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Apr 092013

From Green Right Now Reports

Genetically modified foods are everywhere, having crept into processed foods as key components, such as corn oil, corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, soy isolate, invert sugar and on down the food label.

Grocery Store Aisle 400 pxl

Stores are filled with unmarked GMO foods. (Photo: GRN)

These foods have taken over supermarket shelves as GMO or GE crops have achieved an epic supremacy in the U.S. farm belt.  More than 80 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans grown today come from genetically modified seeds. About half of the sweet corn, once a holdout in the march toward modification, has gone GMO within the last two years; GMO alfalfa has won approval and soon, GMO salmon could appears on our plates, along with more engineered foods to come.

If you believe these transgenic or pesticide-resistant crops are dangerous, the cascade of genetically modified edibles is disheartening. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to approve applications for more genetic seed modifications, even as the question of their safety remains unanswered. And now, you may have heard, anyone challenging the safety of GMO foods created by Monsanto and other big biotech firms, will be stopped at the gate by the recent passage of a federal law that prevents courts from stopping GMOs even when they’re the subject of a legal challenge.

The FDA, which has ushered in the GMO food-era, considers these foods to be “substantially” the same as their non-GMO counterparts, even though the process of modifying foods often uses organisms from another species or breeds in resistance to toxic pesticides. That’s been the agency’s stance since the first commercialization of GMOs in the 1990s.

These foods may look much the same as their unadultered cousins, but are they? A growing movement of food activists is skeptical. They want to know more, and until then they want ways to opt out, like labeling requirements for GMO foods. So far efforts to do that have failed, including a recent labeling ballot initiative in California that had broad popular support initially but failed to win a majority in the November 2012 election. Big food and biotech companies had poured money into a large ad campaign to stop the measure.

Biotech companies responsible for these changes in our food staples say they’re safe as well. But a few independent studies have found that GMOs may trigger allergic or immunological responses in humans and could even increase human vulnerability to cancer. Farmers have reported fertility issues with livestock fed GMO-grains.

Around the world, instead of asking whether these foods are dangerous, other nations have asked, are they safe? And that precautionary approach has resulted in bans and labeling requirements for GMOs in Europe, Asia and Australia — but not in the U.S.

How can a consumer cope? Until GE foods are labeled, shoppers have to ferret out the non-GMO foods and ingredients. It can be done. Here’s how:

  • Start by buying Organic-certified produce when you can. Here’s what you’ll be getting: Foods grown in soils with active microorganisms that some studies show foster richer nutrients in4colorsealJPG the plants. In addition, you’ll be clearing your the pesticides from your groceries and supporting chemical-free agriculture. When organic gets crazy expensive, look for local foods, which may not need chemical inputs because they’re seasonal and indigenous. This first step just makes sense. Here’s how even the USDA describes organic production: “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” Land conservation and the absence of growth hormones and synthetic pesticides. That sounds like a plan. Of course last year a survey of existing research on organic vs. non-organic foods by Stanford University physicians concluded that organic foods appear to provide no nutritional gain significant enough to affect our overall health. We think that this study was out to lunch, (see our blog) and so do some other experts.  Here’s an article that looked at several studies, which concluded organic produce is richer in phytonutrients, minerals and certain vitamins. (Yes, the Stanford study looked at more studies, but we need to move on.)
  • Non GMO LabelBuy Non-GMO Project Verified foods. Their label attests that a third party has verified that a food product is GMO-free. You can find a list of verified Non-GMO products on their website. It’s a long list. You may have to take it to the store with you. We’ve also found that some of the stellar brands providing many non-GMO products, like Eden, can be easily ordered online. Another big brand is Whole Foods Market’s 365 label. Here too you’ll find packaged products that make your life easier, such as Annies, Amy’s, Pacific, Miso Master and Rising Moon Organics. Be aware though, that right now, you have to check product by product, even when the brand-line leans toward non-GMO, it may still have some products that contain GMOs. So if you’re trying to purge GMOs completely from your diet, you’ll have to be vigilant.
  • Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide supported by the Institute for Responsible Technology.  This website offers a variety of helpful tips and pages, including one Non GMO Shopping Guide 3devoted to succinctly answering the question, “Why Should I Avoid GMOs?”  Another page covers the eye-opening array of “Invisible GM ingredients”. It would be hard to know some of these obscure ingredients — cystein, diacetyl, shoyu — but you can take this list with you on a phone app. Aside from those insidious-sounding additives, you’ll need the list to remind you that the otherwise OK-sounding Vitamin E, Vitamin B-12 and food starch are GMO ingredients. Parts of the Non-GMO Shopping Guide are discouraging. Pop open a favorite brand on the website and you may find that the company has yet to sign up for the Non-GMO Project. On the other hand, sometimes, you be reassured. Turns out that two brands that recently arrived at our grocery, Sol and Wildwood, have a long list of Non-GMO products, including prepared tofu and veggie burgers. This was a valuable find because many veggie burgers still harbor GMO corn and soy components. The guide’s phone app gives you a cheat sheet (or you can download a brochure) to take to the store. It lists brands that have Non-GMO verified products by categories, snacks, dairy products, faux meats etc.

Happy shopping.

