Remember the original and somewhat tame warnings on cigarette packages declaring adverse effects on health? Just the warning. No pictures. Ah the good ole days!
Well, Kraft Macaroni Cheese imported into the UK must now bear a label declaring adverse health effects on activity and attention to children. One can only presume different effects on adults… I digress. This is because Kraft Macaroni Cheese contains GMO Wheat.
In future one wonders what adverse health pictures are to appear on our food labels. Perhaps the Monsanto Rat that was fed GMO Corn.
First however we must get our government to adopt GMO labeling codes. But there is time for all that.
This first year on the job as ‘farmer’ has its perks. My boss is pretty good. Cute too.
Sexist? Bite me.
Perk #1: I can get away with that because my boss thinks I’m pretty cute too. No accounting for taste. And if ‘bite me’ offends then click away. Cheers!
As farmers we pretty much control our day to day activities. We screw up or get lazy we merely impact our pride or our bottom line.
As organic farmers we have immediate access to some of the best meat, seafood, and produce in the world. Not to mention some pretty fabulous wines. But then folks everywhere in the country have unrestricted access to similar products in addition to some of the most sinister meat, seafood, and produce lurking in the grocery isles beneath nondescript labels.
Because GMO labeling on this continent is archaic in comparison to the EU and Asia, the choice between best and sinister is not always clear. North American producers are not required to identify GMO constituents in their product ingredient list. There are some very simple ways to translate food labels to avoid GMO’s if that is your choice. And it should be. Bite me.
The proliferation of GMO’s in the market place is threatening organic producers globally. There are cases of organic producers losing their organic status at no fault of their own but simply because GMO seed somehow contaminated their property.
How can society effectively promote a fair and competitive marketplace while producers from one sector can be legislated out of business because of the provisions granted to another sector? The advantages and disadvantages of GMOs must be carefully considered.
We read labels and make the best informed choice we can. Then we vote with our wallet. We opt for non GMO first and organic second. Our preference is local certified organic. The real pricy stuff where we know exactly where our purchasing power is going. It is our money after all.
We can not and will not knowingly support GMO manufacturers. Our aim is not to put GMO manufacturers out of business but rather prevent them from putting us out of business and thus reducing our choice to McFood.
Farmer Perk #2 is having the time to write the drivel for this blog. If you made it this far you may have some perk time as well. Consider yourself a farmer in training. Consider some further reading:
GMO Awareness: Insightful blog with simple tips and knowledge about GMOs
cban: Canadian website campaigning collaboratively for food sovereignty and environmental justice
There are a lot of gluten intolerants out there. As we zoom around the neighbourhood peddling our bread and products there seems more people who purport a sensitivity to gluten. First off full blown gluten sensitivity, properly diagnosed as celiac disease is serious stuff but the whole gluten free movement smacks of a trend.
Gluten libertarians will confess they are not celiac but have gluten sensitivity. We have briefly written on this subject so we won’t repeat ourselves here. Most recent gluten free converts will impart a sincere desire to improve their health by eliminating gluten from their regime as integral to adopting a better diet. Trend or no thank God there is a growing awareness to improve ones diet.
But at what cost? There is a myriad of gluten free recipes which are excellent at eliminating gluten from a diet but not everyone is in a position to prepare each recipe at home from scratch. So one must rely upon ready packaged foods from a local purveyor to acquire gluten free products.
No one is sure of the risks involved in eating a diet containing GM corn and soy but a recent report from The Guardian indicates feeding GM corn to rats resulted in an increase of developing tumors, organ damage and premature death.
Until comprehensive product labeling legislation is introduced to illuminate GMO ingredients choosing gluten free products requires you to assume that if the label mentions corn or soy there is an 85% probability the product is GMO.
A friend and neighbour recently reposted a letter from Fred Danenhower about mounting concerns over the GMO ‘Arctic Apple/Tree‘ and it is worth repeating here. This particular GMO’s claim to fame is its non browing quality when cut.
Take the time to review the entire letter below and contact your local MP with your concerns. You can find your MP through their political party’s website: Conservative, Liberal, NDP, or Green:
The inevitable measureable impact of the “Arctic” apple on the local economy will be a loss of at least $4,000,000 annually. Because of cross-pollination [bees fly as much as 4 miles from a hive], organic producers will not get certification. This will cost organic tree fruit growers in the Okanagan-Similkameen (based on 16,000 bins of apple production) $2,500,000 in revenue annually . The Cawston Cold Storage Packinghouse will close: they cannot remain open running just soft fruit, costing local jobs and eliminating a payroll approaching $1,500,000. Next to School District #53, CCS is the biggest employer in the Similkameen. It is unclear, whether the other two organic packing sheds, Harkers and Organics Plus can stay open but in any scenario the loss of organic apples will result in job cuts. The total impact on the economy, the loss to suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, truckers, local business, is hard to gauge but will be in the millions.
