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Posts tagged ‘USDA’

12 New GMO Crops Up For USDA Approval Call to Action!

USDA Fast-Tracks GMO Crop Approval Process
By Melinda Suelflow, Campaigns
Organic Consumers Association, August 15, 2012

Earlier this summer, the USDA posted twelve new GE crops for public comment with a September 11 deadline, and nine are under the new fast-tracked process. That’s twelve new GMOs to review and issue comments on in two months! 

Here’s the lowdown. Three of the new crops are under the old petition process. Under the old process there is only one 60-day public comment period. Here are the three crops under the old process:

— Dow 2,4-D and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0019)
Take Action!

Since the introduction of GM crops, the US has seen herbicide use increase by over 300 million pounds.  Big Biotech originally claimed that weeds would not develop resistance to glyphosate (RoundUp), but they have and these new “superweeds” have become the driving force behind new crops engineered for stacked, or multiple, herbicide tolerances. Adoption of these new crops will lead to dramatic increases in the use of higher risk herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba, perpetuating the herbicide treadmill that is already in place.

2,4-D is already the third-most-used US herbicide, after glyphosate and atrazine, and as a leading source of dioxin pollution, it’s one of the most deadly.  As of yet, however, it’s hardly used on soy at all. Just 3 percent of total US soybean acres were treated with 2,4-D in 2006. Not only will this percentage skyrocket once Agent Orange Soy hits the market, the amount used per acre may triple, according to the USDA.

—Bayer Glyphosate and Isoxaflutole Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0029)

—Syngenta Corn Rootworm Resistant Corn (APHIS-2012-0024)

Under the new process, USDA has also opened nine additional new crops for public comment. This initial comment period applies to the petitions for nonregulated status which include information submitted by the petitioning company. Once USDA has the completed their environmental analyses they will open a final 30-day comment period for the decision-making documents.

Here are the 9 crops under the new process with the same September 11 deadline:

—Okanagan Non-Browning Apple (APHIS-2012-0025)
Take Action!

Okanagan’s “Arctic” apple would be the first genetically engineered version of a food that people directly bite into. According to the latest study by the Environmental Working Group, conventionally grown apples are the most pesticide contaminated fruit or vegetable on the market. Conventional apples are dangerous, and GMO apples are just a dumb idea – one not even supported by many in the apple industry itself!

—Dow 2,4-D, Glyphosate and Glufosinate tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0032)
Take Action!

—Monsanto Dicamba Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0047)
Take Action!

According to the Institute for Science in Society (ISIS), “dicamba is actually an old herbicide that served alongside “agent orange” in Vietnam, and has been resurrected as an environmentally friendly chemical through the magic of public relations.”

—BASF Imidazolinone Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0028)

—Monsanto High Yield Soybean (APHIS-2012-0020)

—Monsanto Glyphosate Tolerant Canola (APHIS-2012-0035)

—Pioneer Glyphosate Tolerant Canola (APHIS-2012-0031)

—Monsanto Hybrid Corn (APHIS-2012-0027)

—Genective Glyphosate Tolerant Corn (APHIS-2012-0046)

USDA Fast-Tracks GMO Crop Approval Process

Despite massive public opposition, last year the USDA announced plans   to streamline its genetically engineered petition process under the  Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Earlier this year these controversial changes were implemented, speeding up the approval process for new genetically engineered seeds and crops. The new process will cut in half the time it takes for new GE seeds and crops to enter the market.

USDA claims that the new fast-track process allows for earlier input from the public to improve the quality of its environmental analyses. But according to a USDA press release,  the new process is a part of efforts by the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to “transform USDA into a high-performing organization that focuses on its customers.” The customers that USDA is so keen on assisting are none other than Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, BASF, Syngenta, and the rest of the Biotech bullies!

View the Trailer to Jeffrey Smith’s New Film Genetic Roulette

narrated by Lisa Oz

Watch the trailer

Order the film

Visit the movie website:

This film may change your diet, protect you and your family, and accelerate the consumer tipping point against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) already underway.

Never-before-seen evidence points to genetically engineered foods as a major contributor to rising disease rates in the US population, especially among children. Gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, inflammatory diseases, and infertility are just some of the problems implicated in humans, pets, livestock, and lab animals that eat genetically modified soybeans and corn.

Monsanto’s strong arm tactics, the FDA’s fraudulent policies, and how the USDA ignores a growing health emergency are also laid bare.

Don’t miss it! 

Brought to you by the Institute for Responsible Technology

Shipping August 25

View the trailer and purchase the film:

Watch the trailer

Order the film

Visit the movie website:


The Institute for Responsible Technology

Corporations Sneak Synthetic Preservatives into Organic Food Baby Formula!

“This is another blatant violation of the federal law governing organics by multi-billion dollar corporations that apparently think they can get away with anything,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at The Cornucopia Institute.

