Wednesday, July 25, 2018

News Reports from The Organic & Non-GMO Report

By Richard & Andrea

We subscribe to a publication entitled The Organic & Non-GMO Report which is a monthly publication led by editor Ken Roseboro.  Roseboro has done extensive research, writing, and speaking about all aspects of genetically modified foods (GM/GMO) and their impact on society.  The mission of this publication is to “…provide information you need to respond to the challenges of genetically modified (GM) foods.”  We appreciate this publication as it helps us stay up-to-date on global issues related to GM foods and reports on current scientific research and provides expert reports on important issues related to GM production.  The most recent issue was packed with a lot of interesting information, so we thought we’d share a few highlights with you this week.  We highly encourage you to check out their website where you can read past articles about a wide variety of related topics and find more information about subscribing to their publication if you’re interested in staying abreast of developments in this area.

One of the things we appreciate about this publication is that they present the facts, openly and honestly.  As organic growers, we do not believe GMO foods and crops are good for humans, other creatures, the environment, etc.  It is hard to read some of their reports about the damaging impacts we’re seeing from the production of GM crops and the agrochemicals used adjunctively in their production.  While we need and want to be informed, sometimes it can be pretty depressing information to read about!  Another thing we appreciate about this publication is their focus on positive news as well, so lets start there.

One article highlighted the small Indian state of Sikkim, which made the bold move to go all organic and reject its country’s trend towards agrochemical agriculture systems that dominate Indian agriculture.  Fifteen years ago they decided to protect their population of 610,000 people by phasing out pesticide use and transitioning acreage to organic production “…due to rising cancer rates, polluted rivers, and infertile soil that accompanied industrial farming.”  They now have 190,000 acres that are certified organic!  Since making this transition, they have noticed improved health in their population and have doubled tourism in their area as visitors are drawn to their clean air, water and food they experience when they take farm vacations and eco-tours in the area.  They’ve also inspired the Indian government to designate $119 million to support other organic farmers in India and they report that Indian now has 5.6 million chemical-free farm acres out of 400 million total acres.  The other encouraging bit of information is that the demand for organic in India is growing 25% annually and “Two other Indian states are planning to go all-organic, along with Bhutan.”  This is an exciting and encouraging report!

Another exciting report featured in this month’s publication was about rice production and the positive developments a new production method is yielding.  It is estimated that about half of the world population relies on rice to meet 60-70% of their daily calories.  By the year 2050, it’s estimated that we will need 50% more rice to feed people.  Genetically modified rice production promised increased yields, but that has not happened.  This article also cited the detrimental impacts conventional rice production has on both environmental and human health.  There is now a grassroots rice growing method that is being spread around the globe.  It is called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and is currently being used on 49 million acres around the world.  This system employs a different method of production that minimizes weed competition by more dense plantings of smaller seedlings.  This system also facilitates deeper root growth and fields are not flooded as they are in conventional production which creates an anaerobic environment that fosters populations of methane-producing bacteria.  This system has positive contributions towards mitigating climate change, and allows farmers to have a greater level of self-sufficiency as they’re able to produce enough food for their communities.  Additionally, this method of growing rice is demonstrating yield increases of 20 to 50 percent and sometimes as high as 100 to 200 percent.  It also has a 50% savings in water use, 30-50% reduction in chemical fertilizers and is building greater adaptability to climate conditions along with increased nutrient levels in the rice.  This article tells the story of how Lotus Foods, a California based company that imports rice, is working directly with organizations and businesses that support growers producing rice using this method.  Lotus Foods co-founder, Caryl Levine, was quoted as saying “Farmers know what to do, they know how to farm.  We need to give them the opportunity to adapt this method to their needs.  SRI provides economic, social, and environmental benefits just by changing the way people grow rice—not many things can do that.”

Back on the home front, there are some encouraging statistics about consumers in the United States.  According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 Organic Industry Survey, organic sales in the U.S. in 2017 were up 6.4% from the previous year, hitting a new record of $49.4 billion in sales.  Sales of organic non-food products also rose by 7.4% which is also a new record. 

They also reported on the findings of the Hartman Group’s Organic & Natural 2018 report which demonstrated that 46% of American consumers avoid GM foods and 97% of consumers are aware of GMOs, which is up from 50% in previous surveys.  Sixty-seven percent of consumers support mandatory GMO labeling and it’s clear that consumers are looking for greater levels of transparency and trust within the marketplace.  Forty-two percent of consumers looking to avoid GM foods look for the Non-GMO Project seal when they are making their food purchases.  This seal was developed by the Non-GMO Project, which is a nonprofit organization providing third-party verification for non-GMO food and products.  Their seal features a butterfly, which consumers have become increasingly more aware of and now rely on when making purchasing decisions.  “An independent study by Consumer Reports cites this label to be the only ‘highly meaningful’ label for consumers looking to avoid GMOs.”  (as cited at

USDA's proposed GMO label
It’s encouraging to see that consumers are becoming more aware of GMO foods and products and are looking for greater transparency in their food system, something that is very important to us as producers.  This issue also included an article about the USDA’s proposed label for GMO foods.  The article was entitled: “Be real” USDA:  Smiley faces and complex QR codes do not give consumers GMO transparency.  Almost twenty years ago, participants in consumer focus groups conducted by the USDA looked at the question of whether or not GM food should be labeled and nearly all participants thought it should be labeled as such.  Some major food companies, including General Mills, Mars and Campbell’s, are labeling their products already, which is great because despite a GMO labeling law that was passed in 2016, there are so many flaws with the law and now the USDA is trying to change the way GMO foods are represented to the public.  They are proposing that GMO foods now be called “bioengineered” and be labeled with a smiley sun logo.  Consumers are not familiar with this terminology and some consumer advocacy groups believe this proposed label is “propaganda for the industry.”

There are many more interesting stories and reports we’d like to share from this recent publication, but we encourage you to seek out more information on your own.  There was one other very interesting article about the epigenetic changes being caused by exposure to agrochemicals.  This article features the work of Dr. Paul Winchester, the medical director of the Neonatal and Intensive Care Unit at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, only about one hour away from where Andrea grew up and her family still resides.  His clinical observations and research are disturbing and demonstrate serious problems being caused by pesticide exposure that are changing the epigenetic expression of genetic material in subsequent generations.  We would like to investigate this information in greater detail and report on it in a future newsletter article, but highly encourage you to read this full article for yourself.  It is available on the website.

While there are many battles to fight in the world of industrial agriculture, we’re encouraged by some of the stories we’ve highlighted here.  We encourage everyone to become more informed about what’s going on and continue to seek out and demand more transparency in our food system and support more sustainable methods of production.

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