Just what do organic foods have to do with the topic of GE foods? A lot.
It is the organic industry that must pay for the damage caused by the biotechnology companies. They are the ones that have to bear the cost of having their produce tested so that consumers can be assured that they are obtaining food that is as pure as possible.
GE companies are under no obligation and do not have to shoulder the responsibility of concern that they have foisted upon food producers and consumers.
The way food is grown must change – and it must change soon. Although we have paid the price for industrial agriculture’s use of chemical pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers, specially designed GE crops are even worse.
Combined, these two types alone not only endanger the health and welfare of humans and wildlife, but the environment is also being threatened on such rapidly increasing and unprecedented levels that it is entirely possible for all living things to be wiped out in the not too distant future.
For example, in the early 1990s, a potentially devastating bacterium (Klebsiella planticola) was genetically engineered to eliminate the need to burn fields and thereby supposedly cause less pollution.
The soil bacterium was constructed to break down crop debris into alcohol. However, a soil microbiologist at Oregon State University found that this GE bacterium killed all living wheat plants to which it was added.
Based on these findings, it is now believed that the fast-spreading organism can enter root systems and kill all plant life everywhere!
The EPA conducted its own research and never approved it for field testing; but it is still there, lurking.
Organic agriculture is not a primitive ‘back to the land’ fad but a viable, intelligent, and more effective way to produce food.
It is a no-brainer to dump pre-selected chemicals on the land and call it farming.
Growing organically calls for systematic planning and methodology, using crop rotations, cover crops, and compost to enhance soil fertility while keeping harmful insects away and increasing the beneficial ones.
Despite claims to the contrary, studies are finding that organic produce is nutritionally superior to that grown conventionally.One study at Truman State University found that organic oranges contained 30% more vitamin C than conventionally grown oranges, even though they were only about half the size.
Similar results were published in a 2001 report in the United Kingdom and published by the Soil Association. The report found that organic crops were higher in vitamin C, essential minerals, and phytonutrients.
Furthermore, a 23-year study conducted by the Rodale Institute found that organic soils helped lessen the effects of global warming through a process called carbon sequestration.
Organic soils capture atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is responsible for 80% of global warming, and convert it into useful carbon that helps to stimulate plant growth. According to the study, converting 10,000 medium-sized farms in the US to organic production would be the same as taking 1,174,400 cars off the road in terms of capturing carbon dioxide in the soil.
Another advantage in growing organically is to cut down and eliminate the use of chemicals. The EPA estimates there are up to 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide illnesses per year in farm work.
In 2001, a US governmental study found that “Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of ill effects in humans, from such relatively mild effects as headaches, fatigue, and nausea, to more such serious effects as cancer and neurological disorders.”
Occupational asthma is also common. One study also found that the sperm count of men living in agricultural areas was 40% less than that of men living in big cities.
Water is a major necessity for life, yet it is becoming increasingly scarce; and what there is left is polluted, not only with agricultural chemicals but also with industrial pollutants and heavy metals. Each spring, runoff from agricultural fertilizers in the Midwest creates a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico near the Mississippi Delta. This dead zone covers more than 7,000 square miles, an area the size of New Jersey, and where fish die because of the lack of oxygen.
Even more realistic and frightening is the fact that more than ONE MILLION children in the US alone, between the ages of one and five, ingest at least 15 pesticides each day just from fruits and vegetables; and more than half of them are consuming doses of insecticides that the US government considers to be unsafe.
No wonder children are instinctively refusing to eat their fruits and vegetables! It is interesting to watch some of these same children who refused the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables take to organically raised ones.
Critics to organic farming say that the method cannot match yields produced by conventional agriculture. However, a study funded by the USDA and published in Nature found that the organic system produced:
- better soil quality;
- comparable yields;
- greater energy efficiency;
- better tasting produce; and
- higher profits. For example, a 1999 study conducted at Iowa State University found that organic soybean farmers earned a profit of $482.30 per acre compared with $91.02 earned by conventional soybean farmers.
Although organic food can cost as much as 25% more than conventional, the benefits far outweigh the extra cost. Some of the reasons why organic foods cost more include the following:
- Organic farmers must meet stricter standards for certification and often have to pay for tests to make sure their produce has not been infested with such things as GE pollens – unlike those who grow conventionally, who do not test their produce.
- Organic produce requires more specialized labor.
- Organic produce is grown on a smaller scale, meaning the farmer pays more per acre for production.
- Organic farmers do not receive the subsidies that are given to conventional farmers.
- If the cost of cleaning up polluted waters and soil, replacing eroded soils, and providing health care for farmers and workers were factored in to the cost, the results would show that organic produce is actually cheaper to grow and consume.
Between 1997 and 2001, certified organic acreage grew from 1.35 million to 2.23 million acres – which is more than 140%. The number of certified organic farmers is now over 5,000.
Worldwide organic acreage is now over 54 million. Australia leads the world with 26 million acres, followed by Argentina with 8 million, Italy with 3 million, and the US with 2.23 million.
However, the US still ranks 36th among all nations in percentage of agricultural land for organic use. Germany plans to convert 20% of its arable land to organic by 2010, with Belgium and the Netherlands planning on 10% by the same year.
At the other end of the scale, the US has no such goal. In fact, the USDA devotes less than 1/10th of 1% of its research budget to organic projects.