August 8th, 2012

Organic Watchdog Files Formal Legal Complaint with USDA

CORNUCOPIA, WI:  The Cornucopia Institute, a not-for-profit policy research organization based in Wisconsin, filed a formal legal complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) against several infant formula manufacturers that are adding two synthetic preservatives to certified organic infant formula.

— Image courtesy of Imbuga

The Organic Foods Production Act, passed by Congress in 1990, explicitly bans synthetic preservatives in organic food.

“This is another blatant violation of the federal law governing organics by multi-billion dollar corporations that apparently think they can get away with anything,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at The Cornucopia Institute.

The preservatives are beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate, synthetics that are added to infant formula to prevent the oxidation and rancidity of ingredients such as the controversial patented supplements DHA and ARA, manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation (Royal DSM) and marketed as Life’sDHA®.

“This is not the first time that the pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses, that manufacture infant formula, have quietly added to organic formula the same synthetic ingredients that they use in their conventional versions without first seeking the legally required approval for use in organics,” says Vallaeys.

According to The Cornucopia Institute, there have been more than a dozen unapproved synthetic ingredients that have been added to organic infant formula over the past five years.  The public interest group has filed numerous legal complaints with the USDA, asking for removal of unapproved synthetic ingredients like the DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oils, manufactured by Martek, which was recently acquired by the Dutch conglomerate Royal DSM.

While the USDA has admitted publicly that these synthetics were added to organics due to an erroneous interpretation by previous USDA leadership, the agency, after being pressured by industry, has refused to take enforcement action and pull the suspect products from store shelves.

The Martek DHA and ARA oils, labeled on infant formula as “c. cohnii oil” and “m. alpina oil,” have been controversial since the preponderance of scientific published research concluded that they do not benefit infant development.  “These ingredients, which now appear to require additional synthetics as preservatives, amount to a gimmicky and risky marketing ploy,” added Vallaeys.

When formula with Martek’s DHA and ARA first came on the market, the FDA received numerous adverse reaction reports from parents and healthcare providers who noted serious gastrointestinal symptoms in babies who had previously tolerated formula without the Martek DHA and ARA oils.

Synthetic beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate, according to the International Formula Council (the industry’s trade-lobby group), contribute no nutritional value to infant formula, but rather serve to prevent oxidation and rancidity.

Organic standards require that a synthetic ingredient cannot qualify for use in organic foods if its primary purpose is as a preservative.  The International Formula Council, which is now petitioning the USDA to legalize the use of these synthetic materials in organics, never uses the word “preservative” to describe synthetic beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate.  They instead use terms like “antioxidant” to “prevent undesirable oxidation” and “prevent rancidity” in “powder formulations containing DHA and ARA.”

The federal organic standards also require that synthetics be allowed in organic foods only if they are deemed essential.

“The only reason why these two synthetic preservatives are added to infant formula is to prevent the rancidity of some of the other synthetic ingredients that are not essential and have also been added illegally,” says Vallaeys.  “This is a slippery slope, and we urge the USDA to take appropriate enforcement action and put an end to the practice of first adding synthetic additives to organic food, including infant formula, and then seeking subsequent approval.”

In its complaint, Cornucopia also asked the USDA to investigate the formula manufacturers’ organic certifying agent, Quality Assurance International (QAI).  QAI is one of the largest organic certifying agents, and has come under fire in the past for certifying organic livestock operations that failed to meet the organic standards for animal welfare and outdoor access.  QAI has also allowed its clients to add a number of other allegedly illegal synthetic ingredients to organic food and livestock feed.

The Cornucopia Institute refers to QAI as, “the corporate certifier of convenience.”

“Consumers should be able to trust that the organic label represents foods that are free from unnecessary synthetic ingredients, and they rely on third-party certification by USDA-accredited certifying agents,” says Mark Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute.

“But that system breaks down when certifiers like QAI allow their clients to add unreviewed and unapproved synthetic ingredients and when the USDA, when faced with industry pressure, fails to carry out its enforcement duties.”


A buyer’s guide to avoiding organic foods with DSM/Martek’s DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oil, including foods aimed at adults and children, like Horizon milk (manufactured by Dean Foods), is available on The Cornucopia Institute’s website.

The Cornucopia Institute named the following brands of organic infant formula in its complaint to the USDA: Earth’s Best, Similac Organic, Vermont Organics, Bright Beginnings and Parent’s Choice (sold by Walmart).

Similac Organic is produced by Abbott Laboratories, a $30 billion pharmaceutical corporation.  The other brands are produced by PBM Nutritionals, owned by Perrigo, a $2 billion dollar pharmaceutical corporation.

The only commercially available baby formula available in US stores that does not contain these synthetic preservatives is Baby’s Only Organic, manufactured by Nature’s One.  Baby’s Only Organic is certified organic by OneCert.