Loss to Conventional Growers
Once the Arctic tree is planted out, an orchardist growing any variety of apple other than the Arctic will be affected because of cross-pollination. It is generally accepted that bees will fly “as far as they have to”, to forage. A flight distance of 4 miles is considered the practical maximum. The organic standard is 2 miles/3kms from an area sprayed with a prohibited substance for organic honey production. If a bee flew in a 3km radius, it would pollinate 8,658 acres.
How will the OTFC packinghouse separate the non-GMO and GMO apples ? For example, imagine segregating Arctic plantings and quarantine contaminated apples in both CA and common storage. What about private packers? It would be a logistical nightmare. Therefore, a consumer will be making a choice to buy a GMO BC Gala, or a non-GMO conventional Washington State Gala. Market research suggests, 87% of the time, the purchaser will select the non-GMO product, if priced the same. The $2-4/box premium that BC Treefruits has been able to get from Canadian retailers, for BC product, will evaporate. All varieties of our apples will be seen as GMO. It is impossible to predict how the major food retailers will respond to BC apples being GMO’s but even if they are listed and sold for the same price as Washington apples, the loss in revenue at $3/box (based on the conventional industry packing 3,150,000 boxes) will be over $9,000,000 annually!
Loss of the Integrity of the BC Brand
Like flax growers, the BC apple industry has positioned themselves as “healthful”, “good for you”, “buy local”, part of the 100 Mile diet. In fact, the BC Agriculture Minister Don McCrae has explained that a “Buy BC” brand campaign is unnecessary because the public’s support of the industry is so good. He called it a “motherhood “issue. On behalf of growers, the BC Fruit Growers Association has pursued having the Okanagan Similkameen declared an ALPP-area of low pest prevalence. Investment Agriculture has spent millions on the Sterile Insect Release Program with the aim of reducing pesticide use and supporting a healthy environment. With the distribution of the “Arctic” tree all the goodwill becomes irrelevant. Once testing indicates GMO seeds are present in a variety other than the “Arctic”, all BC apples will be perceived as GMO whether they are or not. BC could be the only jurisdiction in North America, in the world, growing a GMO apple. Unless all growers plant the “Arctic” , the majority of BC apples will be sold as GMO apples without the non-browning benefits. Market research would predict these BC apples will have to be discounted to be sold, by what amount is indeterminate, so the total loss to growers is indeterminate. But if you extrapolate from the organic-conventional pricing structure, then you could expect the GMO apples other than the “Arctic” to retail for 30% less on average than a non GMO conventional apple. If this were the case, the direct cost to the conventional industry would approach a loss $20,000,000 annually. The image of the BC leaf (which has a 89% recognition rate among consumers) becomes synonymous with the low cost generic brand, the “not natural brand”, instead of the premium President’s Choice brand. The most pressing question is whether or not BC retailers like Safeway, Overwaitea, Superstore continue to support BC growers or get non GMO apples from Washington.
What the Arctic apple is not.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits has at times suggested the non-browning apple can do for the apple industry is what the baby carrot did for carrot consumption/grower income. There are a number of problems with this assertion. First, baby carrots were created from a change in processing, not from a completely different GMO variety. Any carrot – culls are usually used – can be grown or sliced and peeled to a baby size. To have a true comparison, all baby carrots would have to be GMO. If the Arctic is going to succeed in a similar way then mom is still going to have to slice the apple, cut out the seeds and put it in a bag for their childs lunch-an operation similar to peeling a carrot and slicing it into pieces. This is not what increased consumer demand for carrots. Baby carrots are already in a bag, bite sized, peeled and ready to handle or eat. If the Arctic is going to succeed as a “fresh cut” ready to eat ‘slice in a bag’ apple, then it is a processing apple. Currently, returns for processing apples to conventional growers are -.05/lb, and returns to organic growers +.04/lb. For a grower to get a .22 cents/lb return on his processing apples(this would make it economically feasible)-the price would have to increase by .27/lb or 2700%. At the local supermarket, a 2lb bag of baby carrots sells for $3.49, the bag of big carrots $1.99, a premium of 57%($1.00/$1.75). If a similar premium was received by growers for their non-browning apples, they would charged -.02/lb instead of-.05/lb-a gain of .03/lb not the .27/lb needed.
The carrot growers cost is the seed. The Arctic growers cost is a tree, plus a royalty, and the loss of orchard revenues for as much as 5 years while waiting for the new replant to reach full production. And, there is no guarantee of success. The grower has made a significant capital investment in his trees, but at this point in time there is no processing facility commited to taking the Arctic apple, no market research indicating a huge increase in demand because of a non-browning fresh cut apple, and in fact, the problem with fresh cut is the distribution and shelf life. Whether carrots or apples, consumers don’t want to open a bag of slimy product . Baby carrots incidentlly, are dipped in a chlorine solution to keep them fresher and orange.
The Arctic is not a solution to any supply chain problems. In talking with production and field staff at the Okanagan Treefruit Co-op, browning isn’t on the radar. Concerns are for loss due to codling moth, leaf roller, aphids, bud worm, scab and bruising both while picking or packing.
