A Final Call To Action

31 Mar

Wow! Writing this blog has been an amazing learning experience for me, and I hope that you guys have been able to get something out of it too.

 

The whole point of this blog was to convince Michael Taylor to enforce the mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. More than anything else, I hope that this blog has motivated you all to start thinking about the food you eat and the impact that it has on your health and the world at large.

 

Let’s face it, leaders of monolithic multinational corporations and government regulatory agencies can be pretty tough cookies to crack. They are stubborn and they don’t like giving in to anything that jeopardizes their growing stream of power and money. With that said, I truly believe that the power lies with the consumer. Eating organic is definitely a challenge, and avoiding GMO foods entirely is virtually impossible, but if I’ve learned anything through this experience it is that every small change can lead to something bigger and makes a difference in the longrun. Every action leads to a reaction, and the best way to motivate yourself to take action is to educate yourself… not only on the things that you find interesting, but also the things that your friends and family are passionate about. Listen up, because you may learn a thing or two. I know I have learned a whole lot from everyone in this class…

 

If this blog has motivated you to get involved, here are a few places to start:

 

Alliance For Natural Health – Petition to reverse deregulation of GE bio-fuel corn, roundup ready alfalfa, and sugarbeets!

 

Food Democracy Now – Tell the Department of Justice it’s time to break up Monsanto!

Citizens For A GMO-Free World – Petition to mandate labeling on all GMO foods

Hungry For Change – 10 simple things you can do to change our food systems

 

Hungry For Change – Learn about healthy food choices in school lunches

 

Farmville Orange County

31 Mar

One of the best things that you can do to support organic farmers and avoid GMO foods is shop at your local farmers market. It’s a fun way to discover/try different foods (most vendors give out samples), it’s usually much cheaper than buying organic produce at the grocery store, and its one of the easiest and most effective ways to help make a difference. The problem is that not many people know about them. Here is a list of the closest farmers markets to Chaptown.

 

ORANGE – The Village at Orange, 1500 E Village Way between Katella & Lincoln on Tustin St.

THURSDAYS BETWEEN 9AM – 1PM

 

TUSTIN – Corner of El Camino Real and 3rd Street

WEDNESDAYS BETWEEN 9AM – 1PM

 

IRVINE – Historic Park at the Irvine Ranch, 13042 Old Myford Road

TUESDAYS BETWEEN 9AM – 1PM

 

COSTA MESA – Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive

THURSDAY BETWEEN 9AM – 1PM


 

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Pier Plaza, Main Street & Pacific Coast Highway (next to the pier)
FRIDAY BETWEEN 1PM – 5PM


Food and Film

31 Mar

For the past decade or so, filmmakers have brought to light new insights about the food we eat, and the corporate giants that dominate the industry. In my second post, I talked about “The World According To Monsanto,” which (along with much of this blog) has focused on the MNCs, especially in relation to genetic modification. Since most of my blog has been about the negatives of GMOs, I feel like it is important to focus on the things that we can do as consumers to combat it. Here are a couple documentary films that are full of information and a little bit of info about each one.


FOOD INC

Most of you have probably heard about this documentary. It was nominated for an Academy Award and is a great introduction to understanding the industry behind food production. I actually interned for the production company that distributed it.. so you should all watch it! A really cool part of the company is TakePart, a partnering business that delves deep into the issues that each of their films deals with. Click here to check out the initiatives and calls to action that are a part of the Food Inc social action campaign… and of course, check out the trailer to the film if you haven’t already seen it! (I believe the whole film is available on Netflix instant watch)

THE FUTURE OF FOOD

Suggested by our #intcom classmate Monika, The Future Of Food is a great film that was enjoyable to watch. It touches on a lot of the same things as Food, Inc. but also dives deep into the politics surrounding GMO patents and the interrelated system of multinational corporations and US regulatory agencies. Check out the trailer below, or click here for the whole movie!