A comprehensive report, Replacing Mother—Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory, is also available on the Cornucopia site.

Playing chicken on food safety? 1/3 of a Second to Examine Slaughtered Chickens

USDA defends efforts to speed up poultry slaughter lines and replace most federal inspectors with plant workers

By Tim Eberly

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A worker gathers chickens for slaughter in the predawn hours at White Oak Pastures In Bluffton. The owner of the unusual "free range" farm says he prefers to have government inspectors monitoring his slaughter line, rather than relying more on his employees.

Brant Sanderlin, A worker gathers chickens for slaughter in the predawn hours at White Oak Pastures In Bluffton. The owner of the unusual “free range” farm says he prefers to have government inspectors monitoring his slaughter line, rather than relying more on his employees.

One-third of a second.

That’s how long a federal inspector will have to examine slaughtered chickens for contaminants and disease under new rules proposed by the federal government.

The proposal would speed up production lines as much as 25 percent. It also would pull most federal inspectors off the lines and replace them with plant workers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says its proposal is a win-win-win that modernizes food inspection while saving money for taxpayers and the poultry industry.

The nation’s most recognized food safety and consumer groups, however, say the plan would leave gaping holes in oversight that will endanger the nation’s food supply, not to mention create a conflict of interest for poultry plants. They warn that Americans, who eat about 80 pounds of poultry a year, will be at greater risk of getting a side serving of fecal contamination or cancerous tumors with their chicken.

“I went out and bought a food processor so we could make more vegetarian meals,” said Felicia Nestor, a food safety advocate and a consultant with the Government Accountability Project. “If the changes go into effect, my husband and I will no longer buy chicken.”

The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which oversees poultry plants, believes the changes would “ensure and even enhance the safety of the poultry supply by focusing our inspectors’ efforts on activities more directly tied to improving food safety,” FSIS spokesman Dirk Fillpot said in a statement.

The agency says it wants inspectors to focus on issues that pose the greatest health risks to the public.

Georgia produces more chickens for meat consumption — 1.3 billion a year — than any other state, so the USDA’s proposed changes are critically important here. The agency has not said when it will make its final decision on the proposal. The new system would be voluntary, though FSIS expects all but the smallest poultry plants to opt in. Advocates say that’s because the other option would prohibit those plants from remaining competitive in the industry. The biggest changes would:

– Use workers in chicken and turkey plants to replace all but one federal inspector on the conveyor belt, where bad birds are removed from the production line. (Currently, chicken plants have as many as four federal inspectors on their lines.)

– Let those plants decide how much training their workers receive in identifying diseased or defected birds.

– Enable plants to speed up their slaughter lines so that the sole federal inspector, stationed at the end of the line, would be required to view up to 175 birds per minute. The maximum speed now is 140 per minute, but that workload is divided among four inspectors so that it averages out at 35 per minute for each inspector.

– Let poultry plants decide what dangerous bacteria they test carcasses for and how often they test, and no longer require plants to test for E. coli.

The government says the changes will save taxpayers more than $90 million over three years. But the big winner will be the poultry industry, which will save at least $256 million a year in production costs, the USDA has projected.

But at least one Georgia poultry plant owner isn’t sold on the concept. Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, said he likes having an unbiased third party closely examining each chicken that comes through his production line.

“I don’t want to be the fox that’s guarding the henhouse,” said Harris, whose farm is about 75 miles south of Columbus. Harris also raises grass-fed cattle and sheep and is one of the few operations that handles its own slaughter on-site.

How it works now

Georgia’s largest poultry plants are capable of slaughtering and processing hundreds of thousands of chickens in a day. On the production line, chickens are hung upside down by their feet in shackles, one next to another, and subjected to an electric shock that stuns them into unconsciousness. A razor-sharp blade then cuts the animals’ jugular vein; other devices remove their feathers, heads, feet and internal organs.

As the chickens move down the line, as many as four federal inspectors are stationed to examine them. The line is timed so that birds pass in front of an inspector for about two seconds. The inspectors handle each carcass and peer inside its chest cavity, searching for defects such as disease, infection and fecal contamination; he or she also looks at the bird’s internal organs for signs of disease. The inspector pulls the chicken off the line if any of those conditions is present.

A few times a month, other inspectors take small samples of birds and mail them to federal labs, where they are tested for bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter.

The Food Safety Inspection Service says the new system would require poultry plants to take more responsibility for weeding out birds with diseases, infections and defects. These conditions include an infection of the blood called septicemia, which discolors the bird, and an infection called “inflammatory process,” which can cause a hard yellow scab to form under a chicken’s skin. Currently federal inspectors pull these birds off the line when they spot them; the new rules would largely leave that to plant employees.

In redirecting its inspectors from production lines, FSIS says, more inspectors will be freed up to focus on issues that affect public health, such as salmonella and campylobacter. Yet, under the proposed system, FSIS would not increase testing for those pathogens.