This is not a matter of letting consumers decide. By the time the Arctic apple is on the retail market, if a consumer is buying a BC apple the choice will be a GMO Arctic or a GMO Gala (or any other apple variety). There will not be non-GMO product, conventional or organic, for sale, unless it is from some other apple growing country.
An Economic Risk.
The Arctic apple is untested and may not be a commercial variety. Since 2000, the industry has had winners like the Ambrosia, but it has also had varieties like the Silken, Aurora and Nicola, which were developed at PARC Summerland, planted by growers and are not commercially viable. The Aurora scored higher in taste tests than any other commercial variety, but it bruised easily, couldn’t be packed or picked, and the cull rate was over 50% per bin. It failed as a commercial variety. The Aurora is a yellow apple – the Arctic is a yellow apple. The top 3 attributes consumers judge an apple by are taste, crunch and color (they like red). A non-browning apple doesn’t address any of these qualities. If it’s non-browning but mushy, people won’t eat it. Will it bruise, will it last in CA storage, how will it handle in the packinghouse? These are all the types of questions that cannot be answered until the variety is planted out and enough are grown to be graded.
If the Arctic apple proves to be uneconomic/non commercial, there is no going back. In the years it takes to assess the viability, the organic industry will have collapsed, conventional growers and the BC brand will have been damaged and as long as even a few growers or backyard trees remain, the problems for all growers continue. It’s not canola, where you can plow in a crop, use a different seed source and be non-GMO. People don’t grow canola in their backyard. There is no legislation that requires a person to pull a commercial or backyard tree because it’s GMO. A commercial replant back to non GMO conventional trees, is costly (asmuch as $20,000/acre) and at least a 5 year wait for full production. Why put the industry at risk for this 1 untested variety?
The BC Industry Position
Imagine you are standing in front of the panel on the Dragon’s Den. You and your friends have spent a lot a money developing this invention and not one Dragon wants to invest a dime in your company. This is the situation for Okanagan Specialty Fruits. In the past 2 years, the BC Fruit Growers Association has passed 3 non-GMO resolutions. Washington State growers don’t want this technology: the Research Commission hasn’t invested in GMO research in 20 years. The government of Ontario has cancelled funding for the Enviropig and the animals were euthanized. Maple Leaf has recently introduced a “Natural Selections” brand…for their hotdogs and Kraft a “Smart Kraft Dinner” with Flax Omega 3 and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives! The marketplace is deciding, and apple growers are not stupid. The current trend is for natural, healthy, environmentally friendly products. A GMO apple does not fit with this trend.
Accepting that marketing research and trends are correct, the potential monetary damage, to the BC apple business, from the introduction of the Arctic apple, could be as much as $34,000,000 annually. The entire BC industry, both organic and conventional are against the introduction of this apple.
Outside of sales at the farm gate and farmers markets, the produce grower has little to no control over how their produce is marketed to the consumer. The grower trusts the food industry to correctly identify the provenance of their product from distributor to consumer. Yet there remains confusion over the term “natural” as it pertains to the purity of edible produce. Suffice it to say the term “natural” can describe both conventional and certified-organic produce. The term “natural” implies a product untainted and thus more closely related to certified-organic although nothing could be further from the truth. Even the term “organic” without the modifier “certified” will sometimes be used to describe conventionally grown produce further deepening the confusion. Conventionally grown is a term referring to a method of growing edible produce. It is opposite to certified-organic which grows edible produce without synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Conventionally grown produce will often use fertilizers, pesticides and GMOs, which allow for higher yield, out of season growth, and at times an abnormally larger product.
There really is only one way to differentiate between conventional and certified-organic produce. Certified-organic will always be identified with a certified-organic label similar to:
that indicates the name of the authorized certifier that inspected the product and the growers certification number. In addition certified-organic labels may carry the certifying bodies logo. At farmersdotter organics we will maintain PACS certification (#16-464) under COABC.
On the whole the food industry in North America has failed to educate consumers over the differences between natural and certified-organic terminology perpetuating a fraud to the consumer. The remedy lies in truth-in-labeling laws. For example in the European Union there is no confusion between GMOs and certified-organics because under EU law all foods containing GMOs or GMO ingredients must be labeled. The EU consumer can confidently choose between GMOs and certified-organic. When given the choice most consumers view GMOs as suspicious, tainted and undesirable.
The biotech industry in North America is acutely aware of suspicion toward GMOs and the consequent demands to place mandatory labels on GMO foods. Yet companies like Monsanto, Dow, and Dupont continue to lobby federal governments against accurate labeling so consumers can not consciously avoid purchasing their GMO products. In lieu of effective government legislation on food labeling, consumers must focus on buying local. The result will pressure the food industry to voluntarily label their food products. Consumer groups in the meantime must continue to out lobby Big Agra to enact mandatory and accurate labeling laws. Until then we are all perpetrating the natural fraud.