FOOD MATTERS

Food Matters provides a highly deserved break for those of you who are might be tired of reading about GMO politics. While the motivations behind this documentary are similar to the previous two films, this doc is different in that it focuses on WHY natural, organic foods are better for you, with the case studies to prove it. Learning about all the positive things that organic food can do for your health (and appearance) is definitely something that motivates me, and hopefully can motivate you too. If you had to only watch one of the films in this list, I would definitely suggest this one. (Food Matters should also be available to stream on Netflix Instant Watch)

How To Avoid GMOs

25 Mar

Since there aren’t any labels to designate genetically modified products, consumers need to be cognizant about checking the ingredients and labels for red flags. Similar to the “greenwashing” phenomenon, filtering through the marketing maze that is the grocery store has been a difficult task for the past few decades. It is nearly impossible to avoid GMOs altogether… But what can you do to try? Here are a few guidelines:

Buy food labeled 100% organic. Eating organic can be a challenge. It’s more expensive and definitely does take more effort, which I won’t deny. I will tell you, that it can make a difference on your overall health in the long run, and I personally think that organic food generally tastes better. You do need to be careful though. Manufacturers are aware of the impact that using an “organic” label will have on their market positioning and subsequent sales, and they are not afraid to take advantage of it. “Organic” labeled products still may contain up to 30% GMOs, so be sure to go for the “100% Organic,” as the US government does not allow manufacturers to use that label if that food contains GMOs or have been fed GMOs. This also applies to eggs. Eggs labeled “free-range,” “natural,” and “cage-free” are all better than conventional eggs, but again, there is no guarantee that they don’t contain GMOs. Go for the 100% organic.

Check produce label numbers. 4-digit numbers mean the produce is conventionally produced. 5-digit numbers beginning with an 8 designate genetic modification. If a fruit or vegetable is labeled with an organic sticker, if most likely is, but to be sure, their PLU will be a 5-digit number beginning with a 9. So to break it down…

#### – conventional

8#### – GMO

9#### – Organic

Only purchase 100% grass-fed beef. Most cows are fed GMO-corn at some point, for either their whole lives or pre-slaughter, as the corn increases intramuscular fat and marbling. Look for beef labeled either “100% grass-fed” or “pasture-fed.” The same applies to lamb and veal. For pork and chicken, look for the “100% organic” label.

Buy whole foods. No, not the grocery store, although they offer some of the best products available if you’ve got the “whole paycheck” to spend. Try to buy as much fresh food that you can cook yourself, as opposed to anything that comes in a box or bag. Take the extra 20 minutes to make real mashed potatoes instead of the ones in the box. Your food will not only taste better, but you will also start to look better and feel better.

Shop Local. Most all genetically modified food comes from large industrial farms. You may be surprised to learn that many towns have weekly farmers markets, and if they don’t, than a town nearby certainly will. Farmers markets are a great place to find fresh, reasonably priced, locally-grown food.

Grow your own produce. It sounds crazy when you first think about it, I know, but it is a lot easier than you probably think. Not only does it guarantee that you are getting fresh, organic produce, but it also saves you money and can bring a little life to your backyard.

GMO foods have invaded our food supply to the point of being almost unavoidable. In that respect, it sometimes seems pointless to try to avoid it. However, every little step and effort does make a difference in the long run, and making an effort to eat organically grown, non-processed foods really is an investment in your long-term health. Click here for a list of brands that don’t use GMOs, some of which you are probably familiar with. Make an effort to support these companies the next time you’re at the grocery store.

Here are a few of my picks for great GMO-free products that are just as convenient and readily-available as any other GMO alternatives, not to mention way better for you.

Kettle Brand Chips: these are my favorite potato chips! You can buy their organic chips or not, but either way, they are GMO free. They also have flavored tortilla chips that actually taste just like Doritos.

Annie’s: the cheddar bunnies and snack mix bunnies are sooo good! Lots of cheese-dust goodness without the GMOs. They also have a boxed mac and cheese that beats Kraft any day of the week.