Advocates say they’re not opposed to modernizing poultry inspection and requiring plants to take more ownership of their product. They say, however, that the agency’s proposal goes far beyond that, giving too much control and freedom to poultry plants while also relaxing the government’s oversight.

In 1999, FSIS created a pilot program that allowed 20 chicken plants and five turkey plants to play by a different set of rules. They could run their slaughter lines at faster speeds. They swapped most government inspectors on the lines with their own plant workers. Two plants in that pilot program are in Georgia, one in Gainesville, one in Claxton.

The program is the foundation for the proposed changes. And FSIS documents portray it as an overwhelming success. The agency says the rates of fecal contamination — a major vehicle for spreading bacteria — are lower in the pilot plants. The agency also says the rates of salmonella compare favorably.

Opponents of the proposal say FSIS is distorting the facts on both issues. They cite an audit by the Government Accountability Office in December 2001, which concluded that results from the program would be “unreliable.”

The audit also noted that citations for fecal contamination skyrocketed in poultry plants’ first year in the pilot program.

Critics say FSIS responded by gaming the system. They say the agency allowed the pilot plants to rearrange the production line in a way that largely prevented inspectors from writing citations for fecal contamination.

As a result, the critics say, the citations plummeted. The government says its fecal contamination rates in pilot plants are about half those of other plants’.

“So all those [citations] that were getting written up early on under the [pilot] program because inspectors were finding a lot of fecal, all of a sudden, they all go away,” Nestor said. She is the food-safety consultant to the Government Accountability Project, a Washington group that supports government and corporate whistleblowers.

Asked for a response, FSIS did not address the alleged connection between the citations and the relocation of the employee stations. The agency would not agree to an interview with the AJC for this article but answered some of the newspaper’s questions by email.

Food safety advocates also say that the agency’s statistics on salmonella rates in pilot plants are unimpressive.

Salmonella rates were actually lower in 2009 and 2010 in nonpilot comparison plants than the pilot plants, according to a 2011 evaluation of the pilot program.

‘Going by in a blur’

As birds whiz past them at a rate of three per second, federal inspectors say, it’s impossible to properly inspect all of them.

“There’s no humanly way you can keep up,” said inspector and union official Stan Painter, who works at a pilot plant in Crossville, Ala., that uses the faster line speeds. “They’re going by in a blur.”

FSIS says it’s a reasonable speed, in part because there won’t be as much for the federal inspector to look for. In the new system, plant workers will have already sorted most of the birds with defects and disease.

“Therefore, FSIS inspectors at [pilot plants] are able to inspect carcasses at these line speeds,” according to the agency. It added that inspectors would still have the power to stop or slow the lines if large numbers of birds with defects prevented them from performing proper inspections.

Where federal inspectors now examine each bird’s chest cavity — a frequent hiding place for fecal contamination — they won’t do so under the new system. “Such hand contact will be infrequent,” FSIS says.

The new rules would still dictate that inspectors write citations when they find fecal contamination, Nestor said, “but they’re just not letting inspectors look for fecal.”

For defects that haven’t been proven to harm people, FSIS will let chicken plants set their own standards for weeding them out, a change that inspectors and advocates say will result in more undesirable discoveries in packages.

When it comes to food safety, though, controlling foodborne bacteria is paramount.

Plants are currently required to test a sample of carcasses for E. coli. The new regulation would let them test for the bacteria of their choice but does not set any minimum requirements for how often to test.

“All they’ve done so far is remove regulations,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. “They haven’t replaced them with better standards.”

What FSIS should do, advocates say, is require all plants to test for the same bacteria, so the agency could track results and identify poor performers.

Reassurance from industry

If plants are largely responsible for removing diseased and unwholesome birds from production, the question is: Will they do it?

The industry says yes.

“If there’s any defects on those birds at all, they’re coming off the line,” said Ashley Peterson, vice president of science and technology for the National Chicken Council.

Others fear the worst.

David Barrett, a federal inspector assigned to poultry plants in Gainesville, worked in the industry as a young man. He says he was told to do things he knew were wrong, such as picking up contaminated birds off the floor and putting them back into production. His desire to right those wrongs led him to become an inspector.

Barrett, stressing that he is speaking on his own behalf and not for his agency, said he believes plant workers will be pressured to keep as many birds as possible in production.

“They don’t like it when we slow the lines down,” Barrett said of plant supervisors. “You think they’re going to allow their own people to do it?”

Inspectors and advocates also say it’s a mistake not to require training for poultry workers on how to identify diseased or infected birds.

“I have a problem with that,” said Brian Lubke, also a federal inspector in Gainesville speaking on his own behalf. “Do these people know what they’re looking for?”

The government has had plenty of time to decide whether to require training for plant employees; the 2001 audit recommended it to ensure “that plant personnel are as competent as federal inspectors.”