Jul 032009

From Green Right Now Reports

Greenpeace followed up the release this week of its latest Carting Away the Oceans scorecard with a friendly and fishy demonstration outside Trader Joe’s stores in San Francisco.

Greenpeace members, two of whom dressed as orange roughy and others who parodied Trader’s by wearing Hawaiian shirts mimicking the store’s trademark uniform, handed out information on why its important to select and buy seafood that can be replenished and also asked prospective customers to sign petition postcards to privately held grocery company.

California-based Trader Joes is a grocery with more than 300 stores that caters to people looking for natural and organic and specialty items at reasonable prices. It prides itself on selling “unconventional and interesting products.” But Greenpeace has ranked the store dead last among national grocery chains for its conventional approach to selling seafood, specifically its lack of attention to seafood sustainability. The advocacy group says Trader Joes (which ranked #17 on the seafood scorecard) has no apparent plant to assure it is buying reputably fished and farmed seafood and sells “Red Listed” fish that are endangered by overfishing or habitat loss.

Orange roughy are on Greenpeace’s Red List, which includes several jeopardized fish that marine experts have identified as needing time to recover from over-harvesting and whose populations are at risk of collapsing.

Trader Joe’s has not replied to a query for response.

To keep the heat up on the chain, Greenpeace also opened a website, called “Traitor Joe’s” where a cartoon pirate welcomes people to his “one stop shop for ocean destruction.” The site further explains Greenpeace’s seafood campaign.

Greenpeace is urging consumers to buy from stores that are trying to minimize their impact on the oceans by selling sustainably farmed or caught fish. It’s new rankings released this week commended Wegman’s, Ahold USA, Whole Foods and Target for doing the best job to maintain an eco-friendly seafood counter. Safeway, Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart also received acceptable marks. But Greenpeace listed nine grocery chains, national and some regional, as doing little to help save the oceans and urged consumers to not buy seafood from those retailers. (Trader Joe’s was last among national chains, with three regional chains ranking lowest on the 20 store list.) For more details on Trader Joe’s response to Greenpeace’s seafood campaign, see the listings on the seafood scorecard.

The company responded to Greenpeace’s query for information on its seafood practices by saying its policy is guided by “listening to its customers” but declining to give any more information, according to Greenpeace’s report card. Greenpeace concludes in its report that the chain is not affiliated with any conservation groups, has no discernible seafood policy to reduce environmental harm and in addition, that signs posted in some of its stores suggesting that its seafood is environmentally friendly appear to be mere marketing ploys.

The company’s stated reliance on customer input helped shape Greenpeace’s decision to have Trader Joe’s customers sign petition postcards asking for strong seafood policies, a spokeswoman explained.

(Photo credit: Greenpeace, San Francisco.)

Jul 012009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

When you fish for seafood at your local grocery, it can be difficult to tell whether you are supporting sustainable fishing practices.

Was the snapper you selected caught using legal, sustainable fishing practices? Should you even be buying it? Is the Chilean Sea Bass you just purchased on the “Red List” of jeopardized marine species? Does the grocery you’re patronizing buy seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council?

Greenpeace is trying to help you sort it all out – and assure that groceries do not ignore the need to keep our oceans and fisheries healthy.

The worldwide conservation group published its third “Carting Away the Oceans” scorecard on Tuesday, outing several grocery chains that flout efforts to support sustainable seafood methods and lauding the stores that are helping conservationists.

The group is calling on customers to stop shopping for seafood at the lowest ranked stores, which have made little or no effort to support ocean ecosystems by selling sustainble seafood, including such large chains as Costco, Publix and Trader Joes.

The scorecard assessed and ranked the top 20 U.S. grocery chains on their green seafood credentials, giving top marks to Wegmans, Ahold USA, Whole Foods, Target, Safeway, Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart. These stores have all made strides toward responsible seafood buying and selling, though they may be innovating in different ways, Greenpeace reported.

Wegman’s, which was ranked number one on the list, for instance, has created a public sustainable seafood policy and supports a variety of initiatives aimed at supporting practices that preserve ocean ecosystems. The New York-based chain’s seafood policy dictates that wild-caught fish be properly reported and that capture methods meet certain standards; the store also buys from aquaculture groups that aim to avoid using pesticides, antibiotics and wild fish as feed. It actively seeks out items that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and has removed several red list seafood species, though not all, from its inventory.

Privately owned Wegman’s, which operates 70 stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, provides in-store information to educate customers about seafood sustainability.

Ahold, listed number two on the Greenpeace list, operates as Stop & Shop, Giant and Martin’s Food Markets and is owned by Royal Ahold of the Netherlands. It deserves good marks for developing the “Choice Catch” program under which it avoids buying illegally caught seafood and takes ecological impacts into account, Greenpeace reported.

Ahold also gives preference to farmed seafood that is pesticide and antibiotic-free, but could do a better job of in-store education, according to the score card. Ahold has announced they will no longer sell Chilean sea bass, orange roughy and shark (they already have stopped sales of bluefin tuna and Atlantic halibut) but still sell other jeopardized seafood, the report said.

Whole Foods and Target (third and fourth on the Greenpeace list) also have worked to eliminate many unsustainable items from their inventory, though fast-growing Whole Foods, which previously ranked number one on Greenpeace’s seafood score card, continues to offer “a tremendous amount of red list seafood options.”