A 2002 study by the National Marketing Institute found that 39% of the US population (over 40 million households) uses organic produce. That percentage is much higher in Canada and has been growing by 20% per year.
The largest number of organic food consumers live in the Vancouver area. In British Columbia alone, farmers are reducing pesticide use 25% faster than the rest of Canada.
When you go to buy produce in grocery stores in North America, there is a numeric system that is followed in order to distinguish if it is Organic, Conventionally grown, or Genetically Engineered.
This system was developed by the Produce Electronic Identification Board, an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association, a trade group for the produce industry. The following shows you how you can tell just by looking at the number.
- Organic produce has a five-digit number on the label which always begins with the number 9. Using bananas as an example, if they are organic, the number on the label would be 94011.
- Conventional produce has a four-digit number on the label which always begins with the number 4. Therefore, the number on conventionally grown bananas would be 4011.
- Genetically engineered produce has a five-digit number on the label that begins with the number 8. Again, the number on bananas that are genetically altered would be 84011. Notice that it is only the first number that is different from that of an organically grown banana. Consumers must not only be aware but knowledgeable.
Most people agree that all food products made from or that contain GE crops should be labeled. Consumers do have the right to know exactly what they are eating, where it was grown, and under what conditions.
The FDA, however, thinks otherwise and maintains that their policy, established in 1992, is adequate. The policy states that GE foods are substantially equivalent to those produced by traditional plant breeding. They advocate that labeling would be required only IF the nutritional content, health, or safety of the food product is in question.
Just how much more questioning do consumers have to put forth before the FDA thinks it is enough to require labeling? Ironically, it is this same FDA that quickly bans an herb or a food supplement on the barest of whispers that something might be amiss. Not surprisingly, the biotech industry agrees with the FDA they help fund and adds that they do not want to scare off consumers with any “skull and crossbones” deterient; however legitimate, it may be it appears.
A 2001 survey by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that 75% of Americans wanted GE ingredients on labels. By 2002, a survey conducted by Rutgers University found that 90% of consumers want GE foods labeled.
This increased in a 2003 poll by ABCNEWS.com which showed that 92% thought GE foods should be labeled. In addition, virtually all respondents were outraged when they found out just how pervasive GE foods really are. Many complained that GE foods had been ‘snuck in’ to the food supply without their knowledge.
Interestingly, while Canada and the US refuse to require mandatory labeling of GE foods, more than 40 other nations are more enlightened. Even such repressive countries as China and Russia give their consumers the right to know whether foods contain GE ingredients – but not so in the US, the supposed champion of human rights and has recently been seen with the defeat of a 2012 GMO labeling bill in California.
Although many natural and organic companies want to inform their customers that their products do not contain GE products, they are being prevented.
In 2001, the FDA introduced a document draft that, instead of labels simply reading ‘non-GMO’ or ‘non-GE’, the labels may have to read something like this: “We do not use ingredients that were produced using biotechnology” or “This oil is made from soybeans that were not genetically engineered.” – no doubt in the smallest print available and in yellow ink on a white background.
Beware of Proposed Regulations:
While organic producers come under strict guidelines in order to label their produce as ‘Certified Organic’, in 1997, the USDA tried to allow GE ingredients into their new definition of organic.
They also proposed a number of other rules like allowing irradiation, fields to be fertilized with sewer sludge, and animals could remain confined. Outraged consumers flooded them with letters of protest, forcing the agency to prohibit these controversial suggestions from slipping into the regulations.
The National Organic Program also prohibits the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, as well as chemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers in organic dairy, meat, and poultry. Also, farmers must use organic seed and feed.
Organic farmers try their best to make sure their seed has not been contaminated with cross-pollination and go to a great expense to do so.
As it stands now, if a package says ‘100% organic’, each ingredient must be just that.
If the label just says ‘organic’, only 95% of the ingredients must be organic leaving the remaining 5% open to GE content.
If the label states ‘made with organic ingredients’, at least 70% must be organic with the rest contaminating the so-called organic ingredients.
Major food companies like General Mills, Kellogg’s, Heinz, Proctor and Gamble, Kraft, as well as McDonald’s have jumped on the ‘organic’ bandwagon.
However, while these companies are bringing attention to organic produce, the fear is they will eventually try to weaken the strict organic standards.
It is the organic industry that asked for these strict guidelines in the first place, but it is a well-known fact that big business wants to do away with as many rules as possible. In fact, this has already been tried.
In February 2003, Fieldale Farms Corporation, a poultry producer based in Georgia, lobbied Congress for an exemption to the rule requiring organic feed to be given to animals raised for organic meat and dairy. Through their back-room maneuvering, a one-sentence rider was added to a 3,000 page spending bill.
With one swoop, twelve years of hard work to develop credible standards for the organic industry was almost destroyed. However, just in time, the organic industry, backed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), led a successful effort to repeal the rider.
This is only a sample of such ongoing tactics and consumers must always be on their toes.
Although the US is the major proponent for the GE industry, an increasing number of Americans are becoming more aware of what is happening to their food supply. They are becoming outraged enough to stem the tide that has been thrust upon them and the rest of the world.
The following are a few of the standards organic farmers must abide by. Keep in mind that each state in each country may have variations and that this list is only to get you started looking for one nearest you.