The agency hasn’t heeded the advice. “It would [be] appropriate for the establishment to determine the type of training its employees need,” FSIS says.

Other countries with similar inspection programs keep their meat or poultry plants on a shorter leash:

– In New Zealand, the USDA requires that company workers receive training equivalent to that of a U.S. federal inspector — a much higher standard than it is proposing here — if the plant exports meat to the U.S.

– Employees at Australian plants that export meat must undergo about 500 hours of training to inspect meat.

– In Canada, the government trains plant workers for two months before they may inspect poultry.

‘Phoning it in’

Advocates say FSIS should reexamine its plan.

Some criticized the agency for not consulting with its own advisory committee before announcing its plans. The committee directly advises Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“I certainly am irritated and annoyed,” said Patricia Buck, a member of the National Advisory Committee on Meat & Poultry Inspection. “It should not happen this way again.”

After members complained, the agency organized a two-hour phone conference call with the committee, which usually meets in person and for longer stretches. They also were not permitted to ask questions.

“It was phoning it in — the perfect use of that phrase,” said committee member Sarah Klein, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

At least one elected official wants FSIS to put the brakes on its proposal.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, asked GAO to conduct another audit of FSIS’s pilot program. The agency said it will do so soon. She then sent a letter to Vilsack, asking him to delay the changes.

“I do not believe USDA should yield inspection responsibilities to plant personnel that have an inherent conflict of interest unless [the pilot program] can be independently verified to be safe and effective,” Gillibrand wrote.

Vilsack wrote back to Gillibrand in a letter filled with FSIS’s talking points on the issue. But more notable is what’s missing: Vilsack doesn’t address the senator’s request.

Reading between the lines, advocates say, that doesn’t spell good news.

10 years of salmonella outbreaks

Georgia experienced more than 300 outbreaks of salmonella poisoning between 2000 and 2010. Some of the outbreaks occurred in multiple states, so the numbers of total cases, hospitalizations and deaths did not all occur here.

Total outbreaks in Georgia: 306

Total cases: 13,346

Hospitalizations: 1,265

Deaths: 26

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

5 years of individual cases

Individual cases of salmonella poisoning in Georgia increased by 37 percent from 2007 to 2010 before dipping slightly in 2011. Tainted chicken is the most common source of salmonella bacteria, but it is far from the only source. These numbers reflect total cases from all sources. Cases of campylobacter infection, also often traced to poultry, were roughly the same in 2007 and 2011, with some fluctuation in between.

Samonella infections in Georgia

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

2,047 2,285 2,375 2,806 2,666

Campylobactor infections in Georgia

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

688 683 740 598 697

Source: Georgia Department of Public Health

Organics You Can Afford 9 ways to bring organic food within reach By Robyn O’Brien

how to afford organics-basket of veggies

In a world in which we are increasingly worried about the health of our families, the stability of our jobs, and all of life’s responsibilities, the simple act of trying to eat healthy often becomes a challenge.

And with so many Americans food insecure and on food stamps, talking about organic foods—produced without the use of all kinds of additives and ingredients—can often sound like a luxury that few, if any, can afford.

But as organizations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the President’s Cancer Panel encourage us to reduce our exposure to everything from pesticides to artificial growth hormones, the fact is that we should all be able to feed our families foods that are free-from additives that are increasingly being shown to cause harm. (Wondering what the most contaminated foods are? Find out with The Dirty Dozen.)

More from What You Need To Know About GMOs

So here are a few tips for those who want to start buying organic food but don’t want to pay the high price:

1. Go orgo-generic: Major grocery store chains like Safeway and Kroger, and big box food retailers like Costco and even Wal-Mart, now carry their own organic foods. And all foods labeled “USDA organic” are created equal, no matter where you find them. No need to upscale your grocery store when Wal-Mart gets it done.

2. Buy frozen: Frozen foods (like strawberries and fish) are cheaper than those that are delivered fresh. So if the prices on fresh produce are eye-popping, cruise on over to the frozen food aisle for a discount.

3. Eat with the season: Retrain your taste buds to think like your grandmother did. She didn’t eat strawberries in the middle of winter. Locally grown foods are usually cheaper than those flown in from another hemisphere, so if you eat with the season, you’ll be eating more affordably.

4. Skip the box, embrace the bulk: Food that comes in boxes costs more because of the packaging costs associated with designing those pretty pictures. When you buy in bulk, you’re not paying for all of the packaging—you’re paying for the food, which is what you wanted in the first place. So slide on over to that bulk food aisle in Safeway and look for noodles, cereals, and rice and beans.

5. Support the US economy and buy local: You can save money by becoming a member of a local farm (just like you became a member at Safeway or Costco!). How do you find a local farm, you ask? Well, thankfully, the USDA now has a list of online sites to help you find the closest farm near you, so click here to log onto the USDA site.

