Food Fights: From Arsenic in Our Rice to Labeling GMOs

Tired of the Good Fight

I am so very tired of the food fights happening in this country, and abroad. If I am tired, I can only imagine how overwhelmed most Americans must be. When Whole Foods, Stonyfield, and Organic Valley are caving to the pressure from Monsanto and GMOs, it can be too easy to assume the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

But, we still do and we owe it to ourselves and to the organic farmers that need us to stand up for them. Occupy Our Food Supply must be an everyday choice.

If the organic farmers that we rely on to grow and raise healthy food for us have the courage to take a stand against the monoliths of Big Agriculture, we too can find the time and courage within our lives to do the same. From small steps to full on advocacy, there is something that everyone can do to make a difference.

We are seeing an increasingly nontransparent food system, including the governmental bodies that are supposed to be ensuring safe and healthy food for the people instead of giving carte blanche to the biotech industry, in large part due to the revolving door phenomenon, and factory farms.

What Actions Can Consumers Take?

One of the best ways we can effect change in our food system is to know our food by knowing your farmers. Those that can will benefit through access to safe and healthy food while supporting those that grow it.

For Our Farmers

Other than that:

1) There is a bicameral letter that Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Peter DeFazio are circulating in Washington to urge their fellow Senators and Congressman to support the labeling of food that has been genetically engineered in a laboratory. The last paragraph particularly resonates:

“We urge you to fully review the facts, law, and science, and side with the American public by requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods as is done in nearly 50 countries throughout the world. FDA has a clear opportunity to protect a consumer’s right to know, the freedom to choose what we feed our families, and the integrity of our free and open markets with this petition.”

We need everyone to encourage their Congressional representatives to join the support of labeling GMOs within the next 36 hours. Please call today. It took me only 5 minutes to call all of mine.

GMO Labeling Talking Points:

  • State your name and city.
  • I’m calling in support of labeling genetically engineered foods
  • I believe that all families deserve to be able to decide for themselves whether or not to consume or buy food that has been genetically engineered in laboratories.
  • I hope that Sen./Rep. ___ will join the bicameral Boxer-DeFazio “Dear Colleague” letter and support the labeling of GMO foods.
  • Personal experience or concerns.
  • Thank you and please thank Senator/Representative _____.

2) Urge the FDA, EU, and rice industry to make our food safer when there is no reason that it should be otherwise. Anna Hackman from Green-Talk started a petition on because the recent research coming out about the levels of arsenic in our rice – organic and non-organic,white and brown – indicates they are higher than anyone could ever claim as safe due to the arsenic-based pesticides that were once used where rice paddies now stand.

Products like infant formula and organic brown rice syrup are heavily concentrated and are often used for vulnerable populations: babies, children, and people with immune deficiencies or food allergies. Babies and children are particularly at risk due to their small size alone!

There was a 2007 study had the same findings as the more recent 2012 study that has caused such a large uproar. This means that there are people who should know better that knew there was a problem with high levels of arsenic in rice, beyond the naturally occurring kind, for 5 years. Experts have even stated that changing the way farmers grow the rice could cut the arsenic uptake dramatically without a reduction in yield. Has it changed? No.

Does this make you mad? Sign the petition! You can even check out the handy widget in my sidebar and not even leave this site. It will take just a couple of minutes, but may well send the message that we are fed up – something must change!

Will you take just a few minutes today to make a difference? Brownie points to everyone that leaves me a comment letting me know what you did!

Update: I have received a comment here and another elsewhere that indicate I am not being fair in my representation here. I know that communication, especially through the written word, can be so easily misconstrued. I hope that this is a reasoned response to my thought process. I hope that you will always feel free to share yours with me.

First of all, I believe that we can agree to disagree on the merits of any corporation or organization. We all do the best we can with the information we have. I followed up with another green blogger who contacted the heads of all three companies when this news was more current, none denied the claims. The claims were just responded to, but still proved that there was compromise. Perhaps I should have used compromise instead of caved?

Maybe the offense comes down to these semantics, maybe not, but when these leaders of the organic community compromise to “coexist”, then that is caving to a pressure. Perhaps they really were just in doing so for the good of the cause. I wasn’t there.

The CEOs of both Whole Foods and Stonyfield are friends with-and have donated campaign funds to-Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, who is also a friend to the biotech and agribusiness. A friendship does not always equate with complicity or influence, but it can and does. Vilsack caved to the pro-GE contingent (although not fast enough) and the organic companies caved to Vilsack.

These companies may still believe strongly in eliminating GMOs and they may believe that this compromise is the best solution for an impossible situation, however I am not yet ready to compromise. I used their example to demonstrate that we are indeed fighting an uphill battle.