Clif Bars: these bars have been around forever, and I wasn’t a huge fan of them, but they recently came out with the “Builder’s Bar” line that is more like a regular protein bar. My favorite flavor is the chocolate, but they also have them in peanut butter and chocolate mint.

G.T. Daves Kombucha: Organic Raw Kombucha is a great (albeit pricey, as they run around $3.50/bottle) alternative to calorie-filled Starbucks drinks and sodas. It helped me kick my aspartame-filled Diet Coke habit. Praised as a “detox in a bottle,” Kombucha comes in a ton of flavors. My favorites are the citrus and the grape. Also, since they recently redid the formula, you don’t need to worry about accidentally setting off your ankle bracelet

Weird Science

25 Mar

One thing that I thought would add an interesting element to this blog is to break down the actual process of genetic modification. I think that understanding the step-by-step process shows how “unnatural” it actually is while making the whole concept of genetic engineering much more tangible.

Every cell has DNA inside of it. DNA really are the “building blocks of life” in that they essentially function as instructions to tell cells how to replicate.

Let’s use GMO tomatoes as an example. When scientists want to extract the part of a flounder’s DNA that allows them to survive the cold, and insert it into a tomato, the first step is to use a special enzyme that cuts out the specific part of the flounder’s DNA that allows it to survive in the cold. Then, they cut out a gap in the DNA of a bacteria or virus, such as E. Coli. When the two are put together, some of the flounder’s DNA connects with the bacteria to form recombinant DNA. The altered bacteria invades the tomato cell just like a normal bacteria would, copying its DNA along with the DNA of the flounder and creating the organism cell-by-cell.

Another method of creating GMO foods is by using electrical currents that pass through the food’s cell, creating gaps and tears in the cell wall and making the cell more vulnerable to invasion by the foreign DNA. A third option is through the use of a DNA gun, which literally propels DNA attached to particles at a high speed, breaking through the cell wall.

The specific process by which geneticists are able to essentially fuse together the DNA of two separate organisms is truly incredible and should not be taken for granted. This technology has allowed for the creation of life saving vaccines, transplant organs, and other crucial medical advancements, but the careless nature by which Monsanto and other mass food production corporations have abused the technology for their own fiscal gain while spewing illegitimate justifications for doing so is completely unacceptable and disrespectful not only tothe scientists and engineers who have developed the technology, but to the integrity of nature itself.

Michael Taylor, one of the biggest culprits as well as one of the most influential decision makers, needs to recognize the fact that people are no longer ignorant to the reality at hand. Respect the intelligence of the American public by requiring that all genetically modified foods be labeled accordingly.

The Revolving Door

20 Mar

The agent of change for this blog assignment was selected very carefully, and I think it is important to talk about who he is, what he has done, and why he is an appropriate change agent.

Currently the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA, Michael Taylor began his career as a staff attorney for the FDA, executive assistant to the Commissioner. He then went into private practice at King & Spalding, where he led the firm’s “food and drug law” practice, during a time when Monsanto was one of the firm’s biggest clients.

In 1991, his work began to take real effect when he returned to the FDA for the newly created post of “Deputy Commissioner for Policy. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, explained in an interview with Democracy Now that Taylor allowed GMOs on the market without any safety studies and without labeling, and the policy claimed that the agency was not aware of any information showing that GMOs were significantly different. Seven years later, because of a lawsuit, 44,000 secret internal FDA memos revealed that that policy was a lie. Not only were the scientists at the FDA aware that GMOs were different, they had warned repeatedly that they might create allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. But they were ignored, and their warnings were even denied, and the policy went forth allowing the deployment of GMOs into the food supply with virtually no safety studies.”

After a brief stint as Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service for the USDA, Taylor was hired by Monsanto to be Vice President of Public Policy, during which time he was involved in another similar scandal regarding rGBH, or bovine growth hormone, which was given to cows to increase milk output. It was later revealed that Monsanto had suppressed and manipulated data that showed infections in the cows mammory glands, mastitis, and reproductive infection. Of course, these were only the effects on the cows. The rGBH milk contained puss from the mastitis, and antibiotics that had been given to the cows to treat the mastitis were also found in the milk, all proven links to a rise in prostate cancer and breast cancer. The controversy finally drove the growth hormone off the market.