6. Comparison shop: You wouldn’t buy a car without comparison shopping, so before you even head out the door, you can compare the prices of organic foods at different retailers from the safety of your own computer at Eat Well Guide.

7. Coupons, coupons, coupons: Organic bargains are everywhere, so click on’s Frugal Living page where you will find All Organic Links.

8. Grow one thing: If you’re as busy as we are, there’s not a chance in creation that you’re going to be able to feed your family off of your home-grown harvest, but you will find that growing a tomato plant can be incredibly inspiring. And it’s not as intimidating as it seems. So pick one thing to grow—you can do it (we all grew lima beans in cups as kids, right?)

9. Find a friend.  It’s way more fun to have someone cheering you on as you begin to make these changes. And remember, just as our little ones learn to walk by taking baby steps, you can do the same thing here. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. Take those baby steps. Because before you know it, you’ll be off and running.

Need some more inspiration? Check out The Top 10 Reasons To Go Organic.

Read more:

Is Certified Organic Always Non-GMO?


Thanks for asking, Tracy!

Is Organic Always GMO Free?

May 5, 2011

Organic is Usually GMO Free

Buying 100% Organic, Certified Organic, and USDA Organic-labeled products is usually the easiest way to avoid genetically modified ingredients.

The United States and Canadian governments do NOT allow companies to label products “100% / Certified Organic” if they contain genetically modified foods.

To put it in more detail:

100% Organic: Must contain 100 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). This is the only label that certifies a completely organic product AND completely GMO-free ingredients.

Certified Organic / USDA Organic / Organic: At least 95 percent of content is organic by weight (excluding water and salt). The <5% remaining ingredients must consist of substances approved on the USDA’s National List. GMOs are NOT on this list, so these products are also usually GMO-free.

Made with Organic: Up to 70% of the ingredients are organic. These products can NOT carry a “USDA organic” label and are NOT typically GMO-free.

But lately, even organic products are at risk….

Why Say “Usually?”

If USDA certification requires at least 95% of content to be organic, and a GMO ingredient can’t be included in that 5%, then USDA Organic is GMO-free, right? Not always.

Says Barry Estabrook in this excellent article: “The casings for those tasty USDA Organic sausages can come from conventionally raised animals that have been fed antibiotics (or GMO-laden corn). The hops in your favorite organic beer can be sprayed with all manner of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Strawberries can be labeled as organic even if they had their start in a conventional nursery.”

How is this possible? He answers that question too: “the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which has the power to determine what materials can — and cannot — be used in organic production, too often weakens regulations in the face of intense lobbying by corporations who are more interested in the higher profits conferred by the word “organic” than in strong and meaningful standards.” And let’s just remember how much Monsanto has invested in corporate lobbying dollars…

Getting discouraged yet? There are more loopholes…

Despite rigid organic certification procedures, organic certification is about the *process* of growing food, not about the actual resulting food. There is no testing process for organic ingredients, so there is a chance that GMO contamination could occur.

And sadly, GMO contamination is growing steadily, year after year. Just look at this recent response from the USDA regarding a series of questions raised by organic farmers after GMO alfalfa was approved.

Even more sobering is the impending contamination from genetically engineered Kentucky Bluegrass. This grass is used in animal forage — including organic beef that comes from grass-fed animals. Now that Kentucky Bluegrass been genetically engineered for RoundUp resistance, not only is does it contain genetic material that is no longer natural, but it can be heavily sprayed with RoundUp to remove weeds. And because grass spreads rapidly, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the next superweed.

Between cross-pollination and wind-borne seeds, organic pastures all around our nation are soon going to be contaminated. It’s already happening in Australia— a farmer just lost his organic certification due to wind-borne contamination from a neighboring GMO crop.

How Does Contamination Occur?

Contamination can happen any number of natural ways: 1.) via cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops, 2.) from trace amounts of GMO ingredients found in animal feed (as per the alfalfa/bluegrass section above), 3.) from seeds traveling by wind or by migratory birds that take root in the soil of an organic farm, and 4.) from ingredient suppliers that co-mingle various sources.

It can also happen when it takes nearly three years for a manufacturer who illegally uses the term “organic” in their labeling to be noticed, reported, investigated, and forced to amend their label. The oversight of organic manufacturers “falls far short of assuring standards are met.”

Is there a Certification Process for Being GMO Free?

Yes. When you see this label on a product, it means the producer took the time to go through a certification program similar to the one used to obtain organic certification, only it’s designed to focus on GMO-free processes.

Started initially by retailers, the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program (PVP)‘s core requirements include “traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points.” Compliant products bear the Non-GMO Project Seal shown above (explained in detail here), indicating that the product has been produced in accordance with the best practices of the Non-GMO Project Standard.

Sadly however, just like organic certification, the word “usually” once again comes into play: the Non-GMO Project says directly that its label does not guarantee that a product is 100% GMO-free, because contamination is an ever-growing threat.