These are corporations that need profits to survive, but consumers that want choice and labeling of GMO products still have the option to push for more. I hope that these corporations will join in that along with us. That is well within our right, as is voicing our opinion.

The problem they seem to be fighting against now is cross-contamination and remuneration. Both are big problems, but I still believe that we should be focused on a bigger picture and that cross-contamination is going to be inevitable with more approvals of GE crops, as Organic Valley itself has mentioned many times. I would like to see no more approvals of GMO crops altogether.

Whole Foods has carried GMO products long before this compromise was even a dot on the map, yet even employees believed differently. This smacks of hypocrisy to me. Perhaps this is another area where one can agree to disagree because it comes down to personal preference at the end of the day.

However, their own words show that there was compromise at the end of the day.

This is directly from WF:

“We [Whole Foods Market — along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, and other companies and groups]supported a path of coexistence, not because it’s a perfect path, but because it’s the only viable path that would ensure our ongoing ability to provide non-GMO foods. ”

All others involved included: Organic Valley, Stonyfield, the Non-GMO Project, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Beyond Pesticides, and the Center for Food Safety.

From Organic Valley:

“I was part a working group that tried to see what limitations could be put on if alfalfa was to be deregulated; what limitations could be put on to protect the seeds, and to reimburse farmers for damage.
So from the beginning it was a compromise decision where they were making it clear that it was going to be deregulated…”

From Stonyfield:

“…two choices: complete deregulation or deregulation with some safeguards to protect organic farmers, which they called “co-existence.” The choice we were faced with was to walk away and wait for the legal battle in the courts or stay at the table and fight for safeguards that would attempt to protect organic farmers and consumer choice, still maintaining the option for legal battle later. A smaller coalition of organic interests participated in the meetings with the clear caveat that any decision to deregulate GE alfalfa must include restrictions that protect organic farmers and consumers’ choice. When faced with the overwhelming reality that GE alfalfa would be released despite our best efforts, we believed fighting for some safeguards to protect organic consumers and organic farmers was the best option.”

Again, this is due to a need to find a compromise, but this option is still supporting the deregulation of GE crops, even if there may be some restrictions. Each may have fought for what they thought was right, but in the end opted for the lesser of the evils presented.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I do not call for a boycott of any of the 3 companies mentioned. I am not angry with Organic Valley or Stonyfield due to their compromise (Whole Foods is a slightly different matter and goes well beyond this issue). They are only an example of how hard this fight is and that was my one and only reason for including their example.

The real battle is against Monsanto, the USDA & FDA, and FOR our rights as consumers to know what is in the foods available to us. Applaud the efforts of Organic Valley and Stonyfield to create safe and healthy products for our families, but push for better so that is never compromised!

Take action, sign petitions, spread education and knowledge, and most importantly: Never. Give. Up.

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Food Fights: From Arsenic in Our Rice to Labeling GMOs — 27 Comments

    • It was truly my pleasure. I am so happy to know that there are people out there that are not content to sit by and let others create change. You are out there making things happen!

      Now to see an explosion of signed petitions would do my heart good!

  1. It is so hard to continue fighting when it seems like so many people are perfectly happy buying the garbage they call food in the grocery store! Thanks for taking the time to write this and educate people!

    • Hi Eryn, I am sorry to hear that you don’t believe the accuracy of my article, but there is room in this world for lots of opinions. I have actually read that blog from Whole Foods before, although it doesn’t appear to be working now (at least for me). I have updated this blog and would love to hear your thoughts.

      • Brenna:

        Thanks for your response. I appreciate the clarification. I can’t access the Whole Foods blog post right now either, which is weird since it was available earlier today. Regardless, you make some good points and I have a better understanding of where you’re coming from now. I think there are just different ways to interpret the actions that Whole Foods, Organic Valley and Stonyfield took.
        eryn recently posted..What do you eat?

        • I agree that there are lots of ways to interpret actions (and words!). I appreciate you taking the time to come back and share your thoughts with me. I can only hope that we can all (consumers, corporations, bloggers) continue to work for the best world we can have and work in good faith to get there. :)

  2. Thanks for this detailed article, Brenna. I agree that there are many things left undone to protect consumers, and that it is crucial for us to contact our representatives to let our voices be heard on these issues that should have been dealt with years ago. I’ve signed the petition, thanks for putting this on your site!
    Susan P recently posted..15 Companies That Make Natural Lipsticks

  3. Shared and calling now. Thank you for putting this out there. We are entitled to eat food that God intended for us to eat not food that was created in a laboratory! I just don’t understand how the American people have let it go this far. They have been so brain washed that they don’t even know what is good for them.

    Morgan Dragonwillow (@MDragonwillow) recently posted..Fantasy Fiction Writing Contest I – Day 17

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