In July 2009, Taylor was appointed by Obama as “senior advisor” to the FDA commissioner, and finally promoted to Deputy Commissioner for Food. Taylor functions as a textbook example of a revolving door, as he has constantly flip-flopped back and forth between Monsanto (being a lawyer for them, at that) and both the FDA and USDA. Though he is now an active part of Obama’s $20 billion initiative to help fight hunger in Africa, spreading his toxic GMOs are not the answer. More recently, he supported a new Food Safety Bill that makes small local farms jump through hurdles to meet modern “requirements” for food safety, another sneaky attempt to strengthen the FDA and further the monopoly of Monsanto.

It’s time for Taylor to step up to the plate and acknowledge the fact that GMOs are not the solution to the world’s problems. Requiring labels on genetically modified products won’t solve the problem, but it will show that he acknowledges the fact that consumers are aware and have the right to make their own decisions.

We’re in the “dereg” business

15 Mar

In my last post, I ended with the question of why United States regulatory agencies don’t follow suit with European countries by requiring that labels be placed on food products that contain genetically modified organisms.

The FDA uses the principle of “substantial equivalence” as justification, saying that “in most cases, the substances expected to become components of food as a result of genetic modification of a plant will be the same as or substantially similar to substances commonly found in food.” What this essentially means is that genetically modified food is basically the same as its natural counterpart. A GM “Flavr Savr” tomato is the same as a natural tomato, right? Not when test rats who are fed the product grow lesions in their stomachs and die while the control group comes out just fine. The FDA then decided that because the tomato “performed so well in tests,” its results would stand for any further GMO produce developed, which has come to include corn, soybeans, sugar cane, peppers, bananas, and countless other varieties of produce, all with their own set of complications.

What is truly ridiculous is the fact that while extensive testing is required for any kind of “normal” food additive or preservative before it can be put into our food, there really aren’t any requirements for genetically engineered products. Altering genetic structure is quite different from adding chemical food dye. The fact is that science has not advanced to the point where we are able to track the activity of a gene once spliced into foreign DNA.

So why has the FDA and USDA been so lax in regards to regulation and labeling? A big reason why is certainly due to the revolving door between Monsanto and federal regulatory agencies. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, (former president of a pharmaceutical branch of Monsanto), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (former attorney for Monsanto), and of course, Michael Taylor, are all examples. Thomas, for instance, played a significant role in developing Monsanto’s monopoly, declaring newly developed plant breeds as patentable under the general utility patent laws of the United States.

The FDA’s initial decision to have such low regulation standards is also largely due to the political attitude of the time. Dan Glickman, who served as the Secretary of Agriculture during the Clinton administration, felt that “if you weren’t in favor of biotechnology” you were considered “anti-science” and “anti-progress.” Whenever new technology is introduced that claims to fix socioeconomic problems, naysayers are usually dismissed. The sad truth is that corporations realize this, and they purposely take advantage of that fact in order to maximize profits… modern day profiteering? I think yes.

While George Bush Sr. served as Vice President during the Reagan administration, he toured Monsanto labs in 1987 and was introduced to the process of genetic modification. At one point during the tour, when a scientist asked about getting the technology approved, Bush joked, “Call me. We’re in the ‘dereg’ business. We can help.”

The lack of regulation for genetically modified products is largely the result of Monsanto’s obvious manipulation of the political climate. We can’t expect Monsanto to shut down its billion-dollar operation. We should, however, demand that Michael Taylor and everyone else in the FDA and USDA take responsibility for the lack of appropriate regulation by at least requiring labels on GMO food. You can hide information and lie about studies all you want, but the truth has already come out. Let the American public make the decision for themselves.