Read a great article about the reasons why this program was started, despite similar process testing procedures for organic products.

GMO Free Labels

When you see a “GMO free” label on an organic product, how does it compare to certified organic or certified Non-GMO Project standards? Hard to say.

Because there is no certification program associated with this label, it is simply the producer’s word that all fields, ingredients, processes, and storage avoid contact with, and contain no genetically modified ingredients.

This doesn’t mean this label isn’t valid; sometimes producers can’t afford the cost of becoming certified organic or certified through the Non-GMO Project, and thus use this label as a sign of good faith.

And because so many consumers don’t know that Certified Organic = GMO free (I didn’t, until I did the research), it can be a more obvious and affordable way of letting customers know.

No label in sight? Sometimes you need to read the fine print: some manufacturers don’t include a little GMO free icon, but they do include the words “we don’t use genetically engineered ingredients” (or similar wording) on the back of their labeling (hope you brought your reading glasses to the grocery store). :-)

Organic versus Certified Naturally Grown

When the USDA Organic program started in 2002, many small farms were forced to make a difficult choice: either pay high certification fees and complete mounds of paperwork to become “Certified Organic,” or give up using the word “organic” to describe their produce and/or livestock.

Believing that neither choice was very attractive, a group of farmers created Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), to provide an alternative way to assure their customers that they observed strict growing practices. Their methods include using natural biological cycles – incorporating a careful balance of micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, natural pollinators, plants and animals – to create a sustainable farming system.

The resulting products meet and in some cases exceed the USDA standards but do not carry any of the official government approved organic seals. CNG now consists of more than 500 member farms in 47 states and growing.

Note: the majority of the CNG farm listings that I perused included the words “GMO free” in their product descriptions.

Other “Natural” Product Labeling Terms

Additional labeling terms – such as Natural, Cage Free, Free Range, Certified Humane (raised and handled), Vegetarian Diet, Fair Trade, and Locally Grown – have no direct relevance to whether a product is GMO free (genetically modified vegetables can and do get used in animal feed sometimes… particularly corn fed to pigs, cows and chickens).

For a helpful description about each of these, click here.

For a helpful ranking chart about egg labeling in particular, click here.

The Even Longer Story Behind GMOs and Organics
(includes excerpts from The Organic and Non GMO Report website)

To have a product certified as organic, a producer/manufacturer/farmer must undergo third party verification to ensure that the requirements of USDA National Organic Program are met. These requirements certify the process of growing the crop (they do not test the resulting crops/food). Processes that are reviewed include:

• All production methods — which must be free from most synthetic chemicals (e.g. pesticides, herbicides & fertilizers, antibiotics & hormones), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and use of biosolids;

• All farmlands — which must be free from synthetic chemicals for generally 3 or more years;

• Storage procedures — producers must keep strict physical separation of organic products and non-certified products

• On-site inspections — producers are subject to initial (and sometimes subsequent) inspections.

Want to read an even more detailed description about organic certification? click here.

Organic certifiers want to ensure that GMOs are not used in organic products, but getting 100 percent verification that all substances are non-GMO may not be possible. Apparently the effort is significant, and requiring 100 percent verification could grind a processor’s operation to a halt.

Due to a lack of guidance from US National Organic Program (NOP), organic certifiers have developed their own methods to address GMO challenges posed by non-organic ingredients (for that <5% of non-organic ingredients allowed in foods labeled organic).

Oregon Tilth Certified Organic and CCOF developed flowcharts or “decision trees” to evaluate the GM status of ingredients. Quality Assurance International (QAI) developed a GMO Declaration that it asks clients to submit to verify the non-GMO status of ingredients.

Says Gwendolyn Wyard, Oregon Tilth’s processing program reviewer, “The problem is that “organic” is a process certification. We’re asking whether they use GMOs, not whether there is GM DNA or protein in the final product.”

Verifying the non-GM status of some ingredients can be challenging. For example, the supply of the ingredient tocopherol/Vitamin E has been controlled by one or two companies who collected soybean oil from many co-mingled sources. Oregon Tilth requires that tocopherols come from an identity preserved, non-GM source, but Quality Assurance International (QAI) does not require an IP (identity preserved) tocopherol, says Jessica Walden, QAI technical specialist.

Instead, QAI developed a “GMO Declaration” to address questions raised by the NOP’s rule on genetic engineering. The declaration describes QAI’s policy toward GMOs focusing on three categories:

When a product is a non-organic agricultural ingredient such as cornstarch, in order to qualify as non-GMO in “Organic” and “Made with Organic” categories, the original organism that produced the ingredient must be non-Genetically Modified. When a product is a non-organic non-agricultural ingredient, such as flavors and colors, the product must be free from Genetically Modified DNA or proteins. Lastly, ifmicroorganisms such as citric acid are used, the microorganism must be a non-GMO.

