, but I have a child with a chronic illness and I have to be more careful about the products I choose. I would love to see you not have a product that contains GMOs. That is all.
      2 hours ago · Like · 6
    • Shane Shirley Smith Please reformulate and be a leader for us moms and dads out here who are trying to feed our families healthy foods that will not lead to shortened life span!!!http://www.shaneshirleysmith.com/2012/09/first-long-term-public-scientific-gmo.html

      www.shaneshirleysmith.com

      WONDERING HOW TO GO GREEN? Begin or continue the green living way of life with E

      B environmental news and consumer health info. Discover green living through organics, discover what GMO foods are and visit our green store. Our sustainability depends on our knowledge and actions.What choices will you …
      2 hours ago · Like · 5
    • Katherine Bewley This isn’t a political issue at all. This is about the health and wellness of the people in our country. That is insane you would say it as such. Thank you for the information! I had no idea soy was included in tuna. That’s very unfortunate, as I did pick your tuna for my children’s sandwiches because I believed it was a healthy option.
      2 hours ago · Like · 2
    • Hope Bertram Thank you for leaving this up
      about an hour ago via mobile · Like · 2
    • Anna Hackman Bumble Bee Foods, first rule of business. Listen to your customers. Is there really a need to have soy in your products? Simply asking to have it this link taken down you are totally ignoring what social media is all about. Address, Fix it (if you can) and then gain more customers. The winner is obvious.
    • Shane Shirley Smith Taking down the post will not stop the conversation.
    • Lori Westberry Watson “that our products meet the standards and guidelines for food quality and safety set by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, as well as all other international regulators” Because, yes, the USDA, etc DO have our best interest at heart. ::rolling my eyes:: Reformulate or lose business. Do what is right. Quit with the GMOs.
    • Christine Mathias This isn’t going to be a popular comment with a lot of you, many of whom I consider to be friends, but I think calling legal food products that you don’t like “contaminants” *is* a political statement. I’m all for removing GMO’s but creating an adversarial atmosphere on a brand’s Facebook page isn’t the way to go about it in my humble opinion. :):)

      Letting Bumble Bee how much support they would get from our community being an industry leader by electing to remove all GMO from their products is a far more powerful statement.
    • Lucrecer White Braxton Believe me when I say I want to support Bumble Bee. That is why my statement was asking them to be an industry leader. I happen to like the taste of their product better and the cost is where I like it. I want to see them lead in the industry, because not too many others are right now. We like tuna. Love it, in fact, I just want to protect a child who is sensitive to certain things being in her foods. And, props to Bumble Bee for keeping this post up. That speaks volumes. :):)