On the declaration, the supplier must highlight measures taken to verify their non-GMO claim, such as traceability/identity preservation, GMO testing, and independent audits.

QAI’s GMO declaration has streamlined the response from suppliers for GMO documentation. Instead of receiving various GMO statements, QAI has its clients submit the GMO declaration.

Reading all of this, you gain a new respect for farmers who not only buck the industrial farming system by going organic, but by their perseverance in navigating the volumes and diverse methods of certification!

So what does this all boil down to, when you’re trying to choose a product?

Just this week I was looking for mayonnaise at my local natural foods co-op. They had a fairly broad selection of various organic mayonnaises from different manufacturers.

All of the mayo labels said “organic” somewhere on the label. Two of them said USDA Certified Organic. But only one had “GMO free” in addition to “organic” on the label. Coincidentally, it was the only mayonnaise that was not made from one the “Big Four” GMO crops (corn, soy, canola or cotton/seed).

Does that mean it was the only mayo that was GMO free? No. The others were labeled organic, which technically means they couldn’t be GMO. Yet they didn’t have a “non-GMO” label, and they were sourced from crops with high incidences of GMO farming (soy and canola).

I tried consulting my two “non GMO shopping list” iphone apps, but none of the mayo brands on the shelf were mentioned (either as a pro or a con).

So I ended up playing it uber safe and buying the safflower-based mayo with the Non-GMO label.

What would you have done?

The Dairy Product Industry Needs to Stop Milking School Lunches

Make sure you watch the video.

The Dairy Product Industry Needs to Stop Milking School Lunches

The dairy product industry has been milking school lunches for profit since the National School Lunch Program was introduced more than a half century ago. The federal government spends more money on dairy products than any other food item in the school lunch program. But it’s time to get milk out of school lunches. Abundant research shows milk does not improve bone health and is the biggest source of saturated (“bad”) fat in the diet—the very fat that Dietary Guidelines push us to avoid. So PCRM recently petitioned the USDA to stop requiring milk in school lunches.

The nutritional rationale for including milk in school meal programs was based primarily on its calcium content. Milk was presumed to promote bone health and integrity. Time and again, this has proven false. Milk-drinking children do not have stronger bones than children who get their calcium from other foods.

A study published by the American Medical Association in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine this year showed that active children who consume the largest quantities of milk have more bone fractures than those who consume less. This was not surprising. Prior studies show that milk consumption does not improve bone health or reduce the risk of osteoporosis and actually creates other health risks.

Milk is the number one source of saturated fat in children’s diets. One in eight Americans is lactose intolerant. More than 1 million U.S. children struggle with milk allergies, the second most common food allergy. And milk also contains sugar in the form of lactose, animal growth factors, and occasional drugs and contaminants.

Calcium is an essential nutrient. But if children get calcium from milk, they miss the beta-carotene, iron, and fiber in vegetables. Children can get all the calcium they need from nondairy sources such as beans, tofu, broccoli, kale, collard greens, breads, cereals, and nondairy, calcium-fortified beverages, without any of the health detriments associated with dairy product consumption.

In this video, I explain more about eating for healthy bones:

Times have changed. So should school lunches. To safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s schoolchildren, the USDA should issue a report to Congress recommending that Congress amend the National School Lunch Act to exclude milk as a required component of meals under the National School Lunch Program.

To learn more about the dangers of milk and other dairy products, visit

Storm Victims Should Throw Out Chicken, Doctors Advise

Storm Victims Should Throw Out Chicken, Doctors Advise

Fecal Traces Could Become Poisonous in Rising Temperatures

raw chicken contamination riskIf you lost electrical power during recent summer storms, you’ll want to discard any chicken from your refrigerator. About half of all raw chicken products contain feces, enough to sicken your family if the bacteria they harbor are allowed to grow, a likely scenario as refrigerators warm up toward room temperature.

PCRM recently sampled chicken productsfrom 15 different grocery store chains in 10 major U.S. cities and sent them to an independent laboratory for testing. Results showed that 48 percent of the samples tested positive for fecal contamination, as indicated by the presence of E. coli, a bacterium in chicken feces. The germs are used in USDA and industry testing as an indicator of fecal contamination. While the target E. coli bacteria may be innocuous, they indicate the presence of feces, which can harbor other bacteria and parasites that can cause serious illness.

“Since significant amounts of feces are present in about half of raw chicken products sold at grocery stores, consumers should assume that they are in chicken products in their refrigerators,” said Neal Barnard, M.D., PCRM president. “Throw it away.”

Andrew Weil: Parents Should be Outraged by USDA Baby Food Pesticide Tests

“Now that it has begun, the results are highly disturbing. It is bad enough that baby food contains pesticides at all; the fact that pears contain a likely human carcinogen is an outrage. “

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